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SIMPLIFIED STORY (27): The Early Church – Its Message


The Old Testament looked forward to the coming of Jesus, which was climaxed by His death and resurrection. The first four books of the New Testament tell of His birth, His life, His crucifixion and resurrection. In one of them (The Gospel According to Luke), one verse mentions His ascension back to heaven.

Acts of the Apostles, tells the story of the early church for approximately its first thirty-five to forty years. Yet, this is not a comprehensive history of the church. Most of the apostles only appear in a list of their names in Acts 1:13 & 26 where Matthias was added to the eleven in the earlier list.

Acts focuses on the work of two apostles: Peter and Paul. Some call Acts “The Book of Conversions” because it has many stories of conversions – of both Jews and Gentiles. Others refer to it as “The Acts of the Holy Spirit” because many miracles and other manifestations of the Holy Spirit are within its pages.

I like to think of Acts as the Book of Preaching the Gospel, as there are many accounts of preaching and quite a few sermon summaries in this book.

Pentecost

Jesus had told the apostles to wait in Jerusalem until they received power from the Holy Spirit. He had earlier told them not to tell people He was the Christ until after He was raised from the dead.

On Pentecost, the Holy Spirit came because Jesus had ascended into heaven and poured out the Spirit on all flesh. That is when the apostles began to speak clearly and powerfully about who Jesus is and what He had done.

When Peter stood with the Eleven in Acts 2:14ff, he first addressed some mockers who said the Apostles that day were drunk on new wine. Rather than being drunk, the things the people saw and heard were the consequence of God pouring His Spirit upon all flesh, as Joel prophesied (Joel 2:28-32). This quotation begins with God’s promise to send His Spirit and ends by saying “And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (see Acts 2:14-20). Peter developed these points in his sermon.

The body of Peter’s sermon was four points that led to a conclusion: God made the Jesus you crucified both Lord and Christ.

  1. He reminded them of the miracles, wonders and signs God did by Jesus in their presence (Acts 2:22).
  2. David, speaking as a prophet, spoke of Jesus’ resurrection (Acts 2:25-31).
  3. The Apostles testified that they had seen the resurrected Jesus (Acts 2:32).
  4. The resurrected Jesus, who has ascended back to the right hand of God, poured out what they could see and hear that day.

His conclusion was:

Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ. – Acts 2:36

Three thousand accepted his message and were baptized in the name of the Lord that day.

In the Temple

Peter and John, in the name of Jesus, healed a man lame from birth who began to leap and praise God. When a crowd gathered and began to look at the apostles as if they were able to do this of themselves, Peter insisted that it was by the name of Jesus, whom “God has glorified.” They (the people) had handed Jesus over to be crucified – but God raised Him from the dead!

Peter went on to say that he knew they had acted in ignorance, but that God had foretold of this from Moses on, as prophets told of Jesus’ coming. It was in Jesus, Peter said, that the promise made to Abraham in God’s Covenant with him was fulfilled.

Though the Jews crucified Jesus, Peter said that through Him “your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord.” He added that when God raised Jesus, He sent Him to you first to bless you. (Acts 3)

At that point, the Temple Guard arrested Peter and John. Why did they do this? The priests (who had condemned Jesus to die) “were greatly disturbed because the apostles were teaching the people and proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection of the dead” (Acts 4:2). At their hearing before the Sanhedrin, presided over by Annas the High Priest, when asked by what authority they did this, Peter responded:

It is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead that this man stands before you healed…. Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heave given to men by which we must be saved. – Acts 4:10, 12

They commanded the apostles not to speak or teach any more in the name of Jesus – but the church prayed for boldness to continue what they were doing. When they were arrested again, they said,

We must obey God rather than men! The God of our fathers raised Jesus from the dead – whom you had killed by hanging Him on a tree. God exalted Him to His own right hand as Prince and Savior that He might give repentance and forgiveness of sins to Israel. We are witnesses of these things, and so is the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey Him – Acts 5:29-32

On the Road

So it continued. Everywhere, the apostles and their converts proclaimed Jesus as Savior, His death and resurrection. When the persecution became heavy, the people were scattered – which only meant the good news of God’s work in Christ began to spread to other places.

The Holy Spirit directed Philip, an evangelist, to join a chariot on the road to Gaza. There he met a man of Ethiopia who had been to Jerusalem to worship. Returning, he was reading from Isaiah 53 where the prophet spoke of the coming death and resurrection of the Christ. Philip began there and preached Jesus. The Ethiopian desired baptism, after which he went on his way rejoicing. Philip continued preaching in towns and villages until he came to the Roman capital of Palestine, Caesarea. Twenty years later (Acts 21), we find him still there evangelizing that Roman city.

Saul of Tarsus, a zealous opponent of the new teaching, received letters from the council to go to Damascus where he would seek out believers in Jesus to arrest them and bring them to Jerusalem for trial. On the road, a light from heaven shone around him. He fell and heard a voice saying,

“Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” Saul asked, “Who are you, Lord?” The answer came back, “I am Jesus of Nazareth, whom you are persecuting.” This was the resurrected and glorified Christ speaking to him. – Acts 9

Later, as Paul the Apostle, he listed those who had seen the risen Lord and said, “Last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born” (1 Corinthians 15:8).

The message was consistent:

  • To Cornelius, Peter said, “They killed Him by hanging Him on a tree, but God raised Him from the dead on the third day” (Acts 10:40).
  • In Antioch of Pisidia, Paul said, “Though they found no proper ground for a death sentence, they asked Pilate to have Him executed. When they had carried out all that was written about Him, they took Him down from the tree and laid Him in a tomb. But God raised Him from the dead…. We tell you the good news: What God promised our fathers He has fulfilled for us, their children by raising up Jesus” (Acts 13:28-29, 32).
  • The philosophers in Athens thought Paul was preaching two new gods: Jesus and Resurrection. When he spoke at the Areopagus he said, “For He has set a day when He will judge the world with justice by the Man He has appointed. He has give proof of this to all men by raising Him from the dead.” (Acts 17:18, 31).
  • To the elders of the church in Ephesus, Paul said the Lord had given him the “task of testifying to the gospel of God’s grace.” He reminded the Corinthian church of the gospel he had preached: “that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that He was buried, that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures” (1 Corinthians 15:3-4).

Throughout the Book of Acts, they ceased not to teach and preach in the name of Jesus. Everywhere they went the message was the same: Jesus died for our sins, He was buried, but He rose again the third day. He ascended into the heavens where He is at the right hand of God, and He has poured out His Spirit on all who obey Him.

This message brought persecution – but it also brought great joy because in Jesus, God had opened the way of redemption to a fallen, frustrated race.

NEXT: SIMPLIFIED JOURNEY (28): Writings of Paul

PREVIOUS: SIMPLIFIED JOURNEY (26a): Jesus – Death & Resurrection

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