And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
What does it look like to go and make disciples?
What does it look like for the gospel to transform a city?
What does it look like to be a church that Jesus has called us to be?
The book of Acts tells us what happened when Jesus ascended to heaven, gave the Holy Spirit to the church, and sent them on mission to make disciples of all nations. Over the Spring and Summer the pastors of Ekklesia will be preaching through the Acts of the Apostles. Come and be a part of what Jesus is doing in Muskogee, Eufaula, and to the ends of the earth.
Picking up where the Gospel of Luke left off, the book of Acts describes how Jesus, having finished his mission in his life, death, and resurrection, begins to build his kingdom on earth through the power of the Holy Spirit. Jesus’ mission now is to advocate for Christians, empower Christians through the Holy Spirit, and to make disciples of all nations through Christians and the gospel they proclaim. Is Jesus your Advocate? Are you on the same mission that Jesus is on?
When the gospel is preached and the Holy Spirit changes hearts, the church springs into being: people are born again and they become, together, the people of God. But what is church? In Acts 2, we see the church is a group of people devoted to Jesus, one another, and the world in at least 10 ways:
(1) through faith and baptism,
(2) by having called and qualified leaders,
(3) by gathering regularly for preaching and corporate worship,
(4) by gathering regularly for Bible study, prayer, and meals,
(5) by having rightly administered sacraments,
(6) by living in unity, empowered by the Holy Spirit,
(7) by taking holiness seriously,
(8) by giving generously of time, talent, and treasure,
(9) by being grace-saturated people, seeking to love the world like Jesus,
(10) by taking the Great Commission seriously—to get the gospel message to everyone, everywhere.
Although the church is a devoted people, our hope and joy is not found in our devotion to Jesus. Rather, our hope and joy is found in Jesus’ devotion to us. “We love because He first loved us” (1 John 4:10) and “This is how we know love, that he laid down His life for us” (1 John 3:16). Jesus loves the church. Do you? Jesus is devoted to the church. Are you?
The mission of Jesus Christ is global. He has empowered and sent His church to proclaim the gospel to all creation, making disciples of all nations. That’s exactly what the early church did and what churches today should do. But what should we do when we come upon those who are enemies of Jesus, like Elymas in Acts 13? We should take heart. Jesus will not be overcome and His plan will not be thwarted in any way. As we see in verse 11, Jesus doesn’t let His enemies get in the way of the mission to save His sheep. Though there are many who are outspokenly against Jesus, in the end, we are all His enemies through sin. He will defeat us either through justice (like Elymas) or through justification (like Paul). The good news of the gospel is that Jesus chose to be treated like an enemy on the cross so that all who put their faith in His work would be reconciled to God. No longer enemies through sin, Christians are adopted into the family of God as children through the work of Jesus. Praise God He doesn’t only defeat His enemies through justice!
In Acts 13, Paul preaches his first recorded sermon in the book of Acts, and by examining this scene we learn four things about evangelism (telling people the gospel) and two things about ultimate reality.
Evangelism: 1) Be ready, 2) tell people mainly about Jesus, not yourself, 3) know you audience, and 4) trust the Holy Spirit to change people’s hearts to love Jesus.
Ultimate reality. 1) Jesus is the fulfillment of the Bible who is the “Savior…as [God the Father] promised.” The Bible is not about great men and women of God. Rather, the Bible is about the great God of men and women—Jesus. 2) Jesus is the fulfillment of the human race who has received from the Father “the holy and sure blessings of David.” This blessing is that Jesus is the resurrected forever-King who will establish His kingdom and bring about the justice and peace the world needs. Another way Jesus is the fulfillment of the human race is by being the Savior of whom the prophet wrote, “You will not let your Holy One see corruption.” This is about the resurrection of Jesus, which is a promise that the future you want is fulfilled in Him. As Michael Williams points out, “The resurrection is something of a foretaste, a movie trailer or commercial for God’s ultimate future, for in Christ’s resurrection we have a picture of the future given before its arrival. …[the bodily resurrection of Jesus] claims that history is moving toward nothing less than a fully restored and glorified universe. Those who are in Christ, along with the entirety of creation, will receive his resurrection life upon his appearing (Rom. 8:21-25).”
But how do we know if Jesus is our personal fulfillment and we are forgiven and acceptable before God? If our faith is in Jesus alone and His work in His sinless life, death on the cross, and bodily resurrection as our Savior-King—”Through this man forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you, and by him everyone who believes is freed from everything from which you could not be freed by the law of Moses.”
After some of the people in Antioch of Pisidia started getting excited about the gospel of Jesus, Paul and Barnabas urged them to “continue in the grace of God.” This shows us, yet again, a key thing about Christianity. From beginning to the end, the Christian life is a product of God’s grace (ill-deserved blessing; unmerited favor; unconditional love). We are justified, sanctified, and glorified all by God as a gift. It is by grace through faith in Jesus that we are saved from the penalty of sin, are being saved from the power of sin, and will be saved from the presence of sin. Are you focussed on Jesus and His finished work (trusting Him to change you) or are you busy focussing on you and your works (trying to change yourself)?
44 The next Sabbath almost the whole city gathered to hear the word of the Lord. 45 But when the Jews saw the crowds, they were filled with jealousy and began to contradict what was spoken by Paul, reviling him. 46 And Paul and Barnabas spoke out boldly, saying, “It was necessary that the word of God be spoken first to you. Since you thrust it aside and judge yourselves unworthy of eternal life, behold, we are turning to the Gentiles. 47 For so the Lord has commanded us, saying,
“‘I have made you a light for the Gentiles,
that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth.’”
48 And when the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord, and as many as were appointed to eternal life believed. 49 And the word of the Lord was spreading throughout the whole region. 50 But the Jews incited the devout women of high standing and the leading men of the city, stirred up persecution against Paul and Barnabas, and drove them out of their district. 51 But they shook off the dust from their feet against them and went to Iconium. 52 And the disciples were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit.
As Paul and Barnabas preach the gospel of God’s grace, some respond with love for Jesus and some with hate. We learn at least six things about the gospel in this passage: it reaches, restores, offends, outrages, empowers, and emboldens. The finished work of Jesus reaches all kinds of people because it reveals and restores what’s broken inside of all people—sin. It offends and outrages because it attacks our want to be autonomous and our desire to be our own savior, telling us the very things we’re looking to for our worth are in fact false gods that can’t deliver what they promise. Lastly, the finished work of Jesus emboldens and empowers us because it says our safety and eternal life are ultimately controlled by our sovereign Creator, who loves us so much He came and died on a cross to save us. Like Paul and Barnabas, we too can be bold in telling people the gospel in spite of persecution because our ultimate worth and destiny are secured by Jesus’ life, not ours; Jesus’ death, not ours; and Jesus’ resurrection, which will be ours.
8 Now at Lystra there was a man sitting who could not use his feet. He was crippled from birth and had never walked. 9 He listened to Paul speaking. And Paul, looking intently at him and seeing that he had faith to be made well, 10 said in a loud voice, “Stand upright on your feet.” And he sprang up and began walking. 11 And when the crowds saw what Paul had done, they lifted up their voices, saying in Lycaonian, “The gods have come down to us in the likeness of men!” 12 Barnabas they called Zeus, and Paul, Hermes, because he was the chief speaker. 13 And the priest of Zeus, whose temple was at the entrance to the city, brought oxen and garlands to the gates and wanted to offer sacrifice with the crowds. 14 But when the apostles Barnabas and Paul heard of it, they tore their garments and rushed out into the crowd, crying out, 15 “Men, why are you doing these things? We also are men, of like nature with you, and we bring you good news, that you should turn from these vain things to a living God, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and all that is in them. 16 In past generations he allowed all the nations to walk in their own ways. 17 Yet he did not leave himself without witness, for he did good by giving you rains from heaven and fruitful seasons, satisfying your hearts with food and gladness.” 18 Even with these words they scarcely restrained the people from offering sacrifice to them.
We all suffer, including Christians. This is clear by example in Acts 14 as Paul is stoned and dragged outside Lystra, left for dead. Sometimes we suffer because we tell people the gospel. Other times we suffer simply because we live in a fallen world that is ravaged by sin. Occasionally we suffer because God loves us and disciplines those He loves. Our suffering is useful (many times) because it gives us an opportunity to show the world how much more valuable Jesus is than anything we could ever lose (look at Paul in Acts 14!). Our suffering us useful (all the time) because God uses it to make us more like Jesus, the King. We can suffer well as we look to Jesus who suffered and died on a cross. Jesus endured crucifixion not namely as our human example for suffering, but as our Divine Substitute for sin. If you know that Jesus’ death already defeated the only sufferings that can truly harm you, you can suffer well (like Paul, Ridley, and Latimer!). And you can say with Keller, “Come on, crosses, the lower you lay me the higher you raise me! Come on, grave, kill me and all you will do is make me better than before! If the death of Jesus Christ happened for us and he bore our hopelessness so that now we can have hope—and if the resurrection of Jesus Christ happened—then even the worst things will turn into the best things, and the greatest are yet to come.”
After visiting men tell the church at Antioch, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved” Paul, Barnabas, and others travel to Jerusalem in order to keep the gospel message clear. Why is it so important to make sure we have gospel-clarity? Because without clarity people will inevitably try and add to the gospel, ruining it altogether. It’s a matter of slavery and freedom. Without the gospel we are all enslaved by our self-dependence, looking to our own performance to give us the worth and value we’re longing for. Peter points out that this is a burden no one has ever been able to bear (verse 10). Self-dependence is enslaving. However, the gospel brings a freedom that can never be taken away because Jesus has already lived, died, and arose; our worth and security is finalized in Him. As Peter says, “We believe we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus” (verse 11). What we really need in order to be free is a Master who loves us so much He was willing to take all our burdens on Himself and die, so we could be free from self-dependence forever. His name is Jesus and He’s the Lord.
In Acts 15:12-35, we see that our experiences and feelings are insufficient for determining what is authoritatively true. However, the Bible is sufficient for determining truth because it is not simply a word about God, it is the Word of God. We need to study the Bible by ourselves, in community, and also receive preaching and teaching from the Word of God. When we try and determine what truth is, according to our experiences and feelings, we are starting down a path that leads to hatred and injustice. However, when the truth of the Bible is submitted to, it leads to love and unity. Why? Because at the heart of the Bible is Jesus, the God-man. He didn’t come to make truth claims and take power. Rather, He came as the Truth and gave up power in order to love us and unite us as the church. When you get that Jesus is the truth that came in love, you will be able to hold fast to the truth for the love of God and neighbor.
ACTS 15:36-16:5 36 And after some days Paul said to Barnabas, “Let us return and visit the brothers in every city where we proclaimed the word of the Lord, and see how they are.” 37 Now Barnabas wanted to take with them John called Mark. 38 But Paul thought best not to take with them one who had withdrawn from them in Pamphylia and had not gone with them to the work. 39 And there arose a sharp disagreement, so that they separated from each other. Barnabas took Mark with him and sailed away to Cyprus, 40 but Paul chose Silas and departed, having been commended by the brothers to the grace of the Lord. 41 And he went through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches.
16:1 Paul came also to Derbe and to Lystra. A disciple was there, named Timothy, the son of a Jewish woman who was a believer, but his father was a Greek. 2 He was well spoken of by the brothers at Lystra and Iconium. 3 Paul wanted Timothy to accompany him, and he took him and circumcised him because of the Jews who were in those places, for they all knew that his father was a Greek. 4 As they went on their way through the cities, they delivered to them for observance the decisions that had been reached by the apostles and elders who were in Jerusalem. 5 So the churches were strengthened in the faith, and they increased in numbers daily.
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.
In Acts 16, we see two radically different people changed by Jesus. Lydia, who is a moral, well-to-do owner of her own business, is changed as Paul sits down and talks to her about Jesus. The Lord opened her heart and she began to see how beautiful Jesus is. However, the slave girl, who is demon-possessed and used by her masters, is changed not by rational argument but by a power encounter. Paul speaks to the demon in the name (on the authority) of Jesus Christ and the girl is freed! Lydia needed someone to sit down and talk; the slave girl needed someone to stand up and shout. Both got exactly what they needed in order to be changed by Jesus. The truth is, though, you’ll never be stricken with Jesus’ beauty like Lydia, or freed by Jesus’ power like the slave girl until you look to what Jesus did on the cross. Jesus is exceedingly beautiful because He was willing to become ugly to redeem us. Jesus is overpoweringly strong because He gave up His power on the cross, but still came out as the victor in His resurrection. He is as beautiful as a sunset and as strong as a thunderstorm. He is the Lion and the Lamb.
In this vivid scene recorded by Luke, a brutal jailer meets Jesus through singing sufferers. Though Paul and Silas had been unlawfully beaten, isolated, and tortured, they responded by singing praises. Why would these men respond in such a way? Because though they were caged like beasts, they were actually free as birds in Christ. What’s even more astounding is when the jail doors flew open, they chose to stay, forgiving the jailer and saving his life. In response to their singing, forgiveness, the earthquake, and their telling him the gospel, the jailer put his faith in Jesus (he and his household!). In Acts 16, Luke shows us three radically different people, all changed by Jesus in radically different ways. Lydia needed someone to sit down and talk; the slave girl needed someone to stand up an shout; and the jailer needed someone to suffer and sing. Jesus met each one of them, through His church, right where they were at.
ACTS 17:16-34 16 Now while Paul was waiting for them at Athens, his spirit was provoked within him as he saw that the city was full of idols. 17 So he reasoned in the synagogue with the Jews and the devout persons, and in the marketplace every day with those who happened to be there. 18 Some of the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers also conversed with him. And some said, “What does this babbler wish to say?” Others said, “He seems to be a preacher of foreign divinities”—because he was preaching Jesus and the resurrection.19 And they took him and brought him to the Areopagus, saying, “May we know what this new teaching is that you are presenting? 20 For you bring some strange things to our ears. We wish to know therefore what these things mean.” 21 Now all the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there would spend their time in nothing except telling or hearing something new.
22 So Paul, standing in the midst of the Areopagus, said: “Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious. 23 For as I passed along and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription, ‘To the unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. 24 The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, 25 nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything. 26 And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, 27 that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us, 28 for
“‘In him we live and move and have our being’;
as even some of your own poets have said,
“‘For we are indeed his offspring.’
29 Being then God’s offspring, we ought not to think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of man. 30 The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent,31 because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.”
32 Now when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked. But others said, “We will hear you again about this.” 33 So Paul went out from their midst. 34 But some men joined him and believed, among whom also were Dionysius the Areopagite and a woman named Damaris and others with them.
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.
Faith in Jesus for salvation is less like jumping off a cliff hoping to fly, and more like boarding a well-built, thoroughly-inspected airplane piloted by someone you trust completely. When Paul arrives at Thessalonica, he shows the locals that the gospel is reasonable, promised in the Old Testament the Scriptures, explainable, proven, and necessary. The gospel is not only reasonable, it’s revolutionary. Among many other things, Christianity radically changed who people’s ultimate allegiance was to. No longer did they confess Caesar as Lord; rather, they boldly proclaimed “there is another king, Jesus.”
But He is no ordinary King. He’s the one we’ve offended through our sin; he’s the One to whom we owe a debt we cannot pay. And yet Paul says in Colossians 2 that Jesus “cancelled our record of debt” by being “nailed to the cross.” Jesus called up all our debt and paid for it by dying in our place for ours sins. He’s the king who saves by grace and the king who commands you to repent, put your faith in him, and follow him in this glorious revolution. Kill him or crown him, you have no other choice but these.
The Jews in Berea and Thessalonica approached the Bible in vastly different ways. The Thessalonians rejected it and the Bereans received it eagerly. This brings up a good question: What should we think about the Bible? Here are five:
1. It’s the Word of God, without error (we can trust it)
2. It’s authoritative (we must obey it)
3. It’s clear (we can understand it)
4. it’s sufficient (it reveals how we’re saved and how we can live lives of meaning
5. It’s necessary (it alone reveals who we truly are and how Jesus saves from sin and death
If this is true, what should we do with the Bible? The Bereans give us a great example to follow. They received it with eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily, and they believed what God communicated in His Word. What you’ll find as you examine the Word is not just a supremely perfect and divine set of laws; what you’ll find is a supremely perfect and divine Person who upheld the Law. His name is Jesus. The whole Bible is about him. He is the incarnate Word of God; the truly inerrant, authoritative, clear, sufficient, and necessary One that came to redeem sinners by grace.
Jesus the King gave us joyful marching orders. He commanded us to “Go and make disciples of all nations” and that is exactly what Christians are delighted to do. But how? In Acts 18 Paul arrives at Corinth, and the way he handles himself gives us three things to focus on as we seek to fulfill Jesus’ great commission. Don’t stop talking (vv. 1-5), don’t give up (vv. 6-8), and don’t be afraid (vv 9-17).
As Paul continues strengthening the churches that he has planted, Apollos, a Jewish Christian from Alexandria, enters the scene. After Aquilla and Priscilla help him understand the things of God more fully, Apollos leaves Ephesus and heads to Corinth. Upon arriving, Apollos greatly helped those who through grace had believed, namely by preaching Jesus and refuting false teachers. We learn in this passage at least two things about saving faith: 1) All those who have truly believed have believed through grace, 2) Those who have believed through grace need help.
In addition, we learn in other Scriptures that it is not only a work of God’s grace that we initially believe (Ephesians 2:8-9), but it is due to His ongoing grace that we keep believing (Jeremiah 32:40). All of this is due to Jesus, who died to overcome all our sin, bringing us into “the New Covenant in his blood” (Luke 22:20).
In Acts 19:1-10, we learn at least three things about the gospel. First, it is like heat, effecting change in whatever it is exposed to. When we hear the gospel, we either respond with faith in Jesus (vv. 4-5) or unbelief (vv. 9). Second, the gospel is meant to spread. For the love of God and man, Paul stays for two years in Ephesus, and “all the residents of Asia heard the word of the Lord, both Jews and Greeks.” Like a military outpost, training and sending out soldiers to conquer enemy lands, Paul sets up a missionary outpost, training and sending out church planters to conquer enemies of God through the gospel (vv. 10). Third, the gospel is good. It doesn’t matter who you are or aren’t; It doesn’t matter what you’ve done or not done. God has made a way to pardon your sins and bring you into his family forever as his beloved child. In addition to our adoption, God sends us Himself, baptizing all Christians with the Holy Spirit. He is the greatest gift we can receive in this life!
God the Holy Spirit is the One who gives us new birth (John 3:8), convicts us of sin and righteousness (John 15:8), pours the love of God into our hearts (Rom. 5:5), gives us life as we seek to say “no” to sin and “yes” to Jesus (Rom. 8:11), helps us understand the Bible (1 Cor. 2:10), and He works in us so that we produce good fruit (Gal. 5:22-23).
But the truth is this: Because of our sin, the only way we can be baptized with the Spirit of God is because Jesus was baptized with the judgement of God. We can only receive the blessing because Jesus received the curse for us.