My year-long journey through The MANual, my NIV Bible for Men, brings us to the book of Acts, which is an accurate historical account of the birth and growth of the early church. Acts present a strong case for the validity of Christ’s claims and promises. It is a theological book with lessons and living examples of the work of the Holy Spirit, church relationships and organization, the implications of grace, and the law of love.
Also known as The Acts of The Apostles, this book was written by Luke (a Gentile physician) as a sequel to his Gospel, about 63 A.D.; just a few years after his Gospel. Like his Gospel, Luke also addresses Acts to Theophilus, which means “(be)loved by God” or “One Who Loves God” in the Greek language.
In 28 chapters, Luke tells the stories of men and women who spread the Good News of Jesus as the Chosen One to help grow the church with the help of the Holy Spirit.
Luke opens by referring to his Gospel, stating “In my former book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and teach. Until the day He was taken up to Heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles He had chosen.” (Acts 1:1-2). He says, the people, “…will receive power when The Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all of Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8). This “power” from the Holy Spirit includes courage, boldness, confidence, insight, ability, and authority to help fulfill the mission of Christ’s church.
“To the ends of the earth” in verse 8 is a pretty ambitious goal. But Jesus started His message with Jerusalem, the immediate vicinity for the disciples. For us today, our immediate vicinity –our home, our neighborhood, and our workplace is our first witnessing assignment. Don’t underestimate your importance. For some of us, the term “witnessing” is scary. But simply being reproach means living in a way so no one can honestly bring a charge or accusation against him (Acts 25:7; 1 Peter 3:16). This is your best witness.
- Why is witnessing so scary for some people?
- What are some ways your life reflects the love of Christ?
Luke continues by describing the start of Peter’s ministry after the resurrection of Jesus. On the day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit came upon the disciples like blowing wind and tongues of fire. Peter healed the crippled beggar and preached in the Temple (Acts 3). Peter was just one of the “Twelve Ordinary Men” who Jesus called as disciples, according to John MacArthur’s great book of the same title. His actions demonstrated the power of the Holy Spirit.
Ordinary, Average Guys
Peter and John, the apostle, were seized and presented to the Sanhedrin Council (Jewish officials under Roman rule) to defend their beliefs and authority as religious leaders. The two weren’t skilled public speakers and didn’t have formal training in Scripture. They weren’t expert debaters. They had little experience defending their faith.
However, the courage shown by these unschooled, regular kinds of guys resulted in their release. They knew what Jesus had said and done. They knew their lives were changed and they could change the lives of others too.
- As an ordinary guy yourself, what can you accomplish with the power of the Holy Spirit?
In Acts 5, the church begins to grow as the Apostles healed many. We see both internal and external problems facing the early church though. Inside, new believers saw dishonesty, greed, and administrative headaches. Outside, they faced opposition and persecution. Stephen, one of seven men appointed to manage food distribution among the believers (i.e. the first deacons), was seized and brought before the Sanhedrin council. They produced false witnesses against Stephen, who went on the offensive to teach about Jesus. Stephen gives details about their idolatry and calls them stubborn heathens. The Jewish leaders were infuriated and stoned Stephen to death. Watching the stoning from nearby was Saul, a prosecutor of Christians.
Luke records one of the greatest stories of change in the Bible in Chapter 9: Saul who became the apostle, Paul.
As Saul traveled to Damascus still breathing murderous threats against anyone who believed in Jesus (followers of “The Way”), he was confronted by the bright light of the risen Christ, who asked, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?”. He was brought face-to-face with the Good News but came away blind. A disciple named Ananias finds Saul and greets him lovingly despite hearing reports about him, and heals his eyesight. Another believer, Barnabas, takes Saul to spend several days with the disciples in Damascus where he begins telling people about Jesus.
Starting in chapter 13, the book now focuses on the spread of the church around the world. Acts 13:9 is when Saul is first called “Paul” as he and Barnabas are commissioned to sail to the island of Cyprus to proclaim the Word of God.
At this point, Paul replaces Peter as its central figure. In the remaining chapters of Acts, Luke describes Paul’s four missionary journeys:
- 1st missionary journey (Acts 13:4 to 15:35).
- 2nd missionary journey (Acts 15:36 to 18:22).
- 3rd missionary journey (Acts 18:23 to 21:17).
- Journey to Rome (Acts 27:1 to 28:16).
Paul’s First Journey
Accompanying Paul and Barnabas on the first missionary journey is a young man named John Mark, who was Barnabas’s cousin.
Men of God: John Mark
Most scholars agree that this young man is the author of the Gospel of Mark, who – in a moment of self-disclosure, ran away in the Garden of Gethsemane without his clothes. During Paul’s first missionary journey with Barnabas, John Mark’s timidity led to his early departure and Paul’s adamant disagreement with Barnabas about Mark’s ability for the second journey. But Barnabas didn’t give up on John Mark and helped him grow through his weaknesses and failures. Mark became everything Barnabas saw in him. In fact, Paul specifically calls for Mark because “he is helpful to my ministry (2 Timothy 4:11).
- What example of failure from your life have prepared you for later growth and development?
- Do you have someone in your life who believes in you like Barnabas with John Mark?
Chapter 15 begins with a debate among Jewish Christians about circumcision. The conversion of Gentiles raised an urgent question for the church: could Gentile believers also be saved if they did not adhere to the laws of Moses and other Jewish traditions. One group of Jews believed circumcision was necessary for salvation. However, the Gentiles did not think they needed to become Jews to be Christians. After much debate, Paul, Barnabas, and the other church leaders determined that the ritual of circumcision was no longer required and that only by grace through faith in Jesus Christ could a person be saved. This began the change in expectations for being a Christian.
Paul’s Second Journey
Prior to his second journey, Paul and Barnabas have a sharp disagreement over John Mark, which leads to the two friends separating (Acts 15:36-41). Barnabas takes Mark and sails to Cyprus. Paul chooses Silas and starts his second journey overland, crossing one mountain range to Tarsus, then another range west to Derbe and Lystra. There, Paul meets a young man named Timothy, whose father was Greek and whose mother was Jewish. Although the church in Jerusalem had recently decreed that Gentile believers did not have to be circumcised, Paul felt Timothy must be circumcised anyway to ensure he would receive respect as a Jewish believer since he was considered a “half-breed.”
Chapter 16 tells of the trio’s trip to Troas after being dissuaded by the Holy Spirit from going to Bithynia. Luke first meets Paul at Troas, just before the vision of the Man from Macedonia (Acts 16:10-12). They head to Samothrace, Neapolis. and arrive in Philippi.
In Philippi, they meet Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth from Thyatira. Paul baptizes her, along with her entire household (Acts 16:12-15). Paul and Silas end up spending time in prison in Philippi but were released by God’s miraculous act of an earthquake so violent that it shook the foundations of the prison and immediately all the doors were opened and unfastened everyone’s chains. Once freed, Paul and Silas, along with Timothy and Luke, land in Thessalonica after passing through the towns of Amphipolis and Apollonia.
Paul preaches from Scripture in the temple in Thessalonica, arguing that it was necessary for the Messiah to suffer and to rise from the dead (Acts 17:1-4). But the Jews became angry and threw some of the believers in jail. Paul, Silas, and Timothy are sent to Berea and treated with greater respect. But the Jews from Thessalonica came down to incite the crowd. Paul is sent to Athens while Silas and Timothy stayed behind.
Paul leaves Athens and travels to Corinth. There, he first meets Priscilla and Aquila, a couple who make a living as tentmakers. He preaches the gospel every Sabbath in the synagogue. Silas and Timothy join Paul in Corinth (Acts 18:1-5). The synagogue eventually splits and a new church is formed and Paul teaches there for a year and a half. Paul said farewell to the believers and sails for Syria, accompanied by Priscilla and Aquila. Paul and his companions sail for Ephesus, where Paul preaches in a synagogue but soon leaves the couple behind so that he can be in Jerusalem to celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles (Acts 18:19-21). He sails from Ephesus to Caesarea, then travels to Jerusalem. After keeping the Feast he returns to Antioch (Acts 18:21-22), which ends Paul’s second missionary journey.
Paul’s Third Journey
In his third missionary journey, Paul sets off to visit the churches again in Galatia and Phrygia (Acts 18:23). He then returns to Ephesus to continue his work. Paul finds twelve believers baptized by John the Baptist, who had not received God’s spirit. He tells these disciples about Jesus, baptizes them, and they immediately receive the Holy Spirit (Acts 19:1-7). His work causes an uproar and riots (Acts 19:23-41).
He then revisited Macedonia and Greece, and came to Troas before sailing to Caesarea and then Jerusalem (Acts 21:1-17). There, Paul meets with James and the elders to give an account of all God’s great things while on his journeys (Acts 21:18-26). In jealousy, the Jewish leaders cause trouble for Paul when he is arrested and goes to trial (Acts 21:27-40).
Paul tells his story publicly, which inflames the resentment toward him. He gets flogged for revealing his Roman citizenship (Acts 22), is escorted to Caesarea (Acts 23:1-35), and is imprisoned. Paul goes before the governor, Felix, who was familiar with “The Way” (Acts 24). Paul is imprisoned for two years until appearing before Festus to ask for an appeal to Caesar (Acts 25). Festus agrees to send him to Rome where King Agrippa II allows Paul to defend himself against all charges (Acts 25:13 – 26:29). Paul pleads for Agrippa to become a Christian but the king pointed out that, since Paul had appealed to Caesar, he could not be released (Acts 26:32).
Paul was later escorted to Rome, with other prisoners. On the way, he is shipwrecked on the island of Malta (Acts 27). God had promised Paul safe passage (27:23-25) and protected him from a poisonous snake. Paul continued to minister to others, even as a shipwrecked prisoner for three months on Malta. Paul miraculously survives a bite from a poisonous viper, heals the father of the island’s governor, then heals the diseases of those on the island (Acts 28:1 – 10). Another ship brought Paul to Rome, where he was a prisoner for two years (Acts 28:30). Paul is allowed to live by himself guarded only by a Roman soldier (Acts 28:16). During his imprisonment, He is given the privilege of being able to receive visitors and continue to preach the Gospel (Acts 28:17 – 31).
God Buddy Focus
As you read Acts, you can sense the boldness of the Holy Spirit in the first-century believers. It started with Saul’s conversion story and the expansion of the church through the power of the Holy Spirit.
- What is your conversion story? Maybe you were not blinded, like Saul, but when did you begin to believe?
- What lessons can we learn from Paul’s journeys that still apply today?
My next post begins a section with Paul’s letters to the churches he visited.