Summary: This is the first lesson on the study of the Book of Acts which serves to define who the church is and what is does.
The Teaching and Works of Jesus – The Sequel
The great expository British preacher of half a century ago, Martyn Lloyd-Jones, made a sermon series on the Book of Acts which took a good part of the 1960’s to go through. He was concerned about the many people who were trying to define what Christianity is or should be. Some saw it as a supplement to the state, a stare religion. Others thought of it as a welfare agency. All of the different definitions of the church were causing great confusion. The church seemed to be wandering in the wilderness.
Jones used the Book of Acts to demonstrate that we must get our definition of the church from the Bible itself. The Book of Acts tells us what the church is, and what it is to do. Should not the head of the organization define what his or her company should be and not the workers? As owner and absolute Lord of the church, Jesus must call the shots. It behooves us then to listen to what God is saying.
The same confusion which existed in Britain fifth years ago is in our country today. And the same things the church tried to do are being tried here today. The church of Jones’ day wanted to make church fun and substitute entertainment for preaching, cut out the Sunday school and Sunday night services, and other such gimmickry was tried. Did that help? One can look at the sad state of affairs in the British church today to see the disaster that awaits us if we do the same.
What we need to do is what Lloyd-Jones did. We need to go back to the authentic account of the church to get our definition of the church and follow it. We must follow the recipe. Even a bad cook will make something good if they follow the recipe faithfully. Let us do the same.
Exposition of the Text
If one has read the Gospel of Luke and then goes to Acts, it becomes apparent that the same person wrote both. First of all, both are addressed to Theophilus. Scholars have debated who this Theophilus was. Was he a new Christian who needed additional instruction? Or was this to explain to a non-Christian what Christianity is? Some see this as a defense document to be used at Paul’s trial before Caesar. The name itself means “lover of God” which indicates to me that Theophilus was either a God-fearing Gentile who had halfway converted to the Jewish religion or a person interested in Christianity. The truth of the matter is no knows who Theophilus was.
The writer of both Luke and Acts was almost certainly Luke the Physician, who was Paul’s companion in ministry. Part of Acts uses the first person pronouns which shows that the writer himself was witness to some of the events. As Luke was with Paul during his imprisonment, he would have had the time to do additional research in Jerusalem. Luke may even have made himself Paul’s slave. As a slave, he would have been able to come and go from prison and have acted as Paul’s messenger. Roman citizens like Paul were permitted this privilege. As a slave, he also had legal protection from prosecution. Someone who was not a slave may not have had access to Paul or even could have been imprisoned with him as a fellow Christian. We don’t know that Luke served as Paul’s slave or not in a formal sense, but as a physician, he had ample opportunity to care for Paul’s sicknesses and many wounds.
Luke was a remarkable theologian in his own right as well as a doctor. Not only this, but he had complete mastery of the Greek language. Luke begins the gospel with fine classical Greek prose, then switches to the language of the Greek translation of the Old Testament called the Septuagint. Then he gradually transitions to the common Greek of his own day. This went along from the transition from the promised Messiah to Israel to the Christ of all nations.
Luke in Acts begins with the statement that this was a continuation of a previous work to Theophilus which was the Gospel of Luke. This makes the two works fit together in what was called and “epic” in Greek. The Iliad and the Odyssey by Homer is an example of such a work that you may have had to read in school. In modern terms, the book of Acts is a sequel. It picks up the story where the last work left off.
We now come to the text “which Jesus began to do and to teach.” The most logical understanding of this is that Acts is then a continuation of the ministry of Jesus done through the church. Jesus himself in the Gospel of John said in John 14:12 that his apostles would do even greater works than He did. This does not mean greater in quality, but quantity. Jesus’ ministry was confined to Palestine, and that mostly in the land of Israel. The disciples were to go out with his message to the uttermost parts of the earth (Acts 1:8). These works and teaching of Jesus would be continued by the church through the promised Holy Spirit.