Thank God for the Book of Acts. I mean that quite literally. In the New Testament, Acts of the Apostles follows the four Gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Written by the same author as the Gospel of Luke, it picks up where the Gospel left off. In Luke, at the end of chapter 24 (the last chapter), Jesus, post-crucifixion, said that everything written about him in the law of Moses, the prophets and the psalms had to be fulfilled. Jesus opened their minds to understand the Scriptures and that he had to die and rise again; he also taught that repentance and forgiveness of sins were to be proclaimed in his name to all nations. Finally, he “withdrew” (literally stood apart) from them and ascended into heaven. Acts overlaps Luke with Jesus ascending into heaven in verse ten.
Acts follows the development of the disciples as they turn into apostles. It describes the development of the early Church and introduces Saul who turned into St. Paul, our greatest evangelist. I love history so having a living history book is great though that is only part of why I give thanks for it. Acts reveals the incredible wideness of God’s grace and the unfathomable depth of God’s love. Jesus began a movement of love for God. He showed how to turn our hearts from established and exclusionary rules of religion to freely loving God and one’s neighbor with our whole heart. Humans systematically turn themselves into gods and, as such, turn against their neighbors. Jesus and his movement stand in stark contrast. I thank God because if we didn’t have Acts, we might well have shrunk back into our primary nature and morphed Jesus’ movement into something with barriers and rules governing involvement and worship. We would have created wars against our neighbors based on misinterpretations of Jesus’ sayings.
At this point, you might be saying, wait, don’t we do that, anyway? Yes, we do, unfortunately, but it took the Movement a while to get there. The first Christian group to kill other Christians over the “orthodox faith” took more than 300 years to happen. That’s a mighty long time considering our nature. And, I believe that Acts constrains our nature even today. In other words, we’d be a lot worse off without it. We can be a lot better if we adhere to the Grace revealed in its pages.
Acts shows us that Peter and the apostles originally thought this was a Jewish-only movement. They had no idea the Jesus movement would be for gentiles, or non-Jewish people, too. Acts illustrates how they discovered God shows no partiality and offers his grace to all people. This past Sunday, Acts showed us the story of the Ethiopian eunuch who asked the question, “What would stop me from being baptized?” Absolutely nothing, was the answer. This Sunday, we will hear of the first non-Jewish household that was baptized because Peter saw and felt the Holy Spirit descend upon the family. Additionally, Acts shows us that this is not a men-led-only movement. Readers will see why St. Paul wrote, “In Christ there is no male or female.”
Acts was vital for the development of the Church in the first century. Now, in our 21st century, when we are prone to fight over power, authority and who is included in the Church and who is not, Acts again is important for us. It stands as a living witness to the magnificence and breadth of God’s grace. Acts shows us the depth of God’s love for all of God’s creation.… if we decide to read it and follow the radicalness of Christ in our lives and churches.