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.
- 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.
- 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.”
- 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.