30 Years That Changed The World
Acts for today...
Week 1: People with a message...
An Introduction to the Acts of the Apostles
The Acts of the Apostles … “is the only account we have of how the first Christians spread and multiplied during the thirty years following the death of Jesus. By that time they had become so numerous that the Fire of Rome in AD64 could be attributed, albeit slanderously, to them. The book contains a tapestry of themes: the church, the ministry, the apostolic preaching, the Spirit, the charismata, church planting, Christian lifestyle, sacrifice, prayer, social concern and many more. The Acts has so much to say to our half-hearted and cold-bloodied Christianity in the Western world. It rebukes our preoccupation with buildings and ministerial pedigree, our syncretism and pluralism, our lack of expectancy and vibrant faith. As such it is a book supremely relevant for our time …. The power of the Holy Spirit seems only available to us when we make ourselves totally available to Him”
Michael Green from the preface to his book “30 Years that Changed the World.”
Background to Acts
The book of Acts seems to be the second volume of a two volume work by Dr Luke. The style, grammar and approach of both parts are very similar and the ‘dedication’ is to the same person – Theophilus (Luke 1:3 & Acts 1:1) It was written over a number of months (or years?) becoming available to the church between AD65 & 70. The story of Acts begins with the Ascension (around AD30) and covers the next 32 years of church history; ending with Paul spending 2 years under house arrest, until AD62.
The first half of the book is dominated by Peter, the second half by Paul. With its 28 chapters and 1007 verses, Acts is one of the longest books in the New Testament. Therefore we will be looking through it thematically in our preaching and studies together, picking up the story from chapter two.
STUDY 1 – People with a Message Acts 2 & 3
Back in the 60's, A white Anglican clergyman was once reportedly preaching in India with an interpreter simultaneously translating his sermon into Urdu.
His opening sentence ran like this:
'The beatific familiarity of this chapter, traditionally appointed for Quinquagesima, must not cause us to neglect its profundity'. The Indian interpreter put it a little differently: 'So far the speaker has not said anything worth remembering. When he does, I will let you know'!
There was nothing boring or obscure about the early apostolic preaching. The listeners were made to sit up, with a vengeance! Supposing you had been commissioned to deliver the very first sermon of the newly-born Christian Church ... how would you have set about it?
I shall never forget the first time I was ever asked to preach. It was at a tiny village Church new Weston Super Mare. About a month before I phoned the vicar and asked him what he wanted me to preach about ... "God" v helpfully he replied! I prayed & sweated over what I should preach on ... eventually John 15 - "I am the true vine". When I arrived there, my text was above the chancel arch! Not only that but the pulpit was made out of carved wooden grapes!! But I worked on it for weeks beforehand. I wrote it out, word for word. Then re-wrote it, and practised it quietly on my own. I used to say it over to myself in bed until I knew it by heart.
On the day itself I had a hot bath before the talk, so that I would be relaxed enough not to fall over with sheer fright when I got up to speak! Eventually I managed it, mechanically disgorging the words, parrot-fashion, like a little party piece!
But there was no time to practise when Peter gave the first Christian sermon. There was no auditorium or pulpit, and it's certain that the speaker had no notes! And yet, the sketchiest examination of those early sermons in the book of Acts is enough to show what masterpieces those attempts at communication were.
Read Acts 2:14-41
I notice three points about Peter's sermon:
1 The message made contact
Acts 2:14-15 A good start! Peter begins precisely where his listeners are. Amazed at the phenomenon of Pentecost, the crowd is buzzing with questions:
"What does all this mean?' 'These people are drunk!'
The questions provided the Christian leader with his cue ... and Peter's approach provides a model for Christ's witnesses in every age. The aim is expressed well in the letter that he was to write later on: 'Be ready at all times to answer anyone who asks you to explain the hope you have in you’ 1 Pet. 3.15
Whether in private conversation or in public testimony, Christians will find again and again that the unbelieving world, by the questions it is posing, provides them with a ready agenda, a platform and a text.
· What opportunities has God opened up for you recently to tell others about Jesus? How did you feel about it? How did the conversation go? What did you learn? How can we encourage one another to “be ready at all times”?
· What are the questions that people are asking today that Christians like you and I can capitalise on for the purpose of the Gospel?
The quest today is for meaning and purpose. Whereas a few decades ago, the big question was 'What is the truth?' ... today's question is this ... 'What's the point?'
How far are you and I as Christ's followers today addressing ourselves to this issue? How are we engaging with our colleagues ... our community ... our own family even ... on this vexed question that pervades every aspect of our post-modern society? What IS the point?
We need to listen to the questions that people are asking. Peter's message made contact.
2 The message had content
So, what did the first Christian Preacher say in his first sermon?
· Scan through Peter’s sermon and pick out the key messages
Having started where the listeners were, Peter then takes them to the things which most of them would have been familiar with ... the Old Testament prophets, and Joel in particular. Here in Jerusalem, before their eyes, was taking place the literal fulfilment of a prediction made over eight hundred years earlier: 'This is what I will do in the last days, God says: I will pour out my Spirit on everyone' (Acts 2.17).
This was the outpouring which would equip all God's people, young and old, men and women, for the proclamation of his message. But Peter's sermon moves on from the area of the familiar to the main subject of his address ... Jesus. And that should be the primary aim of every opportunity to preach before crowds or to witness one-to-one. Our focus must always be on Jesus. (It's a good exercise to work through the first three of Peter's sermons: Acts 2.14-36; 3.12-26; 4.8-12, and find out how many of the six great episodes of Christ's ministry are featured in them ... Incarnation (birth) ... Atonement (cross) ... Resurrection ... Ascension ... Gift of the Spirit ... and Christ's Return. You'll find that they are all present!
It's a tremendously strong picture that we're presented with. Jesus Christ, whose identity as Incarnate Son of God was supported by signs and miracles ... is Master of the world ... the Lord and Messiah that everyone had been waiting for. And what happened? You killed him … but God raised Him from the dead!
3 The message carried conviction
Read again 2:37-41
The effect was powerful ... and the hearers wanted to know what to do by way of a response.
The great eighteenth century actor David Garrick was once asked by a church leader how he produced such wonderful effects on his listeners, when reciting fiction. 'Because', said Garrick,' 'I recite fiction as if it were truth, and you preach truth as if it were fiction'. There was, however, no mistaking the conviction with which the early message of the Resurrection came across. There were no 'Ifs' and 'Buts'. No trace of 'It's reasonable to suppose', or 'In all probability'. There were no furrowed brows about the 'problem' of the Resurrection. They knew it had happened — and only seven or eight weeks previously!
Richard Bewes writes: "Quite frankly, if Jesus Christ had not risen from the dead, clearly and unmistakeably, as the permanent conqueror of death for all mankind, we would never have heard of him. The demoralised movement, comprising eleven scared men, would have fizzled out on the launching pad."
This is the whole central truth ... that explains the rapid growth of the dwarf-like Christian movement in Acts … that underlay the moral transformation of life after life, as the news was gossiped in Galilean villages and along a thousand Roman highways. Get the message right, and we can expect growth. It should be no different today!
Questions to ponder and to pray over ….
· Do I want to see Christian revival in our time?
· Do I want to see men, women and children converted to Christ?
· Do I want to see more of the transforming work of the Holy Spirit in the Church ... in our church?
THEN we need a recovery of confidence in the power of the same Gospel amongst ordinary Christians like you and me ... who will gossip the gospel ... and who will not only speak out its truth but live out its truth.
“I am not ashamed of the Gospel, because it is the power of God for salvation of everyone who believes” Romans 1:16
Bob Kiteley, 23/05/2013