In the first book, O Theophilus, I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach, until the day when he was taken up, after he had given commands through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. He presented himself alive to them after his suffering by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God.
In his sermon introducing the book of Acts, Will reminded us that context is so important. Just as young children rave over the lightsaber wars, intergalactic travels, and epic adventures found in the Star Wars movies, but know little about what is actually going on, we often find ourselves approaching the Bible in this way. We love it, but do we really understand it? Do we really know what is going on in the stories of Scripture?
Acts begins with an introduction from Luke, where he refers back to his previous account of Jesus’ life and work and the commands he gave to his apostles to continue that work. Acts will is a recounting of how the members of the early church began attempting to live out Jesus’ vision for his people and the world. But before we hear these stories of the early church, we need to understand their perspective and what had gone on before in Luke’s first volume, his gospel.
Luke, with a unique Gentile perspective, recounts the story of Christ from birth to ascension. He knew that the people of God were to reflect Christ’s work on earth. They knew how things ought to be, and were called to be a part of the restoration of the world. They were blessed to be a blessing so that others would ultimately see what God was like. Sometimes, they succeeded. But many times, they, too, fell away. Throughout the Old Testament, God’s people failed to obey God and began worshiping other gods. But in the midst of that brokenness, there was hope that a deliverer was coming.
The oppressed Jews were waiting for military strength, financial security, a new conquering king. But Jesus came as a baby. He came to an unmarried mother in a small town where there weren’t enough beds for everyone. And he began his ministry in his hometown, where everyone knew those things. In Luke 4:18-22, Jesus makes enormous claims about who he is. And in this declaration of his identity, he calls for social justice. And with that, he begins his ministry – not just of preaching truth, but of restoring brokenness in the world. He reaches out to the weak and vulnerable, healing and serving both the spiritual and physical needs of the people.
Jesus’ idea of kingdom was much different from the political ruler whom the Jews expected. He shows that shalom is not the Jews becoming a dominant nation, but rather seeking the wellbeing of others. Reaching out to the outcasts: the sick, the poor, the neglected of society and bringing them in. He said that to preserve your life, you must lose it. And this is ultimately what Christ did in his death on the cross.
The disciples understood what Jesus was doing, and they continued his ministry. Acts begins to recount how they sought out those in the most need and ministered to them all in Christ’s name. They carried on his important work of restoring shalom, of taking the brokenness of this world and finding ways to mend it, to recreate it, to refine it. They poured out everything they had for the sake of others, and, in so doing, they directed all glory to God.
Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death—even death on a cross. Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
The way that Jesus lived challenged the way that the culture he lived in said things ought to be done. Rather than connecting with the strong and seeking after his own well being, Christ sought out the marginalized in society and lowered himself to raise them up. The early church leaders followed his example, too.
Do we have the kind of radical community that cares for one another selflessly? Do we stand out in the world as the generous servants who put the needs of others before our own? Do we challenge cultural norms and expectations in order to seek the welfare of everyone and be a voice for the voiceless?
As Christians, we have been blessed so that we can be a blessing. We have been poured into and have the power of the Holy Spirit in us. And just like the early church, we have the ability to reflect Christ’s vision for shalom in our communities and in the world. We are witnesses. People are watching and wondering what it means to be a Christian. How will we reflect Christ? How will we walk in his footsteps and show others what it looks like to be a part of his kingdom?