Acts 1 – The Acts of the …

to-the-ends-of-the-earth-300x225

I have often wondered why the ‘Acts of the Apostles’ is called ‘The Acts of the Apostles’. In my mind it is not the best name for the book, it is not the most accurate name. I think if I were able to change the name I would make it ‘The Acts of the Holy Spirit’.  The opening verses of Acts are about Jesus ascending into heaven and the promise of the coming of the Holy Spirit.  

For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with[b] the Holy Spirit.” …  After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight. (Acts 1:5,9)

The book of Acts has no one human as its main character we see a lot of Peter in the first half and a lot of Paul in the second half.  There are many others who we hear about in the book of Acts. The one person present throughout is the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is moving and working in the lives of the early church as the good news starts to spread.

Many scholars think that Luke the writer of the Gospel of Luke and the book of Acts, intended to write a third book, to make a trilogy but perhaps died before he was able. His first book, Luke’s Gospel, starts in Judea and in the town of Bethlehem. We see Jesus travel and preach in Galilee. Eventually, Jesus arrives in Jerusalem the capital and the heart of Israel.  Jesus dies on the cross and on the third day rises again. The Gospel of Luke ends with the ascension of Jesus in Jerusalem. The book of Acts picks up in the same place, in Jerusalem. And from there the coming of the Holy Spirit the good news spreads around the Mediterranean and ends up in the capital and centre of the known world Rome.  So we have in the Gospel of Luke the coming good news which starts in the countryside and ends in the capital of Israel a small country in the Roman empire and then in the book of Acts we have the good news spread from the capital of Israel across  much of the Roman empire ending up in the capital Rome.  The third book would see the message ripple further from Jerusalem and Rome all the way to ends of the earth. Perhaps that third book wasn’t written because we are living that book. We are spreading the Good news of Jesus to ends of the earth, we are spreading the Good news into every community.

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 (Acts 1:8)

 

Acts 8 – The Outsider and the Good News

maxresdefault

God tells Philip to travel along a certain road and so Philip sets off and he meets an Ethiopian eunuch in a chariot reading a piece of scripture aloud and Phillip feels that he must go and speak to this stranger, and he asks if he understands what he is reading, the guy says he doesn’t and so Philip explains the gospel message and the stranger understands and believes, he sees some water asks to be baptised, and so Philip baptised him.  We are told that they never see each other again. (Acts 8:26-end)

The Ethiopian eunuch has been in Jerusalem, he was in effect an international diplomat for the royal court of the region we call Ethiopia.  He would have been made a eunuch so that he could advise the Queen in private without any restrictions. We can see that he is a God-fearing man because he is reading the Jewish scriptures, the old testament and had been to Jerusalem to worship God.  The trouble was being a eunuch he was forbidden from taking part in the any Temple rituals (lev 21:20) and was not allowed to convert to Judaism and join the community of Israel

No one who has been emasculated by crushing or cutting may enter the assembly of the Lord. (Deut 23:1).

Someone who believed in God and yet was kept right on the fringe and so was worshipping God as an outsider.  We are told the Eunuch is reading from the prophet Isaiah chapter 53:

“Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter,

   and like a lamb silent before its shearer,

       so he does not open his mouth.

In his humiliation justice was denied him.

   Who can describe his generation?

       For his life is taken away from the earth.” (Acts 8:32-33, Isaiah 53:7-8)

Which we say points to Jesus.  But the really interesting thing is why the Ethiopian eunuch reading this passage.  I suspect it is a passage he has read time and time again one that he would keep coming back to.  And that’s because of what happens after Isaiah talks of this lamb being led to the slaughter. We see what eunuch is looking forward to 3 chapters later in Isaiah 56 where it says:

For this is what the Lord says:

“To the eunuchs who keep my Sabbaths,

   who choose what pleases me

   and hold fast to my covenant—

 to them I will give within my temple and its walls

   a memorial and a name

   better than sons and daughters;

I will give them an everlasting name

   that will endure forever. (Isaiah 56:4-5)

Here is a time when the eunuch would not be kept on the outside when outsiders would gain the most prominent position.  This is what the Gospel message is all about, good news for the outsider, good news to those whom society rejects. And so Phillip shows the Ethiopian eunuch that Jesus is the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.  That through Jesus’ death and resurrection those whom society rejects, those on the outside are brought into the family of God, and in God’s eyes sit right in the centre.

So Ethiopian eunuch immediately wants to be baptised, he has heard the good news, the time Isaiah look forward to has arrived, he is an outsider no longer.