(Moebius Birds, Maurits Cornelis Escher, June 17, 1898 – March 27, 1972, lithograph)
“To be continued...” If you’ve ever seen a film or television show conclude with these words you likely have been left with a sense of wonder and anticipation. The story is not finished. The conflict has not been resolved. Questions have been left unanswered. What will come of (fill in the blank)?
The Gospel of Luke could have ended with the tagline, “To be continued…”
The apostle Luke was one of the disciples of Christ. He happened to be a physician – a very competent and accomplished man who wrote both the Gospel of Luke and the book of Acts – two books that, together, make up approximately 27% of the entire New Testament with respect to volume of content. Word for word, Luke wrote more of the New Testament than the apostle Paul.
Each of the four Gospels follows the life, death, and resurrection of Christ the Messiah, the Son of God. As Luke brings his Gospel account to a close, he provides a preview of coming attractions, as it were, from the mouth of Jesus Himself. This interchange in Luke 24:44-53 occurs after Jesus’ resurrection. He appears to His disciples and gives them a charge as the lead agents of God’s mission through the church.
44 Then He (Jesus) said to them (His disciples), “These are My words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about Me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” (essentially ALL of Scripture written up to that point) 45 Then He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures (which is another way of saying the Old Testament), 46 and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, 47 and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in His name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses of these things. 49 And behold, I am sending the promise of My Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.”
50 Then He led them out as far as Bethany, and lifting up His hands He blessed them. 51 While He blessed them, He parted from them and was carried up into heaven. (This is what is called the Ascension.) 52 And they worshiped Him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy, 53 and were continually in the temple blessing God. (They worshiped in the Jerusalem temple continually as they awaited “the promise of the Father” mentioned in verse 49.)
In other words, “To be continued…”
Let’s not miss what is happening here: the second person of the Trinity, the incarnated God-Man, has now left (He ascended into heaven) but the blessing of the third person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit, would soon descend upon Christ’s followers in a new and dynamic way, empowering them to carry out God’s mission, which is described in Luke 24:47 as follows: “that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in His name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem” – a global mission with its epicenter in Jerusalem. That is where the story in Acts begins.
And while there a treasury of rich history contained within its 28 chapters, it may be helpful to simplify the scope of Luke’s follow-up account by identifying what Acts is all about: the kingdom of God. More specifically, it’s about the nature of the kingdom of God; how it’s spiritual, powerful, global, historical, and effectual.
1) It’s spiritual. It’s Holy Spirit-ual. The same Holy Spirit who was present and active at the creation of the world is the same Spirit building God’s church. The same Holy Spirit who blew across the waters of the Red Sea so that God’s people could be emancipated from the subjugation of the oppressive rule of Egypt is the same Spirit present in our worship each week. The same Holy Spirit present and active in all of the mighty works of God we read of throughout Scripture is the same Holy Spirit present and active in the hearts and minds of the people committed to City Church in little ole’ Saint Louis 2012.
2) It’s powerful. The church is not meant to be spineless and weak, waffling aimlessly in watered-down belief and being battered about by every changing wind of culture. Quite the opposite, the church is to be triumphant and strong, standing victoriously on the Word of God, relying faithfully on the Holy Spirit to carry out God’s mission in this world with unwavering hope and unmoving truthfulness. Christians are empowered to be witnesses to the truth of the Spirit to heal and restore lives, to be witnesses to the truth of the resurrection, to be witnesses to the truth of the claims of Christ – to advance the Kingdom of God not by coercion, but by the power of the truth through word and deed.
3) It’s global. There are 4 geographical areas cited in Acts 2:1-13 (Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and the ends of the earth). As one progresses throughout the rest of the book of Acts these 4 areas will, essentially, be covered in a 3-part progression: the mission to Jerusalem is covered in Acts 1-7, the mission to Judea and Samaria is covered in Acts 8-12, and the mission to the rest of the Roman world (the ends of the earth) is covered in Acts 13-28. Pentecost occurred in Jerusalem, and so we see that the church’s witness was to begin there, expanding outward like ripples in a pond, embracing Judea and Samaria, and then overflowing beyond those known communities to the farthest reaches of the Roman empire, to the ends of the earth – a global Kingdom.
4) It’s historical. The Kingdom of God is thoroughly historical. It’s based upon actual people, actual events, actual healings, actual miracles, actual sermons, sayings, and teachings, actual movements of the Spirit – actual historical events and accounts. It happened. Thousands of people attested to it. The apostle Paul said as much when he wrote in 1 Corinthians 15:14, “…if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain.” In other words, if the resurrection didn’t happen, this is all worthless – a huge waste of time and money. But it DID happen. See Acts 1:3, “He (Jesus) presented Himself alive to them after His suffering by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God.”
5) It’s effectual. It doesn’t take much reading in the book of Acts to encounter the miraculous effect of Gospel transformation. On the day of Pentecost alone, 3,000 souls were saved, not to mention the thousands upon thousands upon thousands (tens of thousands; hundreds of thousands; millions) in the months, years, decades, and centuries to follow – the Kingdom of God is effectual!
The best part? The “To be continued…” is still continuing. Each of us is in the middle of the story and has a significant role to play in the grand drama of redemption that God is still telling. Reading the book of Acts through this lens utterly changes our perspective.
As always, please feel free to ask questions. You can either email me directly (firstname.lastname@example.org) or, if you’d like to start a broader conversation, you can post a public comment/question here on the blog. Thanks for reading.