“The book of Acts stands at the heart of the New Testament. Luke recorded eyewitness accounts of real events, real people, and real miracles. It is a vivid account of the power of God at work in the hearts, minds, and lives of the first followers of Christ. Rich in detail, it bridges the gap between the four Gospel accounts and the Epistles that follow. In this long book, Luke recounted the history of the growth of the early church, tracing events from Jesus’ ascension to the conversion of Paul to the spread of Christianity throughout the Mediterranean region. The book provides an exciting glimpse into the ups and downs, setbacks and struggles faced by the first followers of Christ as they obediently took the message of salvation to the ends of the earth. The many miracles provide solid evidence for God’s blessing on their work and the power of His divine plan. Whatever human obstacles may stand in the way, nothing can stop the will of God.” (HCSB)

1:3, 7-8: “After He had suffered, He also presented Himself alive to them by many convincing proofs, appearing to them during 40 days and speaking about the kingdom of God. He said to them, ‘It is not for you to know times or periods that the Father has set by His own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be My witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” I read these verses and contemplate how this does and should affect me along with fellow Christians. Everybody has and will suffer in this world because of sin. This leads to two questions: What are we suffering from? How do we react to our suffering? Clearly, the answer to the first question will vary in different times from individual to individual. The answer to the second question, however, will determine the base and the amount of faith a person has. Jesus had suffered immensely on the cross, and then remarkably illustrated His aliveness during and after His suffering. God has given us the duty to witness to the doubters and unbelievers of this earth. There are parts of the world today where people are being imprisoned, beaten, and even killed just for owning one page of the Bible. Those people are suffering to the maximum for the glory of God, and yet, in America where there is freedom of speech and religion, not too many Christians take advantage of such liberty. Why? Most of us are afraid to “suffer” on a social level. We have a need to be accepted, and we will allow ourselves to rationalize and even conform to the current norms of our society, which teaches that politics and religion should not be discussed. It is ironic on how those two topics are the most important issues that affect our daily lives, yet we are encouraged to keep quiet on them.

2:23-28: “Though He was delivered up according to God’s determined plan and foreknowledge, you used lawless people to nail Him to a cross and kill Him. God raised Him up, ending the pains of death, because it was not possible for Him to be held by it. For David says of Him: I saw the Lord ever before me; because He is at my right hand, I will not be shaken. Therefore my heart was glad, and my tongue rejoiced. Moreover my flesh will rest in hope, because You will not leave my soul in Hades, or allow Your Holy One to see decay. You have revealed the paths of life to me; You will fill me with gladness in Your presence.” David’s statement is an excellent prayer for reassuring and strengthening our faith. Even though we will die physically, those of us who know Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior will not die spiritually. Our spirits are the most important section of our lives to maintain. If we allow God’s Holy Spirit to work in and through our spirit, we can accomplish some amazing things in this world. Even though we will have trouble and endure suffering, we can be glad in the Lord and press on until our time is finished.

Stanley Porter noted that in regards to 2:38-39, “Many groups use these verses to teach that baptism is essential to salvation. Yet Paul made a distinction between the two when he wrote, “For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel” (1 Co 1:17). He then described the gospel as “the message of the cross,” which is “God’s power” to save (v. 18). Baptism and the gospel are thus set in opposition to each other. Paul explained, “the gospel…is God’s power for salvation” (Rm 1:16). Though repentance/faith and baptism go together in Acts, baptism is an indication of belonging to Christ, not a condition for it. For example, Cornelius and his relatives believed and received the Spirit before receiving water baptism (10:44-48).”

We read in 2:37-42 on how to start our journey on the Christian path: “When they heard this, they were pierced to the heart and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles: “Brothers, what must we do?” “Repent,” Peter said to them, “and be baptized, each of you, in the name of Jesus the Messiah for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children, and for all who are far off, as many as the Lord our God will call.” And with many other words he testified and strongly urged them, saying, “Be saved from this corrupt generation!” So those who accepted his message were baptized, and that day about 3,000 people were added to them. And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, to fellowship, to the breaking of bread, and to prayers.” God does love us just the way we are right now, but He loves us too much to keep us there. He wants us to repent of our sins because those sins are the only things holding us back from truly enjoying the life that He has planned for us. Two more verses are found in 3:19 and 3:26: “Therefore repent and turn back, that your sins may be wiped out so that seasons of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord.” “God raised up His Servant and sent Him first to you to bless you by turning each of you from your evil ways.” We have the capability to grow stronger and stronger in our relationship with Jesus every time we pray, study His Word, and go to church to be with other believers.

2:45-47 shows the extent of devotion the people of the first Church had: “So they sold their possessions and property and distributed the proceeds to all, as anyone had a need. And every day they devoted themselves to meeting together in the temple complex, and broke bread from house to house. They ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart, praising God and having favor with all the people. And every day the Lord added to them those who were being saved.” The people did not stay in the temple; they were completely open with their faith, showing it gladly and went from house to house. They were not caught up in a materialistic culture. They lived simple lives and made sure that those who were poor were able to live a simple life as well.

In regards to 5:2-5, “Ananias and Sapphira’s sin was knowingly withholding part of their land sale proceeds (to be given to the church) while claiming to give the church everything. Their lie to the church and God brought divine punishment, serving as a sober warning to all. Ananias lied to the Holy Spirit in the same way he lied to God (vv. 3-4). The phrasing indicates Peter considered the Spirit to be God and to be obeyed as God. Similar Trinitarian language is found elsewhere in Acts (20:28). F.F. Bruce has compared the hypocrisy of Ananias and Sapphira with that of Achan in the conquest of Canaan (Jos 7). In both cases, God’s people were at a critical point in His mission. In both cases hypocrisy threatened the mission. Both of these events are graphic reminders of how God perceives sin. For those who see the God of the Old Testament and New Testament as different, the judgment of Ananias and Sapphira shows that “His burning anger” (Jos 7:26) against all that is unholy is an essential and eternal part of God’s nature. It’s not that those who haven’t experience the judgments of Achan and Ananias are better than they; only God’s grace has been the difference. These events at very different times in biblical history serve as reminders of the reverential awe with which we are to live before God. Such was the effect on the early church (5:11) and those who first read Acts.” (Porter)

5:36-39 provides examples of people who attempted to start their own religion: “Not long ago Theudas rose up, claiming to be somebody, and a group of about 400 men rallied to him. He was killed, and all his partisans were dispersed and came to nothing. After this man, Judas the Galilean rose up in the days of the census and attracted a following. That man also perished, and all his partisans were scattered. And now, I tell you, stay away from these men and leave them alone. For if this plan or this work is of men, it will be overthrown; but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them. You may even be found fighting against God.” It has been over 2,000 years since Jesus died on the Cross. Because He rose again, Christianity has been able to and will remain to stay strong against all obstacles the unbelievers throw its way. The reason for this is because although Christianity is classified as a religion, it is not about a religion. Christianity is all about a relationship. Religions tell people that they must earn eternal life through following certain rules and conducting certain tasks. Christianity tells people that eternal life is a gift that just needs to be accepted because Jesus Christ lived a perfect life, He suffered and died on the Cross to take on the punishment that we all deserve, and rose again to give us this gift. The reason He did everything was because He loves us so much that He wants to spend eternity with us.

6:8-10: “Stephen, full of grace and power, was performing great wonders and signs among the people. Then some from what is called the Freedmen’s Synagogue, composed of both Cyrenians and Alexandrians, and some from Cilicia and Asia, came forward and disputed with Stephen. But they were unable to stand up against the wisdom and the Spirit by whom he spoke.” Stephen is another excellent character the Bible provides us on how strong a persons’ faith can be. Stephen allowed the Holy Spirit to work through him by providing grace, power, and wisdom to the affect of confusing theological scholars. These verses also hint at the fact that although knowledge is good to have, it is nothing without grace and love for God and others. We read more about Stephen in 7:54-60: “When they heard these things, they were enraged in their hearts and gnashed their teeth at him. But Stephen, filled by the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven. He saw God’s glory, with Jesus standing at the right hand of God, and he said, “Look! I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!” Then they screamed at the top of their voices, stopped their ears, and rushed together against him. They threw him out of the city and began to stone him. And the witnesses laid their robes at the feet of a young man named Saul. They were stoning Stephen as he called out: “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit!” Then he knelt down and cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not charge them with this sin!” And saying this, he fell asleep.”

8:30-31, “When Philip ran up to it, he heard him reading the prophet Isaiah, and said, “Do you understand what you’re reading?” “How can I,” he said, “unless someone guides me?” So he invited Philip to come up and sit with him.” Christians are encouraged to keep our eyes and ears open for any opportunity to share the Good News. I find it interesting that the person who was reading Isaiah did not want Philip to tell him, but to GUIDE him through the Scripture. It is one thing to speak the Gospel, but the results will be more heartfelt and flourishing if we are living examples of what it means to be a Christian. 9:13-15 emphasizes the importance of being a witness to everyone no matter what background they have: “Lord,” Ananias answered, “I have heard from many people about this man, how much harm he has done to Your saints in Jerusalem. And he has authority here from the chief priests to arrest all who call on Your name.” But the Lord said to him, “Go! For this man is My chosen instrument to carry My name before Gentiles, kings, and the sons of Israel.” A little later on, we read that Barnabas was living the Christian life in 9:26-27: “When he arrived in Jerusalem, he tried to associate with the disciples, but they were all afraid of him, since they did not believe he was a disciple. Barnabas, however, took him and brought him to the apostles and explained to them how, on the road, Saul had seen the Lord, and that He had talked to him, and how in Damascus he had spoken boldly in the name of Jesus.” What was the result of this action? 9:31 says, “So the church throughout all Judea, Galilee, and Samaria had peace, being built up and walking in the fear of the Lord and in the encouragement of the Holy Spirit, and it increased in numbers.”

15:28-29, “For it was the Holy Spirit’s decision—and ours—to put no greater burden on you than these necessary things: that you abstain from food offered to idols, from blood, from eating anything that has been strangled, and from sexual immorality. If you keep yourselves from these things, you will do well. Farewell.” In regards to 15:28, “Luke underscored the apostles’ recognition of the relationship between the Holy Spirit and human initiative in arriving at this important decision. Throughout the New Testament, there is a complex interplay of divine guidance working together with human action that accomplished God’s purpose. The complex interplay between divine guidance and human action is harmonious when humans (as here) humbly and trustingly respond to the Spirit’s guidance. It is also important to note that although salvation for all is by faith (v. 19), restrictions were introduced (v. 29; 21:25) either to provide Christian Jews and Gentiles with a common basis for contact or, more likely, to lift up Gentile moral standards by prohibiting practices associated with pagan temple worship (idolatry, sexual immorality, and sacrifices of animals).” (Porter)

The following three verses recap the importance of how to act while going through a trial and how our actions effect those around us: 16:25, “About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them.” 16:30, “Then he escorted them out and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” 16:34, “He brought them up into his house, set a meal before them, and rejoiced because he had believed God with his entire household.”

22:14-16, “Then he said, ‘The God of our fathers has appointed you to know His will, to see the Righteous One, and to hear the sound of His voice. For you will be a witness for Him to all people of what you have seen and heard. And now, why delay? Get up and be baptized, and wash away your sins by calling on His name.’” 24:16, “I always do my best to have a clear conscience toward God and men.” What are we waiting for? What is stopping us from living the life God has planned for us? A life of communion with Him and fellow believers. A life that consists of forgiveness of mistakes made, hope for the future, and the gift of grace in this present instant and the moments to come.

Chris Tomlin (Amazing Grace-My Chains Are Gone):
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cyFxArMeRDI

In regards to 28:30-31, “Acts ends with Paul still a prisoner after two years of captivity, during which time he lived at his own expense and was allowed to have visitors, to whom he proclaimed the gospel of Jesus Christ. The book of Acts ends at this point, and it may be that he was convicted and died in Rome at this time. There is testimony from other early church writers, however, that Paul was released, presumably because his case was either dismissed or found to be without merit, and that he engaged in active ministry for another several years before he was re-arrested and sent to Rome, where he died under the persecution of Nero.” (Porter) Paul kept the faith through his trials and I can guarantee that he had no regrets at the end. Let us pray that we can do the same.

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