The book of Acts

Acts is Luke’s second part to his gospel. He addresses it to Theophilus, probably a name for a judge or lawyer, as he did his gospel account. In Acts, Luke shows us what Christ continued to do in the earth by the Holy Spirit. The book is exciting reading full of energy and action. Admittedly, it doesn’t have as much action as his gospel that covers a history of three and half years (excluding Jesus’ early years) as Acts covers about thirty years of history (A.D 33 – A.D 63).

Acts is not difficult to understand like some Old Testament books. It tells us stories and explains happenings in the life of Peter and Paul in particular. It is a collection of high and low points. A summary of thirty years of history will always be that. Please keep this point in mind when you read it. More than one person has felt ineffective and unproductive in their life for Jesus after seeing in Acts all that was accomplished. You may think this is an every day life of thrills and drama. Not so, Paul spent a lot of time in prison doing nothing at all but praying and thinking and talking. The gaps in Acts speak just as much as the activity. The Holy Spirit leads us as he lead them.

Acts has a lot to teach us about many aspects of our Christian life. In the characters of the disciples we see simple, straightforward and successful men and women. They depend entirely upon the power of God and move with an unflinching zeal and determination. They are examples to follow. Focus in on what they did and what they were. As with the Old Testament, do your best to get into the story and feel the characters and situations. Many of the places spoken of can be brought to more life with an online search for photos and maps. I encourage you to consult the maps at the back of your Bible. There you will see just how far they travelled and what town and cities were like where they ministered.

Acts has lot to teach us but you do need to be aware (as do many church leaders) that Acts teaches us descriptively, not prescriptively. The narrative tells us what they did; it’s our role to determine what we need to do. It may be the same, similar, or not necessary. This is the difficult part. Many people take Acts too prescriptively.

There are a good few “once-offs” in the book of Acts. For example, technically speaking, there are people looking for a second Pentecost, but there never will be one like Acts 2 – it was a once off. The Holy Spirit is already here. We need to consult the epistles for confirmation on what was a once-off and what was to continue. Again this is not a simple task but a very important one.

Acts introduces us to a few new concepts not seen before. We meet the apostle Paul who will turn out to write most of the New Testament. We see Christians being baptised in water. Baptism in the Holy Spirit is totally new in Acts. Christians form a church – a never before understood people. People will relate to God in a new way and the Law of Moses will not be the way they will do it in future.

This book should encourage you along with whatever else the Holy Spirit highlights to get busy for Jesus. We see these raw new followers energised and willing to work with Jesus. May God give us such energy and success!

Pic: Paul on trial before Agrippa (Acts 26), as pictured by Nikolai Bodarevsky, 1875.

The Gospels

An introduction to the Gospels might prove fruitful for you. As you will have seen by now, context is very important when reading the Bible. If we don’t know what it meant to those at the time it was written, we don’t know what it meant at all! It is a very recent idea that we should read the Bible and then come to the conclusion of ‘what it means to me’. There is nothing wrong with that if you know ‘what it means’ first. Whatever it means is then what it means to you as well. This is most important. The Bible will never mean what we think it means. It means something outside of us and it’s our job to find out what as best we can.

The gospels are the first four books of the New Testament. They’re not called the ‘gospels’ by themselves but were given that name, which means ‘good news’. They are four witnesses of the truth about Jesus. There are differences in them and similarities. In court, if all the witness’s stories were identical, their authenticity would be questioned. Each author tells the bios of Jesus in their own way, emphasising specific details.Matthew, Mark and Luke are strikingly similar. They are referred to as the Synoptic gospels (a view together). John’s gospel stands by itself as rather different in focus.

Before the Gospels were written the accounts were all oral and the most important stories were spoken over and over again preserving their accuracy. Once written down from their own angle they tell us the eyewitness account of what Jesus said and did. Matthew tells us about Jesus Christ as the King. Mark tells us about Jesus Christ as the servant. Luke zooms in on Jesus’ humanity and John tells us plainly – Jesus is the Son of God. All of them put us into the context, revealing all the most important information about the life of Jesus Christ. The Gospels are God’s presentation of what we need to know about His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ.

There are many good background books out there with plenty of detail on the gospels. This introduction won’t go into such detail. Below are a few details and hints that will help you as you are reading the gospels. The inter-testamental detail about who the Pharisees are etc. will also make the text come alive in a richer way.

What we are reading is actual history

Lately there are attacks on the authenticity of the Gospels. But Jesus was a real man. He lived in the history of the world. Other historians (Tacitus, Suetonius and more) attest to this fact. Make no mistake, these are historical, real facts we are reading here.

The gospels are full of teaching and narrative

At times we are being told what Jesus and the other characters did. The teaching from these situations is inferred. Then at other times the teaching is direct – we are told exactly what we are to know as though Jesus were teaching us directly. A helpful hint in this regard is to make sure that you are aware of ‘who is talking to who’. You will notice sometimes Jesus is talking to the Pharisees, at times the disciples alone, other times the crowd. This context does make a big difference to the reading and understanding.

How to deal with the parables

Jesus was famous for talking in parables. They are very simple stories and generally the meaning is very easy to understand. People tend to read more into parables than is necessary and warranted. The parables can mean only one thing, or at most two teachings come from a parable.

For example, the complicated story of the virgins in Matthew 25 has been taken to mean all sorts of things about the Holy Spirit. The teaching of the parable is most probably only one thing – to be ready. Just like the bride had to be ready because she didn’t know when the groom would arrive according to custom, be ready at all times for Jesus’ coming! You will be tempted to sleep and get lazy. Don’t! Be ready! And that’s it!

A brief overview of Jesus’ life and ministry

If you put the Gospels together this is the basic story of the life of Jesus:

  • The Birth and childhood of Jesus

The gospels detail all that is necessary to know about his birth and upbringing. Jesus was born in obscurity – a little town called Bethlehem. There are only a handful of events recorded about his early life. Shepherds and wise men visited him. Herod tries to take his life and at a young age Jesus is found in the temple learning the Scriptures and talking with leaders about the Father. This period is about 30 years long.

  • Jesus’ preparation for ministry

Just before he started his public ministry, Jesus is baptised by John. The Holy Spirit anoints him and he is tempted in the wilderness. All three synoptic gospels record these events.

  • Jesus’ first year in ministry

The early part of Jesus’ first year of ministry is exclusively covered by the gospel of John and can be found in John 1:19 – 4:42. After Jesus’ temptation he made initial contact with five of his disciples in the area of the desert of Judea. They then went to Cana where they attended a wedding where Jesus turns water into wine – his first miracle.

They then travelled back to Jerusalem to attend the Passover. This would be the first Passover of his public ministry and it would also mark the beginning of the first year of his ministry. There Jesus presented himself to the Jews. He did it by clearing the temple, performing miracles, and teaching. After the Passover he returned to Galilee and on the way witnessed to a Samaritan woman and to her town.

Jesus leaves Nazareth (where he grew up) because he was rejected there when he claimed himself to be the Messiah. Capernaum, a poor town, becomes his base, and for the remainder of His first year of ministry we find Jesus here, enlisting disciples, engaging in preaching tours and performing miracles. This period ends with the second Passover festival mentioned in Luke 6:1-5.

  • The second year of his ministry

Jesus’ second year was particularly fruitful and busy. It ends with his feeding of the five thousand. He designated twelve apostles and sent them out, continued extensive teaching, performed many miracles in and around Galilee.

  • His third year

In the first six months Jesus concluded his Galilean ministry before setting out to minister in Judea for the last six months of his life. A significant turning point in his ministry comes when Jesus challenges the Galilean crowd after feeding the five thousand about their real motives for following and listening to him. The crowd and many followers reject him. His strategy changes from crowd ministry to house to house.

The last six months show Jesus changing his ministry area to Judea and Perea. He visits Jerusalem for the feast of Tabernacles and spends time in and around Jerusalem until his last week.

  • The last week

Six days before the Passover Jesus arrived in Bethany. This would have been on the Saturday, seeing that the Passover and Jesus’ crucifixion was on the Friday. On Sunday morning Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey where a large crowd shouting his praise met him. On Tuesday, Jesus disputed with the Jewish religious leaders for the last time. He openly refuted their objections and therefore sent them away silenced. There’s no reference to anything happening on the Wednesday in the Gospels. On Thursday, Jesus ate the Passover meal with his disciples, known as the “Last Supper”. A lot happened that night. After the dinner Jesus went to the garden of Gethsemane to pray. He was arrested there that night. After some illegal trials in front of the Jewish Sanhedrin, Pilate finally succumbed to the pressure exercised on him by the Jews and sentences Jesus to be crucified. Jesus hung on the cross for about six hours before he cried out, “It is finished” and he breathed his last.

Go! Part 2

TITLE: Go! Part 2
PREACHER: Marcus Herbert
DATE: 13 November 2011 – Sunday AM

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Go! Part 1

TITLE: Go! Part 1
PREACHER: Marcus Herbert
DATE: 6 November 2011 – Sunday AM

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Luke 8:40-56 – Power Over Sickness And Death

TITLE: Luke 8:40-56 – Power Over Sickness And Death
PREACHER: Marcus Herbert
DATE: 18 SEPTEMBER 2011 – Sunday AM

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Luke 8:26-39 – Power Over The Demonic

TITLE: Luke 8:26-39 – Power Over The Demonic
PREACHER: Marcus Herbert
DATE: 4 SEPTEMBER 2011 – Sunday AM

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Luke 8:22-25 – Power Over The Storms Of Life

TITLE: Luke 8:22-25 – Power Over The Storms Of Life
PREACHER: Marcus Herbert
DATE: 21 AUGUST 2011 – Sunday AM

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Luke 8 – The Power Of The Gospel – Intro

TITLE: Luke 8  – The Power Of The Gospel – Intro
PREACHER: Marcus Herbert
DATE: 14 AUGUST 2011 – Sunday AM

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Luke 7:11-50 – Worship

TITLE: Luke 7:11-50 – Worship
PREACHER: Marcus Herbert
DATE: 10 JULY 2011 – Sunday AM

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Born to Be Wild

TITLE: Born to be Wild
PREACHER: Marcus Herbert
DATE: 26 JUNE 2011 – Sunday AM

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