Today’s post is the seventh installment in a series that breaks the story of the Bible down into ten ‘chapters’. Read Chapter One, Chapter Two, Chapter Three, Chapter Four, Chapter Five and Chapter Six.
The Acts of the Apostles is the seventh chapter in the great story of the Bible. This chapter is extremely important because it tells how the followers of Jesus carried on after his ascension back to heaven. Did they lose their faith and give up their confidence in the messiahship of Jesus when he was no longer with them on earth? Or were they so convinced by his teachings and miracles that they continued sharing the good news even at great personal cost? The Book of Acts is the story of the expansion and growth of God’s kingdom through the faithful witness of the apostles who were empowered by the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit.
Acts begins with the ascension of Jesus. But before his return to the Father, Jesus promised that he would send the Holy Spirit to be personally present with his followers as they told others about his redemptive work. Acts 2 records the events of the Day of Pentecost and how the believers in Jesus were filled with the Spirit and empowered for their work. Their mission, as given by Jesus, was to be “witnesses” of his person and work. The word “witness” is the Greek word martures and is used of those who give testimony of certain truths by their deaths. Many followers of Jesus gave witness by their words. Some did so by their deaths. Stephen was the first to give his life as a witness for Christ by his martyrdom in Jerusalem.
But persecution did not silence the early believers! Acts records how the early church grew in Jerusalem and then spread into the surrounding district of Judea. Philip, the evangelist, carried the good news of Jesus’ death and resurrection to the people of Samaria. Although there was some hesitance about accepting Samaritans, no one could deny that they had received the same Holy Spirit as had the believers in Jerusalem.
The next stage in the advance of the gospel is recorded in Chapter 10 where God led Peter to preach the gospel to a Roman soldier named Cornelius. As a god fearing Gentile, Cornelius prayed to the God of the Jews but knew nothing about God’s provision of salvation through Jesus, the Jewish Messiah. While Peter was preaching to Cornelius and his family, the Holy Spirit was poured out on these new believers. Peter understood this to mean that the gospel was not just for Jewish people, but that salvation was available to all who would receive it!
The Apostle Paul is the witness who carried the gospel on its’ third great advance to the Gentile nations of the Roman world. As an observant Jew, a Pharisee, and a persecutor of the early Christians, we would least expect for someone like Saul of Tarsus to become a witness for Christ. But we serve a God who delights in wonderful surprises! Saul the persecutor was brought to faith on the road to Damascus and immediately became a proclaimer of the Gospel. Commissioned by the church at Antioch, Paul and his missionary associates were sent out to preach the gospel and establish churches. The rest of the book of Acts records Paul’s travels to Cyprus, Galatia, Macedonia, Greece, Asia Minor, and Rome. God worked mightily through Paul’s labors and churches were established at such significant cities as Philippi, Thessalonica, Corinth, and Ephesus.
Upon his return to Jerusalem after a three-year ministry in Ephesus, Paul was arrested and accused of bringing Gentiles into the temple area. Threats against his life resulted in him being transferred to Caesarea where he remained for two long years awaiting formal charges against him. Finally Paul exercised his right as a Roman citizen and appealed to Caesar.
The book of Acts ends with the Apostle Paul in Rome awaiting a hearing before the Roman emperor Nero. But even during this imprisonment the Holy Spirit was at work providing Paul with countless opportunities to witness to Jews, Gentiles and Roman soldiers. In addition, the imprisonment gave Paul a much needed respite from travel to write letters to the churches where he had ministered.
The book of Acts begins with Jesus in Jerusalem teaching the things concerning the kingdom of God (Acts 1:3). And the book ends with Paul in Rome, preaching the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus (Acts 28:31). The good news about Jesus had been faithfully announced from Jerusalem to Rome. And this was just the beginning!