There are different ways to organize the substance of the book of Acts, but one profitable way is to read the contents of the book through the lens of its last word, “unhindered.” As Luke closes his two volume work, he presents Paul in a jail cell in Rome. Though Paul is jailed, the word of God is far from chained as Luke testifies that the preached word went forth “unhindered.” Acts accounts for that unhindered progress of the word in the preface to the book as it relates that this work would record the ongoing ministry of Christ. Before Christ ascended, he instituted the ministry of the word and promised the outpouring of the Spirit in order to cause it to be efficacious. The word went forth unhindered in the apostolic era just as it does today because Christ continues his ministry on earth while enthroned in power and glory at the Father’s right hand, through the ministry He appointed, in the power of the Spirit.
During the 40 day period between his resurrection and ascension, Christ appeared repeatedly to his apostles. Luke accents the nature and mode of these appearances as he testifies that Christ presented himself visibly and that he presented himself alive. These visits were designed to give his chosen apostles firsthand experience of the reality of his resurrection in order that they might be made credible witnesses. To ground their assurance of these things Jesus furnished them with many convincing proofs in order to cause them to know that life had the last word, not death.
Jesus’ command to the disciples to “stop departing from Jerusalem,” seems to indicate that the apostles had no focus or direction after Christ’s resurrection. They were meandering, drifting, and unfocused. But Jesus changed all of that with this command as He charged the disciples to stay in Jerusalem and wait for empowerment by the Holy Spirit so that they would be prepared to take the gospel to the nations.
At the end of His 40 day ministry on earth after the resurrection, Christ publicly ascended from earth into heaven in the sight of His apostles. While the apostles were gazing into the heavens watching Christ depart from this earth, two heavenly messengers appeared and gave the apostles their marching orders. The thrust of the angelic message is that the ascension of Christ fundamentally changes the times, requiring action rather than inactivity. This message examines both the details and the implications of Jesus’ bodily ascension.
At various points in the book of Acts, Luke slows down the narrative and provides a snapshot of a key moment in the life of the church. In Acts 1:14 we receive the first of these snapshots and this one spotlights the church on its knees in prayer. Positioned as it is in the context after Christ’s charge to be witnesses unto the ends of the earth, this passage shows the church’s response to that charge, praying with one mind and with great devotion for empowerment for missions.
Just days after Christ’s ascension and before Pentecost, Peter stood up in the midst of the assembly of disciples and called for change. With the apostasy and suicide of Judas, the twelve had been reduced to the eleven and thus the apostleship was disfigured. Calvin explains that this deficiency had it not been addressed would have led to the gospel being dishonored before the world. In response to Peter’s admonition, the disciples nominated two men as a replacement and then cried out to Jesus to remedy the situation by disclosing his choice. The end result is that Christ directed the lot toward Matthias and reconstituted the apostleship.
In verse 1, Luke uses a word which indicates that the Pentecost events should be interpreted in terms of promise and fulfillment. Viewing the Pentecost outpouring of the Spirit through the interpretive framework of promise and fulfillment provides warrant for interpreting the sensory signs of verses 2 and 3 through the lens of Old Testament language and imagery. Reading these sensory signs through Old Testament prophetic promises teaches us that Pentecost marks the fulfillment of divine promises about the New Covenant.
As the violent wind and tongues of fire swept through the upper room where the disciples were meeting, they were filled with the Spirit and immediately began speaking in tongues. When crowds assembled on account of the great crashing noises of Pentecost they heard the gospel proclaimed in their own language as the disciples spoke in various tongues. Some in the crowd responded with amazement and searched for understanding while others mocked and claimed that the disciples were drunk. The enduring message for the church is that Pentecost means that the Spirit has been poured out and that the era of global missions has begun.
When Peter stood up on the day of Pentecost to preach the first Christian sermon, he had to both refute and explain. One portion of the crowd was asking for understanding and the other part was mocking. In an attempt to address both segments of the crowd, Peter refuted the skeptics with a common sense argument and he explained the meaning of Pentecost by making an appeal to Joel 2. The heart of Peter’s message is that Pentecost means the Spirit has been poured out and the messianic age of salvation has arrived.
Two images and a single word depict the drama of the situation which is the great redemptive historical act that formed the prelude to the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Those images are found in the words of Acts 2:24 “putting an end to” and “held” which speak of Jesus’ body being lashed to a bed of death and His body clutched in the grip of death. The striking thought which Peters expresses is that it was “impossible” for death to hold Christ down. In verse 25 Peter grounds his statement by appealing to Psalm 16 and his argument is that it was impossible for death to hold Christ in its clutch because God made a promise through David that He would not permit the flesh of the Holy One to see decay.
In proclaiming the fulfillment of Joel 2 in the events of Pentecost, Peter needed to show that Jesus was both Lord and Christ. By introducing his citation of Joel 2:28 with the words ” in the last days” Peter was associating the fulfillment of Joel 2 with the arrival of the messianic era. But Peter also had to show that Jesus was Lord since Joel 2 indicated that it was the Lord who would pour out His Spirit on all flesh. By careful argumentation from the Psalms, Peter shows that Jesus the Nazarene is indeed both Lord and Christ and has fulfilled the promise of Joel 2 in the events of Pentecost.
As Peter faced the question of the crowd, “what does this mean?” (2:12), he realized it was time to take up Christ’s charge (Luke 24:44) and to preach the word. As the church transitioned from the OT administration of the covenant to the New, God used the preached word to raise up the church of the New Covenant era. The result of Peter’s commitment to the divinely appointed means of preaching was that 3,000 souls were added to the church.
As Peter finished his Pentecost sermon he brought it to a dramatic and cutting conclusion: this Jesus whom you crucified! When the crowd of Jews heard Peter’s concluding word, they were stabbed in heart and came under powerful conviction of sin. Peter responded to the crowd’s concern by concisely outlining the proper response to the preaching of the word.
A key text cited by the Reformed in support of infant baptism is found verse 39 as Peter proclaims to these Jews that the “promise” is “unto you and your children.” This sermon presents three textual arguments for infant baptism and a fourth corroborating argument from broader NT Scriptures. The message concludes with a series of applications.
One central thing the church must be committed to is the preaching of the word. As Luke slows down the narrative in Acts to focus on the life of the church at worship, he puts the spotlight on the centrality of the preaching of the word of God. The rest of the NT record confirms that the word remained central to the worship and life of the church and thus indicates that it is the preaching of the word which adorns the church with glory.
At the time of the Reformation, the question was asked, “how do we identify the true church?” In answer to that question, the Reformers pointed to certain marks: the word, sacraments, and discipline. One text which the Reformed consistently appealed to as supportive grounds for their teaching about the marks of the church is Acts 2:42 and its testimony about the things which the NT church devoted itself to in public worship. Examining the contents of this verse, Calvin wrote, “Yea, he expresseth in this place four marks whereby the true and natural face of the Church may be judged.” This sermon expounds these marks and applies them to the life of the church.
As Peter and John approached the temple for prayer at the ninth hour, it was situation normal as they walked with the crowds and a beggar sat at the gate of the temple asking for alms. But on this occasion, Peter stopped and gazed at the beggar and commanded him to look attentively at him. Then Peter called upon the man to do the unthinkable, to stand up and walk. Instead of giving this man silver or gold, Peter gave this 40 year old paralytic feet that worked. Three terms sum up the wonder of the miracle performed in the name of Jesus the Nazarene: walking, leaping, and praising God.
As the crowds took note of the healed crippled worshiping in the temple, they stood in amazement. Looking at Peter and John as if they had performed this wonder, Peter responded by pointing the crowds to Christ. By faith in the name of Jesus a cripple was made whole and Christ was exalted as savior.
Persuasion is a multi-faceted communication phenomenon which makes use of available means in a given situation to move an audience toward an intended goal or outcome. Resources available to persuade or move an audience generally consist of 3 types: logical, emotional, or ethical. As Peter pivots toward applying the message about Christ as healer and savior, he seeks to persuade his audience to embrace Christ through the use of persuasive means. Three motives form the backbone of Peter’s appeal to his audience: spiritual refreshing, catastrophic judgment, and covenant membership. Apparently Peter’s persuasive appeals were powerful as Luke records that many believed and that the total number of Christians came to be about 5,000 (4:4).
As the echoes of Peter’s preaching in Solomon’s colonnade reach the ears of the Jewish religious establishment, they move quickly to muzzle it. In the midst of preaching, the religious leaders lay hands on Peter and John and throw them in jail. On the next day the Sanhedrin summoned these apostles and demanded to know by what authority they dared to preach and heal. Peter responded by giving an account of his apostolic authority by proclaiming Christ unto them. Peter’s defense put a spotlight on Christ as healer, architectural foundation of the church, and exclusive savior.