Family stories. Some families love to tell them, perhaps while looking through old photographs and reminiscing. For example, do you know the story of how your parents met? Your grandparents? Knowing such tales can give us a sense of being rooted in a history and tradition.
Not everything about us is created by our individual intentions and decisions; that’s a particularly western conceit. Rather, to some extent, who we are is given to us by the generations that came before. We may treasure some parts of that inheritance and hate others. But in some fashion, we are them, and they are us.
For those who count Jesus as Lord, something similar can be said about the history of the church. We are the spiritual descendants of those who responded to the call and gave themselves to the spread of the gospel.
Today, in America, we take for granted things that the apostle Paul could scarcely have imagined. We have easy access to nearby houses of worship, and can even worship from a distance online. We have Bibles available in countless translations and languages, all available through devices we can carry in a pocket or purse.
If you’re a sci-fi fan, then imagine Paul transported to us through space and time, having a universal translation device that allows him to understand everything we say. At some point in the conversation, we pull out an iPhone. We open a Bible app. Then we read back to Paul something he wrote centuries ago.
Surely Paul would be astonished at the technology. But I also imagine he would be humbled and grateful for having had such a pivotal part to play in what God had done through the slow and steady march of time.
The apostle’s mind. Blown.
Do we take for granted the sacrificial ministry of the apostle Paul, or any of the other courageous souls Luke describes in Acts? All of them are part of one story, the story of God acting through his Spirit and people.
This is our family history. We are part of the story.
. . .
There’s an unfortunate tendency among modern readers to read the Bible as a sourcebook of moral ideas and principles. That’s not wrong as far as it goes, but it doesn’t go far enough. The stories of Paul and Peter, of Stephen and Barnabas, are not given merely as illustrations of theological principles. Stories are meant to fire up our imaginations: Look what God does in and through his people! We enter into stories; we identify with the characters and envision the possibilities.
There’s a sense in which the book of Acts is still being written, still open-ended. Not the book itself, of course, but the story that it tells. Although the canonical story has been divided into 28 chapters, I submit to you that we are living in the 29th chapter, one that won’t be completed until Jesus returns.
Too long and complicated of a chapter? Very well. Let’s say I’m living in the 4,237th chapter, and your story shows up in chapter 5,358. The numbers don’t matter: the continuity does.
The story is an ancient one, and it keeps going. Our history goes back to Pentecost and Acts. Acts goes back to the gospels. The gospels go back to the prophets. The prophets go back to the exile, back to the days of monarchy, the wilderness wanderings, the choosing of a people — and eventually, to creation itself.
. . .
Here on this blog, we’re done with Acts. Honestly, I feel a little like I’m leaving the home of a good friend. But Acts isn’t done with us. Or better: God isn’t done with us. The acts of God in and through his people continue.
So let’s make this chapter a good one.