Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved (Acts 4:12).
As little boys, my two brothers and I were ornery and rambunctious kids, blessed to be raised by parents of deep faith in Jesus. We also were almost always looking for some form of new treasure. We just knew it was out there waiting for us somewhere. Our job was to find it.
We explored the hundreds of acres “down below the bluff” looking for our hidden treasure. We did find all sorts of little treasures in our adventures. One of my brothers found the metal remnants of an old rifle. At first, we thought it was junk. Then we checked the barely legible serial number on this rust-encased rifle and discovered that the rifle had been used by Fort Phantom Hill troops from the late 1800s. (Reference the image at the top of this post.) Over the years, we did find a bunch of cool stuff looking for our treasures! What follows, however, focuses on the biggest treasure we ever uncovered.
The book of Acts is full of great treasures — people, events, ideas, inspirational insights, and eternal truths. The secret to unlocking these treasures, however, is finding the key. The key to the growth and power of the early disciples was that they were all about Jesus! Jesus was the redemptive power and presence behind every great treasure in Luke’s story of the church’s first three decades. If we read carefully, we can discover that Jesus was present and moving in at least four ways. He was the Message, the Motive, the Model, and the Mover who fueled the expansive growth of the Jesus movement in the first century. Luke wants us to know that Jesus IS still the ultimate treasure behind all of his other treasures!
Wherever Jesus’ followers traveled, they shared the message about who he was. Over and over again, in all sorts of circumstances, Jesus’ followers proclaimed him as Lord and Christ, emphasizing several basic truths again and again:
- He was descended from Abraham and David.
- He did great things because God was with him.
- He was crucified in fulfillment to God’s plan and because of the schemes of wicked men.
- He was raised from the dead by God.
- He is coming back to save those who belong to him.
The packaging might change based on the audience addressed, but Jesus’ life, death, resurrection, and return were their core proclamation. Even among hostile audiences who didn’t share a Jewish view of God or the Scriptures, Jesus was proclaimed using these basic truths. The key difference in their messages toward non-Jews was that the messengers began with points of contact with their audience’s non-Jewish culture, then moved to the core proclamation about Jesus (Acts 14:14-18; 17:16-32). As witnesses of what Jesus had done in his ministry and their personal lives, Jesus’ disciples proclaimed him as the one true source of salvation. Jesus was not just their Lord; he was also their Message!
Jesus was the central message of these early disciples because he was the motive for all ministry and mission. They genuinely believed that he had lived and died for them because he loved them and wanted them saved. They left everything to follow him. Many of those early disciples had seen the lovingly tender miracles he had performed in Galilee, Samaria, Decapolis, and Judea. Jesus' redeeming love motivated them to share his love with others, regardless of the risks, costs, and consequences of their actions. They gladly suffered persecution, disgrace, imprisonment, and death. They even considered themselves honored to suffer for the name of Jesus (Acts 5:41; 26:29). Jesus’ love was their Motive!
Jesus’ life and ministry also became the model for the kind of ministry his followers would share with the world. Luke’s gospel emphasizes that God loves all people. In Luke’s gospel, Jesus reached out to men and women, Jews and non-Jews, religious and rebellious, rich and poor, broken-bodied and whole, emotionally-troubled and stable, as well as young and old. Jesus’ followers ministered to a similar array of people in the book of Acts. People from all walks of life received both the message and tender ministry of Jesus through his followers. Jesus appeared before powerful political leaders; so did his followers. Just as Jesus faced opposition from religious leaders, so also did his followers. Jesus did loving and miraculous acts of kindness; so did his followers. This symmetry, this consistency of ministry between Jesus’ followers and their Master and Lord, should not surprise us. Jesus said that a disciple’s goal was to be like his or her Teacher (Luke 6:40). Because Jesus lived his life in service to others to bring them to God, so also did his followers (Luke 22:24-27). Jesus was their Model.
Behind every major action in the book of Acts, Jesus was the Mover. He poured out the Spirit to empower his followers. The Lord used visions to speak to them. He sent angels to guide them. Jesus used persecution to get his followers back on track sharing his good news with those outside of their religious cocoon of Judea. He called them to go into new places to share his good news. Jesus put up roadblocks to keep them out of places when the time was not right. He performed mighty acts of grace through them as they called on his name. He appeared to Saul, the early Christians' greatest persecutor, on the road to Damascus. The result? Saul, the persecutor, became Paul, the apostle to the world.
Jesus’ guidance amazingly empowered his little band of Jewish misfits to turn the world upside down with his message (Acts 17:6 ESV). His early followers believed that their Lord Jesus was with them. They trusted that he worked through them. They lived convinced he was guiding them. Most of all, they experienced his power working through them. The Lord used them to accomplish his mission of bringing good news, repentance, and forgiveness of sins throughout their world (Luke 24:47-49).
Jesus greatest miracle was that he took these ordinary men from a backwater part of the world and used them to change the course of history. The Sanhedrin, the very group that had asked the Romans to crucify Jesus, saw the courage and boldness of these ordinary men and knew it had to be their association with Jesus that empowered them (Acts 4:13).
Jesus’ Prominence Today
In a time when the influence of Jesus appears to be shrinking — at least in the Western world — what difference does Jesus’ importance in the book of Acts mean for us?
When we look around, we can find all sorts of programs, conferences, and publications dedicated to church growth, church leadership, and church health. Today, we can jump on the internet, watch cable or satellite TV, scan article after article, access book after book, see program after program, and watch one YouTube sermon or music video after another. But, if we listen closely, it’s a dizzying and confusing cacophony of personalities, churches, programs, and fads to grow big audiences in boxes that we call churches. When analyzed carefully, however, many of these hold Jesus up as little more than a mascot or an often repeated word as a slogan. He is, however, seldom the core of what is said, done, declared, or proclaimed. Unfortunately, Jesus does not seem to be the core, the center, the window, the hope, the passion, and the foundation for everything done and proclaimed among those who claim to speak for him today. Perhaps, the diminished influence of Jesus today is because we no longer have him as our Message, our Motive, our Model, and our Mover?
Did Jesus ever promise that we would be the dominant culture, or did he call us to be his redemptive minority demonstrating his love while serving those who oppose and misunderstand us?
Have we fallen into looking for quick-fix seminars rather than being transformed through knowing, experiencing, and proclaiming Jesus, our living Lord?
Have we replaced basic discipleship with fads, gimmicks, politics, and structures that are more focused on numbers than on the people those numbers represent?
To be like the first followers of Jesus, aren’t we going to have to become saturated with the Jesus that we meet in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John?
Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which [the modern church will be] saved (Acts 4:12).
This truth, dear friend, is the key to the most valuable treasure my brothers and I still seek today. His name is Jesus. We hope you will join us in giving your life to living for him.
Today's message is part one of an eight-part series called 8GHT — Eight Truths that Turned the World Upside Down!
- Jesus Isn’t Finished with Us Yet!
- It’s All About Jesus
- All Seekers Are Welcome Here
- What Time Is It?
- The Revolutionary Power of Witnesses
- A Family Without Borders
- Jesus’ Power to Get It Done
- Don't Just Stand There!