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FROM JERUSALEM TO ROME

Acts 1:1-27:31
Key Verse: 1:8

Thank God for granting us the words of Acts in 44 lessons. Now we want to summarize this book into one lesson. May God bless this review of Acts.

The book of Acts began with Jesus’ promise of sending the Holy Spirit to a group of disciples. According to Jesus’ command, they, numbering about a hundred and twenty, joined in prayer. Then at the Pentecost indeed the Holy Spirit came upon them. On that day Peter addressed the crowd delivering the message of Jesus’ death and resurrection. Three thousand people repented and were baptized. They gathered in the temple every day. They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. This was the beginning of the church in Jerusalem. Peter and John became powerful and courageous witnesses of Jesus. The apostles were filled with the Holy Spirit and boldly spoke about the Lord Jesus in the temple courts and from house to house. The Jewish authorities of Sanhedrin could not stop it.

Stephen, one of the seven lay leaders in Jerusalem church, was martyred and a great persecution broke out against the church. The ordinary church members were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria. When they were dispersed, it seemed that the church was debilitated and the Christianity would soon disappear. Yet, contrary to the expectation of the persecutors, the scatted believers became the scatterers of the seed of the gospel. They scattered and spread the good news of Jesus wherever they went. Soon there was a great work of God in Samaria, particularly through Philip’s proclamation of the Christ and healing, and so there was great joy in that city. Peter and John were sent to Samaria and through them the believers in Samaria also received the Holy Spirit. This was a historical event because, contrary to historical hostilities and divisions, the Holy Spirit made no distinction between the Jews and Samaritans. It was only through faith in Jesus Christ. And, as a result of this event, a connection was made between the church of Jerusalem and that of Samaria: it is clearly written that Samaritan believers received the Holy Spirit through Peter and John, sent by the Jerusalem church.

Then the good news of Jesus spread through Philip to an Ethiopian eunuch who had come to Jerusalem to worship and was on his way home. Afterward the gospel of Jesus Christ came to Cornelius, a Roman centurion, through Peter. When Peter preached the message of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection, the Holy Spirit came upon all who heard his message in Cornelius house. At this, the Jewish believers--the circumcised believers--were astonished. This was the landmark of the Holy Spirit’s coming upon all believers, both the Jews and the Gentiles. Interestingly, in between the Ethiopian eunuch’s conversion (Ch 8) and Cornelius’ conversion (Ch 10), is the conversion of Saul, who would himself be an apostle to the Gentiles (Ch 9). In chapter 9 the risen Jesus met Paul and Peter raised a dead woman, which was the manifestation of his faith in the risen Jesus. The risen Christ was true.

In Acts we cannot forget the church at Antioch, which was pioneered by unknown scattered believers and grew greatly through Barnabas and Paul’s devoted teaching. The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch. And the Antioch church became the first missionary sending church that set apart missionaries (Barnabas and Paul). Through Paul’s first missionary journey the churches were established in the province of Galatia (in Pisidian Antioch, Iconium, Lystra, and Derbe). In strengthening and encouraging the disciples in those regions, Paul said, “We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God” (Ac 14:22). In between Paul’s first missionary journey and second missionary journey there was the council at Jerusalem. In that council the gospel of salvation was rectified, “…it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we (both the Jews and the Gentiles) are saved” (15:11) and some abstinences were considered that would hinder the faith of the Jews.

At Paul’s second missionary journey he got the direction to go to Europe though his vision of a man of Macedonia standing and begging “Come over to Macedonia and help us” (16:9). And from that point Luke joined in Paul’s missionary journey, beginning to use the plural personal noun, “we.” Through his second missionary journey Paul pioneered Philippi, the leading city to Europe. Thessalonica, Berea, Athens and Corinth. We remember what Luke wrote concerning Bereans, “Now the Bereans were of more noble character than the Thessalonians, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true” (17:11). In Athens Paul was not impressed by the intellectual power of the city of Athens but was distressed to see that the city was full of idols (17:16). There he proclaimed the message of God’s creation, repentance and God’s judgment of the world through Jesus whom God raised from the dead (17:31). Corinth was a commercial and corrupted port city of three-quarters of a million people. In his letter to Corinthians he confessed that he was fearful as he thought of pioneering Corinthians, probably because of their pride and immorality, which would come into a direction collision to the cross of Jesus. But the Lord appeared to Paul in his vision and encouraged him not to be afraid but keep on speaking. Paul stayed in Corinth for a year and a half, teaching the word of God. And in Corinth he met Aquila and his wife Priscilla, who were life-risking cowokers for Paul.

At the third missionary journey Paul pioneered Ephesus, the greatest city in the province of Asia with a population of about one million. Especially, we may recall the lecture hall of Tyrannus, where Paul took the twelve disciples and had discussions daily for two years. Through this, all the Jews and Greeks who lived in the province of Asia heard the word of the Lord. There Paul had the vision of visiting Rome after having been in Jerusalem. And while revisiting the places he pioneered, at Troas he raised a dead young man, Eutychus on Easter Sunday in almost the end of his third missionary journey. We also remember Paul’s farewell speech to the elders of the Ephesian church, which well demonstrated Paul’s shepherd life. In serving God’s flock there, in truth he served the Lord with great humility, declaring that they must turn to God in repentance and have faith in the Lord Jesus. He told the elders to watch over themselves and God’s flock of sheep. He warned them that even from their own number me would rise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them. He enjoined them to be shepherds of the church of God, which Jesus bought with his own blood. And he testified to his exemplary practical life of hardworking and serving.

On his way to Jerusalem people around him, in their love, pleaded with him not to go up to Jerusalem. Their pleading broke Paul’s heart. However, Paul was not dissuaded by them. He could have a clear discernment and direction because he was ready to die for the name of the Lord Jesus (21:13). He came to Jerusalem to deliver the Gentile churches’ offering to the Jerusalem church. It was to help the saints in Jerusalem who were in need and to connect the both churches for the unity in God and Christ Jesus. But he was arrested in Jerusalem because of the bigoted Jews and handed over to the Roman commander and his soldiers. Then he had to defend himself before the crowd of people, and then before the Sanhedrin. When an ambush to kill Paul was informed to the commander, he was transferred to Caesarea, where the governor resided. There he was tried before Governor Felix, the next governor Festus and King Agrippa.

In his defence and trials the most noticeable thing was his repeated testimony to the grace of Jesus: that Jesus came into his dark soul as the light with the embracing love for the enemy. In fact Paul’s personal testimony of encountering the risen Jesus is written three times in Acts. It showed that the grace of Jesus was alive in his heart and he went deeper into it at each crucial time in his life. And the risen Christ was real to him.

Through unceasing hardships and extremely difficult sailing, he finally reached Rome. Paul’s ministry in Rome was that in his own rented house, boldly and without hindrance, he preached the kingdom of God and taught about the Lord Jesus Christ. What Paul did was not that imposing like the mighty work of God in Ephesus. Yet it was a powerful factor in the history of God that Rome was transformed into a Christian nation from a Christian-persecuting one.

As we reviewed Acts, the work of God started with Jesus’ ascension and a group of disciples’ joining in prayer according to the command of Jesus and faith in his promise of the Holy Spirit’ coming upon them. To the eyes of the people of the world, they were like a bunch of wounded helpless soldiers. When Jesus ascended into heaven, the torch of the gospel seemed to be extinguished. Who could predict that the good news of Jesus would fill Jerusalem and spread in all Judea and to Samaria, and to the provinces of the whole Asia, and Europe reaching to Rome in 30 years? This was none other than the work of God. And it was according to Jesus’ promise and prediction in Acts 1:8.

Indeed Acts is the Acts of the Holy Spirit. The gospel work is done through the Holy Spirit. Since the Pentecost, it is true that when we are baptized into the name of the Lord Jesus, the Holy Spirit comes and dwells in us. Christian life is the life led by the Holy Spirit, who reveals Jesus and bring glory to Jesus. And the work of God is done through the Holy Spirit. All those who were used by God in Acts were those who were filled with the Holy Spirit. God wants us to be powerful witnesses of Jesus in the power of the Holy Spirit. As we know, the Holy Spirit is not a force, but a person. The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of holiness (Ro 1:4). He is sensitive to our sins. We remember what Peter said the crowd at Pentecost, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off-for all whom the Lord our God will call.” This word of promise is true at the very beginning of believing in Jesus and in our entire Christian life. We need constant repentance based on the word of God to be filled with the Holy Spirit--particularly repentance from self-centreness, self-glory-seeking, impure desires, and pride. Being filled with the Holy Spirit cannot be separated with the sanctification of our inner persons. At the same time we should long for the filling of the Holy Spirit through prayer. This is the reason Luke wrote in Luke 11:13, “If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” And being filled with the Holy Spirit is directed related to constantly abiding and remaining in Jesus. May God help us to be men and women of the Holy Spirit.

Also, when we think about the powerful work of God in Acts, we cannot overlook the fact that the apostles spoke the word of God boldly, and especially preached Jesus’ death and resurrection and the kingdom of God. The first message of Acts is Peter’s Pentecost message of Jesus’ death and resurrection. Through hearing his message three thousand people repented and believed in Jesus. The reason why the apostles were persecuted was that they spoke and taught in the name of Jesus (5:28,40). The Jewish authorities were upset when the apostles had filled Jerusalem with their teaching (5:29). In Acts we studied five message of Peter (2:14-39; 3:12-26; 4:8-17; 5:29-32; 10:34-43), Stephen’s speech (7:2-53), and three messages of Paul (13:16-41; 14:15-17; 22-31). We saw these expressions in Acts, “So the word of God spread. The number of disciples in Jerusalem increased rapidly” (6:7), “But the word of God continued to increase and spread” (12:24), “the word of the Lord spread through the whole region” (13:49), “in this way the word of the Lord spread widely and grew in number” (19:20). Acts ends with Paul preaching, boldly and without hindrance, the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus. So we can say that Acts is the Acts of the word of God. May God raise up bold and devoted and competent Bible teachers in our times.

Also, when we think of Acts, we cannot neglect the fact that God changed and prepared people to be his instruments. For example, we cannot deny that Peter in Acts was full of the Holy Spirit. How powerful he was when he raised a dead person (9:40)! Yet, he was a Jew who still had a strong Jewish mindset that the Gentiles were impure and unclean. God dramatically challenged him through showing him the vision of various kinds of unclean animals and commanding him to kill and eat, and changed him until he realized that God does not show favouritism and accepts anyone who has a right attitude before him (10:34-35). Then Peter could be used by God to visit a Roman centurion Cornelius and preach the message of forgiveness of sins through Jesus’ name. Paul was an orthodox Jew who grew up and lived as a Pharisee in the strictest sect of the Jewish religion (26:5). No one could change him. But the light and love of the risen Jesus changed him until he could be used as an apostle to the Gentiles. So we can say that Acts is Acts of changed people. Selfish and self-centred people are useless to God. So God changes them through his words and various kinds of events. Until we serve others and God’s ministry, we cannot know how selfish and self-centred we are. But thank God that we are in God’s community and in the community of God we not only serve God together but can be trained and moulded into God-centred servants whom God can use freely for his purpose. May God continually train us to be people of obedience and God’s centredness for his great work.

Throughout Acts’ study God helped me to accept one word, especially 20:14, “…I am ready to…die…for the name of the Lord Jesus.” This gave Paul a clear direction to keep his way to Jerusalem and then eventually to Rome. One of the most difficult things in Christian life and serving God is discernment. We are surrounded by many words and opinions. We are apt to be entangled by human recognitions with certain positions and titles. It is also easy to be deceived by our own desires. But everything can become very clear when I am truly ready to die for the name of the Lord Jesus. May God have mercy on me to learn to die to myself and die for the name of the Lord Jesus until I become a man of the Holy Spirit, the word of God and God-centredness. May God bless each of you with one word in Acts.

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