In Chapter 28, we are reading from the book of Acts, “Part 2” of Luke’s gospel. Here we are told of the “next steps” of the post-resurrection people of God and the miraculous ways in which the church expanded. Forty days after the resurrection, the promised Holy Spirit is poured out upon the Jewish people at Pentecost. Though they have been scattered amongst the nations and speak in different languages, they are miraculously all able to understand each other when the unifying Spirit of God comes upon them. Amazed and perplexed, they listen as the apostle Peter stands up and begins to speak to them.
“Fellow Israelites, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know. This man was handed over to you by God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross. But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him.
Peter calls the Jewish people to account for the death of Jesus. They killed him, but God has raised him to life. And though the blood of the Messiah is on their hands, they are invited to repent and be baptized in to this new life. How are they to enter this new life? Peter tells them:
“Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.”
This promise is for them, the ones who put their Messiah to death. And it is also for all who are far off, all who the Lord will call. And we see at the end of this chapter just how far the call of God extends; it is always further than we would prefer Him to go.
Three thousand were added to the number of believers that day, and they devoted themselves to living in Christ’s footsteps. This meant practicing radical hospitality, dwelling in community and meeting together daily to worship God. They enjoyed the favor of all the people… all, except the religious leaders. As we saw in the Gospels, it is often the ones in power who are most resistant to the message of Christ. And these powerful men sought to destroy this movement with violence, locking up the apostles, flogging them, and even putting one of the faithful believers, Stephen, to death.
But God’s word prevails. And at the end of this chapter we see one of the most destructive opposing forces, a zealous Jew named Saul, brought to his knees before the One he has been persecuting. This man who cheered as Stephen was stoned to death is now brought into the Kingdom and given the mandate to preach the gospel to the Gentiles. Not only does Saul become a part of the movement he has sought to destroy, but he is a key participant in opening up this Gospel to “all who are far off”, both Jew and Gentile.
It is important to note the tension between this movement of God and those in power. The gospel will always be on the opposite side of the power structures, but this has not and will not keep Christ-followers from attempting to unite the two. It does not take much study of church history to observe how miserably this has failed us, but it is still our temptation. As we read this chapter of The Story, we would do well to dwell upon this quote from Henri Nouwen, from his book In The Name of Jesus:
One of the greatest ironies of the history of Christianity is that its leaders constantly gave in to the temptation of power–political power, military power, economic power, or moral and spiritual power–even though they continued to speak in the name of Jesus, who did not cling to his divine power but emptied himself and became as we are. The temptation to consider power an apt instrument for the proclamation of the Gospel is the greatest of all.
The temptation to consider power an apt instrument for the proclamation of the Gospel is the greatest of all. May we hold this thought in our heart as we seek to live in a culture in which power is praised and even labeled as “Christian”. And may we remember how the gospel spread in the beginning among powerless men and women who trusted in a powerful, gracious God.