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LUKE - ACTS      Luke Acts


MINISTRY OF THE CHURCH


In this study we look at the ministry of the church in the Acts of the Apostles. The presence and authority of Jesus is very evident in the early Christian community, as B.Gerhardsson says:

The Twelve... form the nucleus of those who were present "during all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us" (1:21), and subsequently devoted themselves to "the ministry of the word" (diakonia tou logou, 6:4). They preach and teach and heal "in Jesus' name" (3:6; 4:10,18; 5:28,40, etc.). They appear as Jesus' "witnesses", witnessing above all to his resurrection. It is the apostles' teaching (tē didachē tōn apostolōn, 2:42) which holds the congregation together. [1]


So, the ministry of the church is characterised by "the preaching of the word" and ministry "in the name of Jesus". Through these Gerhardsson senses the authority of Jesus in the earliest church.

1. "IN THE NAME OF JESUS"

We have argued that Jesus continues his mission in and through his church in Acts. This belief has been questioned. The phrase "in the name" or "in the name of Jesus" has been variously interpreted - it may simply intimate the Lord's presence in Acts. We need to study these two subjects.

The presence of the Lord Jesus
It has been maintained that the prominence given by Luke to the Spirit in the Acts excludes the presence of Jesus, and that he tries to establish his presence by a number of devices, including the use of the "concept of the name of Jesus" or his "name". [2] J.A.Ziesler rejects this premise, arguing that Luke does not use the "concept of the name of Jesus" either to convey the presence of an otherwise absent Lord nor to substitute for that presence. He indicates that the use of the "name" are diverse. [3]

In the OT, "name" is sometimes used as a periphrasis for God, and as such represents his divine reality. To "glorify God" and to "glorify his Name" are synonymous expressions. The Name is the reality which can be used to convey God's power and authority. In Acts, "the name" represents the presence and power of the risen Jesus, who is Lord. [4] As F.F.Bruce notes, the term kuriou of Acts 2:20 stands for the Yahweh of Acts 2:21 (cf. Joel 2:32). [5]

The use of "the name" in healings
The significance of the "name" in healings may be ascertained from the story of the paralysed man and the events surrounding his deliverance (see Acts 3:1-4:22. Note especially 3:6,16; 4:7,10). F.F.Bruce considers Peter's command, "In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk" (3:6), and comments on en tō onomati: "That is 'by the authority', 'with the powers'". The power of Jesus healed the paralytic. Luke pictures the resurrected Lord continuing his saving work through the apostles. "Faith in the name" (v.16) takes on a personal sense, in that faith is called for. "Faith in the name" implies faith in Jesus Christ. The faith of the apostles and the lame man led to the divine healing. The healing is seen as a manifestation of Christ's salvation (the word sōzō is used). [7]

After opposition because of the healing, the apostles prayed: "Lord... stretch out your hand to heal and perform miraculous signs and wonders through the name of your holy servant Jesus" (4:30). H.Conzelmann observes the theology of Luke here. [8] The subordination of Jesus is taught in that the miracles are characterised as acts of God through Jesus.

Exorcisms in the name
In Acts 19 Luke pictures the apostle Paul ministering in the "occult centre of the Mediterranean", Ephesus. An example of the extraordinary miracles that "God did" through Paul, included healings and exorcisms through handkerchiefs and aprons which had touched his person. From the context it may be inferred that the name of Jesus was involved, for when the sons of Sceva sought to exorcise demons using the name of Jesus they were unsuccessful - the demons attacked them! (19:13-16). This caused the name of the Lord Jesus to be venerated (v.17). Here, as in the story of Philip and Simon Magus (8:4-25), Luke sees the new faith in conflict with the occult and makes a distinction between miracles wrought by the power of God and magic. [9]

Parallel miracle stories
J.M.Hull, in his work Hellenistic Magic and the Synoptic Tradition, [10] maintains that the Synoptists were influenced by Hellenistic magical ideas - and Luke more than Matthew and Mark, especially in his accounts of exorcisms and healings. In magic, for example, to know and use the name of a god was to have a claim on its power, so that the magician could exercise that power at will. Hull takes Acts 19:11-20 to support this view as the name of Jesus is wrongfully used by the sons of Sceva, and was subsequently held in awe. [11]

The views of J.M.Hull can be countered. We must pay attention to the use of the term "name" in both parts of Luke's work, commencing with the Gospel. In the mission of the Twelve Luke records that Jesus "gave them power and authority to drive out all demons and to cure diseases, as he sent them out to preach the kingdom of God and to heal the sick" (Lk.9:1-2). Later, in the mission of the Seventy (or Seventy-two) (Lk.10:1ff.) Jesus gave his disciples authority with the command, "Heal the sick who are there and tell them, 'The kingdom of God is near you'". The success of the mission(s) is reported in the words: "Lord, even the demons submit to us in your name" (v.17, italics mine). Jesus replied that he saw Satan fall (imperfect tense) like lightning from heaven. The mission was one of front line confrontation with the devil, and the disciples had overcome. The parallel to Acts 19:11ff is Lk.9:lff. The confrontation with the powers of darkness, the use of the "name" in healing and exorcisms, together with the account that "the word of the Lord spread widely and grew in power" supports this point of view. [12]

Again, in Acts 19:11-20, Luke may well be illustrating the fulfilment of the Lord's commission to Paul when he said: I am sending you to open their eyes and turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me" (Acts 26:17-18). This compares with Jesus' mission statement in Lk.4:18-19.

Further, in response to Hull, rather than using magical forms, Luke may, in comparison, compare the power of the gospel with the superstitious belief of the Hellenistic religious world. This may be seen in the words "Repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name" (Lk.24:47). "In the name" indicates both the power and authority of Jesus being exercised by the apostles. The observation that the healing of Aeneas took place as Peter said, "Jesus Christ heals you" (9:34) has been taken as a clue to its meaning - it is not the formula but the Person that heals. [13]

Preaching in the name of Jesus As in the case of Jesus, preaching and miracles went hand in hand. In Acts, preaching, teaching and speaking "in the name of Jesus" is featured as an active part of the church's witness. A sense of power and authority goes with the preaching as with the healings (4:17,18; 5:28,40; 9:27-28). The two activities go together, as in the case of the healing of the paralytic - the healing is a sign of the power of the message (4:18 22). [14]

2. THE KINGDOM AND SALVATION

We have said about the Gospel, "Wherever the king [Jesus] is there is the kingdom". We may say of the Acts, "Wherever the Spirit is there is the kingdom". In Luke's second work the prominent figure is the Spirit. He is the mediator of the kingdom of God. Luke interprets the role of the Spirit in the church as being similar to his role in Jesus' pre-resurrection mission: the Spirit constitutes a continuing presence of the kingdom of God in the post-resurrection church. [15]

Preaching the kingdom
Throughout Acts it is reported that the early disciples of Jesus preached the kingdom (Acts 8:12; 14:22; 19:8; 20:25; 28:23) In these references the term has a different shade of meaning. The kingdom is linked with "the name of Jesus" in 8:12; 28:23. It is synonymous with the gospel of the grace of God in 20:25. It is depicted as preached both to Jewish and Gentile congregations in 19:8 and 28:23. The reference in 14:22 has an element of realisation. The basic idea of the kingdom preached by Jesus is continued, only now Jesus is seen as the Lord working through his church, bringing salvation to people as a present possession and a future hope.

Miracles as an evidence of the kingdom
We have seen that "the mighty works of Jesus were the reign of God in action, outgoings in power to sick and sinful people of the love which is central to the kingdom of God". [16] In Acts:

Philip went down to a city in Samaria and proclaimed Christ. When the crowds heard Philip and saw the miraculous signs he did, they paid close attention to his message. With shrieks, evil spirits came out of many, and many paralytics and cripples were healed. Luke reports that there was great joy in the city (Acts 8:5 8).


The passage illustrates the thought that, "like Jesus' miracles, those in Acts indicate that the messianic kingdom is on the very threshold; the strong one, Satan, is bound and despoiled of his goods". [17]

3. THE GOOD NEWS PROCLAIMED

The full account of Philip's ministry in Acts 8:4 40 must be significant, and invites examination.  It affords an example of salvation from sin and Satan and the offering of forgiveness and joy. Jesus is proclaimed as the good news of the kingdom. [18] The admixture of preaching with miraculous signs is a strong Lucan point: "They all paid close attention to what he said" emphasises the importance of the message, but it was the sēmeia that caught the peoples' attention (v.6). The Lucan balance between miracles and teaching is maintained, and the true nature and function of the sēmeia is explained. [19] Exorcisms are an indication that the kingdom of God is still involved in a conflict with Satan's kingdom. "Joy" is expressed as a result of the salvation experienced.

The confrontation with Simon Magus (Acts 8:9-24) demonstrates that the power of the gospel is greater than that found in the occult or in the practice of magic. The "great signs and miracles" more than matched Simon's sorcery. Many of his followers became Christian converts Simon himself was baptised (v.13), but the nature of his belief is a matter of dispute. [20]

Philip's encounter with the Ethiopian official (Acts 8:26-40) confirms that his gospel is Christ-centred. The evangelist uses the Scriptures as his reference point. The Lucan interest in Isaiah is seen in that the scroll the official was reading contained Isaiah 53. The official believed without any miraculous manifestation.

Salvation from sin, Satan and death
Keynotes from the apostolic kerygma may be gathered from Acts chapter eight, and compared with those considered from the Gospel. These are repentance (v.22), faith (v.37), the remission of sin (v.22), baptism (vv.13,37), the reception of the Spirit (vv.15-17) and evidential works (v.21). The message of the kingdom is the good news of salvation.

The experience of the Spirit
The experience of the Spirit is important. B.M.Metzger argues that the prayer, "Your kingdom come" in the Lucan form of the Lord's Prayer (Lk.11:2ff.) is actually a petition for the Holy Spirit. He suggests that it could read, "Let your Holy Spirit come upon us and cleanse us". [21]

"Grace and power" (another Lucan doublet) are experienced through the Spirit (6:8). We have noted the dynamic nature of charis in reference to Jesus earlier. J.Nolland, in his article "Luke's use of Charis", mentions the work of J.Gupont and notes:

In his study of Acts 20:24 and 32 he finds that the Christian message is not only about the grace of God, but grace is actually present in the preaching, and working through it. Indeed grace is at times in Acts clothed with a kind of existence of its own, almost personified. [22]


4. SALVATION IN JESUS

An early stress is placed on salvation "in the name of Jesus" in Acts. On the day of Pentecost Peter preached, "Repent and be baptised, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit" (2:38).

The healing of the paralysed man at the temple gate occasioned the word, "It is Jesus' name and the faith that comes through him that has given this complete healing to him, as you can all see" (Acts 3:16). This statement was strengthened by the witness before the Sanhedrin: "Salvation is found in no one else; for there no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved" (4:12). In Acts chapter nine the raising of Dorcas by Peter resulted in many people believing in the Lord (9:36-42). Jesus the Saviour, who is Christ and Lord, is the message of salvation in Acts.

Salvation in Acts does not entail joining any organisational Christian church Luke elaborates no doctrine of the church - only once does the word ekklēsia (9:31) have a meaning beyond "local congregation" and then it simply covers the church in Judea, Galilee and Samaria. [23] Salvation rather means becoming a disciple and follower of him who is the Way (Acts 9:1-2; cf. Jn.14:6). Again, in dynamic terms, it means trusting Jesus, the Saviour of mankind, and as a believer experiencing his love and forgiveness - and the eschatological life of the kingdom through the Spirit (4:32-35). [24]

5. THE FULFILMENT OF SCRIPTURE

In his Gospel Luke interprets the ministry and mission of Jesus from the perspective of the OT, and from Isaiah in particular. C.K.Barrett sees the early church's mission being seen from the same viewpoint in the Acts. For example, the "striking events" of the gift of the Holy Spirit and the healing of the lame man are the fulfilment of purposes that God had declared through Joel (Acts 2:17-21; Joel 2:28-32) for the glorification of his servant (3:13; Isa.52:13).

Luke's christology focuses on the resurrection foretold by David (Acts 2:25-28; Psa.16:8-11). Jesus is exalted as kurios (2:34f.; Psa.110:1). He was the promised prophet (3:22; Dt.18:15-20). God's fulfilment of his promises (prophecies) meant the offer of salvation to everybody, as had been promised to Abraham (3:25; Gen.22:18; 26:4) and foretold by Joel (2:21; cf. Acts 2:39). [25]

The place of Scripture in apostolic preaching
The term "the word" has two meanings in the Acts. The phrase "preached the word" often signifies the fact that the church preached the gospel. This was the word (message) that is said to spread (e.g., in Acts 6:7). Preaching, as we have seen, was vehicle by which the Spirit moved in people's lives. In this sense "the word" is given an evangelistic context. (The term "word" may also apply to the Scriptures, the written Word of God.) The Jerusalem church thrived on the apostles' teaching (2:42), which involve the exposition of the OT (LXX). Peter said, "[We] will give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the word" (6:4). Of course, the core of the gospel message involved the Scriptures too. This is clearly illustrated by the mission of Paul in Berea. Paul preached, and the Bereans "examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true" (17:11). The Jewish and Hellenistic churches grew as God ministered his grace through the word (Word) (Acts 20:32).

Notes on the preaching the gospel

In closing this section we note:

The early Christians preached Christ. The message was proclaimed in the power of the Holy Spirit. Miraculous signs followed the preaching of the gospel.

6. QUESTIONS

1. What insights have you gleaned from reading The Apostolic Preaching and its Developments by C.H.Dodd?.

2. What do you understand by the "gospel" or "good news"?




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