Epic of the Ordinary: Christian Mission for You and Me
The Book of Acts is clearly one of the most action-packed segments in the storyline of Scripture. The title, “The Acts of the Apostles,” cues us in on this clue from the start. As many commentators have suggested, a more accurate title would be something to do with the acts of the Holy Spirit, or perhaps “The Action of the Ascended Christ by His Spirit Through His Church.”
The book opens with Jesus ascending as human to the throne of the universe, sending the Spirit, and commissioning his messengers. “You will be my witnesses,” he promises, “in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8). And so Luke recounts the movements in that outline — all action and no slush.
There are powerful proclamations, riveting dialogues, and thousands of conversions. There is everything from miracles that disgruntle the white-collar villains to prison sentences that end in wild escape. There is character development — absolute transformation — when Paul is knocked off his horse by a shining light and propelled to play a prominent role thereafter. Then there is religious controversy and political trials and the backstory of Jewish factions and Roman rule. Add in the maritime adventures of suspenseful decision-making and shipwreck to an unknown island of nice natives and venomous snakes.
Sometimes Jesus’s messengers were mistaken as gods, other times they were killed by the sword. Sometimes they were stoned to death, other times they were stoned but survived. There are disputes among the protagonists, ironic encounters, and affectionate goodbyes. The world, honestly and truly, was being turned upside down (Acts 17:6), everywhere from the scruffy blacksmith who lost his business to the highest court of international law. This story has all the pieces for a box-office hit.
And then there’s the way it ends.
Throughout the book, the action has ramped up, up, up. Paul’s voyage to Rome has been like a symphonic crescendo. The percussion is blaring louder, louder, louder. And then the story closes with a bi-vocational leader talking to folks who visit him at his house. All of that action — head-spinning action — leaves us with an old man inviting everyone into his home to tell them about Jesus.
Plainness As the Peak
The Book of Acts is meant to frame the church’s self-understanding. It has a “formative function,” as it’s been called, which is aimed at answering the identity question: Who are we, and what are we supposed to do?
Luke doesn’t answer this question with a bulleted list. Nor does he give us a handbook full of prescriptive lines. Instead, he writes our story, our history, with a theological intentionality we can’t ignore. This kind of approach doesn’t call our plays on the field, it shapes the way we see the game. The whole book is pointing in this direction, and in particular, the way it ends.
The last verses about Paul in Acts 28 are no accident. The nature of what he is doing has huge implications for how we be Christian in our day.
To be sure, it doesn’t prescribe that we all go do house churches, and it isn’t the be-all, end-all of how we interact with culture. But it is important for how we understand our witness in this world, especially when we’re more allured by the idea of recreating Pentecost than sharing a meal with neighbors.
As an aside, don’t misunderstand me. I love packed-out arenas of Christ-exalting worshipers. Passion’s latest album is wearing out my iTunes. Conferences are great. My wife doesn’t knit. I like McDonald’s. But the point I’m highlighting is that the biblical vision of the gospel’s advance isn’t bright lights and a great sound system. It looks much more plain. No frills Christian mission — that’s the picture Luke leaves us.
A People of Open Doors
Luke has shown us the miracles. There are times when the Spirit may teleport us into the back of a limousine beside a foreign ambassador who’s reading the Bible. He can do that sort of thing. But that’s not the inspired author’s last word. The rhythm to which we should be bobbing our heads is the simple, reproducible strategy of opening our doors to whomever will come. Paul “welcomed all who came” into his house where he plainly taught the story of God and who Jesus is. Keep in mind that it’s not so much about doing what Paul did. It is about imbibing the nature of Christian mission that Luke has been narrating all along, building up to this final scene: Come in, have some coffee, pull up a chair, let me tell you about Jesus. This is the last thing we see a gospel messenger do in Acts and it’s what we can still do today, whether in Minneapolis or Malaysia.
With summer just around the corner in the Northern Hemisphere, it’s the perfect season within the perfect aeon for us to do this. Men, take a few minutes to sit down with your wife, or gather your friends if you’re single or not-yet-married, to pray and plan how your home can become a center for the gospel’s triumph during the next four months. What will our hospitality look like this summer? Try to get at least one event on the calendar — one barbecue or discussion group or prayer meeting.
Now, it won’t feel epic, but it really is in this setting that the new creation peels into this old world. It’s in those conversations about who Jesus is and what he has done for us, simple as they may be, that we feel the force of his reign through us. It’s at our dinner tables, no less ordinary than any stable in first-century Bethlehem, where lives are transformed from darkness to light, where God’s enemies become his sons and daughters, where his glory shines a little brighter into this planet he will soon make new.
Luke means for us to walk from this book not disillusioned by a distant historical recount, but infused with encouragement to pick up where Paul left off. Because, after all, this book is more accurately “The Action of the Ascended Christ by His Spirit Through His Church” — which now includes you and me, and our homes.
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