Read: Acts 9:1-19
And falling to the ground he heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” (Acts 9:4 ESV)
Saul was on his way to arrest Christians in Damascus. He was hoping to stop the followers of Jesus from spreading their message beyond Jerusalem. But everything changed for him when Jesus intervened.
A blinding light stopped him in tracks. And Jesus Christ spoke to the young Pharisee, charging him with carrying on the very same message he had set out to destroy. Saul was blinded by the light, but carried out the instructions of The Lord and was healed.
Saul’s conversion story is incredible. He had an amazing encounter with Jesus—someone whom Saul believed to be dead. But the risen Christ appeared to Saul on the road. And though his journey took him to the same destination his course was forever changed the day that Saul encountered the powerful truth of Jesus.
Read: Acts 8:4-8
Philip went down to the city of Samaria and proclaimed to them the Christ. (Acts 8:5 ESV)
After Stephen’s brutal murder Christians came under very heavy persecution in Jerusalem. Saul rose up among the Pharisees and led the charge, arresting people in droves and dragging them off to prison and death. In many ways the death of Stephen was a catalyst for the spread of Christianity.
Philip, like many others, fled from the persecutors. He travelled to Samaria and began to preach the Gospel. Lives were being impacted by the truth of his message, because lives are always changed by the power of the Gospel.
But what if Philip had not preached in Samaria? What if he had merely tried to blend in to their culture, avoiding persecution and confrontation altogether?
Philip, like Stephen, like Jesus, and like so many since—simply refused to stay silent about the hopeful message of the Gospel. Philip preached the truth of the Word of God and it changed a city. Where will God use you to declare and demonstrate His love for those around you?
Read: Acts 7:51-60
But he, full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. And he said, “Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.” (Acts 7:55, 56 ESV)
Stephen preached the truth of Christ in Jerusalem and was shaking up the status quo. Grace and power followed his message. Lives were being changed. The religious elite were not happy—Jesus was gone but his followers continued to proclaim his life and message. They drug Stephen to court, trumped up false charges, and asked him to defend himself.
Instead of defending himself Stephen preached his final sermon. It was an exegetical masterpiece as he wound his way through the Torah, Prophets, and Psalms to declare Jesus as the promised Messiah. He delivered solid truth, unflinchingly, to a mob eager for blood. And it was more than they could handle.
As he drew near to the end of his message he looked up, perhaps for a measure of reassurance and comfort. The power of the Holy Spirit came upon him and he had a supernatural vision of God and Christ there with him. The declaration of Jesus’ position was more than the ruling authorities could handle.
Not only was Stephen obviously not going to be shut up, but here he was publicly declaring Jesus alive and well. He was stating outright their powerlessness. They were enraged. They attacked and killed him, stoning him to death.
The truth so offended these leaders that they were willing to forsake everything they pretended to serve in order to justify themselves. The truth of Jesus forces a reckoning. Some will accept it, many will reject it. Stephen gazed into Heaven and saw with supernatural eyes the wonders of God. I pray that the truth of Christ would prompt us all to do a little Heaven-gazing.
Read: Acts 6:8-15
And Stephen, full of grace and power, was doing great wonders and signs among the people. (Acts 6:8 ESV)
Jesus’ followers are supposed to be like Stephen. We are supposed to be people who are full of grace and power. People who do great wonders and signs.
Stephen was so impactful as he ministered in the name of Jesus that it bewildered the extremely religious Jewish leadership. So much so that, just as they had done to Jesus, they decided to have Stephen killed. They concocted a phony trial with false witnesses, and they besmeared his reputation through villainous slander.
Stephen remained full of grace throughout. And it was only by the power of God that he withstood their torments. In fact, the whole ordeal only served to better illuminate the power of God at work in Stephen’s life.
Today when Christians talk about God’s power they are often looking for something supernatural or miraculous. I believe those things can and do happen, but perhaps more often the power of God works in His followers to sustain them through difficulty. Grace and power are fully at work when a lost sinner is made to shine like a saved saint.
Read: Acts 3:11-26
God, having raised up his servant, sent him to you first, to bless you by turning every one of you from your wickedness. (Acts 3:26 ESV)
Peter didn’t pull any punches during his first sermon. He was letting them have it. Both barrels. He recounted the mission of Christ, the life of Christ, the heritage, and the qualification. He turned their murderous actions around on them.
“Jesus was sent to you first!” he declared.
He was not wrong. Jesus showed up in the Judea wilderness performing miracles and preaching repentance. He went to God’s people, the Jews, first. Many followed him, while many more rejected him outright.
What if Jesus had come to you first? How do you think you would have responded? How we respond to others now is a direct reflection of our belief about Jesus. Let’s strive to serve Jesus by serving each other.
Read: Acts 2
“Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know— this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it.” (Acts 2:22-24 ESV)
By all human accounts and logic, it would seem as though Jesus left the future of human destiny in the hands of eleven men. It would seem. And certainly they each played an epic part. But the apostles are neither the story nor the point of the story—though each were proclaimers of the story.
Peter was a fisherman, who became a follower, who became a leader. He made the eventual transition from fishmonger to fisher-of-men. But there were many bumps on his journey.
Peter made numerous mistakes. He was brash. He was stubborn and dense. He was both an agitator and a coward, a brawler and betrayer. Peter was a tumultuous wreck of a man with only one notable trait among a laundry list of scruples. Peter loved Jesus.
On the day that Luke recorded in the second chapter of Acts, a day often referred to as the Day of Pentecost, Peter changed. Gone was the fumbling disciple and scrambling coward. Peter arose a leader. A preacher. The proclaimer.
Jesus had promised a power would come. And while in person God was with them in limited form, on the Day of Pentecost God revealed himself in a new way. It changed everything. The Holy Spirit emboldened, encouraged, and equipped a once-dull fisherman to stand up before a crowd, in a city full of people that had just murdered his master, and challenge the status quo.
Peter preached Jesus, and thousands responded.
Read: Acts 1:6-11
While he blessed them, he parted from them and was carried up into heaven. (Luke 24:51 ESV)
And when he had said these things, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. (Acts 1:9 ESV)
So then the Lord Jesus, after he had spoken to them, was taken up into heaven and sat down at the right hand of God. (Mark 16:19 ESV)
After years of traveling together, teaching, healing, preaching, and working. Jesus was gone. He left. Even death had not kept him from them, his disciples. Impossibly, he had returned to spend another month with them. But as the month drew to an end he encouraged and blessed them one more time, and was then taken away into the heavens. He ascended.
A lot of belief systems talk about an ascension. They talk about the possibility of you or I making our mark on this life in such a way as to gain unfathomable understanding. That through doing so we would ascend. Ascension in these religions is about the power of a person to overcome their limitations. It is a self-serving action devoid of a larger interpersonal purpose.
Jesus ascension was real. He was there, and then he was pulled away into Heaven. People saw it, they talked about it, they believed it, they wrote about it. It happened. It was a true historical event that actually took place.
Jesus didn’t ascend under his power, but by the power of the God the Father. He was called away to again be in the presence of God. He went ahead to prepare an eternal home for his followers. And I believe that one day, just as he ascended, he will descend again to gather his people to himself. Jesus ascended not for personal gain, but for providential purpose. Just as he gave himself in life, and in death, he even now he gives of himself in eternity.
He presented himself alive to them after his suffering by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God. (Acts 1:3 ESV)
Having been part of university life for nearly half of my life there are certain aspects of collegiate culture that are almost second nature to me. Cramming is something that I hear about all the time, it’s not usually called that anymore, it’s usually referred to as an “all-nighter” these days, but they mean the same. Both are when someone stays up all night before a big test to spend time studying.
Jesus allowed his disciples one final cram session. It was a 40 day all-nighter. One last shot for them to learn and latch on to the principles and passion that would be needed to steer the burgeoning Christian movement.
The resurrection changed things for them. It invited revelation and understanding surrounding the three previous years the eleven had spent in community with Jesus. It have context for all that Jesus had talked about. And it pushed them out the door toward their final lifelong test.
Jesus had one more season to train, teach, and mentor. He took a little over a month to do it. They learned from the master himself. The test was coming!
Read: Luke 24:44-50
You are witnesses of these things. (Luke 24:48 ESV)
Jesus appeared to the eleven on Mount Olivet. During his final instruction before he left he recounted the purpose for which he had came. He reiterated the part of the disciples to come. And finally, he stressed to them the uniqueness of their calling.
Many people experienced Jesus during the numerous public appearances of his ministry. An unknown number were the recipients of miracles at his hands. But only a handful of men were chosen to be called witnesses.
They watched, saw, and partook in Christ’s ministry in ways that were unique to their experience. They received personal instruction and encouragement from Jesus. And when the torch was passed they were responsible for all that they had witnessed.
What have you witnessed?