There are 6 things for handling a book of narrative.
1 Stated Purpose
There is a link between the two books, the Gospel of Luke & Acts. The Gospel is about all that Jesus began to do and to teach. Acts is about everything that Jesus continued to do and to teach. It is called the Acts of the Apostles or the Acts of the Holy Spirit. Acts 1:1 tells us it’s about the Acts of the Lord Jesus – the continuing acts of the Lord Jesus. Jesus began in Luke’s Gospel and continues here in Acts.
Alongside Luke’s stated purpose in Acts 1:1 is Jesus’ stated purpose in Acts 1:7-8: the move from the Jewish to the Gentile in 3 movements, concentric circles: at the heart of it is Jerusalem, then the surrounding area, Judea and Samaria, and then the ends of the earth. More than that, it is the re-establishment of God’s Kingdom, first of all, in God’s capital city, in Jerusalem, and then in the re-united People of God – Judea & Samaria.
Acts teaches how the early Christians crystallize & formulated the Gospel as they reached out to new kinds of people groups.
The last stated purpose is, having crystallized the Gospel, it is then handed over to the rest of us (Acts 28:30-31). You and I are Acts Chapter 29! We are the continuing story.
In summary, the stated purpose: A WORLDWIDE EVANGELISTIC GOSPEL.
2 Repeated Theme
The Gospel is growing!
First of all to the first Christians in Jerusalem; then to the first half-Jewish Christians, the Samaritans; then to the first non-Jewish, Gentile Christians; then to the wider non-Jewish world; then to wider Gentile acceptance & increased Jewish hostility and finally, the Gospel reaches Rome.
3 Principal Characters
Peter: Chapters 1 to 15.
The question Peter is there to answer: who can be a Christian? Or, how does the Gospel spread from Jew to Gentile?
And Peter is key on 3 occasions: Acts 2 Pentecost Sunday, Peter is the preacher when the first Jews were converted; Acts 8, he’s the witness when the first Samaritans, the first half-Jews were converted; Acts 10, Peter was there when the first Gentiles were converted.
The answer is: being a Christian means being FREE!
Second main character is Paul: Chapters 9-28. There is an overlap between Peter and Paul. Luke is telling that they are doing the same thing.
Paul answers the question: how do we reach the world for Christ? How do we manage to get this Gospel into the minds of complete pagans? Or, how does the Gospel travel from Jerusalem to Rome? Not just physically, but intellectually, spiritually, culturally? How does the Gospel communicate?
Firstly, the Gospel spreads by word of mouth (Acts 18:5-8).
The Gospel has flexible methods but a fixed message.
Christians think through their evangelism – looking to and depending on the Holy Spirit who will give what to say and how to say it (Mt 10:19,20).
Second lesson from Paul: Being a Christian will inevitably involve suffering (Acts 18:12-17).
4 God’s Activity
The work of the Holy Spirit who is mentioned 52 times in Acts. His work occurs in clusters: commissioning of the apostles, Pentecost, choosing leaders, 3 great Gospel breakthroughs – Jews, Samaritans, Gentiles.
Lesson: The Holy Spirit in Acts pushes the church outwards, getting the church looking and moving outwards.
5 Stressed Teaching
There are 19 major speeches - 20% of Acts is speech.
The Gospel message communicated to the Jews: You killed Him, God raised Him, We saw Him (Acts 3:15; Acts 5:29-32). What is required? Repentance & faith. What is given? Forgiveness of sins & the Holy Spirit.
To the Gentile: They killed Him, God raised Him, We saw Him
Our message today: They killed Him, God raised Him, They saw Him.
Luke structures Acts to show that Peter’s message to the Jews, is the same as his message to the Gentiles, which is the same as Paul’s message to the Gentiles, which is the same as Paul’s message to the Jews. They are profoundly of one mind over the Gospel.
6 Biblical Setting
Luke is telling us this is not the first volume of the history of the church, but this is the continuing work of Jesus, fulfills the promises he made and sends people out (Acts 1:1). He’s selected his material very carefully, he’s written with a purpose: not just to inform you but to teach & equip you, not about the geography of the ancient world, but about the Gospel - and how to communicate the Gospel.
The Gospel of Luke and the book of Acts are one book. Luke links forward. Acts 1:1 links back just like Luke 24 links forward.
There is not only a historical unity, there is a unity in God’s activity. When Jesus called the 12 disciples, he is reconstituting Israel by remaking the people of God with the 12 apostles. In the Last Supper, he reconstitutes the Passover. His death is remaking the Exodus (Luke 9:51) – Jesus knew that his exodus was coming. Jesus remakes Pentecost – the day in the Jewish calendar when they remember the giving of the Law. He remakes Sinai.