In this Introduction to a “Church on Fire” we note two significant bookends that will mark the beginning and end of our study in Acts.
The first of two bookends begins in Luke 23 when Herod Antipas places his royal robe on Jesus while mocking and ridiculing Him. Jesus, of course is silent. The second of the two bookends is found in Acts 12:20-23 where Herod Antipas appears before an audience who proclaim him to be like a god. Luke tells us that because Herod accepted the people’s worship instead of giving glory to God (vs. 23) he was consumed by worms and died.
Josephus is a helpful with more detail of this event, noting that Herod’s robe was woven with silver and that in the bright sun his image was radiant. Further, he observes that Herod’s death was both excruciating and lasted for five days (Josephus, Jewish Antiquities, Book XIX, 343-352).
In Acts 13 Paul’s first missionary journey begins and so does Luke’s chronicle of the Gospel as it spreads beyond the borders of Jerusalem, Judea, and Samaria (Acts 1:8). So, these two bookends inform the scope and sequence of our studies in Acts.
A CRESCENDO’S FIRE
Luke 23 walks us through the trial, execution and burial of Jesus with special notice given to not only the Jews but also to Jewish women and non-Jews as they witness the events of that day. The 3-hour darkening of the noon-day sun, the tearing of the curtain of the temple and the death of Jesus conclude with specific mention of the reaction of the crowd who “went home beating their breasts” (Luke 23:48). It is as though they leave the scene of the cross asking themselves, “What have we done?!” As two religious rulers quietly take Jesus’ body from the cross and lay it in a grave, the women are watching to see where Jesus’ body is interred so they can return, after the Sabbath, to lay the spices beside Him.
With this observation, I believe, Luke describes a pall that falls across the land as people reflect upon the events of the day, contemplating the possibility that they themselves had, indeed, murdered their own Messiah! A perfect setting for the unfolding story as we begin Luke 24 with an empty tomb, the men on the road to Emmaus, Jesus’ appearances to the disciples, and His ascension. Acts 1 picks up the story from there, then, and Luke describes the explosive crescendo of events of Acts 2 that will carry us through Acts 12 and beyond.