Peter, Paul and the Other Apostles in Acts. How do we get an Overview of the Overseers?

In a Nutshell
Christians need to know about the church’s birth; that is why we read the story of how Jesus continued to teach and work after the Holy Spirit was poured out.

In a Nutshell
Were the Apostles heroes?

Were there writers called by God to write accounts of Jesus’ work but who decided, as in Jesus’ parable, to bury their talent and leave it in the ground? We can say, with all reverence: God only knows. But what we do know is that God’s Spirit has preserved the four gospels and The Acts of the Apostles for us. The Holy Spirit was poured out upon those who believe and this prompts us to get involved with the preservation of this story, to do so truthfully and with gratitude so that new generations can hear and understand the Good News. That has also been the motivation for writing this account. We have in these writings what we need to know from now on for our salvation, for a life based upon God’s mercy, lived boldly before God’s throne, in this age to come, henceforth. We have enough to go on to respond in faith to the ministry of Jesus, and to understand what is meant by His call: repent and believe! We read how He accomplished what His Father had sent Him to do and we ponder upon what these accounts tell us of these earliest believers as they confronted, lived with and overcame problems they couldn’t avoid. We live in their debt to a considerable degree. This is the story to be read with deep thankfulness.

What we have here does not tell us all that went on. If the writers of the gospels had tried to do that they would never have told the story. A storyteller has to select the important bits or else the story won’t get passed on. Think about this: we know very little about Jesus’ boyhood and his teenage years. James and John, the sons of Zebedee, were Jesus’ cousins, and of course they would have known what went on in Jesus’ youth. But the writers of the four gospels don’t seem very concerned about those facts. What they give us instead is an account of Jesus’ ministry that revealed to His disciples His place in God’s kingdom. What He did had to be told. What He said and taught had to be passed on. They tell us of the Office Bearer, the Son of Man, the One Promised, who Moses said would eventually come. They tell us about His disciples, the ones He called His friends. When He began telling His disciples the stupendous news about who He was, and what He had come to do, it was not as if He was saying that being a child and growing up and playing in the streets of Nazareth and Capernaum was not important. It is important, important enough for God to have sent His Son to participate in those things too. Because of that we now have a deep sense of the true value of the things we do at every stage of our life: games, work, friendships, buying and selling, sitting out under the stars, fishing in the lake, sitting in the synagogue, whistling a tune, undergoing job training for a trade or a profession,  … all these intensely human activities are what God Our Father has created us to do.

The Angels gasped when the Son of God himself as a young boy played tiggy and marbles, learning to sing and play the tunes on his stringed instrument. These things were also part of the life of Peter and Paul and the other Apostles. They were called to be God’s People, people who did people-things, fished, got married, worried when the wife’s mother fell ill and so on and so on.

After He had returned to His Father’s side, the Holy Spirit was poured out upon the Apostles and they knew for certain what their work was to be and set about doing it. At first, it seems, they saw their task as setting up a Jerusalem synagogue, but in time, as the movement developed, they still had to ensure that the work Jesus had given them to do would carry on to the ends of the earth. Interestingly, the preaching and teaching work of the Apostles was separate from the work of caring for the widows. But for the rest of their lives, the seven deacons found themselves committed, as were Paul and the others, to making sure that the Good News about Jesus was about caring and sharing. It was to be a movement, a way of life, in which all disciples were ‘in it all together’, caring and sharing. Luke tells us how the Holy Spirit guided the Apostles in Jerusalem to endorse and support the wonderful work He was doing, first through Paul and Barnabas and then through Paul, Silas and Timothy; no doubt there were other developments taking place of which we have no written record, in which the Apostles and others were fulfilling their vocation in other ways too.

The Gospel eventually went on to Rome but as we have noted that was not because Rome was so important. That was because the Gospel was given to the Apostles to take to the ends of the earth. The seed had to be broadcast, and continually so, in all directions. Empires come and go. Should we be surprised that the American super-power of today will not endure forever? But it is the Gospel of Jesus Christ that has to be heard in all the world by all the world’s peoples. It is often difficult for the citizens of large empires to understand the Gospel as God wants it to be grasped. Such citizens often have an inner conviction that Rome or Constantinople or Paris or Moscow or London or Washington or Beijing must be the centre of God’s Kingdom.

But after the Holy Spirit was poured out, in Antioch as well as at Jerusalem, the Apostles knew they were on a continual learning curve, coming to understand that even Jerusalem, the Holy City where Jesus was tried and outside whose walls was crucified, and where Jesus was raised from the grave, near to where He had left His disciples to ascend to God’s right hand, where the Holy Spirit was first poured out, even this place, Jerusalem, had to fit into God’s timetable. God’s timetable was not fitting in with Jerusalem. It was the other way around. The followers of Jesus found then and still find, sure encouragement as they look for

… the new and holy Jerusalem coming down from God out of Heaven (Revelation 3:12, 21:10).

Friendship can sometimes become complicated by the responsibilities within which it is nested. I suspect that the split between Paul and Barnabas was not because they had grown apart, but because they were very close. And in that situation, Mark was also a part of their close friendship and their understanding and misunderstanding of each other.

Paul tells us that he had to give Peter a very stern talking to at Antioch, when Peter acted insincerely by giving the visitors from Jerusalem special attention and keeping his distance from Gentile believers. This was another of those heated confrontations but Peter took the hint and afterwards he and Paul were able to work together very closely. Peter found some things that Paul wrote difficult to understand, but Peter also knew that Jesus had remained loyal to him even when Jesus showed He was not at all happy with Peter’s presumption. Besides, Peter had denied Jesus but did this stop Jesus from working with Peter?

No. Jesus made Peter into a caring leader among the Apostles in Jerusalem. Jesus’ gift of friendship has never been something that depends on His disciples. Jesus was called to work with His disciples, and still continues to do so. Our glad confession is that He has made us His friends, friends of God Almighty, members of God’s own family.

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