Acts and the Gospel of Hope

In him we live and move and have our being. (Acts 17:28)

The Book of Acts records the earliest proclamations of the gospel after the time of Jesus. Peter, Paul and others preach to Jews, Greeks, philosophers, politicians, kings and foreigners all around the Middle East. Extraordinarily, Peter and John were “ordinary, uneducated men” (4:13), working in the face of intense opposition from political and religious leaders.

In his famous sermon on the Areopagus, Paul preaches to the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers, the through-leaders in first century Athens (17:23-31). Paul tries to contextualize the gospel for intellectuals who “spend their time simply and solely in telling and hearing the latest novelty” (17:22). Academic discussions often veer into obscure topics, of interest to only a few people. How does the gospel enter into these spaces? The sermons in Acts affirm a multi-faceted gospel message, expressed in different ways for different people.

Contemporary Christians have often shortened gospel message to “Jesus died for your sins.” While calls for repentance are an important part of the gospel (3:13), this statement fails to capture the breadth of the message of Jesus found in the gospels, especially as it pertains to Old Testament history and prophecy (7:1-53). Gospel preaching in Acts reveals more details about The Way (18:24, 26) and the extent to which “Jesus Christ is Lord of all” (10:34).

In Acts, the Gospel message is deeply rooted in the Hebrew Bible and the expectation of a messiah to rule over God’s people: “the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, the God our ancestors has glorified his servant Jesus” (3:13). For example, Peter discusses the hope of God’s personal presence in Psalm 16 (2:25-28) and the hope of God’s spirit in Joel 2 (2:17-21).  This means that the gospel is a continuation of the covenant made with the God who created of the universe (14:15, 18:24) and liberated the Israelites from Egypt (7:35-36, 13:17). Along with forgiveness of sins (5:31, 13:38-39), the messianic reign brings God’s Spirit to all flesh (2:17, 2:33), healing for the oppressed (10:33) and the resurrection of the dead (17:18, 23:6, 24:15).  The expansive good news found in King Jesus establishes an entirely new way of being human: by living in the kingdom of God.

Several conflicts with authorities in Acts are a reaction to the proclamation that Jesus is king. The believers’ prayer for boldness (4:24-30) recognizes that “the kings of the earth took their stand, and the rulers have governed together against the Lord and against his Messiah.” When ordered by the chief priests not to preach in the name of Jesus, the believers proclaim “we must obey God rather than any human authority” (5:29). Later earthly authorities fall Herod Agrippa dies suddenly he flaunts his charisma in front of a crowd (12:20-23). While earthly authorities see the Jesus movement as a threat to their power, Christians recognize that Jesus used his royal power to be a servant (Phil 2:6-7).

The Book of Acts also demonstrates that there is room for everyone in the kingdom: disabled people (3:2), the sick (5:16) and sexual minorities (8:26-40). As Peter exclaims, “I truly understand that God shows no partiality” (10:34). As much as we like to believe that “Christian values” inform our policy making and interactions with other people, our modern societies sill fail to support the same groups of people that early followers of Jesus embraced.

My hope is that church will return to the vision of the blessed community that shares their possessions (2:44), breaks bread (2:46), confronts unjust authorities (3:14-15, 5:29-30) and appoints servant leaders (6:3-5). The “acts of the apostles” demonstrate that a sense of solidarity and community rooted is at the heart of the Gospel. We live in the kingdom of God and the reign of Christ and await the “restoration of all things announced long ago” (3:21).

– Mitchell Eithun, campus pastor intern.

Judges: God uses the weak and unexpected

We’ve been looking at the book of Judges in our studies at Campus Edge. The book of Judges is strange and violent, and it’s not always clear how these ancient stories apply to our lives today. Yet, the book of Judges is clear in telling us that God raises up judges from the weak and imperfect and uses them to save the people of God. The judges do impossible things: Samson killed hundreds with the jawbone of a lion. Barak took on 900 iron chariots and Jael killed the army commander with a tent peg, Gideon took down an entire army with 300 men blowing trumpets, smashing jars, and yelling at the top of their lungs.

Knowing our own weaknesses, we are encouraged by how God uses those imperfect people, people like Samson, Gideon, Barak and Jael. After all, if God can use these people, then God can use us despite our own weaknesses and incompetency.

The challenge, though, is that we often move from gratitude that God can use to us to focusing on all that we have done: we tend to become the hero of our own stories. While Judges proclaims loudly that God uses the unexpected people, it’s helpful to remember that most of the time that unexpected person isn’t me.

How historical is the resurrection?

We’ve been talking this last semester about difficult topics in the Bible, and one of the topics has been how historical certain events in the Bible are.

One event that presents a challenge to our understanding of how historical the events in the Bible are is the flood. After pointing out that “a global deluge does not fit the evidence,” we have, Andy Walsh at The Emerging Scholars Blog suggests that

“perhaps the Flood narrative is about a regional event or is meant to convey truth about the kingdom of God but not necessarily the history of Earth. I do recognize that once one heads down that road, it shifts the boundaries around what parts of the Bible to consider history. Thus some prefer to stick with a more traditional interpretation, in part to preserve the interpretation of other passages, and instead focus on finding clever solutions to the practical challenges a literal Ark presents.”

Walsh captures well the challenge of questioning the historicity of one event in the Bible: how does one then determine which events really happened and which ones didn’t? How does one not get to the point where one even questions if the resurrection really happened, even though belief in the resurrection is a fundamental aspect of the Christian faith (see 1 Corinthians 15)?

It’s thus reassuring to hear that there is a lot of corroborating evidence for Jesus’ life and death, alongside of evidence that the disciples and early church believed that Jesus rose from the dead and that this belief deeply changed how they lived (and died). Gary Habermas highlights some of this evidence in a recent article. While he acknowledges that this evidence “does not prove that the resurrection happened, it does indicate that the disciples thought that it had occurred. Further, these believers were the only ones in position to know whether or not they had seen Jesus alive after His death. That they were willing to die for these experiences is certainly significant in that it shows that they were utterly convinced of these facts. That goes a long way towards providing the best explanation of what actually happened.” Thus while one cannot prove without a doubt the historicity of certain events in the Bible, it is reassuring to be reminded that it is still reasonable to believe in Christ’s resurrection.

Just Job. Just Listening.

One way to appreciate any book of the Bible is simply to dig in and read it. The problem is, who has time and energy to do that? Even if it only takes a bit more than an hour to read, there is so much else vying for our attention and needing to be done.

We tried something different at Campus Edge during spring break (as we enter the last week this now feels like a very long time ago!). We sat and listened to the text of Job together. On the Monday, we listened together to Job 2-10; 25-28 (30 minutes if you use this link). On the Saturday we listened together to Job 28-41 (45 minutes if you use this link). We used the Audio Bible (NIV UK) from biblegateway.com. I appreciated the lovely British accent, but you’re welcome to use whatever version appeals to you.

Listening to a text has a less intense feeling to it than asking questions of it. The passiveness of just listening might mean that one misses some of the text. At the same time, pausing to listen to the words of the text creates space for God’s word to be heard anew and in a different way.

Learning from the book of Job

During Lent we’re focusing on the book of Job. As much as Job can be a bit of an overwhelming book, it’s also been good to get into it and ask questions of the text. Not surprisingly, it’s a text that seems to bring up a lot of questions.

The following are just some of the questions we’ve asked:

  • Does God do harm? Closely related, why is there so much suffering? In the book of Job, for example, why the apparently senseless death of Job’s children?
  • What picture of God is presented here in the text?
    • Can we trust this God?
  • What if the accuser/Satan of Job 1-2 is not actually Satan, the devil as we call him? Can it even be him – would God really be willing to give him that much power?
  • How does one understand Job’s wife’s response to what has happened?
  • Does Job have to really have happened exactly the way we have the book today? Does suggesting it is not historically accurate suggest that the Bible itself is not true and accurate? Does it make it harder for me to deal with difficult times if Job didn’t really go through this?
  • Why is the story so short and the poetical texts of the book so long? (3 chapters of narrative versus 39 chapters of poetical responses). Even if Job’s friends (and Elihu) had a lot of time to think about their answers, who really talks in poetry?
  • Job 28 is different: why?
  • How does Elihu fit in? At the end of the book, he is neither condoned or condemned (unlike Job’s 3 friends).
  • What do we make of God’s silence in the text? Even though God does finally appear at the end of the book, there’s a long time of silence before the response is given (and the response doesn’t really address Job’s questions).
  • The response to Job rests heavily on the fact that God understands how the world works and Job doesn’t. As we understand creation better (e.g., there aren’t really storehouses for hail), how does that change how we read the explanations in the text? Does our understanding change God’s might?!?
  • Is Job truly without sin? What then does he repent of in Chapter 42?
  • How is this book relevant to my life (and those around me) now? Especially in the context of the university?

Further thoughts on these questions will hopefully be posted here in the coming weeks. If you’d like to hear another perspective on the book (and read more questions, albeit this time with more answers), I invite you to go to a site we’ve been using as a resource for the study: “Musings on Science and Theology.”