READ : Acts 1:1-3
The book of Acts tells the exciting story of the beginning of the Christian church. It’s a story of faith, it’s a story of courageous human leaders, and also of signs and wonders and miraculous adventures. Most of all, it’s a story of what God did – and still does – in and through the lives of ordinary people.
Why am I doing this? I mean, why am I writing about a centuries-old book, the Bible? Why are my colleagues and I at Words of Hope investing our time, money and effort in the task of broadcasting the Christian message to the world? And not just us-for the past two thousand years countless millions of Christians have spent their lives-have often given their lives-to try to tell everyone on earth about Jesus Christ and what he has done.
So why do we do it? Is it arrogance, because we think we’re the best people and have got the best religion? No, Christians in themselves are no better, no smarter than anyone else. Is it western cultural imperialism? Is Christianity part of an attempt to dominate the world with the ideology of the western nations? No, though it is the most important influence in shaping western civilization, Christianity isn’t actually a western religion at all. It originally came from the Middle East. Its first adherents were Jews, and a scattering of other peoples from throughout Central Asia and North Africa (see Acts 2:9-11 for a roster of the first Christian peoples).
Today Christians can be found on every continent and in every country on earth. In fact, right now there are probably more believing, practicing Christians in the country of China than in England. So once again I ask, why do we devote our lives to this purpose of spreading what we call the gospel-the good news about Jesus-throughout the whole world?
The Book of Acts
One way to answer that question is by looking at the book of Acts in the New Testament. There we find the story of the first Christians and the birth of the Christian church-its founding, growth, and eventual spread throughout the Roman world. In his very first sentence Luke, the writer both of the book of Acts and of the book we call the Gospel of Luke, reminds us that this story is not a brand new beginning. It’s a continuation of something that had already begun earlier, with the coming of Jesus Christ into the world. The story of Jesus’ life and work is continued in the witness and ministry of the church.
Volume Two of this story is “The Acts of the Apostles.” But the acts to which the traditional title of this book refers are really the acts of the risen Christ himself, accomplished by his Spirit (the Holy Spirit) through the words and deeds of his followers. Luke clues us in to this view of things by the careful wording of his opening sentence: “In my first book [the gospel of Luke], Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and teach” (v. 1). He’s implying that Jesus is still doing and teaching in the world, even though his earthly life ended as described in the closing chapters of the gospel.
Though the book of Acts itself closes twenty-eight chapters later with Paul teaching the gospel while imprisoned in Rome, the acts of Jesus through the Holy Spirit have continued throughout every succeeding generation of Christians. In fact, Christ is working everywhere in the world to this very day. So the first reason Christians continue to tell the world about Jesus and try to do what he did is that we believe he is still alive today, and that he is living and speaking and acting through us.
An Introduction to the Church
A second reason we proclaim the story of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection to the whole world is that we think it’s true. That is, it really happened, and because it happened, it has significance for every human being. The introduction to the book of Acts not only links this work to Luke’s gospel, but adds several important pieces of information. Like the gospel, Acts is dedicated to a man named “Theophilus.” Theophilus means “Friend of God.” The person to whom Luke dedicated his two books was probably a gentile convert to Christianity. Theophilus represented the many believers all over the Roman world who came to faith in Jesus from a non-Jewish background. Such people were hungry to know more about the life of the Lord and his original disciples.
Luke obliges them (and us) with a thoroughly researched, accurate and trustworthy account of the historical origins of both Jesus and the first Christians, based on historical evidence and the testimony of eye-witnesses (see Luke 1:1-4). Acts opens in the forty-day period between Jesus’ resurrection and ascension. Someone might ask why there was this interval between the Lord’s being raised to new life and his exaltation to heaven. The answer, according to Luke, is that Jesus still had some important lessons to teach his disciples, truths that could only be covered after he had risen from the dead.
Most important of all was the evidence for the factuality of the resurrection itself. Luke says that during these forty days Jesus offered “many convincing proofs” of his resurrection to his disciples (v. 3). Now that’s an important detail because it suggests both that many proofs were needed, and that they eventually were successful. That is, they were ultimately convincing. But the disciples were initially not prepared to accept even the evidence of their own senses that the same Jesus whom they had seen die was truly alive once more. So the factuality of the resurrection is confirmed in the first place by the testimony of skeptics, of people who reversed themselves after they were at first not convinced that it had happened. Because of this, we can be confident that this spectacular event is real and historical. It’s not a fairy tale made up by gullible disciples. Jesus’ resurrection actually happened the way the Bible says it did.
Another Great Commission
The final reason that Christians are so eager to tell everyone everywhere about Christ is that this is exactly what he has told us to do. These are our orders, issued by our Lord and King, Jesus Christ. During the days after his resurrection, Jesus’ followers asked him a question. “Lord,” they said, “are you going to give the kingdom back to Israel now?” (v. 6). By now Jesus’ disciples were convinced that he had risen from the dead, that he really was God. But they still didn’t quite get it. The disciples still thought that God’s kingdom, his personal rule over human lives and institutions, would mean a physical and political triumph for the Jewish people of Israel.
What Jesus still had to teach them was the full truth about the kingdom of God. It had indeed come in him. His resurrection was the sign that the last days, the days of God’s reign coming to earth, were now inaugurated. But the kingdom of God is international and multi-racial, not narrowly ethnic. The blessings of God’s presence and rule aren’t the narrow preserve of a limited few, nor are they assigned on the basis of birth, or nationality or race. You aren’t born into the kingdom of God the same way you are born a citizen of your native country. No, you enter the kingdom, whoever you are, wherever you’re from, by believing in Jesus Christ as God’s Son and Savior.
Further, Jesus had to remind his disciples that the kingdom is spiritual in nature. “My kingdom is not of this world,” Jesus had told his Roman judge, Pontius Pilate, at his trial. He didn’t mean that it had nothing to do with this world. He meant that it didn’t operate by the world’s rules, or use the world’s methods to advance. God’s rule in human lives and institutions is exercised through his Word and his Spirit, not through politics or worldly weapons. The disciples would have a part to play in the spread of Jesus’ kingdom, but they could make nothing happen on their own. Being a spiritual kingdom, it could only be advanced by the Spirit himself, working through them. That’s why Jesus told his followers to wait in Jerusalem until the promised gift of the power of the Holy Spirit was given to them (vv. 4-5). Until that happened, they would be completely ineffective as far as the kingdom was concerned.
Jesus also wanted his disciples to understand that the triumph of his kingdom was going to be gradual and progressive, not instantaneous. The kingdom wasn’t going to come right then and there. The gospel would indeed advance throughout the world and people everywhere would be brought to faith in Christ. But this wouldn’t happen all at once, or automatically. It would unfold according to God’s definite plan and timetable. That’s why Jesus gave precise instructions for his followers concerning their part in the plan:
But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you. Then you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem. You will be my witnesses in all Judea and Samaria. And you will be my witnesses from one end of the earth to the other.”
And finally, Jesus reminded the disciples that the end of the kingdom when all things will be restored was going to come sometime in the future, in God’s timing. In fact, he told them, the time of the kingdom’s final coming was really none of their business. “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority,” he said (v. 7).
So these are the truths about God’s kingdom that Jesus emphasized to his followers:
- The kingdom is universal in scope. It does not belong only to one tribe or nation. God’s love, God’s grace, God’s power, God’s salvation are offered to all peoples everywhere. Our commission as Christians is to bear witness to this throughout the whole world.
- The kingdom is spiritual in nature. It isn’t a territory or place. The kingdom is present wherever Jesus rules as Lord in a person’s life. And his rule comes about through the work of the Holy Spirit, who uses the word of God to convince people about the truth as it is in Christ. So as Christians witness, we reject all violent tactics, all manipulative techniques, all deceptive words. We simply try to speak the truth about Christ in love.
- The kingdom is gradual in its growth. Wherever the church of Jesus Christ (the international community of worshiping believers) is multiplying, the kingdom is advancing. Wherever Christians are truly living out their faith by loving God and serving other people, the kingdom is coming.
- The kingdom is God’s to complete. He alone can bring it in. He alone will end the world and bring history to its conclusion at the time he has set by his own authority-a time, incidentally, unknown to us. Our business is not to worry about when the end will come but to bear witness to Christ.
So, I ask one last time: Why am I doing this? Why am I spending my life spreading the news about Jesus and his kingdom? Why is Christianity by its very nature a missionary faith? Because God loves the world, and that includes you! Christ is the Savior of the world, and you need to know that-and believe it!