Luke wrote the Acts of the Apostles as a follow-up to his Gospel account of the life of Christ. The Acts should be seen as a description of the ongoing work of Jesus Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit through His apostles and followers. Luke’s aim is to give an historical record of the early church from its birth in Jerusalem to how it reached around the world with the Gospel. Through this work Luke reveals that everything that was said previously about Jesus Christ was absolute truth.
The book of Acts can be split into two main parts, 1: The birth of the Church, 2: The missionary journeys of The book begins with the outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon the waiting disciple (120) in the Upper Room. From this room the message of salvation would reach Jerusalem, then Judea, Samaria, and the next the entire earth (1:8).
The work begins with the birth of the church in the Upper Room in Jerusalem. The hundred and twenty followers of Christ are waiting for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit in obedience to His instructions. On the Day of Pentecost they are baptised in the Holy Spirit and are empowered to take the Good News to the world. From this single room the Gospel reached Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and the furthest countries of the world (1:8). Almost all the Roman Empire was covered by those preaching the message of salvation in Christ. New churches all over Europe were founded (especially through the missionary activities of the apostle Paul and his companions).
In the book of Acts we see not only the birth of the Church but also how it needed to be an organised and united Body. In it we see the beginnings of the fundamental doctrines of the Church, which should never be compromised. We see how the early Church dealt with persecution, false brethren, and hypocrisy. It teaches us that God uses ordinary men and women to get great things done in Christ’s name.
The Acts of the Apostles would be better termed The Acts of the Lord Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit through the Apostles, because in it we see both the divine and human elements of the work of Christ in action. Luke teaches us that there is power available to those who desire to be totally committed to the Lord Jesus Christ.
Luke was a Gentile believer from either Antioch or Philippi. It appears that he came from a wealthy family since he was able to train as a doctor. The Apostle Paul calls him “the beloved physician” (Colossians 4:14), therefore we can assume that he was an intelligent person who was able to keep precise records (especially with regards to medical records of his patients).
He wrote an account of the Life of Christ in which he aims to give show that Jesus Christ is the Saviour of all men. His second work, which is just as precise, reveals the life of the Church from Pentecost onwards. In both works Luke is concerned with facts not fantasies, he sought to have “perfect understanding” (Luke 1:3).
Luke probably met Paul in Troas or Philippi. He was a travelling companion of the apostle. Though he would have used his medical knowledge on occasions he did evangelise with Paul on certain of his missionary journeys. From the book of Acts we learn that he was shipwrecked with Paul also. Apart from this we know little about Luke.
Lessons from Acts
1: Prayer; Prayer is a very important and vital element of Christian living, both for the Church and the individual believer. Acts teaches us that if we want to be successful Christians then we must pray.
The early Church was born in and lived in an atmosphere of prayer. We see that there is a direct link between having the presence of the Holy Spirit and prayerfulness (4:31). We find the followers of Christ praying in every possible situation:
(i) For the power and anointing of the Holy Spirit (Acts 1-2, 8:15-17),
(ii) For those called to ministry (Acts 1:24-25, 13:3),
(iii) For boldness to preach (Acts 4:9), (iv) For those undergoing persecution (Acts 12:5), (v) By those being persecuted (Acts 7:60, 16:25-34),
(vi) For miracles (Acts 9:11-17, 9:40, 28:8), (vii) For encouragement for others (14:23, 20:36, 21:5), (viii) Over their food (27:35-36). When they prayed God moved in a mighty way; saving the lost, healing the sick, raising the dead, anointing with the Spirit, and even in an earthquake. God granted their requests not because of their words but because they prayed from the heart. They believed that their God was able. The key verse on prayer is “They continued steadfast … in prayers” (Acts 2:42).
2: Courage; Boldness or courage does not come as a matter of course but come as we rely upon the Lord who strengthens us to stand firm “And now, Lord, behold their threatenings: and grant unto thy servants, that with all boldness they may speak Thy word” (4:29). God will give us the power to say exactly the right thing in threatening situations “We ought to obey God rather than men” (5:29), and then to go on doing what He has called us to (5:40-42). Stephen is the prominent example in Acts of courage in the face of adversity (6:12-7:60). Through his witness we understand that God can put a holy boldness in our lives regardless of personal weakness or timidity. God is able to make us bold regardless of what may come against us.
In the book of Acts we see several occasions when believers had courage from the Lord in difficult circumstances; (i) Peter before the Jewish Council (4:5, 5:29), (ii) Stephen before the Jewish Council (6:12-7:60), (iii) Paul before Felix, Festus, Agrippa, and the Jews, (iv) Paul and Barnabas in Lystra (14:8-19), (v) Paul and Silas in prison (16:25-34), (vi) Paul standing against idolatry in various places (17:1-34).
3: Brotherhood; The early church was a united body of believers. The book of Acts informs us that they were generous, sacrificial, considerate and loving. In Acts 2:42-47 and 4:32-35 we see how this brotherhood of believers was worked out in daily life.
To understand the early church we must see them as a unit rather than individual members. They were a body that sought to function together instead of going after their own goals. One of the most important facts is that they gathered together around the apostle’s teaching (the word of God) to receive instruction. Very often they would meet together for communal meals (in which they would also celebrate the Lord’s Supper), these meals were known as Agape Feasts (love feasts) were no one was uninvited be they poor, slaves, or widows. They would open up their homes for the preaching of the word and for homeless or travelling believers. They shared what they had, not by compulsion but out of desire to love others. Some even sold their possessions and used the money to aid others and for the advancement of the Gospel. Their love was manifested in their sacrificial giving. They were a fellowship that prayed and worshipped together. They prayed for guidance, protection, and anointing for service.
This kind of behaviour should characterise believers today, but in reality does not. We have a far greater standard of living yet often begrudge giving to ministries, missionaries, or others in need. It is rare to find true brotherhood in many churches today and as a result very little evidence of the presence of the Holy Spirit. We need to be delivered from selfishness and self-interest and become the church that God intended. Like the first church we must be united for the purpose of spreading the word, united in faith and practice, united in assisting those in the brotherhood who are in need.