And that’s the truth. As we begin our Sunday series by this title over the month of March, we’re being let in on one person’s story of how Jesus has miraculously met and transformed him, and through that, has worked to influence and transform many, many others. It’s unbelievable really! And this story is just one of so many stories over the ages of how God has met people in lightning-bolt moments of radical change and walked with people through years of persevering and faithful endurance.
And all these unbelievable stories – though incredible in themselves – point to an even bigger story. The most unbelievable of all. But it is true! And it is a story that we are being called into. To see. To hear. To believe. The miraculous – and true – story of Jesus, his life, his death, his resurrection. And all that followed as he poured out his Holy Spirit on his people and empowered them to continue to share the story of His Good News and continue to write the story of His redeeming work in the world!
You may not be aware, but we’re already into the season of LENT. This is a season that is meant to prepare us as we approach Good Friday and Easter Sunday. It’s a season that is designed to help us enter into the fullness of the unbelievable story of Jesus, and all that He has done for us.
So, as we journey through these next few weeks, we want to direct your LENT reflections through the book of Acts. This book describes all the events that followed directly after Jesus’ death and resurrection. It gives us an account of so many ways that Jesus followers were transformed, and empowered, and healed, and called into His unbelievable story. And it reminds us that He’s still at work today doing the same things for you, and for me, and for people all over the world. Let’s read on!
Day 1: Read Acts 1
In some ways, it may seem a bit strange to read a book that describes everything that came after the first Easter weekend in order to prepare us to lead up to Easter weekend. But if we allow it, the book of Acts can actually do this in some beautiful ways.
Luke – the author of the Gospel of Luke and the book of Acts (actually, these two books were written more like a Part 1 and Part 2 of the same book) – doesn’t want us to forget this either. In fact, he starts this volume by reminding his readers: Everything I’m about to tell you is ultimately because of Easter. Jesus’ death and resurrection changed everything! And it began a whole new story for the people of God – one that ALL people are invited into. It gives us an entirely new vision for every part of life! (Acts 1:3-4).
But Luke wants us to know something else too. The resurrection didn’t just give God’s people new “marching orders”. It was the beginning of a whole new power. The same power that raised Jesus from the dead! The Holy Spirit. The Spirit that was promised to be poured out on all God’s people, was now coming. It was Jesus’ resurrection that unleashed the Spirit into the world in a whole new way, and now his people were about to receive this same Spirit to live a similar new, revitalized, empowered resurrection life themselves (Acts 1:8)!
- Reflect on the reality that Jesus actually rose from the dead. Why does this matter to you (have you ever asked yourself that)? What difference does Jesus’ resurrection make for your life, your family, your work, your relationships? Write down as many ways as you can think of.
- Consider the truth that “the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you” (Rom. 8:11). Take some time to thank and praise God for this unbelievable reality.
- Pray. Ask God to help you walk in the Spirit’s power to live in a way that brings resurrection life into all you do!
Day 2: Read Acts 2
Yesterday, we read Jesus well known words about what would happen when the Spirit landed on the Apostles: “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8).
And the rest of this book will actually describe the unfolding of that promise. Starting with the Spirit landing – right in Jerusalem.
Now, to fully appreciate this story, there’s another story that we need to bring to mind first. It’s a strange – seemingly random – story in the early pages of the first book of the Bible, Genesis. The story of Babel. It says that at that point in history, all the people spoke the same language and were all together in the same place. And they decided to build a tower that “reached to the heavens”, to show off how great they were. Instead, God showed up with some humbling actions. He mixed up all their languages so they could no longer communicate or work together. And as a result, they ended up dispersing, scattering across the land. This story is one of a series of stories in the early chapters of Genesis that describes a pattern of a broken but proud humanity becoming increasingly broken, fragmented, and scattered.
Back to Acts 2. Something altogether new is about to happen. People from all over the world, from various countries, cultures and languages have come from far and wide for a religious festival. And it’s here and then that the Holy Spirit lands! And as the apostles are filled with the Spirit, the very first thing that happens – the very first spiritual gift – is that they are able to speak each in a different language! And so they do! But not to boast about what great things they could do, no! Instead, to tell as many people, from as many places as they could about the amazing thing God had done when He raised Jesus from the dead!
You see, when the Spirit landed, the Spirit empowered the apostles to continue to do Jesus’ resurrecting work. He was bringing dead things back to life. Mending things that had been broken apart. Bringing back together all that had been scattered! Babel was being reversed! And this gift was for all people. “The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off – for all whom the Lord our God will call” (Acts 2:39).
- Take some time to bring to mind some ways that you see brokenness, fragmentation, or disconnectedness around you. Perhaps in a relationship that has gone south. Perhaps some element of your own culture. Perhaps in another person who is broken and hurting.
- Pray about whatever God has brought to mind for you. Ask Him how He wants to heal, mend, and restore whatever it is that is broken or scattered. Ask Him to fill you with His Spirit and give you words to speak into this situation that may serve to do a resurrecting work.
Day 3: Read Acts 3:1-4:31
Setting can tell you a lot about a story. If a movie you’re watching begins in a graveyard, you probably have a pretty good idea of the kind of story it’s going to be. If a book you’re reading starts off on an army base, you probably have a sense of what kind of story you’re getting into.
This part of the story begins at the temple gate. And that’s meant to tell us something important.
The Temple was the central and most holy place of Jewish life, culture, and worship. It’s where God’s presence was believed to be. It’s where forgiveness was offered and received. Where healing and renewal took place. It was meant to be the place where people could have the closest experience to heaven on earth.
But now, these Temple realities seem to get turned on their head.
Things start just outside the temple. A crippled man begging outside the temple gate. He wouldn’t have been permitted to go inside because of his condition. So instead, Peter – full of the Holy Spirit – brings the Temple to him. The Holy Spirit unleashes His resurrecting power through Peter onto this man, and he’s healed! And then Peter invites the man to join him to worship inside the temple. Everyone is in disbelief!
The problem though, is that the temple leaders disapproved. They had lost sight of their temple responsibilities to be agents that brought God’s presence, God’s forgiveness, God’s healing and renewing power to His people. And they certainly didn’t approve of others doing this, especially outside of their watch! They were threatened by the very work they were called to participate in.
So, God was doing this new thing. The locus of the Temple would need to change altogether. No longer would the Spirit be housed in a building. Now, in people! Like Peter. And a crippled man. So that God’s renewing work could begin to spread far beyond Jerusalem alone.
- Take a moment to do a mental walk through of your day ahead. Where are the places that you will be? Name them. You may even want to write them down.
- Have you ever considered that each one of those places might be “holy ground” because you bring the presence and power of the Holy Spirit with you when you go there. Ask God to empower you with His Spirit to bring His renewing power and love in each place you will be today.
Day 4: Read Acts 4:32-5:42
The story continues all around the Temple – with the New Temple, the Church, continuing to do things that were supposed to be done at the Old Temple, the building. They were selling their possessions in order to help the poor among them, and helping anyone who had need (4:32-35). There was actually similar practice described in Deut. 14-15 in relation to activities that were supposed to take place at the Temple. It was meant to be a place of social justice, care for the poor, and concern for the needy. Again, apparently, the temple leaders had lost sight of this. So the New Temple began to take up the practice once again.
However, even the New Temple isn’t immune to misuse and abuse. Ananias and Sapphira began to walk in the way of the Old Temple – even this early on in the New Temple movement. It didn’t go well for them.
And it was a stark reminder to everyone in this New Temple community. It’s all to easy to slip back into the Old Temple ways, and forget that we house a Most Holy Presence among us – One who wants every part of us in order to restore every part of the world.
- Reflect for a moment on all the things that were meant to take place in the temple. Proclaiming God’s goodness and reign. Forgiving sin. Healing the sick. Caring for the poor and vulnerable. Offering a place to worship for those who were far away from God. Housing the presence of God.
- In what ways are you most tempted to lose sight of your “New Temple” calling? Confess this to God. Ask Him to fill you – and our community – with the Holy Spirit so that we can live out this calling for the world around us.
Day 5: Read Acts 6-7
As the Jesus movement grows and spreads across Jerusalem, it’s clear that more help is needed. Some new leaders are appointed to help make sure everyone is well cared for. And amazing things are happening. The news of Jesus’ death and resurrection and reign is spreading. Miracles are happening. People are believing everywhere.
And the religious leaders are fuming.
They seize Stephen, and on hearing his testimony about Jesus, they stone him – hatred and murder in their hearts.
Persecution has arrived for this New Temple people. And they’re scattered, split up, and sent out everywhere.
But there is a paradoxical effect that happens through this difficult experience. On the one hand, it may seem like the Church has become weakened, disconnected, and separated from one another. But on the other hand, God is at work. This very scattering now becomes the means through which God’s people will take the Good News of Jesus’ resurrection and reign even further out! The Temple is getting even bigger! It’s going beyond Jerusalem, into Judea and Samaria. Jesus’ promise from Acts 1:8 is becoming a reality!
- Consider some of the ways you may see how the Church – or our church – is weakened, scattered, or stretched out. Ask God how He may be at work, even in that, to build His Kingdom, to make Jesus known, and to spread His reign beyond ourselves. Pray for this to happen through the power of His Holy Spirit!