Sunday, July 15, 2018


Acts 15
The Jerusalem Council

The success of the first missionary journey resulted in many Gentiles believing and coming into the church. In addition, God had brought many Gentiles into the church in Antioch. Word of this made its way to Jerusalem. The first great theological controversy arose from it.

The Theological Dispute

Men from the Jerusalem church, or at least from Judea, showed up in Antioch. They taught that the Gentiles had to be circumcised to be saved. They meant that the Gentile had to become circumcised and follow the Jewish law in order to be a Christian. They taught a faith plus works salvation.

Paul and Barnabas debated them. Given what we know Paul later wrote about the issue, we can assume the debate was intense. The Antioch church appointed a group, including Paul and Barnabas, to go to Jerusalem and put the matter before the apostles and elders there.

This shows us the apostles, as those who were taught by Jesus, are still the authority, but the elders have risen to a place of respect and authority also.

The Joyful News

Paul and Barnabas did not waste any time. Even on the way to Jerusalem to face this dispute, they stopped along the way, telling of the conversion of the Gentiles on their missionary trip. The news brought great joy to the “brothers”, or believers. Despite the existence of a few who brought the dispute, it appears that most were thrilled to hear of Gentiles coming to faith in Christ. This was true in Jerusalem also, as they were welcomed by the whole church, including the apostles and elders, as they told them of all God had done.

The Issue Stated

Despite all this good news and joyful reception, some were there to argue. These were believers who were Pharisees. The Pharisees were the Jewish party which taught strict adherence to the law. Their point was this: that the Gentiles must be circumcised and taught that they must keep the law of Moses.

In effect, the Pharisees claimed that the Gentile Christians must become observant Jews to be saved, in addition to believing in Jesus. Circumcision was the sign of belonging to the Old Covenant nation of Israel. Then they would be expected to obey all of the Old Testament ceremonial and dietary laws.

The Meeting of the Council

The apostles and elders considered the question. There was much debate. Peter then stood to speak. Somehow you would just expect him to be the apostle that spoke.

Peter pointed out that he was the apostle God chose to witness to the Gentiles. That gave him some extra weight in the discussion. Peter testified that God knew the heart of those Gentiles and gave them the Holy Spirit just as he had given the Jewish believers at Pentecost. Peter was speaking of his encounter with Cornelius and his household in Acts 10.

God knew the hearts of those Gentiles and so knew that they had come to faith in Christ. God confirmed their conversion by giving them the Holy Spirit. He emphasized that God cleansed their hearts through their faith just as he had done to the Jewish believers. If they were saved by faith, not works, why would they want to place the yoke of the law on the Gentiles, since the Jews historically had not even been able to bear it. (10)

At first glance, this last part seems practical rather than theological. But Peter was likely trying to say to the Pharisees that they were wrapping themselves in the law as though Israel had always faithfully kept it and needed no deliverance for it, when, in reality, they had constantly failed to keep it and had often been punished for it.

Peter’s words were effective enough to silence the debate. The church again listened to Paul and Barnabas tell of the signs and wonders God had done among the Gentiles. (12)

The conclusion of the Council was brought by James, the brother of Jesus. He is obviously an elder and, apparently, the leader of the Jerusalem church. We can see his authority by the fact that spoke last and gave his “judgment’ on the matter.

James gave his answer according to events and to Scripture. First, he said that Peter, using his Hebrew name of Simeon, had shown by the vision God gave him and by his experience with the Gentiles’ conversion, that God was taking a people for his name from among the Gentiles.
James’ use of “a people for his name” has Old Testament roots. The Jews considered themselves the people taken for God’s name”. God referred to them as the people called by his name in 2 Chronicles 7:14. But God always intended to add the Gentiles to that people called by his name. Israel, true Israel, is composed of believing Jews and believing Gentiles.

James quoted Amos 9:11-15 as proof, saying “the words of the prophets agree”. James was saying that God’s promise to rebuild and restore Israel is fulfilled in the coming of the Gentiles into the church through faith in Christ. They are the “remnant of mankind” who seek the Lord and are called by his name.

Notice that experience outside of Scripture did not win the day. It was experience in agreement with Scripture, even foretold by it.

James’ conclusion was that they would not trouble the Gentile believers by ordering them to obey the law. However, he also wisely thought they should instruct them to avoid behaviors that would offend the Jewish believers, for there were Jews in every city. They should not eat food offered to idols or from animals that were strangled, and should not eat blood. They should also avoid sexual immorality. The food related instructions were from the ceremonial law which was no longer in effect, but still observed by many Jewish believers. James was asking the Gentiles to respect that. The call to avoid sexual immorality was part of the moral law, which is eternal. The Gentiles, from Greek culture, would have likely had a greater tolerance for sexual immorality and needed the reminder.

The Letter
Acts 15:22-35

The church, led by the apostles and elders, wrote a letter about these things and sent it to Antioch with men from the Jerusalem church, including Judas Barsabbas and Silas. They are described as leading men, likely respected elders. They accompanied Paul and Barnabas back to Antioch to deliver the letter. The personal delivery was both a gesture of good will to the sister church and a guarantee that the letter was genuine. A further gesture of good will was the reference to “our beloved Barnabas and Paul”. (26)

The letter stated that the circumcision advocates had not been sent by the Jerusalem church, but had come on their own. (24) The letter gave the same instructions that James had advised.
The church in Antioch rejoiced at the encouragement of the letter. (31)

As an additional benefit, Judas and Silas, who were prophets, stayed a while and taught the church. (32) The church then sent them off “in peace”, showing the two churches were in harmony with each other. Barnabas and Paul stayed in Antioch. They continued to preach, along with many others. (35)

The first great heresy of the church was defeated by Scripture. The first attack on the fellowship of the believers was defeated by love of others, a love for Jesus, and a love for those who followed Jesus. The fellowship was not preserved by accommodating error or heresy, but in a love for the truth that held them together in opposition to error.

Sunday, July 08, 2018



Paul and Barnabas left Pisidian Antioch and went to Iconium. Iconic was about 90 miles southeast of Pisidian Antioch. It had been a Roman city since about 25 B.C.

Paul and Barnabas continued the pattern of their ministry at Iconium, in southern Galatia. They first went to the synagogue and preached. A large number of people believed, both Jew and Gentile. But, the unbelieving Jews stirred up opposition again.

The missionaries stayed a long time and spoke boldly despite the opposition. God gave them signs and wonders to perform to verify the truth of their message. Paul referred to this in his letter to the Galatians as miracles worked among them. (Galatians 3:5) But, as the opposition intensified, they became aware of a plot to stone them, so they left the city. They went to Lystra and Derbe and the countryside around those cities, preaching the gospel.


At Lystra, Paul interrupted his preaching to heal a lame man. The crowd got excited, but not to believe the gospel. Instead, they claimed Barnabas was Zeus and Paul was Hermes, Greek gods who had come down to them. A priest of Zeus even tried to offer animal sacrifices to them. (13) It took Paul and Barnabas a while to figure out what was going on because the people did not speak in Greek or Latin, but in the Lycaonian language. (11)

When they did understand, Paul and Barnabas were horrified. They showed this by tearing their garments. They told the crowd they were only men preaching the gospel to them, asking them to believe in the living God who created the earth. Notice that they could not preach to these people from the Old Testament prophecies of the Messiah, for these people were pagans with no knowledge of Jewish scripture. The missionaries managed to prevent the sacrifices, but barely. (18)

Also at Lystra, their Jewish enemies caught up with them. They stoned Paul and left him for dead. (Paul referred to this in 2 Corinthians 11:25.) But Paul got up and went back into the city. God must have miraculously healed him. The next day, he and Barnabas went on to Derbe and preached the gospel. Many believed and were saved.

The missionaries then retraced their steps to Lystra, Iconium and Antioch, teaching the disciples they had made, and warning them of persecution to come. This was a courageous action, given how they had been driven from those cities. They appointed elders to lead the congregations.

Return to Antioch

Continuing to retrace their steps, the missionaries left Pisidian Antioch and went to the province of Pamphylia, preaching in the city of Perga, where they had landed on the way from Cyprus. From there, they went down to Attalia, the main seaport of Pamphylia. From this port, the missionaries sailed back to Antioch and the church that commissioned them as missionaries.

The missionaries met with their church and reported all that God had done, especially in opening the door to evangelizing the Gentiles. They stayed there for a considerable time.

This trip was revolutionary. It was the first church supported mission. It brought the gospel to Asia for the first time. It also changed the ethnic balance of the church. There were now many more Gentile Christians than Jewish Christians. The news of this reached all the way to Jerusalem, setting up future conflicts and the famous council.

Sunday, July 01, 2018


At Antioch

The story of the first missionary journey begins in the church at Antioch (Northern Syria).

That is appropriate since it was a church founded by missionaries. Chapter 11 told us that Jewish Christians in Jerusalem fled persecution. Some came to Antioch, in northern Syria. At first they witnessed only to other Jews, but then they began to speak to the Greeks.

A church formed from these new believers. The apostles sent Barnabas to check on them. Barnabas went to Tarsus, found Saul, and brought him to Antioch to help teach. Chapter 13 picks up the story.

The Lord gave both prophets and teachers to the church in Antioch. Luke named 5: Barnabas, Simeon, Lucius, Manean, and Saul. They were a diverse group: Barnabas, a Jew from Cyprus, Simeon from Africa, Lucius, a Roman from northern Libya, Manaen, a friend and member of the court of Herod Antipas, who killed John the Baptist. “Manaen” is a Greek form of the Hebrew name “Menahem”. Lastly, Saul, a former Pharisee from Tarsus in Cilicia, in the southern part of what is now Turkey.

While the church was gathered to worship, the Holy Spirit told them to set Barnabas and Saul apart for work the Holy Spirit had called them to. Since Luke mentioned prophets in the church, that word may well have come from one of them. The church responded by fasting, praying, and laying hands on the men before sending them out.

So, Barnabas and Saul sailed for Cyprus. (4) They took John Mark with them. (5) Mark was Barnabas’ cousin. He may have been a witness to the death and resurrection of Jesus. As such, he could assist them by testifying to the truth of the story. The word for “assistant” is the same word used in Luke 1:2 for “ministers” of the word.

Barnabas was from Cyprus, so that may be how they decided to start there. Plus, Barnabas was not only a Jew, he was a Levite. (4:36) That would have given him some standing in the synagogues there.

They started at Salamis, the port city on the eastern shore of the island, and the closest point to Antioch. They worked their way across the island, preaching in the synagogues in each town, until they came to Paphos, the port city on the western end of the island. It was also the seat of the Roman government on the island.  (6)

Witnessing to the Proconsul

At Paphos, the missionaries encountered the Roman proconsul, Sergius Paulus, and Bar-Jesus, a Jewish false prophet and magician. Sergius summoned Barnabas and Saul to come and talk to him, to speak the word of God. (7)

But the magician, also called Elymas, opposed them and tried to keep Sergius from the faith. Paul called him “son of the devil”. From this, we can surmise that the magician’s power was demonic. But Saul stood up to him. He was filled with the power of the Holy Spirit and struck him blind.

Here we also see that, for the first time, Saul’s Roman name is mentioned. He was also called Paul. (9) Maybe it is mentioned here because they are in the Roman capital of the island and it is the same name as the proconsul. Both Paul and the proconsul would have spelled it Paullus in Latin.

Striking the man blind not only rendered him powerless, it was a powerful sign of the truth of the gospel. The miracle, plus the teaching, brought the proconsul to believe.

Witnessing in Pisidia

After this, Luke begins to place Paul in the primary position of the missionaries. He spoke of “Paul and his companions” sailing to Perga in Pamphylia. This is again in what is now southern Turkey. It had been part of the Hittite kingdom, but at the time of Paul’s visit, was a Greek city.

The only event Luke noted there was that John Mark left the mission there and returned to Jerusalem. We do not know why, but we find out later that Paul took it badly. Paul went inland to Antioch in Pisidia, crossing a mountain range. This was a Roman city at the time of Paul. It was in the province of Galatia. The ruins of the city are still visible today.

The missionaries went to the synagogue on the Sabbath. In addition to the Jews, there were “God fearers”, Gentiles who believed but were not circumcised. After the Scripture reading, the rulers of the synagogue invited the visitors to speak. So, Paul did. He gave them an Old Testament history lesson, much as Stephen did before his execution.

The Old testament lesson began with God choosing Israel, growing them in Egypt and leading them out to the wilderness and then to Canaan. (16-18) Notice it says God “put up with them”.

Then, the story moves to Canaan with God destroying the Canaanites and giving the land to Israel. (19) The seven nations are listed in Deuteronomy 7:1. Paul spoke of the judges that lasted until Samuel, then the first king, Saul. Last, Paul said God raised up David to be their king, a man after God’s heart. (22)

From there, Paul made the leap to Jesus, saying that God brought a Savior from David’s line as he promised, and this savior is Jesus. It was important to show Jesus’ descent from David, just as Peter had done in his sermons, because the Jews knew from scripture that the Messiah would come from David’s line. (Psalm 89:19-29) You can imagine the congregation sitting up and paying close attention at this point.

Paul spoke of John the Baptist proclaiming Jesus(24) and affirming that John was not the Messiah.

Then Paul bore down. He said God sent them a message of salvation. The Jews in Jerusalem did not recognize Jesus, or understand the scripture, and had him executed. (28)  But God raised him and he appeared to many witnesses. This is similar to Peter’s theme, except Peter could say he was such a witness.

Paul said God’s promise of salvation was fulfilled in the resurrection of Jesus. (32) He went to the Psalms. First, he quoted Psalm 2:7, where God declared Jesus to be his Son. He went on to say Psalm 16 was fulfilled in that Jesus, the Messiah, was not allowed to see corruption. Jesus was not left in the grave, but raised so that he could indeed fulfill the promise of an eternal king from the line of David.

The Application

Paul finished his sermon with a direct application to his audience. Forgiveness for sins was proclaimed, complete forgiveness for sins. He told them they could, through faith in Christ, be completely justified, something the law of Moses could not do.

Paul also gave them a warning. He appealed to the prophet Habakkuk, who warned of the rise of the rise of the Babylonians and the impending invasion. He meant, do not be like those who heard the words of the prophet, but did not believe them, and were destroyed. Applied to them, it meant, do not ignore my words and suffer eternal damnation. That word is for us today. You ignore the gospel at your peril.

The Response

After hearing Paul’s sermon, the people begged for more on the next Sabbath. They followed Paul and Barnabas around, and talked with them more. The word spread around town and, on the next Sabbath, almost the whole city came to hear Paul preach again.  

The Holy Spirit sent the missionaries, inspired the preaching, and brought people to hear and believe the gospel. He does the same today.

Wednesday, June 20, 2018


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 Rescued Peter

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

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

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


Peter Reports to the Church

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

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.