At the closing of the book of Acts, Luke beckons us to look back, not only looking at the successes and failures of the church but to look at them through the life of Paul. We see where challenges and struggles with eyes that will not see and ears that will not hear take place. Yet, Paul, in chains, still preaches without hindrance. He continues to say, “Here am I! Send me!” May we face the challenges with the same creed.
Paul has been passed from local official to local official. No one knows what to do with him; they think he is innocent, but he wants to stand before Caesar. This sends Paul into the chaos of the sea, riding a ship from the outskirts of the empire to the center of Rome. But along the way there are problems. Huge storms and a shipwreck show us God’s love and guiding grace among difficult times.
Paul wants to go to Jerusalem to visit the church there; however, on his way, folks keep talking about Paul in chains down in Jerusalem. When he arrives, a riot immediately ensues, forcing the rioters and the government to act in the only powers they know. Paul is showing them and us a different way, where we don't have to worry about what the opposition will do to us. Paul is showing us the way of the kingdom.
Paul walks into Ephesus, and he sees multiple displays of power. First he sees the Spirit of God when some are baptized and they begin speaking in tongues. Then he sees the Spirit when some begin to use the power for their own gain and are quickly humbled. Finally, there’s power of the crowd when they feel Paul’s message of Jesus threatens their city and their God.
Paul goes into a new city; first he goes to the Jews then he ends up with the Greeks. However, when he goes up to Athens, he does not go to the Jewish center but instead to the center of Greekness, Mars Hill, where the learned came and discussed the wisdom of the world. But sometimes gaps show up in the manufactured idols, and statues get made to unknown gods. Paul gives this unknown god a name and tells his story.
Back in Jerusalem the church is hearing all these amazing stories about how the pagan Gentiles are confessing their sins and turning towards the one true God. They are rejoicing until someone in their midst asks if they are circumcised. After all, this one God they are worshiping called for all His followers to be circumcised. What does the church do? Actually maybe the correct question is how does the church handle the issue?
Rhoda and all her Christian friends are praying for Peter. He is imprisoned by a murderous Herod, and suddenly he is miraculously freed from prison. He then goes to his praying friend’s house, knocks on the door, and yells, “Let me in, guys!” Rhoda hears Peter’s voice and thinks it’s a ghost and runs inside. Answer the door, Rhoda.
Peter is sleeping, but then he gets a vision from the Lord. Bacon, lobster, and Christmas ham: Oh my! The Lord looks at Peter and says not to call dirty what the He has made clean. The Lord has made all food good for Peter to eat. But when Peter meets a Roman general, he realizes it’s not about the bacon.
Saul sees his job as one of purity. He is trying to hunt down this new strand of idolatry, those followers of Jesus (this so called “The Way”) and imprison them. His job is done so well that those in “The Way” have left Jerusalem and have begun spreading to the ends of the earth. But his job is not done yet; he chases them to Damascus to imprison them. However, as he is pursuing purity, he discovers that their spreading has already happened.
The story of Stephen in Acts is remarkable. He’s a man who comes to prominence when the disciples needed help with the dishes. This man was a thorn of discomfort to the religious leaders of the temple, and they began to rile up the crowds against him saying Stephen wanted to destroy the temple. He then tells the story of God’s people saying that it has always been about letting go.
Outside the temple there was a gate called Beautiful. This gate was a sign post as to how the kingdom of God was here with the people, and that kingdom was making everything beautiful. However, outside this beautiful gate is a disabled beggar asking for change. This gate is hardly living up to the expectation of its name, but then Peter comes by and gives this beggar life and beauty in a name that is above every name.
The Spirit of God comes like a wind, and all these people begin to speak in other languages and perform other wild acts. The people around are all amazed, and some say that all these people must be day drinking to act so weird. But they were not drunk; they were just acting in love of God our Father.
Jesus is alive! He has been hanging out and teaching the disciples for 40 days now and they ask him a question. Jesus we have seen what you can do the power you have, when will you restore the kingdom to Israel. Jesus then looks at them, quotes Isaiah and says you will be…… and disappears into God’s presence.