“Learning from the Past: How the Church Changed the World”
On May 25, 1977 a man named George Lucas released his first hit movie that would become a worldwide pop culture phenomenon. That movie was called, “Star Wars.” In 1981 they added the strange subtitle of “Episode IV: A New Hope.” It seemed strange to subtitle the first movie episode IV, but this revealed the creative genius of George Lucas. He was first going to captivate the world with a story that would take 3 movies to complete. Then, 22 years after the first movie was released Lucas presented the first of three prequel movies to give the back story to a young boy named Anakim Skywalker who would later be known as the dreaded villain, Darth Vader in the original three Star Wars movies.
Now, just this past December Lucas presented a new Star Wars Movie that goes into the future years after the death of Darth Vader. This movie franchise is known all over the world and has shaped culture in amazing ways for the last 39 years. It is a story that captures the imaginations of millions perhaps billions of people.
However, at the end of the day, it doesn’t change your life. It adds a bit of entertainment, but you leave the same as before you watched it.
Back in the year 62 AD, a man named Luke, a physician by trade, released a letter to a friend names Theophilus which has also been a worldwide phenomenon even before pop culture existed. The letter was called, “The Gospel According to Luke.”
In Luke’s account of the Gospel of Jesus Christ he presented the truth that the gospel is for all, Jews & Gentiles. The account of the life, ministry, and teaching of Christ that Luke gave was so powerful and skillfully told that one year later, in 63 AD he wrote a sequel letter entitled, “The Acts of the Apostles.” This letter had an even more profound impact on the world because it provides a detailed and accurate history of the spread of Christianity as the early church obeyed the command of Christ to go into all the world and preach the Gospel. In this letter Luke recorded for Theophilus, and for us, a clear picture of the early church – its successes, its struggles, and its failures so that we can learn from them as we continue to carry out the command of Christ that was left for every person who would embrace the title, “Christian.”
Last week Phil preached a message from chapter 2 of the book of Acts as he challenged us to follow in the footsteps of this first church in Jerusalem – a church best described as “A Radically Changed Community of People that Could not be Ignored.” The early followers of Christ certainly lived up to that description. In Acts 17: 6 we see the reputation of the church when it reached the city of Thessalonica (4,500 Kilometers from Jerusalem). The men of the City said, “These men who have turned the world upside down have come here also.”
Last Sunday as we experienced and celebrated the birth of Kitwe Church we studied Acts 2 we saw the birth of the Church in Jerusalem because we also want to be a radically changed community of people that cannot be ignored in our world. We must be the next generation to continue telling the original story of Jesus Christ coming to redeem a sinful world from the power and penalty of sin. We must continue looking to the original church as an example of how to conduct ourselves in this world, and with our lives we must write the next chapter of the story as we obey the command of Christ in Matthew 28: 18-20.
“All Authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
With that goal in mind, as we now seek to honor Christ by organizing Kitwe Church to be obedient to the Lord and influential in this world, I would like us to spend the next several weeks learning from the church in Acts. The goal for today’s message is to set the stage for all that will be coming in the future weeks. Today we want to get a good understanding of the background of this letter that provides so much of what we know to be the history of the early church.
1. Background of this Letter
Author – Luke
Both the gospel of Luke and the book of Acts are dedicated to the same individual, Theophilus. In the preface, the author also refers to a “former treatise,” which is assumed to be a reference to the gospel of Luke.The similarity of the book of Acts in language and style to the gospel of Luke is very obvious. So, who is the author?
Well, the use of specific medical terms in both the book of Acts and the gospel of Luke. This leaves the very strong impression that the writer was familiar with medicine. Paul’s reference to Luke as the “beloved physician” seems to indicate that Luke is the most likely author. This is further strengthened by the “we” sections of the book of Acts because that points to one of the companions of Paul as the author.
There has been a universal acceptance that Luke is the author of the book of Acts since the second century. So, let’s learn more about Luke, the Author of Acts.
A. Character of the Author – Scripture and tradition provide some insight into his character.
There is much we know about Luke from the scriptural evidence. His ethnic background appears to be that of a Gentile (Col. 4:14). As such he is the only Gentile author of scripture. His profession was a physician (Col. 4:14). Yet, even if Paul had not stated this we might have deduced it from Luke’s writings.His service: He was a fellow-laborer with Paul (Philemon 1:24)His strength: The outstanding attribute of his life is that he was faithful! (2 Tim 4:11)
When it comes to traditional evidence there is not as much we know for sure. Perhaps because of the lack of direct Scriptural material on the life of Luke, many traditions have sprung up concerning his life. However, these speculations are never as strong as scripture. Perhaps some, or even all, of these are true.
a. He has been associated as one of the seventy sent out by Jesus (Luke 10:1, 17)
b. He has been identified as one of the Greeks who came seeking the Lord. (John 12:20).
c. He has been declared to be the unnamed companion of Cleopas (Luke 24:13).
d. Some have thought that he had served as a ship’s doctor because of his use of nautical terminology on the voyage to Rome.
e. Others have claimed he was “the brother” of Titus (2 Cor. 8:18). “Family modesty” explains why Titus is never named in the book of Acts.
f. Some scholars have suggested that the “an” ending on his name (Lukan) indicates that he was a freed man. He had once been a slave.
1) The book is addressed to “Theophilus,” however there are two views as to who Theophilus is.
a. The first view is that “Theophilus” is a generic word or title. The name literally means “god lover.” This view sees the book as addressed to anyone who loves God.
b. The second view is that Theophilus is an actual person This is supported by Luke’s use of the term “most excellent Theophilus” in Luke 1:3. Every other time this address is only used in Scripture it has reference to actual men ( Felix – Acts 23:26, 24:3, Festus – Acts 26:25). This is what I personally believe. Let me explain why.
2) Theophilus appears to be a high ranking official of the Roman Government as indicated by the title “most excellent.” In the New Testament this term is only used of Roman rulers (Acts 23:26; 24:3; 26:25).
3) Theophilus was probably Luke’s patron, who underwrote the expenses of production and secured a “reading circle” for the first reading of the book.
4) Obviously, however, the book was intended for a broader audience than Theophilus alone.
2. Purpose of this Letter
1. The stated purpose for the writing of the book of Acts was for the continued instruction of Theoplilus in the Christian life.
2. Two other suggestions have been given for the composition of the book of Acts.
a. It was written to evangelize the lost. The books of Luke and Acts are a unit and while the evangelistic emphasis is strong in the book of Acts, we do not find that the same emphasis in the gospel of Luke.
b. It was written as a defense to the Roman Empire to demonstrate that Christianity was not a threat to Rome. In support of this view is the fact that one-fourth of the book deals with the trials of the apostle Paul. Every time Christianity faces the Roman government, a Roman official declares the Christians have done nothing illegal.
1) Gallio (Acts 18:14-17)
2) Ephesian Town Clerk (Acts 19:37)
3) Claudius Lycias (Acts 23:19)
4) Felix (Acts 24:25)
5) Festus (Acts 25:19)
6) Agrippa (Acts 26:32)
3. Outline of this Letter (Acts 1:8)
Part 1: The Witness in Jerusalem (1:1-8:4)
- 1. The Power of the Church 1:1-2:47
- 2. The Progress of the Church 3:1-8:4
Part 2: The Witness in Judea & Samaria (8:5-12:25)
- 1. The Witness of Philip 8:5-40
- 2. The Conversion of Saul 9:1-31
- 3. The Witness of Peter 9:32-11:18
- 4. The Witness of the Early Church 11:19-12:25
Part 3: The Witness to the End of the Earth (13:1-28:31)
- 1. The First Missionary Journey 13:1-14:28
- 2. The Jerusalem Council 15:1-35
- 3. The Second Missionary Journey 15:36-18:22
- 4. The Third Missionary Journey 18:23-21:16
- 5. The Trip to Rome 21:17-28:31