Acts: On Mission with the Triune God

[This is the most recent “Feeding on the Word” article for our church newsletter].

In most Bibles, Luke’s second book is entitled, “The Acts of the Apostles.”  However, as many commentators have noted, a more accurate title would be “The Acts of the Holy Spirit” because it is the Spirit who is responsible for convicting, converting, and creating the church. Yet, even this title is insufficient, because it tempts us to think that the Father and Son are absent. Thus, a better title might be, “The Acts of the Triune God Through the Church of Jesus Christ.”  While lengthy, such a title rightly emphasizes God’s work in and through the early church.

With this trinitarian framework in mind, lets consider how the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit work together in Acts to convert sinners and create the church.

The Sovereign Father

Luke begins Acts where his gospel ends. Alerting his readers to the fact that he is continuing the same story of “all that Jesus began to do and teach” (1:1), Luke tells of how the saints waited in Jerusalem for the “promise of the Father” (1:4). This promise is the Spirit of God himself, sent by the risen and ascended Son to all those who believe. What is noteworthy about the promised Spirit is that in everything, the Spirit is the “change agent” who builds the church.  But always, the Spirit works according to the Father’s designs.

Throughout Acts then, we hear testimony to the sovereign action of the Father. For example, when Peter preaches on Pentecost, he affirms God’s predestined plan to send his Son to the cross for the purpose of providing salvation for Israel and the Gentiles: “This Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it” (Acts 2:23-24; cf. 4:27-28). Just as God was active in all of Jesus life, death, and resurrection; so the Father is active in the life of the church (cf. Acts 5:31; 11:18).

The Risen Lord, Jesus Christ

While Acts chronicles the birth of the church, the church must not be pitted against Christ. Where Luke’s gospel contains all the words and deeds Christ did on earth, Acts contains all that Christ did from heaven.  For instance, Acts 1:2 recounts how Jesus ‘chose’ his twelve apostles, but then Luke turns around in verse 25 and uses the same word of Matthias’ calling.  Make no mistake, Christ is still in the business of choosing his servants. The same thing is true in Acts 9 when Jesus confronted Saul—first rebuking him and then calling him into gospel service. Or in Acts 7, the risen Christ stands to receive Stephen as he is stoned. In all these accounts, the risen Christ reigns and rules on earth.

Moreover, Christ not only acts; He speaks. As the Spirit of Christ is poured out to empower the saints (1:8), the early church takes the message of salvation from Jerusalem (Acts 1-7) to Samaria (Acts 8-12) unto the ends of the earth (Acts 13-28). In all of these locales, Christ continues to speak. Through his servants, the risen Christ declares his universal lordship and the offer of salvation through his death and resurrection. Thus, in this way, the risen Lord is acting.

The Spirit of Promise

Acts 2 marks a significant change in redemptive history. Whereas in the Old Testament, God’s Spirit dwelt “with” Israel, now God’s Spirit resided “in” God’s covenant community (cf. John 14:17). Pentecost marks this dramatic shift. Jesus had told his disciples to stay in Jerusalem until the outpouring of the Spirit. Until that day, the disciples were weak-willed and reclusive. However, when the Spirit came, it moved men like Peter and John to go into the world to tell the good news of Jesus Christ. Thus, the Spirit is seen to be at work throughout Acts. In fact, a constant refrain in the book is that the servants of God where filled with the Spirit and went our proclaiming the gospel.

The Spirit-Filled Church

According to the Father’s design, the Son’s work, and the Spirit’s power and presence, the church experienced incredible growth. In Jerusalem, thousands of Jews placed faith in Christ to form the first local church. As the gospel went forward, churches continue to be planted. The Spirit moved men to witness; He converted the lost; and He united new born Christians into local assemblies meeting in the name of Jesus Christ. This was true in Jerusalem, Galatia, Ephesus, and Rome.

Not much has changed. The Spirit continues to work where the Word of God is proclaimed. He confirms the power of the gospel through radical conversions and unites believers in local churches. These covenant communities are built not by impressive technology or programs dependent upon demographic affinities but by the pure and simple message of the Son of God who saves sinners!

My prayer for Calvary is that we would be a church who is convinced that the Triune God and his gospel message is sufficient to purify, empower, and build our church. We don’t need fancy programs; we just need the power of the Spirit and the simplicity of the gospel. This is what changed lives in Acts, and what still changes lives today. In the next few months, as we look at Acts, I hope you will join us and pray that God would move mightily.

For His Glory and your joy,
Pastor David