Study 33: Summary – Part 2
In the first part of the summary, we looked at the events of this book of Acts up to Acts 11:18. The book is not even half-way through at this point, yet there have been so many remarkable occurrences in these chapters.
The Lord ascended into heaven; the believers were assembled together in a locked room for fear of the Jews; they waited in Jerusalem until the Holy Spirit came; He empowered them for works of service (the baptism in the Holy Spirit as we still experience it today!) and the church was born. Three thousand became Christians as the result of Peter’s first sermon. Then five thousand were added, then adding was not enough, so the word “multiplied” was used and still the church grew. We read about the opposition from the Jews, about the first imprisonment and beating of the apostles, who counted it an honour to suffer for the sake of the gospel.
We read of the appointment of Stephen to wait on tables. (His qualifications? He was a godly man, full of the Holy Spirit!) He was also wrongly accused, stoned and welcomed into heaven. Saul, who was present, instigated a persecution of Christians, resulting in believers fleeing Jerusalem. Of course, everywhere they went, they preached the gospel to Jews and, in Samaria, there was a revival as a result of Philip’s preaching. The Holy Spirit asked Philip to go to the road that runs from Jerusalem down through the Gaza desert where, again under the direction of the Holy Spirit, he met the Ethiopian eunuch who was Queen Candace’s treasurer. He became a believer, was baptised and took the gospel to his nation. Meanwhile Paul, who was on his way to Damascus to arrest and imprison believers, was himself arrested by Jesus, converted and began to preach the gospel even more vehemently than, just days before, he had opposed it. The Lord commissioned him to preach the gospel to the Gentiles, showing him how much he was to suffer as he followed Him in obedience.
Peter was shown that the Jewish laws had been fulfilled in Jesus and now the gospel could be preached to all men everywhere with the same, amazing results of salvation and empowerment. He was asked by Cornelius to go to see him. The result was that he and his family, even though they were Romans and therefore Gentiles, were saved, baptised in the Holy Spirit, then baptised in water.
Now, after Peter has reported back to the apostles in Jerusalem, the stage is set for massive expansion of the gospel as Paul begins the first of his three (possibly four) missionary journeys.
Read Acts 11:19-12:25
The believers who had escaped Jerusalem when the persecution came after Stephen’s death, went to Phoenicia, Cyprus and notably to Antioch. They preached the gospel, but only to Jews. A new church sprang up and, hearing of the growth, the apostles in Jerusalem sent Barnabas to help the new believers. Barnabas had been the one who had sponsored Paul to the Jerusalem church after his conversion, so now, having encouraged the church at Antioch, he set out to find Paul. He went to Tarsus, Paul’s home town, and brought Paul back to Antioch where they taught the believers (great numbers of people) for a full year.
It was here in Antioch that the believers were first called Christians. If you are a Christian, then you are a brother or sister to those in Antioch and to all true believers everywhere, in every stage of church history, and with all those out of the Old Testament who believed. (Hebrews 11) The church is INclusive of all believers, not EXclusive (where one or more groups of believers, denominations or individual Christians are supposedly better than others). Every Christian is saved by grace through faith in Jesus and his or her destination is the same as yours or mine: eternity with Jesus in the kingdom of heaven (Galatians 3:26-29)
In Acts 12, we read of James’ death and Peter’s imprisonment at the hands of King Herod, who saw that, by doing these things, he pleased the religious Jews. This King Herod was Herod Agrippa I, the son of Aristobulus and grandson of Herod the Great. His sister was Herodias, who was responsible for the death of John the Baptist (Mark 6:17-28). Herod Agrippa I was partly Jewish. The Romans had appointed him to rule over most of Palestine, including the territories of Galilee, Perea, Judea, and Samaria. He persecuted the Christians in order to please the Jewish leaders who opposed them, hoping that would fortify his position. Herod intended to hold a public trial after Pentecost and guarded Peter zealously. But God can always overrule human plans and He did so in this case. The church prayed and God responded. An angel woke Peter up. (As an aside, an interesting question is: do you think Peter was worried about what might happen to him?) The angel told him to get dressed, then led him out of the prison through locked gates that mysteriously opened in front of them. Finally, at liberty out on the street, Peter gathered himself together and went to the house of Mary, the mother of John (Mark). The believers were praying there for Peter’s release. When the maid went to the door, she recognised Peter but, instead of opening it, she left him standing there while she ran and told the others. What an answer to prayer! Peter was freed, even as the believers prayed. What does that say to you and to me about prayer? We should do it more – much more! God wants to act on behalf of His people and He has allowed us to have direct access to Him. What a privilege! So, shall we be more steadfast in our prayers to the Lord?
Meanwhile Herod, on being hailed by his court as a god, accepted the accolade and was struck down by God. The Bible records that Herod was “eaten by maggots and died“. People who set their face against the God of the universe will one day run out of time and excuses about why they did not accept Him! We may have to be patient, but God will not be mocked. Those who call themselves Christians but are really not will, if they persist in their fantasy, one day wake up to their horrendous mistake… in hell. There will be no excuses and no leniency. The grace of God to sinners happens on this side of death – not the other.
Read Acts 13 – 16.
Now begins one of the most exciting times imaginable. We see what it is like for Paul and his companions as they take the gospel, in obedience to Jesus, to the uttermost parts of the known world. Paul manages this in a series of missionary journeys. These are more than quick trips to other countries. They are wisely considered journeys, taking up to three years each, where Paul establishes a pattern of going first to the Jews in the synagogues, preaching the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ to them. Later, when they have heard all they wish and those who wish to respond have done so, he goes to the Gentiles.
Jesus Himself had commissioned Paul to take the gospel to both the Jews and the Gentiles, so Paul was carrying out his commission. To say that it was not easy is an understatement, but Paul describes it for himself in 2 Corinthians 11:23-33.
His first journey took him to Cyprus then beyond into Galatia. He brought the gospel to all the places he went. Many became believers and churches were established. These churches were strong, but just as prone to attack as their founding apostle, Paul. In Lystra, the Jews stoned Paul, then dragged him outside the city and left him for dead. Paul was made of stronger stuff and, when the disciples gathered round him, he got up, then went back into the city. On the next day, he left for Derbe.
As Christians, we need to understand that we have a mission to accomplish. As Reinhardt Bonnke says, “We are plundering hell to populate heaven!” Many of us have experienced the formidable opposition that comes against us, usually from the most unexpected quarters, when we stand for what is right and decide to get to know God more intimately through His word and to put into practice in our lives, all the things He teaches us. If we are like that, then we too are on the same journey as Paul travelled. He was not put off by the things that others did to him; neither was he intimidated by Satan. We too should be overjoyed as we pay the price to walk in the ways of God. Stand firm, be strong and continue to destroy the principalities, powers and strongholds that would stand in our way. The price is worth paying and, as we pay that price, the result will be victory after victory after victory in the mighty name of the Lord Jesus Christ at whose name “every knee shall bow in heaven and on earth and under the earth.”
Paul finished his first missionary journey having established churches, left behind strong believers to continue the work and reported back to those who had commissioned him to go. What a joyful time that would have been as the believers in Antioch heard testimony after testimony of what God had done for the travellers. But sitting in the comfort of the home church was not what Paul’s life was all about. He longed to be back on his travels. It wasn’t long before he went to Jerusalem to iron out a problem that had occurred when “certain individuals” from Judea started to teach the Gentiles that they had to be circumcised as well as give their lives to the Lord, in order to be Christians. The church at Antioch, where these individuals had arrived, wanted to teach the right thing so Paul, Barnabas and some other believers were sent to the apostles in Jerusalem to get the correct teaching. Remember that there was no established body of teaching at that time (such as we have in the “New Testament” today) for them to refer to, so the apostles, who had been with Jesus, were the ones with whom to check. (Acts 15:24-29)
We may come up against people who want to put burdens on us, other than those that God teaches us through His word and the Holy Spirit. In fact, that is happening throughout the world today. Some want to build empires; others want to justify their own wrong actions by making others follow them; whilst others are just too lazy to find out directly from God so they teach whatever they happen to think! Please listen carefully. The word of God and the Holy Spirit are our guides. If what people are teaching does not measure up to what is in the Bible or to what the Holy Spirit is showing you, DO NOT be misled. The church of which the Lord Jesus Christ is the head and to which we belong as part of His body, is not to be abused by anyone. Jesus came to set us free and, if we have been born again by the Spirit of God, we are free indeed! When Paul wrote to the Galatians, who had been misled by those who wanted to impose legalism on them, he didn’t speak politely. He warned them forcefully. (Galatians 3:1-6)
Paul and Barnabas disagreed on whether they should continue to travel with John Mark (who had let them down on their first journey). Who was right and who was wrong, we shall never know this side of heaven, but this much we can say: this disagreement did not stop the word of God reaching the Gentiles. Sometimes, we disagree with others in the body of Christ. Under such circumstances, providing that we are following God’s plan for our life, we just have to let the other person go. God is big enough to cope! Paul was reconciled to Barnabas some time later, as also he was with John Mark, who spent some of Paul’s last days with him.
Read Acts 16:1 – 18:22
This section contains Paul’s second missionary journey. He went with Silas and Timothy and others, including Luke. The first few verses detail for us his return to the churches he had established on his first journey through Galatia. It was here in Lystra that Timothy joined them. (Acts 16:4-5)
So, what should be the state of the church when it is relying on the word of God and the Holy Spirit? It should be strengthened in the faith and growing daily in numbers. If it is not, then there is something sadly amiss. Everyone should be asking the Lord to show them what is wrong and then taking time to fix it. It starts with individual Christians getting their lives in order. The church will only grow as far as their leaders are prepared to lead them and, regrettably, that is not far in some cases. Christians can grow spiritually if they are prepared to listen to the word of the Lord. If leaders are not prepared to listen to God, then He will replace them with those who will listen.
Paul’s second missionary journey covered a vast area. Controversy with the Jews was commonplace. Paul was beaten and chased from one place to the next, but always he established churches in the places he visited. He was guided by the Holy Spirit in the direction that he took. He tried to go to Asia and Bithynia, but it was only when he had a vision of a man from Macedonia saying to him, “Come over to Macedonia to help us” that he had clear direction. Lydia was saved. Paul and Silas were beaten and imprisoned, but God acted in power and authority as Paul and Silas praised Him: an earthquake broke open the prison and the jailer and all his family were saved and baptised. Paul’s journey then took him to Athens and Corinth, to Ephesus and Jerusalem, before he finally returned to Antioch.
Read Acts 18:23 – 21:26
Paul was probably home for less than a year before he wanted to be off again. He couldn’t be cooped up in Antioch when there were people to preach to and churches to establish. The excitement of it all was what motivated Paul. This was his life – his desire, his purpose, his calling, his anointed work.
What is yours and what is mine? Are we too being fulfilled in what we are doing or is God saying to us: “Get up and get on with what I have commanded you to do”? We may not all be like the apostle, Paul, or have one of the five-fold ministry gifts (Ephesians 4:11-16), but God has given us gifts to use, talents to employ and work to do. We can only work while we have life in our bodies and time before Jesus returns, so shall we get on with it? Let’s achieve great things for God together while we still have time. There is a world out there, lost in sin and wickedness, just waiting to know the answer that you and I have. Let’s not keep it locked up inside ourselves while everyone else goes over the cliff to hell!
This journey took Paul to many of the places he had been before and to some others, but this time he knew that it would be his last trip. He knew that he had to go to Rome and it would not be by his own choice. So this was a journey to strengthen the churches, to establish leaders and elders in them and to plant new churches. Paul knew the heart of God. He knew that his job was to take the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ to the ends of the known world. He knew too that what he was now teaching would be the basis for the church throughout the remainder of its history, so he used every opportunity and method available to him to continue his teaching. The gospel was resisted on all fronts by the Jews and those who were in the clutches of Satan, but those who were prepared to listen responded and were saved. The churches grew in number and numbers of people.
After almost four years on the road this time, it was time to return. Paul went back down the coast of Asia and Lycia, encouraging the believers. At Troas, where Paul preached long into the night, a young man called Eutychus, fell asleep and fell to his death from a third storey window. This did not faze Paul who went to him, threw himself on the young man and put his arms around him. The young man was raised from the dead and Paul went back upstairs. They had communion and he continued speaking until daylight. I guess that nobody forgot that meeting and what happened! He bade farewell to the Ephesian elders in an emotional meeting, knowing that he would never come back there again. He loved those he had nurtured in the faith, but his face was set like flint as he hurried on to Jerusalem via Caesarea.
Read Acts 21:27 – 28:31
Paul knew what would happen to him when he reached Jerusalem. A prophet named Agabus had come from Judea to warn him, but Paul knew that this was to be God’s plan in his life. He would be arrested and, despite the best efforts of the Jewish mob to lynch him, aided and abetted by the leaders and chief priest, he was imprisoned in a Roman prison in Caesarea. The governors (Felix, then Festus) and finally King Agrippa heard his testimony. So far as we know, none of them responded, but Paul was kept safe until he appealed to Caesar, rather than be sent to Jerusalem to be tried by the Jews.
Once a Roman citizen had appealed to Caesar (as he was entitled to do if he thought he would not get a fair trial locally), the Roman garrison was duty bound to send him to the capital: Rome. That is what happened. He went via Sidon and Myra and was warned by the Holy Spirit that the ship would be wrecked but that they would all be saved if they listened to him. They eventually did and ended up being shipwrecked on Malta. It was here that Paul was gathering wood for a fire and was bitten by a snake. He suffered no ill effects, but Jesus had already spoken the word: “They will be able even to handle snakes with safety.” (Mark 16:15-18.) Paul did not just stop at this. “Publius’ father was ill with fever and dysentery. Paul went in and prayed for him, and laying his hands on him, healed him! 9 Then all the other sick people in the island came and were cured.” (Acts 28:7-10) Finally Paul reached Rome. Believers from there met him and welcomed him into the city, where he was able to rent a house and have visitors, even though he was under guard. Here he wrote some of the letters of encouragement to churches that are part of what we now call the “New Testament”.
What about you and me? Will we continue our work despite our circumstances? Perhaps some of those in the place where we live are relying on our strength in the Lord, so that they too will have the courage to do what God has asked them to do. We have responsibilities.
The book of Acts does not end. Rather it stops having words to it. In fact, we are the ones who have to continue the living testimony of the work of the Holy Spirit on the earth. One day, the continuation of that book will be available to read in heaven. There will not be room enough on the earth to contain all the amazing works and deeds that have happened in the intervening period. All of them will show how the works of Satan were overcome, how people were changed and transformed by the mighty power of the Living Lord Jesus through His Holy Spirit. You and I shall be part of that if we stay strong and firm to the end. Will you?