The Book of Acts is very often misunderstood, like so much of the Bible. It is a unique book. It is actually a sequel to the Gospel of Luke and continues the narrative of the early church, from the ascension of Jesus to the coming of the Holy Spirit and the early accounts of the spread of the gospel "to the ends of the earth" (Acts 1:8). It ends with Paul's imprisonment in Rome. There is a marked parallelism between Luke's Gospel and Acts.
Christians sometimes debate how to title the book. It is rightly called "The Acts of the Apostles" though it is clearly a record of how the Holy Spirit worked through these first followers of Jesus who were the foundation of the Christian Church. The Holy Spirit is poured out in the second chapter, reversing the movement of the ascension. He becomes the major player in the drama called the church providing energy, courage and power for the mission of Jesus.
A Reformed Church missionary from Taiwan (David Alexander) has summarized some of the highlights of the first ten chapters in an April 2009 article in the Church Herald. I borrow some of his ideas, adding a few of my own, in the following reflections on the first ten chapters of Acts:
1. Risen. Christ corrects misconceptions about his role and the task he has assigned to his friends. He teaches them to live without his bodily presence and promises them the Holy Spirit.
2. The Holy Spirit comes to people in ways compared to nature's power, enabling them to hear God's word anew. Peter becomes the anointed preacher and thousands are converted in one day.
3. A lame man leaps and praises God when his mercy arrives in the person of "country bumpkins" who have heard and declare good news. Divine presence is evident and Peter preaches of a new day coming.
4. Witness moves from courtyards to courtrooms. God brings in more to hear the Word. People respond and go out to tell others. The church is strengthened and people become bold in their witness.
5. Flawed people must deal with a troubled church. Churches are all flawed and need grace and mercy. We must pray for the Holy Spirit to work if the church is to be fruitful.
6. Some who had their feet washed by Jesus come to see themselves as too important for humble service. God's power is shown in those who replace them. Pray for servant leaders in the church today.
7. The Word goes out with power but not all ears are open to it. Some cry out against the Word and stop their ears.
8. Driven out but not under the Word emerges along the roads and among foreign peoples.
9. Enemies are won to the faith. Pray for scales to fall from the eyes of people who do not see the kingdom of God.
10. Dreams and visions trump traditions and rules. It is hard for faithful people to allow their human traditions to not get in the way of the Spirit's power and work.
Luke expands the story of the church and the apostles in the latter chapters to show how converts were welcomed from every strata of Roman and Greek society. New members become the lifeblood of the infant church. This remains the case in every age. The church that fails to listen to what the Spirit is saying and doing in the Book of Acts will soon die.