INTRODUCTION TO THE ACTS OF THE APOSTLES
A Sermon Manuscript Introducing the Book of Acts by Brian Mann
[The sermon delivered related to this manuscript is available here]
Some have used Acts as a manual for missions though it is not possible to duplicate this part of biblical history. It is however possible to be encouraged by the book of the Acts of the Apostles so as to carry out what God has called you to do in your own part of history. The book of Acts is not an incomplete book that requires your story to be added. It is also not a thing that can be republished exactly in your life (It’s about republishing the gospel in your life)! And above all it is not an insufficient testimony of the work of Jesus Christ. The book of Acts will never need the 21st Century Church’s addition to be complete. Some say Acts is a history, some a defense, but it is both—a defense by history.
The book of Acts is an adequate testimony to all nations by two Spirit-empowered witnesses—Peter & Paul—that the Kingdom of God will grow gradually in the world despite all sufferings and persecutions.
A. An Adequate Testimony To All Nations
In Matthew 24:14, we read that the “gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.” The key word is “world” which is the Greek word οἰκουμένη which specifically means the Roman Empire and its inhabitants. The Roman empire is the last of the guardian beasts prophesied in Daniel 7 (Jordan). What Jesus was prophesying is that the gospel would be proclaimed in the whole of the Roman empire as a testimony to all nations. That is, the book of Acts which records this history is a lasting record and witness to the nations of what Christ has done. Jesus then says the end would come after this takes place. He was referring to the destruction of Jerusalem clearly described in Matthew 24 (see especially verses 1, 15). Nonetheless, the end of human history will come to an end when the nations are discipled (Matthew 28:18–20).
The Word “Testimony” appears first in Exodus 16 speaking of the Ark of Testimony. It was there that the “Testimony” was placed inside the Ark as an adequate witness. Before this Ark was placed the manna and later Aaron’s budded rod. In the Law therefore, God gave Israel an adequate witness of his directions (the law), his provision (the manna), and authority (the rod of Aaron). Similarly, the book of Acts is an adequate testimony for all nations throughout all time that Christ rules by his law, provides by his love, and appoints his leaders with authority and power.
B. By Two Spirit-Empowered Witnesses—Peter and Paul
The Acts of the Apostles is naturally divided into two major sections, the kingdom’s growth through the Spirit-empowered witness of Peter to the Jews (Chapters 1–12); and the same through Paul to the Gentiles (Chapters 13–28). Now these witnesses are certainly accompanied by others (E.g. Peter is accompanied by John, and Paul by Silas and others), but these are the representative leaders. Their witness in both cases recapitulates the gospel of Christ. That is, Peter and Paul both go through similar aspects of ministry that their Lord performed and experienced. At the forefront the witness is through principle Christian doctrines (cf. Calvin Commentaries), but not only that, through a Christ-like lives. The Gospel recapitulated in Peter’s ministry as follows:1
The same can be said for Paul:
It is important to underscore that Peter and Paul’s ministry are what they are because they are ministries that teach, heal, suffer, and are delivered similar to Christ and because of Christ. They are truly in the same Spirit as Christ and benefiting from Christ’s gospel. This therefore is the means to all true gospel ministry, Christ-like preaching and practice in the world.
C. That the Kingdom of God Will Gradually Grow in the World Despite All Suffering and Persecution
The Acts of the Apostles sets forth a greater conquest to that of Israel in Joshua’s time. Some parallels include:
There is in both a testimony that could be said “not one word has failed” of all the Lord has spoken (1 Kings 8:56). It is testimony similar to that of Isaiah 54:17,
Isaiah 54:17 ESV “no weapon that is fashioned against you shall succeed, and you shall refute every tongue that rises against you in judgment. This is the heritage of the servants of the LORD and their vindication from me, declares the LORD.””
As Paul says in 2 Timothy 3:11 that God delivered him out of all sufferings and persecutions, the church may have the same hope. In Luke 21:12–15 Jesus told his disciples what to expect in the first century:
Luke 21:12–15 ESV “But before all this they will lay their hands on you and persecute you, delivering you up to the synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors for my name’s sake. This will be your opportunity to bear witness. Settle it therefore in your minds not to meditate beforehand how to answer, for I will give you a mouth and wisdom, which none of your adversaries will be able to withstand or contradict.”
Acts is a fulfillment of Isaiah 2:3 “for out of Zion shall go forth the law and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.” And if so, then Acts gives the hope of the next verse there, Isaiah 2:4,
Isaiah 2:4 ESV “He shall judge between the nations, and shall decide disputes for many peoples; and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore.”
The Book of Acts of the Apostles is then a testimony of triumph of the Lamb in the first century that God’s people may have hope in his triumph for any century. It is the embodied spirit of Joshua in the form of a kingdom going forward to conquer nations for the sake of the Lord’s great name. It is a greater conquest because it is not by a revolutionary sword unsheathed but a written one proclaimed in the power of the Holy Spirit with Christ-like lives. As we state it above, The book of Acts is an adequate testimony to all nations by two Spirit-empowered witnesses—Peter & Paul—that the Kingdom of God will grow gradually in the world despite all sufferings and persecutions.
James Jordan 5-part series on Acts was instrumental in composing these charts