6 Reasons You Should Preach through Acts
The book of Acts is the narrative of how God’s end-times promises have begun to be fulfilled by the risen Lord Jesus through the Spirit-empowered apostolic preaching of the gospel to all people and the establishing of local churches.
I have had the blessing of preaching through Acts in our regular church services not once but twice in the last four years (I’ll explain that later). I strongly encourage fellow preachers to take their congregations through this unique book. Here’s six reasons why:
1. Acts will bolster your confidence in God’s sovereignty.
Acts assumes God’s rule over history, events, and people. Most strikingly, the apostles repeatedly frame the gospel and their ministry as the fulfillment of God’s promises in the Old Testament. Everything from the death and resurrection of Jesus, to the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, to the Gentile mission happens because God said it would.
This fulfillment of the Old Testament happens in very concrete and often dramatic ways. God sovereignly directs the apostles’ movements through the Spirit, opens the hearts of those ordained to salvation, unlocks prison doors and chains, judges rulers and hypocrites, and saves the shipwrecked. Despite all manner of persecution, God’s Word advances. Nothing can stop the gospel.
Acts will lift church members and pastors out of the dark valley of personal trials, church problems, and global chaos—and grant them a view from the summit of God’s absolute reign over the world.
2. Acts will clarify the gospel of Jesus for your congregation.
Strangely enough, evangelical Christians often have a weak grasp of the good news. When asked to summarize the gospel message, believers sometimes say things like “God loves you” or “Ask Jesus into your heart as your personal savior” or “Jesus can change your life.” While these statements may be true to varying degrees, they’re not the gospel.
Acts clarifies the gospel by giving many examples of evangelism, from short narrative summaries to extended sermon excerpts. Acts lets us hear again and again what the evangelists said when they shared the good news.
So what is the good news? It’s the message that Jesus is the promised Messiah of God’s kingdom who died for sins, rose again, and will judge the world, and that anyone who repents and believes in him will be forgiven and enter God’s kingdom. By preaching through Acts you will have ample opportunities to rehearse these essential components of the gospel with your people.
But let’s go one step further. Acts not only presents a message about Jesus; Acts reveals the risen Jesus himself. Jesus directs and intervenes throughout Acts. The risen Christ saves sinners as they repent and believe the message about him.
Church members will proclaim the gospel more boldly when they know the message clearly and when they believe that the living Lord Jesus works supernaturally through that message.
3. Acts will deepen your people’s ecclesiology.
I have found Acts incredibly useful for teaching the church about the church. And that’s important because evangelicals sometimes think pragmatically or culturally about ecclesiology rather than than biblically and theologically.
By preaching Acts, you can address polity issues like baptism, church membership, and even church discipline. Acts shows both the normative pattern of plural eldership in local churches, and explains the task of those elders. It gives glimpses into the rhythms of church life like teaching, prayer, fellowship, and charity. Acts helps us apply the gospel to the tensions of ethnicity and multiculturalism in the church, and it portrays the relational interconnectedness that should exist between congregations.
Acts also helps answer the question, “What is the mission of the church?” Over and over in Acts we see the apostles and others carrying out the same missional pattern:
- evangelizing both Jew and Gentile,
- baptizing those who believe,
- congregating them into a local church,
- edifying that church through teaching.
Rinse and repeat, to the ends of the earth. Acts is the live-action version of the Great Commission.
4. Acts will push your thinking about the Holy Spirit.
Wait a minute. Isn’t this a reason to avoid preaching Acts? Won’t it lead us into all those controversial topics like miracles and tongues and prophecies?
Yes, it will. And we need to go there, because our people already have questions about the Holy Spirit and spiritual gifts, and because we pastors often neglect these topics.
Acts with push us to think more. It will cause Pentecostals and charismatics to ask useful questions likes:
- Was speaking in tongues really a secondary and normative experience for believers?
- What were tongues in the New Testament anyway?
- Were tongues a “private prayer language” or an actual human language?
- In Acts, why are miracles (almost) always specified as being done by the apostles?
- Were the prophecies in Acts the same as what often passes for “prophecy” today?
Likewise, cessationists—both the principled and functional varieties—have to somehow account for what seems to be a dynamic, wide-spread, supernatural working of the Holy Spirit. Have we so interpreted Acts that we reduce the Spirit to a theological category, rather than a living and active Person of the Godhead? Have we so rationalized our faith that we no longer cry out for the Spirit to work powerfully today?
Regardless of how you answer these questions, Acts shows us that the purpose of the Spirit’s work is not ultimately about imparting private spiritual experiences but about empowering public testimony about Jesus to all nations. The Spirit turns timid sheep into bold gospel lions willing to roam and roar for Jesus to the ends of the earth.
5. Acts will prepare your people for persecution.
Acts is the story of God’s Word advancing despite and even through persecution. Wherever we find the gospel preached in Acts, we always see two responses: belief or persecution. We read of Christians facing arrests, public trials, beatings, stonings, imprisonment, riots, slander, ridicule, harassment, and even martyrdom. As Paul told the churches, through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God (Acts 14:22).
God’s people need this message. Christians in the post-Christian West, who are currently being shaken out of their comfort-addled stupor by an increasingly militant secularism, need preparation on how to suffer as religious minorities. Furthermore, Christians in the global South and East (and West, for that matter), who are bewitched by the false teachings of the prosperity gospel, need to know that following Jesus means carrying a cross.
6. Acts will inspire your church to go.
Lord willing, Acts will stir the hearts of your people to move out for the gospel. In Acts, God’s people are constantly on the go; they take the gospel wherever they travel. Acts will challenge stayed, sleepy, change-resistant churches to go and send and plant. Preaching through this book will encourage churches to stay conservative in theology, but radically liberal in bringing the gospel to all nations.
That’s what Acts did for me. I had been pastoring in the Boston area for almost two decades at the same church. In March of 2015, while finishing up my first time preaching through Acts, I went on a short ministry term trip to Dubai in the United Arab Emirates. While there, I learned about an open pulpit just down the road in Abu Dhabi, the capital of the UAE. I felt moved to apply, and by God’s grace I am now pastoring that church.
God used the book of Acts to prepare me to move from a happy, comfortable pastorate in New England to an international church in the Middle East. And maybe that’s why I didn’t wait 20 years to preach Acts again, but instead preached through the book this year to the new flock in Abu Dhabi. I hope you won’t wait to preach it either.
In preaching Acts, I was particularly helped by Darrell Bock’s volume in the Baker Exegetical Commentary series, as well as by Alan Thompson’s The Acts of the Risen Lord Jesus in IVP’s New Studies in Biblical Theology.