The Life of a Missionary: Having a Fit, Making a Tough Choice, and Singing in Jail

August 25, 2009 at 2:12 pm | Posted in Acts | 7 Comments
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The events recorded in Acts Chapter 15 took place about 20 years after the day of Pentecost. The meeting that is described is often called the Jerusalem Council. Some Jewish “Christian” theologians had come to the Church – possibly sent by Satan – and they had taught a false gospel: Christianity constrained by Judaism.

The result of the Jerusalem Council was a sort of a compromise. There were two commands: avoid idolatry and fornication. And there were two concessions: don’t eat blood, and don’t eat meat from animals killed by strangulation. This result preserved unity in the Church.

Most local churches that wind up destroyed do not get destroyed by outside forces. Most of them split from within.

And some days after Paul said unto Barnabas, Let us go again and visit our brethren in every city where we have preached the word of the Lord, and see how they do. And Barnabas determined to take with them John, whose surname was Mark. But Paul thought not good to take him with them, who departed from them from Pamphylia, and went not with them to the work. And the contention was so sharp between them, that they departed asunder one from the other: and so Barnabas took Mark, and sailed unto Cyprus;

Acts 15:36-39

Paul and Barnabas got into a fight about Barnabas’s cousin, John Mark. The Greek word for “contention” in Acts 15:39 is a funny word – paroxysmos – meaning a paroxysm or a “fit.” Paul ended up taking Silas with him, and Barnabas took Mark. Paul cared for people in the sense of what they could do for the Lord. Barnabas cared for people in the sense of what God could do for them, or what God’s work could do for them. Of course, it could just be that God wanted two missionary teams instead of one.

Acts Chapter 16 describes the beginning of Paul’s second missionary journey. At Lystra they picked up Timothy to replace Mark on Paul’s team. Timothy and Titus, Paul’s two main proteges, were both gentiles. Timothy was circumcised, but Titus was not. The reason is that Timothy was going to be working with Jews and gentiles, but Titus’s circumcision would have helped Paul’s enemies (Galatians 2:1-5).

Paul’s personal preference was to go east to Asia, but God wanted him to go west to Europe. He went to Troas, then to Macedonia, then to Neapolis, then to Philippi.

On this missionary journey, Lydia of Thyatira, the seller of purple dye, was saved.

And a certain woman named Lydia, a seller of purple, of the city of Thyatira, which worshipped God, heard us: whose heart the Lord opened, that she attended unto the things which were spoken of Paul. And when she was baptized, and her household, she besought us, saying, If ye have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come into my house, and abide there. And she constrained us.

Acts 16:14-15

Paul cast a demon out of a girl who was following them, even though she was proclaiming salvation.

And it came to pass, as we went to prayer, a certain damsel possessed with a spirit of divination met us, which brought her masters much gain by soothsaying: The same followed Paul and us, and cried, saying, These men are the servants of the most high God, which shew unto us the way of salvation. And this did she many days. But Paul, being grieved, turned and said to the spirit, I command thee in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her. And he came out the same hour.

Acts 16:16-18

This young lady’s conversion cost her masters much income, and they had Paul and Silas beaten. Notice how sneaky Satan is! He tried to trap Paul and his team: They could let this girl keep it up and corrupt the message and their separated walk; or, they could oppose her, stir up trouble, get beaten, thrown out, and lose the opportunity to witness. We must wonder if Satan thought he had baited the perfect trap. If Paul and his team let the girl continue, then Satan could use her to start lying. If they silenced her, they would make her masters angry. However, God always makes a way of escape for His people when they are tempted of Satan. So, Paul and Silas were beaten, and then instead of getting thrown out of town, God allowed them to get thrown into prison. Paul and Silas were in prison, singing songs of praise to God!

And at midnight Paul and Silas prayed, and sang praises unto God: and the prisoners heard them.

Acts 16:25

God shook open the prison doors, but Paul stayed to witness to the Philippian jailor.

And brought them out, and said, Sirs, what must I do to be saved? And they said, Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house.

Acts 16:30-31

Here, it is important to note that they are not telling one man to believe by himself, such that his belief would be a substitute for the belief of everyone else in his household. They are telling him that each person of the household must believe on his/her own.

And when he had brought them into his house, he set meat before them, and rejoiced, believing in God with all his house.

Acts 16:34

Paul and Silas were prisoners, but they were treated differently once they claimed their rights as Roman citizens.

But Paul said unto them, They have beaten us openly uncondemned, being Romans, and have cast us into prison; and now do they thrust us out privily? nay verily; but let them come themselves and fetch us out. And the serjeants told these words unto the magistrates: and they feared, when they heard that they were Romans. And they came and besought them, and brought them out, and desired them to depart out of the city. And they went out of the prison, and entered into the house of Lydia: and when they had seen the brethren, they comforted them, and departed.

Acts 16:37-40

Preaching, Pressing, and Pushing On

August 4, 2009 at 11:48 am | Posted in A Little Alliteration, Acts | 8 Comments
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Acts Chapter 12 starts off by telling us that Herod the king killed John’s brother, James, and had Peter arrested. This Herod is the third Herod – Herod Agrippa I. Herod the Great was the one who had killed the babies in Bethlehem right after Jesus was born. The Herod in Acts 12 is that Herod’s grandson.

King Herod the Great had killed his own son, Aristobulus, who was Herod Agrippa I’s father. Herod Agrippa I (the Herod of Acts 12) had an uncle named Herod Antipas who had beheaded John the Baptist.

As you can see, the Herods were evil, and they practiced nepotism. Warren Wiersbe says nepotism is when a father, being evil, knows how to give good gifts to his children. (Luke 11:13)

Peter therefore was kept in prison: but prayer was made without ceasing of the church unto God for him. And when Herod would have brought him forth, the same night Peter was sleeping between two soldiers, bound with two chains: and the keepers before the door kept the prison.

Acts 12:5-6

Peter was so dangerous that they put two guards on him, but God freed him anyway.

And, behold, the angel of the Lord came upon him, and a light shined in the prison: and he smote Peter on the side, and raised him up, saying, Arise up quickly. And his chains fell off from his hands.

Acts 12:7

We meet two other important characters in Acts 12: John Mark, who would write the Book of Mark, and James (not the same one killed in Verse 2), the sort of “half-brother” of Jesus.

But he [PETER], beckoning unto them with the hand to hold their peace, declared unto them how the Lord had brought him out of the prison. And he said, Go shew these things unto James, and to the brethren. And he departed, and went into another place.

Acts 12:17

This is the same James who wrote the Book of James. It seems that he was also the pastor or the leader of the church in Jerusalem.

And Herod was highly displeased with them of Tyre and Sidon: but they came with one accord to him, and, having made Blastus the king’s chamberlain their friend, desired peace; because their country was nourished by the king’s country. And upon a set day Herod, arrayed in royal apparel, sat upon his throne, and made an oration unto them. And the people gave a shout, saying, It is the voice of a god, and not of a man. And immediately the angel of the Lord smote him, because he gave not God the glory: and he was eaten of worms, and gave up the ghost.

Acts 12:20-23

Herod’s last days seem to foreshadow the Antichrist.

In Acts Chapter 13 God called missionaries when His followers were seeking to glorify Him.

Now there were in the church that was at Antioch certain prophets and teachers; as Barnabas, and Simeon that was called Niger, and Lucius of Cyrene, and Manaen, which had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. As they ministered to the Lord, and fasted, the Holy Ghost said, Separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them. And when they had fasted and prayed, and laid their hands on them, they sent them away. So they, being sent forth by the Holy Ghost, departed unto Seleucia; and from thence they sailed to Cyprus.

Acts 13:1-4

Six men, including John Mark in Verse 6, were ministering in Antioch: Barnabus; Simeon (who was probably from Africa because his nickname was “black”); Lucius (whose name meant “light”); Manen (a friend, or maybe the adopted brother of, Herod Antipas who killed John the Baptist); and Saul/Paul. These men were prophets and teachers. At times they did foretell the future, but primarily they were prophets in the sense that they proclaimed God’s Word. We need this type of prophetic ministry today more than we need seers into the future or “words of knowledge” or “fresh revelation.” We need men who will stand up, as elder prophets, and say, “This is what the Bible has to say about that…”

Antioch was in Syria, and from this point in the narrative of Acts, Antioch and Paul replace Jerusalem and Peter as the focal points.

Barnabas and Paul are sent, and they take Barnabas’s cousin, John Mark, with them. They go to six different cities in Chapters 13 and 14. Satan packed up his bag of evil tricks and went after them, or, actually, it appears that he may have gone before them in some instances.

They went to Paphos.

And when they had gone through the isle unto Paphos, they found a certain sorcerer, a false prophet, a Jew, whose name was Barjesus: Which was with the deputy of the country, Sergius Paulus, a prudent man; who called for Barnabas and Saul, and desired to hear the word of God. But Elymas the sorcerer (for so is his name by interpretation) withstood them, seeking to turn away the deputy from the faith. Then Saul, (who also is called Paul,) filled with the Holy Ghost, set his eyes on him,

Acts 13:6-9

In Paphos, Satan had sown tares among the wheat. The devil is a planter of counterfeits. (Matthew 13:24-25)

Next they went to Perga.

Now when Paul and his company loosed from Paphos, they came to Perga in Pamphylia: and John departing from them returned to Jerusalem.

Acts 13:13

In Perga the attack came by way of backsliding. We do not know what caused John Mark to turn back, but he was restored later. It could have been his discomfort with the Gentiles. It could have been a fear of danger in these new areas. Maybe he was jealous concerning Paul’s leadership over his cousin, Barnabas. (Note Verse 13 where it says, “Paul and his company…”)

The first sermon of the Apostle Paul which is recorded in the Bible begins in Acts 13:16, and it was preached in Pisidia. His method was to proclaim the Gospel (Acts 13:28-30), and to press hard for a decision (Acts 13:38-41). This method has come under attack lately by those who claim that pressing for a decision means that men are being deceived into trusting a “decision” rather than trusting Christ. Indeed, it may well be that the method has been abused, twisted, warped, or incorrectly worded, but the fact is that the preaching and pressing which Paul did was inspired by the Holy Spirit, and therefore, it is the Bible way of evangelizing.

At first Paul and Barnabas were invited back to the synagogue.

And when the Jews were gone out of the synagogue, the Gentiles besought that these words might be preached to them the next sabbath. Now when the congregation was broken up, many of the Jews and religious proselytes followed Paul and Barnabas: who, speaking to them, persuaded them to continue in the grace of God. And the next sabbath day came almost the whole city together to hear the word of God.

Read 13:42-44

But the Jews stirred up a desire to have them thrown out. They stirred up the leading men and women of high society.

But the Jews stirred up the devout and honourable women, and the chief men of the city, and raised persecution against Paul and Barnabas, and expelled them out of their coasts.

Acts 13:50

Here is a brief rundown of Paul’s first recorded sermon:
1. He reviews the history of Israel.
2. He accuses his listeners of killing the Messiah.
3. He proclaims the Resurrection.
4. He reminds them of the promise of a King on the Throne of David. (Habakkuk 1:5; Isaiah 49:6)

In the Old Testament, God used Gentiles to punish the Jews. At the beginning of the Church in the New Testament, the salvation of the Gentiles is coming through the Jews.

Some people think that the restoration of Davidic worship is the sign of Christ coming back to reign on the Throne of David. I tend to disagree because the Jews were used by God in early Christianity, but for the most part, as a people, they have rejected the message. So now the message has gone primarily among the Gentiles. I do not think that the sign of the coming of Christ will be enthusiastic worship. I think it will be false worship and apostasy and falling away. (II Thessalonians 2:3)

And when the Gentiles heard this, they were glad, and glorified the word of the Lord: and as many as were ordained to eternal life believed.

Acts 13:48

This shows the sovereignty of God.

And the word of the Lord was published throughout all the region.

Acts 13:49

This shows the responsibility of man.

The sovereignty of God and the responsibility of man always go together.

In Acts Chapter 14 the Christian missionaries leave Pisidia and go to Iconium. There, Satan opposed them by stirring up Jews. There were signs and wonders along the trip through the different cities, but, despite the signs and wonders, they preached the Gospel (Acts 14:7), and went down into Attalia (Acts 14:25), and:

… when they had preached the gospel to that city, and had taught many,

Acts 14:21

They never ceased to preach the Word.

They went from Iconium to Lystra (home town of Timothy). I suppose they would be called divisive and insulting in today’s politically correct climate for what they did when people wanted to worship them and call them false gods.

And they called Barnabas, Jupiter; and Paul, Mercurius, because he was the chief speaker. Then the priest of Jupiter, which was before their city, brought oxen and garlands unto the gates, and would have done sacrifice with the people. Which when the apostles, Barnabas and Paul, heard of, they rent their clothes, and ran in among the people, crying out, And saying, Sirs, why do ye these things? We also are men of like passions with you, and preach unto you that ye should turn from these vanities unto the living God, which made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and all things that are therein:

Acts 14:12-15

Paul didn’t preach from the Old Testament this time because these people were mostly pagans. Instead he preached the God of creation.

Nevertheless he left not himself without witness, in that he did good, and gave us rain from heaven, and fruitful seasons, filling our hearts with food and gladness.

Acts 14:17

The devil and his followers from Iconium and Antioch kept showing up.

And there came thither certain Jews from Antioch and Iconium, who persuaded the people, and, having stoned Paul, drew him out of the city, supposing he had been dead. Howbeit, as the disciples stood round about him, he rose up, and came into the city: and the next day he departed with Barnabas to Derbe.

Acts 14:19-20

They stoned Paul, but either he survived, or God raised him from the dead. He and his fellow-servants went right back to Antioch, through some of the same places they had been thrown out of. They not only evangelized, but they trained new believers and established churches. Paul’s first missionary journey (there would be two more) lasted about one year.

Changing Names and Calling Names

July 17, 2009 at 9:56 am | Posted in Acts | 19 Comments
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In Acts Chapter 9 Saul of Tarsus meets Jesus Christ. When this happened Saul was charging down the road to Damascus like an angry bull. Why was he angry? His conscience was being pricked. He was under conviction. He had seen the witness of Stephen. Saul was very intelligent. He was very well-educated. He was very zealous for the Jewish faith, and very angry about anything that threatened it. He was very focused on his job, as a hunter of heretics. He was very self-righteous.

Saul had “wasted” many churches.

But all that heard him were amazed, and said; Is not this he that destroyed them which called on this name in Jerusalem, and came hither for that intent, that he might bring them bound unto the chief priests?

Acts 9:21

For ye have heard of my conversation in time past in the Jews’ religion, how that beyond measure I persecuted the church of God, and wasted it:

Galatians 1:13

But they had heard only, That he which persecuted us in times past now preacheth the faith which once he destroyed.

Galatians 1:23

The Jewish council trusted him to go as far as Damascus. The Gospel had spread to Damascus – possibly because converts had fled there to escape persecution in Jerusalem. Saul had no doubt in his mind that Jesus of Nazareth was dead. In his heart? We don’t know.

Saul is commonly portrayed in Bible story books and church art as riding a horse just prior to his Damascus road experience. The fact is, the Bible does not tell us that Saul was riding a horse to Damascus, but if he was, the Lord knocked him off his “high horse,” so to speak.

And as he journeyed, he came near Damascus: and suddenly there shined round about him a light from heaven: And he fell to the earth, and heard a voice saying unto him, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?

Acts 9:3-4

This light was so bright that it was bright at midday (Acts 26:13). All the men with him heard the sound of speaking, but only Saul understood the words. Now he knew that Jesus of Nazareth was alive. He had to re-think everything he believed in – everything for which he stood. In an instant, Saul became a new creation.

And Saul arose from the earth; and when his eyes were opened, he saw no man: but they led him by the hand, and brought him into Damascus. And he was three days without sight, and neither did eat nor drink.

Acts 9:8-9

He went from being an angry bull to being a docile lamb. For three days he fasted and prayed – and probably tried to sort out what this meant.

The Lord sent Ananias to him. (This is a different Ananias than the one who was killed for lying to the Holy Ghost.) All the Christians knew who Saul was, and feared him. He received his sight back, and he received the Holy Spirit.

Acts 9:15 sort of summarizes Saul’s/Paul’s life and ministry: “But the Lord said unto him [Ananais], Go thy way: for he [Saul] is a chosen vessel unto me, to bear my name before the Gentiles, and kings, and the children of Israel:”

Now the hunter became the hunted. And the hunter of men became the master soul-hunter.

Saul was at first rejected by the Jewish Christians because of his reputation and because of their experience with him. Also, by the time he was presented to them as a Christian, it had been three years since his conversion. He had probably been in Arabia during this time, being taught of God, witnessing, and suffering persecution.

Barnabas was the one who convinced the Jewish Christians that Paul really was an Apostle. Paul began to witness to the same Jews who had killed Stephen – so they plotted to kill Paul.

In Acts Chapter 10 we meet Cornelius, a Roman centurion and a “God-fearer.” Cornelius wanted to please God, so God sent him an angel. The angel told him to go and see Simon Peter.

We might ask ourselves why the angel didn’t just give him the Gospel message himself. The angels can carry God’s messages, but they have not experienced God’s grace in the same way that Christians have. The Gospel is not the same good news for them that it is for us. They have not been redeemed, and it is God’s plan that men share and preach the Gospel, not angels.

Peter was living in the home of a tanner, a person who worked with dead animal skins. This was remarkable for a Jew like Peter.

It is humorous to see that Peter was hungry, and he had a vision about food.

And he became very hungry, and would have eaten: but while they made ready, he fell into a trance, And saw heaven opened, and a certain vessel descending unto him, as it had been a great sheet knit at the four corners, and let down to the earth: Wherein were all manner of fourfooted beasts of the earth, and wild beasts, and creeping things, and fowls of the air. And there came a voice to him, Rise, Peter; kill, and eat. But Peter said, Not so, Lord; for I have never eaten any thing that is common or unclean. And the voice spake unto him again the second time, What God hath cleansed, that call not thou common.

Acts 10:10-15

Peter preached the Gospel to Cornelius, and he believed, and immediately the Holy Ghost fell on all them who believed. This was a special event. Now the Holy Ghost had been given to the Jews (Pentecost), the Samaritans (when Peter went after Philip preached), and the Gentiles. Peter the Apostle went to all three ethnic groups, and was the instrument through which God gave the Holy Ghost. Peter is the one to whom Jesus had given the “keys to the Kingdom.”

Note that these Gentiles received the Holy Ghost before they were baptized in water.

The other Apostles and Christians were a little upset with Peter when he got back, but he told them the whole story.

When they heard these things, they held their peace, and glorified God, saying, Then hath God also to the Gentiles granted repentance unto life.

Acts 11:18

And some of them were men of Cyprus and Cyrene, which, when they were come to Antioch, spake unto the Grecians, preaching the Lord Jesus. And the hand of the Lord was with them: and a great number believed, and turned unto the Lord.

Acts 11:20-21

Antioch was the third largest city in the Roman Empire, after Rome itself and Alexandria. The movers and shakers of Rome came for business and pleasure. This was the only city where the streets were lit at night (which would turn out to be kind of ominous for the Christians.) Antioch had a main street paved with marble. In such a cosmopolitan locale, you might expect the preaching of the Gospel to fall flat. Yet the witness of the Holy Spirit, through Godly believers preaching the Word, was very effective.

The church in Jerusalem sent Barnabas (whose name meant “the son of encouragement”) to encourage these gentile believers.

And when he had found him, he brought him unto Antioch. And it came to pass, that a whole year they assembled themselves with the church, and taught much people. And the disciples were called Christians first in Antioch.

Acts 11:26

“Christian” has become such a common word today that it has lost some of its valuable impact. The people in Antioch used it the way we might call someone a “Little Christ.” It was a combination of the Hebrew Word for “Christ” with the Greek suffix “ian,” meaning “belonging to the party of.” It was an insult back then, but it was not a “vulgar” (common) term like it is today. When non-believers called them “Christians,” they knew that they had repented of their sins, believed the Gospel, and believed in the resurrected Jesus of Nazareth as the Son of God, and as the One True and Living God. Today, “Christian” is a vulgar term: It just means somebody who goes to church, at best – or somebody who is not a pagan, agnostic, or professing atheist, at worst.

Barnabus got Paul to help, knowing that he had been called to preach to the Gentiles. With a famine affecting Jerusalem, the gentile Christians in Antioch sent a special love offering back to the church in Jerusalem, from which had come the message that saved their souls. We need to remember to always try to provide for the physical needs of those who reached out to us when we were lost, and those who helped us grow in the faith.

Exposing the Enemy and Going Forth with the Truth

June 30, 2009 at 10:57 am | Posted in Acts | 20 Comments
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Acts Chapter 8 introduces us to Saul of Tarsus, who would become the Apostle Paul.

And Saul was consenting unto his death. And at that time there was a great persecution against the church which was at Jerusalem; and they were all scattered abroad throughout the regions of Judaea and Samaria, except the apostles.

Acts 8:1

Saul saw Stephen stoned, and he approved of it. But you have to wonder if it affected him – if God used it to begin to prick his conscience.

And he said, Who art thou, Lord? And the Lord said, I am Jesus whom thou persecutest: it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks.

Acts 9:5

Something was bothering Saul, stabbing at his conscience as he charged down the road to Damascus like an angry bull.

As for Saul, he made havock of the church, entering into every house, and haling men and women committed them to prison.

Acts 8:2

He “wreaked havoc” on the early Church – tore it to pieces like a wild beast – the way Samson once did to a lion (which normally tears the lamb.) But the early Church was empowered by the Lamb of God; persecution only caused it to grow.

Therefore they that were scattered abroad went every where preaching the word. Then Philip went down to the city of Samaria, and preached Christ unto them.

Acts 8:4-5

Philip went to Samaria. The Samaritans were half-Jewish and half-Gentile. When the Assyrians had conquered the northern tribes of Israel, they brought in people to intermarry. The Samaritans were the second ethnic group in Acts upon which God poured His Spirit.

Philip’s revelations were confirmed by special miracles for a special ethnic group.

But there was a certain man, called Simon, which beforetime in the same city used sorcery, and bewitched the people of Samaria, giving out that himself was some great one:

Acts 8:9

Simon was doing satanic miracles; Philip was doing God-empowered miracles.

To whom they all gave heed, from the least to the greatest, saying, This man is the great power of God. And to him they had regard, because that of long time he had bewitched them with sorceries.

Acts 8:10-11

Simon’s miracles bewitched the people; Philip’s preaching set them free.

Satan got Simon to infiltrate Philip’s ministry.

And when Simon saw that through laying on of the apostles’ hands the Holy Ghost was given, he offered them money, Saying, Give me also this power, that on whomsoever I lay hands, he may receive the Holy Ghost. But Peter said unto him, Thy money perish with thee, because thou hast thought that the gift of God may be purchased with money.

Acts 8:18-20

The laying-on of hands is there in Chapter 8, but not in Chapter 10 when the Gentiles receive the Holy Ghost. Laying-on of hands is not necessary for Spirit baptism – and notice that only the Apostles could do it. There is only one prerequisite for Spirit-baptism: Salvation.

Simon the sorcerer has a word named for him: simony. Simony is the buying and selling of church offices. Simon was willing to pay for the ability to lay hands on people and impart the Holy Spirit to them. There is much division and confusion and strife about this among the professing Christian church today, and, obviously, if you read this, you can do what you want, but I would be very careful about paying money – whether you call it a “love offering” or “sowing a seed” or whatever – for some “anointed” object.

Peter was very good at ferreting out Satan, and he spoke harshly to Satan’s secret agents when they were exposed. When he exposed Ananias, Peter asked him, “Why hath Satan filled thine heart to lie to the Holy Ghost?” (Acts 5:3) He told Simon:

Repent therefore of this thy wickedness, and pray God, if perhaps the thought of thine heart may be forgiven thee. For I perceive that thou art in the gall of bitterness, and in the bond of iniquity.

Acts 8:22-23

It is possible that Ananias and Sapphira would have destroyed the church in Jerusalem, and likewise Simon could have destroyed the church in Samaria. It may be that Peter was so good at spotting Satan’s infiltration tactics because of his past experience with Satan trying to infiltrate the disciples through Peter himself.

But he turned, and said unto Peter, Get thee behind me, Satan: thou art an offence unto me: for thou savourest not the things that be of God, but those that be of men.

Matthew 16:23

And the Lord said, Simon, Simon, behold, Satan hath desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat: But I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not: and when thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren.

Luke 22:31-32

Acts Chapter 8 also contains the important account of the Ethiopian eunuch. This Ethiopian servant would have been wealthy – he was riding in a fancy chariot. And it may be that he was not a real “eunuch” in the modern sense of the term, but rather a high-ranking servant who had retained the name. In any event, he had a scroll of Isaiah – which would have been very rare to have in those days. He apparently had an interest in being a Jewish proselyte. However, if he was in fact a real “eunuch,” he would have been barred from temple worship due to his physical mutilation. He could have still been what was known as a “God-fearer” (this is what Cornelius was). God-fearers were Gentiles who tried to observe the Jewish laws and rites, even though they could not be true Jews. Joseph pretended to be an Old Testament example of this. He gave his brothers a hint when he sent them home, saying, “This do and live; for I fear God.” (Genesis 42:18)

And Philip ran thither to him, and heard him read the prophet Esaias, and said, Understandest thou what thou readest?

Acts 8:30

The Ethiopian was reading from Isaiah 53:

He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth: he is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he openeth not his mouth. He was taken from prison and from judgment: and who shall declare his generation? for he was cut off out of the land of the living: for the transgression of my people was he stricken.

Isaiah 53:7-8

This passage of Scripture deals with the Messiah as a substitutionary sacrifice.

Then Philip opened his mouth, and began at the same scripture, and preached unto him Jesus. And as they went on their way, they came unto a certain water: and the eunuch said, See, here is water; what doth hinder me to be baptized? And Philip said, If thou believest with all thine heart, thou mayest. And he answered and said, I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. And he commanded the chariot to stand still: and they went down both into the water, both Philip and the eunuch; and he baptized him. And when they were come up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord caught away Philip, that the eunuch saw him no more: and he went on his way rejoicing.

Acts 8:35-39

Please note that the Ethiopian had to be saved before he could be baptized.

Philip was “caught away” – this implies a supernatural phenomenon. He ended up at Azotus, and then preached his way back to Caesarea – about 60 miles. There are few spiritual events that will energize your Christian life like leading someone to the Lord and seeing him saved.

The Blessing and the Cost of an Honest Report

June 15, 2009 at 4:06 pm | Posted in Acts | 16 Comments
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Previously, we saw the powerful prayer of the Apostles. When they had prayed, God shook the whole building.

And when they had prayed, the place was shaken where they were assembled together; and they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and they spake the word of God with boldness.

Acts 4:31

We are tempted to wonder what would happen if such an occurrence took place today. However, the early church leaders did not determine to stage this prayer meeting over and over again, hoping for more signs and wonders. Instead they went to work. Instead of selling admission, they started giving.

Neither was there any among them that lacked: for as many as were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the prices of the things that were sold, And laid them down at the apostles’ feet: and distribution was made unto every man according as he had need.

Acts 4:34-35

This was not an example of what we know today as Communism – this was giving motivated by love, not by force or for political ideology.

Satan had tried to attack the Church from without. Now he would try to attack it from the inside.

But a certain man named Ananias, with Sapphira his wife, sold a possession, And kept back part of the price, his wife also being privy to it, and brought a certain part, and laid it at the apostles’ feet.

Acts 5:1-2

This is the beginning of the account of Ananias and Sapphira. They were Satan’s counterfeit givers. Contrast their giving with that of Barnabas.

And Joses, who by the apostles was surnamed Barnabas, (which is, being interpreted, The son of consolation,) a Levite, and of the country of Cyprus, Having land, sold it, and brought the money, and laid it at the apostles’ feet.

Acts 4:36-37

Barnabas had not been motivated by fame. However, I’m sure his noble act had brought some coincidental fame to him. This fame made Ananias and Sapphira jealous. That’s when Satan pounced. We see the motivation of Satan in the pride and hypocrisy involved in Ananias and Sapphira’s sin.

Hypocrisy and pride are two sins that are especially abominable to the Lord. But before we look down our nose too much at Ananias and Sapphira… Their sin was a way of trying to look more spiritual in church than they really were, for their own glory. It was sin that involved lying to the Holy Spirit, and it was against the Church. If they could have gained a good standing in the Church, Satan would have had a couple of effective “inside agents.”

If a fighter is losing a fair fight, and he is a dirty fighter, he may try to get an unfair advantage by picking up something handy and throwing it at his opponent. My younger brother’s favorite projectile was a steel-spiked track shoe. I have a friend whose younger brother once threw a cat at him!

Satan, the dirtiest of all the dirty fighters, will often pick up a person, the way we would pick up a rock or a vase (it may be a person very close to you – maybe even a fellow church member), and throw this person at you.

Satan picked up Ananias and Sapphira, and threw them at the other Christians. For their sin, God killed Ananias and Sapphira. Their punishment was severe because their sin occurred at the outset of a new period in the history of salvation.

There are other instances like this, where God, at the beginning of what some people call a “dispensational period” of salvific history, will deal very harshly with sin that challenges or threatens the onset of a new revelation by Him, or a new era in Christian history.

Here are a couple of examples: Just after the tabernacle was erected, God killed Nadab and Abihu (Leviticus 10). This was the incident of strange fire in the censer. Just after Joshua entered the promised land, God had Achan killed (Joshua 7). Achan “took the accursed thing” in the sacking of Jericho.

At the end of Acts Chapter 5, the Apostles are arrested, and they go before the Sanhedrin and the Sadducees. They are beaten, and Gamaliel attempts to get rid of them by trivializing their Lord.

The next recorded problem to arise in the Church had to do with the Greek-speaking widows, who believed that the Hebrew- (or Aramaic-) speaking widows were getting preferred treatment.

Then the twelve called the multitude of the disciples unto them, and said, It is not reason that we should leave the word of God, and serve tables. Wherefore, brethren, look ye out among you seven men of honest report, full of the Holy Ghost and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business.

Acts 6:2-3

The Apostles were spending too much time “waiting tables,” and it was taking away from their time studying the Word, preaching, and praying. So, inspired by the Holy Ghost, they commanded that seven men be found. The Apostles were not “too good” to wait tables, but they were doing what others could be doing just as well. And Acts 6:3 sets forth the qualifications for what type of men they were looking:

Honest report:
Someone who can be trusted. All Christians ought to establish a reputation for trustworthiness. If you want to obtain an honest report, you will need to show up, even when you’re not feeling well. You will need to consistently raise your hand, and say, “I’ll help clean up;” “I’ll volunteer to do that; “Somebody’s missing – I’ll fill in.” And when these opportunities arise, you will strive to do a good job.

Then, people will say, “You know, we trusted him to do that last time, and he did a good job; we can trust him to do that again.” Pretty soon you’ll have an “honest report.”

Even a child is known by his doings, whether his work be pure, and whether it be right.

Proverbs 20:11

If even a child is known for his “report,” how much more a man?

Too often we want to be known by our sayings, when we should want to be known by our doings.

Full of the Holy Ghost: The Apostles weren’t looking for men who had filled up on the Holy Ghost once a week, after 45 minutes of music. They were looking for men who were “being filled” continually with the Holy Ghost. If I’m going to be continually filled with the Holy Ghost, I’m going to have to do more than sing and exuberantly worship. I’m going to have to get rid of the sin in my life. This does not mean I won’t ever sin, but I’ve got to hate that sin – confess it, and forsake it right away. Is the Holy Ghost comfortable in your heart, or are you grieving the Holy Ghost?

Full of wisdom: Too often, people are claiming to be full of the Holy Ghost, but are acting like muttering drunks. A characteristic of being filled with the Holy Ghost is wisdom.

Wherefore be ye not unwise, but understanding what the will of the Lord is. And be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess; but be filled with the Spirit;

Ephesians 5:17-18

What a shame if the Spirit truly wants to lead us, and the best thing we can do in response is to act big, talk loud, sit around, and do nothing. That’s what drunks do. They talk big, but they’re too uncoordinated to do anything. God has called us to do much more than just show up once in a while – even more than just to show up regularly. He wants us to be actively involved in ministry. We have an example of this in Acts 6 – an example of a man who met these qualifications: Stephen.

I’m not a Greek scholar by any means, but my understanding is that there are two different Greek words for “crown:” diadem and stephanos. (Stephanos is probably where we get the name “Stephen.”) A diadem can be inherited; a stephanos must earned – or won in an athletic contest.

Stephen was full of faith and full of the Holy Ghost. We know he was full of faith because, as he began to preach, and as the crowd he was preaching to got angrier and angrier, and as they began to stone him, he kept right on going. We know he was full of the Holy Ghost, because he preached with power. The Bible even says he was full of power.

And Stephen, full of faith and power, did great wonders and miracles among the people.

Acts 6:8 (emphasis added)

He was so filled with the Holy Ghost that he even asked the Lord to forgive them as they killed him.

And all that sat in the council, looking stedfastly on him, saw his face as it had been the face of an angel.

Acts 6:15

We say that someone who is really smart is “bright,” or that someone who comes up with a great idea is “brilliant.” Stephen was visibly brilliant! He told the truth from God’s Word.

His sermon is recorded in Acts Chapter 7. Part of it reads like a lecture on Jewish history. He preaches about Joseph from the Book of Genesis. He preaches that God does not dwell in houses built with human hands. He preaches that the temple of the Jewish faith is of God, but that the temple is not God. He preaches that the Law of the Jewish faith is of God, but that the Law is not God.

This preaching drove the unconverted Jews who heard it mad. Yet, they could not speak honestly against it, or intimidate Stephen. He was full of the Holy Ghost, he knew the Scriptures forward and backward.

In the Old Testament there are a number of “types” of Jesus Christ, which foreshadow the importance of His coming in the Incarnation. Stephen is a sort of New Testament “type” of Christ, in the sense that we can draw some comparisons between them. No one can truly be like Jesus. He was and is perfect. However, Holy Spirit-filled Christians ought to strive to be as much like Him as possible.

The Bible tells us Jesus was full of grace; it tells us the same thing about Stephen. Jesus performed miracles; so did Stephen. Jesus boldly confronted the religious establishment of the day; so did Stephen. Jesus was convicted by lying witnesses; so was Stephen. Jesus was executed despite being innocent of any crime; Stephen was executed for a crime he did not commit. Both Jesus and Stephen were accused of blasphemy. Both died outside the city, and were buried by sympathizers. Both prayed for the salvation of their executioners.

How much are we growing in Christ-likeness each day?

From Power to Proclamation to Prayer

June 3, 2009 at 1:16 pm | Posted in A Little Alliteration, Acts | 16 Comments
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When God used Peter to heal the lame man in Acts Chapter 3, this man had a wonderful reaction.

Then Peter said, Silver and gold have I none; but such as I have give I thee: In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth rise up and walk. And he took him by the right hand, and lifted him up: and immediately his feet and ankle bones received strength. And he leaping up stood, and walked, and entered with them into the temple, walking, and leaping, and praising God.

Acts 3:6-8

Note that the Scripture says he was praising God, not the Holy Spirit. God is triune. He is one God in three Persons. However, the ministry of the Holy Spirit is to bring praise to Jesus, not to the Holy Ghost Himself. (See John 16:12-15.) There are probably some local churches today which place too little emphasis on the ministry of the Holy Ghost, but there is no doubt that there are many charismatic and Penteocostal local churches which unbiblically sing praises to the Holy Ghost to the exclusion of God the Father and Christ the Son.

There is a sense in which this leaping, praising man is a picture of all Christian believers. He was lame. All of us came into this world lacking the ability to walk in a way which was pleasing to God. When Adam sinned, we say he “fell.” When Adam fell, we all fell, and, like the lady in the medic alert commercial, we had fallen and “could not get up” under our own power.

This man was begging alms because he was poor. We were all poor in relation to our inability to pay the debt we owed God – the sin debt.

This man was seated near the temple, but he was outside the temple. All of us were born “outside.” We were outside of the righteousness of God. And no matter how close we came to believing the Gospel message, until we did in fact believe, we were still “outside.” Like the lame man, there was a period when some of us were “so near, yet so far.”

But when this lame man was healed, he was healed instantly. Salvation, the fact of being “born again,” happens in a moment. One moment, you are lost, a child of the devil, bound for hell – the next moment you become a child of God, indwelt by His Spirit, with a home in Heaven. Like the lame man, we should all publicly identify ourselves with God when this happens.

Note that Peter did not use this miraculous healing episode to start a “healing and deliverance conference” focused on curing diseases and healing infirmities. Instead, he used the occasion of God’s power exhibited toward this lame man to convict the hearers of their sin.

And now, brethren, I wot that through ignorance ye did it, as did also your rulers. But those things, which God before had shewed by the mouth of all his prophets, that Christ should suffer, he hath so fulfilled.

Acts 3:17-18

These verses show God’s marvelous blending of divine sovereignty and human responsibility. The rulers were accountable for crucifying Jesus, but God had ordained that the Crucifixion must come to pass, and had even foretold it in the Old Testament.

Our finite minds can not comprehend much about God’s divine sovereignty and the concept of human accountability. Both are taught clearly in Scripture. When Charles Spurgeon was asked how he reconciled the two, seemingly contradictory, ideas, he said that he never tried to reconcile good friends.

We get the impression that the first Christian church consisted of a very busy group of individuals. They had a passion for the Word of God, and they were empowered by the Holy Ghost. When these things concur among believers who are in strong unity, many miraculous things happen. It’s just a shame that they all had to share one Honda. (“And they, continuing daily with one “accord…” Acts 2:46) Okay, I know that’s corny, but I couldn’t resist. It’s Joke # 3 in the Official Preacher’s Joke Book. (Joke # 2 is telling everyone in the congregation to turn to “Hezekiah” Chapter 3.)

Acts Chapter 4 contains what might be my favorite Bible verse. It was one of the verses read at my ordination service:

Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.

Acts 4:12

The verse not only shows the power and exclusivity of Jesus’s name, but it highlights the absolute insanity of rejecting the only name in the universe that can truly help a lost person.

And beholding the man which was healed standing with them, they could say nothing against it. But when they had commanded them to go aside out of the council, they conferred among themselves, Saying, What shall we do to these men? for that indeed a notable miracle hath been done by them is manifest to all them that dwell in Jerusalem; and we cannot deny it. But that it spread no further among the people, let us straitly threaten them, that they speak henceforth to no man in this name.

Acts 4:14-17

There was the proof of the power of Jesus’s name standing right in front of them! But these Jewish leaders still did everything they could to deny it!

Facing persecution, the early Church members turned to prayer. This is the beginning of a prayer that is based on Psalm 2:

And when they heard that, they lifted up their voice to God with one accord, and said, Lord, thou art God, which hast made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and all that in them is:

Acts 4:24

It is a prayer that is remarkable for the way in which it seeks to glorify God, and for its unselfish nature. Notice that the Apostles did not ask God to change their circumstances.

And now, Lord, behold their threatenings: and grant unto thy servants, that with all boldness they may speak thy word,

Acts 4:29

Instead of asking God to change their circumstances, they asked Him to change their reaction to the circumstances. I love this submission to God’s power and providence. The Greek word translated as “Lord” in Acts 4:24 is despotes – what we would call a “despot” or “tyrant.” When is the last time you humbled yourself before Christ as your LORD, and not just as your mechanic, doctor, therapist, or ATM?

Acts and the Apostles: Activated, Authorized, Audible, and Accountable

May 21, 2009 at 12:47 pm | Posted in A Little Alliteration, Acts | 25 Comments
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Acts 2:38 reads: “Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.”

Does this mean you have to be baptized to in order to be saved? The answer is “no.” “For,” in this verse, means “on account of” or “on the basis of.” Christians are to be baptized on account of their sins having been remitted, or, on the basis of the remission of their sins.

We have a similar thing in modern English. I might say, “I wore this jacket for the cold weather.” Did my wearing the jacket make it cold? Did wearing the jacket stop it from being cold? If I forget the jacket, does that mean I am really warm? No, my wearing of the jacket for the cold just acknowledges that I realized it was already cold.

For the first Christian believers, baptism was a testimonial proof of what already happened in their hearts. It was more of a “get to” than a “have to.”

In Acts Chapter 2 the early Church was faced with the remarkable predicament of 3000 new believers who needed to be discipled. As we looked for patterns in the text of Acts, we previously saw the role of women in the early days of the Church. Here is another pattern that can be identified: the tendency to do things on a daily basis.

And they, continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart,

Acts 2:46 (emphasis added)

They met more than once a week.

Praising God, and having favour with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved.

Acts 2:47 (emphasis added)

They went soul-winning daily.

And in those days, when the number of the disciples was multiplied, there arose a murmuring of the Grecians against the Hebrews, because their widows were neglected in the daily ministration.

Acts 6:1 (emphasis added)

They cared for needs of people daily.

And so were the churches stablished in the faith, and increased in number daily.

Acts 16:5 (emphasis added)

They grew daily.

These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so.

Acts 17:11 (emphasis added)

They studied their Bibles daily.

Another central theme in the early chapters of Acts (especially Chapters 3 and 4) is the emphasis on Jesus Christ’s NAME.

Then Peter said, Silver and gold have I none; but such as I have give I thee: In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth rise up and walk.

Acts 3:6 (emphasis added)

And his name through faith in his name hath made this man strong, whom ye see and know: yea, the faith which is by him hath given him this perfect soundness in the presence of you all.

Acts 3:16 (emphasis added)

And when they had set them in the midst, they asked, By what power, or by what name, have ye done this?

Acts 4:7 (emphasis added)

Be it known unto you all, and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom ye crucified, whom God raised from the dead, even by him doth this man stand here before you whole.

Acts 4:10 (emphasis added)

Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.

Acts 4:12 (emphasis added)

But that it spread no further among the people, let us straitly threaten them, that they speak henceforth to no man in this name.

Acts 4:17 (emphasis added)

And they called them, and commanded them not to speak at all nor teach in the name of Jesus.

Acts 4:18 (emphasis added)

By stretching forth thine hand to heal; and that signs and wonders may be done by the name of thy holy child Jesus.

Acts 4:30 (emphasis added)

There can be no denying that the early Church was zealous that the Name of Jesus Christ be magnified and glorified!

It seems that the more they used His Name, the more the Gospel spread, and the more opposition they faced.

Chapter 2 describes the inauguration of the Church – and this caused somewhat of a public stir. Some people at least must have been impressed. Contrast Chapter 3, which shows the day to day ministering that only God and His workers see.

In Chapter 2, Peter preaches to thousands. In Chapter 3, Peter preaches to one lame man.

In Chapter 2, the ministry brings celebration and blessings. In Chapter 3, the ministry brings persecution and arrest.

No one can accuse these early Church leaders of greed or pandering for popularity. When Peter talked to the lame man, he said “silver and gold have I none.” Today, most so-called faith healers can not say the same: silver and gold have they plenty.

Instead of silver and gold, the Apostles had the name of Jesus Christ, and the authority and the power of that name.

For the Ladies…

May 12, 2009 at 9:38 am | Posted in Acts | 10 Comments
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Previously, we looked at the power that the very first Christian Church experienced through the ministry of the Holy Ghost!

It is fun to note God’s plan for all the different types of people that would make up the Church. Not only would the early Church be comprised of believing Jews in Jerusalem, but the Gospel would also bring in some people from “all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth” (Acts 1:8). And it would not be limited by gender, either. The Holy Spirit used Luke, in writing the Book of Acts, to point out in numerous places the inclusion of women in the foundational days of the Church.

There were women praying with the disciples and Mary in Acts 1:14. These same women were filled with the Holy Ghost on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:4). Multitudes of women were saved after the fear of the Lord motivated the Church (Acts 5:14). It was the needs of the widows that the Lord used to bring about the ordination of the first deacons (Acts 6:1-3). There were women who were courageous in the face of persecution (Acts 8:3). Samaritan women started being saved and baptized (Acts 8:12). God used Peter to raise a lady disciple named Tabitha from the dead (Acts 9:40). Mary the mother of John, surnamed Mark, graciously opened her home for a prayer meeting (Acts 12:12). A girl named Rhoda was there, and answered the door when Peter knocked (Acts 12:13-14). Timothy, the Apostle Paul’s right-hand man, had the advantage of a Godly mother and grandmother (Acts 16:1; II Timothy 1:5). A woman named Lydia was the first convert in Macedonia, and also generously opened her house to the Lord (Acts 16:14-15). The Apostle Paul commanded a demon to come out of a young girl in Acts 16:18. Many notable women were saved in Thessalonica and Berea (Acts 17:4; 12). This is only to mention a few. Thank the Lord for His grace toward men and women, boys and girls – all skin colors and nationalities.

The Most Important Question in Life

May 1, 2009 at 10:44 am | Posted in Acts, Salvation | 3 Comments
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A prison keeper once asked the Lord’s servants, Paul and Silas, the most important question of his life: “…Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” This was their answer: “And they said, Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house. And they spake unto him the word of the Lord, and to all that were in his house.” (Acts 16:30-32) The responsibility and glorious privilege of Christians is to find people who will ask this same question, and to give the same answer to them and their household.

In One Place in One Accord

April 29, 2009 at 12:53 pm | Posted in Acts | 17 Comments
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The very first Christian church reached out to people from all walks of life, ethnicities, nationalities, and genders, and those First Century Christians sure put a priority on meeting together! Here are six separate instances of them getting together in what the Bible calls “one accord.” In Acts 1:14 they prayed together. In Acts 2:1 they waited for the Holy Ghost together. In Acts 2:46 they ate together. In Acts 4:24 they worshiped God out loud together. In Acts 5:12 they discussed the wondrous things God was doing together. In Acts 8:6 they listened to preaching together.

The great counterfeiter, Satan, tried to gather his troops together also “in one accord.” In Acts 7:57 they attacked together. In Acts 12:20 they schemed together. Of course, Satan wasn’t too successful. The more persecution the early church faced, the stronger it got, and the more it grew.

Read the Book of Acts, and see some of the strange places and people that the first Christian missionaries encountered as they spread the Good News – with their Sword (the Word of God) in one hand, and their tools (prayer, fellow servants, spiritual gifts) in the other hand. They were fighting and building at the same time.

And the next sabbath day came almost the whole city together to hear the word of God. But when the Jews saw the multitudes, they were filled with envy, and spake against those things which were spoken by Paul, contradicting and blaspheming. Then Paul and Barnabas waxed bold, and said, It was necessary that the word of God should first have been spoken to you: but seeing ye put it from you, and judge yourselves unworthy of everlasting life, lo, we turn to the Gentiles.

Acts 13:44-46

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