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The unconfined Jesus

In my former book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach
(Acts 1:1, NIV)

The startling sentence with which the book of Acts opens presses on the reader the fact that Jesus Christ is not just a figure of history but a present, living person. The author, Luke, looks back to the gospel that bears his name as a summary of all that Jesus began to do and to teach. Acts tells us what He did next. Although the book is often called the Acts of the Apostles, it might be better named the Acts of the risen Christ. The book is suffused with a sense of the present, active reality of Jesus.

So while Stephen, a deacon of the early church, is being stoned to death, he looks up and sees Jesus standing at the right hand of God (Acts 7:55).  When Saul, an arch-persecutor of the church, is on the way to Damascus to arrest some more Christians, Jesus Himself stops him in his tracks, saying Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me? (9:4), and makes Saul into a mighty missionary preacher. When Saul — by now called Paul — is preaching in Athens, he tells his audience that it is Jesus who will judge the world (17:31). And the same Jesus speaks to Paul in Corinth to encourage him on in his work (18:9).

All this, of course, is because He is risen from the dead. It means that Jesus cannot be confined to being a figure of history, a character we admire from a distance. Instead, He is One Who is watching us as we read this, Who is Lord and keeper of His church, and whom we must ultimately meet, on judgment day.

And just as Jesus cannot be confined, nor can the message about Him. When Luke speaks of all that Jesus began to do and to teach, he is implying that Jesus had something He wanted the early church to learn. Apart from His risen presence and saving power, the next biggest lesson in Acts is surely that the good news about Him is for the whole world. The central chapters of the book, which we’re covering at the moment at our 5pm services, show how the Lord persuaded His church of this, and how the message about Him then spread far and wide — to Gentiles as well as to Jews.

Our world tends to think of a confined Jesus: a figure of history only, or a figure of relevance only to some.

The opposite is true, as we’ll be reminded in our forthcoming week Real Lives Real Life, starting 30 March.

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