April 14, 2024

The Acts of the Apostles

The Acts of the Apostles

3rd Sunday of Easter 14th April
Readings: Acts 3. 12-19; 1 Jn. 3. 1-7; Lk. 24. 36b-48
Theme: The Acts of the Apostles

Over the next weeks until Pentecost, we will be reading the Acts of the Apostles as our first reading and so I thought that I would use this sermon to introduce this book of the New Testament and outline some of its key features. The first thing to realize about the Acts of the Apostles is that it should be read as a second part of the Gospel of Luke. The Acts are written by St Luke who envisages his evangelical witness to the risen Lord in two parts.

The first part of the Gospel of Luke tells the story of what Jesus began to do and teach. It narrates the accounts of how he came to be born, his public ministry and his death and resurrection. Whereas, the second part, the Acts of Apostles, narrates how the followers of Jesus continued his work and teaching after Jesus had ascended into heaven. The Acts thus represent the continuing story of Jesus in the life of the church.

Both parts, the Gospel of Luke and the Acts of the Apostles are dedicated to the same person, Theophilus (Lk. 1. 1-4; Acts 1. 1-5) who was probably Luke’s patron and publisher of the time, so to speak. So, when we read the Acts of the Apostles, we should do so as a commentary on the Gospel of Luke as many of the same themes reappear, but now in the light of the continuing mission of Jesus through the life of the Holy Spirit animating the church.

Another thing to notice about the Acts of the Apostles is that whereas in the Gospel of Luke all the movement of the events is towards Jerusalem, all the movement of the events of the Acts of the Apostles is away from Jerusalem. Acts spreads the witness and teaching of Jesus throughout the Roman Empire and finishes up with St Paul preaching in Rome, the capital of the empire (Acts 28. 17-31). In other words, the Gospel of Luke is set under the tutelage of the Roman Empire, whereas the Acts of the Apostles subverts this Roman rule through the death and resurrection of Jesus, which inaugurates a new empire: the kingdom of God amongst the followers of Jesus.
So, the Acts of the Apostles picks up common themes already announced in the Gospel of Luke and interprets them in the light of the risen Christ as mediated to the church through the presence of the Holy Spirit. In today’s passage from Acts this life of the Holy Spirit mediates the healing presence of Jesus to the crippled beggar who was being carried to the Beautiful Gate at the entrance of the temple in Jerusalem to meet the people going in for the three o’clock prayer. This encounter with Peter and John happens just before our passage from Acts. As the lame beggar shouts out to Peter and John for alms, Peter replies that he has no money, but what he does have, he will give him. What Peter has, is the power of the Holy Spirit to heal, so he calls out to the lame beggar to rise up in the name of Jesus. Peter helps the beggar with his right hand to stand up and the beggar begins to walk into the temple and praises God. All the people who were at the temple realized that this was the lame beggar who is always at the Beautiful Gate and they are filled with wonder and praise at what Peter had done.

Just after this incident of the healing of the lame beggar, our passage from Acts begins at Solomon’s Portico, which was on the Eastern side of the Jerusalem temple’s outer court. This is a detail which is easy to miss if one is not clear that for St Luke, the movement of Acts is away from Jerusalem and this is the start of the movement, going eastwards through Solomon’s Porch or Portico. And, our passage from Acts begins the movement of the message of Jesus beyond the walls of the temple of Jerusalem. In other words, from now on, prayer will no longer be focused on the temple of Jerusalem, but will rather be dispersed throughout the world, all prayer will now be through Jesus. Jesus is thus the new temple of Jerusalem, the sacred meeting place between heaven and earth, the unique mediator between the divine and the human realms. So, when the Israelites are told by Peter, that “The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob has glorified his servant Jesus”, Peter echoes the theme of the Gospel of Luke that Jesus will fulfill the prophecies that were made about him. So, what Peter is doing in our passage from Acts today is engaging in what we will today call evangelism. He is witnessing through his act of healing of the lame beggar and of his preaching of the message of the Gospel to the Israelites. This preaching involves re-reading the Jewish scriptures in the light of the death and resurrection of Jesus, so that the Israelites can now understand that the Jewish messiah, Jesus, has fulfilled the prophecies of the scriptures, and that now is the time for this fulfillment to be carried to the “ends of the earth”. A propos this notion of the carrying of the Gospel message to the “ends of the earth”, of his followers being “witnesses to the end of the earth”, there is an interesting detail which is particularly relevant for our own chaplaincy here on the Costa del Sol West. We know from the Letter to the Romans (Rom. 15. 24, 28), that St Paul had planned to travel to Spain, which represented the “end of the earth” at the time. References that we have from Strabo, an ancient Greek sage who wrote books of historical geography including a map of the ancient world, refer to ‘Gades’ on the Western coast of Spain as representing the ‘end of the earth’. ‘Gades’ is the Latin name for Cádiz and natives of Cádiz today are still referred to as ‘Gaditanos’. So, it is possible that St Paul came to the region of our chaplaincy which straddles the Málaga and Cádiz Provinces of contemporary Spain. Whether he did or whether in the end he simply went to Rome, the important thing to remember is that the Gospel has reached us and all ‘ends of the earth’ because of the witness of the early church to the death and resurrection of Jesus.

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.