“In my former book, Theophilus, I worte about all that Jesus began to do and to teach….” (Acts 1:1).
“You know the message God sent to the people of Israel, telling the good news of peace through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all…God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and how whe went about doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him” (Acts 10:36, 38).
As Luke transistions from narrating the ministry of Jesus to narrating the ministry of the early church, he emphasizes the continuity between them. What Jesus began to teach and to do–the good news of the kingdom and his healing ministry, that is, heralding the reverse of the curse and implementing that reversal, continues in the early church. What Jesus began the church continues. The church teaches and does what Jesus taught and did.
Peter’s rehearsal of the story of Jesus before Cornelius summarizes what he taught (“good news”) and what he did (“doing good and healing all”). It is a synopsis of the Gospel of Luke itself. Should a reader of Acts 10 want to know more of what Peter means within Luke’s narrative one would only need to read the first volume, the Gospel of Luke. Or, one could read my previous post. Probably better to read the Gospel of Luke itself.
It seems that disciples of Jesus should also proclaim the “good news of the kingdom” and “do good,” does it not? Indeed. That is exactly what we find in Luke’s second volume, the Acts of the Apostles, or better the Acts of the Holy Spirit through the Church. Just as Jesus was anointed with the Spirit and then pursued the kingdom ministry, so the small community of God in Jerusalem was anointed with the Spirit and then pursued a ministry to the “ends of the earth.”
“You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8).
“Philip went down to a city in Samaria and proclaimed the Christ there…evil spirits came out of many, and many paralytics and cripples were healed. So there was great joy in that city…when they believed Philip as he preachaed the good news of the kingdom and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women” (Acts 8:5, 7, 8, 12).
The mission of Jesus is the mission of the church. The church is a witness to the reality of the kingdom of God in the person of Jesus. The church continues that witness–it began in Jerusalem, but it continues to the ends of the earth.
Philip is a good example in the book of Acts. He proclaimed “the Christ” in Samaria, that is, he announed the “good news of the kingdom” and how that “good news” comes to reality in person of Jesus the Messiah. The Messianic mission of Jesus, as Luke 4 noted, is “good news” for the poor, oppressed, imprisoned, diseased, and disabled. Philip teaches and heals; he follows Jesus by pursuing his mission.
Philip, coming from Judea, preaches the Messianic reality of the kingdom of God in Samaria–it is a reality that breaks down the ethnic/religious/nationalistic/geographical barrier between Samaria and Judea. It is good news; it announces that the old distinctions disappear when the kingdom of God comes near.
Luke also calls attention to, as his habit is in both the Gospel and Acts, the inclusion of women in the kingdom reality. It is good news for women as well as men! Oppression, in all its forms, is trumped in the kingdom of God. Both men and women becomes disciples of Jesus; both male and female prophesy (speak the word of the Lord) in the kingdom of God (Acts 2:17-18; 21:9).
This brief story epitomizes the mission of the church as the continuation of the mission of Jesus. What Jesus began to teach…the church continues to teach. The church is called to declare “the good news of the kingdom”–and if we doubt what that phrase means, we need only look to Luke’s own definition in Luke 4 where he uses the phrase in 4:41. The “good news of the kingdom,” according to Luke, is not a narrow message about individual forgiveness through the cross of Christ. It is the Messianic mission of “good news” for the poor and oppressed. The good news is that the reign of God has come near. It is about curse reversal.
What Jesus began to do…the church continued to do. The church is called to pursue a healing and reconciling (including ethnic and gender reconciliation) ministry in the world as witness to the presence of the reign of God in the world. The mission of the church, as the mission of Jesus, is to reverse the curse–to participate in the divine agenda to heal what is broken, reconcile what is divided, and release people from oppression (whether political, sexist, racial, etc.). The disciples of Jesus do this as Jesus did it–through suffering, peace, forgiveness, seeking, etc.
“…complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me–the task of testifying to the gospel of God’s grace. Now I know that none of you among whom I have gone about preaching the kingdom will ever see me again” (Acts 20:24b-25).
“Boldly and without hindrance [Paul] preached the kingdom of God and taught about the Lord Jesus Christ” (Acts 28:31).
Paul was also a witness, just as the whole church is a witness to the reign of God in the world. He was given the task of “testifying” to the good news of God’s grace. The appearance of the Messiah in the world is the display of God’s favor–Jubilee for the creation! It is divine grace.
Paul characterizes his teaching ministry as heralding the kingdom (the word “preached” in the above texts is to “herald” or “announce”)–it is announcing the reign of God in the world through Jesus the Messiah who is the Lord of creation itself. Jesus reigns over all as Lord.
The reign of Jesus is a reign of peace, grace, healing and reconcilation. This is the message of the church. It is not a message of violence, nationalism, patriotism, segregation, and discrimination. It is a message about forgiveness and justice (righteousness). The reign of God destroys all the fallen barriers that divide humanity; the reign of God unites all nations, peoples and genders into a new humanity, a new creation, living in harmony with God’s good creation. The ministry of Paul extended to the imperial courts of Rome rather than remaining in the temple courts of Jerusalem.
In the history of the church, unfortunately, we have heard more about forgiveness than we have justice. But to proclaim the kingdom of God, we need to hear both because the reign of God announces and enacts both.