Tuesday, January 8, 2019

The Ongoing Ministry of Jesus


The phrase “All that Jesus began to do and teach” from Acts 1:1 is a valuable reminder for us that Jesus did not stop working when He ascended to heaven. He continues to act through His body, the church. When things seem too big for us to take on, we should feel encouraged and empowered by the fact that our Savior is still changing the world.

I spent a good bit of time in Acts over the last few months, studying it for a small group I am in and also while writing up a few sermons. As you can imagine, there is a lot of important and practical information to be found there. Perhaps I will even do a few articles on its lessons, I haven’t decided yet. For now, I just wanted to share something from the first chapter that I think is interesting.

Historical Evidence

Actually, it is from the first verse. Acts 1:1 is the prologue to the prologue to the sequel of the gospel of Luke. Luke was a man after my own heart, a very detail-oriented and orderly writer. Both of his books include an introduction that contains a dedication to someone named Theophilus. We do not know who Theophilus was or even if that was his real name, but it seems likely that he was someone of high social standing and was also a relatively new Christian. Luke addresses his writing to him and takes a moment to explain what each of his books is about. And in so doing, he confirms for us that he wrote his gospel before writing Acts.

That mostly seems important for academic reasons. For one thing, it confirms that Luke-Acts were not written as a single work and then split later, as is the case with books like 1-2 Samuel and Ezra-Nehemiah (among others). Secondly, it helps us narrow down the window for when they were written. Neither book says anything about the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70, so they had to have been completed before then. Furthermore, Acts ends before Paul’s first trial in Rome, which would have been around A.D. 62. It had to have been finished by that year, which means the gospel had to have been completed earlier. That gives a date for Luke of about A.D. 60. This all matters because it goes to show the record of the ministry of Jesus and of the early church was completed less than 30 years after the crucifixion. It did not rely on legendary development, but on eyewitness testimony (Luke 1:2–4).

For Christianity, which so thoroughly depends on the historical truth of what the Scriptures teach, this is vital information. It is confirmation that allows us to be confident of the things we believe. But there is something else important in Acts 1:1, and we do not want to miss it by focusing too closely on the intellectual issues. There is a spiritual truth the apostles and the earliest Christians lived out of, and one that can strengthen us if we live out of it, too.

Continuity in Christ

Here we find the simple phrase, “All that Jesus began to do and teach.” In context, this refers to the report in Luke’s gospel. Luke had explained what Jesus had done, and now he was preparing to share the record of what the apostles did afterward. But the key word is “began.”

Luke could have gone with a much simpler construction. He could have said, “All that Jesus did and taught,” and it would have made just as much sense. In fact, it would have made even better sense with what follows in Acts 1:2. He did not, though. He makes a point of showing that Jesus’ earthly life was just the beginning.

The proper perspective, the one Luke is attempting to encourage and the one we should take, is that Jesus did not stop working when He ascended into heaven. That was not the end for Him. Jesus is with the Father, but every believer is connected to Him through the presence of the Holy Spirit. That means everything we do for God, we do because of what Jesus has done, and we are able to do it because of His power. In other words, He is continuing to “do and teach” through us.

Perhaps Luke picked this idea up through the teachings of his mentor, the Apostle Paul. Paul was the one who most thoroughly developed the concept of the church as the “Body of Christ” (see Rom. 12:5, 1 Cor. 12:12–27, Eph. 1:20–23, Eph. 4:11–16, and Col. 2:19). He was very clear that everything good in the church came from and gave glory to Christ. With Him as the head and us as His body, each of us is an extension of Him in the world that provides the means for Him to work in it (Eph. 2:10).

Or maybe Luke grasped it through his independent studies while writing. Compare Luke 12:11–12 with Luke 21:14–15. In discussing very similar circumstances, Jesus says the Holy Spirit would teach Christians what to say in one while saying He Himself would give them the words they needed in the other. Luke understood, as should we, that the ministry of the Spirit connects us to the mind of Christ. The evangelist had probably also become familiar with the teachings of Matthew and Luke, who spoke of Jesus’ promise to always be with us (Matt. 28:20) and to dwell with us (John 14:23–26).

However he learned it, he took pen to page so he could share it. Jesus has not stopped working. He has not left us to figure things out on our own. The world is often very daunting. From our limited perspective, it often feels like there is little we can do to improve our own lives, let alone the lives of those around us. That is why we need to enlarge our view just as the believers Luke wrote about in Acts did. They did not allow themselves to wallow in how small they were. Instead, they fixed their eyes on how great Christ is. That enabled them to be useful in the mighty works He had in store.

We can still live that way. We can take it to heart that we are part of something larger than ourselves, larger than creation and everything in it. Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection were the central moment in history, but they did not mark the end of it or of His efforts. In a way, that was only where He began. We should be humbled that He has chosen us to be the way that He continues, and we should take pride in the role we have in His ongoing mission to reconcile the world to God. That is an incredible thought to be carried in such a simple little phrase.

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