Unstoppable: How the Early Church Rocked Its World
This is the new series we're starting Sunday at The Bridge, and I'm really excited about it!
We're in a time of tremendous transition -- adding new staff, moving into a new building, gearing up for a new ministry year. I can't think of a more important time to look at the Book of Acts than now.
I've done a preliminary outline for the five parts of the series (many thanks to those of you who sent suggestions!). I've got a box of books sitting here next to me -- perhaps I'll publish my reading list later this week.
For now, I wanted to give you the basic outline of the series. Remember, we're attempting to cover 28 chapters in five weeks, so we've got to take a real 30,000-foot view of the themes.
Part One: Acts is really a sequel to Luke's Gospel -- a continuation of the story Luke began to tell in his previous volume. In his first work, we read about Jesus and what he did. He walked and talked with people. He did miracles. He taught. Then he died, and his followers must have thought, "Well, I guess that's the end." Some of them even went back to what they had been doing before Jesus arrived. But an amazing thing happened: three days after he died, Jesus came back to life. They probably wondered what he was going to do next. How do you follow that? Imagine their surprise when he said to them, "You're my sequel; you're going to do the very same things I've been doing." This would mean taking risks, venturing into the great unknown. It might mean rejection, alienation, persecution or even death. They decided to take the risk. The Book of Acts is their story.
Part Two: Jesus knew that the disciples wouldn't be able to do the very same things he had been doing on their own. So, his first command to them was, basically, "Wait. Don't do anything yet. You're likely to just screw it up. So, go to Jerusalem and wait. When the Holy Spirit comes, he'll empower you to do these things. He's been my power source; now he'll be yours." The Holy Spirit moves at his own pace, and waiting has never been easy for people. But as they learned to wait on him and cooperate with his leadership, he faithfully guided them into being the continuation of Jesus' life and ministry.
Part Three: The first thing the Holy Spirit set about doing was to build a community marked by a tremendous sense of unity and oneness -- a community that shared one heartbeat. Physical miracles took place -- like the time the place where they prayed shook or the healing of the lame man at the Temple -- but the bigger miracles were how lives changed and possessions were shared and the poor were cared for. That's what really made the church an unstoppable force. Such unity, however, doesn't come easily. Ego, prejudice, deceit and dissension must be dealt with in order to be the church God intends.
Part Four: The early church found out that when you do the kinds of things Jesus did, you're likely to get the same kind of responses he got. Some people were deeply attracted to this new community. Others were scared of it. Still others felt threatened by it. And those who felt threatened used whatever power they had to persecute and threaten this fledgling group of people known as Christians. How would they respond in the face of opposition? They took their cue from Jesus, who faced down his critics fearlessly. Even when they were arrested and beaten, they stubbornly refused to stop doing what Jesus did.
Part Five: Jesus told his earliest followers that their primary charge was to be witnesses of all he said and did. He told them that they were to take the gospel to Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and the ends of the earth. That commission serves as a kind of outline for the Book of Acts, and we get to read about how they accomplish their mission. Now, Jesus turns to us and says, "Tag! You're it! It's your turn now." We get to write the next chapter of the story -- the ongoing story of Jesus' life and mission, lived out by those who will agree to be used by God and empowered by the Spirit.