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Saturday, 29 March 2014

The 3 R’s of Scripture: Acts 1:1-8

Jesus Taken Up Into Heaven

In my former book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach until the day he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles he had chosen. After his suffering, he presented himself to them and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God. On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave them this command: “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.” Then they gathered around him and asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?”

He said to them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

It is somewhat ironic that when speaking of school the 3 R’s are of prime importance: Reading, Writing and Arithmetic. There is of course only one R in evidence. I suppose that one of the lessons that all children love to learn is that teacher is not always right. This morning I would like to consider the 3 R’s of scripture as we begin your studies in Acts of the Apostles. I am marginally better than our educators in that 2 out of 3 of my R’s are genuine. We will consider the Reader, the Writer and the Revealer.

The Reader

I am not letting you into any secret by first announcing who the write is. We are I am sure well enough acquainted with scripture to know that the writer is Dr Luke, more about him in a few minutes. He has already written to this man Theophilus when he wrote his account of the life of Jesus. 

Who is Theophilus?

When Luke refers to him in his gospel he calls him the “most excellent Theophilus.” Here in Acts it is simply Theophilus. Some people with more time on their hands that they probably know what to do with it have suggested all sorts of things about Theophilus and this change of address by Luke, such as their deepening friendship and so Luke is now more familiar with him. I cannot see what use such thinking is. It certainly does not help in our understanding of the passage. Others have suggested that he might not even be a real person but that the Gospel and Acts are written to all “lovers of God” which is what his name means. Again it might be good for clever guys to consider such things but how much does it help our purposes? If you are interested in such things you can easily follow the discussions through the commentaries.

I believe that there is great licence to consider what his name means. Names are often important in scripture and this is certainly the case with this man Theophilus. Luke is writing to a “Lover of God.” This sets the scene for the rest of the book! It is fair to say that this was written primarily to one man who loved God but it is for all who are from that day on Lovers of God! This account is for Christians. When that is taken into account then what follows is so much easier to understand.  Dr Luke does not have to justify the person of Jesus, the work of the Holy Spirit or the credentials and the authority of the church. As we go through our studies I am sure that we will often discover the reality of this point. Luke makes many assumptions that his reader(s) was and is a believer in Jesus as Lord. I would also make the argument that this is true of all of the scriptures and that confusion and error comes from the fact that people who are not really “lovers of God” are reading a love letter meant for somebody else. That in no way excludes them from reading the scripture but it will require God’s special friends to help them in their understanding of the content.

Having made that point we need to consider the content of what Luke writes. He has already told Theophilus about the life of Jesus Christ up until His ascension and the promise of the coming Holy Spirit. Vs 1-2.

He is now about to tell Theophilus about the Acts of the Holy Spirit of God in the building of the church as promised by the Lord Jesus. Luke will tell of the way in which God used ordinary men to build the church through their powerful preaching, teaching and witness. In verse 8 he says that the disciples had to learn that it was not for them to know the times and dates of the completion of God’s work in this world but to witness to His saving grace that is available until that time. This is not a book for speculation but a history of real events that took place. It is to a man who loved God and belonged to His people. It is about how Christ continues to build His church even though He is no longer present with His people in human form.

I do have to take this opportunity to ask you if you are a true reader of this book or are you an interested party that does not yet fully understand what God is saying through it? In other words are you a Christian? 

If you are not sure then my advice is simple, the bible principle is that you should seek God in order to find Him. Jesus Christ is the way to the Father, He is the truth and He is the true life. No one can approach God but by Him. We can only ener into the presence of Holinaes if we are holy ourselves. Due to sin that is impossible for all people. All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. Jesus Christ is the Holy One of God who by grace will forgive sin for all who repent. That is bible truth and so I recommend reading the bible, praying for God's good gift of salvation through personal repentance. That is God's work ask and it shall be given, seek and you will find, knock and the door os salvation will be opened for you. If you are concerned why not find a good evangelical church and speak to the Pastor he will do all that he can to help. If you are finding difficulty why not leave a message on this site and I will do all that I can to assist. May God bless you.

The Writer

Luke was not an eye witness of the life of Jesus but he did carefully research the life of Jesus in his Gospel. In Acts he is recording the inception of the church, up to chapter 16:9 he records in the third person; clearly he has researched the history of the church up until that time. From Acts 16:10 he changes to the personal pronoun, Luke is clearly a part of the recorded proceedings from that time on. Luke was a doctor (Colossians 4:14); a fellow worker of Paul (Philemon 24) and faithful to the end for Paul. In 2 Timothy 4:11 Paul writes shortly before his death “only Luke is with me.” He was an accurate historian who records clearly and without spin or commentary the events that happened.

Luke’s motivation for writing is that Theophilus might know the certainty of what he had been taught of Jesus Christ (Luke 1:4) Clearly from the passage before us his purpose for writing Acts is to show Theophilus that the events that are being witnessed are the continuing work of God in the power of His Holy Spirit. It was therefore imperative that he recorded the events accurately. The great thing for us as believers is that we can rely on what is written firstly because Luke was absolutely committed to accuracy and secondly as we will consider in a few moments that his experience, research and writings were inspired by God’s Holy Spirit.

Luke was the human messenger or teacher of the events; it was his responsibility to be clear, concise and accurate. He achieved that goal impeccably!

There is a great lesson for us in this, especially to those who preach and teach. Luke only recorded the events as they happened! We live in a society where the actual event seems to be drowned out by media comment and public opinion. If we consider our news bulletins, they begin with fact (we hear the whole of the news in 1 minute) and they continue with commentary and opinion for the next 29 minutes. There is no room for that sort of speculation in the presentation of gospel truth. Somebody a long time ago taught me to largely discount what the preacher / teacher had to say when he started saying “I believe the passage says this that, or the other!” It is not “what we think” that is important but what really happened!

Gospel preaching and teaching is all about the truth; “the whole truth and nothing but the truth!”

 Our responsibility is to be clear and accurate as we declare gospel truth.

The Revealer

Any researcher will tell you that trying to find the absolute truth is almost impossible. How can we then say that Luke attained what is impossible for most? One of the great things about the scripture is that it is written by men just like us. It has all of the hallmarks of their own unique personality but it is more than just their work. Paul tells us in 2 Timothy 3:16 that it has a Divine influence. He actually tells us that it is the very breath of God. The writer is inspired by Him to write the whole truth and nothing but the truth. This very fact makes it wholly reliable. It is the Holy Spirit that inspires and reminds His people to be able to record the events accurately. And so when Luke was about his research, the Holy Spirit reminded Luke’s subjects of the facts. He aided Luke to record them accurately and then to write them clearly. The result is seen before us; a perfect history of the church.

We have already considered Luke’s purpose of writing but what is the purpose of the Holy Spirit? I suppose that there is one slight difference, Luke could only see his readership as being Theophilus but God’s Spirit intended it to be read by all “lovers of God” until the Lord Jesus returns in glory. That is why verses 7&8 are so important. Luke has reminded Theophilus of the end of Jesus’ life on earth. He is about to put more flesh on the gospel by telling Theophilus how Jesus ascended into heaven! But before that he tells him how Jesus had been seen by many. He had instructed His disciples to await the gift of God’s promised Holy Spirit. He records the disciples desire to know more than is for them to know. They wanted to know about the end times but God had another task for them! They were not to be speculators but witnesses until the unknown time comes. That day will clearly come; it is in God’s knowing until that time God reveals that His disciples have a task. That task is for us to be like Luke, clear and thorough exponents of the truth aided by the gift of the Holy Spirit! Luke could never tell how far reaching his writing would be But God fully intended it to be the vital part of our scripture.

How would I sum up the book of Acts?

  1. It is not the Acts of the Apostles but the works of the Holy Spirit.
  2. It is all about how the church came into being.
  3. It always keeps Jesus and His people in the fore.
  4. It is accurate and clear.
  5. It is history par excellence!

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