Introduction to Acts September 12, 2004 Well, good morning friends, this morning we finally kick-off our series on the Book of Acts; 19 sermons that will take us through January of 2005! Even as I have been preparing for this introductory sermon, I have been stricken with the all together overwhelming realization that there is no way we can possibly do justice to this book in anything short of 19 months. Having felt this sensation many times before, I know that we will likely to a fair job of covering some of the more important themes, ideas, terms, people and theology, and then as always we will have to trust the Holy Spirit to do a deeper work among us. I am sure that most of you are familiar with the books of Acts – some likely more educated in the text than those who will hold this pulpit – nevertheless we embark on nothing short of an epic journey together. The book of Acts provides the pivotal transition form the work of Jesus on earth to the work of Jesus by the agency of the Holy Spirit and the Apostles. It is the only account of the early church. It is our introduction to heroes of the Faith. Oh Luke, our brother who stood in our steed, carefully investigating the facts of our faith – meticulous historian, inspired theologian, thank you for your work. Paul! Eminent brother in the faith, what a life you lived, how richly you learned the glories of the Christ and how terribly you would suffer for his namesake. Timothy, young Pastor, Barnabas, the encourager. Peter! Surely, we have known Peter before, but not in this light. Until Acts, Peter often vacillates between revelation and cowardice. But now Peter, the Peter of Acts, the Peter who is full of the Holy Spirit, stands-up before crowds of thousands and boldly proclaims the gospel of Jesus Christ. We are going to love this book, it is rife with intrigue, nefarious plots, amazing heroism, stories of martyrdom that move but only the most callous. History of the ancient world, where Luke paints pictures so rich you can see the coliseum and the jeering crowds; governors, kings and emperors engage with this story. The most powerful people on earth and the lowliest beggar stand check to jowl in the account the early church; miracles, angels, shipwrecks, vipers, beheadings and Theophanies – this book is one of the best true stories on earth. So get out your pencils, mark your Bibles, show-up on time and buckle down, we are in for a fantastic fall. May God teach us, encourage, admonish, correct, guide and mold us in the weeks to come. Holy Spirit, you who are God, but point us continually to Christ; to remind us of his words and his deeds, we praise and magnify the Father by your prompting. Teach us powerful Spirit – even use us as you used the men and women of the first century. We surrender to you authority and we look forward to your work. Amen. Would you open your bibles then to Luke Chapter 1 and Acts Chapter 1. I am not going to re-read what Teresa did such a fine job of reading already, but I will highlight a few points. While you have your finger in both let me make a sort of obvious point. These two are one book in two volumes. We do not have to speculate, because the author makes it clear that these two volumes or books form one account, and in compliance with ancient tradition the introduction to the first is the introduction to both. Accordingly, the second book simply refers back the first book (in my former book, Theophilus. . .) That is why from the earliest accounts these two have often been combined together as Luke-Acts. I think that raises an interesting question, one that many scholars have wrestled with. Whose “Acts” are recorded here? Some have traditionally titled the book, “The Acts of the Apostles,” but I must agree with our primary text, John Stott’s,The Message of Acts (much of our work and the outline come straight from this wonderful text), that that overemphasizes human agency and you might say cleaves the two volumes into the works of Jesus and the works the apostles. This at the surface does not seem to be an issue, other than the glaring fact that Luke set out to record the words and deeds of Jesus. Conversely, some have, wanting to avoid the anthropological (human-centered) focus, titled the book, “the Acts of the Holy Spirit” Now, while I find this way more palatable than the “Acts of the Apostles”; it is perhaps to Theo-centric and under represents the work of the Apostles. What I would like to suggest in concurrence with our author is that the book ought to be called something like “The Continuing Acts of Jesus by the Agency of the Holy Spirit and the Apostles.” But that is an unwieldy mouthful. It’s why Dan creates all of the titles for series and sermon – I simply create irretrievably unattractive and unnecessarily cumbersome designations ;) So, I accept, the Acts of the Holy Spirit, as long as we understand that the Holy Spirit is continuing the work of Jesus, from heaven, as his supreme and intimately bound representative, and that the Holy Spirit used human agency in the persons of the apostles to accomplish Jesus’ work. Fair enough? Ok, then open to Luke Chapter one, as it serves as the introduction to both volumes of this manuscript. Luke, Chapter one introduces us to both author and project. Certainly, we learn more about Luke in other passages, such as Col. 4:14, which informs us that Luke is a physician and continuing portions of Acts that make it clear that Luke was a traveling companion to Paul. But from the beginning he reveals some things about himself. What we see here in Luke 1 is that he was NOT an eye-witness. We do learn that Luke was aware that there we other accounts, undoubtedly Mark’s gospel, but that he still saw fit to create his own orderly account. We see further that he claims to have investigated this story carefully. While the author’s testimony is certainly encouraging, it can not be its own evidence alone. In support of his credibility, we do know that Luke lived in Palestine for at least two years when he returned with Paul before sailing for Rome, and would have been afforded every opportunity to interview the chief players and investigate the claims of the believers. It seems likely he even interviewed Mary as he shares the narrative from her perspective. It is perhaps why the beginning of the gospel of Luke has such a clear Semitic coloring. But perhaps, the best argument in favor of his claim to have carefully investigated is how thoroughly and accurately he records the details. You might have thought Luke grew up on the hills of Nazareth if you did not know he was a Greek from Asia! Although some have at times questioned if he could have gathered all of these facts, those criticisms have been all but entirely squashed. The fact of the matter is that the good physician Luke goes down, commended by his professional peers as one of the finest ancient historians to have ever wielded pen and intellect. His elegant and educated Greek points to his credibility and lends to the beauty of the account. Let’s leave the historicity bit to rest. Luke 1 also records his purpose; he desires that Theophilus and other readers may know that certainty of what they believe. Luke was one of the first Christian Theologians – God Bless him. He stood in my/our steed and did the homework. You see, I am mostly a cerebral theologian. I like that our faith is sound; it is cogent; it is historically accurate and has stood the test of a million trials and criticisms. So, Luke was my man. He does not want his friend Theophilus or anyone else for that matter to believe in some religious idea. He wants them to believe the truth. This is true. We have borrowed from Earl Palmer before, when we say “Christianity is not an Idea it is a Historical Fact.” Well, Luke ends his first volume with the ascension of Christ and picks his second volume up right at the same place. Thus our argument that the Acts is simply the continuation of the words and deeds of the Christ – one from earth – the other from his rightful place at the right hand of the Father in heaven. So, now open your Bibles to Acts, Chapter 1. After referring back to the first introduction, Luke picks up where he left off and shares some very interesting facts about Jesus and the apostles before the ascension – namely, that he spent 40-days appearing to and teaching the believers. Luke, who I already said is an expert Greek author chooses his words carefully, says that Jesus provided them with many “tekmerion” which means many “decisively convincing proofs” that he was alive and the self-same Jesus they had walked with. One of the best proofs is seemingly entered as a secondary situational detail. Luke says in verse 4, “on one occasion, while he was eating with them, he said”. . . Eating! Let there be no doubt that Jesus was not some Ghost or apparition. The food did not fall through him and onto the floor. He ate it. And believe you me; Luke did not enter any superfluous secondary situational details. He made a point of Jesus eating to make the point that Jesus ATE. Next, in this second introduction “he sets the stage” for the beginning of the new church by bringing back the words of Jesus during the 40-dayt teaching, “John baptized with water but in a few days you will be baptized by the Holy Spirit. Oh boy friend and that is where it takes off, break neck speed for decades to come. And we get to share. We get to be moved and educated because of our brother Luke and his obedience to the Holy Spirit. What is to follow for the next 28 Chapters is nothing short of the thrilling tale of God’s good news beginning to reach to every people, every tribe and every race. Let’s not forget the excitement, let’s not forget the mission for we friends are still a part of Luke’s story. We have the obligation, we have the privilege, we have the joy of being the agents of Jesus, by the Holy Spirit to see the world come to know God and his Son, who by virtue of his majesty and creation and astonishing salvation is the rightful Lord of all the world. Can you say amen to that? I ask you to take a moment to think about it while you listen to a fitting performance by the Northwest College Choralons and watch a video.
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