d3fcbebb6548075bd8ad7c6a2d5451c2-700This Easter season, we started a series entitled, “Surprised by Grace” at my church. In it, we are looking at the surprising ways that God works throughout the early, particularly in the book of Acts. In the message yesterday, we talked about Acts 1:8 as an “outline” or “table of contents” for the entire book of Acts. Truly, Luke has a way of doing this in his writing – programmatically setting up the ministry of Jesus with a specific sermon or saying. This is exactly what we see in the first sermon of Jesus that Luke records in chapter 4. In it, Jesus enters the synagogue and stands to read from the prophet Isaiah:

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives
and recovering of sight to the blind,
to set at liberty those who are oppressed,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

I really believe that Luke records this sermon here because he setting up the ministry of Jesus as the Messiah (a Hebrew word meaning “anointed one”). This description from Isaiah is what the “anointed one” would do: proclaim the good news, heal the sick, set the oppressed free, etc. In a similar way, Luke sets up the book of Acts (volume 2 of his Gospel message) with this proclamation from Jesus: “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8). This serves as a foreshadowing of the upcoming ministry of the apostles. Filled with the Spirit of God, they will be propelled from Jerusalem out into the world as witnesses of the Good News of Jesus Christ. Like a rock dropped into a still pond, the ripples of the Resurrection and Pentecost will flow from Jerusalem to the ends of the earth. (See outline below.)

Acts Outline

This movement, however, is a reversal of the typical Jewish expectation of the time. All students of the Torah would have been very familiar with the promise of God to Abram – you will be blessed so that “in you all nations of the world will be blessed” (Genesis 12:3). Part of the Jewish identity, therefore, was tied up in the idea that, as God’s chosen people, they were to be a blessing to the entire world. However, Jesus’ sending of the apostles marked a departure from the expectation of how this would take place. One biblical scholar described the change this way: “centripetal missionary consciousness is replaced by a centrifugal missionary activity.”

Let’s unpack that just a little bit. Regarding the “Day of the Lord,” the prophet Isaiah records,

It shall come to pass in the latter days
that the mountain of the house of the LORD
shall be established as the highest of the mountains,
and shall be lifted up above the hills;
and all the nations shall flow to it,
and many peoples shall come, and say:
“Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD,
to the house of the God of Jacob,
that he may teach us his ways
and that we may walk in his paths.”
(Isaiah 2:2–3a)

As you can see, there is a centripetal force (an inward force towards the center) at work in the expectation of how God would work – all nations and people flowing into Jerusalem where they would experience God’s blessing. In the book of Acts, however, this movement is reversed and we see a centrifugal flow (outward, away from the center) of the apostles out from Jerusalem to the “ends of the earth.” This is just one more way that Jesus redefined what it meant to be God’s Messiah – the Chosen One through whom the entire world would be blessed.

As we go throughout the books of Acts over the next few weeks, I hope that you will print out this outline and look at it. I hope that you will begin to see the larger picture of what God was doing in the early church and the ways that the message of Jesus and his salvation reverberated throughout the known world. I hope that you will see how barriers were broken down as the followers of Jesus grasped the reality that Jesus was more than just a Messiah for the Jewish people . . . he was the Savior of the world. I hope that you will see the ways that the early followers of Jesus were, over and over again, “surprised by grace.”

Most of all, however, I hope that you will see how we are an extension of that same missionary calling given to the apostles. As the Church, the body of of Christ, we are members of, and ambassadors for, the kingdom he announced. Like the apostles, we too are called to go into the world and spread the Good News: “The tomb is empty! He is Alive! New life, hope, and forgiveness are possible. The world world never be the same.”