The book of Acts revolutionized my whole sense of what Christian faith and living is all about in this world. Jesus actually meant his prayer, with utter faith it will happen: may God’s new-reality kingdom come on earth!
These brief Bible Vistas seek to sketch a panoramic vision of a specific Bible topic. I hope these breath-taking experiences will inspire us to dig deeper into the biblical vision. I seek here to grasp biblical meaning through God’s love and Messiah Jesus and his living Spirit. In this way, I believe we can breathe in God’s Spirit-life through God’s Messiah-centered word, as in Paul’s letters to Timothy (2 Tim 1:1-14, 3:16-17). I hope this spiritual seeking will yield Spirit-powerful fruits in our lives (Gal 5). I pray this empowers us to follow this life-vision more widely. And so I challenge us in Jesus’ Spirit to live this faith and missional service more fully and passionately in this world.
Please note that references in parentheses (-) refer
to books of the Bible unless otherwise specified.
How It All Began
In the first book [Luke], Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus did and taught from the beginning until the day when he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen.
After his suffering he presented himself alive to them by many convincing proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God.
– Acts 1:1-2 (NRSV)
When I first really studied the book of Acts, it revolutionized my whole sense of what Christian faith and living is all about in this world. This big-picture highlight focuses on grasping the book of Acts in its overall essence. Acts is a vision of God’s universal kingship, in the new reality of Jesus’ Messianic kingdom coming on earth as it is in heaven. And this happens also with our Spirit-empowered missional life-service for this kingdom-coming in this world. What I learn most in this is simple and world-changing: Jesus’ actually meant his prayer (Matt 5-7), with utter faith it will happen: May God’s new-reality kingdom come on earth!
Getting Into Our Life-Resources
A first way into this revolutionary life-path is to read. I think of how the life of Augustine of Hippo, probably the most brilliant thinker on the planet in his day (mid-3rd-to-early-4th centuries), was wholly transformed when he held the biblical scriptures in his hands and God’s Spirit worked into his mind: “Take up and read.” We need to read God’s Spirit-breathed, Messiah-Jesus-centered scriptural word, not as a legalism or a way of earning salvation or thinking we can become fully perfect yet in this life, but simply and profoundly because these are the divine-breathed witnesses of God’s self-revealing, love-making, kingdom-coming work in this world. So in this promise, these witnesses also bring us more deeply into God’s love, life, hope, mission – into God’s whole new reality, which Jesus proclaimed as God’s kingdom coming on earth! Here, we read our way, with prayerful seeking and passionate believing, into more of all the new that God is working in our lives and world!
So let us take up and read the book of Acts. Read it (again) all the way straight through – from Jerusalem to wherever you are in Rome (ends of the earth). This is how we grow into grasping the big picture, the overwhelming flow of God’s miraculous wave-riding work through history, God’s new kingdom reality breaking into this unwilling but seeking and needing world. Then study the whole book again, slowly and carefully, one story at a time, drinking deeply of each overflowing bucket of water from the Spirit’s life-giving well (that’s right: put this on your life-bucket list and go after it now)! And for more fruits, journal your personal growth as you grow along…
With this self-discipling growth in motion in the Spirit’s work in us (2 Tim 1), another way to help us read more faithfully and deeply is to seek and listen with wise secondary resources, with others who have worked through this path before us, who can help us find the greatest treasures (consider Matt 13). We always do so with God’s love and Messiah and Spirit as our center and foundation, including God’s scriptural revelation understood in this way. Therefore, we discern all things human according to this compass – even when this means we need to set aside something an “expert” says, or worse, when we need to change our own mind about something to get in line with God’s view of things. As we do, we share this journey with many others of seeking faith.
Today, I point you here first to a blog posting featuring N. T. Wright’s teaching on Acts. I am convinced, on the whole, the ministry of Professor Wright presents the most penetrating, creative, exciting, and strategic Bible teaching in the world today. I specifically point you toward listening to his brief video embedded in this blog. He offers here a great summary of the vision of Acts in just a few minutes at: http://ntwrightonline.org/covert-kingdom-strategy-book-acts.
Amen – preach it!
Discovering God’s More
Now, many people have some notion of Acts as that book which highlights the work of the Holy Spirit in the great Pentecost event, and the book that chronicles the stories of mission through which the early Christian hope spread into the world. Acts certainly emphasizes both of these themes. What we urgently need to revive from this book today, to integrate with these priorities of Spirit and mission, is a deep grasp of how Acts emphasizes the answer to Jesus’ great prayer in his “sermon on the Mount” (Mathew 5-7): May God’s kingdom come and be coming, on earth as it is in heaven!
Jesus begins in Acts, which continues his service in Luke’s Gospel, by teaching his followers again his good news of God’s kingdom coming through his Messianic work. Then he immediately commissions all of us to live as witnesses to this Messiah-king Jesus and his kingdom hope in all the world (Acts 1)! It is this kingdom reality and service that the Holy Spirit empowers throughout Luke-Acts. These three strands wind together into a chord of mighty hope, over which human powers and the gates of Hades cannot prevail! This time of history, until Jesus’ return (Acts 1), is all about the reigning Jesus and his coming kingdom, the Spirit’s empowerment to live this new-reality-kingdom vision in all dimensions of our lives, and so the mission to share and serve this kingdom hope in all the world, in all we say and do, wherever we are.
And it is this promise that energizes the climax of the Acts story. As Jesus began doing from the start (in both the gospels and Acts), Acts concludes with the apostle Paul at the end of the earth (Caesar’s Rome, the city of the human-lauded “lord” of the day) – proclaiming good news of Jesus’ Messianic kingdom. So, with these synonymous bookends which launch and summarize the book of Acts, it is this theme, this Spirit-fiery passion and hope and mission, that drives and defines the Acts of the Apostles all the way through. In truth and reality, it is God, in and through Messiah Jesus, confirmed and sealed in Jesus’ resurrection (Acts 1-2), who truly is king and lord of all, forever, and who is busy by his Spirit already bringing about his renewing kingdom reality (also see Revel 11)!
As followers of this Messiah-king-lord Jesus (kyrios in the NT) – this original, real, true, and living Jesus – this is our hope, our good news, our mission, our service, our passion, our life. We believe God’s kingdom, God’s new reality of love and the renewal of all things, coming in beginning and powerful ways on earth already now. We offer our whole lives in every dimension, in how we relate to people and how we serve in society and culture (business, politics, arts, the creation, etc.) as our spiritual worship-service to God in Jesus’ kingdom-coming (Rom 12:1-2). We do so with hope pulsing in our veins: with sure confidence in God’s promise to complete this new kingdom reality fully and forever in the new creation (Rom 8; Revel). Amen: So it begins; so it will be!
For next steps of growing into deeper wisdom and living in this matter, here are a couple strategic readable resources for all of us:
* Eugene Peterson, Praying with the Early Christians, Zondervan / Harper SanFrancisco.
* N. T. Wright, Acts for Everyone, Westminster John Knox Press.
Readers are also encouraged to explore other posts in this series: Bible Vistas.
God so loved the world… God is love!
Then I saw a new heaven and new earth…
and the tree of life…
at the middle of the great street of the city…
and the leaves of the tree
are for the healing of the cultures.
John 3; 1 John 4; Revelation 21, 22