Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Thoughts on Acts


Below is compilation of my thoughts and personal study in the book of Acts. This is a result of teaching through each chapter in the book of Acts, something that took a year to accomplish. I thank my teenagers for their patience and insights. If you want to adventure along I recommend you have your Bible near so you too can read and discover God’s truth in Acts. Hope you enjoy!

Waiting on God
(Acts 1)

Have you ever been told to wait? It can birth feelings of frustration, impatience, humiliation, and invigoration. Even all four at once! Usually the emotions following waiting depend on what we’re waiting for. Some say, “I can’t wait to get married! I can’t wait to get out of school! I can’t wait in line, I’m an important person!” Despite who we are, we all find ourselves waiting. What is it about waiting that perturbs us humans? Yes, waiting for something pleasurable (like a gift) is a lot different then waiting to hear a doctor’s report on if you have cancer or not. But I’m not focusing on the thing we’re waiting for, but on waiting itself.

In Acts 1:4 Jesus tells His disciples,

“Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about.”

Some suggest Jesus is restoring His disciple’s faith by asking them to wait in Jerusalem. He’s giving them a second chance to not run off and desert Him like they did when He was crucified. Others say it was to fuel their desire and want for the Gift He promised. No matter how you view this, one thing remains…they had to wait. More importantly, Jesus asked them to wait. What? God asking us to wait? Seems kind of absurd! Especially since we live in a society drenched in instant this and instant that. Waiting just doesn’t fit into the picture here. Or does it?

Throughout the book of Acts we find people waiting. Numerous times we find the disciples waiting in jail (Acts 5:18, 12:5, 16:23), Paul had to wait to receive his sight back after his Damascus Road encounter with Jesus (Acts 9:9), and the Gentile Christians at Antioch had to wait to hear the verdict on if they were to be circumcised or not (Acts 15:1, 5). Waiting is everywhere! *Even before the book of Acts, in the Gospels, the disciples have to wait three days for their Savior to rise from the dead.

In our day and age people are cleverly thinking up new ways to make waiting shorter. We have drive-thru restaurants, drive-thru banks, and now drive-thru prescription pick-ups. Imagine your grandparent’s reaction to hearing that when it was first announced. Think of how frustrating it is when you have to wait in a drive-thru? (There has to be some irony here. The drive-thru was invented so you wouldn’t have to wait, right?) You know what I’m talking about. The guy/gal in front of you orders that “special burger” that takes 10 minutes to make. So, you’re forced into staring at their bumper sticker, which reads, “Proud parent of an honor student.” Or the other classic, “Proud parent of a kid who beat up your honor student!” Nevertheless, you’re left waiting.

I once heard it took all day to do laundry by hand, now it takes an hour or two. We can have dinner ready in minutes. That should give us at least an hour or so of extra free time from the normal time it would take to prepare a hearty dinner, right? With things working quicker and us not having to wait so much, you would think we would have more free time. Think again! I surveyed my own life during the week and I was amazed at how little free time I have. It seems every shortcut taken to save time was canceled out. Why? Because I kept filling my schedule with one more thing. The fact that we can do more things quicker only means we can do more things. It’s like I don’t want to have to wait around, so I busy myself doing something else. I try really hard to eliminate waiting in my life. Should I be doing that?

Looking back to Acts 1, I think Jesus was on to something when He asked His disciples to wait? Maybe there’s something to learn about God here. If Jesus deems it necessary to wait, then maybe waiting isn’t so bad. Jesus could have instantly given the disciples the Holy Spirit, but instead He asked them to wait. Maybe He was preparing them for the Christian life, which waiting is embedded in. How? As Christians, we all universally have something we’re waiting for. Maybe I should say Someone. The return of our Lord Jesus Christ. Someday (I hope it’s soon!) the waiting will be over. So, the next time you find yourself waiting, let it remind you of the hope we have as Christians. Hope in our Lord’s return. Let Him teach you in that sometimes frustrating, impatient, humiliating, and invigorating moment of waiting that He is one day coming back.


- Do you cringe when you have to wait for something?
- What do you think God is trying to teach us by having us wait?
- Is there anything you have learned about God or life through waiting?
- Do you think it’s cruel that God sometimes has us wait for things?
- Why do you think Jesus told them to wait?

(Acts 2)

After Peter’s Pentecostal sermon in Acts 2, we see some radical changes implemented into the lives of the early believers. Read Acts 2:41-47 and you’ll see what I’m talking about. To kick start this special event, Pentecost was a special time for Jews all over the region. During this time (50 days after Passover. The Greek word for “fiftieth day” is Pentecost), they would make the pilgrimage to Jerusalem to celebrate the Feast of Weeks. Thousands of Jews would be in Jerusalem during this time. Now we see why God was waiting to pour out His Spirit. As they were gathered the Holy Spirit was given to all in the upper room who were praying and they began speaking in tongues. Following this, Peter (now filled with the Holy Spirit) delivers a fiery sermon calling for repentance and baptism in the Name of Jesus Christ (v.38).

The aftermath is incredible. Listen to Luke’s words as he records the events in verse 41,

“Those who accepted his
message were baptized, and about
three thousand were added to their number that day.”

Luke doesn’t stop there, good things continue to happen. Listen to verse 42,

“They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching
and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.”

One of the things I note from this passage is the fellowship the early believers were devoted to. In the Greek language the word is Koinonia. It means communion with, close association with, and community. This word is also used by Paul in 2 Corinthians 13:14 to described the type of fellowship we believers have with the Holy Spirit. He states,

“May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.”

That’s a pretty intimate type of fellowship.

One of the things I cherish about J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings is the close fellowship between the characters. One example is the fellowship between Frodo and Sam. They are in such a tight fellowship with one another that what one does or feels, the other does or feels. We even discover that Sam is willing to risk his life to protect and follow Frodo. In the book you have a fellowship on a journey and this fellowship involves people making sacrifices for one another, helping one another, and sticking with one another despite despairing circumstances.

The fellowship in Tolkien’s novel shadows the type of fellowship the early Christians in Acts display. Acts is a real life documentation of Christians in Agape love with one another. I think it’s important to note that this fellowship happens after the Holy Spirit is poured out. So, we see a close connection between loving one another in an Agape type way and being filled with the Holy Spirit. Could we love one another like that without the Holy Spirit? This must have been an exciting time for the early Christians! Luke goes on to describe them as meeting together every day (v.46). There had to be something supernatural going on for that to happen!

It’s like pulling teeth today to get Christians to come together for one Sunday morning service. I won’t dare touch Sunday night or the midweek service. You pastors know how well those are attended (some pastors and churches have dealt with the problem by canceling services). Maybe we need to be praying for God’s Spirit to fill us in such a way that we want and desire to come together. Then, when we do come together, it’s out of our love for God and commitment to one another. Do you long for real and authentic fellowship with one another? If yes, don’t throw away those longings, but keep praying, because God answers our prayers.


- How does this portrayal of fellowship stack up to our portrayal of fellowship today?
- What are some ways we could improve our fellowship with one another?
- Why do you think the early Christians were so adamant about coming together?
- What hindrances keep us from coming together like the early Christians?
- What ideas do you have to help improve our fellowship as Christians?

(Acts 2)

Acts 2 opens up with a firestorm (literally) of action! Listen to Luke’s description in the opening verses,

1When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. 2Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. 3They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them.

In the next verse (v.4) we see the disciples speaking in other languages as the Spirit enabled them. In Greek (the language the New Testament was originally written in) the word “enabled” is didomi (to give, grant, or permit). First and foremost we must see that this giving/enabling comes from God. The disciple’s part in all of this was to wait (see Acts 1:4). God’s part was enabling them to speak in different languages. God was the supplier of the power. This is only the beginning of God through the Holy Spirit enabling His disciples to do miraculous and amazing things. Throughout the book of Acts the disciples are enabled by the Holy Spirit to speak in tongues, heal the sick, stand bold amidst persecution, and even raise the dead! It’s amazing what God wants to do through us.

I wonder how willing we are to be used by God? How willing and open are we to Him enabling us? Our culture focuses on self-empowerment. I’ve seen late night info commercials flaunting the slogan “The real power is within you”. Yikes! If that’s the case, I’m in trouble! The Bible makes it pretty clear that humans are born with sinful natures (Ephesians 2:3). Implying we’re marred from birth. The only power inside us is the power to naturally do evil. Does that sound like the type of power you want? In light of this, it makes sense that God would want to come live inside of us (through the Holy Spirit). If He doesn’t, we’re doomed to spending life chained to our sinful nature.

One of the dangers in reading Acts is to think, “God will never work like this again.” God will and is working like this and has been for the past 2,000 years. Acts isn’t just a parade of God’s best in action. It’s showing us what life in the Spirit is like. Those of us who have accepted Christ have the Spirit living inside of us (Ephesians 1:12). We have that same enabling power the early disciples received. God through His Holy Spirit wants to use us like He did those early disciples.

If you have trouble seeing the Holy Spirit at work, go and ask some of the saints in your church for examples. Be prepared for a long list of stories, because they are living testimonies to the Spirit’s work. We cannot doubt the Spirit’s work. The book of James tells us,

6But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind.
If you doubt the Spirit will ever work in your life and perform the type of miracles He did through the early disciple’s lives…He probably won’t. Even though God is way more than we can ever expect, sometimes what we expect is what we get. So, I challenge you to spend some time reading and re-reading this first part of Acts (v.1-4). Remember that the disciples had nothing in themselves to produce the type of power they received when the Holy Spirit came on them. These were regular men and women (they were there too).

- Do you ever doubt what the Spirit can do in your life?
- Have you ever witnessed the Spirit doing something miraculous? If yes, what?
- What are some of the stories the saints in your church tell about the Holy Spirit?

Crippled from birth
(Acts 3)

Imagine being born crippled. Imagine the often taken for granted things in life you would never know or understand. Things like running, jumping, and walking. But then one day, out of the blue, you are healed. Imagine the excitement and splendor in learning how to do all the things you’ve missed out on in life. Such is the story at the beginning of Acts 3. Peter and John are on their way to the temple to pray (Jewish custom) and they encounter a man, a beggar, who was crippled from birth (v.1-2). He makes his usual requests for money and receives something more; a healing, and more importantly the Gospel.

This healing is a miraculous story for two reasons:

First, this wasn’t a healing done by Jesus, but by one of His disciples. A disciple that had abandoned Him a few months earlier (read Luke 22:54-62). I’m talking about Peter. Before Pentecost, Peter was guilty of desertion, but after God poured out His Spirit on him, Peter became something better. What I mean is that Peter, after being filled with the Holy Spirit, became more original. He was in tune and in fellowship with God. This was what man and woman were originally created for. Remember Genesis and the Garden of Eden? Man and woman were supposed to live in perpetual fellowship with God there. But, after being deceived by the serpent, the fellowship with God was broken. Their sin carried with it harsh consequences. Kicked out of the Garden of Eden and kicked out of fellowship with God. (Here’s the full story if you want to read it, Genesis 3:1-24)

Second, this story could almost be used as an analogy to describe the condition of every human being before they encounter Christ. We are all born crippled in a spiritual sense. The Bible constantly reminds us that we are born with sinful natures. Listen to the words of Paul as he writes to the Church in Ephesus (Ephesians 2:3) describing life before coming to know Christ,

“All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings
of our sinful nature and following
its desires and thoughts.”

Sinning comes natural for us. Even if Satan and all his cronies were wiped out, we would still sin (*See note below). They don’t make us sin, we choose to sin because of our sinful natures. They aren’t the problem, we are. I heard somebody once say, “If you want to see the most evil creature on earth, you’re going to need a mirror.”

*I’m not trying to downplay or deny the influence Satan and his demons have on people. I’m not saying they sit around and do absolutely nothing, because they do try and entice us to sin in numerous ways (ways we probably aren’t even aware of). My point is that they are not the ones who make us sin. Yes, Sate did entice Eve in the Garden of Eden, but he didn’t make her take the fruit or the bite (same goes for Adam), she made the choice as well as Adam. If we blame our sins and sinful nature all on fallen angels, Jesus shouldn’t have died for us, but for them. We are responsible for our sins and our sinful nature.

The Good News for us who believe in Christ is that we receive a healing. God’s Holy Spirit was given to us for this very purpose. To cleanse us, to purify us, and to put to death our sinful nature. Despite your theological background you cannot deny that God wants His Spirit to live in us. He wants His Spirit to live through us. He wants His Spirit to make us like His Son Jesus Christ.

The crippled man saw and heard Someone that day in his encounter with Peter and John, Someone who would change his life forever. He heard the Gospel and saw the Spirit at work in Peter and his own life (his healing). God’s Spirit is going to change the Ancient World forever with the help of men and women willing to submit to Him. He wants to do miraculous things in and through us. We just need His grace to allow us to let Him do it. Are you willing and ready?

This story is a remarkable way to start a ministry. The crippled man was just as happy as I’m sure the disciples were. Acts 3:9 talks of him jumping and praising God. Before we come to God we are crippled, remember that. Read Acts 3 again and see humanity in the crippled man. I hope this story opens your eyes to the need of God in men and women around the world.

- Do you find it amazing the Peter healed this man?
- Why or why not?
- When’s the last time you saw a display of God’s power like this?

(Acts 25)

Well, we’re almost through the book of Acts. It’s been a long journey, but very rewarding. We get an up close and personal example of the Holy Spirit’s work in the world around us through the Lord’s disciples. Some of the benefits in reading Acts straight through have been:
- A chance to see God at work in ordinary people.
- A chance to see what those ordinary people can accomplish with the Holy Spirit living in them.
- A chance to see many lives transformed by God through the Holy Spirit.
- A chance to see what a community of believers working together in unity to spread the Gospel looks like.
Those are just a few generic observations. Reading the text and connecting people and places has been rewarding for me. I’ve come away with a new respect for Paul and his missionary journeys. What an amazing man!

Paul’s now back in familiar territory and ready to stand before a new Roman governor by the name of Festus. He doesn’t seem to be as corrupt as the previous one (Felix). Again, some Jews think up a plot to kill Paul on his way to Jerusalem. Luke writes in verse 3,

They urgently requested Festus, as a favor to them, to have Paul transferred to Jerusalem, for they were preparing an ambush to kill him along the way.

Festus wisely summons Paul’s accusers to Caesarea and the plot to kill Paul is foiled again (ha!). Next we find Paul standing trial and speaking boldly in the presence of his enemies. A turning point occurs in this trial when Paul appeals to stand before Caesar. This was something all Roman citizens had a right to do. Who was the Caesar that Paul would be appealing to? None other than the fun-loving compassionate man named Nero (yeah right!). So, this pretty much seals the deal on Paul’s trip to Rome. We shouldn’t be surprised because back in Acts 23:11 Jesus says to Paul,

“Take courage! As you have testified about me in Jerusalem,
so you must also testify in Rome.”

Paul is going to Rome to spread the Gospel. It may be under different circumstances (as a prisoner) then you or I would like to go, but he’s going. Before Paul leaves however, someone wants to see and hear him. Who is it? King Agrippa II and his wife/sister? Bernice. He was great-grandson to Herod the Great (Remember him? He tried killing Jesus as a baby). His father (Herod Agrippa I), if you forgot, was the one struck down by God in Acts 12:23 for not giving praise to God. So, Paul, in chains and prison garb, gets an impressive audience to speak before. What kind of message will he bring? What type of miraculous things will God work out? We’ll find out next week as we explore Acts 26.

Paul before Agrippa II
(Acts 26)

Digging into Acts 26 we find Paul ready to speak before King Agrippa II and his high-class audience (see Acts 25:23 for a rundown of who all was present). Paul opens his speech by buttering up King Agrippa II. Luke writes,

Then Paul stretched out his hand and proceeded to make his defense: "In regard to all the things of which I am accused by the Jews, I consider myself fortunate, King Agrippa, that I am about to make my defense before you today; especially because you are an expert in all customs and questions among the Jews; therefore I beg you to listen to me patiently.

We see the Holy Spirit working here in Paul’s life by the way he respects those in authority. He’s living out what he asked other Christians to do in Romans 13:1,

Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established.

Paul had every right to be angry and seditious towards those above him, but he wasn’t. This was an honest man being accused of something he didn’t do. What an example for us today in how we should respond when the world rises up against us. Continuing, we hear Paul again tell his testimony. He starts from his childhood and retells his journey to becoming a Pharisee. He gives details regarding his obsession with persecuting Christians (v.9-11). Then, he transitions into his encounter with the Living Christ on the road to Damascus. From this point on Paul was adamant in preaching repentance, turning to God, and proving repentance by what you do; to both Jews and Gentiles.

During Paul’s discourse on Christ Festus interrupts and basically calls him crazy (v.24). Paul defends himself and even adds, “What I am saying is true and reasonable.” Paul says Christianity is reasonable? He then asks Agrippa II his thoughts and if he believes the prophets and what they have to say in regards to Jesus. Agrippa II responds, “Do you think that in such a short time you can persuade me to be a Christian?” Paul replies, “Short time or long—I pray God that not only you but all who are listening to me today may become what I am, except for these chains.”
The tenacity of this man is amazing and inspiring! My prayer is for the Holy Spirit to give me that type of boldness before the world.

- How would you have responded to Agrippa II/Festus?
- Would you have been able to respond in respect and love like Paul?
- What does this teach us about Paul’s conversion?
- What does this teach us about the power of God?

(Acts 27)

Acts 27 records the incredible story of Paul’s journey to Rome through the Mediterranean Sea. They are traveling on a very large ship (Luke reports that there were 276 people on board, 27:37). A Roman centurion by the name of Julius is in charge of transporting prisoners to Rome aboard this ship. One of those prisoners (Paul) will have a huge impact on his life. At first, Julius pays little attention to Paul’s advice concerning sailing (v.11). However, it can’t be deduced that Julius is unfair in his treatment of Paul because verse 3 records quite the opposite,

“Julius, in his kindness to Paul, allowed him to go to his
friends so they might provide for his needs.”

Apparently Julius had a certain amount of respect for Paul. We’re not sure why; maybe it developed from the way Paul treated him, maybe Paul’s Roman citizenship helped him connect to Julius, or maybe good words from other Roman soldiers were spoken about Paul. Whatever the case, Paul and Julius know and communicate to each other.

As they continuing sailing Paul informs Julius and the men aboard the ship that the voyage is going to be dangerous. His advice is ignored and they continue sailing. It’s not long after this that the crew finds themselves in a violent “northeaster” storm. The storm is so bad that even Luke seems to indicate he’s lost hope. He writes in verse 20,

When neither sun nor stars appeared for many days and the storm continued raging, we finally gave up all hope of being saved.

An interesting change takes place in the heart of Julius during this trying time. He moves from treating Paul’s words as weightless and empty to believing everything Paul has to say (read verse 29-32 & 42-43). The previous night an angel of the Lord visited Paul and promised him that God would see everyone through and to safety (v.23-24). Paul holds tight to God’s promise and it gives him new inspiration during a difficult time. As we continue reading through Acts 27 we see Paul, in a way, take command of the ship. He’s their voice of reason during uncertainty and doubt. He relays God’s message to them, a message of hope and encouragement. A message that says, “Everyone will be saved!” And it’s amidst this backdrop, a horrible storm and no hope, that Julius finds trust in Paul’s words.

- Does God use outside circumstances (e.g. a natural disaster, suffering, death, troubling time, etc.,) to bring us into a relationship with Him?
- If yes, how?
- Does God use outside circumstances (e.g. a natural disaster, suffering, death, troubling time, etc.,) to nurture our relationship with Him?
- Why?
- Do you think He cause events (e.g. a natural disaster, suffering, death, troubling time, etc.,) like that to happen?
- If you believe He causes events like that to happen, what does that say or teach about God?
- How does your view line up with what Scripture teaches?
- How would Julius answer these questions?

A poem for Paul

Our Wednesday night Bible study in Acts has come to an end. We’ve learned so much about Paul and how he lived his life. If only more Christians would strive to live life with no regrets and totally sold-out to God. Would it make a difference? Oh yeah! I don’t know why, but I felt compelled to try and put Paul’s life into a simple short poem. Tell me what you think?

Paul’s Life

Trained by Pharisees and in his mind smart
A man of great knowledge, but lacking true heart

An advocate for learning, praised for his stature
He demanded Christ’s followers all be captured

Proud to protect that which was dear
He boldly persecuted out of a self-righteous fear

One day as he traveled to Damascus
A Light shown forth and he met his real Master

Broken, blind, and discipled by Ananias
Paul was now a disciple of the humble Messiah

Transformed from within and determined to preach
Paul set out to tells others of the life within reach

Befriended by Barnabas and an encouragement to the Church
Paul’s message of Christ crucified must be heard

He ministered in Antioch and taught others about Christ
Confess and believe in your heart in that God raised Him from the dead and you will have life

After preaching and teaching God moved Paul on
He was now God’s ambassador to a world living in wrong

He walked, rode, and sailed thousands of miles
Always keeping in mind he must preach Christ to the Gentiles

He never forsook his Jewish roots
He loved his people, even when they falsely accused

Now on trial Paul appeals to Caesar
No worry, Jesus has promised him a new place to minister

Headed for Rome and shackled in chains
A northeaster wind showed that Paul’s faith would remain

Taking charge and holding onto God’s Word
Amidst and sinking ship Paul made sure God was heard

Settled in Rome and preaching without restraint
He will always be remember as one of the great saints

The End

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