Sunday, May 20, 2018

ACTS 8 - THE STORY OF PHILIP

Acts 8
The Story of Philip

Chapter 6 and 7 told the story of Stephen, one of the first deacons. Chapter 8 tells the story of Philip, another one of the deacons. But first there is a short update on Saul, who was introduced in 7:59.

8:1-3
Saul Persecutes the Church



After Stephen’s death, the Jews began a great persecution of the church in Jerusalem. Having seen that the Sanhedrin could not intimidate Peter and John, and that Stephen, though killed, had stood up to them and condemned them, they realized more drastic action would be necessary to stop the followers of Jesus. Saul approved in the persecution of the church and participated in it. It appears he was a major actor in it.

The persecution was so intense that many Christians left Jerusalem for other parts of Judea and for Samaria. Saul was literally going house to house, taking the Christians he found, and placing them in prison. (3) He realized the new faith was not compatible with Jewish traditions and sought to eliminate it.

The twelve apostles, however, stayed in Jerusalem. (1) Luke does not tell us why. But, the Lord used this persecution to move believers out of Jerusalem with the gospel. Jesus had commissioned them to make disciples of all nations. (Matthew 28:19) Now they were beginning to do it.

This movement also fulfilled the word of the Lord right before he ascended. He told them they would be his witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth. (Acts 1:8)

Philip In Samaria
8:4-8

Philip was one of the ones who left Jerusalem and went to Samaria. Once there, he began preaching. The people were receptive to his preaching, especially since it was accompanied by signs (miracles). Philip cast out unclean spirits and healed those who were crippled.

The apostles performed signs when they first brought the gospel to Jerusalem. Now Philip is able to perform signs when the gospel is first brought to Samaria. These miracles are signs that the disciples have to power of God.

These healings brought great joy to the city of Samaria. Much suffering ceased and people were restored to their families. This shows us a glimpse of eternity, when suffering shall cease and joy shall abound.

Simon And Others Are Saved
8:9-13


Simon was a successful magician, or sorcerer, in Samaria. He got lots of attention. He called himself great. The Samaritans believed his magic came from the power of God.

But when Philip preached, the Samaritans believed and were baptized. The Samaritans believed in a Messiah who would come to them as a prophet. We see this in Jesus’ encounter with the woman at the well in a Samaritan village. She expected a Messiah to come. (John 4:25)

They practiced a religion similar to the Jews, but with some of their own adaptations. The Jews considered them pagans. But, they were open to Philip’s preaching. Some had likely heard John the Baptist and Jesus preach when they ministered in the area.

Simon also believed and was baptized. He followed Philip around and was amazed at the miracles he performed.

The Holy Spirit Comes on the Samaritans
8:14-25

The apostles in Jerusalem sent Peter and John to Samaria to see what was going on in response to Philip’s preaching. Somehow, they ascertained that the Holy Spirit had not come to these believers. Therefore, Peter and John laid hands on them and they received the Holy Spirit.

Normally, the Holy Spirit comes upon a person when he or she believes and commits their life to follow Christ. Peter had preached for people to repent and be baptized, telling them they would receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. (2:38)

So, why did the Holy Spirit not come upon the Samaritan believers at the time of their conversion?

The passage does not say. But, it may have been that the Lord wanted the apostles to know the Samaritans were true believers and members of the church. Peter and John could testify that the Holy Spirit had come upon them. There could be no argument from the Jewish believers that Samaritans could not be saved.

It may also have been so that the Samaritans themselves would know and believe they were full members of the church. They had been despised by the Jews. But they were not despised by the Jewish Christians, who actually brought the Holy Spirit to them.

Simon was impressed that the Holy Spirit came upon believers as Peter and John laid hands on them. He wanted to have that power also. This seems to be a reversion to his need for attention, previously filled as he performed magic. He offered them money for the power. In his mind, it was the same as paying another magician to teach him a trick.

Peter was outraged at Simon’s request and spoke a sort of curse on him for thinking he could get the gift of God through money. Peter called on him to repent. In response, Simon asked them to pray for him. It is not clear if he repented or not. This raises a question as to whether his faith was real or not.

After this incident, Peter and John kept preaching, then returned to Jerusalem, preaching to Samaritan villages on the way. (25) The last time John had come this way, he asked the Lord to call down fire on the villages that did not receive Jesus. (Luke 9:54) His heart has been changed, though, and now he preached to them the message of salvation.

Philip and the Ethiopian
8:26-40

Luke’s narrative now returns to the story of Philip. As Philip ministered in Samaria, an angel appeared and told him to go to Gaza, a desert place. Philip immediately rose and went. (27)

On the way, Philip saw an Ethiopian sitting in a chariot. This man was a court official in Ethiopia, serving the queen, Candace. He was an important man in Ethiopia. He was a “God fearer”, a Gentile who worshipped God. He was returning from Jerusalem, where he had gone to worship.

When Philip came upon the man, he was reading a scroll of the prophet Isaiah. The angle told Philip to go and join the man at his chariot, so Philip ran up to him. He heard the man reading out loud. He asked him if he understood what he was reading.

The Ethiopian did not understand. He said he needed a guide. He invited Philip to come into the chariot and sit with him.  He was reading Isaiah 53:7-8. Luke quoted it for us. The Ethiopian wanted to know who Isaiah was talking about. He recognized Isaiah as a prophet of God, but did not know who the person was in the scripture. So, Philip took the opportunity to explain it and to preach the gospel to him.

The Ethiopian believed the Gospel and wanted to be baptized. When they came upon some water, Philip baptized him.

This, I think, is worth mentioning. The Ethiopian wanted to be baptized immediately. Others who responded to the gospel did the same. There was no waiting. There was no trying to decide if they should. They believed and were baptized. And, like this Ethiopian, they rejoiced. We should follow their example.

So, the last part of Jesus’ words to the disciples began to be fulfilled. Ethiopia was, to the Jews, the ends of the earth.



After baptizing the Ethiopian, Philip was taken by the Holy Spirit to the city of Azotus. Azotus is the ancient, Old Testament city of Ashdod. It was one of the five principal cities of the Philistines, along with Gaza, Gath, Akron, and Ashkelon. The Ark of God was carried there by the Philistines after their victory at Ebenezer in 1050 BC. It is over on the coast.




When Philip found himself there, he preached the gospel there and the other towns he passed through on the way to Caesarea. He will not make another appearance in the Acts narrative for 20 years.

Philip assumed the Spirit of God put him there for a reason and the reason was the preach the gospel. It is a good lesson for us. We should share the gospel wherever the Holy Spirit places us.


Sunday, May 13, 2018

The Story of Stephen - Acts 6\7



Acts 6 - 7: The Story of Stephen


6:1-7
The First Deacons

This passage shows us the appointment of the first men appointed to help the apostles minister to the church. We normally call them the first deacons. They are not actually called deacons in the passage, but were servants to the church, so we see them as a model for the office of deacon.

The need for deacons arose from a dispute between the Hellenist Christians and the Hebrew Christians. There was a daily distribution of food or money to poor widows. The Greek speaking Jews complained that their widows were neglected in favor of the Hebrew\Aramaic speaking Jews.

The local Jews spoke Aramaic in daily life. At the synagogue, services were in Hebrew. They were part of the local community in Jerusalem and its customs.

Jews from other parts of the Roman empire spoke Greek in daily life, had some customs adopted from Greek and Roman life, and did not know or observe the local customs. These Jews believed their widows were not being attended to.

This could have been a simple language problem. Or it could have been a cultural clash. Luke does not tell us which it is, only that the Greek speaking widows were neglected.

The controversy brought about the need for men to minister to the congregation so that the apostles could focus on preaching and prayer. The apostles had been commissioned by Jesus to preach the gospel and make disciples. So, they called the church together and told them to pick 7 men to minister to the widows. (2)  

The apostles said they would not focus on “waiting on tables”. (2) This phrase translates the word “diakoneo”, which means to serve or wait on. It refers to a service which meets someone else’s needs. The person that does this is called a “diakonos”, from which the English word “deacon” is derived.

The qualifications the apostles gave for these are threefold: (1) good reputation; (2) full of the Holy Spirit; and (3) full of wisdom, which would be necessary to solve these type of problems. The congregation would put forward the names, but the apostles would appoint them.

The men the congregation chose are listed by Luke. All seven have Greek names and, therefore, may have been Hellenists. Nicolaus was not born a Jew. He was a convert, or proselyte. Only two are ever mentioned again: Stephen and Philip. They are named first for this reason. (6) Stephen and Philip went beyond service to widows to become preachers and co-workers with the apostles in the gospel ministry.

Stephen is described as a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit. He must have been exceptional to be described this way out of a group of men that were to be full of the Spirit.

The apostles appointed the deacons by praying over them and laying their hands over them. That is how we came to our present way of ordaining deacons. (6)

This division of labor was effective. The disciples preached and people were saved in increasing numbers with even many Jewish priests becoming Christians. (7)

6:8-15
Stephen Arrested

Stephen went far beyond ministering to widows. Luke wrote that he was full of grace and power. (8) He began to perform miracles (great wonders and signs). His great work for Christ brought on persecution. A group of of Jews from various synagogues that were attended by those from other countries began to dispute with Stephan. This is probably because their members were converting to Christianity as a result of Stephan’s ministry. However, they were not able to successfully dispute with him since Stephan was wise and Spirit filled. (10)

Unsuccessful in confrontation, these Jews resorted to a whisper campaign, saying Stephen blasphemed God, spoke ill of Moses and said Jesus would destroy the temple and change their customs.

Here we see that the apostles accurately conveyed the teaching of Jesus to a second generation of believers, such as Stephen. John 2:19 records Jesus responding to the demand of the Jews for a sign. Jesus told them the sign was “destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up”. He was, of course, speaking of his body as the temple. The apostles heard Jesus say these words and taught them to others like Stephen. Stephen, in turn, was teaching them to a third generation of believers.

Stephen’s enemies aroused the elders and the scribes, who seized him and brought him before the council (the Sanhedrin). (12) The members of the council looked at Stephen and saw that his face was that of an angel. He was full of the Spirit, full of faith, and comfortable in doing the will of his Savior and Lord. His face radiated the glory of God.

Stephen’s Defense\Sermon
7:1-8

The high priest, as head of the Sanhedrin, began the examination. It was the job of the Sanhedrin to investigate a complaint of teaching by any Jew. To begin the examination, the high priest asked Stephen if the accusations were true. It was an invitation to deny the accusations. Instead, Stephen gave a long history lesson and applied it to the current day.

The lesson for us is to take the occasion to present the gospel when confronted. When your faith is challenged, you can take that as an opportunity to present the gospel as well as defend the faith.

Stephen’s sermon demonstrates his mastery of the Old Testament narrative. It is also quite long. But, we can break it down into sections.

The Story of Abraham
7:9-8

Stephen began with the story of Abraham, the founder of the Hebrew race and religion. Stephen told the story of God calling Abraham out of Mesopotamia to go to Canaan. He pointed out that Abraham never occupied Canaan and his descendants went to live in Egypt for 400 years, where they were afflicted. Abraham also received a covenant and the sign of the covenant, circumcision. He was the father of Isaac and grandfather of Jacob. Jacob was the father of the “patriarchs’, the first of the 12 tribes of Israel.

The Story of Joseph
7:9-16

The patriarchs sold their brother Joseph into slavery in Egypt, but God made him ruler of Egypt. He was able to take care of his father and brothers during the severe famine. You see here the beginning of Stephen’s subtle argument, the continued rebellion of the Jews against God’s plan. Here, the revered patriarchs commit a grievous sin against their brother, but God used their actions to further his plan.

The Story of Moses In Egypt
7:17-29

The Israelites came under persecution in Egypt to the point of having to kill all of their babies. But Moses was born and was beautiful in God’s sight; he had favor with God because God had a job for him to do. Moses was raised in Pharaoh’s house and educated, but then killed an Egyptian who was hurting one of the Jews. Yet, those very Jews rejected Moses and asked who made him a ruler or judge one them. So, Moses fled to Midian, settled down and had a family and life there.

The Calling of Moses
7:30-34

After living in Midian 40 years, an angel appeared to Moses in the burning bush and had an encounter with God. God sent Moses to Egypt to deliver the people of Israel.

The Rejection of Moses
7:35-43

Stephen began here to draw a parallel between Moses and Jesus. He pointed out that the people rejected Moses. He said “This Moses, whom they rejected, saying who made you a ruler and a judge, was sent to deliver Israel and did so.” The Jews of Stephen’s time revered Moses, considering him the lawgiver and first prophet of the people. Stephen reminded them that this same Moses prophesied that God would give them a prophet like Moses.

But the people rejected Moses again, when he was on the mountain receiving the covenant law from God. Stephen said the refused to obey him and thrust him aside, turning their heart to Egypt. They told Aaron to make idols for them, which resulted in the worship of the golden calf. Later, they rejected God for the worship of foreign gods. These led to God sending them into exile.

The Building of the Temple
7:44-50

One of the charges against Stephen was that he taught the destruction of the temple. Stephen wound down his sermon by circling back to the temple. He reminded them that they had the tabernacle, then the temple. Yet, he said, they missed the point. God said he did not dwell in a temple made by hands, but lived in heaven, quoting Isaiah 66:1-2. Israel thought God was confined to their temple, but Stephen taught that God intended the tabernacle and temple to be temporary until the coming of Jesus.

The Conclusion\Accusation
7:51-53

Stephen concluded his sermon\defense with an accusation of sin. He said the jews always resisted the Holy Spirit. They killed the prophets, those who foretold the coming of Christ, then they murdered Christ (the Righteous One). He even said they did not keep the law. In other words, they rejected God, his prophets, his word, and now his Christ. They, not Stephen, were on the wrong side of this matter.

The Stoning of Stephen
7:54-60

As you would expect, this sermon only made the Jews more angry. Luke wrote that they were “enraged” or “furious”. They were so angry they ground their teeth. They covered their ears and yelled to drown out his speech.

Yet, none of this anger affected Stephen. He was neither angry nor afraid. He was full of the Holy Spirit.

Stephen’s defense of Christ, and his coming execution, led the Lord to give Stephen a special blessing. He looked into heaven and saw the glory of God and Jesus standing at the Father’s right hand. (56) He got a glimpse of heaven and of the Lord. He saw the glory of God because God is Spirit, not flesh. But he saw the Lord Jesus who became man and was then exalted to God’s right hand. What a sight that must have been.

I find it interesting that Jesus stood next to God’s throne. As we have seen in Psalm 110, the Father had Jesus sit at his right hand. Sitting is a sign that his work is finished. He is to sit there until all his enemies are put under his feet and he returns to collect his followers. So, why is he standing here? I think it is in honor of Stephen, the first Christian martyr, who stood for Christ in the face of his enemies.

The crowd grabbed Stephen and dragged him out of the city. This is symbolic of the Old Testament law to take any unclean thing out of the camp. They stoned him to death.

Luke inserted a little fact that foreshadows the later parts of this book. A young man named Saul was there watching and guarding the coats of those who stoned Stephen. This Saul would later be converted to become the great apostle to the Gentiles.

Stephen’s last words were reminiscent of Christ’s last words. He called on the Lord Jesus to receive his spirit as Jesus had cried out to the Father to receive his. And, as Jesus did, he asked the Lord not to hold this sin against those who stoned him. Even dying from their actions, Stephen was more concerned for their salvation than his death.

What a word this is to us. We often back down to our persecutors, even in the face of very mild opposition or ridicule. When we do stand for Christ, we often do it aggressively and even bitterly.  But Scripture says “…always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect. (1 Peter 3:15) There are two commands here, equal in importance: (1) always defend the faith; and (2) always use gentleness and respect.


Sunday, May 06, 2018

ACTS 5: PROGRESS & TROUBLE

Ananias & Sapphira
5:1-11

This story presents a contrast to the story of Barnabas that ends chapter 4. Read the two together to get the maximum impact of the contrast. Notice that 5:1 starts with the word “but” to put Ananias in contrast with Barnabas and others mentioned in chapter 4.

As Barnabas did, this couple sold a piece of property they owned. But, whereas Barnabas (and others) brought all of the proceeds to the apostles, Ananias and Sapphira, his wife, decided to hold some back from themselves. The rest they brought and laid at the apostles’ feet, as Barnabas had done. By doing this the way Barnabas did, they made it look like they contributed all of the money they received. So we see that they wanted to look as generous and spiritual as Barnabas, but they did not want to be that generous or spiritual.

There is a connection here to the story of Achan in Joshua 7. After the defeat of Jericho, Achan took items that were devoted to the Lord. It caused Israel to be defeated in the next battle. When Achan was found out, he was killed according to God’s order. Then Israel resumed their progress into Canaan victoriously. The Greek word translated “kept back” in Acts 5:1 is the same word used in the Greek translation of Joshua 7:1, where it says Israel “broke faith” with God by keeping some of the devoted things.

Israel was just coming into its own, conquering Canaan in the power of the Lord, when this happened in Joshua. In Acts 5, the church is just beginning to spread across the world in the power of the Holy Spirit. In both cases, God acted to preserve the sanctity of his people.

Evidently, the Holy Spirit revealed the lie to Peter. And Peter confronted Ananias. He asked him why Satan had filled his heart, how Ananias had allowed Satan to fill his heart, to lie to the Holy Spirit. (3)

We know from the Bible that Satan lies and motivates people to lie. It is part of his nature. Jesus said Satan lies out of his own character for he is a liar and the father of lies. (John 8:44) He has nothing to do with the truth and their is no truth in him. We see this in the beginning, as Satan lied to Eve about what God said and what God would do in response to Eve’s disobedience. (Genesis 3:1-7) We also know that Satan wants to destroy believers. He is our adversary. He prowls around like a lion seeking someone to devour. (1 Peter 5:8)

We are to resist Satan and stay firm in our faith. (1 Peter 5:9) We know that Jesus is the truth. (John 14:6). We know that God does not want us to lie. (Leviticus 19:11; Colossians 3:9)

But Ananias and Sapphira did not resist Satan, they gave in to him. Peter said they lied to the Holy Spirit. All sins are ultimately against God. Notice that it was not the withholding of the money that was a sin. Peter pointed out that the property belonged to them, that the sales proceeds also belonged to them. The sin was the lie, the pretense of giving all of the money sacrificially when they had not.

The result of this sin was death. Both Ananias and Sapphira fell down dead when confronted with their lie. This caused a great fear to come upon the whole church. (11)

The emphasis here is on the reality that the Holy Spirit dwells in, and is present with, the church. The Holy Spirit works to protect the church, but also to sanctify it, which is what he does here. Paul taught this truth to the Corinthians. He wrote “Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you If anyone destroyed God’s temple, God will destroy him. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple.” (1 Corinthians 3:16-17) In that case, the Corinthians were destroying the church with their division. Annanias and Sapphira harmed the church with their hypocrisy. Ultimately, God will destroy the one who empowers all of this harm to the church, Satan.

Most of us have tried to look holier than we were at some point. We may even have lied about it. God sees that as a lying to him and he obviously takes it seriously. Fortunately, God has not struck us dead. But, that should only make us grateful for his grace. It should not make us lessen our reverence for God, his holiness, and his power.

Signs and Wonders
5:12-16

The Holy Spirit continued to work miraculously through the apostles. They gathered regularly at the Temple in Solomon’s Portico. Non-believers were afraid to join them, but held them in high esteem for their character and Godliness. (13) People continued to be saved. (14) Peter, in particular, was used by the Spirit to heal people. Since there were not many ways to cure sicknesses in those days, people came in great numbers, bring the sick for him to heal. Even people from towns outside of Jerusalem brought their sick for healing.

The power of the Holy Spirit working in Peter to heal people showed him to be a man who knew God and was approved by him. The made them listen to Peter preach and, in many cases, to believe what he said as the word of God.

The Second Arrest
5:17-42

The Sadducees were the ruling party of the Jews and the Temple at the time, and they were jealous of the attention given to the apostles. They arrested the apostles again and put them in prison, this time the public prison with criminals. This was evidently all 12 of the apostles, not just Peter and John. But God had other plans. He sent an angel to open the prison doors. He told them to go back into the temple and preach the gospel (“the words of this Life”). The apostles obeyed.

The high priest called the council, or Sanhedrin, together, plus other rulers of the people, called the Senate. This indicates they were very serious. But they found the apostles gone from prison, even thought the doors were locked and the guards present. (22-23) This caused them to be greatly perplexed, but not to believe.

When the apostles were discovered preaching, they were brought before the council. (27) We see here that the apostles did not obey the rulers when they were told not to preach. That is because God told them to preach. But they did not resist when summoned before the council. They obeyed authority when it did not conflict with God. This principle applies to us today also.

I love the charge made by the council, which turned out to be a compliment. they said the apostles had filled Jerusalem with their teaching. I would love to accused of filling my city with my teaching about Jesus.

When the council accused the apostles of violating their earlier order not to teach in Jesus’ name, they again answered that they must obey God rather than men. (29) They did not back down. They also went on to preach the gospel to their accusers. Peter used the same themes as before. He said the Jews killed Jesus, but God raised him from death and exalted him to his right hand as Leader\Prince and Savior. (31) He was again referring to Psalm 110:1-2 (“The LORD says to my Lord: Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies your footstool.”) He was saying Jesus was the one the Father exalted to his right hand as foretold in the Psalm. He reiterated that the apostles were witnesses of these things.

This enraged the council to the point of murder. (33) Again God acted to protect the apostles. One of the Pharisees on the council, Gamaliel, gave them better advice. He pointed out that others had come and gone without upending the religious and political struggle. He advised them to leave the men alone because they would fail if their mission was of men. But, if it was of God, they would not prevail against them and might even be found to oppose God, which would be deadly. The council took his advice. (39)

Gamaliel was a very respected rabbi and teacher of the law. He had a great pedigree. His grandfather was Hillel, another great teacher. Gamaliel had a famous student also, a young man named Saul, who became a persecutor of the church until he was converted. (Acts 22:3)

The council did not leave the apostles alone completely. They beat them and ordered them not to speak in Jesus’ name before they let them go. (40)

How did the apostles react? They rejoiced that they were counted worthy to suffer for Jesus’ name. And, they kept preaching and teaching both in the temple and in houses. (42)

Be bold in witness! Be truthful in all things. And rely upon the Holy Spirit.


Sunday, April 29, 2018

THE CHURCH FACES OPPOSITION - ACTS 4


Two Reactions To The Gospel
4:1-4

This passage is a good example of how people react to the gospel differently. Jesus said he did not come to bring peace, but a sword. A sword divides. Jesus divides. He spoke even of dividing households as some believed in Jesus and some did not. (Matthew 10:34-36)

Here, verse 4 says many heard the word and believed. Another 5,000 people were added to the church. Peter’s sermon was a success and the Holy Spirit’s work was effective.

But, not all believed. Some opposed Peter. As Peter was still speaking, a group of priests, Sadducees and the captain of the temple arrived. (1) They were annoyed at Peter’s preaching the resurrection of Christ. The Sadducees did not believe in resurrection. So, they arrested Peter and John and put them in jail overnight.

The Inquiry
4:5-12

The next morning, the Sanhedrin was convened. There were rulers, scribes and elders gathered, along with the high priest, Caiaphas, the former high priest (Annas) and his family. Normally the Sandhedrin met with 70 members plus the high priest. This goes all the way back to Numbers 11:16. There, as Moses struggled to meet the demands of the Israelites, God appointed 70 elders to help him. This is the beginning of the concept of elders for the governance of the church.

The purpose of the meeting was to investigate Peter and John’s miracle. They did not doubt the miracle, but wanted to know their authority to perform it. They asked “By what power or by what name did you do this”.  There is a sense of condescension and arrogance in their question.

These were the same men who had condemned Jesus a few weeks before.  They had likely thought they were done with him. But now, they were confronted by his followers continuing his ministry.

You can have one of two responses when you are attacked for your faith. You can shrink back or you can use it as an opportunity to witness for Jesus. Peter chose to witness.

Peter was filled with the Holy Spirit as Jesus promised. Jesus told the disciples to acknowledge him before men. That was a command. But the command came with a promise: when they bring you before the synagogues and the rulers and the authorities, do not be anxious about how you should defend yourself or what you should say, for the Holy Spirit will teach you in that very hour what you ought to say. (Luke 12:11-12)

In the power of the Spirit, Peter told them plainly, it is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth that the man was standing, that is, healed. It appears that the man may have come with Peter and John and was standing with them.

Peter did not leave it at this simple statement, however. he went on to preach the gospel. First, he told them they crucified Jesus and that God raised him from the dead. (10) He knew the Sadducees, who dominated the Sanhedrin, did not believe in resurrection, but he did not back off this important doctrine when preaching to them.

And Peter kept going. He told them how to be saved, referring to the Old Testament. He said Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you , the builders. He has become the cornerstone. A cornerstone is a stone placed to anchor a building. Peter was not talking generalities, however. He was referring to Old Testament scripture.

The first Scripture is Psalm 118. It may have originally been written to be sung on special occasions when a new building was dedicated. But it became part of the Passover liturgy. It was probably the last hymn sung by Jesus and the apostles before they departed for the garden of Gethsemane. Verse 22 says “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone”.

Builders would carefully examine a stone to make sure it was sound and capable of bearing the load of a cornerstone. In this instance, the builders wrongfully rejected the stone. The Psalmist meant the powers of the world rejected Israel, but God used it to build his house.

The second Scripture is Isaiah 28:16. There God condemned the rulers of Israel for rejecting him and lying to the people. God said he is the one who laid the foundation and it is sure. He was pointing forward to the coming of Jesus to bring salvation as God determined.

Peter pointedly declared Jesus as the cornerstone laid by the Father, but rejected the Sanhedrin, who were the misguided builders. Jesus had already applied this Scripture to himself at the conclusion to the parable of the vineyard. (Mark 12:10-11) It was a condemnation of the leaders and a declaration of Jesus as the Christ, the Savior.

Peter summarized by declaring that salvation is only in Jesus and that no one else can provide salvation. (12) The claims of Christ are exclusive. People do not always like that. They do not like it today. But Jesus himself said no one comes to the Father other than through him. (John 14:6)

Who Are These People?
4:13-14

The members of the Sanhedrin were stunned by Peter and John. First, they were bold. Second, they were making good application of Scripture. Yet, they were uneducated, common men. They were not scholars, priests or scribes. They were, however, known as Jesus’ disciples. Jesus also had also been uneducated, but knew and taught the Scriptures with authority. It had to be disturbing to the Sanhedrin that Jesus’ followers had developed his same skill and knowledge.  And the indisputable fact was, the formerly crippled man was standing beside them, healed. So, the council had nothing to say to refute them.

Since the Sadducees did not believe in resurrection, much less in the resurrection of Jesus, they had to have been disturbed by Peter’s claims that God raised Jesus from the dead. Peter claimed to be a witness to this. Yet, the Sadducees could raise no arguments against him, for the body of Jesus, though buried, was missing from the tomb and had not been found.

What Do We Do?
4:15-17

The rulers acknowledged that the healing was a “notable sign” and they could not deny it. (15) Yet, they never considered believing in Jesus. They were only concerned with the message of salvation spreading. So, they resolved to order Peter and John not to speak any more in Jesus’ name.

Peter and John Refuse
4:18-22

The Sanhedrin ordered Peter and John not to teach in Jesus’ name. They refused. They had to listen to God. They said they had to speak of what they had seen and heard. In other words, they were witnesses and they had to tell their story.

The Sanhedrin was rendered powerless. They were afraid to punish Peter and John, because the people were praising God for the miracle of healing the crippled man. He had evidently been crippled for 40 years and was now healed.

Praying for Boldness
4:23-31

An amazing thing happened when Peter and John reported to the church what had happened. The people prayed. But they did not pray for protection, they prayed for boldness.

First, they acknowledged God’s power and sovereignty. They addressed him as “Sovereign Lord”.

They acknowledged him as Creator. Because the creator is master over his creation.

This again shows us that the Bible consistently refers to God as the creator of heaven and earth. It is not just in Genesis. To deny this is to deny Scripture.

They addressed God as Sovereign because they believed he was in control of all that happened and they were good with that. They quoted Psalm 2 about the Gentiles raging against the Lord’s anointed.  Although they did not quote it, they knew that Psalm continued to say that God laughs at the opposition of his human enemies, because they cannot defeat his plan.

They applied this to their situation. They acknowledged that Jesus was opposed by Herod, Pilate, the Gentiles and the Jews. (27) But God the Father anointed Jesus to accomplish what the Father planned and predestined to take place. “Predestine” means to determine in advance what will happen. The church took comfort in the fact that God predestined Jesus to bring salvation and build the church as its cornerstone. They knew God could not be stopped. Pilate and Herod had their parts to play within the plan of God.

They did not pray for protection from the threats, but for boldness in the face of such threats, as the apostles continued to heal and perform other signs in the name of Jesus. God’s response was to shake the building with the presence of the Holy Spirit as he had shaken the temple with the presence of Christ when Isaiah prayed. (Isaiah 6)

Sharing
4:32-37

There was unity among the believers, now about 10,000 in number. They shared their possessions, even selling property to share the proceeds. One example was Barnabas. He was of the tribe of Levi, but came from the island of Cyprus. He sold a field he owned and brought the money to the apostles to distribute.

We learn from this chapter that the apostles were bold witnesses for Jesus, that the resurrection was a vital part of their testimony, that the church members shared with each other, and that they believed God would provide and prevail.

May all of these things be true of us as well.


Saturday, April 28, 2018

Obedience

What God wants from his people is obedience, no matter what the circumstances, no matter how unknown the outcome. Charles Colson, Loving God, p. 36

If you love me, keep my commandments. Jesus.

Monday, April 16, 2018

God's Divine Plan for Muslim Immigrants

An interesting article from Christianity Today: http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2018/april-web-only/gods-divine-plan-for-muslim-immigrants.html.