THE ACTS OF THE APOSTLES is volume two of an opus that includes The Gospel of Luke as volume 1 (Acts 1: 1-2), to the same audience (“Theophilus”). Whereas volume 1 covered “what Jesus began to do”, by implication, Acts relates what Jesus continued to do, and continues still to do, by his Holy Spirit (“The Spirit of Jesus” in ch. 16) through his church. That work is to testify to himself, the King, and to grow his Kingdom, through preaching, teaching and works of love, service and healing, especially as they cross borders of race and culture, making peace through common faith, hope and love, where once there was conflict. The game plan for this is stated in 1:8, “Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and to the uttermost ends of the world.” That is how Acts unfolds chronologically and geographically, and how the mission of Jesus, through his church, continues to unfold.
The Pentecost outpouring in Acts 2 changes the game. The formerly clueless and cowardly disciples, having gone through a necessary apprenticeship of failure in the power of the flesh, are thereafter emboldened and empowered by the power of the Spirit to understand and do what eluded them previously. Pentecost will have its smaller scale reprises, such as in the mission to the Samaritans in chapter 8, and Peter’s visit to Cornelius in chapter 10. It also is a game changer because the kingdom of God begins to impact non-Palestinian Jews, even converts to Judaism, paving the way for the later inclusion of Gentiles.
Oddly enough, the eleven (and Matthias) do not, in the scope of Acts, obey Jesus’ command to go to “the uttermost ends of the earth.” That job is first undertaken by the next generation of leaders, the deacons, introduced in chapter 6, who are Hellenistic Jews, from outside of Palestine and Galilee. Their gracious selection, when they were the first to raise the first recorded post-Pentecost conflict, is a case study in how conflict can become a vehicle to growth and opportunities, when graciously addressed in the fruits of the Spirit and a kingdom of God perspective.
We will also see how persecution and opposition can work, jujitsu-like, to the benefit of the gospel’s spread. Nearly every breakthrough, from one region, or one ethnicity, to another in Acts is met by some opposition and persecution, which in turn is met by confidence, worship, prayer and a break-through.
One of the deacons is Stephen, also the first recorded martyr of the post-Pentecost church. The reasons for a chapter-length text of his defense (by offense) before the Sanhedrin, in effect, a retelling of Israel’s story, may include: 1) showing how sojourn, pilgrimage and the portable Tabernacle are closer to the way of God in the world than the sacrosanct temple, which he has been accused of blaspheming, thereby foreshadowing the missional pilgrimage of the church with the tabernacling of the Spirit of Jesus, the Holy Spirit; 2) showing how powerful and privileged elements of Israel have always rebelled and resisted God, as they were doing then; and 3) how Jesus of Nazareth fulfills the promises and purposes of God as far back as Moses.
Following the Spirit of Jesus “to the uttermost ends of the earth” will be done most by Paul, the former adversary of Stephen, then Saul of Tarsus.
PSALM 104 is a hymn of praise to God as Creator and Sustainer of the natural world, including natural phenomena that would be worshiped as gods among Israel’s neighbors, such as mountains or seas.
PSALM 105 is a hymn of praise to God as Creator and Sustainer of his people, Israel, through his covenant faithfulness. There seems to be an order and affinity among this section of psalms, at least from PS. 104 through 106, in that they also begin and/or end with “Halelujah” and bring to a close the 4th Book, or collection, of Psalms.
PSALM 106 is a corporate, or national penitential psalm, recounting seven sins of the people during the Exodus and their settlement into the land of Canaan. As it ends with a call to “gather us from the nations,” it may reflect a time of composition during or after the Exile. By repentance, then, the worshiping people of God prepare for God’s next act of deliverance, a second Exodus. Combined with the previous two psalms, the message is: to prepare for the next mighty act of God, reflect upon and praise God for his mighty acts of creation, and his covenant faithfulness in history (his work of re-creation), and repent of your sins, so as to not thwart and fight the work of God as did your ancestors, which finally led to Exile.