Bible in a Year, Week 5: Acts

This is the fifth weekly reading in the plan for reading your Bible in one year. The assignment for this week is the book of Acts. It should only take about 15 minutes a day, or about 4 chapters a day to complete the assignment.

Here are some comments to help you grow in knowledge and faith as you read Acts.

Background: Luke wrote the book of Acts. Luke was not one of the 12 disciples, but he was an apostle. This letter to Theophilus is a continuation of where he left off with his detailed account in his gospel. Luke the doctor investigated carefully everything that Jesus said and did for his gospel account. But for Acts, Luke was a witness of many of the events himself. There are several “we” sections in Acts that indicate Luke was with Paul on these journeys. These “we” sections are: 16:10-17; 20:5-15; 21:1-18; 27:1-28:16.

Some think of Acts as a record of “the Acts of the Apostles.” This could be appropriate and fitting. Perhaps a better view might be to see this book as “the Acts of the Holy Spirit.” Acts is an amazing testimony to the power of the Spirit who worked in great and mighty ways through the preaching of the gospel.

As we read Acts, it can only be our prayer that God would use us to spread his Word in such bold and courageous ways, and that God would bless our work as he blessed the work of these first believers!

Acts 1: Luke tells us right away that he wrote Acts as a follow-up letter to a man named Theophilus. His former letter, the gospel of Luke, was all about Jesus and what he did leading up to his resurrection. Now Luke continues with what happened after Jesus’ resurrection, starting with his ascension into heaven.

We see in the opening verses that even though Jesus had died and risen and visibly appeared to the disciples, they still didn’t fully understand his purpose. They asked if Jesus would restore the kingdom of Israel finally. They still didn’t grasp that Jesus’ kingdom is a spiritual kingdom. He came to defeat Satan, forgive sins, and fling wide the doors to heaven. He did not come to bring earthly peace or to make Israel a worldwide power once more.

Jesus informed his disciples that he had a different purpose in mind for them. They were going to become his witnesses. First there in Jerusalem, then in the surrounding areas of Judea and Samaria, and finally to the ends of the earth. This is similar to Jesus’ command in Matthew to go and make disciples of all nations. But the disciples wouldn’t be alone in this daunting task! Jesus told his disciples to wait a few days for the time when the Holy Spirit would come upon them and empower them to do this important mission work.

As the disciples prepared for this work and waited for the Holy Spirit to come, they selected one to replace Judas. They took some very important steps in doing so. They chose from men who were qualified. They had to be men who had been with Jesus the whole time and had been witnesses of the things he did and said. They prayed about it. They asked God to bless their decision.

There is nothing wrong with the casting of lots that was done. Either of the candidates were qualified and could have done the work. Thus, it was God who guided their decision process and the lot that fell to Matthias.

In many ways this is similar to the divine call process of the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod. Men who are properly qualified and trained present themselves as available for a divine call (from God through the church). God then guides the decision processes of those involved so that the proper candidate is in exactly the place that God wants him to be serving as pastor.

Finally, we note about Judas in chapter 1 that Peter seems to allude that Judas went to hell. We cannot assume that Judas is in hell because he committed suicide. There really is no definitive answer. But it does seem like Judas killed himself out of despair and with a lack of trust in his sins being forgiven. Further, Peter says in verse 25 here that Judas went, “where he belongs.” That may mean that he did in fact go to hell.

Acts 2-5: Ten days after Jesus ascended into heaven, the Holy Spirit did come with power and might on Pentecost. Pentecost means “fifty.” It was a harvest festival day for the Jews, thus many people from all over the world were there in Jerusalem. It was on this day that the Holy Spirit came with the sound of a rushing wind. Something like tongues of fire appeared on the disciples’ heads and they began speaking in other languages.

While many questioned the disciples and even assumed that they were drunk, Peter stood up and preached a mighty sermon. He proclaimed exactly what Jesus had done, that he had died and risen as the Scriptures had prophesied. Then he called them to repent of their sins and to be baptized. About 3,000 people joined the Christian faith that day.

There are some important doctrinal points in Acts 2 that should be noted as well. First is the topic of speaking in tongues. Biblical speaking in tongues consisted of this: They spoke in actual, real, and known languages that they previously did not know. The purpose of speaking in tongues was to spread the good news about Jesus Christ and also to be a testimony to the power and truth of the message. Since the Bible had not been completed yet, this miracle and others performed in Acts served as a powerful witness to the message that was preached. This is much the same as with Jesus’ miracles. Thus, the modern day occurrences of speaking in tongues are not the same as they were in the Bible.

We can also note the importance of baptism in Peter’s sermon. In verse 38 Peter says that baptism is for the forgiveness of sins. It is something that connects to Jesus and his work. Peter also says that the promise of forgiveness and new spiritual life through baptism is both for the adults and the children. Thus we note here as in other places that baptism is for anyone of any age.

Our prayer as Christians today is that we would be much like these first Christians and the disciples, who devoted themselves to the Word of God and to prayer and to the fellowship they enjoyed. If we continue to do these very things, it will only strengthen our own faith, increase our bond of faith, and grow God’s church!

As the disciples went forth then from that day of Pentecost, God allowed them to perform some miraculous signs that would accompany their Spirit-powered preaching of the gospel. But just as with Jesus, the Pharisees and Sadducees did not approve. We see that with Peter and John in chapters 3 and 4. They were even imprisoned because of their preaching. But they boldly proclaimed: “We cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.” God grant us that same joy and courage to share Jesus without fear!

Just as the Holy Spirit displayed his power through preaching and those who came to faith, so also did the Holy Spirit display his power against unbelievers in chapter 5. Ananias and Sapphira both tried lying to the Lord. They sold some property and told the church that their gift was everything they got from the sale, wanting to look good to others. Meanwhile they kept some of the money for themselves. But they could not lie to the Holy Spirit and so they dropped dead on the spot. We can learn that God truly knows everything that we do and that God truly wants cheerful givers!

Acts 6-9: As the group of early Christians grew rapidly, there was great need for more help in the church. The disciples did not want to give up the ministry of the Word–preaching law and gospel–so they chose deacons to serve the in church. These seven men then became adjunct staff to the disciples. Even today in some churches there are serving jobs and tasks that are accomplished by deacons.

Stephen was one of the seven and was a great man of faith. His heart was bursting for joy about the Savior as he couldn’t help but share the message of salvation. This however got him in trouble with the Sanhedrin. And after a fiery sermon about Jesus and the sins of the Jews, they took him out and stoned him to death. Giving approval and looking on with evil pleasure was a man named Saul.

Another deacon that we hear more about is Philip. Philip was also a faithful preacher of the Word of God. The famous story of Philip and the Ethiopian reminds us that forgiveness and salvation are for any person of any age or gender of any race or nation.

In chapter nine we meet back up with Saul who was on his way to Samaria to do some more persecuting. But along the way Jesus appeared to Saul. He asked him why he had persecuting him and his people. Having gone to Damascus without his sight, Saul waited for Ananias to come. Ananias helped Saul to understand that he was now going to be used by the Lord to spread the gospel.

What incredible grace and mercy from God that he would choose such a sinner as Paul–a persecutor and murderer–and lead him to faith through which he would become perhaps the greatest missionary ever. At the same time, we recognize God’s incredible mercy in bringing sinners like us to faith and in welcoming us as his own children.

Acts 10-12: The Cornelius episode in chapters 10-12 is of great significance. The Lord allowed Peter to see a vision of animals descending from heaven in a white sheet. He was told to eat them, but didn’t want to because he had never “eaten anything unclean.” God told him that nothing he makes is unclean. The Lord was making a point that salvation is for all people, not just the Jews. Peter was then called to the house of a Gentile named Cornelius. There he shared the good news about Jesus.

Later Peter returned to Jerusalem and reported to the Christians there what had happened. After hearing the full story, they rejoiced and praised God that even Gentiles would be saved. So also today we rejoice that the message of salvation is also for us, Gentiles just like those first Christians. They first received that name of Christians in Antioch. Today we too proudly bare the name of Christ.

Meanwhile, Peter continued to preach boldly–and to be persecuted because of it. He was even thrown into prison. But the Lord delivered him from prison and allowed him to walk right out. After he escaped he went to the house of Mary who was the mother of John Mark. John Mark was the cousin of Barnabas, traveled on the first missionary journey, wrote the gospel of Mark, and was apparently very close to Peter before Peter was martyred.

Acts 13-15: In Acts 13 Barnabas and Paul (formerly Saul) set out on their first missionary journey. They traveled first to Cyprus where the preached a heavy dose of the law to a sorcerer by the name of Bar-Jesus. From there they went to Pisidian Antioch. Paul preached a lengthy and detailed sermon about the history of Israel and the promises of the Savior. His main point to the Jews was that Jesus is the fulfillment of that prophecy. But at the end of the sermon Paul proclaimed that Jesus would also be a “light for the Gentiles.” The Gentiles rejoiced at such news, but shamefully the Jews started a riot in anger.

This reaction from the Jews was common on Paul’s missionary journeys. The same was true in Iconium, Lystra, and Derbe on this first journey. In Lystra they even dragged Paul outside and stoned him. Amazingly, not only did Paul live through the stoning, but he also got up and went back into the city! God give us such a determination of faith and in mission to share the Word of God!

In these early days of Christianity, there were two kinds of mission work going on–preaching to the Jews and preaching to the Gentiles. This was a cause of concern and even conflict in the early church. Some Jews insisted on keeping the ways and laws of Moses. Some Gentiles insisted on keeping the ways of “freedom” and Gentile living. At the Jerusalem Council, all the leaders of the church gathered to discuss the situation. After rejoicing that salvation was for all people, they created some guidelines (not rules!) to help make the transition into a multi-cultural church more smooth. Many lessons can be learned from the careful and prayerful decisions of the early church and its leaders!

Acts 16-21: After the Jerusalem Council Paul and Barnabas set out for another missionary journey. However, they disagreed about what to do with John Mark who had abandoned them on the first journey. Barnabas decided to take John Mark with him (his cousin) and Paul went with Silas.

After strengthening some of the churches he had planted before, Paul then went further than he had before as he traveled into Macedonia. In Philippi they met a wonderful lady named Lydia who was leading a group of women there. The Lord worked through Paul to bring Lydia to faith. While in Philippi they met a great deal of persecution though as they were thrown into prison. But Paul and Silas showed their strength of faith as they prayed and sang hymns all night. Later that night God allowed Paul and Silas to be released, and to preach the good news of salvation to a terrified jailer. They even baptized him and his entire household (which may be used as another supplementary proof for infant baptism).

In Thessalonica they had similar results. They were greeted with some excitement but the Jews ended up chasing them out of town! As we find out in 1 and 2 Thessalonians, it was these Christians that struggled with understanding teachings about death, the resurrection of the dead, and End Times. Paul answers many of the questions and concerns in those two letters.

Having left Thessalonica they went to Berea where the Christians were called more noble. They set an example which we are wise to follow. They studied and searched the Scripture to make sure that what Paul was saying was accurate and true.

In Athens Paul met a group of wise and snooty men in the Areopagus who thought they were very wise. Paul used some interesting preaching strategies to hone their “religiousness” in on the one true God.

In Corinth Paul had some success, but also received considerable opposition. He stayed there for some time and there met a husband and wife mission team, Aquila and Priscilla. After he left Corinth he went to Ephesus where he met Apollos. There he had a very close call with facing his death as the entire city broke out into a massive riotous mob. But the Lord delivered them from that riot. In chapter 20 Paul says a tearful goodbye to the leaders of Ephesus and entrusts the members of the church there to their care. Then he went on to Jerusalem.

Though Paul was warned of being arrested in Jerusalem, he entrusted his care to the Lord and went to Jerusalem anyways. Sure enough, Paul was in fact arrested.

Acts 22-28: While under arrest Paul had an opportunity to address the crowd. As usual, he took the opportunity to proclaim Christ crucified and risen from the dead. Once again though, the Jews rejected the message. In an eerily and evilly similar way as with Jesus, they cried out for Paul’s death.

Later we are told that Paul may have been released as it was. However, Paul appealed to Caesar, as any Roman citizen could do. He was pulling himself out of the jurisdiction of Judea and to the rule and court of Rome. Regardless of whether that was a good decision, God used that for the spread of the gospel and the growth of his kingdom!

As we follow Paul during these last few years of his life as he was shipped off for Rome, we can only marvel at his determination in spreading the good news about Jesus. He took advantage of every opportunity that arose for sharing his faith. We can only pray that God would give us the strength and courage to do the same!

Next Week’s Readings (starting 2/6/11):  Romans

To view or download a copy of the 1-Year Bible Reading Plan (New Testament first), click here.

Posted on February 4, 2011, in Bible in a Year, Church and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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