Sunday, December 18, 2011
Scripture Sunday: The Book of Acts
The book of Acts is just that--the acts of the disciples and the members of the early church in the years following Jesus' resurrection and his return to heaven. Acts was written by Luke (who previously written the gospel of Luke), and the first half of the book roughly centers around Peter and his experiences while the second half roughly centers around Paul.
In the second chapter of Acts, Peter and about 100 other followers of Jesus are gathered together and God sends a special kind of power to them. They are all "filled with the Holy Ghost" and they begin to speak in other languages. This part of Acts seems to be the source of a lot of controversy. In contemporary America, Protestant (meaning non-Catholic) Christianity seems to be separated into the groups who believe in the dynamic working of the Holy Spirit (miracles, healing, prophesying, speaking in tongues), and those who believe that the Holy Spirit only works through our conscience, guiding us and helping us know the godly thing to do. Charismatic churches sometimes get a bad reputation for over-emphasizing these dramatic spiritual gifts--if you've ever head anyone making fun of a televangelist, this is probably what they were making fun of--while non-Charismatic churches can seem dry and bound by a bunch of rules with no real spiritual element. I believe in the value of spiritual gifts, though I don't have any myself, but I also know that these talents are often faked or abused.
Anyway, the move of the Holy Spirit in chapter 2 spurs Peter to preach to a large group of people about how Jesus is the son of God. Many people join the early church, and the numbers just keep growing. Peter performs many miracles and continues to preach boldly, despite opposition from the chief priests in Jerusalem. In chapter 7, a Christian named Stephen becomes a martyr for his faith because these religious leaders are furious at him for proclaiming that Jesus is the son of God and that they had wrongfully rejected him. At Stephen's execution, a man named Saul guards the coats of the men who are doing the stoning, and Saul then proceeds to persecute and imprison those who believe in Jesus. In chapter 9, Saul has a spiritual encounter with Jesus himself and he becomes a Christian. After this encounter, his name is changed to "Paul". Paul is responsible for writing most of the New Testament.
For me, one of the most important things about the book of Acts is God's mercy to the Gentiles (non-Jews). It's funny how in modern times most people see Jews and Christians as two completely separate groups of people, and even go so far as to think that if you're a Jew you cannot be a Christian and vice versa. But Acts shows that every disciple and every member of the early church was Jewish, and that the Christian Jews were absolutely shocked (but happy) when they found out that God intended to offer his salvation to people who were not of the nation of Israel. Peter is the first person to preach to the Gentiles, but Paul becomes the apostle to the Gentiles, travelling around the known world to let people know about Jesus.