“Jesus has risen, is in charge, and the energy of Heaven has been set loose.”
As discussed in an earlier post, if we want to see what the world is supposed to look like when the energy of Heaven has been set loose, we should start with the book of Acts. In Acts 2 the Spirit comes upon the people like a mighty wind, and in Acts 4 the believers pray for boldness to both declare and to demonstrate the healing power of God.
As the account of the book of Acts progresses, it builds up to a description of the church of Antioch – the church we know more about than any other church in the New Testament. It is within this faith community that the energy of Heaven is going to be unleashed in ways that are breathtaking. We will look at this church in the next post, but to capture the full meaning it is helpful to first follow Luke as he makes his way there.
Luke was the only non-Jew that writes in the New Testament, and this is a significant fact. Though Luke was clearly intrigued by Jesus, he was unsure that the God Jesus was describing was for anyone besides the Jews (whom the Messiah had been promised to for 2,000 years). When the Spirit of God is unleashed in Acts 2, Luke still is watching with a careful eye. Though Acts describes a multilingual community, it had still not yet broken out of the Jewish community. Would this energy of Heaven that had been unleashed affect people of every tribe and tongue? In Acts 11 we will get the final answer, but watch how Luke addresses this concern in each chapter leading up to it:
- In Acts 6 we see the first sign of racial tension break out between the Hebraic and Grecian widows. One group was from the dominant culture and one group was from the minority culture that had been historically treated as second class. The widows from the sub-dominant culture felt like they were being mistreated when it came to the distribution of food and funds. Luke watches carefully. Will the Gospel of Jesus Christ be big enough to address this?
- In Acts 7 we see the account of Stephen, who was stoned to death mostly for speaking against the dominant Jewish culture. He is speaking to what Ray Bakke calls “Jewish Rush Limbaughs.” It was a 4-point sermon. Point 1 was that all of God’s great acts happened outside their great country. Even their great laws came from Sinai, which was outside of Israel. This prophetic voice got Stephen killed. Would this slow down the spread of the message of Jesus to non-Jewish groups?
- In Acts 8 Luke records a development that would have been shocking. The message of the Resurrection had been brought to Samaria, and was received there! Jesus had spent an incredible amount of energy trying to train his disciples to carry what they were learning and head towards the greatest racial divide of that time. Samaritans were hatefully called “half-breeds” by the Jews, because they were half-Jewish and half-Assyrian (modern day Iraq interestingly). The Samaritans had adopted the Assyrian customs and gods and there was historical enmity because of that. The disciples never caught this heart for reconciliation, but the early believers did. Perhaps the energy of Heaven was indeed being set loose! We also see the conversion of an African finance minister in this chapter, and church legend believes he may have brought Christianity to Ethiopia.
- In Acts 9 we see the conversion of the greatest bigot of that time – Saul (who would be the Apostle Paul after his conversion).
- In Acts 10 we see another extraordinary twist. Peter – the first leader of the church – was still carrying an ethnocentric framework when it came to this relationship with the God that he so cherished. In this chapter we see the energy of Heaven affects not only social systems but individual hearts. God comes to Peter and breaks him from this limited view, and in a sense Peter undergoes a second conversion. He immediately is led by God to a man named Cornelius, who was not a Jew, and Cornelius and his entire family place their faith in Jesus and are baptized.
Now the stage is set. We are about to see the energy of Heaven be unleashed in the church of Antioch.