“The Holy Spirit at Work”
When I was growing up, I had the privilege to go to church and learn many things about the Bible. My parents made sure I was exposed to opportunities to know about Almighty God and His son Jesus Christ. That became very important to me, as well. When I reflect back on those times, one of the things I remember the most was my parents and the churches emphasis on the book of Acts. We read and studied that book over and over again. My father came up with key words for every one of the 28 chapters. The Bible class teachers encouraged me to memorize certain passages. Oh, the book of Acts was and still is important. The more I read and study it, the more I understand its importance to Christians everywhere. Some say it is the most powerful and inspiring book in the New Testament. Perhaps that is true. Luke writes the story of how the church began and highlights the first 30 years of its existence. He records various things the followers of Jesus did, as they carried on His work. He records events of people rejecting and also accepting the Good News message of Jesus. Oh, exciting stories of the church growing and expanding are all recorded in these 28 chapters. Luke lets it be known that none of this would be possible without the activity of the Holy Spirit. God's Spirit is given to and empowers those who are His children. Perhaps the greatest thing about that is the Holy Spirit is still at work in the lives of believers today.
Have you ever come to the end of a good nonfiction book and asked yourself the question, what happened next? You wonder what happened to those main characters. You wonder, what is the rest of the story? Well, when we come to the end of the Gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, we perhaps ask similar questions. What happened next? How does the story continue on? Well, one of the gospel writers, by the name of Luke, bails us out. He gives us the second part of his story in the book called Acts. In fact, he begins right where he left off. Listen to these words from Luke in Acts chapter 1, beginning with verse 1. <In my former book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach until the day He was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles He had chosen. After His suffering, He showed himself to these men and gave many convincing proofs that He was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God.> Luke carefully studied eyewitness accounts of Jesus' life and ministry. He put all of that together in a story about Jesus, it's called the Gospel of Luke. Well now, he brings together how Jesus' life and ministry played out over the next 30 years. He shares, in this book called Acts, how the story of Jesus continued to grow and to spread throughout all of the known world. Now, that is perhaps best seen in an outline statement here in the 1st chapter. Just prior to Jesus ascending into heaven He called together His disciples and He shared with them what we might call the Great Commission. In part, this is what He shared with them. Notice verse 8 of the 1st chapter. <"You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be My witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the Earth.”> For the next 28 chapters, that is played out. The disciples are there in Jerusalem; they receive power from the Holy Spirit, on the day of Pentecost; they began to share the story of Jesus with the people assembled there; they then go to the areas of Judea and Samaria and eventually to the rest of the known world. Luke tells how all of this was accomplished, in the next 28 chapters. And the focus is on two primary characters; first of all, Peter, in the first 12 chapters or so, and then he turns his attention to the stories of the apostle Paul, in chapters 13 through 28. Throughout his history lesson, Luke identifies over 30 countries and more than 50 towns and villages. He identifies some 100 people, many of whom are never even identified in Scripture again; and yet, all of that leads to credibility. He recognizes the importance of including these names and these places. People pay attention to his gospel message. And as a result of that, we see the spread of the gospel going everywhere. He includes the progress and the advancement of the story of Jesus Christ. Hundreds of people are responding to that Good News message. Thousands of people are becoming what we call Christians and followers of Jesus Christ. A great example of that is found in the 2nd chapter of Acts. Listen, if you will, to what happened in chapter 2, beginning with verse 41. Before we read that, however, keep in mind what's happening here. It's on the day of Pentecost. Thousands of people are in the city of Jerusalem. The Holy Spirit has just empowered the apostles. And now, Peter gets up in front of them all and he shares the story of Jesus Christ, and the people respond to Him. Notice now their response, in verse 41. <Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day. They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles.> As Peter finished his gospel message about Jesus, the people were so excited to hear it they responded in great numbers. 3000 people were immersed, or baptized, into Jesus Christ and they were added to that number. Those believers, then, devoted themselves to the study and the practice of what the apostles were sharing with them. They were devoted to the fellowship. They loved and they cared for one another. They spent time in each other's homes enjoying good fellowship and meals together, even as they share the Lord's Supper on a regular basis. And then, these individuals were devoted to prayer. They knew that prayer allowed them the opportunity to communicate with their Heavenly Father. As a result of that, people were in awe and amazement. Continually, good things were happening. The apostles were performing signs and miracles, and everyone was focused on Jesus Christ and becoming His follower. And yet, that's not all of the story! We notice down at the very end of chapter 2, the very last sentence in verse 47, the Lord added to their number, daily, those who were being saved. It wasn't the apostles who added to their number, it was the Lord himself. He knew of those who were following Him and those who were not, and He is the one who added to the number of people who belonged to His family. That was the beginning. That was the start of the growth of Christianity as we see it here in the book called Acts. Now, these early Christians took that very seriously. They continued to share that story with others who had not heard it. Some of them took risks. Some of them even lost their lives for the sake of Jesus Christ. Yet, we know God's blessing was upon them all. The church continued to grow and more and more people became obedient to the faith. We find some other passages here in the early chapters of Acts that indicate that very thing. In chapters 3 and 4 we notice that Peter, along with others, were sharing the Good News story of Jesus. The authorities did not like that. They were upset because of the message that was being shared and so they put Peter and his friend John into prison. Yet the amazing thing is, many people still believed. They still gave their lives to Jesus Christ even though they themselves might be put into prison. And, we notice that the number of disciples, the number of believers, grew from 3000 in chapter 2 to now some 5000 here in chapter 4. As the number of believers grew, they met together on a regular basis. In a spirit of love and compassion and concern, they came together in support of one another. They took care of each other's needs. We see that taking place at the end of the 4th chapter. Notice these words that begin with verse 32. <All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they shared everything they had. With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And much grace was upon them all. There were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned land or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone as he had need.> Isn't that a beautiful story! These new believers came together and shared what they had. Some were rich. Some were poor. Some had homes in which to live. Others did not. But, they all took care of each other. They sold their possessions and they gave to anyone as that particular person had a need. Even though some of these new believers were beaten, even though some were in prison, even though some were threatened that their life would be taken away, we notice that the growth of the church continued. Here's another statement in chapter 5 verse 14: <More than ever, believers were added to the Lord, multitudes of both men and women.> It's interesting to note, there wasn't just one believer over here and a Christian over there, multitudes of people throughout all of that area gave their hearts and their lives to Jesus Christ. They were considered to be believers and their numbers grew. In the midst of all of that, in the midst of the persecution, in the midst of the threats, in the midst of being imprisoned, there was one common factor: These new believers knew without a doubt God would take care of them. They knew that He would never leave nor forsake them. And so with great boldness, they continued to share the story of Jesus Christ with people everywhere. Let's notice another passage here. In chapter 6 and verse 7 we find these words: <The word of God increased; and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem and a great number of priests were obedient to the faith.> Once again, these new Christians went everywhere sharing their faith, telling the story of Jesus Christ. He was at the center of their message. The Holy Spirit gave them great power as they spoke in the name of the Lord. And it was God himself, on a regular basis, who added to the number of those who were being saved. Oh, Luke tells us a wonderful story of how the early church began to grow and to expand throughout the area. But his story also included growth not only among the Jews, but also among the Gentiles, as well. In the 15th chapter of Acts, that very thing was called into question. Many of the Jews did not like the fact that the Gentiles were now receiving the same salvation they had received, and so they asked the apostle Peter about it. Well on that occasion, in the city of Jerusalem, Peter told them the story of how he had gone to the home of a Gentile by the name of Cornelius. He shared with him the story of Jesus Christ and he and his entire family believed upon Jesus. The Holy Spirit came upon them and they too were immersed, or baptized, into Jesus Christ. Once he shared that, the people there in Jerusalem begin to understand that yes, perhaps the Gentiles could receive the very same free gift of salvation. It was then that Peter shared with that group these words, according to chapter 15 beginning in verse 7: <“Brothers, you know that some time ago God made a choice among you that the Gentiles might hear from my lips the message of the gospel and believe. God, who knows the heart, showed that He accepted them by giving the Holy Spirit to them, just as He did to us. He made no distinction between us and them, for He purified their hearts by faith. Now then, why do you try to test God by putting on the necks of the disciples a yoke that neither we nor our fathers have been able to bear? No! We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved, just as they are.”> Peter let the people know, according to that last statement, it is by the grace of God that we receive salvation, and that's the very same grace that is now being extended to the Gentile world. Oh, the stories that Luke includes here in his account remind us of one great truth: God's gift of salvation through His son Jesus Christ is available to all people! And that truth is still for us, today. It is through His son Jesus that we receive salvation. In the second part of the book of Acts, Luke then turns his attention to the work of the apostle Paul. He recounts some of the stories about Paul and his missionary trips that he took into the Gentile world to share with those people this very same gospel message. Paul went into places like Corinth and Ephesus, and Philippi and Athens, and he told, over and over again, what Jesus Christ meant to him and what He had done for him. In fact it's interesting to note in the book of Acts, the conversion story of Paul is found 3 times. The actual event is found in chapter 9. He tells the story to a group of people in Philippi in chapter 16, and also, again, in chapter 26. And through that, we recognize how important it is for the apostle Paul to keep on sharing, to keep on telling, the Good News message. We reflect back on the time when Paul became a Christian, there in the 9th chapter; that, God had called upon him to be His spokesman, to be His witness, not only to the Jews but also to the Gentiles. And Paul took very seriously that responsibility. He was faithful to keep on sharing that story, sharing his faith, and that only increased the number of those who were becoming believers. Wherever Paul went, that's what he did. On one occasion, in the 26th chapter, he is on trial for his life. He doesn't know for sure what's going to happen as he stands before King Agrippa in the city of Jerusalem. But even before the king, Paul tells his story about Jesus. And as he does, he includes these words, beginning with verse 22. <"But I have had God's help to this very day, and so I stand here and testify to small and great alike. I am saying nothing beyond what the prophets and Moses said would happen— that the Christ would suffer, and as the first to rise from the dead would proclaim light to His own people and to the Gentiles.”> Well, there it is. That's what Paul is doing. He is proclaiming the death, burial, and resurrection to his own people the Jews, and also to the Gentiles. Yes, the story of Jesus means something to Paul and he is willing to share it wherever the Lord might call upon him to do so. Throughout the book of Acts, Luke emphasizes the growth of Christianity. Luke shares stories of people becoming Christians, churches being established, and the work of the Holy Spirit. Thousands of people believed the messages that were proclaimed. Thousands of people were following Jesus Christ, becoming Christians, believing in Him and being immersed into their Savior. Oh, the Acts of the Apostles is an exciting book to read, and I hope you will spend some time reading and studying through this powerful book as we learn even more about what happened in the early church. It is interesting to note, as we take an overview look at the book of Acts, it ends similar to the way the Gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, end. It ends almost abruptly. We don't know for sure why that is, but the story of Acts ends with the apostle Paul in the city of Rome, in his own rented home, under the watchful eye of the authorities. And yet, he has the opportunity to visit with all of those who come to visit and encourage him. And under the watchful eye, he continues to share the story of Jesus Christ with everyone who will hear it. We ask the question, why does the story end like that? What happens later on? What is the rest of the story? Well, perhaps the story ends like that because that is as far as it has gone. Luke doesn't have anything else to write. He shows how Christianity has advanced and how it has now passed on to the next generation. Yet, perhaps, the story of Acts ends like that for another reason. For the past 1,950 years or so, God has entrusted His followers with the responsibility of sharing with other people this very same story. The work of the Holy Spirit continues to empower those believers as we go forth to be His witnesses, now, even to the ends of the Earth. It falls on those who believe in Him to share with others who Jesus is, what He has done, and how we too can be a part of His church. Yes, the book of Acts tells us about the early church and its growth. It includes some guidelines about doing mission work. It offers some insights on how the church is to operate or to function today. Yet underneath it all is the call to continue what was started so many years ago. It is to do whatever we can for the benefit of those who have not heard that Good News message. It calls upon us to go out into the world and to share the same gift of salvation we have received with those who have not yet received it. As we end our lesson today, I want to do so by offering a question for us to consider, and hopefully we will consider it and answer it for ourselves. The question is this: how can I share with others the story of Jesus Christ as I am His witness to the end of the Earth? My encouragement and my challenge for you today is to not let the story of Acts end. May it continue on, through you. May it continue on through your efforts as you tell about Jesus to those who don't know Him. Tell what He has done for you, the salvation you have received from Him, and how others can receive it to. Yes, I pray that you will continue to advance the cause of Jesus Christ in the world today.
Part 2 of Luke's story about Jesus is found in the book called Acts of the Apostles. However, it might be more appropriately named Acts of the Holy Spirit. For it is by that power that Jesus' followers carried on His work throughout the world. Acts is about getting plugged into God's power source, the Holy Spirit. That is what Peter, Paul, and others did as they boldly shared the gospel, overcame persecution, and dealt with rejection. That same Holy Spirit is available to believers today. The book of Acts reminds us of how we can live dynamic, obedient, and power filled lives when we get plugged in to God's Holy Spirit. Acts is the story about God's Spirit at work in the lives of those who belong to the church Jesus came to establish.
Thank you for being our guest today on “Key to the Kingdom.” Indeed, the book of Acts is filled with many exciting stories. We certainly did not have time to look at all of them. However, I do hope you will spend more time studying the book of Acts on your own. Our goal is to share some things that might be of interest as you seek a closer walk with the Lord. In Acts we read about the beginning of the church, people's response to Jesus, and the work of the Holy Spirit. You can listen to the message again on our website, keytothekingdom.com. It, along with many other lessons are available to download in a variety of formats. They are all free from any kind of charge or commitment. While you are on the website I hope you will take time to send me an e-mail. Other ways to access our ministry is through Roku television and a free app for your smart phone. Short inspirational messages and other information is available. And yes, we are even on Facebook. These things are designed to help you grow in your relationship with God. I hope you will take advantage of them. The phone number on the screen allows you to call and request a free Bible study. Thousands of them have already been sent out, and I hope you will want one, too. It will guide you through the Bible in 6 short lessons. Once again, I want to thank you for tuning in to our program. I hope you will join us next time as we study the Bible on “Key to the Kingdom.”