Reflections on Acts

I’m reading through the Bible in a year, and every month I (try to) post about what I’ve read. Other posts this month are on  Judges, Ruth, Jeremiah, Lamentations and  Romans. You may also read what I’ve blogged on Acts.

I’m gaining a greater appreciation for how the NT writers put their books together. One thing I’d never noticed is how Luke repeats the points he wants to emphasise:

  • There’s the coming of the Holy Spirit: for the Jews—chapter 2, for the Samaritans—chapter 8, for the God-fearing Gentiles—chapter 10 and for the Gentiles proper—chapter 18. The same Holy Spirit comes on all these disparate people, uniting them in Christ.
  • Saul’s conversion appears in three places: chapters 9, 22 and 26. The first account is the most familiar. The second recounting of his conversion takes place when Paul was speaking to the crowd in Jerusalem shortly after his arrest. The third time, Paul is speaking before Agrippa and Festus.
  • The incident with Cornelius also appears thrice: chapters 10, 11 and 15. First Luke narrates the events, then Peter retells them and finally Peter summarises them at the Jerusalem council.
  • The contents of the letter resulting from the deliberations of the Jerusalem council also appear thrice: 15:20, 15:29 and 21:25.

About Ananias and Sapphira:

[T]he issue is not so much the disposition of the money that Ananias and Sapphira obtained when they sold a piece of property as the lie they told. …  But these two sold their property, kept some of the proceeds for themselves, and pretended that they were giving everything.

It was this claim to sanctity and self-denial, this pretense of generosity and piety, that was so offensive. Left unchecked, it might well multiply. It would certainly place into positions of honor people whose conduct did not deserve it. But worse, it was a blatant lie against the Holy Spirit — as if the Spirit of God could not know the truth, or would not care. In this sense it was a supremely presumptuous act, betraying a stance so removed from the God-centeredness of genuine faith that it was idolatrous.

-‘For The Love of God’, meditation for 18 July

We’re not beyond pretending to be more holy thatn we actually are today—I know I’m guilty of that. What a mercy God doesn’t strike us dead on the spot!

Luke also shows us the preeminence of the preached word. Some examples:

  • In chapter 2, it wasn’t hearing the believers speak in other tongues that convicted the Jews in Jerusalem, but Peter’s sermon: When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” (Acts 2:37, emphasis mine)
  • Cornelius was a God-fearer who prayed regularly and was extremely generous (10:2). But that wasn’t enough: he needed the word of God explained to him, and God obliged (10:4-6)
  • Paul, in rehashing his ministry to the Ephesian elders, makes no mention of the marvellous signs and wonders God had worked through him (20:18 and following). He describes his ministry using ‘verbal words’: preaching, teaching, declaring, testifying, proclaiming.

The miracles had their place, to be sure (Acts 9:35, 42). But they were never divorced from preaching Jesus (see also Acts 3-4).

Here’s another thing I’d never have noticed unless it were pointed out to me: how the direct words from God to Paul were words of encouragement. Probably the only exception would be his conversion conversation with Christ in 9:4-6. The other direct words from God (and their effects on Paul) are recorded in 16:9-10, 18:10-11, 23:11, 27:23-25.

I guess I’m not alone in envisioning Paul as some kind of lone-ranger, who occasionally allows someone to tag along. However, he had a number of helpers, a number of whom are mentioned in 20:4: Sopater, Aristarchus, Secundus, Gaius, Timothy, Tychicus, Trophimus. To these we can add Barnabas, Silas, Titus, John Mark and Luke himself. I’d really like to have a chat with one of these men who faithfully served alongside such a gospel-driven man as Paul.

Having relayed what I’ve learnt from others, I now turn to my own second-rate observations and questions.

Reading Acts 1, I wondered where Peter got the idea of maintaining 12 disciples from, and why it was such a big deal anyway. Pentecost hadn’t yet happened, so where did such insight come from? No sooner had that question formed in my mind than I had an answer for it. The Eleven had just spent 40 days with Jesus, presumably being taught how the OT expectations were fulfilled in Christ (Luke 24:44-49). Later, with outside help I understood that the need for a twelfth man was a continuation of OT typology relating to the 12 tribes, and thus pretty significant.

Relating to the above, I had been taught that the choosing of Matthias as a replacement for Judas wasn’t sanctioned by God, the proof being that we don’t hear about him ever again. I’d like to disagree. In my last post, I mentioned a few of the things Luke doesn’t tell us. He also doesn’t tell us what Matthew, Thomas, Nathaniel and the others hand-picked by Jesus were up to. Making an argument from silence would mean that we’d have to write off these men, which would be absurd at best.

Finally, some things I noticed about Paul. First, Paul spent his life going from house to house. Initially it was to drag Christians to prison (8:3), then it was to teach (20:20). Second, he seems to have had the habit of speaking with his hands. See 13:16 and 26:1 for proof. Lastly, on a lighter note, I guess someone forgot to tell him that he was the one on trial. He discourses on righteousness, self-control and judgment when asked to state his defense??

Sources: The Proclamation Trust/ David Cook, D. A. Carson

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2 thoughts on “Reflections on Acts

  1. I second the notion that it is good that God does not strike us down on the spot anymore. Good post. Nice synopsis of Acts. I’m just bouncing around reading blogs and stumbled on yours.

    Best regards,

    Tony

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