History was not my favorite subject in school. My mind tends to think about ‘now’ rather than the past or the future. However, history buffs would love the book of Acts and the narrative in Luke’s Gospel. One tells the story of Jesus and the other documents what happened after Jesus returned to heaven.
Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things that have been accomplished among us, just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word have delivered them to us, it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught. (Luke 1:1–4)
In the first book, O Theophilus, I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach, until the day when he was taken up, after he had given commands through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. He presented himself alive to them after his suffering by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God. And while staying with them he ordered them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father, which, he said, “you heard from me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.” (Acts 1:1–5)
These two are addressed to the same individual, Theophilus and linked by the phrase, “the former treatise.” The first concerns what “Jesus began both to do and teach” and the other records the continuation of that ministry by “the apostles whom he had chosen.”
These two books cover the history of the first sixty or sixty-five years of Christianity with about thirty years included in each. Luke begins the story of the Good News of salvation in a manger in Bethlehem and ends at the hub of the Empire in Rome. He opens with the witness of the shepherds in the fields of Judea and finishes with the salutations of saints in Caesar’s household.
(Paul) lived there (in Rome) two whole years at his own expense, and welcomed all who came to him, proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness and without hindrance. (Acts 28:30–31)
Paul’s ministry was successful at the highest level of the Roman empire. He later reports, “All the saints greet you, especially those of Caesar’s household.” (Philippians 4:22)
Acts tells how the church was formed and grew. At first, the good news went to the Jews, but as they began to reject it, Luke describes a shift in focus. God moved Paul to go to the Gentiles. As he did, he gave his reason by citing an Old Testament prophecy, Isaiah 6:9-10:
‘Go to this people, and say, “You will indeed hear but never understand, and you will indeed see but never perceive.” For this people’s heart has grown dull, and with their ears they can barely hear, and their eyes they have closed; lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears and understand with their heart and turn, and I would heal them.’ (Acts 28:26–27)
When I read history, I think of those who insist that history repeats itself, mostly because we don’t learn from it. This is not what God intends. He wants me to read it with purpose:
For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope. (Romans 15:4)
From this verse, the believers in those early days were encouraged to read their OT history and gain instruction from it. God tells me to read Acts that I might be encouraged too. As I take a big-picture look at the history Luke recorded, I can see instruction and encouragement from God.
First and foremost, I am to share the good news with those already interested in spiritual truth. They believe there is a God and that a relationship with Him is possible. They should be receptive.
Second, if those who seem receptive are not, I should share Christ with all people as Paul did. God’s pattern is that His people proclaim the kingdom of God and teach people about Jesus Christ with boldness.
Finally, I already know what Acts says and the bottom line of this historical book tells me to obey God and trust the Lord for the results.
Jesus, I feel like a very small part of the Body of Christ. However, the history of the church shows that You use Your people to build Your kingdom as long as we do what You ask. Help me see the instruction in this book. Grant me the endurance and encouragement that I need for obedience. I am living in a messed up world and need the hope that comes from You.