1/07/2014

The Progress of the "Word of God" in Acts

Even though people have many ways of measuring progress, the author of Acts is observing a kind of progress that God counts as genuine. It is a progress of the Word of God.  In the opening chapter of Acts we, in the place of Jesus’ disciples, learn that our desire for ultimate vindication and glory is to be deferred for an interval of time. In this interval we are to be engaged in a specific activity: being Jesus’ witnesses in the earth.

Acts 1:6-11 So when they had come together, they were asking Him, saying, "Lord, is it at this time You are restoring the kingdom to Israel?" (7) He said to them, "It is not for you to know times or epochs which the Father has fixed by His own authority; (8) but you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth." (9) And after He had said these things, He was lifted up while they were looking on, and a cloud received Him out of their sight. (10) And as they were gazing intently into the sky while He was going, behold, two men in white clothing stood beside them. (11) They also said, "Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into the sky? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in just the same way as you have watched Him go into heaven."

The progress of the “Word of God” is in league with our inspired witness to Jesus as Christ. Because of our connection to the "Word of God" we are tapped into the progress that God counts as real.  We can see how this progress works out in the book of Acts. One way to order Acts is to divide it into 6 sections, each finishing with a progress report. 

  1. 1:1–6:7 This section is about the Word of God at Jerusalem and the preaching of Peter. “And the word of God increased; and the number the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests were obedient to the faith.”

  1. 6:8–9:31 This section is about the Jerusalem church dispersed throughout Palestine and the martyrdom of Stephen, followed by the preaching in Samaria, and including the conversion of Paul. “So the Church throughout all Judea and Samaria had peace and was built up; and walking in the fear of the Lord and in comfort of the Holy Spirit it was multiplied.”

  1. 9:32 - 12:24 This section includes the reception of the gentile, Cornelius, by Peter, and the extension of the Word of God to Antioch. “But the word of God grew and multiplied.”

  1. 12:25 - 16:5 This one is about the extension of the Gospel through Asia Minor, and the preaching tour of Galatia. “So the Churches were strengthened in the faith, and they increased in numbers daily.”

  1. 16:6 - 19:20 The final section is about the extension of the Word of the Lord to Europe, and the work of Paul in great gentile cities like Corinth and Ephesus. “So the word of the Lord grew and prevailed mightily.”

  1. 19:21 - 28:31 The arrival of Paul in Rome and his imprisonment there, ending with him – “preaching the Kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus quite openly and unhindered.
From the perspective of Luke, who wrote Acts, now is the time that we make progress as witnesses to Jesus Christ by loyally embracing the “Word of God” and spreading that “Word” to others. 

The Gospel Word as Distinct from the Old Testament Scriptures
We have noticed there is a distinction between what Luke will call “the Scriptures” as opposed to what he will refer to as the word.  In Acts “the scriptures” refers to the Old Testament.

(Acts 17:2) And according to Paul's custom, he went to them, and for three Sabbaths reasoned with them from the Scriptures,

(Acts 17:11) Now these were more noble-minded than those in Thessalonica, for they received the word [the gospel] with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures [Old Testament] daily to see whether these things were so.

(Acts 18:24) Now a Jew named Apollos, an Alexandrian by birth, an eloquent man, came to Ephesus; and he was mighty in the Scriptures.

(Acts 18:28) for he powerfully refuted the Jews in public, demonstrating by the Scriptures that Jesus was the Christ.

On the other hand we find Luke using “the word” or variably the gospel, the gospel of the kingdom, the word of God, and the word of the Kingdom,to refer to the story and authoritative teachings of Jesus (Acts 4:29, 31; 6:2, 4, 7; 8:4, 14, 25; 10:36; 11:1, 16, 19; 12:24; 13:5, 7, 44, 46, 48, 49; 14:3, 25; 15:7, 35, 36; 16:6, 32; 17:11, 13; 18:5, 11; 19:10, 20 ).

This is not to say that Old Testament revelation was never referred to as the Word of God. There are such references in the Old Testament especially. Neither are we saying that “the Gospel” or “the word,” revealed in the New Covenant, was necessarily unwritten; surely portions of it were put into script before Acts was complete.

Yet, in Acts the name “the Scriptures” falls squarely on the Jewish Scriptures of the Old Testament. These are the Old Testament scriptures which were known, being read, and counted authoritative, in the Jewish synagogues everywhere, before Paul arrives in each community preaching and teaching the "word of God" to both Jews and Gentiles.

Why point out this distinction? To ready us for transition...transition from the known to the previously unknown. In following Jesus we need to be ready for transition from known world, known religion, known way of relating to others, over to that which has previously been unknown.This is a call for progress.

So, in the book of Acts, when we read of the progress of the word of God we should understand this to mean the authoritative teaching of Jesus as that which is growing in domain. A real transition is taking place from that which has been known to that which heretofore has been unknown, Jesus, the crucified one, truly is the Christ and his teaching truly is the announcement of the kingdom of God.

The thing progressing is the “Word of God,” specifically, that which Jesus taught by word and in deed. The duration of this time of witnessing is extended temporarily into our future. If we want a good grasp on the specifics of what Luke would count as "the Word of God", then I think we have it in his "Gospel according to Luke"

Three general themes that were prominent  in our reading of Luke were:

Mercy (humbly receiving God’s generous mercy and extending that mercy generously to others)
Legitimacy (agreeing with God about who, and what, is right and righteous)
Perseverance (ongoing loyalty to Jesus and His perspective on Mercy and Legitimacy)

Are these key themes of “the word of God” being received in the hearts of men, and spreading to more hearts, as we travel along in Acts? It would seem so. And it is this progress of the “the word of God” that is both the message and the method of extending the kingdom of God. Not ordinary progress for a kingdom, but this is no ordinary kingdom.

Luke 17:20-21 Now having been questioned by the Pharisees as to when the kingdom of God was coming, He answered them and said, "The kingdom of God is not coming with signs to be observed; (21) nor will they say, 'Look, here it is!' or, 'There it is!' For behold, the kingdom of God is in your midst."


The Kingdom of God progresses, now, in this interval of time. It is a kingdom measured in loyalty to the method and message of Jesus. He is a king with appropriate humility first, then at the end of this interval, appropriate exaltation in the day of reckoning, and in the future regeneration of all things.

Now is the time for us to proceed into the whole world in the same strange way, with the gospel of the kingdom, God’s Word. It is the word of God for our present time. The time which is the interval between Jesus going away and coming again.

Our Father who is in heaven, set apart be your name [which we, if left to our own nature, would profane], your kingdom come, your will be done on earth [where we are] as it is in Heaven [where Jesus is]. Forgive us our trespasses, for we have forgiven those who have trespassed against us. Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. Amen.


11/12/2012

"Jesus: My most beloved veteran"

Saul has killed his thousands and David his tens of thousands but Jesus is my most beloved veteran. He did not kill anyone, not even in self defense. He did not even own a sword. He calls all who would follow him into the new covenant. It is a new covenant between God and his people. In that call he teaches his disciples not to harm their enemies.  Most disciples of Jesus today are like those first ones we read about in the scriptures...of small loyalty (*little faith).  But even though we are weak, we cannot deny him. And because we cannot deny him, we cannot deny his teaching.
 
But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. (40) And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. (41) And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. (42) Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you. (43) "You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' (44) But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, (45) so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.Matthew 5:39-45


I have many relatives and friends who are veterans, and I love them but Jesus is my most beloved veteran, most worthy of my unbending loyalty.  You see, in his fidelity to God, Jesus is the new warrior and veteran that the people of God needed and still need today. He does not seem to have owned a sword and he did not condone the use of physical weapons by his followers. Yet, he does have the effective spiritual sword. That sword figuratively comes out of his mouth and slays all of his enemies. His weapon is the word of God. Jesus is the warrior-king who is leading the people of God to victory. If you would enter that true victory you can only do so through loyalty to him.   Saul has killed his thousands and David his tens of thousands but Jesus Christ is my most beloved veteran who is vigilant to this hour slaying the enemies of God and of God's people.

6/23/2012

The Faith of Jesus Christ

I am both moving my books around and studying one of Paul's epistles.   Lo and behold I am suddenly interested in a re-read Richard B. Hays fascinating study: The Faith of Jesus Christ.  I also just skimmed this article and thought some may be interested/provoked by it.  "Justification and the Faith of Jesus Christ" by D.W.B. Robinson. Let me know your thoughts. The faith of Jesus Christ, May God help us adore him, and do that.

since 1.21.10