Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Happiness

All men seek happiness. This is 
without exception. . . . This is the motive of every action of every men. . . . the infinite
abyss can only be filled with by an infinite and immutable object, that is to say, only God
Himself. Blaise Pascal, Pascal’s Pensees, trans. W. F. Trotter (NY: E. P. Dutton, 1958), 113.

Sunday, June 17, 2018

THE LORD RESCUES PETER - ACTS 12:6-25




The Lord Rescued Peter
12:6-11

Luke cast the imprisonment and escape of Peter as a spiritual battle. When Peter was arrested, the church offered earnest prayers for him. (5) They understood that the soldiers were human, but the ultimate enemy was Satan.

Ephesians 6:11-12 says:

“Put on the whole armor of God, that may may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.”

The enemies of the Lord locked Peter up tight. He was bound to two soldiers with two chains, locked in a cell, with sentries at the door. (6) Yet, the Lord rescued him.



The agent of Peter’s escape was an angel. He appeared and woke up Peter, unlocking the chains. He led Peter out past the soldiers and sentries, who did not react. Peter himself thought what happened was not real, but a vision. The Lord opened the iron gate into the city. Once in the city, the angel left Peter. Then Peter realized what had happened, that the Lord had rescued him from prison and execution (what the Jewish people were expecting). (11)

Charles Wesley alluded to this event in his hymn “And Can It Be”. He wrote:
“I woke; the dungeon flamed with light.
My chains fell off, my heart was free.
I rose, went forth, and followed thee”.

James died for his faith in the Lord, but Peter was rescued. Hebrews 11 tells us some by faith escaped the edge of the sword and some were killed by the sword. The Sovereign Lord decides how he will use each of his faithful servants to advance the kingdom. Peter, later, will also be killed for his faith. Whether we live or die, we should do it for the glory of the Lord. Job, who suffered greatly for the Lord, said “Though he slay me, I will hope in him.” (Job 13:15)


Peter Returned to the Church
12:12-19

Peter went to the house where many of the church members gathered to pray for him. (12) This house was owned by a woman named Mary, the mother of John Mark. (His Jewish name was John, his Roman name was Mark) When he knocked, a servant girl recognized Peter’s voice and ran in to tell everybody, leaving Peter at the gate in her joy and excitement. (14)

Oddly, the people did not believe her. In fact, they said she was out of her mind. They were praying for Peter’s release, yet did not believe he had been released.

If you are going to pray for something, you should believe it when God answers the prayer. We are more likely to think we did it ourselves and not give God credit for it. Here, they seemed to just not believe God could release Peter so quickly. When they finally saw Peter, they were amazed. (16)

Peter told them the story and told them to tell the story to James and the other believers (brothers). This is James the brother of Jesus. James the brother of John had been executed by Herod. Peter wanted them to know he was out of jail and unharmed, but he left for another place, presumably so the guards could not find him. James would later write “the prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working” or, “the effective prayer of a righteous person has great power”. (James 5:16) He certainly saw this in the rescue of Peter.

We also see here that James has become the leader of the church in Jerusalem.
Acts 15 will bear this out. The leadership of the Jerusalem church has passed from the apostles to the elders, led by James.

Herod was understandably upset since he wanted to use Peter’s death to get favor with the Jews. He had the guards killed, then left for his palace in Caesarea to avoid the anger of the Jews.  

The Death of Herod
12:20-25

Luke closed his story with an account of the death of Herod. Herod gave a speech to the people of Tyre and Sidon when they asked for peace. To flatter him, they said his voice was the voice of a god. (22) Herod received their accolades. The Lord struck him down because he did not give God the glory. Peter, in contrast, had not let Cornelius worship him. So, God vindicated his martyred saints by judging their killer.

The church continued to multiply. Barnabas and Saul, having delivered the offering, left Jerusalem and returned to Antioch. They brought John Mark with them.  Mark was the cousin of Barnabas. (Colossians 4:10)

From this point on, Luke will focus on the ministry of Saul.


Tuesday, June 12, 2018

If Christ provides only a part of our salvation, leaving us to provide the rest, then we are still hopeless under the load of sin. For no matter how small the gap which must be bridged before salvation can be attained, the awakened conscience sees clearly that our wretched attempt at goodness is insufficient even to bridge that gap. The guilty soul enters again into the hopeless reckoning with God, to determine whether we have really done our part.

—J. Gresham Machen, Christianity and Liberalism, New Edition. (Grand Rapids; Cambridge, U.K.: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2009), 21.

Sunday, June 10, 2018

JERUSALEM & ANTIOCH - ACTS 11:1-12:5

Peter Reports to the Church
11:1-18

This passage is the conclusion to the story of Cornelius and Peter. Word spread among the believers in Judea that Gentiles had received the gospel and were saved. That is what Luke meant by “received the word of God”. (1)

Not everyone was happy about this, however. When Peter returned to Jerusalem, some criticized him for going in to a Gentile’s house and eating with Gentiles. (3) Luke calls them the “circumcision party”. These were Jewish believers who were still zealous for the law and Jewish customs, who did not believe Jews should interact with Gentiles.

In defense, Peter told them the story of his vision while in Joppa. He told how he had seen the vision of clean and unclean animals and was told to kill and eat, but refused because he would not eat anything unclean. But the Lord told him not to call unclean what the Lord had made clean. He also said that the Spirit told him to go with the servants of Cornelius. (11) Peter was making clear that he followed the command of the Lord to go and to visit with these Gentiles.

Peter went on to say he took six brothers with him and they went to see Cornelius, who had been visited by an angel. He had witnesses to his story. Peter said the angel told Cornelius that Peter would declare the message by which he and his household would be saved. (14) “Household” would mean his family, servants, and any others under his authority.

The salvation of the Gentiles was verified by the coming of the Holy Spirit upon them. Peter said “God gave the same gift to them as he gave to us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ”, meaning the Holy Spirit. (17) Peter remember Jesus saying they would be baptized with the Holy Spirit. He, therefore, could not stand in God’s way to prevent them from being baptized as full members of the church.

Peter’s story silenced his critics. (18) The believers glorified God for granting repentance to the Gentiles so they could be saved.

God’s timing here is impeccable. He showed the apostles that the evangelization of the Gentiles was his will in this small demonstration. He thus prepared them for seeing it happen on a large scale in Antioch.

The Gentile Church in Antioch
1:19-30

The persecution in Jerusalem that arose over Stephen continued to produce evangelism as believers fled to other countries. Some traveled to Phoenicia, which is modern Lebanon. Some traveled to the island of Cyprus. There was a large Jewish colony there. Some went to Antioch, in what is now Syria, about 300 miles from Jerusalem. It was a large city of about 500,000 people, about 70,000 of which were Jews. Many of these Jewish believers shared the gospel with the Jews they encountered in their new countries.

There were some, however, that preached to Gentiles. These preachers were Jewish believers from Cyprus and Cyrene. Cyrene was a prominent Greek and Roman city in what is now Libya. You might remember that a man named Simon from Cyrene was conscripted to carry the cross when Jesus was unable to.

Possibly because believers from these two places were accustomed to dealing with Greeks, they began to preach to them in Antioch.[The English Standard Version says they preached to “Hellenists”. It posts a footnote to explain that these are non-Jewish Greeks. The New International Version says “Greeks” which is clearer, since the term “Hellenists” was previously used to refer to Jews born in countries outside of Judea.]  Many of them believed and were saved. (21)

When the news of this came to the church in Jerusalem, they sent Barnabas to Antioch to check it out. This shows the high regard for Barnabas in the church.  Luke wrote that Barnabas was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith. (24) Also, Barnabas was from Cyprus and would have some connection to those evangelists who were also from Cyprus.

Barnabas liked what saw in Antioch. He exhorted them to remain faithful. (23) But, since many were coming into the church in Antioch, Barnabas realized they needed to be taught. That is part of the Great Commission given by Jesus, to teach all that he commanded. (Matthew 28:20) Barnabas remembered Saul, his great knowledge of the Scripture, and his powerful preaching. So, he went to find him in Tarsus.

Barnabas found Saul in Tarsus and convinced to him to come to Antioch with him. (26) The two of them spent a whole year meeting with the church and teaching. (26)

Luke added a note that it was in Antioch that the disciples were first called Christians. The Greek word (Christianoi) means partisans of Christ. They were known as those who were always talking about Christ. They were the Christ People, or Christians.

One mark of a Christian is generosity. The church in Antioch manifested this trait. When they heard, as a matter of prophecy, that a famine was about to occur, they took up an offering and sent it to Christians living in Judea. Barnabas and Saul took the gift and delivered it to the church elders in Judea. (30)

With this account, Luke shifted his narrative back to Jerusalem.

Acts 12:1-4
James Killed & Peter Arrested

The King Herod of this chapter is Herod Agrippa, grandson of Herod the Great. He grew up in Rome and had friends in the imperial family. When Gaius became emperor, he gave Agrippa territory in the south of Syria and the title “king”. Then he gave him Galilee and Peraea. When Claudius became emperor, he gave Agrippa Judaea. Agrippa ended up with all of the territory ruled by his grandfather, Herod the Great, and a little more.

Agrippa was popular with the Jews because his mother was Jewish and a member of the Hasmonean family that had briefly ruled Israel. Agrippa worked to keep the favor of the Jews. To do so, he began to arrest members of the church, specifically the apostles. He killed an apostle, James the brother of John. He killed him with the sword, which may mean he was beheaded.

Jesus had foretold the death of James. He had told the disciples: “…you will be dragged before governors and kings for my sake, to bear witness before them and the Gentiles”. (Matthew 10:17) Jesus told James and John: “The cup that I drink you will drink”. (Mark 10:39) James was the first of the apostles to be martyred.

When Herod saw that the death of James pleased the Jews, he had Peter arrested also. His intent was to execute hm as well. Herod placed in in prison under heavy guard until the Passover was finished, so that he could bring him out and publicly execute him. It would have been similar to Pilate’s execution of Jesus.

But, the church prayed earnestly for Peter’s release. (5)

So, the church in one place suffered persecution. The church in another place grew unhindered.
God worked in both places to accomplish his will, the spread of the gospel over the earth.


Thursday, June 07, 2018

CHAPTER 10 - THE GOSPEL GOES TO THE GENTILES


When the Lord decided it was time to send the gospel to the Gentiles, he prepared the way. First, he prepared the Gentile, a Roman centurion in Caesarea who was a God fearer, a man who believed in God and observed Jewish rituals, but had not been circumcised. Then he prepared the evangelist, Peter, the leader of the apostles. He prepared both of them through visions.

Cornelius’ Vision
10:1-8

Cornelius, though a Roman soldier, was a Godly man. He prayed continually and gave generously. During one of these prayer times (the ninth hour), an angel appeared to him. Notice that Cornelius, though a soldier and leader, was terrified. The angel must have been glorious. The angel told him his prayers and alms had been received by God as an offering. Therefore, he was to send men to Joppa to find Simon Peter and bring him to Caesarea. The implication is that, because of his devotion, God had chosen Cornelius to receive the gospel.

Peter’s Vision
10:9-16

Right before Cornelius’ men reached the house where Peter was staying, the Lord brought a vision to Peter. Peter saw a sheet filled with animals, both clean and unclean. He was told to kill and eat. Peter, being an observant Jew, refused. Then the voice said that Peter may not call common (unclean) anything God has made clean. This vision appeared three times, evidently to make sure Peter got the message.

The Invitation
10:17-34

The men arrived then and asked for Peter. Peter was up on the roof thinking about the vision. The Holy Spirit told him to go with the men because he, the Spirit, had sent the men. When Peter went down to meet them, they told him they were from Cornelius, the Centurion, and an angel had told Cornelius to send for Peter and to hear his message.

So, Peter went. Cornelius was ready for him. He had invited his relatives and close friends to be there.

When Peter arrived, Cornelius assumed he was some sort of divinity, since an angel had appeared to him earlier. He fell at Peter’s feet to worship him. This shows that, although Cornelius was a well paid leader of men, he was not prideful. Peter, of course, lifted Cornelius up and told him he, Peter, was a man, meaning he should not be worshipped.

Peter also saw there was a crowed gathered in the house to hear him. They were likely all Gentiles. This is a crisis moment for Peter, for a devout Jew would not go into the house of a Gentile. It would make him unclean.

But Peter has come to understand God’s message. He told the crowd this and asked why Cornelius had sent for him. (29) Cornelius told Peter the story of the angel appearing and telling him to send for Peter. So, Cornelius did, and he expected a message from God. He said “we are all here in the presence of god to hear all that you have been commanded by the Lord”. (33) This indicates the crowd gathered were all God-fearers, and that they understood that God had prepared the way for them to hear a message from God’s representative, Peter the apostle.

Peter Preached the Gospel
10:34-43

Peter began by repeating his understanding that God shows no partiality, he accepts anyone from any nation who fears him and does what is right. (34) This also tells the crowd that they may receive the message brought to them by this Jew.

Peter told them about the life of Jesus, his death and resurrection. He said he and others were witnesses to the resurrection and were commanded to testify that Jesus is the Messiah, judge and savior. He ended by saying everyone who believes in Jesus receives forgiveness of sins. (43)


The Holy Spirit Comes to the Gentiles
10:44-48

The people in the crowd believed the message and the Holy Spirit fell on them. They gave the same evidence that previous believers had: they praised God in other languages.

The Jewish believers with Peter were amazed that the Gentiles could receive the Holy Spirit. They still thought the gospel was only for the Jews. But Peter commanded that they all be baptized.

And the people wanted to hear more. They asked Peter to stay with them for some time.

And so, the gospel came to the Gentiles.


Sunday, June 03, 2018

PETER THE PASTOR - ACTS 9:32-43





We last saw Peter in Jerusalem, having returned from Samaria where he and John went to follow up on the ministry of Philip. (8:25) Returning to his story in verse 32, we see him traveling around Judea visiting the churches. These churches were likely started by those who fled the persecution in Jerusalem that led to the execution of Stephen. Because of the current peace, and respite from persecution, Peter was able to travel through the region, ministering to the churches. 



On one trip, he went to Lydda, which is the Greek name for the city of Lod. It was on the road between Jerusalem and the coastal city of Joppa. There in Lydda, Peter met a man named Aeneas who had been paralyzed for 8 years. (33) He was probably a member of the group of believers in that city. Peter healed him in the name of Jesus Christ and told him to rise and make his bed. (34) The story is reminiscent of Jesus healing a paralytic in Capernaum and tell him him to take up his bed and go home. (Mark 2:9) Maybe Peter remembered the event and patterned his healing after that of Jesus. The residents of the city saw the man healed and believed in Jesus.

While in Lydda, two men from Joppa came to get Peter and bring him to Joppa, on the Mediterranean coast. The men brought him to a house where the body of a woman was laid. She was a respected woman of the church. Her name in Aramaic was Tabitha, meaning “gazelle”. In Greek, her name was Dorcas. She was know for her works of charity to widows and other friends. In fact, widows were standing around the body weeping. When Peter came in they showed him the tunics and other garments she had made for them.

Peter ushered the mourners from the room, knelt and prayed, then commanded her to rise. She opened her eyes and got up. Again, this story is reminiscent of one from the ministry of Jesus. (Mark 5:41). When Jesus went to Jairus’s daughter who had died, he said “Talitha Qum”, or Tabitha rise. Peter said “Tabitha qum” , or Tabitha rise. 

This event became known in the city and many came to faith in Christ. Peter stayed for a good while, living with a tanner. That is interesting because a tanner deals with the skins of dead animals and must at times become ceremonially unclean. 

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

The Good News

The message of the New Testament is first and foremost a declaration.  It is good news about God.  It is the story of what God has done in and through his Son Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior.  He has established his kingdom.  True, the full manifestation of the kingdom is yet to come.  We await the final consummation.  But the kingdom of God has been inaugurated.  The time has been fulfilled.  The dreams of ancient visionaries have come true.  God has kept his promise to Abraham.  Long centuries of Old Testament expectation have at last materialized.  The new age has dawned.  The new covenant has been ratified through the bloodshedding of Jesus.  Those who repent of their sins, renounce themselves and believe in Christ hear the covenant promise '... I will be their God, and they shall be my people ... for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more' (Jeremiah 31:33-4).

John Stott