Movie sequels often fail to live up to the original movie. Acts is a sequel to the Gospel of Luke, but the impact, if anything, increases in Part 2. Acts 1:1–5 introduces Luke’s second volume, calling you to listen to what Jesus continues to do and teach, to learn about the kingdom, and to live as one who has been baptized with the Holy Spirit.
Understand Jesus’ instructions about his kingdom. Acts is the continuation of the words and deeds of Jesus. Luke, who authored the Gospel that bears his name, has told you what Jesus began to do and teach (Luke 1:1–4). The clear implication is that this second volume is the continuation of that story. The continuing work of Christ in Acts is the work of the Spirit, more specifically, the Spirit working in and through the church. Very early church history identifies Luke as the author. He was Paul’s companion and was a physician. He was a careful researcher and historian. He not only knew his Old Testament well (was he a “God-fearer”?) but the Old Testament Scriptures influenced how he wrote this book (notice how the account of the conversion of Saul is told and re-told). The book contains theology, but it’s there tucked into the history that Luke records. And it is reliable history because the Holy Spirit is the ultimate author.
Acts begins with Jesus teaching about his kingdom. Having mentioned the suffering of Christ and his resurrection, Luke here focuses on the 40 days between the resurrection and ascension, 40 days of Jesus teaching the disciples who would be the apostles of the church. The time is a crash course in understanding how the Old Testament tells you about Jesus, the Messiah. The content of that 40 days of teaching, according to Luke, was “the kingdom of God.” The kingdom was a theme in the Old Testament, where God’s people were a theocracy. Psalm 99 celebrates his rule, impacting, not just Israel, but the nations as well. It was central to many of the parables and other teachings of Jesus during his earthly ministry. The Gospel of Luke uses the term some 40 times, but it is mentioned only eight times in the entire book of Acts. However, don’t conclude that Acts fails to emphasize the kingdom, or worse, that it describes a post-kingdom period. Rather, the kingdom of God about which Jesus spoke, the kingdom that he established by his suffering, death, and resurrection, in Acts takes the form of the church. Jesus teaches about the kingdom, but then, as the ascending King, appoints his disciples to continue his work, establishing the church. Where is the kingdom of God today? Look for the church (and the church, not only when she is assembled for worship, but also as she is busy serving her Lord throughout the week). How do we understand our mission in the world? How are we as a congregation fulfilling it? The book of Acts can help answer those questions.
Live in the power of the Holy Spirit. The triune God equips you to serve him. Absolutely crucial to the work of the church is the gift that Jesus had promised would come from the Father (see John 14–17), the gift of the Holy Spirit. Luke 3:16–17 quotes John the Baptist contrasting his preparatory work with that of the coming Messiah. He framed the contrast in terms of baptism. John baptized with water; Jesus, the fulfillment of the Old Testament expectations and promises, would baptize with the Holy Spirit and with fire. The blessing of the good news of the presence of the kingdom of God and the coming judgment with fire would characterize the ministry of the One coming after John. Now, in a few days, what John had prophesied, and what Jesus had promised, would come about. The fledgling church would be baptized with the Holy Spirit (appreciate the fully triune emphasis of the book of Acts).
Jesus baptizes you with Holy Spirit so that you can serve him. What is the book about? “[T]he title ‘Acts of the Apostles’… is not part of the document but the designation it received early on in the church…. A better alternative might be ‘Acts of the Apostolate’ (cf. Acts 1:25), despite the abstract ring. Better yet, in the light of Acts 1:1, would be ‘Acts of the Exalted Christ through the Apostles,’ or even ‘Acts of the Exalted Christ by the Holy Spirit through the Apostles,’ or going all out (in quasi-seventeenth-century Puritan style!), ‘Acts of the Exalted Christ by the Holy Spirit in the Church as Founded by Him through the Apostles.’ Playing with the title like this serves to focus, as an overall perspective on Acts, both its central subject (Christ) as well as the manner in which his action is qualified: by the Spirit, thorough the apostles, in the church.” (Richard B. Gaffin Jr., In the Fullness of Time: An Introduction to the Biblical Theology of Acts and Paul, p. 59) As Christ had received the Holy Spirit at the time of his baptism (Luke 3), so he now baptizes his church so that it can go about the continuation of his work as he ascends to the right hand of his Father. That gift continues to equip you, individually and as a corporate body, to serve your Savior.
That is why Part 2 of the good news is not merely a faint imitation of Part 1. Part 2 shows the budding and blossoming of that for which Christ entered this world, for which he lived, and for which he died and rose again. That for which he did all of this is the church, the church where you live and serve today.