Teaching Acts in Prison: Part 1, The Ascention is the Key

Bible teaching in prison tends to focus a great deal on grace, forgiveness of sins, and atonement. That makes sense. Most of the prison chaplains I work with come from evangelical backgrounds, so "salvation" tends to mean "atonement." Also, given the crimes and sins of the prison population, a message of grace is hugely needed.

That said, this narrow and exclusive focus on grace can leave the inmates with an impoverished vision of what salvation means.

In my own study on Monday nights out at the prison, we started a study of the book of Acts. And I've discovered that Acts is a wonderful tool to paint a larger, fuller vision of salvation.

Acts begins with the Ascension of Jesus into heaven:
Then they gathered around him and asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?”

He said to them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight.

They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. “Men of Galilee,” they said, “why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.”
When we talk about salvation we don't talk about the Ascension very much, I pointed out to the men. Again, we mainly talk about the crucifixion and its relationship with the forgiveness of our sins. But what's the point about the Ascension?, I asked.

Well, it has to do with Jesus being Lord. And Jesus being Lord is all about God restoring his kingdom, reign, and rule upon earth. And that, I argued to the men, is the drama of the book of Acts.  The Ascension--that Jesus is Lord and now rules--is the theme of the book of Acts. What we witness in the book of Acts is the Lordship of Jesus spreading out into the world, town by town, city by city. The kingdom of God reclaims territory previously held by the devil.

And as that happens, as we'll see in Acts, all hell breaks loose.

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