On The Road Again Studies in the Book of Acts Lesson 21: On the Road Again” Acts 13:1-4 One of the things that has come to characterize American Society in the twenty-first century is “mobility.” Statistics say that the average American will change jobs three times during his working years. And those same statistics say that the average family will move 2.5 times during their child-bearing years. Most of us have been affected in one way or another by those kinds of statistics, haven’t we? But this is not the first generation or the first society of which those things have been true. In fact, for the first generation of Christians described in the book of Acts, it was a mandate from God. In Acts 1:8 Jesus had told the disciples that they would be witnesses for Him “in Jerusalem, in Judea, in Samaria, and unto the uttermost parts of the world.” And as we look back over the chapters that we have studied thus far we see that they have fulfilled that mandate very well. Chapters 1 through 7 describe their activities in Jerusalem as they got established in the faith. Then in chapters 8 through 12 we see their activities and ministry in Judea and Samaria. And so, beginning here in chapter 13 and going through the rest of the book we will see how they fulfill the mandate to go “to the uttermost parts of the earth.” In all of these movements and ministry, God has had to “move them out” in various ways – they, like us, would probably have preferred to settle down and stay put. But His work in their lives is going to continue to push them out to new areas in the chapters ahead as well. Chapter 13 falls into three parts: First, in verses 1 through 4 we have the separation to the ministry. Then in verses 5 through 41 we have the specifics of the ministry and finally, in verses 42 through 52 we have the sequel to the ministry So, let’s begin our study by looking at the separation to the Ministry that we find in verses 1 through 4. And the first thing that is mentioned is the circumstances in which the separation was made. The first characteristic of the church at Antioch was interaction described in verse 1. Now in the church that was at Antioch there were certain prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon, who was called Niger, Lucias of Cyrene, Manaen, who had been brought up with Herod, and Saul. Now those may not seem like very stimulating verses at first glance, but they contain a wealth of information about the circumstances there in the early church. First is just the mention of the city of Antioch. This was the Roman capitol of Syria, and the gateway to the east. Like most large cities of that day or this, Antioch was a multicultural trade center, rich and bawdy. On the outskirts of town stood the temple of the goddess Daphne, a deplorable center of prostitution and pagan worship. Chariot racing and other sports lured gambling into the city, where the atmosphere exuded a “high rolling” lifestyle. The Imperial Mint of Rome was also located there, so there was much government activity as well. But that was not all there was to Antioch – behind the scenes of the glaring social life and nightlife, God was kindling the fires of Christian faith and morality. Notice in verse 1 that there were “prophets” and “teachers.” The prophets were still active in those early years of the church because the letters and other writings of the apostles and other inspired teachers had not yet been gathered together as one book (the New Testament, or “canon of scripture”) So the prophets probably provided special guidance from the Lord as needed. The gift of teaching was a little different, having to with the teaching that was already revealed in the Old Testament and perhaps clarifying what the prophets had revealed. And these prophets and teachers included at least the 5 men listed here, possibly more. Now its easy to skip over a verse like this, thinking it is just another list of hard to pronounce names. But we would miss a significant insight if we did that, because these men provided a rich “mix” of various backgrounds from which to lead the church – look again at the last half of the verse: Barnabas, Simeon, who was called Niger, Lucias of Cyrene, Manaen, who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. Barnabas was a Jew from the island of Cypress, as we have seen in previous studies. Simeon also had the name “Niger,” the verse tells us. This is a Latin term meaning “black skinned” (the source of the name of the nation of “Nigeria,” and probably the little used term “negro” for African-Americans. Lucius was from Cyrene, which was west of Egypt, on the coast of Africa. His name was Greek, so he may have been a Gentile. Manean was a member of “High society,” having grown up with Herod Antipas, the ruler of Galilee (not the Herod of chapter 12), and of course, Saul, with his impressive education and training as a Rabbi. So, what we have here is a very cosmopolitan leadership team – a Cyprian Jew, a black man, a Gentile, an aristocrat and a rabbi! And with that kind of mix they would have been able to minister to the many different ethnic groups and profession that would have been in a big city like Antioch. So that was the kind of “interaction” that was going on in the church of Antioch. But in verse 2 we find an interruption in all of that. As they ministered to the Lord and fasted, the Holy Spirit said, “Now separate to me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” Notice first that the Holy Spirit spoke “as they ministered” to the Lord and fasted.” This is another of the places in scripture which tell us that God usually speaks to us about ministry while we are ministering. And that is because we are most sensitive to the Holy Spirit at those times. We don’t know exactly how the Holy Spirit led the congregation to set apart these two men, but we do know that the plan was specific and selective. The call wasn’t for everyone, just for Barnabas and Saul. And they were not to choose their own mission field – God had a specific work for them to do. And there is a sense in which this specific and selective call of God is encouraging to us, because it reminds us of how personal His plan is for each of us. Thus on the one hand we don’t need to feel guilty when He guides our friends in some other direction. Or on the other hand that we become judgmental if he calls us to ministry and doesn’t call our friends. Now all of that is underscored when we realize who the central figure in the separation is Look at verses 3 and 4 Then, having fasted and prayed, and laid hands on them, they sent them away. (4) So, being sent out by the Holy Spirit they went down to Seleucia, and from there they sailed to Cypress. The central figure in this call to the mission field was not from the pastor, nor the missions committee, but the Holy Spirit – note verse 4 – “being sent out by the Holy Spirit. . . . ” Actually, this emphasis is demonstrated in verse 2 also. One of the problems with too many ministries is that men make the decisions, not the Holy Spirit. And even though it may be a difficult task to determine what the Lord is leading, we must always be careful that our calling is from Him. One of the keys to determining this kind of thing is in verse 3 “having fasted and prayed . . . . they sent them away.” Fasting is one of the most neglected disciplines in the Christian life. Most people seem to think that it is an Old Testament concept, but it is mentioned often in the New Testament (as in these verses) But it may be that it was as a result of fasting and prayer that they understood the call of God for Barnabas and Saul. And the very least we can say is that it is that kind of heart attitude in which the Holy Spirit can best communicate with us. Notice, too, the participation of the congregation in sending them out – the elders of the church laid hands on them, as they sent them out. This is another practice that we find in many places in the record of the early church. And it is a sign of “identification” with the person or the project that is being inaugurated. It probably grew out of the Old Testament practice of laying hands on an animal before the it was given as a sacrifice. This was a sign of the maturity of this relatively new church. They didn’t cling to their friends, but released them to go to other ministries. In my years of ministry as a pastor I have repeatedly seen an individual or a couple called into the Lord’s service and have wondered how the congregation would be able to “do without them,” but time after time they returned with wonderful reports of how their ministry, usually in other parts of the world, had, in a sense, extended the ministry of those of us whom they had left behind. And in almost every case God “took up the slack by providing other gifted people to take their place. And this is a principle that still continues to this day. One reason today’s church doesn’t seem to realize this is the emphasis (or should I say “over emphasis) that is so often placed on “church growth.” There is nothing wrong with church growth if the growth is provided by the Holy Spirit. But most church growth programs are really just “recruiting” programs. And when a church is built around people or programs who have been “recruited.” there is a void when they leave (until somebody can be recruited to take their place.) But when the Lord has produced the growth and somebody leaves there can be a quiet confidence that He will provide somebody to take their place. And so this section of the chapter concludes with Barnabas and Saul actually launching out into their new ministry in verse 4. So being sent out by the Holy Spirit, they went down to Seleucia and from there they sailed to Cyprus. It is one thing to be called by the Lord to do some ministry (and to know that you have not been called by men.) But even more important than the call is to follow through with it and actually go to the place of service. Many lives have been thwarted when people refused to follow through for one reason or another. Following the Lord’s leading whether in one project or a lifetime of ministry is an exciting adventure. If you are willing to be available for such a call there are three principles in this passage that will help you: First, don’t ever get so settled” in a place or a ministry that you completely rule out a call to another place (or to a new ministry in the same place.) It is possible to get so deeply rooted in our surroundings – our house; our friends; our memories; or even our ministry – to move out when he calls. But while on the one hand God does sometimes keep people in one place for a long time, or even for a lifetime, He also sometimes moves people after a lengthy, happy, stay in one place. Second, pay attention as you pursue what you are already doing for the Lord. It is in the midst of following Him that He often leads most clearly. Third, remember that God’s call is always selective. Be careful not to judge others who stay behind, or feel hurt when God sends someone else. Fourth, when God does call you, be sure to prayerfully follow through to complete obedience to the call. -end- The purpose of these lessons is to help you to understand that Romans 3:23 says that all of us, including you, have sinned and come short of the glory of God. And Romans 6:23 says that the result of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through our Lord Jesus Christ. And Acts 16:32 says “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved. If you have trusted Christ as your Savior, our purpose is to help you to grow in the knowledge of Christ and perhaps bring others to Him also. If I can be of help to you in understanding any of this information I can be reached At Living BibleStudies.org

” Prison “Break”

Studies in Acts

Lesson 20

“Prison Break”

Acts 12:1-17

 

One of the biggest questions in the Christian life is, “Why?” We ask why God did this or that thing, Or we ask why He didn’t (or hasn’t) done this or that or the other thing. But the common denominator of every question that we ask about something that seems to us to be unfair, or inconsistent with God’s character. And one of the things that Christians most often ask about is something that we find for the fifth time as chapter 12 opens: the persecution of Christians. This is the fifth “round” of persecution that we find here. The first round was by the religious leaders back in chapter 4. Then there was persecution from the Sadducees because of the preaching of the resurrection.  Then third, there was persecution of the members of the Synagogue of the Libertines brought Stephen to trial in chapter 6. Growing out of that, Saul headed up the intense persecution of the church in chapter 8. Ironically, this fifth round of persecution here in chapter 11 begins just about the time Saul (not yet known as “Paul”) is heading out on a missionary journey himself!

 

By way of outline this chapter falls into three parts:

 

  1. The Harassment of the church – verses 1 through 17
  2. The Haughtiness of Herod – verses 18 through 23.

III.  The Health of the Ministry – verses 24, 25

 

So the first thing we want to think about is this Harassment of the church in verses 1 through 17.

And the first thing we see in that regard is the intensity of the harassment brought out in verses   1 and 2

 

Now about that time Herod the King stretched out his hand to harass some from the church. (2) then he killed James the brother of John with the sword

 

Verse 2 is quite an understatement if you think about it. If we read verse one by itself we might think of “hazing “like they do in college fraternities. And we might think, “what a waste! Why would God allow this kind of thing to happen? But it is obvious from verse 2 that Herod is going to play “hardball” with these Christians.

 

Now the intention in the persecution is found in verses 3 and 4

 

And because he saw that it pleased the Jews, he proceeded further to seize Peter also. Now it was during the days of unleavened bread (4) So when he had arrested him he put him in prison and delivered him to four squads of soldiers to keep him, intending to bring him before the people after the Passover.

 

 

Notice the first line of verse 3 – that’s where we find his intention: “because it pleased the Jews!” To understand a ridiculous reason for murder like this we have to know something about Herod and about Israel. First, we have to remember that Israel had been taken captive by the Roman Empire. And even though Rome allowed the Sanhedrin (the Jewish governmental organization) to continue to have power over religious matters (even to the point of the death penalty) all of the civil authorities were appointed from Rome. And that is where the Herod family comes into the picture. It helps to remember that there was a whole family of Herods in the days of the New Testament. This particular Herod was Agrippa I, the grandson of Herod Antipas, who had killed all of the male babies at the time of Jesus’ birth (and nephew of another Herod). Secular history tells us that he was fascinated with two things: the Jews and royalty. And his philosophy of government was that if you wanted to keep being a member of “royalty” you had to please the Jews (and particularly the religious Jews (although the Herod “family” was not even Jewish.

And as we have been seeing in the past few chapters the thing that would please the Jews the most would be to Harass the Christians.

 

Now when we come to a passage like this we are prone to ask “why?” Why did God allow James to be put to death for such a sniveling reason? And why did he allow Peter to live? Why didn’t He rescue James like we are going to see that He rescues Peter in a few verses? And the only answer is one that sounds like a cop-out, but it is actually in the Bible: Deuteronomy 29:29 –

 

“The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and our children forever.”

 

One of Satan’s favorite tricks is to get us to ask questions for which there is no human answer. But notice carefully: that doesn’t mean that there isn’t an answer, it just means that God has chosen not to tell us the answers to some things. But notice, too, that He reminds us in that verse that there are plenty of things that He has revealed. And he has also promised that He is working all of those things together for our good (even the things that He hasn’t chosen to reveal to us.) So whatever happens, as puzzling as it may seem to be to us will always be within the parameters of those promises – in His mind whether we can see it His way or not.

 

Fortunately, however, verses 5 through 11 bring out the interruption in the harassment. The prelude to the interruption is in verses 5 and 6

 

Peter was therefore kept in prison, but constant prayer was offered to God for him by the church. (6) And when Herod was about to bring Him out, that night Peter was bound with two chains between two soldiers, and the guards before the door were keeping the prison.

 

Here is an impossible: situation: Peter was in prison – verse 5, and not only that, but “bound with two chains” “between two guards” and two guards at the doors – verse 6. But notice his attitude – sleeping in the midst of it all. Peter’s Maturity had come a long way since the night he cut “Malchus’ ear off. For one thing, he had been through this before, back in chapter 5. And for another thing he may have been remembering Jesus’ promise to him in John 21:18 that he would live to be an old man.

 

Then in verses 7 through 10 we see the actual perpetration of the interruption

 

Now behold, an angel of the Lord stood by him, and a light shone in the prison; and he struck Peter on the side and raised him up saying, “arise quickly!” And the chains fell off his hands. (8)Then the angel said to him “Gird yourself and tie on your sandals,” and so he did. And he said to him, “put on your garment and follow me (9) So he went out and followed him, and did not know what was done by the angel and did not know that what was done by the angel was real, but thought he was seeing a vision. (10) When they were past the first and the second guard posts, they came to the iron gate that leads to the city, which opened to them of its own accord; and they went out and went down one street, and immediately the angel departed from him.

 

There are a couple of things to notice in those verses. First of all, notice in verse 7 that the angel had to wake Peter up – another indication of his relaxed attitude. Then notice that the angel did the impossible – verses 8 through 10 – Peter had to do the things that he could do for himself, such as putting on his coat and sandals in verse 8. This is a microcosm of the way God always treats His children. He will do the impossible for us if necessary, but He expects us to do for ourselves (after salvation)

 

And so in verse 11 we see the praise which Peter gives:

 

And when Peter had come to himself, he said, Now I know for certain that the Lord has sent angel, and has delivered me from the hand of Herod, and from all the expectation of the Jewish people”

 

Verse 9 tells us that he thought he was seeing a vision, but now he knows the truth. And notice that the soldiers apparently didn’t hear a thing. Even in our day angelic activity may not be recognizable. Hebrews 13:2 says that “some have entertained angels  unawares”

 

and

 

So, when he had considered this, he came to the house of Mary the mother of John, whose surname was Mark, where many were gathered together praying (13) And as Peter knocked on the door of the gate a girl named Rhoda came to answer (14) When she recognized Peter’s voice, because of her gladness, she did not open the gate, but ran in and announced that Peter stood before the gate (15) But they said to her, “You are beside yourself! “Yet she kept insisting that it was so. So, they said, “It is his angel.” (16) Now Peter continued knocking; and when they opened the door and saw him, they were astonished.

 

Actually, of course, their amazement was in the fact that God had answered their prayers in the way he did. But there are a couple of lessons in that: First, here is an example of a situation in which God let conditions deteriorate so that He could demonstrate His power. Just think: if He had not allowed Peter to be imprisoned  they would have never had the experience of seeing the power of God up close. And this is exactly what James says about trials  – to the point  that we should – “count it all joy” when they come along. Along the same line, Paul writes in II Corinthians12 that because God would not remove his “thorn in the flesh” he had learned the grace of God in a way that he never would otherwise have learned – to the point that he said “most gladly therefore will I suffer infirmities,”

But another lesson to learn from these verses has to do with how we pray. Verses 5 and 12 tell us that Peters friends were praying, but they don’t tell us the content of the prayers. But we can assume that they weren’t praying for Peter’s release – they were mature enough not to be surprised by an obvious answer to prayer. They were probably simply praying that he would have grace and courage in the face of death. And the lesson in that is that it never hurts to pray for exactly what want in a given situation. Sometimes we are too proud to tell God what we really want, so we ask for something that He would be more impressed with. But if the matter is in His hands in the first place, why not just tell Him what we want and be prepared for Him to do something else if He chooses to? The scripture does tell us to “ask according to His will,” but if we are not sure what that is, it is all right if we ask what we want. The key is is just not to be angry or disappointed if He does something else.

 

In the  midst of his friends’ amazement, Peter calms them down in verse 17 with his explanation of what happened (“authentication”)

 

But motioning to them with his hand to keep silent, he declared to them how the Lord had brought him out of the prison and he said, “Go, tell these things to James and to the brethren and he departed to another place.

 

So that is how this instance of “the harassment of the church” came to a close. But the last few verses of the chapter tell us the haughtiness of Herod  and how his life ended. His pride. First it is demonstrated in the callous execution of the prison guards in verses 18 and 19

 

Then, as soon as it was day, there was no small stir among the soldiers about what had become of Peter. (19) But when Herod had searched for him and not found him, he examined the guards and commanded that they should be put to death. And he went down from Judea to Caesarea and stayed there.

 

It is true that under Roman law guards were responsible with their lives for their prisoners. But Herod had to have known that his was no ordinary “jailbreak.” But the real indication of his haughtiness is in the last line of verse 19 – he just “went down to Caesarea.” As though nothing had happened. But the most serious indication of his pride- especially in God’s sight – was his acceptance of praise and glory

 

Because of what is about to happen, Luke thinks it is important to give all of the background, which he does in verses 20 and 21

 

Now Herod had been very angry with the people of Tyre and Sidon; but they came to him with one accord and having made Blastus, the king’s personal aide, their friend, they asked for peace because their country was supplied with food by the king’s country. (21) so on a set day Herod, arrayed in royal apparel, sat on his throne and gave an oration to them. (22) And the people kept shouting “it is the voice of a god and not a of a man!

 

Evidently the “set day” mentioned in verse 21 was an official announcement of the settling of the disagreement between the two countries. When Herod gave his speech the people who were going to be benefitted by the treaty were low enough to shout out this ridiculous flattery, and Herod was vain enough to believe that they really meant it! (politicians never change, do they?) And the result is described in the next verse: Having seen “his pride” in verses 18 through 22, verse 23 describes his pain

 

Then immediately an angel of the Lord struck him, because he did not give glory to God, and he was eaten with worms and died.

 

Of course, the key to the whole thing is the words “he did not give glory to God.” The scripture is full of statements of God’s protection of His glory. But this is one of the few places where he actually punishes it in this part of history. But Psalm 2 shows how the day will ultimately come when he will pour out His righteous anger on all the kings of the world who have had this kind of haughtiness.

 

Finally, verses 24 and 25 give, by contrast, the health of the ministry:

 

But the word of God grew and multiplied (25) And Barnabas and Saul returned from Jerusalem when they had fulfilled their ministry; and they also took with them John whose surname was Mark

 

Here is another of those subtle reminders that we find throughout scripture of the fact that God is not frustrated when Satan’s workers appear to have the upper hand. Developments in our own day with the failures of communism in the health of the body of Christ in the health of the body of Christ under the worst kinds of oppression. Even while the “herods” of this world occupy the places of “gods” in the hearts and minds of men, God’s program moves ahead. And ultimately, of course, He will be magnified as the only “King of kings and “Lord of Lords.

 

 

 

“Prison Break

Studies in Acts

Lesson 20

“Prison Break”

Acts 12:1-17

 

One of the biggest questions in the Christian life is, “Why?” We ask why God did this or that thing, Or we ask why He didn’t (or hasn’t) done this or that or the other thing. But the common denominator of every question that we ask about something that seems to us to be unfair, or inconsistent with God’s character. And one of the things that Christians most often ask about is something that we find for the fifth time as chapter 12 opens: the persecution of Christians. This is the fifth “round” of persecution that we find here. The first round was by the religious leaders back in chapter 4. Then there was persecution from the Sadducees because of the preaching of the resurrection.  Then third, there was persecution of the members of the Synagogue of the Libertines brought Stephen to trial in chapter 6. Growing out of that, Saul headed up the intense persecution of the church in chapter 8. Ironically, this fifth round of persecution here in chapter 11 begins just about the time Saul (not yet known as “Paul”) is heading out on a missionary journey himself!

 

By way of outline this chapter falls into three parts:

 

  1. The Harassment of the church – verses 1 through 17
  2. The Haughtiness of Herod – verses 18 through 23.

III.  The Health of the Ministry – verses 24, 25

 

So the first thing we want to think about is this Harassment of the church in verses 1 through 17.

And the first thing we see in that regard is the intensity of the harassment brought out in verses   1 and 2

 

Now about that time Herod the King stretched out his hand to harass some from the church. (2) then he killed James the brother of John with the sword

 

Verse 2 is quite an understatement if you think about it. If we read verse one by itself we might think of “hazing “like they do in college fraternities. And we might think, “what a waste! Why would God allow this kind of thing to happen? But it is obvious from verse 2 that Herod is going to play “hardball” with these Christians.

 

Now the intention in the persecution is found in verses 3 and 4

 

And because he saw that it pleased the Jews, he proceeded further to seize Peter also. Now it was during the days of unleavened bread (4) So when he had arrested him he put him in prison and delivered him to four squads of soldiers to keep him, intending to bring him before the people after the Passover.

 

 

Notice the first line of verse 3 – that’s where we find his intention: “because it pleased the Jews!” To understand a ridiculous reason for murder like this we have to know something about Herod and about Israel. First, we have to remember that Israel had been taken captive by the Roman Empire. And even though Rome allowed the Sanhedrin (the Jewish governmental organization) to continue to have power over religious matters (even to the point of the death penalty) all of the civil authorities were appointed from Rome. And that is where the Herod family comes into the picture. It helps to remember that there was a whole family of Herods in the days of the New Testament. This particular Herod was Agrippa I, the grandson of Herod Antipas, who had killed all of the male babies at the time of Jesus’ birth (and nephew of another Herod). Secular history tells us that he was fascinated with two things: the Jews and royalty. And his philosophy of government was that if you wanted to keep being a member of “royalty” you had to please the Jews (and particularly the religious Jews (although the Herod “family” was not even Jewish.

And as we have been seeing in the past few chapters the thing that would please the Jews the most would be to Harass the Christians.

 

Now when we come to a passage like this we are prone to ask “why?” Why did God allow James to be put to death for such a sniveling reason? And why did he allow Peter to live? Why didn’t He rescue James like we are going to see that He rescues Peter in a few verses? And the only answer is one that sounds like a cop-out, but it is actually in the Bible: Deuteronomy 29:29 –

 

“The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and our children forever.”

 

One of Satan’s favorite tricks is to get us to ask questions for which there is no human answer. But notice carefully: that doesn’t mean that there isn’t an answer, it just means that God has chosen not to tell us the answers to some things. But notice, too, that He reminds us in that verse that there are plenty of things that He has revealed. And he has also promised that He is working all of those things together for our good (even the things that He hasn’t chosen to reveal to us.) So whatever happens, as puzzling as it may seem to be to us will always be within the parameters of those promises – in His mind whether we can see it His way or not.

 

Fortunately, however, verses 5 through 11 bring out the interruption in the harassment. The prelude to the interruption is in verses 5 and 6

 

Peter was therefore kept in prison, but constant prayer was offered to God for him by the church. (6) And when Herod was about to bring Him out, that night Peter was bound with two chains between two soldiers, and the guards before the door were keeping the prison.

 

Here is an impossible: situation: Peter was in prison – verse 5, and not only that, but “bound with two chains” “between two guards” and two guards at the doors – verse 6. But notice his attitude – sleeping in the midst of it all. Peter’s Maturity had come a long way since the night he cut “Malchus’ ear off. For one thing, he had been through this before, back in chapter 5. And for another thing he may have been remembering Jesus’ promise to him in John 21:18 that he would live to be an old man.

 

Then in verses 7 through 10 we see the actual perpetration of the interruption

 

Now behold, an angel of the Lord stood by him, and a light shone in the prison; and he struck Peter on the side and raised him up saying, “arise quickly!” And the chains fell off his hands. (8)Then the angel said to him “Gird yourself and tie on your sandals,” and so he did. And he said to him, “put on your garment and follow me (9) So he went out and followed him, and did not know what was done by the angel and did not know that what was done by the angel was real, but thought he was seeing a vision. (10) When they were past the first and the second guard posts, they came to the iron gate that leads to the city, which opened to them of its own accord; and they went out and went down one street, and immediately the angel departed from him.

 

There are a couple of things to notice in those verses. First of all, notice in verse 7 that the angel had to wake Peter up – another indication of his relaxed attitude. Then notice that the angel did the impossible – verses 8 through 10 – Peter had to do the things that he could do for himself, such as putting on his coat and sandals in verse 8. This is a microcosm of the way God always treats His children. He will do the impossible for us if necessary, but He expects us to do for ourselves (after salvation)

 

And so in verse 11 we see the praise which Peter gives:

 

And when Peter had come to himself, he said, Now I know for certain that the Lord has sent angel, and has delivered me from the hand of Herod, and from all the expectation of the Jewish people”

 

Verse 9 tells us that he thought he was seeing a vision, but now he knows the truth. And notice that the soldiers apparently didn’t hear a thing. Even in our day angelic activity may not be recognizable. Hebrews 13:2 says that “some have entertained angels  unawares”

 

and

 

So, when he had considered this, he came to the house of Mary the mother of John, whose surname was Mark, where many were gathered together praying (13) And as Peter knocked on the door of the gate a girl named Rhoda came to answer (14) When she recognized Peter’s voice, because of her gladness, she did not open the gate, but ran in and announced that Peter stood before the gate (15) But they said to her, “You are beside yourself! “Yet she kept insisting that it was so. So, they said, “It is his angel.” (16) Now Peter continued knocking; and when they opened the door and saw him, they were astonished.

 

Actually, of course, their amazement was in the fact that God had answered their prayers in the way he did. But there are a couple of lessons in that: First, here is an example of a situation in which God let conditions deteriorate so that He could demonstrate His power. Just think: if He had not allowed Peter to be imprisoned  they would have never had the experience of seeing the power of God up close. And this is exactly what James says about trials  – to the point  that we should – “count it all joy” when they come along. Along the same line, Paul writes in II Corinthians12 that because God would not remove his “thorn in the flesh” he had learned the grace of God in a way that he never would otherwise have learned – to the point that he said “most gladly therefore will I suffer infirmities,”

But another lesson to learn from these verses has to do with how we pray. Verses 5 and 12 tell us that Peters friends were praying, but they don’t tell us the content of the prayers. But we can assume that they weren’t praying for Peter’s release – they were mature enough not to be surprised by an obvious answer to prayer. They were probably simply praying that he would have grace and courage in the face of death. And the lesson in that is that it never hurts to pray for exactly what want in a given situation. Sometimes we are too proud to tell God what we really want, so we ask for something that He would be more impressed with. But if the matter is in His hands in the first place, why not just tell Him what we want and be prepared for Him to do something else if He chooses to? The scripture does tell us to “ask according to His will,” but if we are not sure what that is, it is all right if we ask what we want. The key is is just not to be angry or disappointed if He does something else.

 

In the  midst of his friends’ amazement, Peter calms them down in verse 17 with his explanation of what happened (“authentication”)

 

But motioning to them with his hand to keep silent, he declared to them how the Lord had brought him out of the prison and he said, “Go, tell these things to James and to the brethren and he departed to another place.

 

So that is how this instance of “the harassment of the church” came to a close. But the last few verses of the chapter tell us the haughtiness of Herod  and how his life ended. His pride. First it is demonstrated in the callous execution of the prison guards in verses 18 and 19

 

Then, as soon as it was day, there was no small stir among the soldiers about what had become of Peter. (19) But when Herod had searched for him and not found him, he examined the guards and commanded that they should be put to death. And he went down from Judea to Caesarea and stayed there.

 

It is true that under Roman law guards were responsible with their lives for their prisoners. But Herod had to have known that his was no ordinary “jailbreak.” But the real indication of his haughtiness is in the last line of verse 19 – he just “went down to Caesarea.” As though nothing had happened. But the most serious indication of his pride- especially in God’s sight – was his acceptance of praise and glory

 

Because of what is about to happen, Luke thinks it is important to give all of the background, which he does in verses 20 and 21

 

Now Herod had been very angry with the people of Tyre and Sidon; but they came to him with one accord and having made Blastus, the king’s personal aide, their friend, they asked for peace because their country was supplied with food by the king’s country. (21) so on a set day Herod, arrayed in royal apparel, sat on his throne and gave an oration to them. (22) And the people kept shouting “it is the voice of a god and not a of a man!

 

Evidently the “set day” mentioned in verse 21 was an official announcement of the settling of the disagreement between the two countries. When Herod gave his speech the people who were going to be benefitted by the treaty were low enough to shout out this ridiculous flattery, and Herod was vain enough to believe that they really meant it! (politicians never change, do they?) And the result is described in the next verse: Having seen “his pride” in verses 18 through 22, verse 23 describes his pain

 

Then immediately an angel of the Lord struck him, because he did not give glory to God, and he was eaten with worms and died.

 

Of course, the key to the whole thing is the words “he did not give glory to God.” The scripture is full of statements of God’s protection of His glory. But this is one of the few places where he actually punishes it in this part of history. But Psalm 2 shows how the day will ultimately come when he will pour out His righteous anger on all the kings of the world who have had this kind of haughtiness.

 

Finally, verses 24 and 25 give, by contrast, the health of the ministry:

 

But the word of God grew and multiplied (25) And Barnabas and Saul returned from Jerusalem when they had fulfilled their ministry; and they also took with them John whose surname was Mark

 

Here is another of those subtle reminders that we find throughout scripture of the fact that God is not frustrated when Satan’s workers appear to have the upper hand. Developments in our own day with the failures of communism in the health of the body of Christ in the health of the body of Christ under the worst kinds of oppression. Even while the “herods” of this world occupy the places of “gods” in the hearts and minds of men, God’s program moves ahead. And ultimately, of course, He will be magnified as the only “King of kings and “Lord of Lords.

 

 

 

Change is Hard

Studies in the Book of Acts

Lesson 19

Acts 11:1-30

“Change is Hard”

 

One of the biggest “problem areas” of life is when “the new” “begins to take over from “the old” Everybody knows it has to happen -it has for generations. But even at that it is often difficult. That is the situation we find as we come to chapter 11 of the book of Acts. This movement actually began in chapter 10, which we studied in our last study. And the significant thing about that is that the preaching to the Gentiles which occurred in that chapter originated with God Himself. God himself instructed Cornelius a Godly Roman army officer to go to Peter for further information about the worship he had been doing. And He prepared Peter for further. But even though all of this was initiated by god Himself, the humans involved had a hard time accepting it. Peter actually argued with God about it, but finally went along with it. And now as we come to chapter 11 his friends argued with him like he had argued with God. As we look at this chapter we are going to see that it falls into three sections:

 

  1. The Contention of Peter – verses 1-18

III.  The Convocation of a New Movement – verses 19-26

  1. The Cooperation of the New and the Old – verses 27-30

 

So let’s begin by looking at the contention with Peter that we find in verses 1-18. First let’s notice the participants in the contention. They are given in in verses 1 and 2.

 

Now the apostles and brethren who were in Judea heard that the Gentiles had also received the word of God (2) And when Peter came up to Jerusalem, those of the circumcision contended with him.

 

Here is a strange source of contention: “brethren” and even “apostles!” In fact the term “those of the circumcision” implies that the brethren and apostles were only the spokesmen for all of Jewish believers. Notice particularly the word “contended” in verse 2. This is a translation of the Greek word “diakrono” which means “to make a distinction.” In fact the same word is used in chapter 10 verse 20 and chapter 11 verse 12 and translated “doubting.” So this means that they “set Peter apart” and were questioning him and doubting him. The specific problem in thecontention is brought out in verse 3:

 

“Saying, you went in to uncircumcised men and ate with them!”

 

These men were probably going through the same mental experience Peter had been through back in chapter 10. But notice how they handled it. They did exactly the right thing: they went directly to him and confronted him personally. This, in principle, is what Jesus had instructed in Matthew 18. And even though it is basic principle of the Christian life it is often overlooked. So, in order to help them, Peter tells them the details of what he had been through. And so the peaceful solution to the contention is given in verses 14-18

 

But Peter explained it to them in order from the beginning, saying (5) I was in the city of Joppa praying: and in a trance I saw a vision, an object descending like a great sheet, let down from heaven by four corners and it came to me (6)”When I observed it intently and considered, I saw four footed animals of the earth, wild beasts But I said, “Not so, Lord, for nothing common or unclean has at any time entered my mouth.(9)But the voice answered me again from heaven, “What God has cleansed you must not call common.”(10) This was done three times and all were drawn up again into heaven (11) “At that very moment, three men stood before the house where I was, having been sent to me from Caesarea (12) “Then the Spirit told me to go with them, doubting nothing. Moreover these six brethren accompanied me, and we entered the man’s house (13) And he told us how he had seen an angel standing in his house who said to him, send men to Joppa and call for Simon whose surname is Peter (14) “who will tell you words by which you and all your household will be saved (15) And as I began to speak the Holy Spirit fell upon them, as upon us at the beginning. (16) Then I remembered the word of the Lord, how he said, “John indeed with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit. (17)Therefore God gave them the same gift as He gave us when we believed on the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could withstand God.

 

Peter didn’t have to be defensive because he could give a biblical reason for his behavior. Notice how often he refers to “the word” (or instructions) from God in one way or another. Then in verse 18 we see the results of that review:

 

When they heard these things they became silent and they glorified God saying “Then God has also granted to the Gentiles repentance to life.

 

The result of this whole process was understanding and agreement among the Christians. And this is always the result when biblical principles are followed.

 

A second section of the chapter begins in verse 19. It is the convocation of a new movement as described in verses 19 through 26. This is a very significant paragraph, because right here is where the focus changes from Jerusalem, so closely associated with Judaism to Antioch, a basically Gentile city. The first thing we see is the commencement of the new movement in verses 19 through 21. And it begins in what from the human standpoint seems strange: persecution – look at verse 19. And on the surface this seems like a simple enough story, and it is – but we want to look at it in some detail, because in these verses are recorded four methods that were used in spreading the message of Christ. The first method is that they used in verse 19 – preaching the word.

 

Now those who were scattered after the persecution that arose over Stephen traveled as far as Phoenicia, Cypress, and Antioch, preaching the word to no one but Jews only.

 

This is the translation of the word “lalountes.” And interestingly enough it is a word which means “speaking” or more specifically, “conversing.” As time goes by, some get more bold and speak to the Greeks, verse 20 says.

 

(20) But some of them were men from Cyprus and Cyrene, who, when they had come to Antioch, spoke to the Hellenists, preaching the Lord Jesus.

 

The word “preaching” here is a completely different word in the Greek than the one in verse 19. Here it is the word “euangalidzo.” This is the word from which we get our English word “evangelize, or “evangelism.” And it means “announcing” or “speaking publicly or to a group.” Antioch was the central city of the day – a great place to evangelize. Incidentally, notice that specific names are not given here – probably to emphasize that the Holy Spirit was the real force in the evangelism that was going on.

 

So that was how the movement; the “convocation.” But in verses 22 through 24 we have the confirmation of the movement. In verse 22 word of the evangelization of the Greeks reaches Jerusalem, so they send out Barnabas to investigate.

 

Then news of these things came to the ears of the church in Jerusalem to go as far as Antioch.

 

This was a wise choice. First, because Barnabas was not one of the apostles, but he was close to them. And second because he was from Cypress, and verse 20 says that the ones who had done the evangelism were also from Cypress. When he gets there Barnabas sees “the grace of God” – an unquestionable, but indefinable quality. Look at verse 23:

 

When he came and had seen the grace of God, he was glad and encouraged them all that with purpose of heart they should continue with the Lord.

 

Notice that Barnabas “encouraged” them. This is the third means of witnessing. The word used here is “paracalao,” and it is the noun form of paraclete, which means “one called alongside to help.”  Jesus used this word in John 14 to describe the work of the Holy Spirit. And even though it is sometimes translated “exhort,” in the New Testament, it is better translated “encourage” as in this verse. Barnabas wisdom is also shown in verses 25 and 26 because there we see the consolidation of ministries

 

Then Barnabas departed for Tarsus to seek Saul (26) And when he had found him he brought him to Antioch. So it was that the church  for a whole year they assembled with the church and taught a great many people And the disciples were first called Christians in Antioch.

 

Barnabas didn’t have the problem that many men in ministry have today, the problem of jealousy; of “protecting our turf” Verse 24 says that “a great many people” were turning to the Lord, and all that mattered to Barnabas was having enough personnel to help with the ministry. So he goes to find Saul – and notice the wording here: to “seek” Saul – evidently he had to hunt him down. Remember that back in chapter 9 Saul had gone off the scene and into God’s “training program.” And we don’t know how long he was there, but now the time has come to begin his public ministry. The next chapters demonstrate that Saul was eminently ready to begin – but what if he hadn’t used those years in Tarsus so well? If you are in your “Tarsus” be a good steward – the day will come when God will call for you to “go public” – and you’d better be ready.

Verse 26 says that they came back to Antioch and ministered together. Specifically, it says that they “taught” the believers there. And here is the fourth kind of ministry mentioned in this chapter. The word “taught” here is a translation of the Greek word “didadzo, which has to do with making details and ramifications clear. A good example of  this kind of teaching, even though it is not in the New Testament is Nehemiah 8:8 – “So they read in the book of the law of the Lord distinctly and gave the sense and caused them to understand the reading.”

 

 

And an indication of the effectiveness of their combined ministry is in the phrase “the disciples were first called Christians at Antioch”

 

But in spite of these new developments, in verses27 through 30 we the cooperation of the New with the Old.

 

And in these days prophets came from Jerusalem to (28)Then one of them named Agabus stood up and showed by the spirit that there was going to be a great famine throughout the all the world, which also happened in the days of Claudius Caesar (29)Then the disciples, each according to his ability, determined to send relief to the brethren dwelling in Judea (30) This they also did, and sent it to the elders by the hands of Barnabas and Saul.

 

Here is the first mention of a prophet in the New Testament (except for Jesus of course) But the real importance of the paragraph is the cooperation that it shows – for the first time there is real unity in Christ between Jew and Gentile believers. The Gentile believers responded to a Jewish prophet. This shows that love for fellow Christians may take the form of physical financial aid And incidentally, notice the New Testament principle of giving even in this early in the narrative – every man according to his ability – verse 29

 

As we wrap up this study, notice that chapters 9, 10, and 11 show some wonderful examples of the continuity of a ministry from one “emphasis” to the next. We may not be able to see why we suffer or see the overall significance of events as they unfold from day to day – but with hindsight like this we can see how it all works together. For example, Stephen’s martyrdom became Antioch’s opportunity to hear the gospel. It also led to the persecution of Christians in general. And in fleeing that persecution they eventually came to Antioch. Peter’s “vision” became the church’s “eyesight.” Saul’s apprehension on the road to Damascus became Antioch’s teaching supply. And Antioch’s spiritual feeding became Jerusalem’ s physical feeding. Every new ministry is a development and refinement of what went before it. And as we look at this pattern we see, above all, that no one person can do the work of god alone – one plants, another waters, but God gives the increase. And look where it all leads.

 

 

 

    

The First Gentile Christian

Studies in Acts

Lesson 18: The First Gentile Christian”

Acts 10:1-48

 

 

There are some things that can come into our lives that change things forever. After such an event, nothing will ever be the same again. It may be something wonderful – the day you meet the person who will one day be your spouse, or the birth of your children, for example. Or it may be something tragic – the death of a loved one, or losing a job or something like that. But the end result is the same: things are changed forever in your life. Such a time came into the life of the early church about 8 years after it began on the day of Pentecost. And even though it was something good, it did bring changes that were hard to accept at first. Here in Acts chapter 10 the scope of the church begins to widen – the first Gentiles enters the group. The Christian movement before this, even though it was based on faith in Christ, was distinctively Jewish. For example, Jesus Himself was Jewish. All of the apostles were Jewish. In fact, Jesus’ entire ministry, with only one exception, was carried out among Jews. Jesus went out of His way to refer to the Gentile woman who in Matthew 15:21 through 28 who was asking Him to cast demons out of her daughter. In verse 24 and again in verse 26 He told her that his ministry was limited to Israelites. (the story does go on to say that in His grace He did heal her daughter.) He told the Pharisees that He did not come to annul the law, but to fulfill it. After the coming of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost, most of the additions to the church were Jews. It is interesting to notice that even in this chapter, years after the day of Pentecost, Peter and the other Christians are still observing Jewish customs and habits – prayer at the sixth hour, etc. Now there had been some preparation for this in Philip’s preaching in Samaria and in the Ethiopian eunuch in chapter 8, but so far, no hard and fast Gentile had been admitted – the others had been almost accidental.

 

The first thing we see in the passage is the story of two different men in verses 1 through 23. First there is Cornelius, a Roman soldier, in verses 1 through 8. And then there is Peter, the consummate Jew in verses 9 through 23. But we will see them discover that they have much more in common than they ever dreamed!

 

There was a certain man in Caesarea called Cornelius, a centurion of what was called the Italian Regiment (2) a devout man and one who feared God with all his household, who gave alms generously to the people, and prayed to God always. (3) About the ninth hour of the day he saw clearly in a vision an angel of God coming in saying to him Cornelius! (4) And when he observed him he was afraid and said, “What is it Lord?” So he said to him, “Your prayers and your alms have come up for a memorial before God. (5) Now send men to Joppa and send for Simon whose surname is Peter.(6) “He is lodging with Simon, a tanner,  whose house is by the sea. He will tell you what to do. (7) And when the angel who spoke to him had departed, Cornelius called two of his household servants and a devout soldier from among those who waited on him continuously. (8) So when he had explained all these things to them, he sent them to Joppa.

 

At this point Cornelius was what the Jews called “a proselyte of the gate.” A full proselyte was a person who “converted” to Judaism – took up all the rituals and rites and observances. But “a proselyte of the gate “was a person a person who adopted the Jewish belief in one God, etc., but was still a gentile in the way he lived. At this point Cornelius was only “praying” and “giving alms” according to verse 2. But that verse also says he was “a devout man.” In fact, he was apparently so devout that his testimony affected those around him. According to verse 7 there was “a devout soldier among his personal servants. This tells us two things. Evidently was what today we might call “a good witness. And second it tells us that he was a highly-ranked soldier. Verse 1 says he was a centurion – in charge of 100 men. Cornelius is an example of what Paul refers to in Romans 1 – everyone has a basic knowledge of God. (John said the same thing in chapter 1 of his book. But at this point he wasn’t saved, – just “devout” – following  all the light that he had. Jesus said “you must be born again” not to a reprobate, but to Nicodemus, the best that Judaism could produce. Paul was “a Hebrew of the Hebrews,” and, as touching the law, perfect. But because he was pursuing his “God consciousness” God gave him more light.

 

I said in the beginning of this lesson that this chapter is a story of two different men. Cornelius is one of them, and Peter is the other. His story is given in verses 9 through 23. We don’t need to go over it in detail, because up to this point the book has centered around him and his activities. We know about his life already, but let me just touch on a couple of other things. Like Paul, he was “a Hebrew of the Hebrews,” but at this point he is beginning to see a wider view of God’s work in the world. At Pentecost, he had said that God would pour out his spirit on all flesh.” In the last verse of the previous chapter he had lodged with “Simon the tanner,” even though tanners were abhorrent to the Jews.

 

So, in contrast to Cornelius, who was walking in all the light that he had, Peter did not fully understand all the light that he had, but he fully enjoyed what he did understand.

 

The second subject of this chapter is two manifestations that these two men had. The first one was to Cornelius in verses 3 through 6.

 

(3) About the ninth hour of the day he saw clearly in a vision an angel of God coming in saying to him Cornelius! (4) And when he observed him he was afraid and said, “What is it Lord?” So he said to him, “Your prayers and your alms have come up for a memorial before God. (5) Now send men to Joppa and send for Simon whose surname is Peter.

 

In the last part of verse 4 God informs Cornelius that He is aware of his past religious activities (aren’t you glad that he is aware of those things?) And then in verses 5 and 6 he tells him what to do next. The fact that He specifically promises that “he will tell him what to do” shows that Cornelius may have been wondering what he should do. And this is evidence of the “God shaped vacuum” within all of us. – his prayers and alms evidently had not filled that void.

 

Then in verses 9 through 16 there is God’s manifestation of himself to Peter. Verse 9 shows the intermingling of time

 

The next day, as they went on their journey and drew near the city, Peter went up on the housetop to pray, about the sixth hour

 

It is interesting to notice that while Cornelius’ men were on the way God was preparing Peter to receive them. Then verses 10 through 12 show the intermingling of circumstances

 

Then he became very hungry and wanted to eat; but while they made ready, he fell into a trance (11) and saw heaven open and an object like a great sheet, bound at the four corners, descending to him and let down to the earth (12) in it were all kinds of four footed animals of the earth, wild beasts, creeping things and birds of the air.

 

Notice that it was while Peter was hungry and waiting for food that this vision occurred. And this reminds us again that God often uses the ordinary circumstances of life in communicating with us, or setting the stage for communication. And incidentally, Peter’s Jewishness is still showing. The sixth hour is one of the hours for prayer.

 

And then in verses 13 through 16 there is the interchange of ideas

 

 And a voice came to him, “arise, Peter, kill and eat.” (14) But Peter said, “Not so, Lord,” For I have never eaten anything common or unclean. (15) And a voice spoke to him again the second time, “What God has cleansed you must not call common.” (16) This was done three times. And the object was taken up into heaven again.

 

First there is the command to eat these things that had always been off limits to Jews in verse 13. But immediately Peter refuses. This is typical of Peter – an oxymoron: “Not so, Lord,” How can you say “not so Lord” to someone you have just said “no” to? But of course, the disturbing thing about Peter is that he is so much like us! So, verses 15 and 16 say that the command was

Repeated two more times. So that was a total of three times, even though Peter was still calling him “Lord.”  It is interesting to know that the phrase “you must not call common” is “do not make common in the Greek text. IN other words , “it is no longer common in God’s sight. If it becomes common it will be because you have made it so. Now we need to think for a moment about the intention in this command. It was not just a matter of food specifically – these were primarily health laws, but they had become symbolic of Judaism as a whole. But the real issue was the breaking down of the exclusive nature of Judaism. And obviously, this was perplexing to Peter.

 

Now we have seen the two manifestations and the two men” who had received them. So, the third thing we have in the chapter is the two ministries in verses 17 through 48. First there is the invitation to minister in verses 17 through 22. It all begins with the introduction is in verse 17

 

Now while Peter wondered within himself what this vision which he had seen meant, Behold the men who had been sent from Cornelius had made inquiry for Simon’s house, and stood before the gate.

 

Notice the interaction again – “while Peter wondered . . .” Then in verses 19 through 22 we have the information  that Peter wants: First he gets some information from the Holy Spirit in verses 19 and 20.

 

While Peter thought about the vision, the Holy Spirit said to him, “Behold, three men are seeking you. (20) Arise therefore and go down and go with them, doubting nothing, for I have sent them.”

 

Then he gets information from the visitors in verse 22:

 

And they said, “Cornelius the centurion, a just man, one who fears God and has a good reputation among all the nation of the Jews, was divinely instructed by a holy angel to summon you to his house, and to hear words from you.”

 

And so in verses 23 through 33 we see Peter’s involvement in the ministry Verses 23 and 24 tell how he traveled to Cornelius’ house. And then in verses 25 and 26 an interesting thing happens:

 

As Peter was coming in, Cornelius met him and fell down at his feet and worshipped him. (26)But Peter lifted him up, saying, “Stand up, “I myself am also a man.”

 

This shows an even further break-down in Peter’s prejudice – he realizes that he is no different from this gentile.

 

Then in verses 27 through 33 we have a review of the circumstances that brought Peter and Cornelius together – almost word-for-word repetition of what we have seen up to this point. And then again in verses 34 through 43 we have the information which Peter gives to Cornelius and his friends. The truths we are going to look at here were probably just beginning to come together for Peter himself.

 

“Then Peter opened his mouth and said I perceive that God shows no partiality.” And the message is typical of all apostolic preaching – all about Israel, Jesus, the crucifixion, and resurrection. First, he talks about the universality of God’s love in verses 34 and 35

 

“Then Peter opened his mouth and said I perceive that God shows no partiality. (35)But in every nation God shows no partiality whoever fears him and works righteousness is accepted by Him.

 

Then in verses 36 and 37 he talks about God’s use of the Jewish nation

 

The word which God sent to the children of Israel, preaching peace through Jesus Christ, he is Lord of all” (37)”that word you know, which was proclaimed throughout all Judea and began from Galilee after the baptism which John preached.

 

Then in verses 38 through 41 he talks about the uniqueness of Jesus of Christ

 

“How God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power, who went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him.(39) “ And we are witnesses of all things which he did both in the land of Israel and in Jerusalem, whom they killed by hanging on a tree (40) Him God raised up on the third day, and showed Him openly (41)”not to all the people , but to witnesses chosen before by God, even to us who ate and drank with Him after He arose from the dead.

 

The first aspect of His uniqueness was His anointing. Notice again the consistency of Judaism with Christianity – the prophets witnessed this new truth in advance. Then His accomplishments are listed in verses 38b through 42. First His general good works are listed in verses 38b and 39a

But of course, the most important thing about Him was His crucifixion, detailed in verse 39b

And God validated that by His resurrection in verses 40 and 41

 

Him God raised up on the third day, and showed Him openly (41)”not to all the people , but to witnesses chosen before by God, even to us who ate and drank with Him after He arose from the dead.

 

Now with all of that as background, in verses 42 and 43 he tells them about the unusual offer of God

 

And He commanded us to preach to the people, and to testify that it is He who was ordained by God to be the judge of the living and the dead (43)To him all the prophets  witness that, through His name, whoever believes in Him will receive remission of sins.”

 

Notice again the emphasis on the consistency of Judaism and Christianity – the prophets witnessed this new truth in advance verse 43 says. And the bottom line is that now salvation is offered to people of every nation and background. Finally, in verses 44 through 48 we see the interruption  of Peter’s ministry. (notice “while Peter was still speaking these words) First there is the activity of the Holy Spirit in verses 44 and 46

 

While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit fell upon all those who heard the word . . . (46) For they heard them speak with tongues and magnify God. Then Peter answered

 

What happened here is that the Holy Spirit took the simple gospel message of Peter and made it  plain. Peter didn’t need to say any more. Notice that the gift of tongues occurred before baptism or the laying on of hands. And this reminds us of the deliberate lack of order in the reception of the Holy Spirit during this transitional period. At Pentecost there was no laying on of hands, but tongues and fire (chapter 2) In Samaria (chapter 8)there were no cloven tongues of fire or speaking in tongues, of fire, or speaking in tongues but laying on of hands. When we get to chapter 19 we will see no fire, but tongues and laying on of hands  (at Ephesus). Also notice the purpose of the tongues in verse 46 (not an unknown prayer language) So that is the activity of the Holy Spirit. But in verses 45 through 48, we see the activity of the believers:

 

The original believers who came with Peter were blessed – verse 45

 

And those of the circumcision who believed were astonished, as many as came with Peter, because the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out on the Gentiles also.

 

Notice the specific reason for their blessing –“because the Holy Spirit was poured out on the gentiles.” Also new believers were baptized in verses 47 and 48.

 

Then Peter answered (47)” can anyone forbid water, that these should not be baptized who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” (48) And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of the Lord. Then they  asked him to stay a few days.

 

In conclusion, here is another example of the importance of obeying the Word of God, regardless of how it fits our traditions or assumptions. Of course, we need to remember that this is a transitional book, and therefore some previously acceptable attitudes were now done away with. But the principle is the same. It is summed up back in in verse 15:

 

What God has cleansed you must not call common.  

 

 

 

 

The Education of Saul

One of the things that scripture makes clear, (Studies in Acts

Lesson and we would know from experience even if it didn’t) is that we don’t know what the future holds. And one of the best examples of that in the history of the world is a man by the name of Saul of Tarsus, who, in the spring of the year A. D. 4 or 5 started off on a trip one day to a town by the name of Damascus. He did get where he was going, but by the time he got there his world had been turned completely upside down. And his life from that day forward would be radically different. And of course, the reason for that was here in Acts chapter 9 God finally chased him to the end of his rope. Saul, after years of fanatically attacking everyone and everything that had to do with Jesus Christ, said. “Lord, what will you have me to do?” And, as we saw in our last study, the Lord simply said, “Go into the next town.” But even though God didn’t tell Saul anything but that first step, that doesn’t mean that he didn’t have anything but that first step planned. Because in verses 10 through 18 we are going to see the shepherding which is going to take place in his life.

 

Isn’t it a wonderful thing that God doesn’t just leave his new children out in the cold? Just as He pursues us for salvation, He also makes “shepherding” available, so the babies can grow to maturity. Ephesians 4 tells us that this is the reason He has organized the church the way He has. And Second Timothy 2:2 puts it on an individual level:

 

The things you have heard from me among many witnesses, commit these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.

 

And in keeping with that, in verses 10 through 12 we see the calling of the shepherd.

 

Now there was a certain disciple at Damascus named Ananias; and to him the Lord said in a vision, Ananias,” And he said, “Here I am, Lord.” (11) So the Lord said to him, “Arise and go to the street called Straight, and inquire at the house of Judas for one called Saul of Tarsus, for behold he is praying (12) “And in a he has seen a man named Ananias coming in and putting his hand on him so that he might receive his sight.”

 

Now in what we have seen in the chapter so far, we might expect that God would continue to use the miraculous to bring Saul along. But as is usually the case, at this point in the narrative, He uses the ordinary, human means to accomplish His purpose. And this underscores the principle that although God is still capable of miracles and still sometimes uses them, He also (in fact usually) uses ordinary human means to accomplish His purposes. Here is another place where we are perhaps so familiar with the story that we overlook some of the important points. But think how these instructions must have sounded to Ananias!

 

Then ananias answered, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much harm he has done to Your saints in Jerusalem (14) And here has authority from the chief priests to bind all who call upon your name”

 

And notice that there is no correction for Ananias from the Lord for having felt this way. In fact, look at the comfort for the shepherd in verses 15 and 16

 

But the Lord said, Go, for he is a chosen vessel of Mine to bear My name before Gentiles, kings, and the children of Israel (16)”For I will show him how many things he must suffer for my name’s sake.”

 

To Ananias Saul was nothing more than a murderer. But to God he was “a chosen vessel.” And this demonstrates again the difference in the way we look at people and the way the Lord looks at them. Like Ananias, we tend to look at people for what they are; but God looks at them for they will become under His direction. And so, in verses 17 and 18 we see the care by the shepherd.

 

And Ananias went his way and entered the house; and laying his hands on him, he said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you came, has sent me that you may receive your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” (18) Immediately there fell from his eyes something like scales and he received his sight at once; and he arose and was baptized.

 

Ananias was one of those “indispensable nobodies” that we find from time to time in the scripture. This is the only place we hear of him in the scripture (although Paul mentions him in relating this same story in Acts 22) but think of what he accomplished here: nothing less than the foundational aspects of the faith of he great Apostle Paul himself. And his godliness and confidence in God’s word is shown in two little words in the middle of verse 17: “brother Saul.” Ananias had heard about the terrible things Saul had done to his brothers in the Lord (as in verse 13) But now, simply on the word of God he is a “brother “in the Lord! Now that is true faith in the word of God. And that also tells us something about our common bond in in Christ. If we use what my Dad used to call “our sanctified imagination” It is possible that through the years ahead Paul may have ministered to survivors of people that he himself had put to death. (maybe even Stephen’s wife and children)  And that is an example of the strength of our common bond in Christ – “the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit.” And only the love of Christ could accomplish something like that!

 

Well, the scene changes in the next paragraph. Because in verses 10 through 31 we find the education of Saul.  Most schools these days begin with a period of orientation, where the students get acquainted with the curriculum and, and regulations, and so forth. And it was no different with Saul, as it is with any new believer. And in these “orientation” verses, we find one of the most important aspects of the Christian life and yet one that is often misunderstood in the Christian life. And that lack of understanding has caused countless Christians to miss much of God’s blessing in their lives.

 

Those first few weeks after his conversion must have been thrilling for Saul. Three factors in these verses contributed to his euphoria in this initial phase: First, he enjoyed close fellowship with believers in Damascus (the very ones he in some cases, people he had intended to persecute – verse 19b) This is a unique aspect of Christianity that has to be experienced to be understood. Being fully accepted by the Christians he felt affirmation and support. Because of that, he soon felt secure enough to openly preach the gospel in verse 20. And this proclamation was the second contributing factor to his joy as a new believer. It was thrilling to be able to serve his new master. The third factor in his orientation was acclamation – all those who heard him were amazed, Luke says in verse 21. Like many celebrities who convert to Christianity, Saul immediately stepped into the spotlight to give his testimony. People’s mouths dropped open as they crowded to hear him speak. “Could this be the same man who was persecuting us just a few weeks ago?” they said in verse 22. And it seemed like this was going to be the pattern of this new life for Saul. Look again at verse 22:

 

But Saul increased all the more in strength and confounded the Jews who dwelt in Damascus, proving that this Jesus is the Christ.

 

But, true to form, Satan changes the scene in the next verse. “orientation” was over, and obstacles began to appear. These obstacles first took the form of hazards to his health. Look at verses 23 and 24

 

Now after many days were past, the Jews plotted to kill him (24) But their plot became known to Saul and they watched the gates day and night to kill him.

 

Now this wasn’t what he had bargained for. Was it? He was getting used to the acclaim and acceptance, but this didn’t fit that picture. But it gets worse. In verse 25 he faced the obstacle of humiliation

 

Then the disciples took him by night and let him down through the wall in a large basket.

 

Think about it! Here is the great Jewish scholar and expert in Old Testament law crawling into a basket in a back alley and being sneaked out of town like some common criminal! But the humiliation didn’t stop there. Luke doesn’t even refer to it here but by comparing the description of this period which Paul wrote to the Galatians we see where he probably went after he was over the wall. Look at Galatians 1:15-17a

 

But when it pleased God, who separated me from my mother’s womb and called me through His grace, (16)to reveal his son in me that I might preach him among the Gentiles, I did not immediately confer with flesh and blood, (17)nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me, but I went to Arabia, and returned again to Damascus. (18) Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to see Peter, and remained with him fifteen days.

 

We don’t know exactly when this happened, but we know that it was soon after he was saved in  Acts 9:6, and before he went to Jerusalem, which happens in Acts 9:26. Acts 9:8 tells us that he did go to Damascus the day he was saved, and 9:19 says that he spent “some days” with the disciples there. So the most logical time for his move to Arabia is right here in Acts 9:25, when he goes over the wall. Whenever it happened this time in Arabia must have been a humbling experience. Here he was, fresh out of Judaism into the light, giving his testimony, having people “amazed” at what he had to say, and now suddenly restricted to “the middle of nowhere.”

 

But make no mistake about it, this, too, is an essential part of a new life in Christ. It is something that every Christian goes through in one form or another. Moses spent 40 years on the back side of the desert, working for his father- in law. Joseph served time as a servant in an Egyptian officer’s house and a term in prison before becoming prime minister of Egypt. Elijah and John the Baptist spent years out in the desert before becoming mighty prophets before God. Even the Lord Jesus had a period of time in his life that is very obscure – from age 8 until the age of 30 we have absolutely no details of His activities. And the same is true for many men and women of God who are recorded in secular records – H. A. Ironside, had been in the ministry for 25 years before he became pastor of Moody Memorial Church, the ministry for which he is famous. And the same is true for W.A. Criswell, legendary pastor of First Baptist Church of Dallas.

 

Are you perhaps going through a time like that? Feel like you are just spinning your wheels spiritually, feeling less and less effective for Christ? This might go on even longer. But these “desert places” in the Christian life are indispensable for making us the servants that He wants us to be. Even after the humiliation, though, the humbling process didn’t stop. Verse 26 tells us that even after he came back from he still had problems:

 

And when Saul had come to Jerusalem, he tried to join the disciples; but they were afraid of him, and did not believe that he was a disciple.

 

Here he faced the problem of ostracism Nobody wanted to do anything with him. Now from the human standpoint this was understandable. But it still hurt. Sometimes Christians today have painful things in their past that fellow believers have a hard time with – divorce, bankruptcy, or some other problem. There is a real opportunity for ministries for Christians who are willing to “run interference” for others for others who are in those kinds of situations. And that is exactly what happens in the next verses:

 

But Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles. And he declared to them how he had seen the Lord on the road, and that he had spoken to him. and how he had preached boldly at Damascus in the name of Jesus. So he was with them at Jerusalem coming in and going out.

 

Finally with this help from Barnabas, Saul has the opportunity for acceptance he has been hoping for. And just as with Ananias earlier in the chapter here was a great ministry that had it not been written in the scripture, few people would have known about. But think what a contribution Barnabas made to the body of Christ by just being willing to lend his influence! There are so many Christians who need this this ministry of encouragement and “mentoring.”  And, just as in this situation, who knows what might come of it? But even with that kind of acceptance, Saul’s problems weren’t over. Look at verse 29:

 

And he spoke boldly in the name of the Lord Jesus and disputed with the Hellenists, but they attempted to kill him.

 

Why were these Jews so persistent? Because it was obvious that the truth had made a radical transformation in his life. Therefore they only had two choices: Admit that their lives needed to be changed too, or destroy the evidence. Donald Gray Barnhouse an influential teacher of a previous generation says that “every martyrdom that has ever taken place has been an attempt to destroy the evidence.” So to protect Saul, the believers had no choice but to get him out of there. Look at verse 30:

 

When the brethren found out they brought him to down to Caesarea and sent him to Tarsus.

 

Surely Saul must have felt dejected as he boarded that ship. Was there no place of service for him? Would the hatred of the Jews keep him from ever being able to serve the Lord? It surely seemed that way. In fact Luke is quick to point out in verse 31 that after Saul left

 

Then the churches throughout all Judea, galilee, and Samaria had peace and were edified. And walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the holy spirit, they were multiplied.

 

What a disillusioning experience for Saul! He drops out of sight here and isn’t heard from again until we get to chapter 11. But it was during that period of time that Saul learned two principles which every one of us needs to learn: First, in our Christian growth, God does everything possible to stop the energy of the flesh. In those early days of his ministry, with all of his abilities Saul may have been tempted to depend on his own strength. He had to learn that that wouldn’t work. And the best way to teach him that was to put him in situations which he could not control. And God does the same thing for us. don’t chafe at His movements to curb those self-reliant instincts; try to find out what He is teaching you and seek to learn it as quickly as possible.

 

The second thing that Saul (and we) need to learn is that no one but Christ is indispensable. Throughout the rest of Saul’s life, the humility which God instilled in him through these difficulties safeguarded him against self destructive pride.  If you feel like Saul – facing obstacles or ostracism or off the stage, remember what eventually happened to Saul; he became God’s premier missionary, sailing the world with the gospel. God may not have exactly that same course in store for you, but he definitely has a ministry in store for you, but he has a ministry that only you can perform. And He loves you too much to let you go on without further training.

 

 

 

 

Winning Ways

Winning Ways

Acts 8:25-40

 

Let’s be honest: Most Christians would rather do almost anything than witness. There are a number of reasons for this feeling. One is ignorance –  we really don’t know how to go about it. Another is indifference. We have other things to think about, after all, and besides there are plenty of people with the gift of evangelism who can do the job better (we’re plenty willing to pick up the tab if they’ll just do the work.) Still another reason we’re reluctant is fear. Nobody likes being made a fool of, or being asked questions they can’t answer. And what if the response is hostile? The whole idea is just too scary. Also, some of us have an unpleasant memory of a bad experience when someone grabbed us by the collar and shoved the gospel down our throat. We remember that embarrassed, intruded upon pressured feeling and the last thing we want to do is to make someone else feel that way. We know we should share our faith, but we still feel awkward.

 

Yet God longs for us to get into the game. He has chosen us to be His voice, to introduce lost people to the most important message they will ever hear! And here in the last half of Acts chapter 8 we have an example of how He wants us to go about it. – and it is quite different than what most people would think.

In this passage we have 5 principles that are necessary to be a person whom God uses to get the gospel out. The focal point of this passage is Philip, one of the original 7 deacons chosen back in chapter 6. And the importance of that to most of us is that he was not a “professional” evangelist. Even though in the first part of the chapter he is doing many impressive things in the area of evangelism, he is still a “layman.” But suddenly, right in the midst of that, God changes Philips’s direction. Look at verse 26:

 

Now an angel of the Lord spoke to Philip saying, “Arise and go toward the south along the road which goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza. This is desert.

 

And Philip’s response to that command demonstrates the first guideline for God’s plan for evangelism: Attentiveness. Out of the blue God tells Philip to take off for the desert. No reason is given, and no arrangements are made for someone to take his place in Samaria. There’s just this command. How tempting it would have been to brush that still, small voice away like a gnat buzzing in his ear. Things were going so well; the Samaritans were open to the gospel; but Philip had walked with God long enough to know that He sometimes throws a curve. And when He does He always has His reasons. He knows that to be an effective witness he had to be “attentive” to God’s call. S. Lewis Johnson says that “attentiveness” has a Siamese twin by the name of “availability.” There is not much good in hearing God’s call if you’re not willing to follow it when it comes. Look at verses 27 and 28:

 

So He arose and went. And behold a man of Ethiopia, a eunuch of great authority under Candace, the queen of the Ethiopians, who had charge of all her treasury, had come to Jerusalem to worship (28) was returning. And sitting in his chariot, he was reading Isaiah the prophet.

 

Who would you have thought it?  Out in the middle of nowhere is a political leader, riding in his chariot and reading the word of God. No one but God could have known he was there, and how receptive he was going to be to the gospel. Philip didn’t know that this Ethiopian was the reason for his unexpected detour to the south. He simply was available to the Lord, who in his sovereign plan had caused their paths to cross. I wonder how many times God directs our steps – or wants to, across the path of someone whom He knows is ready to hear. We should look at every unexpected happening as a possible opportunity for evangelism. And sometimes those opportunities come to people who are not strangers to us, too.

 

The next principle is in verses 29 through 34, and it is alertness

 

Then the Spirit said to Philip, “Go near and overtake this chariot.” (30) So Philip ran to him, and he heard him reading the prophet Isaiah, and said “Do you understand what you are reading?

 

First Philip was alert to the Spirit’s voice in verse 29. Remember, he didn’t know why the Spirit had told him to come out there, even when he saw the man riding in the chariot. And who would have even dream-ed of overtaking a moving chariot (which was probably being pulled by several horses)! But Philip was listening for further instructions. And again, I wonder how often we have missed opportunities to witness, – or some other kind of service – simply because we were not alert to the situation around us and attentive to the voice of the Lord.

 

There is a striking example back in the Old Testament. It occurs in Exodus chapter 3 as Moses was on the back side of the desert working for his father-in-law. As he is moving around in the desert he sees something unusual – a bush was burning. I grew up out in west Texas where the atmospheric conditions are almost identical to those of Israel in “the back side of the desert.” And it is not unheard of to see a bush burst into flame by spontaneous combustion in that area. But the thing that was significant in this case was the fact that even though the bush was burning it wasn’t being consumed by the fire. And so, in verse 3 Moses says:

 

I will turn aside and see this great sight, why the bush is not consumed.”

 

Now we don’t know if Moses pondered this deliberately over every decision that he made, but look what the next verse says: And when the LORD saw that he turned aside to see God called to him from the midst of the bush and said “Moses, Moses and the implication seems clear that if Moses had not stopped to notice the unusual nature of the burning bush that God would not have spoken to him. Now listen carefully: it was in that conversation that God called him to be, from the human standpoint, the deliverer of the Israelites from their Egyptian bondage, the ministry in which he would be involved for the rest of his life. And the point is a simple but extremely important one. “Pay attention to what is going on around you.” The thing that the Lord wants you to see may not be a physical burning bush; it may be simply a person near you whom you can see by the look on his or her face that something is wrong in their life. It may be a painful tragedy or a struggle with sin – and when it is all said and done you wind up being able to have an eternal spiritual impact, perhaps on a whole family. The bottom line is that we as Christians need to be alert to what is going on around us.

 

Now going back to the book of Acts we have seen Philip’s alertness in listening to the voice of the Holy spirit, but there is something more. Look at Acts 8:30:

 

So Philip ran to him and heard him reading the prophet Isaiah, and said, “do you understand what you are reading?

 

Philip didn’t wait for the man to lean out of his chariot and say, “excuse me, but do you happen to know anything about the Old Testament? But at the same time, he didn’t run up to him and say, “say buddy, do you know the savior?” No! Philip was alert to the situation. He looked for an appropriate way to open the conversation. And verse 30 shows how he did it. He started simply by talking about what the man was interested in. He simply said, “do you understand what you are reading? And that simple question got a straightforward answer. Look at verse 31:

 

 And he said, “how can I, unless someone guides me? And he asked Philip to come up and sit with him.

 

Now Philip has established personal contact, but his alertness doesn’t stop there. Again, he lets the other man express himself. Look at verse 32 and following:

 

The place in the scripture which he read was “He was led as a sheep to the slaughter; and as a sheep before his shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth (33) In His humiliation His justice was taken away, and who will declare His generation? For his life is taken from the earth.” (34) So the eunuch answered Philip and said, “I ask you, of whom does the prophet say this? of Himself, or some other man?

 

By simply letting the other man go first, Philip opened the door to a perfect opportunity for the gospel.

And by the way, isn’t it “lucky “that he “happened” to be reading such a perfect passage!  – Don’t ever forget the ministry of the Holy Spirit in preparing another person’s heart for your ministry!

 

But Philip is an example to us of the right way to go about witnessing. He tactfully let the eunuch ask his questions and with accuracy he gave the answers. And that is the fourth guideline for witnessing. Look at verse 35:

 

Then Philip opened his mouth and, beginning at this scripture, preached Jesus to him.

 

He began right where the man was – “at this scripture” and he went from there (in the Old Testament) to preach Jesus. It takes skill to continue with accuracy and keep from getting sidetracked when you are witnessing – Satan gives people an amazing ability to pull you off the subject and onto arguments about evolution or the latest church scandal. But Jesus is truly the only subject that matters.

 

Well, Philip’s strategy (and really it is the Lord’s strategy) is working. The gospel message penetrates the man’s heart to such an extent that in verse 36

 

Now as they went down the road, they came to some water. And the eunuch said, here is water:what hinders me from being baptized?

 

At this point, Philip brings in the fifth guideline for witnessing. He speaks with authority to his disciple. You may soon turn your new convert over to someone whom you consider more able, but at first you will be that person’s only authority. And Philip wisely puts first things first, knowing that salvation comes through faith, not through baptism, he says decisively in verse 37:

 

If you believe with all your heart you may. And he answered “I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.”(38) So he commanded the chariot to stand still. And both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water and he baptized him.

 

First there was a private acceptance of the message, then there was an outward demonstration of faith. And I think these verses demonstrate also that any Christian can officiate at the baptism. It doesn’t have to be a “Reverend” or a “Father.” And notice too that this had nothing to do with joining a local church There is nothing in the scripture that links baptism with joining a local church; it is simply based on tradition.

 

Normally in our witnessing the next step would be follow-up – spiritual guidance for the new believer. But in this situation something startling happens. Look at verses 39 and 40:

 

Now when they came up of the water, the Spirit of the Lord caught Philip away, so that the eunuch saw him no more; and he went on his way rejoicing. (40) But Philip was found at Azotus. And passing through, he preached in all the cities till he came to Caesarea.

 

Now as I say, this is not the norm. Usually a soul winner needs to be extremely careful to guide his new convert into some thorough follow-up, whether he does it himself or makes arrangements for someone else to do it for him. But this passage does demonstrate that true follow-up is really in God’s hands ultimately. His job was finished, but the court official’s was just beginning, because he carried the gospel back to the land of Ethiopia, and eventually the entire continent. This was such an important issue that it was prophesied in advance. Psalm 68:31 says:

 

Ethiopia will stretch out her hands to God.”

 

The exciting thing about soul winning is that you never know how it will end up.You see, a whole nation eventually embraced the gospel because Philip was “attentive,” ”available” “alert” “accurate” and “authoritative.”