A sequel to the book of Luke, Acts picks up where the first book ends – with the ascension of Jesus into heaven. Luke, who wrote both these books, was a Gentile physician who accompanied Paul on his journeys and was therefore an eyewitness to all that happened. The two main characters in this sequel are Peter, a disciple of Jesus, and Paul, who was a Jewish leader persecuting Christians and later became a follower of Jesus. The book of Acts is a transition book, showing how the Church was first founded. While a few of the events recorded were unique to that time period, never occurring either before or after it, many of them do still occur today.
Among those things that were unique to the time period is the laying of hands on people in order for them to receive the Holy Spirit. Before that time, the Holy Spirit used to come and go for brief moments on specific people and for specific purposes, but He would never permanently reside in a person. After the initial founding of the Church, the Holy Spirit now comes into people when they place their trust in Christ, not by the laying on of hands. The Holy Spirit now resides in people’s hearts.1 Whoever does not have the Spirit of God today is not a child of God.1
If we did not have the book of Acts, we would not have known how the Church was formed, who apostle Paul was, who Stephen was, how the disciples, who were hiding when Jesus died, became strong witnesses for Him to the point of giving up their lives for Him, etc.
The purpose of book of Acts is:
1) to give us the history of the Church
2) to show us the continuity of God’s activity in this history
3) to give the mission and message of Jesus, how it progressed through His disciples. The message of Jesus (about the Kingdom) did not stop when He went to heaven but continued through the lives of His disciples
4) to show the inclusion of Gentiles in God’s redemption plan. Until then, salvation was only for Jews. Now Gentiles are included in the Church. It was a big milestone.
The key verse in the book of Acts is 1:8. “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” These are the last words of Jesus.
“Power” in Greek has the same root as “dynamite”. The power which God gives in our lives comes only through Holy Spirit. Also, we will be witnesses. He did not say, “You might be my witnesses” or “You can try to be my witnesses”. Witnessing is a natural outflow of having the Holy Spirit in us. If we are not being a witness, then we are not filled with Holy Spirit. When the Holy Spirit comes, we can’t but be witnesses for Him. The power will flow out of us. In the whole book of Acts, we see the disciples always witnessing, doing miracles one after the other, and countless people being saved.
Who is a “witness”? Think of a court of law. A witness tells what they saw or heard. When Jesus told them they will be witnesses, He meant that they would tell whatever they saw and heard. Today, we are still His witnesses. We haven’t seen Him with our naked eyes or heard his voice audibly. But we have experienced Him and we have to tell what we have experienced. We have experienced the peace of God, Christ in our life. We have the word of God. When we read the word, God speaks to us. We have the Spirit, who is giving us power, so we have to be witnesses. The word “witness” also comes from root word from which “martyr” also comes (meaning to give up one’s life for a cause). All the disciples, except John, were martyred for Christ. That’s what “witness” means.
Jesus said, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” 3 What Jesus means by “cross” is shame and suffering. Think about Jesus. People hurled insults at Him, spat on Him, pulled His beard, beat Him and finally killed Him. That’s what the cross is. Secondly, the cross means suffering. Witnessing means we have to take shame and suffering for the sake of Christ. It’s more than knocking doors and telling people Jesus loves them, which is only a first step.
As we read in Romans, we are co-heirs with Christ. We have to suffer with Him. We have heard the saying, “No pain, no gain” and it applies here also. If we don’t really share in the sufferings of Christ, we won’t share in His glory. Can we go to the point of giving up our lives for Christ? When Holy Spirit comes on you, you will have the ability to give up your life for Christ.
What is the coming of Holy Spirit on us? It is the filling of the Holy Spirit. Ephesians 5:18 gives clear picture of being filled with the Holy Spirit: “Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit”. When a person gets drunk, he or she will be under the control of alcohol and when a person is filled with the Holy Spirit, he or she will be under the control of the Holy Spirit. The main difference is that being filled with the Holy Spirit still allows us a choice to obey Him or not. When we are drunk, there is no such option. If we choose to give ourselves to the control of the Spirit, He will give us the power to be witnesses.
Jesus told His disciples that they would be His witnesses in Judea, Samaria, Jerusalem and to the ends of the earth. The first seven chapters of Acts tell about the witnessing to Jerusalem, chapters 8 through 12 about witnessing to surrounding cities, and chapter 13 about witnessing “to the ends of the earth”, which (for them) was Rome. For us today, our “Jerusalem” is wherever we are. It includes our family. Our “Judea” and “Samaria” means our neighborhood and our city. Going to the ends of the earth means we should be participating in global evangelization.
In Chapter 1 of Acts, we see the disciples electing a replacement for Judas Ischariot, who betrayed Jesus, in order to fulfil the prophesy. They chose Barsabbas and Matthias and asked God for wisdom to discern which one was the one God wanted to be Judas’ replacement and they took lots (like flipping a coin in today’s world). It is important to note that they not only took lots but they were also constantly in prayer. They did not make decisions without prayer. Prayer was one of the biggest things in the formation of the church. They did not do things simply because they felt like it, but they were in prayer and did what God told them to do. Today, we don’t take lots but we do follow their example in relying on the Scriptures and the Holy Spirit.
- Are we being martyrs? Are we willing to die for Christ? What is the extent of our devotion?
- Are we witnessing when we want to, when we feel like it? Or all the time?
- Are we being filled with the Holy Spirit and experiencing the power of God in our lives?
- How is your life being transformed day by day?
You can listen to the entire sermon on the Church website.
1. I Corinthians 12:13, Romans 8:9, Romans 8:14-17
2. Romans 8:9
3. Matthew 16:24