The Book of Acts

SERMON TOPIC: The Book of Acts

Speaker: Gavin Paynter

Language: ENGLISH

Date: 10 July 2023


Sermon synopsis: An overview of the Book of Acts.
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A single author of Luke-Acts is implied in the first verse of Acts when the author again addresses Theophilus and speaks of his “former book,” that is, his Gospel.

Besides the internal evidence, there is a lot of grammatical evidence pointing to a single author. *

* Adolf Harnack says the temporal use of the Greek word ώς is used 48 times in Luke-Acts, while not being used a single time in the gospels of Matthew and Mark. There are 49 verbs found in Luke-Acts that are not found in Matthew, Mark and John. [Luke the Physician: Author of the Third Gospel and the Acts of the Apostles, 40 & 20.] William Hobart lists 313 Greek words in his index that are either unique to Luke-Acts or they are used in “a medical sense” unlike the other Evangelists. [The Medical Language of St. Luke, 299-305] Philip Schaff tells us that there are about 50 words common to Luke-Acts that are not found anywhere else in the NT. [History of the Christian Church, vol. 1, 725]

Luke was referred to by Paul as “the beloved physician” (Col 4:14). He was the only Gentile author of a NT book – all the others were Jews (Col 4:10-14).

He was a frequent companion of Paul. Jerome writes:

Luke a physician of Antioch … An adherent of the apostle Paul, and companion of all his journeying, he wrote a Gospel… He also wrote another excellent volume to which he prefixed the title Acts of the Apostles …*

In the “Muratorian Canon” (ca. 190 AD ) we read:

This Luke was a physician who Paul had taken after the ascension of Christ to be a legal expert. Yet he had not seen the Lord in the flesh. **

* De Viris Illustribus (On Illustrious Men) ch. 7 ** quoted in Alister E. McGrath, The Christian Theology Reader, (Wiley-Blackwell, 2006), p. 77.


Irenaeus pointed out that during Paul’s journeys, in 5 sections he switches from the third person (“he/ she” and “they”) to first-person plural (“we”) as he narrated (16:10-17; 20:5-15; 21:1-18; 27:1–28:16) – implying that Luke joins Paul in these places.

Luke accompanied Paul on his journey to Jerusalem and Rome and was with him during his imprisonment there (2 Tim 4:11).


DATE: The book was likely written between AD 61 and 64.

PURPOSE OF WRITING ACTS: Like it’s prequel, it was intended to instruct and to strengthen the faith of its initial reader – Theophilus.

Luke 1:3-4 (ESV)… it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught.

* Cited in Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 6.25.6



Pentecost is sometimes referred to by Christians as the “Birthday of the Church”.

The work of the Holy Spirit under the Old Covenant was less extensive than that under the New Covenant inaugurated on the day of Pentecost. The Spirit was restricted to certain chosen individuals, such as high priests and prophets. But now Peter cites the following prophecy of Joel 2:28 as being fulfilled.

Acts 2:17 (NIV) “In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people...”

They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.

God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of it. Exalted to the right hand of God, he has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear…

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.


There are 3 different Greek prepositions that describe our relationship with the Holy Spirit – ‘para’, ‘en’ and ‘epi.’

PARA (WITH YOU) - The Holy Spirit is with a person, even prior to conversion. He convicts them of sin (John 16:7-9) - and convinces them that Jesus is the Saviour.

EN (IN YOU) - While ‘PARA’ is ‘with’ you (a coming alongside), ‘EN’ is living in you (John 14:16-17).

EPI (UPON YOU) - But there is a third relationship that a believer can have which is separate and distinct from the first two. (Acts 1:8)


The Holy Spirit brings conviction of sin to the sinner.

John 16:7-9 (NIV) … Unless I go away, the Counsellor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. When he comes, he will convict the world of guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment: in regard to sin, because men do not believe in me…

2) EN – IN YOU

When anyone calls on God to be saved, the Holy Spirit then comes INTO that person’s life. He is no longer just with or alongside.

John 14:16-17 (NIV) And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever— the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with (PARA) you and will be in (EN) you.

1 Cor 6:19 (NIV) Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in (EN) you, whom you have received from God?


Pentecostals maintain that the EPI experience (baptism in the Holy Spirit) is a unique experience, which is distinct from the EN experience (salvation).

Acts 1:8 (NASB) “… but you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon (EPI) you”

The word ‘EPI’ in the Greek means ‘upon’ or ‘over’.

This ‘EPI’ experience (baptism with the Holy Spirit) is the empowering of the believer for service to God. It generates an outward flow of the Holy Spirit (John 7:37-39), visible by both service and victory.







WITH you

An unbeliever

Convicts of sin, draws to Christ


IN you

A new believer

Comforts, sanctifies


UPON you

A believer baptized in the Holy Spirit



At salvation, the Holy Spirit baptizes us into the body of Christ, but with this experience Jesus baptizes (immerses) us with the Holy Spirit.

1) Baptism into the body of Christ

2) Baptism in water

3) Baptism in the Holy Spirit


Holy Spirit

A believer



A repentant sinner

A believer

A believer


Body of Christ


Holy Spirit

This ‘EPI’ (upon) experience or ‘anointing’ is associated with preaching, works of power and miraculous signs.

The Spirit of the Lord is upon (EPI) me, because he anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives, and recovery of sight to the blind, to set free those who are oppressed… (Luke 4:18, NASB)


With the anointing comes the gifts (1 Cor 12:8-10):

The word of wisdom

The word of knowledge


Gifts of healing

Miraculous powers


Distinguishing between spirits

Speaking in tongues

Interpretation of tongues



Does God want me to have the gift of the Holy Spirit? Yes! Remember what Peter said on the Day of Pentecost:

Acts 2:38-39 (NIV) “… And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.”

“…for all whom the Lord our God will call” - That includes you and me!

Laying on of hands for the receiving of the Holy Spirit is specifically mentioned in the following passages:

Acts 8:17 (NIV) Then Peter and John placed their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit.


Acts 8:18-19 (NIV) When Simon saw that the Spirit was given at the laying on of the apostles’ hands, he offered them money…

Acts 9:17 (NIV) Then Ananias went to the house and entered it. Placing his hands on Saul, he said…

Brother Saul, the Lord—Jesus … has sent me so that you may see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit.

Acts 19:6 (NIV) When Paul placed his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied.


What is the primary purpose for the baptism in the Holy Spirit? Is it to speak in tongues or to perform miracles? Is it to get goosebumps and fall over?

NO – Jesus gave his disciples the reason. Shortly before his ascension he instructed the disciples to wait in Jerusalem for the promised baptism in the Holy Spirit:

Acts 1:8 (NIV) “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

So the primary reason for the baptism in the Holy Spirit is that we may receive power to be witnesses worldwide i.e., evangelism and missions.


The Holy Spirit is a witness (within us) to the resurrection:

Acts 5:32 (NIV) “We are witnesses of these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him.”

The Holy Spirit equips us to witness effectively.

He teaches us what to say:

Luke 12:11-12 (NIV) “When you are brought before synagogues, rulers and authorities, do not worry about how you will defend yourselves or what you will say, for the Holy Spirit will teach you at that time what you should say.”


He emboldens us:

And so on the Day of Pentecost we see Peter who previously denied the Lord to a servant girl, boldly proclaiming the gospel even to those who crucified Jesus.

Acts 4:31 (NIV) After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly.

2 Tim 1:6-8 (NIV) For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands. For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline. So do not be ashamed to testify about our Lord…

Philip is led by the Holy Spirit to minister to the first Christian convert from Africa.

Acts 8:29 (NIV) The Spirit told Philip “Go to that chariot and stay near it”.


The Spirit leads Peter to the first European convert to Christianity.

Acts 10:19-20 (NIV) While Peter was still thinking about the vision, the Spirit said to him, “Simon, three men are looking for you. So get up and go downstairs. Do not hesitate to go with them, for I have sent them”.


The Holy Spirit will sometimes stop us going where we want to go:

Acts 16:6-7 (NIV) Paul and his companions travelled throughout the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been kept by the Holy Spirit from preaching the word in the province of Asia. When they came to the border of Mysia, they tried to enter Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus would not allow them to.

At other times he might direct us where we had not intended to go:

Acts 16:9-10 (NIV) During the night Paul had a vision of a man of Macedonia standing and begging him, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” After Paul had seen the vision, we got ready at once to leave for Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them.


The 120 disciples grew to over 3000 in just one day (Pentecost), which included many foreigners.

Acts 2:41 Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day.

It was soon about 5000.

Acts 4:4 But many who heard the message believed, and the number of men grew to about five thousand.

The Holy Spirit moves the Antioch church to send out the church’s first missionaries:

While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them”. (Acts 13:2, NIV)


Thus the Gospel was taken through a great portion of the known world of the Roman empire and even to regions beyond.

What a testimony! Paul was a man who was able to say, “Therefore, I declare to you today that I am innocent of the blood of all men. For I have not hesitated to proclaim to you the whole will of God. (Acts 20:26-27) Can we say the same?

When the Sanhedrin commanded Peter and John not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus, they replied, “… we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.” Acts 4:20

According to the World Christian Encyclopedia (1982), it is estimated that by AD 100 the number of Christians in the Roman Empire had grown to 1 million out of a population of 181 million (0.6%).

And so Jesus says that the Holy Spirit is given that “you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:8, NIV)

Hence it’s not surprising that we’ve seen a phenomenal growth in Christianity corresponding to the Pentecostal and Charismatic resurgence.


Acts 1:8 (NIV) “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

Acts can be divided into 3 main sections:

Acts 1–7: gospel proclaimed in Jerusalem by Peter, John and Stephen.

Acts 8–11:18: gospel proclaimed in Samaria and Judea (Lydda, Joppa, Caesarea) by Peter, John and Philip the Evangelist. Preached in Damascus (Syria) by Paul.

Acts 11:20–28: gospel proclaimed to the ends of the earth - starting in Phoenicia, Cyprus and Antioch (Syria), and then throughout the Roman Empire by Paul, Barnabas, John Mark, Silas, Timothy, Luke, Apollos, Priscilla and Aquila etc.


Acts is significant for chronicling the spread of the gospel, not only geographically but also culturally. *

It records the transition from taking the gospel to an exclusively Jewish audience—with Peter preaching to a small group in the Upper Room—to the gospel going out among the Gentiles, primarily under the ministry of the apostle Paul. *



Acts is the only biblical book that chronicles the history of the church immediately after Jesus’s ascension. As such, it provides us with a valuable account of how the church was able to grow and spread out from Jerusalem into the rest of the Roman Empire. In only three decades, a small group of frightened believers in Jerusalem transformed into an empire-wide movement of people who had committed their lives to Jesus Christ, ending on a high note with Paul on the verge of taking the gospel to the highest government official in the land—the Emperor of Rome. *

Acts concerns the very vital period in Christian history between the resurrection of Jesus and the death of the apostle Paul, the time when Christian ideas and beliefs were being formulated and when the organization of the church into a worldwide movement was being developed. *

* https:// resources/ bible/ the-history-of-the-early-church/ acts



Many envy the early Church because of the mighty miracles and the phenomenal growth. However this came at a cost that most today (in the Western Church that is) would not be prepared to pay:

In a day when many in the West believe that the mark of a true Christian is prosperity rather than persecution, it’s interesting to contrast this with the early church. The author of Hebrews refers to persecution, public insult, imprisonment and confiscation of property as characteristic of the early believers. (Heb 10:32-34)


The apostle James (the son of Zebedee) was the first of the 12 apostles to be martyred. This happened in Jerusalem in AD 44 at the order of Herod Agrippa I (grandson of King Herod the Great):

Acts 12:1 It was about this time that King Herod arrested some who belonged to the church, intending to persecute them. 2 He had James, the brother of John, put to death with the sword.


A persecution in Jerusalem follows Stephen’s martyrdom.

Acts 8:1 On that day a great persecution broke out against the church at Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria… 3 But Saul began to destroy the church. Going from house to house, he dragged off men and women and put them in prison.

Persecution was actually an instrument used by God to spread the seed. Jesus had originally told the disciples, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:8)


Instead of going to Samaria and the ends of the earth, the disciples were simply staying in Jerusalem enjoying the revival. Then the persecution came, they were scattered and took the gospel to Samaria and “the ends of the earth”.

Acts 8:4 Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went. 5 Philip went down to a city in Samaria and proclaimed the Christ there.

Thus Stephen’s death was a catalyst for the gospel being taken to the nations.


It’s highly likely that the martyrdom of Stephen also played a part in Paul’s (Saul) conversion.

Paul had watched while Stephen was stoned and witnessed his response of “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” This must have pricked Paul’s conscience because on the road to Damascus Jesus says to him, “It is hard for you to kick against the goads.” * (Acts 26:14)


What is also interesting is that Jesus considered the persecution of His church as a personal attack on Himself. He says, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” (Acts 9:4)

Paul is selected as God’s instrument, but there is a price to pay (persecution). God tells Ananias, “This man is my chosen instrument to carry my name before the Gentiles and their kings and before the people of Israel. I will show him how much he must suffer for my name.” (Acts 9:15-16)


And then Paul went from being:

A persecutor:

Acts 9:1 Meanwhile, Saul was still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples. He went to the high priest 2 and asked him for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found any there who belonged to the Way, whether men or women, he might take them as prisoners to Jerusalem.

To being persecuted:

Acts 9:22 Yet Saul grew more and more powerful and baffled the Jews living in Damascus by proving that Jesus is the Christ. 23 After many days had gone by, the Jews conspired to kill him…

In about 36 AD the deacon, Stephen, becomes the first Christian martyr. Note his response!

Acts 7:59-60 While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” Then he fell on his knees and cried out, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” When he had said this, he fell asleep.



After Gamaliel persuaded the Sanhedrin not to execute the apostles, note what happened and the Christian response:

Acts 5:40 His speech persuaded them. They called the apostles in and had them flogged. Then they ordered them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go. 41 The apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name.




The persecution had actually served to spread the Church and it reached Phoenicia (Lebanon), Cyprus and Antioch in Syria.

Acts 11:19 Now those who had been scattered by the persecution in connection with Stephen traveled as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus and Antioch, telling the message only to Jews. 20 Some of them, however, men from Cyprus and Cyrene, went to Antioch and began to speak to Greeks also, telling them the good news about the Lord Jesus. 21 The Lord’s hand was with them, and a great number of people believed and turned to the Lord.


Followers of Jesus were known by some as the “Nazarene sect”, (Acts 24:5) obviously because Jesus was from Nazareth.

At the time of Stephen’s martyrdom, Christianity was referred to as “the Way”. (Acts 9:1-2)


The term originated in Antioch in Syria.

Acts 11:26 The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch.

Antioch was on a natural route to Jerusalem, which was 300 miles to the south. This explains why it was a safe haven for the people fleeing the persecution in Jerusalem. In fact it was these “refugee” believers who founded the church there.

Acts 11:19 Now those who had been scattered by the persecution in connection with Stephen travelled as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus and Antioch

Barnabas was then sent by the Jerusalem church to assist at Antioch (Acts 11:22-24). Barnabas in turn recruited Paul to assist (Acts 11:25-26).

But what were the traits of this prototype church in Antioch where Christians first received their name?


It was a worshiping church (Acts 13:2 “While they were worshiping the Lord … “)

The church practiced prayer and fasting (Acts 13:3 So after they had fasted and prayed…)


It was a growing church - EVANGELISM

Acts 11:20-21 … Antioch… The Lord’s hand was with them, and a great number of people believed and turned to the Lord.

If something is alive, it should grow.


It was a church with verifiable prophetic gifts:

Acts 11:28 Agabus, stood up and through the Spirit predicted that a severe famine would spread over the entire Roman world. (This happened during the reign of Claudius.)


It was a giving, generous church.

While Jerusalem had given Antioch a spiritual gift by sending Barnabas, Antioch reciprocated by sending a financial gift to Jerusalem when Judea was facing a famine.

Acts 11:29-30 The disciples, each according to his ability, decided to provide help for the brothers living in Judea. This they did, sending their gift to the elders by Barnabas and Saul.


It was a teaching and preaching church:

Acts 15:35 But Paul and Barnabas remained in Antioch, where they and many others taught and preached the word of the Lord.


A church concerned with doctrinal accuracy.

When some Christians from Judea came to this predominantly Gentile church, they tried to force them to adopt the OT laws - specifically circumcision - and claimed it was necessary for salvation. Paul and Barnabas - themselves Jewish Christians - opposed this teaching.

Acts 15:1-2 Some men came down from Judea to Antioch and were teaching the brothers: “Unless you are circumcised, according to the custom taught by Moses, you cannot be saved.” This brought Paul and Barnabas into sharp dispute and debate with them…


It was a multiracial, multi-cultural church

Initially only Jews were targeted in the evangelism.

Acts 11:19 Now those who had been scattered by the persecution in connection with Stephen travelled as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus and Antioch, telling the message only to Jews.

However Antioch soon became the first predominantly Gentile church. In contrast to the Jewish church in Jerusalem, it included Greeks and African disciples (Cyrene was in Libya).

Acts 11:20 Some of them, however, men from Cyprus and Cyrene, went to Antioch and began to speak to Greeks also, telling them the good news about the Lord Jesus.


Two of the prophets / teachers were Africans:

Acts 13:1 In the church at Antioch there were prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen… and Saul.

The leadership included Lucius from Cyrene, which was in Libya. It also included Simeon called Niger. “Niger” is the Latin adjective for “black”. 1 Hence the origin of the names of two African countries, Niger and Nigeria.

So the church had African (Libya), European (Greek) and Middle Eastern (Jewish and Syrian) disciples!

1 Denoting a ‘black person’, the Spanish and Portuguese noun negro (black) derived from the Latin adjective niger (black).


The first church founded was the Jewish church in Jerusalem. The second is the Gentile church in Antioch. These two churches complemented each other. The apostles recognised that Paul had the task of preaching to the Gentiles, just as Peter had been called to the Jews

Galatians 2:7-9 On the contrary, they saw that I had been entrusted with the task of preaching the gospel to the Gentiles, just as Peter had been to the Jews. For God, who was at work in the ministry of Peter as an apostle to the Jews, was also at work in my ministry as an apostle to the Gentiles. James, Peter and John, those reputed to be pillars, gave me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship when they recognized the grace given to me. They agreed that we should go to the Gentiles, and they to the Jews.


Antioch was also the first mission church.

The gospel spread from the Jerusalem church because of persecution, but at Antioch they sought God’s face and obeyed his mission call.

Acts 13:2 … the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.”

Acts 13:3 So after they had fasted and prayed, they placed their hands on them and sent them off.

From Acts 11:19 onwards you notice a marked change - Antioch is now more central to the author Luke’s narrative than Jerusalem.

Luke, himself a Gentile, now focuses primarily on the conversion of the Gentiles and the events surrounding the 3 missionary trips of Paul and his companions. The spotlight moves from Peter (the apostle to the Jews) to Paul (the apostle to the Gentiles).


It is imperative that those serving God at home or abroad have the support (prayer, encouragement and financial) of a home-base church.

In the first missions-based church, God called Paul and Barnabas, but the church “sent” them.

Acts 13:1-3 … While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” So after they had fasted and prayed, they placed their hands on them and sent them off.


While not all can go into fulltime local evangelism or foreign missions, you can ‘send’ or mobilize. By ‘sending’ I don’t mean simply delegating some unwanted task to another – ‘senders’ have the responsibility to:


Support financially



Some churches are reluctant to send for fear that their best people will leave. But at Antioch it was Barnabas and Paul who were called – prominent leaders in the church.


Jesus said: “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:8)

After receiving power from the Holy Spirit we are instructed to be witnesses for Jesus in:

Jerusalem: our own geographical area - EVANGELISM

all Judea: our state - MISSIONS

and Samaria: neighbouring regions in our nation - MISSIONS.

and to the ends of the earth: FOREIGN MISSIONS


In virtually every chapter, apostles such as Peter and Paul powerfully present the gospel to individuals and groups of people. The apostles portrayed in Acts shine with evangelistic zeal, showing a striking transition from the often misguided disciples of the Gospels. Clearly the apostles’ faith in the death and resurrection of Jesus produced a noticeable change in their hearts through the power of the Holy Spirit. Too often, our own lives do not reflect that sort of change. We struggle with fears over how others will react to our faith or with breaking out of our own routine long enough to invest in the life of someone else who needs the gospel. Allow Acts to encourage you to walk more closely with God so that you might make Christ’s name known with the boldness and the zeal of the apostles. *

* https:// resources/ bible/ the-history-of-the-early-church/ acts

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