The Unfinished Story
Some things are finished. How we ought to rejoice in that blessed fact! When our Savior cried, “It is finished,” all the work he intended to accomplish on earth was finished. Nothing was left undone that he came here to do.
“Nothing, either great or small;
Nothing, sinner, no;
Jesus did it, did it all,
Long, long ago!
When He, from His lofty throne,
Stooped to do and die,
Everything was fully done;
Hearken to His cry -
‘It is finished!’ Yes indeed,
Finished every jot.
Sinner, this is all you need.
Tell me, Is it not?
Weary, working, plodding one,
Why toil you so?
Cease your doing, all was done,
Long, long ago!
Till to Jesus’ work you cling
By a simple faith,
Doing is a deadly thing.
Doing ends in death!
Cast your deadly ‘doing’ down,
Down at Jesus’ feet.
Stand in Him, in Him alone,
Since Christ died and rose again for all God’s elect, righteousness is finished, ― sin is finished, ― atonement is finished, ― satisfaction is finished, ― the law is finished, ― the curse is finished, ― judgment is finished, ― condemnation is finished. Our all-glorious Christ has put away our sins by the sacrifice of himself. “By his own blood he entered in once into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption for us.”
But the work of Christ as our Mediator and Surety is not yet finished. It will not be finished until he has brought all his sheep into the fold of his grace and presents all God’s elect unto the Father, holy, unblameable, and unreproveable in everlasting glory. His work will not be finished until the Father has put all his enemies under his feet, until every knee bows and every tongue confesses, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth, that Jesus Christ is Lord.
It is this ongoing work of the risen Christ in the earth that the Book of Acts describes. In his Gospel narrative Luke told us all that our Lord Jesus Christ “began to do.” Here, in the Book of Acts, he tells us what our risen, exalted Lord and Savior continues to do in the earth, through his church, by the preaching of the gospel, and the power and grace of the Holy Ghost.
“The former treatise have I made, O Theophilus, of all that Jesus began both to do and teach, Until the day in which he was taken up, after that he through the Holy Ghost had given commandments unto the apostles whom he had chosen: To whom also he showed himself alive after his passion by many infallible proofs, being seen of them forty days, and speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God: And, being assembled together with them, commanded them that they should not depart from Jerusalem, but wait for the promise of the Father, which, saith he, ye have heard of me. For John truly baptized with water; but ye shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost not many days hence” (Acts 1:1-5).
The Book of Acts is an inspired history of the apostolic ministry of the early church, covering a period of thirty to thirty-five years. The central theme throughout the book is the ascension and Lordship of the crucified Christ, our Savior and King.
Peter declares, in Acts 5:32, ― “We are his witnesses of these things, and so is also the Holy Ghost, whom God hath given to them that obey him.” Throughout these 28 chapters, we see the mighty work of the ascended Christ in this world, by the gospel through the twofold witness of his church and his Spirit. It was Christ who shed forth the Holy Spirit at Pentecost (). It was Christ who chose the men who were sent forth to preach the gospel and chose their various fields of service.
Our Savior’s last words to his church
before he ascended into heaven were, “Ye shall be witnesses unto me both in
Though the Lord Jesus plainly told them to
carry the gospel to all men, they confined their preaching of the gospel to
Book of Acts tells us much about preaching. Those who were
scattered abroad went everywhere preaching the Word. Philip preached Christ in
The disciples went everywhere preaching the Word; but what does that mean? What did these disciples preach? The words, “preach,” “preached,” and “preaching,” are used thirty-seven times in the Book of Acts. It is not insignificant that every time they are used the subject preached was Jesus Christ and the resurrection. If the Book of Acts is to be taken for our standard (and it is), it must be concluded that unless Christ has been preached no preaching has been done. The Book of Acts demonstrates that our Lord Jesus Christ was the singular subject of preaching in the earliest days of Christianity.
We see our Savior’s direct, sovereign intervention in bringing chosen Gentiles into his kingdom (chap. 10). Peter carried the Gospel to the Jews at Pentecost (ch. 2), and to the Gentiles in the house of Cornelius (ch. 10), and so fulfilled his promise concerning “the keys of the kingdom of heaven” (Mat -19).
If you read the Book of Acts in one sitting, you will find that the history recorded here moves rapidly. It is, as Roger Ellsworth put it, “exhilarating reading,” as our God’s wondrous works are set before us one after the other, in city after city. On one day the Lord graciously added about 3000 souls to his kingdom, all confessing Christ in believer’s baptism (2:41). On another day about 5000, hearing the gospel, believed on the Son of God (4:4).
In Acts 1:8 our Savior tells us plainly what the lifelong work and responsibility of every believer is. ― “Ye shall be witnesses unto me” (Isa. 43:10, 12; 44:8; Lk. 24:48). First, we read, “Ye shall receive power after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you.” ― Without question, this refers to the special, apostolic power that came upon those men chosen to be our Lord's apostles. Yet, it certainly has meaning for us today. No one can ever be saved, serve God, or lay down his life in the cause of Christ as his witness until the life-giving power of the Holy Spirit comes upon him in regeneration. “Salvation is of the Lord!” It is by God's grace alone (Rom. 11:6; Eph. 2:8-9). Then, when the life-giving power of the Holy Spirit comes upon you, the Son of God says, “Ye shall be witnesses unto me.”
A witness is one who accurately and honestly relates to others that which he has heard with his own ears, seen with his own eyes, and felt and experienced in his own heart. He does not relate secondhand information. He declares only what he himself knows to be true (1 John 1:1-3). It is the privilege, responsibility, and honor of every believer to be a witness for Christ in his generation. This is every believer's calling and vocation in this world. Every true Christian is a missionary. Every true believer is an evangelist. Every true follower of Christ is a preacher. Every true child of God is his witness.
The word “witness” is the word from which we get the word “martyr.” Christ's witnesses are his martyrs, people who lay down their lives in the cause of Christ. Go ahead and work your job so that you can pay the expenses of life; but do not forget that your calling, your life's work, is to be his witness. Let nothing interfere with that.
After making that great promise of grace that is given in verse 8, promising to immerse his church and kingdom into his Spirit, promising to give his church the abiding unction and power of the Holy Spirit, the Lord Jesus ascended up into heaven before the eyes of his disciples, as if to say, “I am going to my throne, be assured of my promise.”
Faithful, but Fallible
The very next thing we see in the Book of Acts is the fact that God’s servants, his witnesses in this world, all of them, are sinful, fallible mortals. As someone said, “the best of men are only men at best.”
Acts -26 covers a brief waiting period (just 10 days) between the ascension of Christ and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost. The things that are recorded here were written by Luke by divine inspiration for our learning and admonition. If we are wise, we will lay them to heart.
First, the Lord
Jesus Christ fulfilled every prophecy of the Old Testament Scriptures relating
to his incarnation, life, earthly ministry, crucifixion, resurrection, and
ascension (v. 12). When Luke tells us that the disciples returned from the
mount called Olivet to Jerusalem, he is, almost casually, telling us that
Christ stood upon Mt. Olivet when he ascended to heaven, just like the prophet
Zechariah said he would (Zech. 14:4; Ezek. 11:23). The mount had been divided
in two parts by a great earthquake in the days of Uzziah. Our Lord ascended
from that part of it which was near
Second, the path of
blessedness and usefulness is the path of obedience (vv. 12-14). The disciples
There, in a large upper room, they met together in prayer, united in heart, waiting for the promise of the Holy Spirit. Much needed to be done. They had a message to proclaim. Sinners were perishing. But the Lord had commanded them to wait. So they waited. They were waiting upon the Lord, waiting for God to move, waiting for God to come upon them, waiting for God to open the door before them (Psa. 27:15; 62:5-7; 1Chron. 15:13).
We must obey his Word and wait for his direction. In all things the point of our responsibility is the commandment of God. We must obey him. Obeying his Word, the disciples were filled with the Spirit and greatly used of God for much good.
Third, even the best of men are only men at best (vv. 15-26). So long as we are in this world we will be prone to error and sin. We stray in many ways and err in many things. Even true, faithful servants of God are weak, fallible men of flesh and blood. This is manifest in the fact that Peter led the disciples to choose an apostle God had not chosen.
question, Peter was a faithful man. He had the heart of a true pastor. On other
occasions he acted rashly from bad motives, but not here. His motives were
good. He wanted what was best for the glory of God, the people of God, and the
gospel of God. The sin of Judas had made a vacancy in the apostolic office.
Twelve apostles were originally chosen and ordained. As there were twelve
He humbly recognized the sovereignty of God in all that had happened (v. 16). He understood that the death of Christ was the work of God for the redemption of his people (Acts ; -28). He realized that God had sovereignly overruled the evil deeds of Judas to accomplish his own eternal purpose (Psa. 41:9).
Peter sorrowfully remembered the fall of his former friend and companion (v. 17-19). He said no more about the subject than was necessary. Though he and Judas had been close friends, he bowed to the will of God and honored the judgment of God upon his friend. Peter knew that the only difference between him and Judas was the grace of God (1 Cor. 4:7).
He reverenced and honored the Word of God (v. 20). Peter sincerely wanted to obey the Scriptures. He thought he was doing what God would have him do. He was motivated by an earnest desire for the glory of God. With genuine reverence, he sought the will of God (vv. 21-25).
Peter should have sought the Lord before he appointed Justus and Matthias. Never say to God, “Lord, I am going to do this or that, you choose which you want me to do.” Rather, go to God and say, “What will you have me to do?”
When the lots were cast, Peter led the church to ordain an apostle God had not chosen (v. 26). It was true; the Lord's intention was for his church to have twelve apostles, twelve and only twelve. David's prophecy must be fulfilled. Another apostle must take Judas' place. But, like the others, he must be personally chosen and ordained to the office by Christ himself. The Lord had not chosen Justus or Matthias for this office. He had chosen Paul (1 Cor. 15:8).
How could Peter have made such a mistake? He sought to determine the will of God by casting lots. Like David, he made the mistake of seeking to determine the will of God by seeking the will of the people (1 Chron. 13:1-4). He tried to accomplish the will and work of God by the wisdom and energy of the flesh. As a result, Matthias was chosen to do what God had neither called him to do nor gifted him to do.
Still, Peter was God's appointed leader for that early church. In spite of his many errors, faults, and falls, Peter was God's man, and the people of God rightfully submitted to his rule as their pastor (Heb. 13:7, 17). Though he was a fallible man, he was a faithful man. He preached the gospel of Christ, sought the will of God, lived for the glory of God, and served the people of God. Blessed is that congregation who has been given such a pastor after God's own heart (Jer. ). Faithful pastors do sin. Faithful pastors do err in judgment. Faithful pastors do even err in doctrine. Faithful pastors do make mistakes. Faithful pastors need the prayers and the love of God's people (1 Thess. , 13, 25; Heb. ).
2 records the fulfillment of Joel’s prophecy (Joel 2), of John the Baptist’s
message, and of our Savior’s promise in Acts 1:8. The Jews were gathered in
On this day the Lord Jesus immersed his
church and kingdom into the Holy Spirit. This, Peter tells us, was God’s
declaration that Christ, of whom David was a type, had ascended to his throne
as King in
Acts 6 records the next great event in the history of the early church. Seven deacons were chosen by divine order to take care of the carnal affairs of the church, so that the apostles could give themselves to prayer, study, and preaching. That this was done by divine order is evident from the fact that Paul was later inspired to instruct Timothy (1 Tim. 3) about the men and their work who are ordained as deacons. Though they may, like Stephen and Philip, be teachers and preachers, the purpose of deacons in the local church is to serve the Lord by serving his church and their pastor, relieving the pastor as much as possible of anything that might interfere with his labor in the gospel.
It should be noted that there is no requirement here, or elsewhere in the New Testament, that every local church must have deacons, or that the deacons must be seven in number. Circumstances must determine the need. This local church had about 10,000 members before any deacons were needed. Each local assembly must decide for itself when deacons are needed, how many are needed, and which men in the assembly are gifted for the work of a deacon.
offense of the gospel was so great and persecution became so intense that one
of the first deacons, Stephen, was stoned to death, while preaching the message
of redemption and grace by Christ (7:1-60). Another deacon, Philip (chap. 8),
preached the gospel in
Then, we come to chapter 9 and the conversion of Saul of Tarsus, one of the chief persecutors of Christ, his church, and his gospel. Saul the persecutor was transformed by grace into Paul the angel of God by whom the gospel would be carried to the Gentles.
Paul tells us plainly that his conversion experience was an example and pattern
of all true conversions (1 Tim. ).
Because his conversion is the pattern by which all conversions must be
examined, it is recorded in great detail three times in the Book of Acts
(9:1-22; 22:4-16; 26:9-19). If you and I are saved by the grace of God, we have
experienced the same thing Paul experienced on the
Salvation begins with divine election (Acts ). Saul was saved in time because he was chosen in eternity. Were there no election, there would be no salvation. We would not and could not choose the Lord, but he chose us, and his choice of us made certain that we would choose him (John ). Election is the cause of faith. Faith in Christ is the fruit and evidence of election.
Salvation comes and faith is wrought in the chosen sinner by divine revelation (Acts 9:3; ; 2 Cor. 4:6). Paul was made to see the Lord Jesus Christ and the glory of God in him. He saw how that God could be both just and the Justifier of all who believe, through the substitutionary sacrifice and blood atonement of the Lord Jesus Christ. He saw Christ and heard his voice.
Salvation is the result of a divine call (Acts 9:4-9). Saul of Tarsus heard God's call. It was the irresistible call of grace. All the chosen, redeemed sheep of Christ, at the appointed time of love, hear his voice and follow him. The call of the Spirit that comes to chosen sinners by the preaching of the gospel is always effectual (Psa. 65:4). It causes dead sinners to live and come to Christ. This is the pattern of all true conversions. Do you follow the pattern?
In the 10th chapter the Lord God sent Peter to preach the gospel to Cornelius, a Gentile, and his household. When Cornelius and his friends heard the gospel, the same thing happened in Joppa that happened when he had preached at Jerusalem, God poured out his Spirit there upon the Gentiles, just as he had in Jerusalem on the Day of Pentecost (10:34-38). This was the second and last outpouring of the Holy Spirit. It was done here to confirm to Peter and the Jewish believers with him that God is no respecter of persons, and that his elect are found among all people.
This is exactly the meaning Peter gave of
this, when he got back to
“And as I began to speak, the Holy Ghost fell on them, as on us at the beginning. Then remembered I the word of the Lord, how that he said, John indeed baptized with water; but ye shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost. Forasmuch then as God gave them the like gift as he did unto us, who believed on the Lord Jesus Christ; what was I, that I could withstand God? When they heard these things, they held their peace, and glorified God, saying, Then hath God also to the Gentiles granted repentance unto life.”
Peter and Paul
The Book of Acts primarily moves around the labors of two men: Peter and Paul. The Lord Jesus appeared to Saul of Tarsus to make him “a minister and a witness” (26:16), to send him “far hence unto the Gentiles” (). In Paul’s three great missionary journeys the Lord made his will known to his servant with unmistakable clarity.
Peter was primarily the Apostle to the
Jews. Paul was primarily the Apostle to the Gentiles. He was the last apostle
to be called. It was Paul, not Matthias, who was ordained of God to take Judas’
place. The Book opens with Peter preaching the gospel in
No book has ever been written about missions that compares with the Book of Acts. Those the Lord had chosen were recognized by the local church in which they served him, and were sent out by God through his church, without a mission board, without deputation (going from church to church begging for bread); and wherever God sent them when they preached the gospel, “as many as were ordained to eternal life believed” (13:1-3, 48).
Lord opened the way before his servants, directed them to his elect, prospered
his Word, provided for them, and protected them wherever they went. When Paul
wanted to carry the gospel to
In chapter 17, they entered into
Directed by the Spirit of God, the early
church pursued a specific method. ― They went
everywhere preaching the gospel. They did not go out building schools and
hospitals. “They went everywhere preaching the word.” They went from one
city to another preaching the gospel. “Some believed and some believed not;”
but neither the message nor the method varied.
In Acts 15 Luke gives us the historical
narrative of the conference at
Predestination and Responsibility
When we get to Acts 27 Paul is a prisoner on board a ship
“After long abstinence Paul stood forth in the
midst of them, and said, Sirs, ye should have hearkened unto me, and not have
Later, when he saw the shipmen about to abandon the ship, he told the centurion and the soldiers that if any abandoned the ship they would perish, urging them to believe God, relax, and take some nourishment. (vv. 31-35).
“Paul said to the centurion and to the soldiers, Except these abide in the ship, ye cannot be saved. Then the soldiers cut off the ropes of the boat, and let her fall off. And while the day was coming on, Paul besought them all to take meat, saying, This day is the fourteenth day that ye have tarried and continued fasting, having taken nothing. Wherefore I pray you to take some meat: for this is for your health: for there shall not an hair fall from the head of any of you. And when he had thus spoken, he took bread, and gave thanks to God in presence of them all: and when he had broken it, he began to eat.”
How could Paul say such things after declaring the absolute certainty of God’s purpose and promise? He fully understood that the point of man’s responsibility is the command of God, not the purpose of God. He understood that God has not only ordained the ultimate end of all things, but also all the means by which he will accomplish the end. He understood that every man is responsible to obey God’s command. And he understood that disobedience to the revealed will of God ends in death.
Would you be used of God as these men and women were? Read Acts 27:44, and let me give you one more lesson. “And the rest, some on boards, and some on broken pieces of the ship. And so it came to pass, that they escaped all safe to land.”
God uses raging storms, wrecked ships, broken pieces, and snake
bitten men (28) for the building of his kingdom. Brokenness, humility, and
contrition of heart are essential to usefulness in the
Pray for a broken, contrite heart. God uses broken things (Acts 27:44). Brokenness is the beginning of the life of faith. Brokenness is the root of all true revival in the soul. It is painful. Our flesh opposes it. But we must be broken. We will never break ourselves. We must be broken by grace. Our wills must be broken to God's will. Brokenness is dying to self. It is the response of the renewed heart to Holy Spirit conviction (Zech. ). Because conviction is continual, brokenness is continual.
Brokenness is the spirit of Christ.
Christ, who is God, took upon himself the form of a servant. He willingly gave
up everything for us. As a Servant he had no rights of his own, no home of his
own, no possessions of his own, no will of his own. He
did not have so much as an hour to call his own. When he was reviled, he
reviled not again, but committed himself to God. He went willingly, but with
broken heart, to
“Lord, bend this proud and stiffnecked I,
Help me to bow my head and die,
Beholding Him on
Who bowed His head and died for me!”
Brokenness means having no plans, no time, no possessions, no money, no life of my own. It is to be crucified with Christ. It is a constant yielding of ourselves to God. We must seek it; but only God can give it. If we are his, he will. He receives none, but those whom he breaks. Only God can break us.
he uses us, he will break us. And if he breaks us, he will use us. Paul, along
with his shipwrecked companions, came to shore on an “island called Melita”