"We are all like Scheherazade's husband, in that we want to know what happens next." -E. M. Forster
Here in the middle of the summer we have gotten very used to our movie theaters filling their screens with franchise films and sequels. From a business standpoint this makes some sense; people prove time and again that they are eager to pay for a ticket to find out "what comes next" to characters from stories they already know. From a consumer standpoint there's a pretty common sense reason why these movies are well attended and sell tickets: we become enamored and invested in the story, the characters, and the conceit of the films. It offers us the chance to find something new in a familiar place. This summer fourteen of the summer releases are sequels and three are "reboots" (essentially remaking a beloved movie not continuing the story)-that's almost 20% of all the movies in the summer season...and A LOT of returns to familiar territory.
The Book of Acts is rather unique in the Bible in that it is a bona fide sequel. It's Luke II: The Apostles Step Up (or maybe Luke II: Apostler!). We know that because the Book opens with the author (presumably Luke) coming back to Theopolis and saying, "In my former book..." (Acts 1:1). Then he sets out to do what all sequels do: he recounts the end of the Gospel of Luke, the Ascension; he sends the main characters on a new adventure; and he introduces us to someone who wasn't in the first story, Matthias. Yes, other books of the Bible come in ones and twos (Samuel, Chronicles, the Corinthians), but these are more in the vein of a book split into parts-think The Lord of the Rings, not The Avengers-or a letter in response to a letter.
So far, so good. We can expect new adventures with familiar characters. But the Acts of the Apostles is not a movie or merely a "book". Instead, it is-in keeping with our Hollywood motif-a new origin story. Acts takes us into the lives, the sermons, and, most importantly, the actions of a small group of people. These people would take their Great Commission very seriously and demonstrate to us, even today, that Margaret Mead's observation is accurate, "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has."
What the 20th Century anthropologist didn't take into account is that these twelve people (thirteen if you add in Paul who shows up halfway through the book....many, many more if you add in the secondary characters) are real-life superheroes. Not struck by lightning, bitten by spiders, or exposed to gamma rays, but filled with the Holy Spirit. The adventures they have, as we read in Acts, will change our world forevermore.
That origin story I mentioned, it's the birth of the Church. It's the story of how we came to be Christians and why we gather to hear Pastor Nathan every Sunday. It's a story that we are actually a part of. Talk about an amazing, "and then what happened?" Hollywood couldn't make this story up, but God made it happen.