In his work An Experiment in Criticism, C.S. Lewis contrasts two different ways of approaching a piece of art. We can “receive” it for what it is, or we can “use” it for our own purposes. Lewis compares receiving art to “being taken on a bicycle ride by a man who may know the roads we have never yet explored.” On the other hand, using art for our own purposes is like attaching a motor to our bicycle and then “going for one of our familiar rides.” We don’t see anything new.
So what does all this have to do with our approach to the book of Acts? I want to suggest that Acts is a work of art before it is a playbook for modern missions. Luke, the author, is a storyteller before he is a strategist. That means we need to receive the message of Acts before we try to use it for our own purposes.
My previous articles have sought to show what this looks like in terms of our overall approach to Acts and its role in our missions strategy. In this article I would like to get more specific by considering how Luke uses the city of Jerusalem in his two-part story of Luke and Acts.
Stopping to Look at the Map
As we think about Jerusalem in the opening scenes of Acts, the radiating circles of gospel impact from the Spirit-empowered witnesses are often quickly applied to our missional situations.
“Jerusalem” becomes our nearby sphere of responsibility for people “like us.” Our task, then, is to be witnesses in “our Jerusalem.” While that motor may take us into our city with gospel intentionality, following Luke into his literary agenda for Acts actually opens up yet-to-be-explored paths of faithfulness in our city. We need to stop long enough to locate Jerusalem on Luke’s literary map before we apply it to our own.
Luke’s literary genius radiates around Jerusalem. In volume 1, the Gospel of Luke, the tension mounts as Jesus sets his face to go to Jerusalem where he will endure painful resistance, die, and eventually be taken up in glory (Luke 9:51). Then in Acts, volume 2, we find multitudes of Jews welcoming the news of the risen, reigning Jesus as Peter proclaims him in that very city. Bitter resistance has been replaced by repentance.
Luke concludes volume 1 with Jesus predicting that this outbreak of repentance would happen “from Jerusalem” (Luke 24:47). Attuned readers will see fulfillment fireworks booming over Jerusalem in Acts 1–4. These fireworks even echo back to the prophetic vision of God’s redemptive agenda, which centers on Jerusalem (Isaiah 2:1–3). The Davidic king has come, not just to any city but to the city, and established his kingdom. This isn’t just any old zip code. This is the city where Jesus and the prophets predicted that redemption would break out.
So before seeing Jerusalem as our missional responsibility, we need to see Luke’s narrative infused with the hope-filled magnitude of God’s promises coming to fulfillment. This narrative imparts confidence to the reader because Jesus has entered his rightful reign in the royal city. Inducing confidence—notice the words “certainty” (Luke 1:4) and “convincing proofs” (Acts 1:3)—was Luke’s goal all along. Joy in this city means joy for the world.
Adding Steel to Our Spine
In some ways, the story of Jesus in Luke repeats itself in Acts, as Jerusalem eventually stiff-arms God’s salvation.The two prominent characters in Acts, Peter and Paul, experience opposition in Jerusalem, mirroring Jesus’ own experience. This reinforces the tether between Jesus and his church.
Luke employs “Jerusalem” to showcase how the church walks in the footsteps of Jesus, even in these bitter moments. Jerusalem tempers the church’s expectations in the world and tethers her self-identity to the One in whom her story unfolds. Luke, by this literary use of Jerusalem, drives the church deeper into the “me” of the Lord Jesus’ stinging question to Saul: “Why are you persecuting me?”
Luke is adding the steel of “union with Jesus” into the church’s spine.
But Luke isn’t finished with Jerusalem. If Jerusalem heightens our hopes in the early chapters of Acts, it later becomes the place where those hopes are nearly dashed. As the gospel spreads to the Gentiles, those in the “circumcision party” insist on burdening the Gentiles with the old system of the Mosaic law (11:1–2; 15:1–3). A council must be convened, and the potential fallout is hard to overstate.
The future mission of the church and its unity is hanging in the balance. If the council in Jerusalem decides wrongly, Christianity is no longer a global movement.
Finding Our Jerusalem
The council, to the relief of the reader (and the world!), concludes with the right decision. The church would not be bound by the old covenant. Grace indeed had gone global, and the church needed to embrace the implications for Gentiles while also owning its missional responsibility to the Jews in every city (15:19–21). The outbreak of redemption would press on.
But Luke isn’t finished with Jerusalem yet. In dramatic fashion, the apostle to the world, Paul, stubbornly resolves to go to Jerusalem despite certain sufferings and the tension this created with the other disciples (21:11–14). Paul’s decision stalls the advancement of the gospel, narratively speaking, as the rest of the story has political leaders trying to figure out what to do with this man who has an odd way of stirring up trouble (chapters 22–28).
Paul’s passion to reach Jerusalem came at a great personal cost, and Luke uses this to encourage faithful readers to preserve the unity of the church and advance the gospel at all costs. Jewish believers can’t restrain the forward progress of the gospel and Gentile believers must embrace the mindset and passion of the apostle Paul. Jerusalem nearly became the zip code where the church was divided and the mission derailed. But Luke, the storyteller, employs this city to showcase actions incumbent on the reader, actions that preserve the unity of the church and press the mission forward.
What if this Jerusalem, Luke’s Jerusalem in Acts, became “our Jerusalem.” Bold confidence that God’s redemptive plan is unfolding in our day would compel us into our streets. Our union with Christ would cause us to endure whatever comes our way. The costs necessary for church unity would be readily embraced. The book of Acts would be charting new paths of missional fidelity for our churches. And our own zip codes would witness a people living the miracle.
 Luke 19:41-45; Acts 4:28; 8:1; 9:21; 13:27; 21:11–36.
 Acts 4:27–29; 21:11–36.