Posts Tagged ‘Acts’

We often think of religious leaders as unable to change. We think they believe they know it all, have the answers already, cannot alter their presumably doctrinaire convictions.

So refreshing, then, this priestly cameo in one of Luke’s summary reports of growth in the early, Jerusalem-based Jesus Movement.

And the word of God continued to increase, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests became obedient to the faith. (Acts 6:7 ESV)

Luke seems not to be going anywhere with this observation. He has no agenda on this front. There is no subsequent re-take on priestly influence at the core. After this, Jerusalem’s priests are largely left alone to live their lives unobserved. (more…)


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When the Apostle Paul refers to followers of Jesus in the aggregate as ‘the body of Christ’, he is only scratching the surface. The New Testament audaciously identifies the new community with the risen Jesus himself.

Paul had a knack for riots. Creating them, one means. (more…)

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We say a lot by the little words we choose as short-hand for large and complex things.

The biblical Book of Acts spins out its eventful story of the early Jesus movement, pausing from time to time to summarize. It abbreviates with the dense little expression the word of God.

But the word of God increased and multiplied. (Acts 12:24 ESV)

Murder and intrigue, desperation and redemption, bold public confrontation and the quiet joys of new family formed and flourishing. Luke the historian compacts this into five syllables, just four in English: the word of God. (more…)

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It is not only the New Testament’s explanation of grace that presses home the counterintuitive reality that no human being is beyond the reach of God’s grace. It is also its story.

But Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. (Acts 9:1–2 ESV)

The Jesus’ movement’s archetypal apostle to the nations casts a long shadow over its pages. Paul—or Saul, as he is here identified by his Hebrew name—travels extensively, writes expansively, ponders well beyond conventional boundaries, shapes the Christian mind as no other New Testament author. If Peter, James, and John leave their fingerprints across the New Testament corpus, Paul pushes a large foot and a broad hand into its wet cement. (more…)

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When Stephen, on behalf of the early Jesus movement, delivers the speech that would cost him his life, he reaches back twelve centuries or so to the experience of Israel’s undisputed lawgiver.

And Moses was instructed in all the wisdom of the Egyptians, and he was mighty in his words and deeds. When he was forty years old, it came into his heart to visit his brothers, the children of Israel. And seeing one of them being wronged, he defended the oppressed man and avenged him by striking down the Egyptian. (Acts 7:22–24 ESV)

Because the New Testament Book of Acts necessarily abbreviates such speeches, it is curious which details of Stephen’s summarized grand narrative survive the cut.

He supposed that his brothers would understand that God was giving them salvation by his hand, but they did not understand. (Acts 7:25 ESV)

The biblical witness demonstrates great affection for selfless and principled leadership. Indeed, one of the strongest commendations that the biblical literature allows a person is that he has shepherded YHWH’s flock. One of its severest condemnations is that he has been a ‘bad shepherd’. (more…)

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Our skeptical Zeitgeist makes it easy for us to recoil from awkward metaphysical talk.

We prefer to live our lives, without comment upon the Greater Wars that may surround us, within narrow and convenient parameters.

‘Live and let live’, we say.

‘This shop serves everybody.’ (more…)

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From wartime survivor’s guilt to thanksgiving prayer before a table laden with food—or graced with just enough of it for the day’s demand—the question ‘Why me and not some other guy?’ rises to the mind and lips of the fortunate.

The answer is never obvious. (more…)

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It was inevitable, as the early Jesus movement spread from one city to the next, that people would covet its power without loyalty to its source.

One imagines that the movement’s leaders were as surprised as anyone to see the power of Christ flowing through their words and hands to liberate the mad and heal the sick. Happily, the Book of Acts provides more than one glimpse of the earliest stewards of such remarkable power fending off the misguided adulation of the crowds. But sometimes the threat of corruption reared its head via the jealousy of impressed onlookers who stood outside the immediate circle of the Jesus community. (more…)

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Great historical moments, when one knows the outcome, seem almost destined to have turned out the way they did. The participants in such critical junctures in the flow of human events, however, seldom or never have the luxury of such confidence. For them, there are many ways that things might turn out. Some might be dire. Some might cost them their lives.

Often wisdom takes a granular, tactical form that in the moment looks merely opportunistic. Seldom does one glimpse a guiding hand in history as one makes snap decisions while time’s a-wastin’ and the mob is getting itself up into full howl. Adrenaline plays at least as large a role as strategy. Tactics become the order of the day, even when there has been no time for these to descend in orderly fashion from a neat and overarching strategy.

Take Paul’s return to Jerusalem, pockets stuffed with news of Gentiles worshiping Israel’s messiah. It was, by and large, an unforeseen event. That is why it is worthy of such comment. Such massive movement of the morally unwashed in the direction of Torah and the God of Jacob who stood behind it was not in the playbook. (more…)

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Jerusalem must have throbbed with the potentialities of conflict as the city fathers struggled to cope with the relatively unlettered but highly motivated followers of yet another dead messianic pretender.

Put simply and in words easily understandable to those tasked with administering the status quo, these men could not be stopped.

It was not so much that they were assertively dismissive of the authorities. One senses that they were not.

Rather they were so convinced that YHWH had restored the crucified Jesus to life and was even now pulling off similarly unconventional stunts like making a man who hadn’t walked for decades stroll around the city’s streets like you or I would do. The crowds are stirred in the direction of sympathy and enthusiasm. The text has even the religious and civic authorities recognizing that no one can plausibly deny the miracle. (more…)

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