Today we open the book of Acts, often titled more expansively in Bibles and church tradition “The Acts of the Apostles.” As we travel the Daily Office lectionary in the days ahead, we will read extensively in those acts for more than two months. What are we to make of Acts, especially since we will spend so much time in it?
We get our best indication of what to make of Acts from its opening sentences. Luke, the author of Acts, introduced this work by referring to his “former book,” what we call the Gospel of Luke. An unfortunate aspect of the structure of our New Testament is the fact that the Gospel of Luke and the book of Acts stand separated from each other by the Gospel of John. John’s Gospel is sublime, but Luke’s Gospel and his Acts should be read consecutively as two parts of a single narrative. The first part, the Gospel, covers what “Jesus began to do and to teach until the day he was taken up into heaven… (Acts 1:1, 2).” The second part, Acts, carries this narrative forward by relating what Jesus did and taught after he was taken up into heaven in and through the apostles and early church, as empowered by the Holy Spirit.
In other words, as we journey through Acts in the next weeks, we have the great privilege of following the actions and teachings of Jesus among the earliest Christians, first in Palestine and then throughout the Mediterranean region, in the generation after his death, resurrection, and ascension. Without Acts, we would not have most of this information at all. In God’s good providence, we have this invaluable record of Jesus’ transformation of people and the world through the power of the Holy Spirit in those early years of the church’s birth and wondrous growth.
As we travel through Acts, though, we should reject antiquarianism in our approach. That is, we should understand we are not merely reading about events 2000 years ago, across a vast distance of time and culture. We are exploring our very beginnings as followers of Jesus! The same Jesus who transformed those earliest believers has done the same for people in every generation since, and he continues to do so in our lives and our children’s lives. We should relish this venture we undertake in Acts! Heeding the exhortation of the prayer book collect for Proper 28, we should “read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest” Acts and all of Holy Scripture. For through his inspired and inspirited Word, incarnate in Jesus and written in Scripture, God transforms and matures us toward perfect faith, hope, and love, for this world and the next.