I love starting a new journey. Whether the trip is taking me to a place I’ve never been before or follows a familiar path trod a thousand times, I love the freshness of taking that first step toward something delightful and good. This week begins a new adventure through the book Acts, the next Bible book that we are going to explore verse by verse. There are 28 chapters in Acts so you may be wondering how long exactly it’s going to take to get to the end of this journey. The simple answer is about a year, and that includes a detour through another of Paul’s letters in the New Testament. Let me explain.
The Bible is, of course, God’s Word to us, but He chose to give us His Word in different literary genres. That is, in different styles. There are letters like Colossians, which we just finished, there are pithy sayings called proverbs and poems collected in Psalms, and there are stories. When we read letters, we slow down and analyze every word and every turn of phrase. I used to do that in high school when my girlfriend gave me a love note. I’d study every word and every phrase—What did she mean by that? Letters prompt that level of scrutiny. But stories, like the collection of stories in Acts, are meant to be savored in larger pieces. And they don’t need the level of detailed attention the letters do. To give them that would be like watching an epic film and pausing every 5 minutes to let someone expound on the meaning. (How frustrating!) Instead, we will read a story and then come back and explain what needs explanation. Plus we will talk about how these stories were written for US, the followers of the Way (more on that odd nickname in a moment).
Over the next few months, we will pause for special messages from God’s Word for Easter, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, and then when Paul takes a turn up into the region of Galatia and fires off a letter to the Christians there, we’ll also detour for awhile into Galatians before coming back and finishing Acts in the fall and winter. All in all, as I said, we on a one-year (or so) journey that begins today. And I’m ready to get going!
The Acts series is entitled The Way because this is what the early followers of Jesus were called. It was like a nickname of sorts. (They were also called Christians, as we will see in this book.) I’ll show you two examples of how the nickname is used in Acts, both of which feature one of the most prominent leaders of this new movement, Saul, who became known as Paul.
“Saul was still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples. He went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found any there who belonged to the Way, whether men or women, he might take them as prisoners to Jerusalem.”
- Acts 9:1-2
So Saul persecuted the followers of The Way. He was a Jewish man committed to keeping the law, and these followers of The Way were causing trouble in his church! Remember that the first Christians were Jews. Their Savior was a Jew. Their Scriptures were the Jewish Scriptures. Their churches were the Temple and the synagogues. They were entrenched in the Jewish church and had no plans to go anywhere (it hadn’t even occurred to them that they should!). But these followers of The Way were causing trouble by saying, “Jesus is enough!” You don’t have to have the surgery. You can eat bacon. You don’t have to keep all the old rules. Do you know what happens when you try to bring changes to a church? People get mad! But God pursues Saul, and this persecutor who set out to clean up his church, turned to faith in Christ and became a passionate follower and defender of The Way. Listen to what he says later:
“However, I admit that I worship the God of our ancestors as a follower of the Way, which they call a sect. I believe everything that is in accordance with the Law and that is written in the Prophets, and I have the same hope in God as these men themselves have, that there will be a resurrection of both the righteous and the wicked.”
- Acts 24:14-15
Why this nickname for the earliest Christians? It is a double-entendre, a word or phrase with a double meaning. The early Christians were called followers of the The Way because
Jesus is The Way to eternal life,
and He teaches His followers The Way to live this life.
It’s very much out of vogue in Western culture to say that there is only one way to eternal life, but there you have it. Jesus is the way to eternal life. Any good to be seen in us, his followers, is because of the good God has done in us. We confess with the Apostles Creed that Jesus was really a man, but he was a special man, the God-man. He suffered under Pontius Pilate, he was buried, and he descended to the dead. And all of this, he did in our place for our sins. He was raised to life, and all who say, “I believe he did this for me” and believe it with all their heart, will be forgiven and have eternal life. It’s a simple message accessible for both preschoolers and for people with PhDs. It’s for CEOs and stay-at-home moms. Jesus is The Way for all of us.
The second part of the double-entendre is that Jesus teaches us the way to live. There is a way to live, laid out of for us in the Word, that will bring us joy. And we are part of a community of people, a community both ancient and modern, who are trying to live the way God calls us to live for both our good and God’s glory.