Acts 1-2: The Beginning of the Church 

By Russell Freeman

I was on a ferry coming back from Fort Sumter with my family. The tour guide pointed our attention to the spires across the Charleston skyline. “Those churches,” she said, “are why they call Charleston ‘the Holy City’.” Regardless of whether the churches are the real reason for the nickname, those buildings are visible evidence of the way the gospel has influenced South Carolina. Other cities in the state, in my opinion, are no different. Churches often fill the most strategic parts of a city, while white steeples dominate rural landscapes. For good or for ill, the Church has been culturally strong in South Carolina.

Most of us would say that the gospel’s influence is not as evident today. Although a “Church Street” exists for every city, hearts prove to be more difficult ground. Christians today long to see God open more hearts to the gospel. We long to see churches full and vibrant. Those desires are some of the many reasons to read the Book of Acts carefully. Acts is a record of how God initially changed thousands of lives.

If our concern in Acts is how God changes lives, then the first two chapters of Acts confront us with two truths. The first truth is how unlike we are to the apostles. Luke, the author of Acts, begins where he left off in his gospel: the ascension of Jesus. The Lord Jesus’ final instructions to the apostles were that they would be His witnesses (Acts 1:8). We sometimes assume that those words pertain to us the same way they pertained to the apostles. We, like the apostles, can bear witness to what God has done in our lives. Yet Jesus’ words to the apostles were more. They visibly saw Jesus, and they heard His words audibly. We have done neither. Our testimony is important; their witness is foundational.

Why does Luke record that God replaced Judas with Matthias, especially when Luke never mentions Matthias again (Acts 1:15-26)? The reason is because, like the 12 patriarchs and the 12 tribes of Israel, the ministry of the 12 apostles were the basis for the Church (Eph. 2:20). The coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, the flames of fire, and the tongues all testify to their uniqueness. Their message, as Peter demonstrates, was that God had sent His true Messiah and King who would come again (Acts 2:14-36). If we long for God to change lives, we will prioritize that same message of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection, and we, like early believers, will commit ourselves “to the apostles’ teaching” (Acts 2:42, CSB).

The second truth is that, despite key differences, we are still like the apostles. The same Spirit that descended on them is with us still (Acts 2:17). We who ache for a work of God can, like the apostles, commit ourselves to prayer as we wait for Him to work (Acts 1:14, 2:42). We can, like them, call people to respond to the message of Jesus with repentance (Acts 2:38).

Some church buildings are full while others are empty. Acts shows us, as we long for God to change lives, how we build on the apostles’ foundation. But the book also shows us that we can follow their example.

— Russell Freeman is dean of Curriculum and Instruction and Bible teacher at Greenville Classical Academy, a Christian school in Simpsonville.

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