The final verse of the final chapter of our series on the book of Acts - a series we called “The Final Chapter” - woohoo - this is a momentous moment!
But just how are we going to conclude 22 months of study?
Yep we’ve spent 22 months working our way through the book of Acts - we started back in January 2021.
To be fair, we did slot in the letter to the Galatian churches where that fitted chronologically but even with that, we’ve been following the story of the very first churches for a long time now.
So how can we fittingly conclude?
with an interactive quiz, of course!
Grab your phones - you know you want to - and let’s see how you do!
Who doesn’t love a good quiz?
This book of Acts, it’s been a pretty long story, right?
I read back through the whole thing in preparation - it’s pretty substantial, pretty epic.
But how long, exactly?
[poll up] If you’ve been a student, you’ll have some sense for how many words go into essays of different sizes; a hundred words.
a thousand words.
ten thousand words, even, perhaps..
So how long is acts, do you think?How many words?
And Millenials, no googling!
Acts covers a lot of ground - mostly while we’ve been following this Paul on his three epic missionary journeys in the back half of the book.
[map] How far do you think he travelled in them approximately?
837 miles from Land’s end at one end of the UK to John ‘o Groats at the other.
24,900 miles around the whole of the earth.
How much ground do think Paul covered? [slido] [activate] 7938mi that’s a lot of ground, right?!
Acts covers lots of different topics, too - but looking back, what do you think the dominant topic was?
Well, that’s a bit of a subjective question - let’s make this more objective.
Data - because I love data!
Common words can help us get a sense for key topics.
So my next question: what do you think the most common word is in the whole book of Acts - apart from the boring ones like “and” or “the”?
Here’s the top 8 by frequency - in alphabetical order, not giving anything away - which is the most frequent?
God, Jesus, Lord, Man, Men, >Paul<, Peter, People.
Paul - with 172 occurrences.
If that feels a bit, odd, putting together God with 162, Lord with 103, Jesus with 76, and Spirit with 64 - there much more God in total, you’ll be pleased to know!
Final question: what kind of story is it?
How would we characterise it?
Not a romance.
Not a period drama.
Clearly not much of a sci-fi.
It’s not a fantasy either - it’s history, but not simply history.
As we close out the book of Acts today, I want to persuade you that it’s fundamentally a growth story.
A growth story.
Now you might be thinking what do you mean, a growth story.
Well, let me give you an example: I had the privilege of being a part of a growth story earlier in my career before getting into this church thing.
I - and my wife Rachael - got to be a part of the really early days of Amazon.
Amazon growth story: we didn’t join right at day one, where Jeff was still boxing up books and posting them himself - but it was still early days for the company.
When I joined, Amazon only sold books in the UK.
I was a part of launching their music store where, at the time, you could buy this - yes, a shiny spinning disc containing music, youngsters!
Used to be all the rage.
Amazon’s website ran on just a few computers - four, if I remember right, and they’d just launched their very first app which might seem quite modern - but it was for the Palm Pilot if you are old enough to remember what one of those even is.
I saw the stock price go from about $60 when we joined to over $300 (via something like $6 on the worst day which was a bit crazy) over the ten plus years I worked there - and since then it’s mostly been up and to the right.
Sales went from thousands to millions to billions.
They’ve gone from totally insignificant to a big part of most people’s everyday life - most ways you look at it, that’s a growth story.
Acts isn’t exactly like that, obviously!
No stock price or set of huge warehouses to point to.
But fundamentally Acts is a growth story.
Acts is a growth story.
A Spirit-empowered, Spirit-directed growth story.
Why does that matter?
Because we, too, are part of this same growth story.
But I’m getting ahead of myself.
It’s a growth story - I want to highlight some things about this growth we’ve followed through the book of Acts before we reflect on what it means for us.
First, it’s Spirit-empowered growth.
If we were to rewind to the beginning of the book we’d find 120 disheartened, confused disciples cowering in a room.
They’ve seen and heard from the resurrected Jesus but now he’s left again.
That’s not a growth story!
But he left, telling them to wait, wait for a gift promised by God the father, wait until they have received power.
Right away, see this is not a growth story built on clever plans set out by those disciples, not a carefully thought-through strategy, not the result of human ingenuity leading to a better product.
The disciples weren’t going anywhere by themselves.
In fact, it feels pretty crazy to me that Jesus puts these disciples centre stage rather than taking the lead himself now he’s risen.
That feels like a major risk given how flaky they’ve been, how quick they were to desert him when trouble came, how slow they were to believe him when he rose.
But Jesus chooses to write this growth story with his disciples centre stage.
Well, the growth starts with God keeping his promise, with the Holy Spirit poured out on those disciples on the day of Pentecost.
And that very day, about three thousand were added to their number - Acts 2:41 - now that’s growth!
The disciples are centre-stage: God isn’t going around them, working apart from them.
But fundamentally, God himself is the power behind them - within them: transforming and empowering the disciples, establishing the church, driving and directing its spread.
The very first verse in the book underlines this - Luke, our writer, says that in his previous book, the Gospel of Luke, he wrote about all that Jesus began to do and teach.
The implication there is that Jesus is still doing, still teaching.
We call this book Acts, short for “Acts of the Apostles”, that is, Jesus’ first followers - but perhaps it’d be better to call it Acts of God.
Jesus is still doing and teaching - through the Holy Spirit within his disciples.
That means God deserves all the honour, glory, and praise for what happens.
It’s a Spirit-empowered growth story.
But it’s not just Spirit-empowered - it’s Spirit-directed.
Growth comes in different flavours, different kinds, different dimensions.
Like me: there’s this up/down height sort of growth.
Not a lot of progress there in these last few years.
Then there’s this in/out sort of growth where I’m finding it much easier to make some progress - at least in one direction!
This growth story in Acts is about growth in terms of numbers - absolutely.
Luke, our author, has lots of numbers for us through the book.
But it’s also about other kinds of growth.
There’s growth across borders - we see the good news about Jesus spreading out, as Acts 1:8 predicts from us, from the city of Jerusalem where everything started to Judea and Samaria, the surrounding regions, and from there, on towards the “ends of the earth”.
And the Spirit directs this - if you know the story, think of Paul’s vision of the man from Macedonia leading him in a new direction after the Spirit held him back from other areas.
But more important, more emphasised, than growth across geographic borders is the growth across cultural boundaries - most critically the growth across the Jew/Gentile cultural boundary.
If you think about where the emphasis is in Luke’s writings, what gets the most attention, the biggest word-count - particularly if you think about what Luke takes as worth repeating, it’s this boundary-crossing that gets the emphasis.
Peter’s story about the Spirit leading him into the home of a Gentile - a non-Jew - to share the message about Jesus, leading him across what was a “hard” cultural boundary is hugely significant - and we can see that because the whole thing is repeated for us: in chapter 10, Luke narrates it happening, and then in chapter 11, we get to watch Peter re-telling it, explaining his actions to others because they were so controversial - because he was crossing such a huge boundary
That’s like a copy/paste.
Only without actually being able to copy and paste.
That’s major emphasis.
See, back in these days, Luke’s not sat on his laptop in Word, typing away.
It’s not just ctrl-C ctrl-V and there’s the story again.