On Mission With the Triune God
By David Schrock–
Luke’s second book is entitled, “The Acts of the Apostles.” However, a more accurate title would be “The Acts of the Holy Spirit” because it is the Spirit who is responsible for convicting, converting, and creating the church. Yet, even this title is mildly insufficient, because it tempts us to think that the Father and Son are absent. Thus, a better title might be, “The Acts of the Triune God Through the Church of Jesus Christ.” While lengthy, such a title rightly emphasizes God’s work in and through the early church.
It is worth our time to consider the trinitarian make up of Acts and to realize that the same Father who sent the Spirit of Christ is still at work among the churches today. Thus, today lets consider briefly where we see the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in the book of Acts.
The Sovereign Father
Luke begins Acts where his gospel ends. Alerting his readers to the fact that he is continuing the same story of “all that Jesus began to do and teach” (1:1), Luke tells of how the saints waited in Jerusalem for the “promise of the Father” (1:4). This promise is the Spirit of God himself, sent by the risen and ascended Son to all those who believe. What is noteworthy about the promised Spirit is that in everything, the Spirit is the “change agent” who builds the church. But always, the Spirit works according to the Father’s designs.
Throughout Acts then, we hear testimony to the sovereign action of the Father. For example, when Peter preaches on Pentecost, he affirms God’s predestined plan to send his Son to the cross for the purpose of providing salvation for Israel and the Gentiles: “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 2:23-24; cf. 4:27-28).
Just as God was active in all of Jesus life, death, and resurrection; so the Father is active in the life of the church. For instance, in Acts 5:31, Luke records, “God exalted [Jesus] at his right hand as Leader and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. Amazingly, what God the Father in the exaltation of His Son had enduring effects, as men and women were granted repentance and forgiveness. Likewise, at the level of the individual, we see God drawing people to faith. Acts 11:18 reads, “to the Gentiles also God has granted repentance that leads to life.” All in all, the Father is sovereignly at work throughout the book of Acts.
The Risen Lord, Jesus Christ
While Acts chronicles the birth of the church, the church must not be pitted against Christ. Where Luke’s gospel contains all the words and deeds Christ did on earth, Acts contains all that Christ did from heaven. For instance, Acts 1:2 recounts how Jesus ‘chose’ his twelve apostles, but then Luke turns around in verse 25 and uses the same word of Matthias’ calling. Make no mistake, Christ is still in the business of choosing his servants. The same thing is true in Acts 9 when Jesus confronted Saul—first rebuking him and then calling him into gospel service.
Christ not only calls his servants, but he greets them when their season of service is complete. This is what Luke records of Stephen. In Acts 7, Christ who is seated at God’s right hand “stands” to receive Stephen as he is martyred.
In between their calling and homecoming, Jesus accompanies his servants. For instance, the “Spirit of Jesus” is seen directing the steps of Paul and Timothy ins Acts 16:7. And in Acts 18:10-11, we read, “And the Lord said to Paul one night in a vision, “Do not be afraid, but go on speaking and do not be silent, for I am with you, and no one will attack you to harm you, for I have many in this city who are my people.” While the term kurios is used of God the Father and God the Son in Acts, the nature of the night vision surely makes this the risen Christ comforting his servant.
Moreover, Christ not only acts in Luke’s second volume; He speaks. As the Spirit of Christ is poured out to empower the saints (1:8), the early church takes the message of salvation from Jerusalem (Acts 1-7) to Samaria (Acts 8-12) unto the ends of the earth (Acts 13-28). In all of these locales, Christ continues to speak. Through his servants, the risen Christ declares his universal lordship and the offer of salvation through his death and resurrection. Additionally, Christ is the worker who ensures the success of the word. Acts 16:14 says of Lydia, a Philippian convert, “The Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul.” In this way, the risen Lord in harmony with the effectual calling of the Father and the regeneration of the Sprit is acting to make the Word of God effective.
The Spirit of Promise
Acts 2 marks a significant change in redemptive history. Whereas in the Old Testament, God’s Spirit dwelt “with” Israel, now God’s Spirit resided “in” God’s covenant community (cf. John 14:17). Pentecost marks this dramatic shift. Jesus had told his disciples to stay in Jerusalem until the outpouring of the Spirit. Until that day, the disciples were weak-willed and reclusive. However, when the Spirit came, it moved men like Peter and John to go into the world to tell the good news of Jesus Christ. Thus, the Spirit is seen to be at work throughout Acts.
First, the Spirit fills believers. Ten times in Acts, it describes believers as being “filled with the Holy Spirit.” In nearly every episode this filling led the saints to public witness of Christ’s Lordship. For instance, in Acts 4:8, Peter stands up “filled with the Spirit” to address the imposing Sanhedrin. So strong was his response that the inquisition was speechless. Or again, in Acts 13:9, when Paul contested the well-known magician on Cyprus, he was filled with Spirit to rebuke Elymas and attest to the true power of God. The power of the disciples was not in themselves. They were weak men filled with God’s power.
Second, the Spirit directed believers. In Acts 8:29, Philip was directed by the Spirit to the Ethiopian eunuch and in Acts 8:39 the Spirit literally “carried” Philip to Azotus. In Acts 20:22, the Spirit “constrained” Paul to go Jerusalem. He testified to him that he would suffer, and it prepared him for such suffering. Paul was not promised ease or escape, but rather he expected death. But what he was promised: God’s Spiritual presence was sufficient.
Third, the Spirit comforted believers. Acts 9:31 says, “So the church . . . walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit . . . multiplied.” While, affliction was promised on the outside, the Spirit comforted the saints by remaining with them. Thus, every time they were opposed, abused, or attacked, the Spirit strengthened them to stand another day.
Last, the Spirit caused believers to rejoice. Acts 13:52 says “the disciples were filled with joy and the Holy Spirit.” As a rule, where the Spirit is, joy is. More specifically: Where joy in God is present, the Spirit is present. And this joy is what enabled the church to persevere and press on in the work. As Nehemiah says, “The joy of the Lord is my strength” (8:10); so it was for the believers. The Spiritual joy they had from the Spirit of Christ kept them on the task of making their joy complete in bringing the good news to the ends of the earth (1 John 1:4).
The Spirit-Filled Church
According to the Father’s design, the Son’s work, and the Spirit’s power and presence, the church in Acts experienced incredible growth. In Jerusalem, thousands of Jews placed faith in Christ to form the first local church (Acts 2). As the gospel went forward, churches continue to be planted. The Spirit moved men to witness; He converted the lost; and He united newborn Christians into local assemblies. This was true in Jerusalem, Galatia, Ephesus, Rome and beyond.
Not much has changed. The Spirit continues to work where the Word of God is proclaimed. He confirms the power of the gospel through radical conversions and unites believers in local churches. These covenant communities are built not by impressive technology or programs dependent upon demographic affinities but by the pure and simple message of the Son of God who saves sinners!
My prayer for our church and others is that we would be a church who is convinced that the Triune God and his gospel message is sufficient to purify, empower, and build his church. We don’t need fancy programs; we just need the power of the Spirit and the simplicity of the gospel. This is what changed lives in Acts, and what still changes lives today.
David Schrock is a Ph.D. candidate in systematic theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is Pastor of Calvary Baptist Church (Seymour, IN). David also blogs at Via Emmaus. He is married to Wendy and is the father of Titus and Silas.