At the quarter mark of the book of Acts, let’s take stock of the patterns in Luke’s story. The Holy Spirit has been mentioned 21 times thus far. A crescendo has been building in the aggression of the Jerusalem authorities against Jesus’ disciples. Violence has now erupted. Yet on multiple occasions, a time of explosive growth for the church follows immediately after a moment of challenge or decision.
Two new themes are developed at the beginning of the second act, one of which is the expansion of the gospel. Upon Stephen’s frightful end the disciples are scattered and we follow Philip from Jerusalem, through Judea, into Samaria. There he meets Simon the magician, and a court official of the queen of Ethiopia, both of whom believe in Jesus, but with different purposes in mind.
Later, in chapter 10, we’re reunited with Peter in the seaside town of Joppa. Up the coast in Caesarea, a devout centurion named Cornelius is visited by an angel, who commissions Cornelius to send for Peter. Meanwhile Peter receives a vision as well, repeated three times: an image of animals that the law forbade, and the voice of God pressing him to “Rise, kill and eat…” for “What God has made clean, do not call common.” As Peter awakes, inwardly perplexed about what this could mean, the servants of the Gentile Cornelius arrive.
The second theme that emerges is really a character: Saul. Luke makes sure we know straightaway what kind of man he was, observing simply, And Saul approved of [Stephen’s] execution. We watch him ravage the church in Jerusalem and ask the high priest for orders to take his rage to Damascus. But on the way someone meets him, something happens to him, and soon Saul himself is confounding the Jews who lived in Damascus by proving that Jesus was the Christ.
There is much action here, and it seems Luke wants us to feel it that way. He has a story to tell and limited time in which to do it. There is little backstory, characters emerge and are dropped at will, and there are few coincidental observations about the life of the church. Luke is telling us, sometimes through silence, what he believes is important.
Our verse for this week is Romans 3:23: For all have sinned, and fall short of the glory of God.
Acts 8 through 10. Now let’s read it!
for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,