POINTS TO PONDER
Acts was written to consolidate disparate faith communions
While individual followers of Christianity may come from different teaching communities and regions, offering different perspectives about Jesus and his importance, Luke realized there must still be a oneness in the Church. In The New Interpreter’s Bible it says, “A religious movement that lacks solidarity within its diverse membership will be ineffective in advancing its claims.” The wider Roman culture is known for conflict and controversy of all kinds, and historically there is a competitive spirit between the city-states. Yet, Luke provides examples of those who share goods and open their homes, the embodiment of God’s transforming power when we “catch the Spirit.”
Acts was written to warn us of idolatry’s dangers
Luke devotes large sections of this work to the polemical arguments between established Judaic tradition and those and those widening the reach of “the Way” into gentile communities. Luke knows that if you extend the Church to receive large numbers of people outside of the stream of Judaic life, it will change things. Just think of how a local congregation changes when there is a radical shift in membership demographics. To reach those with a different perspective than the established group, practices values may shift dramatically. Luke’s narrative sounds a cautionary note about too readily adopting pagan religious practices and secular Greco-Roman values that will corrupt the Jewish heritage received from Jesus. Luke fears the values that Jesus taught can be skewed by hasty adoption of pagan norms.
Acts was written as a a defense, or explanation (an apologia) for Christianity
The long strident sermons from Peter, Stephen and Paul, as well as others, are a device for laying out what is at stake. In particular, Luke crafts a narrative for the person like Theophilus who needs to navigate sometimes conflicting loyalties between claiming the benefits and obligations of citizenship in the empire and defending the Judaic roots of Christian faith. In Acts, Paul claims Roman and Tarsain citizenship without apology, but clearly outlines the more important commitment he has to Israel. (Even when in chapter 18 this means shaking the dust off his clothes and moving on from a focus on synagogues to a focus on the gentiles.)
Acts was written to highlight the importance of the church’s evangelic mission
The tale takes us from the triumph of the Word of God from Jerusalem to Rome. The great heroes of the book are those who unfalteringly proclaim the gospel with boldness. Perhaps one goal of Luke was to invigorate Theophilus to greater support of this missionary effort, which surely demanded continued financial as well as spiritual support, to reach “the ends of the earth.”
Acts was written to address a theological crisis. In The New Interpreter’s Bible it says, “Every New Testament book is occasioned by a theological crisis – a confusion over or misappropriation of some core conviction of God’s Word that threatens to subvert the audiences Christian formation and witness.” In Luke’s case, the crisis is over Israel in God’s plans. Jerusalem has fallen and been sacked again. Meanwhile, Paul’s success in reaching God-fearing Gentiles with the Gospel, while experiencing a relative lack of success among Jews in every place he goes, raises a question if the church’s mission actually subverted God’s promise to restore historic Israel. It is now the case that Palestine is under direct Roman rule by Roman governors, and the Jerusalem church has waned into almost non-existence by the end of the first century. As the Church grows, its Jewish identity is at risk of being erased.
Luke, writing a full generation after Paul, sees the principal internal threat to the church’s faith as those “Gentilizers” who threatened to erase anything Jewish from the church’s core idenity. (See 16:1-5; 19-21, 28-29; 21:25)
LUKE LIKES REPETITION
- Jesus healed; Peter heals.
- Jesus gave sass to the religious establishment; Peter gives sass, too.
- Jesus performed many signs and wonders among the people; the apostles performed many signs and wonders among the people.
- People brought a man lying on a mat to Jesus for healing; people in need of healing are brought to Peter (on mats).
- Authorities locked Jesus in a guarded tomb; authorities locked Peter in a guarded cell. In both cases, angels were involved in the breakout. “He is not here.”
QUESTIONS FOR TODAY
- What words would you use to describe the leaders of the early Church?
- What challenges that faced the first century church are contemporary issues still facing the church?
- What issue is raised by Luke this week that you personally feel a concern with yourself, as a person of faith?
- Which of these scene from our reading were most impactful for you? Why?
- The Apostles Heal the Lame of Isreal (3:1-4; 4)
- The Apostles vs the Sanhedrin (4:5-31)
- Ananias and Sapphira Lie about a Property Sale (5:1-16)
- The Believers Shared Generously and Lived for One Another (4:32-37)
- The Apostles vs the Sanhedrin Round Two (5:17-42)
- The Twelve Call in Reinforcements (6:1-7)
- Stephen Retells the Whole Old Testament in One Sermon (6:8-7 – 7:5:3)
- Stephen is Killed and Saul is Introduced (7:53 – 8:3)
- The Apostle Philip Reaches the Outcasts of Israel and the Samaritans (8:4-40)
- The Conversion of Saul – Paul (9:1-31)
- Peter Extends His Prophetic Ministry Beyond Jerusalem (9:32 – 11:18)
- The Original Twelve Are Succeeded by New Leadership (11:19 – 12:25)