The good news both moves the church and is what the church uses to move others. It is both petrol and Porsche…so to speak. Now, where do we see the church test driving its power to evangelize? The book of Acts.
What is Acts? Its basically a book about what the apostles did—mostly Peter and Paul. But, even though these guys are doing all the stuff…Acts is more about the work of the Holy Spirit IN these men and IN a newborn baby church. These apostles saw Jesus, but no one sees the Holy Spirit. Remember what Jesus said about the Spirit in John 3:8—He’s like the wind.
Anyway, the book of Acts is a story (the scholars like to refer to that as historical narrative). But think of it like a bridge between the gospel accounts and the epistles—it provides the history behind the epistles. Acts ties the NT together. It is the beginning of the fulfillment of Matthew 28.18-20. Acts is a record of the work of the Holy Spirit.
Interestingly enough, this Spirit wants to work, move, live, and empower humans. This is not a force but an intentional Person moving according to an intentional framework of activity. Therefore, if you are looking for an outline for the book of Acts (Us bible teacher type people are big on outlines) then you can just read Jesus’ last words in Acts 1:8, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”
Boom…there’s your outline.
I. Witness in Jerusalem (1.1–8.4)
II. Witness in Judea and Samaria (8.5–12.25)
III. Witness to the end of the earth (13-28)
Realize that Luke is also one of these witnesses that Jesus is talking to here, even though he probably wasn’t actually there when Jesus said those words. Luke was a doctor (Col 4.14 Paul refers to him as ‘the beloved physician’) and therefore had a specific interest in recording disease, healing, and acts of mercy. So, as one of these witnesses Luke was a smart guy—he was a doctor and so he had a PhD or whatever the equivalent was….the way he wrote his (Greek) grammar, (all that “most excellent Theophilus” stuff) shows that he could hang in a very formal, scholarly style…but he chose to write the majority of Acts without a lot of literary fanciness. Luke knew his audience was mostly made up of women, slaves, soldiers, children, beggars, and other outcasts. So, we can see God’s hand of mercy first in just how straightforwardly this book is written. Although Luke was a doctor YOU don’t have to have a PhD to understand Luke/Acts.
One more thing about Luke, he was a Gentile. But as a Gentile who knew something (actually a lot) about Jewish history. He saw God’s mercy. Not only that, but physicians have a unique perspective about our anatomical similarities as humans (both Jew and Gentile). I think God may have used this knowledge in Luke’s writing to pay special attention to the spiritual similarities between both Jew and Gentile. Luke notices the human condition, more importantly the neediness which characterizes such a condition. This is what drives his writing…the Good News of Jesus Christ setting things right between a merciful God and sinful humans.
As mentioned before, Luke noticed mercy. And, as a believer in Jesus he saw God’s mercy. As a Gentile (dog) now being included in God’s family he saw mercy, as a doctor he had the skill and desire to show mercy, and he took time to show mercy even to us as God used him to record the words of life in the Book of Acts.
So, speaking of mercy notice a parable by Jesus which…well…you’ll know….. Luke 10.25-37.
Luk 10:25 And behold, a lawyer stood up to put him to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?”
Luk 10:26 He said to him, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?”
Luk 10:27 And he answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.”
Luk 10:28 And he said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.”
Luk 10:29 But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”
Luk 10:30 Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead.
Luk 10:31 Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him he passed by on the other side.
Luk 10:32 So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side.
Luk 10:33 But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion.
Luk 10:34 He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him.
Luk 10:35 And the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.’
Luk 10:36 Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?”
Luk 10:37 He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise.”
And there it is. You’d think Jesus would let the Priest or Levite be the hero. That’s the logical rhetorical device to present an object lesson on mercy to a congregation right? Make the protagonist someone they can identify with. Jesus has already given the lawyer a way out earlier when he asks him about his attendance to the law…he shows his ignorance by instead of saying, “Uh, no one can do all that perfectly Jesus” saying “Yeah, I already do all that stuff.” So, Jesus brought forth the radical ethical teaching which he always does to these guys. This teaching characterizes the heart of the 2nd Adam. He is the teacher. This is his lesson. Since I’m going to be referring to the parable of the Good Samaritan a lot I’m going to just call it the “PGS”. But by now, maybe you’re wondering (or maybe not, I don’t know) what the PGS has to do with a study of Acts?
Well, first off Luke wrote them both. Secondly, Luke’s gospel is the only one where the PGS shows up. Thirdly, Samaria is specifically mentioned by Jesus as a place for apostolic witness…… remember the outline. But honestly, the book of Acts just picks right up where Luke’s gospel ends. It’s like a package, sort of like a luncheable—what would the little mystery meat be without the cracker? Luke and Acts go together. Luke shows the big picture here…..we get to see the teachings of Jesus (like the PGS) lived out in the 1st century church. If you do read Luke/Acts you’ll see Samaritans popping up a lot, but definitely a lot of conflict between Jews and Gentiles. They were kind of like Jews and Palestinians are today.
Anyway, in the PGS Luke records Jesus explaining a New Testament lifestyle; in Acts Luke shows how the gospel spreads through a powerful mercy which is applied for neighbor, stranger, and enemy with no strings attached.
That’s right, a powerful mercy.
A powerful mercy, what is that? While it is certain that the power that the Holy Spirit gives manifests in various ways. A key ‘power of the Holy Spirit coming upon you’ is one that enables the believer to have PGS style mercy. A guy named Harvey Conn called this “lordship evangelism”. “All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they shared everything they had. With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and much grace was upon them all.”Acts 4:32-33
O.K. remember the PGS? Well, look at the way these new believers in Acts 4 are living out what the priest and the Levite failed to do in that parable. Tim Keller notes that, “This economic sharing had to be conspicuous and amazing to outsiders. Apparently it helped give the preaching of the apostles even more power.” You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. So, what kind of power is Jesus talking about here?
Part of the power of evangelism is showing mercy to one another. But, while mercy does drive evangelistic endeavor. Mercy is not moralism. Its not just all about doing nice things for people. Get this, mercy is both an indicator and a vehicle for the activity of the gospel. And we can talk about what that means in this forum. I’d like ideas. I’d like honesty. I want to hear what you think about the power of God to witness through a PGS mindset which truly drives down the Jericho Road of Asheville, NC; Columbia, SC; New York, NY; wherever you may be.