How often do we look at our Bibles and say there is the Old Testament and there is the New Testament?
How often do we look and see that it is not all just as simple as that? In the Old Testament we have the first five books of the Laws. We have the Prophets and the minor prophets. We have the Psalms and Proverbs. All them very different forms of writing and all of them stand alone but yet interconnected by bridges that link them. In the New Testament we have the four Gospels, the first three described as the synoptic gospels because of their similarities and John stands a bit different from them. They tell about the life of Jesus here on earth. We have the epistles or letters, some are pastoral in nature, some are instructive in their encouragement, others are challenges to the behaviour of some, they are sent round to the different churches. The book ‘The Acts of the Apostles’ is the bridge between the gospels and the letters. Imagine for a moment we did not have this account of the early church and how it was formed.
Without Acts you would move straight into Paul’s letter to the church in Rome. How did all of this come about? How did the story get to Rome from Jerusalem? That’s the story, that’s the journey we are going to embark on and travel through for the next wee while. At the close of Matthew Jesus and his disciples were in Galilee as he gave them the great commission to go and make disciples of all nations. At the close of Luke is the ascension and the return of the disciples to Jerusalem. At the close of John is the reinstatement of Peter and then it simply closes by saying Jesus did many other things and even the whole world would not have enough room for the books that would be written. Without this book ‘The Acts of the Apostles’ our New Testament takes an almighty leap from the orderly accounts, historical or otherwise of the man named Jesus to this rather unexplained mix match of correspondence with no explanation. Acts puts it all into place, it gives us the bridge that is required to move from the life stories of Jesus to this new growing, vibrant collection of believers who are geographically a distance apart but share in the same faith.
Reading Acts 1:1-11
This book introduces us to the Apostle Paul and reveals how this small mustard seed of a church in some far off minor place in the Roman Empire finds its way across the seas to land in the very capital itself the beating heart of the empire that was the city of Rome. As we journey through the book we will journey through and across the cities which hug the coastline of the Mediterranean. As well as the major cities we will be introduced to the local leaders of communities both for and against this new growing church and, of course, we will be privy to the problems that each of them are facing, the falling out with each other and with those in authority who hold leadership roles in their communities. The opening verses we are looking at this morning tie up the ending of Jesus earthly ministry as he tells his disciples, ‘you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.’ The opening chapters tell us about the church when it is in Jerusalem from there it moves to Judea and Samaria before spreading out further as it takes us to the outposts of Roman civilisation. Ending of course in Rome itself. The first dozen chapters it is Peter that we follow and from chapter thirteen the focus shifts as we begin to follow Paul with some fascinating detail of some of the most dramatic events of the early church. There are some amazing speeches offered with the content being chosen with the particular recipients in mind. The book was probably written in the early 60’s AD. Paul is awaiting trial as he is under house arrest in Rome. After writing his gospel and Acts Luke sends them off to a Roman official named here as Theophilus of whom nothing else in known. Having travelled together Luke and Paul were well acquainted. I am going to concentrate on the last two verses this morning. These two men dressed in white, these two angels, knew to whom they were talking as they referred to them as the men of Galilee. They had just witnessed the final moment of Jesus earthly ministry, or had they? Don’t just stand there looking up that sky, what you have witnessed is truly amazing but this is not the time to stand about there is work to be done, important work to be done. I know I’ve done this before. Witnessed something magnificent, experienced one of those moments when you just want everything to stop, as you remain there in that blissful moment and you are held there you sort of want to stay there but you know yourself that cannot be, there will be things to do and the moment you have just experienced is the food that will feed you to fulfil the busy tasks that lie ahead. God knows these are the things that we will carry with us and revisit them several times across our journey through life. What happened with the Apostles remains true for people of faith today. When that relationship with Jesus is underway the moment is to be savoured but so too is the joy of discipleship that awaits the rest of your faith journey.