Acts: Chapters 1-8

Acts: Chapters 1-8

by Martyn Lloyd-Jones

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781433540028
Publisher: Crossway
Publication date: 08/31/2013
Pages: 1728
Product dimensions: 6.80(w) x 9.50(h) x 4.50(d)

About the Author

Martyn Lloyd-Jones (1899-1981), minister of Westminster Chapel in London for 30 years, was one of the foremost preachers of his day. His many books have brought profound spiritual encouragement to millions around the world.

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CHAPTER 1

Christianity — The Only Hope

The former treatise have I made, O Theophilus, of all that Jesus began both to do and teach, until the day in which he was taken up, after that he through the Holy Ghost had given commandments unto the apostles whom he had chosen: to whom also he showed himself alive after his passion by many infallible proofs, being seen of them forty days, and speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God.

— Acts 1:1-3

There can be no more urgent question at this present time than just this: What is Christianity? I say that because this Gospel is the only hope in the world today. Everything else has been tried and found wanting. Everything else has failed. You will not find hope with the philosophers or with the statesmen, and you will not find it in the so-called religions of the world. Here is hope, and here alone.

"But," someone may say, "surely you can't claim that there is any hope in the Gospel either, because it has been tried now for 2,000 years and has obviously failed quite as much as the various other things to which you've referred."

The only reply to that is the one that was given so perfectly by the late G. K. Chesterton when he reminded us, "Christianity has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and not tried." That is the simple truth. The world, speaking generally, has never tried Christianity. It has talked a lot about it, but it has not really tried it. So I argue that this is still the only hope for the world. Therefore it is urgent that we should ask what Christianity is. Or, to put the question another way, what is the Christian church? What is her business, and what is her message?

It can be put like this: Why am I, or why is anyone else, a preacher of the Gospel? There is only one answer to that question. I am a preacher because I believe I have been called; because in my little way God has given me a burden; because I know by personal experience, by the experience of others, and by experience garnered from the reading of history that there is nothing under heaven that can enable men and women to conquer and to master life and to have a hope that cannot be dimmed except this Gospel. Therefore, the most urgent task in the world today is to make the Gospel known to men and women. And this is the function of the Christian church.

But as we all know, the great tragedy is that there is utter confusion with regard to what the Gospel is, what the church is, and what Christians are supposed to do. I call your attention to this, God knows, not because I am anxious to be controversial but because I have a burden for the souls of men and women. I would not be a preacher were it not for that. That is what originally put me in the ministry and makes me go on. I see the confusion. I see men and women bewildered, asking, "What is Christianity? What is the church?" And I am not surprised that they are bewildered.

Furthermore, this confusion is not confined to men and women outside the church. Indeed, I have an increasing fear that the confusion of those outside has been produced mainly by the so-called Christian church herself. A man who has held the highest position in one of the religious denominations and is well-known as one who speaks in the name of Christianity has recently said that he thinks certain things should be done at once, and the first is that the church must give up the foolish habit of having two services on a Sunday. "One is enough," he says, "and let's have it at nine o'clock in the morning so that having got that out of the way, we can then give ourselves to what we want to do." He also says that if he had the power, he would decree that there should be no reading of the Bible at all for twelve months — this in the name of the church and of Christianity! And then he says that any preaching that is done in the one and only service at nine o'clock in the morning should, for at least a year, be on a political text alone.

I call attention to this because it is so typical of what is being said at the present time. Is it surprising that men and women are in a state of confusion? Speaking generally, the current idea is that the Christian message is, after all, nothing but a kind of teaching with regard to how our affairs should be ordered — that is why it is held that all texts should be political. It is said that the main business of the church is to deal with injustices and to do the work of reform and that in the Sermon on the Mount we have a kind of social charter. People who say this are never interested in the Old Testament; they generally dismiss it in toto, and they have no use for the apostle Paul. Instead, they point to the ethical teaching of Jesus. "There's your political program," they say. "There's your political charter, and all you must do is apply it as best you can. You must not even read the Bible, but pick up these general principles, and try to put them into practice."

Others say that Christianity is mainly an elevated, optimistic view of life, a sort of philosophy. Having found out how life can be lived on a higher plane and having experienced a moral uplift, you try to get others to adopt these principles.

And then there are others who, perhaps nearer to the Christian position, regard Christianity as being mainly a matter of morals and of conduct. They say that what makes people Christians is that they have adopted this ethical teaching and put it into practice. So by living a good life, they have made themselves Christians.

Common to all those teachings is the view that what really matters is the kernel of moral teaching that is to be found in this book that we call the Bible. Unfortunately, the Bible is cluttered up with a lot of unimportant history. Most of it is false, with a lot about miracles that obviously are not true and that no one with any scientific understanding can possibly believe for a moment. We must get rid of all that, they say, and find this kernel that is hidden away in all the husks and straw. Having extracted this kernel, we can ignore the Bible and start with the political or moral situation. Then we must try to persuade people to put these things into practice. That is the common idea of the Christian message and the common notion with respect to the function of the Christian church.

Now I want to deal with all this, and that is why I am calling your attention to the first three verses in the book of the Acts of the Apostles. Look at it like this: What is the origin of the Christian church? Surely that is the question to ask. You do not start with the twentieth century. Here is something that can be traced back nearly two thousand years. So surely, if you want to know what the church is and what Christianity is, your duty is to go back to the very beginning and discover how the church started and what she did.

I think you will agree with me that the question of authority is primary and fundamental. When people think they have the right to announce, "This is what I think Christianity is, and this is what the church should do," then we have the right to ask, "Can that be fitted into what we have here in the book of Acts? What is our authority in these matters? Are we competent to decide what the Christian church is? Can we divorce ourselves from the history of nearly two thousand years and say that we do not care what happened in the past, this is what we say now?" Of course, you can say that if you like, but the question is: Have you any right to call that Christianity?

Surely, common honesty demands that we say that we have only one authority on the origin of the church, and it is the authority of the Bible. Here in the Acts of the Apostles a man is writing who is undoubtedly Luke, the evangelist. He says, "The former treatise have I made, O Theophilus." This is a reference to the Gospel of Luke, which has a similar introduction. In Luke 1:1-4 Luke writes:

Forasmuch as many have taken in hand to set forth in order a declaration of those things which are most surely believed among us, even as they delivered them unto us, which from the beginning were eyewitnesses, and ministers of the word; it seemed good to me also, having had perfect understanding of all things from the very first, to write unto thee in order, most excellent Theophilus, that thou mightest know the certainty of those things, wherein thou hast been instructed.

That is why these books were written. We do not have exact information concerning Theophilus, but it is generally assumed that he was a man in some prominent position, a man of culture and of learning, who had heard various reports about Christianity and wanted to know more. He found Luke, a doctor and a most competent historian, who had accompanied the apostle Paul and so was in a very good position to know exactly what the story was. They got in touch, and Luke wrote to Theophilus saying in effect, "I will give you an account of exactly what happened. I will tell you why we believe what we believe. I will tell you the story." And he did it in two parts — the first, the Gospel, and the second, this book of the Acts of the Apostles. My argument is that we must go back and consider this story. We are not only honor bound to do that, but we must, if we want to understand it.

What is the story? Well, there were a handful of people whom the authorities in Jerusalem regarded as ordinary, simple, unlettered, and ignorant men and women. There were just twelve men essentially, and a number of others with them. They had nothing to recommend them, no great names, no degrees, no money, no means of communication or of advertising. They had nothing at all — they were nobodies. And yet what we know to be a fact is that this handful of ignorant and unlettered people "turned the world upside down," to use Luke's phrase in chapter 17:6. Within about two centuries Christianity became the most powerful force in the great Roman Empire. By the beginning of the third century it had become such a powerful force that a Roman emperor named Constantine deemed it a wise move to make the Roman Empire officially Christian.

I am not concerned to consider that fact now. All I want to ask is: How was it that this small group of people ever got into a position in which they could shake the whole Roman Empire so that it became officially Christian within such a short space of time? Was it because they preached politics that these people turned the ancient world upside-down?

Christianity is a phenomenon of history. It is a fact. The Christian church is one of the most vital facts in the total history of the world. We cannot understand that history without bringing in the story of the church. But does this modern idea as to what the church is and what her message is account for what has already happened? My answer is that it does not. So not only do honesty and common sense tell us to come back to Acts, but if we really want to have an understanding of what Christianity means, we are compelled to come back here. Only one thing can account for the phenomenon of the Christian church and this amazing history that has continued through the centuries, in spite of the world, the flesh, and the devil and the malignity of men and of hell, and it is the explanation given in this book of Acts.

Therefore I propose to hold the message of Acts before you. I shall not preach systematically through the book, but I shall pick out certain themes that are put before us here. I feel that the modern world is very much in the position of Theophilus. At any rate, anyone considering these things who is not a Christian is in the position of Theophilus. You have become interested. You want to know what Christianity is. Perhaps you are in trouble in your moral life or in your married life. Perhaps you have some running sore of the soul, something that gets you down. And you say, "I've tried this and that — I wonder what the Christian church has to offer."

All right, Theophilus, you want to know, and fortunately we are able to tell you. I am not here to tell you what I think about Christianity. I am not here to tell you what I think the Christian church should do. I am in the position of Charles Wesley, saying, "O for a thousand tongues to sing my great Redeemer's praise." My own personal opinion is that even two services on a Sunday are not enough. How can people be satisfied with but one statement? The world is dying all around us, and it needs to hear the Word of God. These early Christians went everywhere, and they spoke and they preached, and that is the explanation of this tremendous phenomenon of the church.

So let us see what Acts has to say to us. First, what was the message that these people preached? Luke told Theophilus quite plainly. He said:

The former treatise have I made, O Theophilus, of all that Jesus began both to do and teach, until the day in which he was taken up, after that he through the Holy Ghost had given commandments unto the apostles whom he had chosen: to whom also he showed himself alive after his passion by many infallible proofs, being seen of them forty days, and speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God.

— Acts 1:1-3

That is a summary of the whole of the Gospel of Luke and also of the other Gospels. What does it mean? Here are some of the great principles.

The starting point, the fundamental thing, is that Christianity is about Jesus. "I've written to you already about Him," said Luke in effect, "and I'm going to tell you more about Him." Christianity is not a teaching — it is a person. It is not merely a moral outlook that is to be applied in the realm of politics. You start with a historical person. Luke was a pure historian. He was giving an account of events and of facts.

The Lord Jesus Christ was the theme of the preaching of the early church. He is the theme of the Gospel of Luke. He is the theme of the Acts of the Apostles. This is the tragic thing that has been forgotten at the present time. "What we need," people say, "is the application of His teaching." But it is not. What you need is to know Him and to come into a relationship with Him. You do not start with His teaching — you start with Him. This is the message: "All that Jesus began both to do and teach." Our Lord Himself said to his disciples, "Ye shall be witnesses unto me" (Acts 1:8). He was sending these men out to preach. He said, "You are not simply going to preach My teaching. You are going to preach about Me."

As you read the book of Acts, you will find that our Lord's disciples always preached "Jesus, and the resurrection" (Acts 17:18). They went to people and told them about this person. This was the whole of their teaching. You never find them starting with the political or social situations. They said, "Listen, we have something to tell you about a person whose name is Jesus."

And what did the disciples say about Him? The facts are all-important. In the Gospel Luke gave facts, and here in Acts he gives them again. But he does not stop at that; he is equally concerned about the meaning, the significance, of these facts. And he expounds that. He writes not only about all that Jesus did, but also all that He taught. The two must always go together — our Lord's acts and His teaching.

There is also this most extraordinary addition that our Lord himself made: "Ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth" (Acts 1:8). This is truly staggering. Here was a Jew, born in poverty, one who worked as a carpenter, who began to preach at the age of thirty and after some three years was crucified on a cross, dying in utter weakness, and was laid in a tomb. But here he was, telling these men they would be witnesses to Him "unto the uttermost part of the earth." Here is a message for the whole world.

I emphasize that because there are people who say that the Christian faith is all right if you happen to be interested in religion, but if you do not happen to have a religious mentality and outlook, then it does not matter, you can just take up what you like. But that is shown to be a lie by our Lord's words. Here is a message that is to be proclaimed to the ends of the earth. Why? Because something happened in this person, Jesus, that affects every single individual who ever has been or ever shall be in this world of time.

Now if Christianity were merely a philosophy or a political idea, no one would be bound to believe it. There are rival schools of philosophy; there are rival teachings and theories, and one person believes this and another that. But what we are facing here is not what you and I believe, but facts, and the facts are about this person called Jesus — what He did and what He said and the meaning of His person. So there is nothing more tragic than when men and women say, "Shut your Bibles; the facts don't matter at all. What does it matter whether Jesus was a man, or God as well as man?" They have got it all wrong. It is the person who matters most of all.

(Continues…)


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