The Continuing Words and Deeds of Jesus by his Spirit through his Apostles
by Jack Wald | May 10th, 2020

Acts 1:1-5

I talked with Elliot last week about where we would go next in the Bible for preaching. Elliot suggested the book of Romans and the book of Acts. As I thought about our conversation, I was drawn to begin sermons from the book of Acts.

Why have I been drawn to this book? I became a follower of Jesus in the spring of 1971, in the midst of an awakening, what some historians call the fourth great awakening in American Christianity. An estimated fourteen million Americans became followers of Jesus in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Annie and I are two of those fourteen million, Glenn and Phyllis are two more.

In our early days as new followers of Jesus, Annie and I were part of a university student group at Park Street Church in Boston. There were about six hundred of us: undergraduate students, graduate students, and some who were already working in jobs. Our Sunday began with a Sunday School class called 9:14 (that was the time we met) when we studied the books of the Bible. Following this we went to the morning worship service of Park Street Church.

We spent the afternoon together and often talked to people who were out in the park or along the river. We invited them to come to church that night.

We called our evening gathering 5:31 (also the time when we met). We worshiped, introduced new people who were joining us, and shared what we had learned from a passage of scripture we had studied that week. After this we went to the evening worship service of Park Street Church. Sunday was a full day.

During the week we were all part of small groups that studied a book of the Bible and prayed together. In addition, I generally met individually with one or two men who were exploring faith in Christ and studied some part of Scripture and prayed with them. We had an outreach event on Thursday nights. We invited people to come to play volleyball with us. Then we sat in the stands of the gym where we met. We sang worship songs, someone shared their story of coming to faith in Jesus, and we invited those who had come to pray to follow Jesus as well.

Annie and I have a debate about our first date. I had plans to meet with a man I had met on a Sunday afternoon by the river. We had a couple good conversations about following Jesus. He was a DJ at a radio station and I made arrangements to meet him there. I asked Annie if she wanted to come with me and then one of my roommates asked if he could come as well. So that is why Annie is not sure if this was our first date or not. I’m not sure I considered it a date. I wanted to follow up with the radio station DJ. I liked Annie and thought it would be fun if she came. And then my roommate wanted to come. It all seemed to fit together.

My point in this is that I was enthusiastic about following Jesus. After all my years of questions and doubts, my mind and heart had been transformed by Jesus. I was passionate about reading the Bible, delighted in the fellowship we had with each other in our student ministry, and eager to share what I had experienced and was experiencing with others.

Every week there were new followers of Jesus in our meetings. We shared what we had with each other. I graduated from seminary with almost no debt, in part because of anonymous gifts I received from others in the group. People who had, shared what they had with others.

This was a thrilling time for us and we did not know at the time that we were in the midst of an awakening.

One of the reasons I love the First Love documentary of contemporary music pioneers from the early years of my walk with Jesus is that in hearing their stories of coming to faith and listening to the short historical documentaries, I get perspective on what happened to me. We started listening to these stories and songs Friday night. Join us next Friday night for our second session.

I have a deep longing for the church to awaken and be like this again. One of the reasons I’m excited about the student ministry Elliot leads, FCI (Fellowship of Champions), is that it reminds me of my days as a student in our group that we called Seekers.

I am hungry for a deeper experience of working with Jesus to build his church and it is in Acts that we see most vividly the picture of how our Christian experience could be.

Why have I been drawn to this book? Religious experience becomes institutionalized and needs to be revived and studying the book of Acts is one way to do that.

A new church emerges and patterns of behavior become established. Some churches have an order of service with a bulletin, like we have. There are other churches who have disdain for bulletins and say they want to be free to be led in a service by the Holy Spirit. But if you attend one of these churches, what you discover is they do have an order of service, a pattern of worship they follow. The only difference is that they don’t write it down.

So over time the church slips into patterns of behavior and worship becomes institutionalized. The motto of the church becomes what has been described as the last seven words of the church, “We’ve always done it that way before.” Over the decades of holding on to the way we have always done it before, the church develops a spiritual lethargy. Going to church becomes a behavior more than a passion.

The church becomes stagnant but culture is never stagnant. Culture keeps on moving and the church begins to be out of touch with the new culture. The organ, as beautiful and majestic as it is, was replaced in worship services by the guitar. Those who fight to hold on to the organ are missing the point. It is not what sounds better to your ear that is important. What is important is how to reach out to the new generation and that requires adapting to the new generational culture that has emerged.

In each generation the church needs to find out how to share the gospel, that does not change from generation to generation, into a culture that is constantly changing. The gospel is the same today that it was in the early church. What has changed is the culture the gospel uses to reach new generations.

Covid-19 has required churches to go online and find new, creative ways to interact with the members of the church. There will be cultural shifts that take place after covid-19 is past us. After many weeks of not meeting together we will celebrate when we come back to worship without physical distancing. We will make a new start and so this is a good time for the church to look at the way it presents the gospel. We do not want to be held back by the past; we want to be set free to move into the future of the church in a post-covid-19 world.

Studying the book of Acts will help us to see how we can do that.

Why have I been drawn to this book? The world that is struggling at so many levels is in desperate need of a vibrant, active, passionate church.

Sometimes the world reminds me of life on the Titanic. People partied, ate and drank, not knowing that they were about to hit an iceberg and sink. People pursue the wealth of the world and are oblivious to the reality that one day they will die and leave it all behind.

The world pursues the wealth and pleasures of the world without regard to what is coming. Second, life in this world is not fair.

The rich and powerful who paid for first class tickets on the Titanic ate and drank in luxury. Standard class passengers lived in more crowded quarters in the lower decks of the ship. And then the third class passengers were crammed into the bowels of the ship.

When the ship sank, 61% of the first class passengers were able to get into lifeboats and survive. But as in life, the last moments on the Titanic were not fair. Just 42% of standard class passengers survived. Only 24% of the third class passengers survived.

In this world, the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. In the covid-19 pandemic, the wealthier get better medical care than the poor. When this pandemic has passed it will be revealed that the poor in the world suffered at a disproportionally high rate.

The world pursues the wealth and pleasures of the world without regard to what is coming. Life in this world is not fair. Third, the world is a dangerous place.

Natural disasters, manmade acts of violence, famine and pandemics wreck havoc in the world. We sail along thinking it is a beautiful night at sea and then, in a moment, everything changes and we realize that we are not immortal. This life does not go on forever. There is no safe place to store our wealth where it will not disappear.

The book of Acts teaches us how to live with purpose and meaning in a world that is oblivious to what is coming, in a world that is living for self, in a world that is crushingly unfair, in a world that is dangerous, in a world that is passing away.

The church has been renewed over and over again in its history. God has used the book of Romans to bring the theology of the church back to orthodoxy. As the theology of the church has drifted with the cultural shifts in history, Romans has brought the church back to where it should be. God has also used the book of Acts to inspire the church to live our life with Christ with passion. The church in the book of Acts is not perfect, but there is a lot for us to be inspired by.

God has renewed his church over and over again, bringing fresh life into the church, stripping away the cultural attachments to the Gospel, replacing the institutional understanding of the church with a fresh, living, personal experience of God.

We are in need of that refreshment once again. We long for God to work powerfully in our midst. We are eager to see society transformed into a place where people are loved and cared for and where lust, anger and greed no longer use people for personal self-interest.

When we read the Gospels, we see Jesus with his disciples and we see how Jesus ministered to those around him. We see the disciples being sent out by Jesus to minister to others in his name but we do not see much of the disciples apart from Jesus. We are inspired by Jesus. But if we want to see a model of how we do ministry, Acts is a better place to look than the Gospels.

In the Gospels Jesus is physically present, but in Acts, Jesus works through the Holy Spirit. This more closely mirrors our experience than in the Gospels. Jesus is not physically present with us. We experience him through the Holy Spirit, as did the new believers we read about in Acts.

May God bless us as we work through this book of the Bible and may he pour out his Spirit on the church and on this needy world.

The book of Acts is the second half of a two-part book written by Luke, a Greek physician. This was common in the ancient world, to organize a longer piece of writing into several shorter books. Luke’s contemporary, Josephus, wrote an apology for the Jews divided into two books, the second of which begins like this:
In the first volume of this work, my most esteemed Epaphroditus, I demonstrated the antiquity of our race … I also challenged the statements of Manetho, Chaeremon, and some others. I shall now proceed to refute the rest of the authors who have attacked us.

In Luke’s second book of his two-part work, he follows a similar form
In my former book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach 2 until the day he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles he had chosen.

Although Luke wrote Luke/Acts as one document, divided into two books, it was almost immediately broken down into two separate documents. By the end of the first century or beginning of the second, very shortly after John’s gospel was written, the four Gospels in our Bible were circulated as the fourfold Gospel. Acts was broken off from Luke.

About the same time, the letters of Paul were gathered into a collection titled The Apostle.

As the canon of Scripture was formed, Acts was inserted after the Gospels and before Paul’s letters to form the bridge that was needed. Acts is what takes us from the Gospels to the ministry of Paul and the other apostles.

To understand the book of Acts, it helps to go back to the introduction of this book, which because it is a two-part work, is found in Luke chapter 1.
Luke 1:1-4
Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, 2 just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word. 3 With this in mind, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, I too decided to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, 4 so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught.

Of the four Gospels, Luke is the one most concerned with chronology and historicity. This stands in contrast with John’s gospel. John has a literary structure with seven miracles and seven discourses that are illustrated by the miracles. So John took the stories of Jesus and put them anywhere they fit his structure, without regard for when they happened in the ministry of Jesus. This is why the chronology of John does not match the chronologies of Matthew, Mark, and Luke.

Mark was the first gospel written. Mark was a disciple of Peter and he wrote down the stories Peter told. Both Matthew and Luke used Mark’s gospel as a source when they wrote their gospels. Matthew wrote to a Jewish audience, emphasizing the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies about the Messiah. Luke was a researcher and set out to make a careful record of the life of Jesus and the church that arose after he ascended into heaven.

There are five stages in Luke’s research.

  1. Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us,
    This is the starting place and reveals Luke’s assumption as he began to write this history of Jesus. He wrote of things that have been fulfilled among us. This indicates that the events about which Luke wrote were not random or unexpected but took place in fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy. Luke wrote of what happened in accord with God’s pre-ordained plan.
  2. Handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word
    Luke does not include himself among this group. These things were handed down to us. He identifies himself with Theophilus as those who received what was handed down. The ones who handed down what Luke and others received were the apostles who were eyewitnesses of the historic Jesus.

So the apostle John began his letter this way:
That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched—this we proclaim concerning the Word of life.

John and the other apostles who had been with Jesus handed down (which is the meaning of tradition) to Luke and others what they had seen and heard.

  1. With this in mind, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning,
    Luke set out to research everything from the beginning. When Paul was kept prisoner in Caesarea by Felix the governor, Luke had two years in which he was able to travel through Palestine, interviewing people, observing the places Jesus had been, walking the roads Jesus had walked. He interviewed Mary, the now old mother of Jesus, and heard her tell the story of the birth of Jesus. He interviewed many who had been with Jesus.

Luke traveled with Paul on some of his journeys. There are three places in Acts where Luke breaks off from the third person “they” and uses the second person “we”. Luke does this because at those times, he was with Paul so he had ample time to talk with Paul and his companions about their experiences.

  1. Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us,
    Luke had access to some of the writings already in circulation, among them the gospel Mark had written after the death of Peter in Rome.
  2. So that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught
    And finally Luke wrote his two-part book so that those, like himself, who had heard about Jesus and had come to faith in Jesus as the Christ, the Savior of the world, could know more about their faith and grow in conviction of what they believed.

John Stott concludes his observations about the research of Luke with this:
These pre-ordained events that were accomplished, witnessed, transmitted, investigated and written down were and still are to be the ground of Christian faith and assurance.

I pray that as we make our way through the book of Acts, our faith will be become more sure. If you have doubts about Christian faith, then do not be alarmed. You are not the first person in history to have doubts. In fact, I would tell you to be encouraged because you are using the brain God gave you to think and explore. I encourage you to explore with Luke as he reports to us the results of his investigation into the early church that was developing before his eyes.

Why do we call this book the book of Acts? Since the second century, the traditional title has been The Acts of the Apostles. Because of the prominence of the Holy Spirit, others have suggested calling it the Acts of the Holy Spirit.

John Stott and others suggest we look at the introduction to this second part of his work to see what Luke intended to be the theme of this book.
In my former book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach 2 until the day he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles he had chosen.

The phrase, all that Jesus began to do and to teach, infers that the work Jesus began was not yet finished. Jesus began and the inference is that Jesus is continuing his work. The Gospel of Luke is not about Jesus and then the book of Acts about the Holy Spirit. Luke and Acts are one work describing the ministry of Jesus. Luke describes the ministry of Jesus when he was physically present with his disciples and Acts describes the ministry of Jesus through the Holy Spirit who he promised would come after him.

Because Luke intended Acts to be a description of the ministry of Jesus through the Holy Spirit this in no way diminishes the role or stature of the Holy Spirit.

Without the Holy Spirit, none of us would have come into a relationship with Christ. Without the work of the Holy Spirit, none of us will see growth in our relationship with Christ. Without the work of the Holy Spirit, none of us would be able to comprehend the truth of what we read in Scripture. We live a life of dependance on the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives but it is the work of Christ that is being performed by the Holy Spirit. We look forward to the day when Christ will be seated on the throne and every knee will bow and every tongue confess his lordship over all. We preach the supremacy of Christ but in our Christian lives, we depend on the work of the Holy Spirit.

Luke begins his second book with the phrase, all that Jesus began to do and to teach, which sets Christianity apart from all other world religions. Other world religions regard the one who founded their religion as having completed his ministry during his lifetime. Here Luke says Jesus only began his ministry and as we read through the book of Acts, we will see how the ministry of Jesus continued.

The book of Acts is a two thousand year old history of the early church, but it is not frozen in time. Because it is Jesus who is at work to build his church, because the Holy Spirit is the one who empowers men and women to help build the church, the history we read in the book of Acts is also a current history. Peter and Paul, Timothy and Titus, Priscilla and Aquilla, have all died. Much has changed in the past two thousand years, but it is the same Jesus and the same Holy Spirit who are at work in us. If you view the church as a play, the stars are the same – it is the supporting actors who keep changing.

Our names may not be listed in volume one of the book of Acts, but if there is a continuing record being kept in heaven, our names are in the volume currently being written.

The greatest and most significant joys in my life have been connected to how God has used me to help build his kingdom.

We look forward to lots of things. Lots of things make us happy. Annie and I look forward to being with our daughters and their families after covid-19 is over and we are once again permitted to travel internationally. Annie graduated with her masters in counseling this past week and we had planned to go to France for a week to celebrate. That has been delayed but we look forward to a delayed celebration. I am looking forward to the Sunday when we will be free to gather at Villa 91 and worship together.

But the deepest, most satisfying experiences in my life are times when I become aware that God is using me to help build his kingdom.

I remember John Jefferson who I met in the park across from Park Street Church. We spent a lot of time together and I helped him find a church where he would be supported and encouraged in his new faith. I remember a man named Tom who also came to faith.

I remember a conversation I had when I made a business trip to Brussels. I took the train from Brussels to Paris to visit friends and had a two hour conversation with a Belgian stockbroker. It was the most natural, deep conversation about Jesus I have ever had. He asked questions, I answered them. This provoked more conversations and it went all the way to Paris. We exchanged contact information and then at the end of the weekend when I got on the train in Paris to go back to Brussels, the same man came into the compartment and we talked all the way back to Brussels. It was extraordinary.

A few years ago a young woman who came from the US to study Arabic in Morocco came to church. She was from an Assemblies background and had decided she would never again go to a church. She came to Morocco to become a Muslim. But one of the women in her group persuaded to come just one more time. In the sermon that Sunday I shared the story of how I came to faith in Jesus, something I do not often do. She wrote me after the service to tell me that she had decided to leave the church but after coming to our service she decided to give Christian faith one more try.

That is a story that is deeply meaningful and satisfying to me. I am so grateful Jesus was able to use me in her life.

On Friday night when we listened to the first three of sixteen performances and stories of how the musicians came to faith in Jesus in the First Love documentary concert, it was exhilarating. Most of these musicians were teenagers when they began singing songs about Jesus. In comparison to the modern Christian musicians, their songs are simple. The songs we listen to today are more complex and I like complexity in music, but there is a freshness to these songs.

Jamie Owens Collins talked about putting an amp in the back of a pickup truck and heading to the beach. She and her friends would sing the three songs they knew and then one of them would share the gospel to the crowd that had gathered and amazingly, the young people at the beach would give their lives to Christ.

They had not gone to a class to learn how to share their faith; they simply talked about their own experience in coming to Jesus. They had not polished their music in a studio, they went out with what they had and sang.

Over the years Christian music has become more professional. Churches have become more professional. We know how to do things better than they were done in the Jesus movement of the 60s and 70s, but we have lost the freshness, the passion that made this such an exhilarating time.

I lived through one awakening and I am praying that I will see another before I die. Our world needs a genuine awakening. The church needs a genuine awakening.

Too many of us are part of Christian culture. This does not mean that we do not have faith in Jesus and are not saved. But too many of us are missing the passion, the vibrancy, the freshness of life lived with Jesus.

I have talked about being in church as a teenager, desperately bored. Even now I can feel the intense, physical pain of boredom I had as I sat in a pew, singing hymns, listening to a sermon. What I most wanted to do was to lay down on the floor and go to sleep.

The first Sunday after I surrendered to Jesus, I went to Park Street Church and we sang some of the same hymns that had made me feel so bored. As I sang I was filled with an intense joy. I could not sing loud enough to express my joy. I was filled with a new, bubbling life that could not be contained and had to be shared with others.

That dramatic change in my life has carried me through my years in university, seminary, as a young pastor, my years in business, and has led me to come to Rabat to RIC.

I pray that as we move through the book of Acts, that God will bring renewal to us. I pray that we will be inspired by what we read. I pray that the Holy Spirit will bring a new freshness to our life as the RIC community.

We are supporting actors in the play of the church. Jesus and the Holy Spirit are the stars. I pray this play will once again burst into the world in a fresh way, transforming us and transforming our world.