Divinely Structured and Unfinished

I continued and concluded meditation on the commentary of Acts by Ray Stedman.  I found three insights in the last half of his commentary that I think will be a major influence in my study of the book of Acts this year.

  1. The organization of the book.  In Acts 1:8 the scripture says, “But 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.”  As you follow through Acts we find that this is not only a statement of fact, but it is also a divine, geographical organization of the book.  Chapters 1 through 7 take place largely in Jerusalem.  Chapter 7 concludes with the martyrdom of Stephen and in Chapter 8 we find Phillip preaching in Samaria to crowds with great joy.  Chapter 13 opens with the call of Paul and Barnabas to travel out into the Gentile world.
  2. Watch for the essential. Stedman reminds us to maintain a focus on the essential and not just the incidental.  For example, in the discussion of Pentacost, christians and churches often focus on the incidental or peripheral events.  As Stedman says, “The rushing wind, the fire that danced on the heads of the disciples, and the many tongues or languages by which they spoke. These are the incidentals of the story. These are simply the peripheral events that took place, the signs that showed that something important was happening.”  We must maintain focus on the essential tenant of this story, “What was the essential, then, the important thing? It was the forming of a new people—the church. One hundred and twenty individuals met in the temple courts. They were as unrelated to each other as any people born in widely scattered parts of the earth might be to each other today. They were individually related to the Lord, but they had no blood ties. When the Holy Spirit was poured out on them, he baptized them into one body. They became a living unit; they were no longer related only to the Lord; they were related also to each other.”
  3. That’s not all, folks!  Finally, Stedman’s commentary turns to the ending of the book of Acts, or more appropriately the lack thereof.  The final verses of Acts 28 read like much of the rest of the book, as Luke tells us about what Paul is doing in Rome, chained to a guard day and night under house arrest.  We turn the page, but that’s it.  Luke leaves it as an unfinished story.  This is because the Acts of the Holy Spirit in forming the church and spreading the joy of salvation was not complete.  The spirit continues to act in our time, in our lives and through the disciples today.  There is no “the end” because the return of Christ is yet to come and the work of the Church is unfinished.

The Acts of the Spirit

Today I began a review of a commentary on the book of Acts by Ray Stedman.  Immediately, I am turned upside down.  I love the way the study of the scriptures does that to you.  The perspective of God is so upside down from the way we humans look at things, it is just always amazing.

Ray points out that the Acts of the Apostles really only tells, at best, about some of the work done by 2 apostles, clearly not a comprehensive review.  But what it does discuss in detail is the Acts of the Holy Spirit in taking charge and working, through the Apostles and an ever more unlikely host of characters from a pharisee to an eunuch to people singing in jail and the jailers themselves, to form the church on Earth.

Matthew 28:19 tells us to go to all nations, baptizing.  And, we, in our human arrogance, go – proclaiming, “OK, God, I’ve got it from here.”  We pull out our clipboards and start planning.  We hold meetings and fund raisers and set up all manner of organization and structure.  We completely ignore the most important element of the great commission – I am with you always.  Christ is not handing it over to us to figure out, He is simply giving a preview of the direction He is going to lead us in – but He is clearly still in the lead.

Stedman says it this way, “the record of the gospels is the story of only the beginning of the work of the Lord Jesus Christ. When you come to the end of the gospels, you have come not to the end, nor even to the beginning of the end, but to the end of the beginning. In the book of Acts, the Holy Spirit now begins to fulfill the designed program of God. He begins to carry on his work through the reincarnated body of Jesus Christ—the church—the body by which the Lord intends to reach out to the uttermost parts of the earth.”

As a history and inspiration, the study of the book of Acts would be enlightening, fulfilling and inspiring.  It is always a gift to see the spirit in work.  However, Stedman further pointed out the relevance of this book and why it is so critical to the church today.  When the church of today struggles.  When it loses its way or loses relevance.  When it is attacked from all sides and doesn’t know what to do.  When Christians themselves lose faith and confidence in the church, then the book of Acts is not only inspiring it is a detailed procedure manual on revival.  When the church needs to return to its roots – Acts is the instruction manual.  This is how Christ and the Spirit worked to form the church.  We should read Acts not only for inspiration and enlightenment but for renewal.