The following is the text of the last sermon I prayed from the book of Acts. That’s right: prayed. I wrote and “preached” the sermon as a prayer which I prayed that Sunday, working through each of the book’s 28 chapters.
Lord Jesus, You are known, loved, and revered by many names in the Book of Acts: Son of Man, Son of God, Seed of David, the Nazarene, Holy and Righteous One, Prince of Life, Prophet, the Cornerstone, Lord, the Christ, judge of the living and the dead, and Savior.
My heart overflows with a good theme, the best of all themes, and as we reach now the end of our study of the Book of Acts, we address our verses to You, our matchless King and Master. For of all the blessings You have bestowed on us, Your bride at Immanuel, through this Book of Acts, the highest, the richest, and the fullest, of those blessings has been Your own, week-by-week verse-by-verse, Self-disclosure to us: You, the Prince of Life and unhindered King of the Nations, the Alpha and Omega of the Book of Acts, have made Your face to shine upon us!
In Chapter 1, You are the Lord, risen from His sufferings, resolved to take possession of His inheritance from among the nations, whose achievements will transform the entire earth into a holy temple, whose plan and command is to build His Church with His Church, and who must first ascend to the Father’s right hand in order to descend once again at the Father’s pleasure and in the Father’s timing. We praise You, Lord Christ; grant that we—Your people at IPC—would obediently take this mission as our own.
In Chapter 2, though You are the One “delivered up by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, and though you were nailed to a Cross by the hands of godless men (2:23), You were unhindered by these evils from fulfilling Your promise, for it was impossible for death to hold You in its power (2:24). And having entered the Father’s presence in triumph, crowned as Lord and Christ (2:36), Your coronation gift to the world was to pour out the Holy Spirit, proving that “the great and glorious day of the Lord” had come because You had brought it through Your obedient life, crucifixion, and resurrection, and inaugurating the age of amnesty, open until the Day of Your return, in which “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved” (2:21). We praise You, Lord Christ. Grant that we would increasingly trust You to build Your Church with & by the community filled with and sustained by Your Holy Spirit, through means that seem so ordinary to us, but through which You have ordained to release the powers of the age to come: the teaching of the apostles, fellowship, the breaking of bread, and prayer (2:42).
In Chapter 3, exalted as the highest of men at the Father’s right hand, You prove that Your eye is always upon the lowest of men, when you send Your Apostles to heal the man lame since birth. Though his physical healing is dramatic, You instruct us there to seek what matters most: that, in this age of mercy, the greatest of all signs and wonders is the healing of the heart, the reconciliation of a sinner to God. Grant that the Gospel of Your free grace will always be our hearts’ highest definition of prosperity and health.
In Chapter 4, Yours is the only Name under heaven that has been given among men, by which we must be saved (4:11). Prince of Life, we praise You, for we know that this unyielding and exclusive honor is rightfully Yours because there never has been, nor will there ever be, anyone else under heaven whose worth and work compare to Yours. Grant that we would have the same jealousy for Your honor as Your Apostles did, and so speak Your Word with boldness (4:31).
In Chapter 5, You are the fearsome and unhindered guardian of holiness inside Your Church. Holy and Righteous One, we praise You for Your purity and confess that we are afflicted with a casual attitude toward holiness inside Your Church. We ask that You would cause us to increase in a holy trembling in all our dealings with Your Bride, a trembling that is the fruit of Your Gospel, which has been given to redeem us from every lawless deed.
In Chapter 6, You provide for Your bride by appointing offices for ministry designed to depict Your own ministry in and for the Church. Great Prophet of God, we praise You that You are the greatest and most faithful Elder over Your flock, guarding, leading, feeding, and interceding for the Church. Son of Man, we thank You that You are the greatest and most faithful Deacon serving the Church: who did not come to be served, but to serve and give His life a ransom for many.
In Chapter 7, You are boldly commended by Your servant Stephen as the Righteous One (7:52), the heart and long-expected Champion of Israel’s history, and as he sees you truly in this history, You permit him to see Your glory in the heavens.
Lord Jesus Christ, we praise You for Your identity as Israel’s truest Prophet, her most sympathetic & faithful Priest, and her mightiest King. Grant that we, Your flock at IPC, would love Your glory even as our brother Stephen did.
In Chapter 8, You display Your unhindered rule over all history by taking what men mean for the worst against You and Your Church, and turning it to the advancement of Your Kingdom, as You use the outbreak of persecution against the Church in Jerusalem to bring the light & liberation of Your Gospel, first to Samaria and then even to Africa through the conversion of the Ethiopian eunuch. We praise You, Lord, that You prove throughout Acts that You are able to build Your Church in the midst of the darkest of storms. Grant that we would trust You to continue to do so in our own day.
In Chapter 9, Your grace transforms the most vicious wolf, first into a sheep, and then into a shepherd. We thank You for two unfathomably rich lessons displayed in Saul’s conversion: (1) First, Your identification with the sufferings of Your bride, taking a personal interest in her persecution; and (2) Second, Your identification with the worst of sinners. Grant that our grasp of these truths, anchored in Your Cross, would continue to deepen and bear more fruit in our lives.
In Chapters 10 and 11, You keep Your promise by sending the Gospel and the Holy Spirit to the Gentiles: first, to Cornelius and his friends in Caesarea, and then later in the church in Antioch. We praise You, Lord Christ, for teaching us in these chapters both what the Gospel is not and what it is. That it is not: piety, belief in God, good-works, continual praying or spiritual influence upon others. But it is: God cleansing what is unholy through the holy work of His holy Son. Grant that we would never consider unholy what God has cleansed, that we would believe this about others and ourselves.
In Chapter 12, we are confronted by the mystery of Your sovereignty: in James’ martyrdom, in Peter’s release, and in the death of Herod. Grant that we would be appropriately humble and hopeful before Your authority and control over all things, even the worst evil of men and the most painful suffering of Your people.
In Chapter 13, You set apart Paul & Barnabas for the 1st missionary journey in fulfillment of Your plan to send Your witnesses to the remotest part of the earth, to fulfill Your own mission as the Servant of the Lord (Isaiah 49:6), to be “the Light for the Gentiles, to bring salvation to the end of the earth” (13:47). We praise You, Lord Christ, Your light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not, could not, and will not overcome it. Grant that we would increasingly see ourselves as bearers of Your light into the world.
In Chapter 14, You display Your worth through the willing suffering of Your servants, Paul and Barnabas, as they carry Your Gospel to both the Jews in Iconium and the Gentiles in Lystra and Derbe, with the testimony that it is “Through many tribulations we must enter the Kingdom of God” (14:22). Grant we, Your people at IPC, would rejoice if and when we are considered worthy to suffer shame for the sake of Your Name.
In Chapter 15, You are the Great Teacher of Your Church, as You guide the Jerusalem Council into a deeper and more accurate understanding of Your Gospel. We praise You, Lord Christ, for the inexhaustible depth of Your Work and its implications, that no matter how long and far we journey with You, we will never graduate from the wonders of the Gospel. Grant that we would exult in the riches of Your grace, rejoicing that there is no caste system in Your Church, but all who come to You come on an equal footing, as sinners saved by grace alone through faith alone in You alone.
In Chapter 16, You remind us that You have ordained to build Your Church by linking the edification of the saints and the evangelization of the lost (16:5). Grant that we, Your people at IPC, would never separate what You, our God and Savior, have joined together. In Philippi, we witness the power of Your Gospel: first, by saving very different kinds of people (the pious Lydia, the demon-possessed slave girl, and the jailer), and then by bringing those people together into Your Church. Great Savior of Sinners and Builder of Your Church, grant that we would experience Your power to save and join together in DeLand as You demonstrated it in Philippi.
In Chapter 17, You build Your Church through much affliction & conflict in Thessalonica, according to the Scriptures in Berea, and assert Your supreme relevance and authority over the intellectual and idolatrous pride of Athens. We praise You, Lord Jesus Christ, for the boundless relevance of Your Gospel depicted in this chapter. We pray You will give us hearts like Your servant Paul’s, burdened and provoked by compassion for the lost and a jealousy for Your glory so that we would be courageous speakers & sharers of Your Gospel, Your call to all men everywhere to repent, and your identity as the One appointed as the Righteous Judge over all men.
In Chapter 18, You shock us with Your announcement to Paul that “I have many people in this city.” First, because the city is Corinth, a place of great sin. Second, because You teach us once again that Your saving grace is sovereign grace, the grace of election. Third, because not only have You sovereignly ordained the end for Your people (R&Fàsalvation), but the means by which they are saved (“go on speaking”)(18:9). We praise You, Lord Jesus Christ, for Your sovereign, invincible grace. Grant that we, Your people at IPC, would move from this foundation with the same confidence into our communities as Paul did into Corinth, that we would not be silent, but go on speaking until Your return.
In Chapter 19, You literally turn the entire culture of Ephesus upside down and inside out with Your Gospel, liberating people from their slavery to the forces of wickedness and darkness, and proving that the longer and more deeply Your Word is sown into the life of a community and its people, the more every facet of that community will be changed forever by the Gospel. We praise You, Lord Christ, for Your power in Ephesus. Grant that we too, Your people at IPC, would sow the seed of Your Gospel into our communities with the expectation that You will turn them upside down.
In Chapter 20, You are the Good Shepherd, who purchased the Church at the cost of Your own blood. We praise You, Great Shepherd of the Sheep, for redeeming us at such tremendous cost. Grant that we would decreasingly think of ourselves as belonging to ourselves, and increasingly live as those who belong to, and are the rightful property of, Another, even You.
In Chapters 21, 22, and 23, You are the culminating fulfillment of Israel’s hopes, but Israel (largely) doesn’t honor You for it. You are the Messiah and rightful heir to David’s throne, who has been rejected by His own people, the one true Israelite rejected by Israel; but who has not rejected them, who deploys His lead Apostle to witness to Israel’s leaders once again. Greatest Son of David, we praise You for Your covenant faithfulness to Your people and Your promise from Acts 1:8 to link Jerusalem with the ends of the earth in Your Kingdom by assuring Paul that he will be Your witness in Rome just as he was in Jerusalem (23:11).
In Chapters 24, 25 and 26, You demonstrate yet again the scandalous extravagance of Your grace as You permit Paul to remain in prison in Caesarea for 2 years (!), thereby ensuring repeated access to Your Gospel for Felix (a man of mixed motives, who feigned genuine interest, but loved his sin more than Your grace), Festus (who feigned neutrality), Agrippa, Bernice & Drusilla (the children of Herod Agrippa I, who murdered Your Apostle James [12:2], the grandchildren of Herod Antipas, who murdered Your cousin John the Baptist, and the great grandchildren of Herod the Great, who slaughtered the baby boys of Bethlehem in order to destroy You!). We praise You, Lord Christ, that Your grace always proves to be more than sufficient for the worst and darkest of sinners, and that You delight to wield Your strength to save. Grant that we, Your people at IPC, would grow increasingly strong in this same grace.
In Chapter 27, You are the Sovereign over the storm, and remind us that not only Acts, but the entire Bible is a book of storms which serve Your purposes. We thank You that Your own Cross proves this to us most compellingly, and that because of Your mastery there, we have an unshakable warrant to believe You that it will turn out exactly as we have been told, that You will deliver us from every evil deed and will bring us safely into Your heavenly Kingdom. We believe, Lord; please help our unbelief.
In Chapter 28, we learn that the very last word Your Holy Spirit inspired Luke to write, the final word of this momentous book, is the Greek word we translate into English as “unhindered.” And though Luke uses it to describe Your Apostle’s ministry in Rome, it is such a fitting end to Acts because it so accurately describes Your own ministry throughout Acts and throughout history and the world.
Acts is a book shaped and propelled by the truth that You, our Lord, are the unhindered One. Your advance is unchecked and unstoppable in Acts: nothing and no one succeeds in slowing down, let alone blocking, Your project of building Your Church. We see that the agenda unfolded in human history is the agenda of Jesus Christ alone, You to whom all authority in heaven and on earth has been given.
In Chapter 28, we see that You are the Lord who has kept every single one of His promises, the unhindered Builder of His Church from Jerusalem to Rome, whose building strategy has not altered even in the imperial capital. You shower Your saving kindness on the Jews of Rome as well as the 6 Gentile praetorian guards daily chained to Your Apostle in four hour shifts! (vv. 17—20; 23—28; 30—31), as Your witnesses reason and persuade from the Scriptures which testify to You and Your Kingdom (vv. 23, 31).
From the open, unfinished ending of Acts, You also show us that Your work of building Your Church in the world is not yet done, and since Yours is not, ours isn’t either. We thank You, Lord Jesus, that Your intentions toward the world remain merciful and gracious. Grant us, Your people at IPC, not only to see the triumphantly unhindered and open door for the Gospel at the end of Acts, but the one that remains open in our own age until the Day of Your Return. Grant that each of us who name You as Savior and Lord would lay hold of this mission as our own.
For You and Your Gospel will always remain unhindered—from DeLand to the remotest part of the earth.
With praise, thanksgiving, and joy, we pray in Your name, our Master and our God, the name we have called upon in order to be saved, even Jesus Christ, Son of God, and Savior of sinners. Amen.