Module 09: Jesus the Heavenly Mediator
Module Guide: Acts - The Church formed and witnessing
This pre-read guide is taken from the public domain source "The Analysed Bible in 3 Volumes" by G. Campbell Morgan.
Luke is the author of this book, and, as the opening words indicate, he intended that it should be a companion to his "former treatise," and, indeed, a continuation of the story told therein. The gospels have been principally occupied with the Person of Christ, while they have also declared so much of His doing and teaching as was necessary for the understanding of His work. The book called the Acts of the Apostles is principally occupied with the beginnings of that more perfect unfolding of His teaching, and that mightier operation of His power, consequent upon the accomplishment of the work of the Cross. In the gospels we have seen the per- fection of His Person, but both as to doing and teaching He has been limited, as He Himself said, "But I have a baptism to be baptized with; and how am I straitened till it be accomplished!" (Luke 12:). "I have yet many things to say unto you, but ye cannot bear them now. Howbeit when He, the Spirit of Truth is come. He shall guide you into all the truth" (John 16:12,13).
In this book we see Him in the unstraitened power, resulting from the accomplishment of His exodus, working by the Spirit through the Church; and we hear His voice speaking through the Spirit to the Church; and through the Spirit and the Church to the world. Perhaps the title more correctly indicating the true scope of the book would be, the Beginning of the Doing and Teaching of Christ, by the Spirit, through the Church. It falls into two unequal parts as to quantity, the first being absolutely necessary to an understanding of the second, the second revealing the issues of the events chronicled in the first; the Church formed (1-2:4); the Church witnessing (2:5-28:31).
The Church formed
After referring to his former treatise, and in a few brief sentences epitomizing its contents, Luke first presents us with a last glimpse of the old conditions. Christ was still alone, in that His disciples did not yet understand the real meaning of His mission, or of their own. They inquired as to whether He would now restore the kingdom to Israel, and He corrected the false thinking by declaring Himself to be a new Centre, and that they would be witnesses to Him, not to Israel only, but to the uttermost part of the earth. After His ascension, the disciples waited in obedience to His command, because they were unequal to the carrying on of His work, or the delivery of His message, until the Spirit had been poured out upon them.
The account of the formation of the Church needs little exposition. It is brief and sublime, and yet perfectly simple. In the upper room was a company of units, all together as to bodily association, yet separated from the Lord and from each other. By the mighty fire-baptism of the Holy Spirit, the separated units were fused into one unity. Every individual member was joined to Christ, and so all shared the common life, thus becoming an organism through which Christ was able to carry on His work. In that hour began the new and unlimited ministry of Christ, by the Spirit, in and through His own, for the sake of the world.
The Church witnessing
The second division stands in close relation to the commission of Jesus as recorded in the first. He declared that they should be His witnesses "in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea and Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth." The story of the witnessing of the early Church is told in that order.
The first section gives an account of the witness of the Church in Jerusalem, and is of perpetual interest as it reveals the first things. The first impression produced upon the city was that of amazement, perplexity, and criticism. This was immediately followed by the first message delivered in the power of the outpoured Spirit. In it there are two main facts noticeable. First, Peter's use of Old Testament Scriptures; and secondly, his clear declarations concerning Jesus of Nazareth. He connected the strange happenings of that wonderful day with the foretelling of their own Scriptures, and so made evident the fact that the new was the continuation and consummation of the old. He then proceeded to show that the result had been achieved through the Man of Nazareth, Whom they had rejected. The result of the message was glorious and immediate. It produced conviction, which under instruction, resulted in conversion.
The next section tells the story of the first opposition, showing its cause, its instigators, and its effect. The healing of a man at the Temple gate, Peter distinctly attributed to the immediate power of the risen Christ. Opposition at once followed, caused by this clear testimony of the apostles to the resurrection, and instigated by the priests. For the first time the apostles are seen on their trial. There was no definite charge preferred against them. It was rather a court of inquiry before which they stood, instituted evidently with a desire to find a charge. Peter's answer was remarkable for its splendid daring and absolute definiteness. Being released, the apostles rejoined their own company, and all betook themselves to prayer, asking for boldness. The answer was sudden and startling, the place being shaken, and themselves filled with the Spirit. This was not a second Pentecost; but rather the gracious manifestation of the continued presence of the Spirit in the hour of a grave danger. Their fear was abandoned, and their courage renewed.
If the Name was persecuted from without, within there was the realization of a most delightful fellowship. Under the Lordship of Christ, and having His mind, these early disciples emptied themselves, and served each other. The basis of the first communism was that of the essential spiritual unity of the disciples. They were of one heart and one soul. Its method was that of apostolic distribution, according to the need of individual members. One notable instance is given, that of Barnabas, who in a magnificent venture of faith sold his land, and laid the proceeds at the feet of the apostles.
The story of the judgment of Ananias and Sapphira is that of the first discipline, and utters its solemn warning to all who may be tempted to make an outward profession which is not in keeping with the inward fact and experience. It constitutes an almost overwhelming revelation of the awful atmosphere of purity, which made impossible the presence of hypocrisy and deceit within the borders of the early Church.
At last the opposition flamed into actual persecution. Its inspiration was Sadducean. The new movement was essentially spiritual. The Sadducees were wholly rationalistic. The scene presented at the trial is remarkably vivid. On the one side the most august and representative assembly that Judaism could bring together; on the other a handful of men, not one of their number a man of mark or note, judged by the standard of the time; yet men whose names were to live, and whose work was to abide, while the others have only found a place in human history because of their connection with these despised followers of Jesus. As a piece of human wisdom Gamaliel's advice was excellent, but it was impossible that it should be followed. The claims of Christ are such that they cannot be let alone.
The first organization grew out of murmuring within the fellowship. The appointment of deacons issued in the increase of the Word of God, and the multiplication of the number of the disciples.
From the ranks of the diaconate a Christian martyr first sealed his testimony with his blood. The attack upon him was popular rather than priestly, and this was the first manifestation of such an outbreak. The charge against him was that of having spoken against the Temple, and his defence was an answer thereto. It consisted of a masterly review of the history of the nation, from the call of Abraham to the rejection of Jesus; and was intended to emphasize the fact that God had never been limited or localized, that the Temple was merely a part of His method, which did not exist at the beginning of their history, and may now as surely be dispensed with. Such argument and directness could produce but one result. Convinced that his argument was unanswerable, their rage was stirred against him. The dying Stephen was granted a glorious vision of his Lord. He saw Him standing, and thus fulfilling one aspect of His great priesthood.
The popular outburst against Christianity was felt by the whole Church, and as a result its members were scattered throughout Judaea and Samaria. Of this organized persecution, Saul of Tarsus was the appointed leader. Among the scattered witnesses, Philip, one of the recently chosen deacons, passed to the city of Samaria. The work under his ministry was one of arrest and conviction. A great company believed, among the number Simon the sorcerer, whose history stands as a warning against any attempts to procure the filling of the Spirit for merely selfish purposes. The apostolic visitation of the Samaritans was followed by a tour through the villages.
Then follows the last and largest section, which deals with the witness of the Church toward the uttermost part of the earth. One brief story tells how the evangel came into Africa. Philip acting under direct guidance took a journey of at least thirty miles to declare the Word to an Ethiopian eunuch. The issues are not chronicled, but the fact abides that that eunuch was one of the dark-skinned sons of Africa.
The movement toward Asia commenced with the finding of the instrument. Saul, the appointed prosecutor of the Nazarene sect, while travelling in the interest of that appointment, was, to use his own word, "apprehended"; and henceforth became the Masters "chosen vessel unto the Gentiles." Instructed more perfectly in the Way by Ananias, he received the fulness of the Holy Spirit. The change of attitude in Saul immediately issued in a change of attitude toward him. The persecutor was persecuted. At once the disciples who had feared him became his guardians, and made provision for his escape from the determined attempts that were being made on his life.
At this point the history returns to Peter. He is seen busily occupied in his Master's service. "He went throughout all parts," and stories are told of his visits to Lydda and Joppa. Then commenced the larger movement of the witness to Jesus in connection with the conversion of Cornelius. God by special revelation attracted the first of the "all nations" toward the evangel; and by the same method prepared the first messenger to declare that evangel. In the house of Cornelius, Peter declared that there had come to him a new perception, breaking down his prejudices, and broadening his outlook. As he spoke, the light that had broken out upon the ancient people on the day of Pentecost, flashed forth upon these, and the new converts were baptized by the Holy Ghost; and then as a sign of the essential baptism they were baptized in water. The prejudices of the Hebrew Christians gave way slowly, and Peter in Jerusalem spoke in defence of his action, setting the fact of the Divine visitation against the theories of the critics. It is interesting to notice how amenable they were to the evidences as declared.
Antioch now became the new base of operations for missionary enterprise. The news of an apparently irregular proceeding there, reached the brethren in Jerusalem, and they sent down Barnabas for purposes of investigation. Recognizing the movement as of God, he went to Tarsus to seek Saul, almost assuredly knowing that his special mission was to the Gentiles; and a year's work in Antioch followed under the direction of these two men.
While this movement was in process of initiation, the Church in Jerusalem was passing through a new period of persecution under Herod. Peter was imprisoned, and supernaturally delivered. There is a graphic contrast incidentally revealed between the opposing forces; Herod, sensual and sinning, at last descended even to receiving worship, and was smitten by the Divine judgment; the Word of God grew and multiplied.
The new departure at Antioch, the beginning of which was chronicled in the previous section, now became operative. Paul, the new instrument, was commissioned by the action of the church at Antioch in co-operation with the Spirit of God; and there follows an account of his first labours. Sent out from Antioch, he visited Cyprus, and then from Paphos passed through Perga to Antioch in Pisidia; and on through Iconium and Lystra, to Derbe. Turning back through Lystra, Iconium, Antioch in Pisidia, and Perga, he called at Attalia, and reached Antioch. It is the story of a prevailing ministry accompanied by persecution.
The account of the first Christian council follows. It opened with much desultory discussion, after which two serious contributions resulted in final decision. In connection with this council Peter makes his last appearance in the record, in a weighty utterance in defence of Gentile inclusion. James pronounced judgment, and with remarkable unanimity, action was taken in the interest of this larger work. The separation between Barnabas and Paul is an interesting revelation of the imperfection of the best men. Paul found a new companion in Timothy, and they journeyed together visiting the churches.
The beginning of the second missionary journey was noted for an almost startling experience. The Spirit hurried Paul onward against his inclination. Arrived at the coast, the vision of the man of Macedonia explained that strange constraint of the Spirit, and in answer to that vision the apostle's European ministry commenced. At Philippi, which was a Roman colony, he found himself nearer than ever to the centre of earthly government. The story of the progress through Philippi, Thessalonica, Bergea, Athens, to Corinth, is one of continued triumph, notwithstanding difficulty. In each case testimony was borne, and results followed, and all the while the sense of responsibility and of resource was the inspiration of continuity in service and patience in suffering.
Turning back into Asia, we have in brief compass the chronicle of what in those days must have been long journeys. Proceeding from Corinth to Ephesus, on to Caesarea, to Jerusalem, where he stayed long enough to salute the church, Paul returned to Antioch, and the second missionary journey ended. From here we see him starting upon his third journey, passing first over the old ground, revisiting the newly formed churches, strengthening believers in their faith.
During Paul's absence, Apollos, a Jew by birth, yet trained in all Greek thought, exercised a ministry which was at first limited by the fact that his knowledge of Jesus was only that obtained through the ministry of John. More accurately instructed by Priscilla and Aquila, he passed into Achaia, and making Corinth his centre of operations, did much to strengthen the believers.
The story of the return of Paul to Ephesus is full of interest. He first led into the fuller light the band of men who had been influenced by the ministry of Apollos, and for three months he preached in the synagogue. Then, because of the opposition raised against him, he secured the school of Tyrannus, where he exercised his ministry for two years with wonderful effect. A new opposition manifested itself at length, stirred up by those whose craft was in danger, and resulting in actual riot.
This was followed by a return to Europe, and a three months' stay in Greece, of which there is practically no account given. Paul then set out upon his last long journey through Jerusalem toward Rome. At Troas the account of his converse with the saints is a wonderful revelation of his enthusiasm for Christ. There is a great restlessness manifest in his attitude, which undoubtedly is to be explained by the declaration made in the previous section, "I must also see Rome." As we follow Paul from Troas to Miletus, from Miletus to Tyre, from Tyre to Jerusalem, we find him calm and confident, his face set toward Jerusalem, while yet his spirit was evidently urging him toward Rome.
Arrived at Jerusalem the apostle was received by the elders, and at once rehearsed the story of the wonderful triumphs of the Word among the Gentiles. A strong spirit of opposition to his work manifested itself among the Jewish section of the Christians. In order to pacify this section Paul consented for a moment to a policy of compromise in the matter of the men with a vow. Disturbance followed which led to his ill treatment, and subsequent arrest by the Roman captain. In his great defence before the multitudes the last word he was permitted to utter was the word "Gentiles." Immediately the whole fury of the crowds broke out, and they clamoured for his blood. Thus in a moment of crisis, in loyalty to the call of Christ which came so long ago in the Temple vision, he broke for ever with all the trammels of that system; and from thenceforth to the end, through suffering and through bonds, he fulfilled his high calling as the apostle of freedom, as messenger of that Christ in Whom there is neither Jew nor Greek.
The resourcefulness of Paul is evidenced in his attitude in the midst of these trying circumstances. His appeal as a Roman citizen was the climax of a remarkable threefold method. He spoke in the Greek tongue, and so obtained the opportunity of speech; he ad dressed the Jews in the Hebrew tongue, and so gained their attention; and now claimed the privileges of Roman citizenship. Yet the strain upon him was great, and in this connection is manifest the graciousness of the midnight vision, when the Lord stood by him, and in words which must have been as sweetest music to the heart of His troubled servant said to him, "Be of good cheer"; and by a new commission "so must thou bear witness also at Rome," sealed his own wish, "I must also see Rome." A conspiracy was hatched to encompass his death, but he was rescued. Before Felix, Paul uttered a defence which affords a splendid illustration of the strength and dignity of one who was conscious that he had nothing to hide, and nothing to gain by concealment and distortion of truth. His address was courageous, courteous, and clear. His defence before Agrippa, while eloquent in defence of his own cause, was yet directed toward an attempt to capture the king's conscience and constrain it toward Christ.
The account of the last recorded voyage of the apostle is full of interest. It would seem as though all the forces were combined in an effort to prevent his coming to the city on the seven hills. At last he arrived, and a great day dawned for the Gentile world. In loyalty to his brethren after the flesh, notwithstanding all the opposition they had offered to him in Asia, and the bitterness of the persecution that followed him to Jerusalem, in Rome also he delivered his first message to them. Here also, however, he was compelled to turn from them to the Gentiles, and the last picture we have of him is that of his dwelling in his own hired house, receiving all who came to him, preaching the Kingdom of God, and teaching the things concerning the Lord Jesus Christ.
Thus ends the story of the first things in the history of the Church. The book is evidently a fragment. From the centre, Christ, the lines are seen proceeding in every direction, but the uttermost part of the earth is not reached.
PART A: THE CHURCH FORMED - Acts 1:1-2:4
A.1. The Key Note - The Continuity of Christ - Acts 1:1
- King. Proceeding to Empire
- Servant. Serving and Suffering
- Man. Realizing and Revealing
- God. Manifest
A.2. The Last Glimpse of the Old Conditions - Acts 1:2-1:26
- Christ Alone - 1:2-1:9
- Disciples Alone - 1:10-1:26
A.3. The Creation of the New - Acts 2:1-2:4
- The Units - 2:1-2:3
- The Unity - 2:4
Part B: THE CHURCH WITNESSING - Acts 2:5-28:31
B.1. In Jerusalem - Acts 2:5-7:60
- The First Impression - 2:5-2:13
- The First Message - 2:14-2:47
- The First Opposition - 3:1-4:31
- The First Communism - 4:32-4:37
- The First Discipline - 5:1-5:16
- The First Persecution - 5:17-5:42
- The First Organisation - 6:1-6:7
- The First Martyr - 6:8-7:60
B.2. In Judaea and Samaria - Acts 8:1-8:25
- The Scattered Witnesses - 8:1-8:4
- Samaria - 8:5-8:25
B.3. To the Uttermost Part of the Earth - Acts 8:26-28:31
- Toward Africa - 8:26-8:40
- Toward Asia - 9:1-16:5
- Saul. The Instrument Found - 9:1-9:31
- Peter - 9:32-11:18
- Barnabus and Saul - 11:19-11:30
- Herod - 12:1-12:24
- Paul. The Instrument Commissioned - 12:25-13:4
- Paul. The Instrument Used - 13:5-14:28
- The Council at Jerusalem - 15:1-15:35
- Separation between Barnabus and Paul - 15:36-16:5
- Toward Europe - 16:6-18:18
- In Asia - 18:19-26:32
- Ephesus - 18:19-18:21
- Visitation - 18:22-18:23
- Ephesus - 18:24-19:41
- Three Months in Europe - 20:1-20:6
- Troas - 20:7-20:12
- Journey to Jerusalem - 20:13-21:16
- Jerusalem - 21:17-23:30
- Caeasarea - 23:31-26:32
- In Europe - 27:1-28:31
- The Long Journey - 27:1-28:15
- Rome - 28:16-28:31
Note: To the best of our knowledge we are of the understanding that the above material, being published in 1907 and freely available elsewhere on the internet in various formats, is in the public domain.