Great Themes from Acts: Salvation
Ft. Worth, Texas
The ministry of Jesus was inextricably connected to salvation. In fact, the very name given to him by the angel of God, "Jesus" (Lk. 1:31), is of Hebrew origin (Joshua) meaning: "Jehovah is Savior." As Joseph was told, "it is he that shall save his people from their sins" (Matt. 1:21). Not a Jewish rabbi, sociologist, revolutionary or confused dreamer, Jesus was the Christ, anointed of God, sent from heaven to "seek and save that which was lost" (Lk. 19:10).
The Book of Acts, describing the spread of salvation in the name of Jesus of Nazareth throughout the Jewish and Roman worlds, made no effort to disguise this theme of the apostles. The volume was not a social commentary, a comprehensive history of the day, nor an atlas of ancient civilizations. The thrust was plain and clear, without apology, but with sure defense against those who might have labeled its message bigoted and self-righteous. Quite clearly, the world was lost and salvation could be found only in the name of Jesus. "And in none other is there salvation: for neither is there any other name under heaven, that is given among men, wherein we must be saved" (4:12). This bold and distinctive message allowed no doubt, made no exceptions and permitted no quarter. Jesus was Savior and, without him, every man was eternally and irretrievably lost. Modern religions are embarrassed by such undisguised evangelism founded upon such exclusive claims. Most would be magnanimous and place Jesus among the company of "great" religious leaders like Muhammed, Buddha, or some other. But none of them is willing to grant to Jesus his rightful place as the only Savior. Without a moment's hesitation, Luke declared the message of the apostles as one in complete harmony with the claims and ministry of Jesus. Its vision of Jesus was crystal clear, its clarion call rings from first century Rome to twentieth century America: Jesus, and only Jesus, saved!
Certified by the Resurrection
How could Luke and the apostles speak with such certainty? What gave them the assurance and boldness with which to declare salvation in the name of Jesus? Luke clearly showed that faith in Jesus was predicated on his resurrection from the dead. Having witnessed the resurrection (1:9), the apostles were not inclined to be quiet about the matter. Jesus had told them to witness (1:8), beginning at Jerusalem (Lk. 24:48) and, having receiving the Holy Spirit, they began to do so. The very first sermon under the Testament of Christ threw down the gauntlet: God sent Jesus, certified him by signs and wonders, you killed him, God raised him up (2:22-24). This was their explanation which remains ours today. Jesus died, was buried three days and nights, and rose from the dead. There is no salvation in any other for Muhammed and all others died, were buried and are still in the tomb. The conclusion of such evidence pointed to one truth: "Let all the house of Israel therefore know assuredly that God hath made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom ye crucified" (v. 36). Jesus, and only Jesus, has been certified by God.
"Turn the World Upside Down"
The first sermon resulted in 3000 souls obeying the gospel 44unto remission of sins" (2:38). Later, the number of men rose to 5000 (4:4), with many priests becoming obedient (6:7). The message continued to be: "Repent ye therefore, and turn again, that your sins may be blotted out, that so there may come seasons of refreshing from the presence of the Lord" (3:19).
Opposition, threatenings, beatings and imprisonment did not deter these men. Luke detailed that the disciples rejoiced that they were worthy to suffer for the name (5:41), and they "ceased not to teach and to preach Jesus as the Christ" (v. 42).
Samaritans received the gospel (Acts 8:9-25), as did the eunuch from Ethiopia (8:26-40). Saul, the persecutor, became a believer (Acts 9,22,26) and, through him, people throughout Asia Minor (13:1-14:28) and Europe (15:36-21:15). Everywhere the message was the same: "Be it known unto you therefore, brethren, that through this man is proclaimed unto you remission of sins; and by him everyone that believeth is justified from all things, from which ye could not be justified by the law of Moses" (13:38,39). The Gentiles came under the same gospel (Acts 10,11,15) and efforts to turn the gospel of Christ into a "law/gospel" were soundly defeated. Salvation under the Law of Moses was based upon perfect law keeping, which, wrote James and the apostles, "put a yoke upon the neck of the disciples which neither our fathers nor we are able to bear" (15:10). Salvation in Christ was by "justification of faith," a subject profoundly explored by Paul in his letters to the Romans, Galatians, etc. Judaizing teachers opposed the gospel and accused Paul of "turning the world upside down" (17:6).
The message of salvation, so beneficent and propitious, is controversial only to those who reject its wisdom and direction. To those "who are being saved, it is the power of God" (1 Cor. 1:18), neither a stumbling block nor foolishness. But one can scarcely be indifferent to it. As someone said of Paul: "When he entered a town with the gospel, he started a church or a riot, and sometimes both." On trial for his life before Agrippa, Paul tried to convert his judge, having this response: "With but little persuasion thou wouldest fain make me a Christian" (26:28). One might not agree with the message, one might even fight against it, but one could not misunderstand: without Christ, you are lost. Felix was terrified by the message of judgment for sin (24:25), but sent Paul away.
Before Jews and Greeks, Romans and Ethiopians, slaves and masters, common people as well as kings and governors, the message of salvation was proclaimed. The whole world heard it (Col. 1:23). As Luke's chronicle of the Acts came to a close, we see Paul in jail at Rome, pressing his case to all who would come to him: "Preaching the kingdom of God, and teaching the things concerning the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness, none forbidding him" (28:31).
"Preach the Word"
It is an honor and a privilege to know that we are fellow laborers with these godly men and women in the proclamation of the same saving message. The power of the gospel (Rom. 1:16) has not diminished with years or distance; it still contains the same saving message. There is not one whit difference in the message of the first century Christians and that preached by faithful brethren today. The seed (Lk. 8:11) is the same; the harvest is the same, only the sowers are different. Perhaps we need to be less apologetic about preaching it. Perhaps we need to have more conviction of the rightness and distinctiveness of the message. Perhaps we should not be embarrassed by charges of bigotry and self-righteousness when we speak out. Perhaps we should be more aggressive and bold in attacking strongholds of error. But we have this assurance: wherever good and honest hearts are touched by the message of Jesus, sins will be forgiven and salvation will be granted. God is still "visiting the Gentiles, to take out of them a people for his name" (Acts 15:14). Let us pray to God that we be counted worthy to stand with the giants of past years and tell the world of saving grace. "Jesus saves! Jesus saves!"
Guardian of Truth XXXVI: 15, pp. 454-455