When I was in Denver, we as a church began to study the book of Acts in a sermon series entitled: “Empowered”, and learning (or relearning) the First Principle Study Series! As we began this series, I wrote a lesson and I want to tell you our purpose in studying this amazing book, and to share with you some useful tools to help you make the most of the time we will give to learning and applying the story of the first century Church.
Why Study the Book of Acts?
The mission of the Church is to make maturing disciples of Christ, through the power of God carried out by the Holy Spirit. One of the main aspects of a maturing disciple of Christ is that they multiply. The disciple’s call is multiplication and replication through the proclamation of the gospel—the good news of Jesus! Those who have been reconciled to God through the good news of Jesus have the benefit and responsibility to enter into the work of multiplication. From living a mission minded lifestyle through interacting with neighbors, friends and co-workers in Bible studies, Bible talks, or amazing times of fellowship, our lives become infused with purpose and meaning as the Gospel is lived in us and through us.
The idea of multiplication is woven throughout the Scriptures, giving us a picture of God’s plan to call to Himself from every nation, a people of His own possession, bought with the blood of Jesus Christ. We see in the book of Acts, and then throughout the history of the Church, that God’s primary way of spreading His message is through disciples who plant churches; that make disciples who plant churches; that make disciples who plant churches.
As we enter 2014, still a small band of committed disciples on mission, we want to look at the book of Acts, so that we can know and understand God’s heart for His people and His Church and to grow in our convictions.
Making the Most of the Empowered Series
We will be covering large portions of Acts as we go, not necessarily line by line, so it will be important for you to become familiar with the entire story in the book of Acts. One of the greatest things you can do is read the entire book, even if the Sunday sermons are only on a few passages of scripture. Make an outline of the main themes within each chapter as you read and study. We will put some great study tools and resources on our website for you to enjoy a deeper study if you wish (www.denvericc.org).
Here are a few things to consider as you read:
1. The main theme of the book of Acts (and our theme for 2014!) is found in Acts 1:8, which says, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” Read the book of Acts in light of this theme “Empowered.”
2. Read the book of Acts as fulfilling the promises of the Old Testament. The book of Isaiah promised that Gentiles (non Jews) would flock to Zion and that the good news of the one true God would spread to all nations. The prophet Jeremiah promised that God would write His law on our hearts and give us His Spirit. God promised that His Spirit would be given to both young and old! The book of Acts was written to point to the fulfillment of what had been prophesied in the Old Testament (for more on this, check out The Coming of the Kingdom study in our First Principles Study Series).
3. Read the book of Acts as a transitional book. The book of Acts spans the years between the resurrection of Jesus and the established churches addressed in Paul’s letters. The book of Acts is actually a continuation of the work done for Theophilus, who was a generous, wealthy donor who funded two books of the Bible (Acts and Luke) written by Dr. Luke (Acts 1:1/Luke 1:3). Acts shows the Church going out in the power of the Holy Spirit to fill the known world with the message of Jesus. Author and commentator Michael Green called the time period of the book of Acts, “the 30 years that changed the world” because it is a transitional book, it contains a few things that happen outside of the “norm.”
For example, God waits to give His Spirit to certain people until the Apostles lay their hands on them. This is so the Apostles can authenticate the gospel message, and so others can see that the Spirit is going out to the Gentiles. This does not mean that people have hands laid on them today to receive the Spirit. Similarly, speaking in tongues is common in Acts, serving as a visible fulfillment of Old Testament promises about the Spirit, and as evidence that God has given His Spirit to people and that the gospel message is true. This does not mean that disciples speak in tongues today (for more on this, check out the Miraculous Gifts of the Holy Spirit in our First Principles Study Series).
Beyond just giving the history of the early church, the events in the books of Luke and Acts do a great job of complimenting each other: “Luke wrote his Gospel to show what Jesus began to do and to teach when he was on the earth,” author Michael Green explains. “He wrote his Acts to show what Jesus continued to do and to teach after his resurrection, through the agency of the Holy Spirit in a handful of dedicated people whose message became irresistible.”
In the Gospel of Luke, the Holy Spirit descends onto Jesus and empowers Him to accomplish God’s mission in the world. In the book of Acts, the Holy Spirit descends on the church and empowers them to continue the mission of Jesus to the world. “So central was the work of the Spirit in Acts, that some have suggested a more appropriate title for the book would be ‘The Acts of the Holy Spirit,’” writes author John Polhill. Some Bible translations entitle the book of Acts “The Acts of the Apostles.”
4. Pay attention to how the gospel message is preached in Acts. The book of Acts offers the gospel as more than just a message of personal salvation. The Apostles emphasize Jesus’ resurrection, the need for repentance, the gift of the Holy Spirit, the inclusion of Gentiles into God’s family and the beginning of the Kingdom of God, as Jesus brings not only restoration in our personal lives, but also the restoration of all things through the rule and reign of Christ.
I am truly excited for us to begin this journey into the book of Acts and to watch its richness unfold not just in the pages of the Bible, but to see it lived out in our lives, in our church, and in our movement. Let’s be praying for this series, and the First Principals class to not only be impacting on our hearts and lives, but to also be empowering to them as well!