Summary: In shifting to a blitzkrieg examination of the role of the church in the Book of Acts, I reworked my sermon on Acts 1. This has some repetition with the other one posted a couple of years ago, but has some new material, too.
Do any of you know what is the last word in the Book of Acts? It is ακωλυτως, pronounced “ah-koh-LOO-tohs” by some and “ah-koh-LEE-tohs” by others, and means “not-hindered,” “not prevented,” “not limited,” or maybe, like the Travel Channel show, “NO RESERVATIONS!” The final verse in Acts (28:31) tells us that God’s Kingdom and what Jesus taught were being preached throughout the world with no barriers of race, geography or circumstances. Along with Dr. Frank Stagg, I firmly believe that this is the theme of Acts—overcoming barriers of race, resources, language, politics and opposition to preach Jesus. Along with European scholar Daniel Marguerat, I agree that Luke intentionally leaves the conclusion of Acts open-ended, so that when we read it, we realize that we ourselves are the sequel to the story of Paul as we act out the continuing history of the church in our own time.
So, how do we do that? Luke gives us a clue at the very beginning of the book. Read verses 1-2. The Gospel of Luke was written to demonstrate how Jesus introduced the Kingdom of God and taught people how to enter it. Notice the reference to Jesus’ command to His disciples. Does Luke 24:47 (where Jesus was referring to the prophets) come to mind? “…that repentance for forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed in His name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem.” (Luke 24:47 NASB) In the same way, Jesus gave such a command in Acts 1:8: “…but you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth.” (Acts 1:8 NASB) The Book of Acts is about the Holy Ghost, the Holy Spirit, coming to empower the apostles after Jesus ascended.
Remember, Jerusalem was the navel of the earth to the average Jew. It was the most important location in the world to the original disciples. But it looks kind of small compared to the rest of the world, doesn’t it? Judea wasn’t much bigger, a relatively small thorn in the paw of the Roman Empire. Yet, if the Kingdom of God was to progress beyond the narrow provincialism of Zion, the message had to reach throughout the Jewish-dominated regions. But if the message was to reach the whole world, it had to go beyond the Jewish-dominated areas and make progress among Semitic tribes, Greek-speakers, Roman conquerors, Gallic tribes, Germanic tribes, Britannic tribes, Iberian tribes, Arabic tribes, Egyptians, Persians, and the Asians of what is now Turkey. That’s the world they knew, but ours is even larger.
Yet, notice the pattern. It starts with where you’re familiar. You’re not going to be an effective foreign missionary until you’re an effective witness at home. You’re not going to be an effective ambassador for God’s Kingdom until you’re an effective citizen of God’s Kingdom. We’re not going to change the world until we change what’s around us.
Now, in order to become effective, there are two important terms here that we can read right past if we’re not careful. First, we need to focus on the Holy Spirit. Nothing happened in the early church without the activity of the Holy Spirit (Holy Ghost in the KJV). This name for God appears 47 times as Holy Ghost and 5 times as Spirit (capitalized) in the KJV. In the 28 chapters of Acts, that’s 52 references, more than the 34 references in the 68 combined chapters of Matthew, Mark and Luke. That’s more than the 45 references in Romans’ and I Corinthians’ 32 chapters combined. Add together the Gospel of John and the three letters I, II and III John and you only find 21 references to the Holy Spirit in the 28 chapters.
What do all these numbers mean? I believe they mean that you cannot overcome the barriers to preaching the gospel without the power of the Holy Spirit. Some churches try to organize and some churches try to imitate successful churches. No church can succeed without depending on the Holy Spirit.
Second, note that the disciples are no longer called disciples. They are no longer “FOLLOWERS,” but they are commissioned messengers, deputized ambassadors. Now, they are called “apostles” – sent ones, people on a mission. That’s what the church is to be—people sent out to be the face of God’s mission. We’re familiar with celebrity endorsements of consumer products and causes, but we’ve seen all too often what happens when athletes are accused of immoral behavior, caught on camera smoking dope, or arrested for battery, animal cruelty, or illegal gun possession. Such behavior cheapens the perception of the product/cause they represent. And, even as a very minor “celebrity,” I knew as editor-in-chief of one publication and publisher of several others that whatever I said or did could reflect on the magazines. Still, I know there were occasions when I said or did stupid things in spite of knowing the potential damage I could do.