The book of Acts opens with the sense that something big is about to happen. Jesus, who has just risen from the grave, instructs his disciples to wait in Jerusalem for the promised Holy Spirit (Acts 1:5, 8).
The Gospel of Luke tells us that the Spirit was responsible for Jesus’ miraculous birth (Luke 1:35) and that the Spirit caused Elizabeth and Zechariah and Simeon to prophesy (Luke 1:15, 41, 67; 2:25). They remembered how the Holy Spirit descended on Jesus like a dove at his baptism (Luke 3:22) and led him into the wilderness where he was tested (Luke 4:1). Jesus told them that this same Spirit will give them power to be witnesses from Jerusalem to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8).
Jesus ascends to heaven (Acts 1:6-11) and his followers are left behind, wondering and waiting for this promised Helper who will lead them through whatever is about to happen next (John 15:26; 16:7-8).
This anticipation sets the stage for the book of Acts, which is part two of Luke’s history of Jesus’ life and ministry. This second part details how Jesus’ ministry continued through his disciples, who shared the good news that God has made a way for us to be forgiven through Jesus.
Though he wasn’t a disciple, Luke was one of Paul’s close companions who traveled with him and observed firsthand many of the events described in Acts (Colossians 4:14; 2 Timothy 4:11; Philemon 24). Luke also collected eyewitness testimonies. He examined them closely so that he could compile an “orderly account” for a Roman dignitary named Theophilus (Luke 1:3). His purpose was to provide a trustworthy narrative that would help future followers of Jesus have “certainty” about this critical piece of history (Luke 1:4).
Luke tells us that many of Jesus’ followers were waiting and praying together in Jerusalem when the promised Holy Spirit came (Acts 1:14; 2:1). A sound like a rushing wind filled the room. Flames of fire appeared over those present and they began to preach about the “mighty works of God” (Acts 2:11). Bystanders from many different nations heard and understood this good news in their own language even though the disciples of Jesus didn’t know those languages (Acts 2:8-13)! We now called this event the “Day of Pentecost.” In the same way that Jesus’ ministry began with the Spirit descending upon him at his baptism (Luke 3:22), Jesus’ ministry through his church began when the Spirit comes upon his followers at Pentecost.
After Pentecost, Luke proceeds to describe the church’s remarkable growth despite adversity. He recounts the miracles performed by Peter and John (Acts 3), Stephen’s courageous testimony before he was martyred (Acts 6-7), and Saul’s surprising conversion to Christianity on the road to Damascus (Acts 9). Luke tells how non-Jewish believers joined the followers of Jesus and how they also received the Holy Spirit (Acts 10). He describes Paul’s three missionary journeys and the new congregations scattered around the Mediterranean Sea (Acts 13-20). Luke ends his history with Paul bearing witness to Jesus as a prisoner in Rome—the heart of the ancient world (Acts 28). In Acts, we see the church spreading from Jerusalem to the nations—just like Jesus said it would (Luke 24:46-47).
In Acts, we see the church spreading from Jerusalem to the nations—just like Jesus said it would (Luke 24:46-47).
Luke shows us that the gospel will continue to spread throughout the earth as the Holy Spirit empowers believers to bear witness to Jesus Christ and his message. The church grows when everyday men and women are transformed by the good news of Jesus and then pass that news on to others. We see it happening in the book of Acts and we know the Holy Spirit is still empowering believers to be witnesses today. As you read Acts, be encouraged at how the good news of Jesus Christ spreads even through persecution and great obstacles. Take courage that the Holy Spirit is still at work in anyone who believes. We, too, are witnesses to the mighty works of God!
Do you want to know what happens when the Holy Spirit is powerfully at work? Do you want to know what he can do in the world through your life? Open the book of Acts.