St Mary’s Study Group – Acts Part 1

At my local parish church, St Mary’s in Far Cotton Northampton (www.stmarysfarcotton.co.uk) we have a study group that meets weekly and works its way through a book of the Bible – currently we are looking at Acts.

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Acts was written by Luke, a doctor, companion of Paul and the only Gentile writer in the Bible. Acts was the second part of Luke’s writing and as with his gospel is addressed to Theophilus; with the most likely intention being a testimony to a judge or lawyer providing them with information to understand how the Christian faith had developed and why Paul was now unjustly accused. There are multiples ways of outlining the structure of Acts, however, for the purposes of this blog we will be looking at Acts in three parts; Chapters 1-7 (witness for Christ in Jerusalem), Chapters 8-10 (Judaea and Samaria) and finally till the end where the gospel spreads to Europe and Rome.

In the first seven chapters there is so much that happens, from the Pentecost, to Peter’s healings and eventually the martyrdom of Stephen – to examine it all would take far longer than I intend this blog to be. So today I want to focus on Chapter 5 and in particular verses 34 – 40;

acts chapter 5‘But a Pharisee named Gamaliel, a teacher of the law, who was honoured by all the people, stood up in the Sanhedrin and ordered that the men be put outside for a little while. Then he addressed the Sanhedrin: “Men of Israel, consider carefully what you intend to do to these men. Some time ago Theudas appeared, claiming to be somebody, and about four hundred men rallied to him. He was killed, all his followers were dispersed, and it all came to nothing. After him, Judas the Galilean appeared in the days of the census and led a band of people in revolt. He too was killed, and all his followers were scattered. Therefore, in the present case I advise you: Leave these men alone! Let them go! For if their purpose or activity is of human origin, it will fail. But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop these men; you will only find yourselves fighting against God.”’ Acts 5:34-39

These are some of the wisest words in scripture and it has a message for us today in the modern church. Today’s church is very divided on a whole host of issues, from liturgy to theology, doctrine style and worship, affirming or not. A lot of the time we spend most of our energy and focus arguing about such matters – is {insert issue} really what Jesus intended? etc. This advice from Gamaliel reminds us that a lot of this is wasted energy – the holy spirit descended from heaven onto the disciples at Pentecost and the spread of the gospel has not be contained since. The first part of Acts shows us that however hard we try God’s message and the way Jesus Christ provides can’t be slowed down or stopped, and as we’ll see in the next part can have some unlikely followers.

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