Jesus the Redeemer

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           As the chosen people of God we need to hold on to the truth that He who is in us is greater than he who is in the world. Because of that truth we can be confident that we will not be overtaken, we will not be overcome. We will be victorious. However as we learned a couple weeks ago in our study of Stephen victory in the kingdom of God looks different than victory in the world. In Stephens case victory was dying for his faith.

            After the death of Stephen the church was scattered yet confident and growing. Saul was hunting them down and trying to wipe them out but as we saw last week with Philip God was using this persecution to bring more souls to life. Besides bringing the dead to life the other miraculous work God does is involve us in the process. The same power that rose Jesus from the grave lives in us, and empowers us to proclaim the Gospel, and be the hands and feet of Christ. We will see examples of this in Ananaias laying hands on Saul, and being used to restore his sight and see him filled with the Holy Spirit. God gives us the power to love our enemies while they persecute us, forgive them and serve them. This is Jesus power, this was how he approached us! Like Saul before any believer comes to faith they are Christ’ enemy. Like Saul but God we would all continue to be His enemy, so the beauty here is that Christ didn’t come to save the kind of messed up, He came to save the dead, redeem His enemies, He claims victory by adopting those who are opposed to Him and making them His heirs and entrusts them, US, with the continuing of His mission to redeem others. Before we dig into today’s text lets take a minute to learn about Saul, the enemy of God.

Who was Saul?

            Saul was born in Tarsus Acts 22:3, he was a moderately wealthy tent maker, Roman citizen, and educated in Jerusalem Acts 22:3 (Holman) under the tutelage of Gamaliel, who was a renowned teacher of the law who was respected by all people. He was a devout Jew, this made up a huge part of who he was, phil 3 “circumcised the eight day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamen, Hebrew of Hebrews, as to the law, a Pharisee, as to zeal, persecuting the church, as to righteousness that is in the law, blameless.” (Phil 3:5-6)

         Saul was not only present at Stephen’s execution but was in a position of leadership at it. The people actively stoning Stephen laid their cloaks at Saul’s feet. They stoned Stephen because they were so enraged by his words in declaring Christ as the messiah and fulfillment of the Old Covenant, as well as indicting them for His unjust murder. The final straw was Stephens declaring a vision of Jesus in heaven at the right hand of Yahweh. In his lasts breathes Stephen prayed for those who were persecuting him, using the same words as his Lord, “Father forgive them they know not what they do.” After murdering Stephen Saul sought to cleanse the earth of the followers of Christ. Here are three things to remember about Saul:

1 he was religious 

2 he was ravaging 

3 he was relentless

            Of the three characteristics that described Saul before He encountered God the last continued to describe him afterwards. God cleansed him of his religiousness and rage but redeemed his relentlessness. When Saul began to persecute the church it was not enough to cleanse Jerusalem, he got permission to travel 150 miles to hunt down the followers of the way. He was willing to go to great lengths to complete the task he was devoted to. After God chose him and redeemed him Saul would go on to write 13 of the books of the New Testament, walk an average of 20 miles a day, and suffer greatly for the sake of spreading the Gospel. On one occasion Saul was stoned for preaching the Gospel, dragged out of the town of Lystra (Acts 14) and left for dead. When he regained his consciousness he went back in to town preaching the Gospel. Relentless barely does Saul justice. When I think of him I have a vision in my head of a pit-bull that just won’t let go. They literally had to kill him in order to get him to stop preaching the Gospel. Now that you know a little about Saul let’s dig in to Acts 9 and study the account of his redemption.

The Damascus Road

9Meanwhile, Saul was still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord. He went to the high priest and requested letters from him to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found any men or women who belonged to the Way, he might bring them as prisoners to Jerusalem. As he traveled and was nearing Damascus, a light from heaven suddenly flashed around him. Falling to the ground, he heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?” “Who are You, Lord?” he said. “I am Jesus, the One you are persecuting,” He replied. “But get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.” The men who were traveling with him stood speechless, hearing the sound but seeing no one. Then Saul got up from the ground, and though his eyes were open, he could see nothing. So they took him by the hand and led him into Damascus. He was unable to see for three days and did not eat or drink. Acts 9:1-9 HCSB

            So up until now Saul had been an enemy of God, ravaging the church like a wild animal, resolute in his mission, and sure of his task. The only thing that changed Saul was Christ’s taking hold of him while he was on his way to apprehend those who belonged to Christ. Paul states this late in his epistle to the Philippians 3:12, He says that he makes an effort to take hold of spiritual maturity because Christ has taken hold of him. Christ acted first, then Saul responded. Lets take a look at Paul’s retelling of this account elsewhere:

Acts 26  “King Agrippa, while on the road at midday, I saw a light from heaven brighter than the sun, shining around me and those traveling with me. 14 We all fell to the ground, and I heard a voice speaking to me in the Hebrew language, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads.’ b15 “Then I said, ‘Who are You, Lord?’ “And the Lord replied: ‘I am Jesus, the One you are persecuting. 16 But get up and stand on your feet. For I have appeared to you for this purpose, to appoint you as a servant and a witness of what you have seen and of what I will reveal to you. 17 I will rescue you from the people and from the Gentiles. I now send you to them 18 to open their eyes so they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that by faith in Me they may receive forgiveness of sins and a share among those who are sanctified.’ 19 “Therefore, King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision.” Acts 26:13-19 HCSB

Galatians “13 For you have heard about my former way of life in Judaism: I persecuted God’s church to an extreme degree and tried to destroy it. 14 I advanced in Judaism beyond many contemporaries among my people, because I was extremely zealous for the traditions of my ancestors. 15 But when God, who from my birth set me apart and called me by His grace, was pleased 16 to reveal His Son in me, so that I could preach Him among the Gentiles.” Galatians 1:13-16 HCSB

            My point, Saul’s point here is that his conversion was not the result of realizing he was a bad guy, but God moving and freeing him from the domain of darkness, the grasp of the devil. God also didn’t merely save him and say be free, He saved him and said I have a purpose for you. His purpose like all believers was to join God’s mission and preach the Gospel.

Six features typical of biblical conversions:

 1 conversion is a result of divine initiative.  Jesus approached Paul, while Paul was heading in opposition.

 2 There is a personal encounter with Christ (vv. 4–6). We all meet Jesus in different ways; but if we are converted, we have met him and entered into a personal relationship with him.

 3  he surrendered to Jesus’ Lordship, repented and sought God through prayer and fasting

 4  the importance of the body of Christ in the process, Ananias, and others

 5 conversion is individual not individualistic.  We all are saved in a personal unique way, but for the same purpose.  Not to be saved alone, but to join the mission.

 6 God does not promise an easy life, in fact He promises we will suffer for Him

            Now that we have studied his encounter with Christ lets move on to his baptism and see how God used others in his conversion.

Saul’s Baptism

10 There was a disciple in Damascus named Ananias. And the Lord said to him in a vision, “Ananias!” “Here I am, Lord!” he said. 11 “Get up and go to the street called Straight,” the Lord said to him, “to the house of Judas, and ask for a man from Tarsus named Saul, since he is praying there. 12 In a vision he has seen a man named Ananias coming in and placing his hands on him so he can regain his sight.” 13 “Lord,” Ananias answered, “I have heard from many people about this man, how much harm he has done to Your saints in Jerusalem. 14 And he has authority here from the chief priests to arrest all who call on Your name.” 15 But the Lord said to him, “Go! For this man is My chosen instrument to take My name to Gentiles kings, and the Israelites. 16 I will show him how much he must suffer for My name!” 17 So Ananias left and entered the house. Then he placed his hands on him and said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on the road you were traveling, has sent me so that you can regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” 18 At once something like scales fell from his eyes, and he regained his sight. Then he got up and was baptized. 19 And after taking some food, he regained his strength.” Acts 9:10-19 HCSB

            Here we see that God uses His people to help save others and bring them into the fellowship. God could have finished what he started with Saul, but he desired to use Ananias in the process. This brought Saul into relationship with other believers, and did a work in Ananias heart. Like Jonah being sent to Nineveh, God sent Ananias to Saul his enemy who was persecuting his fellow brethren, and a risk to himself. In saving people and redeeming them to right relationship with Himself, God also desires to redeem relationships between man. It seems in using Ananias in Saul’s conversion he also brought maturity to Ananias faith, showing him and us today how to love and serve those who persecute us, and welcome everyone God decides to save into His family.

            Through this text I also asked myself is there meaning to the fact he was referenced as ravaging the church, then when he received the Holy Spirit scales fell from his eyes?  He indeed was an enemy of God, like the snake. Jesus and John the Baptist called the pharisees vipers when rebuking them, and similar imagery was used to describe the Sanhedrin.  Lets take a look at some verses and explore the imagery used in the narrative.  

Matthew 12 33 “Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or make the tree bad and its fruit bad; for a tree is known by its fruit. 34 Brood of vipers! How can you speak good things when you are evil? For the mouth speaks from the overflo of the heart. Matthew 12:33-34 HCSB Jesus calls the Pharisees a brood of vipers

Matthew 23:33 33 Snakes! Brood of vipers! How can you escape being condemned to hell? e 34 This is why I am sending you prophets, sages, and scribes. Some of them you will kill and crucify, and some of them you will flog in your synagogues and hound from town to town. 35 So all the righteous blood shed on the earth will be charged to you, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah, son of Berechiah, whom you murdered between the sanctuary and the altar. 36 I assure you: All these things will come on this generation! Matthew 23:33-36 HCSB Jesus again uses the terminology of snakes and vipers to describe those who oppose Him. He also here foretells the work of Saul.

Luke 3:7 “He then said to the crowds who came out to be baptized by him, “Brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Therefore produce fruit consistent with repentance”. Luke 3:7-8 HCSB John the Baptist calls unbelievers a brood of vipers, and warns them not just to be baptized but to truly believe, to bear fruit.

Acts 7:54 “54 When they heard these things, they were enraged in their hearts and gnashed their teeth at him.” Acts 7:54 HCSB When Stephen called the priest and Pharisees of the Sanhedrin stiff necked unbelievers the text says they gnashed their teeth at him.

In Acts 8:3 “Saul, however, was ravaging the church. He would enter house after house, drag off men and women, and put them in prison.” Acts 8:3 HCSB The language used of Saul was that he was ravaging the church, this language was describing it in animal savagery.

            This all evokes the imagery of the snake in the garden. In Genesis 3:15 when God curses the snake he said the seed of the snake would be an adversary of the seed of the woman. The seed of the snake as we see in the New Testament are any who oppose God. The devil used men to attack Jesus, and Jesus declared them as belonging to the snake. The devil attacks by using God’s image bearers against Him, and God does likewise. He crushes the head of the serpent by redeeming the lost, by adopting His enemies as His children then giving them purpose in saving others from death. While the Devil is already judged, no man is beyond redemption. Saul was an enemy of God, BUT God changed him. At the moment Saul receives the Holy Spirit the text says something like scales fell from his eyes. God changed Saul’s identity, and his worldview. In receiving the Spirit he finally understood the scriptures he knew and as we will see next in the text he was empowered to take that knowledge with the insight the Spirit provided to proclaim Jesus as the Messiah.

Saul Proclaiming the Messiah

Saul was with the disciples in Damascus for some days. 20 Immediately he began proclaiming Jesus in the synagogues: “He is the Son of God.” 21 But all who heard him were astounded and said, “Isn’t this the man who, in Jerusalem, was destroying those who called on this name and then came here for the purpose of taking them as prisoners to the chief priests?” 22 But Saul grew more capable and kept confounding the Jews who lived in Damascus by proving that this One is the Messiah. 23 After many days had passed, the Jews conspired to kill him, 24 but their plot became known to Saul. So they were watching the gates day and night intending to kill him, 25 but his disciples took him by night and lowered him in a large basket through an opening in the wall.” Acts 9:19-25 HCSB

Here we see the importance of fellowship. Saul was included in the family, and had opportunity to teach. While learning and growing in his faith, he was surrounded by community, and they watched out for him and kept him safe. This is the function of the church. We are to surround fellow believers and walk with them to spiritual maturity, giving them opportunities to proclaim their faith, and keeping them safe from harm.  

Saul in Jerusalem

26 When he arrived in Jerusalem, he tried to associate with the disciples, but they were all afraid of him, since they did not believe he was a disciple. 27 Barnabas, however, took him and brought him to the apostles and explained to them how Saul had seen the Lord on the road and that He had talked to him, and how in Damascus he had spoken boldly in the name of Jesus. 28 Saul was coming and going with them in Jerusalem, speaking boldly in the name of the Lord. 29 He conversed and debated with the Hellenistic Jews, but they attempted to kill him. 30 When the brothers found out, they took him down to Caesarea and sent him off to Tarsus.31 So the church throughout all Judea, Galilee, and Samaria had peace, being built up and walking in the fear of the Lord and in the encouragement of the Holy Spirit, and it increased in numbers. Acts 9:26-31 HCSB

Again here we see God use one man to love on a new convert and bring him into the fellowship. These people had seen Saul take part in Stephen’s murder, and ravage their church, their family, yet God used Barnabas to welcome Saul and include him in the family. Saul again was given opportunities to grow, then his new family again kept him safe and God used the threat of violence to grow His church by sending Saul off.

Application

            In the text we saw that Saul was relentless, which is a good quality but for the wrong reason. God used this trait after he redeemed Saul.   What are you relentless for? What would you persist even through great persecution or simply hardship for? Maybe athletics? Do you endure hard workouts to achieve a certain goal, or work long hours to make a salary, or even spend great amounts of money and time on a hobby just to enjoy it? What would it look like if you were relentless about your faith, your relationship with God? Could you endure 10 minutes a day reading your bible, or praying? Could you risk having conversations with your unbelieving friends or coworkers? I challenge you to make one new commitment this week to be relentless for God.

            Another takeaway for me in this text was that we can’t make assumptions about the state of a persons heart. Saul was extremely knowledgeable of scripture, and maintained a seemingly moral life beyond reproach. We must continue to be Gospel focused not just outside the church but among professing Christians. There are many who profess to know God but do not yet have a personal relationship with Him. We must continually gospel each other and speak into each other’s lives out of love.           

             We also saw today that God used His people to invite others into the family. Not merely welcoming new Christians but redeeming enemies. The very act of Saul coming to faith was an answer to Stephens final prayer as he was being murdered. Stephen while being persecuted was praying for those who were doing him harm, and later Saul received that forgiveness and relationship with Christ. I believe God wants that same heart change for us as well. We need to be praying not just for the lost generally but for those we personally struggle with. We often pray for this situation in a prayer of deliverance for ourselves, but as we see in scripture led by the Holy Spirit Stephen prayed for deliverance for his oppressors. Then Ananias and Barnabas did the work of accepting one of those oppressors as a brother. So lets think of one person this week that we can pray for, and love on, and lets pray for God to empower us to love them, for us to desire their hearts to be changed, and for opportunities to serve them.  

            Finally also consider your relationship with Christ. Do you know him on a personal level, or like Saul do you just have head knowledge of scripture and are religious? Maybe this is your first time hearing of God’s redemptive work on your behalf. Know that you are an image bearer of God, part of His creation. Because of the presence of sin, which comes from our inheritance through Adam we all are naturally born sinful and are unable to live a perfect life, we are all broken and opposed to God. But God showed His love for us in sending Jesus, the God man to live a perfect life then die in our place on the cross. Then God rose Him from the dead, and by this act Jesus paid the debt of our sin which redeems us to God by faith in Jesus and His work. There is not a work you can do, prayer you can pray to save yourself, just a mighty God who did the work for you. If you are feeling God convict you of your sin respond by agreeing with him about your state of brokenness and need for Him to save you. This conviction and repentance is the work of the Holy Spirit in your life which will then produce fruit of faith and growth in spiritual maturity. After agreeing with God about this and receiving His grace respond by making a public profession of your faith by being baptized.



Redemption

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               In this message I have the privilege of talking about that which I am passionate about, the Gospel. Specifically I will be covering redemption. Before I explain Redemption I want to first do a recap of Creation and the Fall so we have an understanding of that which God redeems us to.  
Creation             The beginning of the Gospel story starts in Genesis.  God is the creator and sovereign Lord of all His creation.  Our identity as humans starts in Genesis 1:26-27.  God made us in His image, meaning we would reflect God’s glory and know, love, and live with him.  Being made in God’s image speaks to our dignity as an image bearer of God, our being relational, and moral-rational beings.  From the beginning he made us both male and female in his image.  Genesis 2:18 also gives insight, in speaking of all of his creation thus far God had said it is good, however after creating man for the first time in his creative process God said it is not good; because man was alone. As God himself is relational in the trinity being Father, Son, and Holy Spirit all three in one, in his image we are made for community with other image bearers. So he created woman from man and they were one in intimate perfect relationship, and then His creation was complete and perfect. Then sin happened.

Fall

            In the beginning man lived in perfect harmony with God and his creation and the only thing forbidden was eating from the tree of knowledge of good and evil.  Satan’s first attack was to cause doubt about God’s goodness and truthfulness and to cast disobedience toward God in a good light (Gen 3:1-5). Adam was our representative in the garden, so all of mankind received the inheritance of a depraved sin nature as a result of his fall to sin (Romans 5:12). The result of breaking this law was separation from God(death both physical and spiritual, death between relationships, and death in God’s creation), also shame, and the curses that came with that separation(Gen 3:16-22). However from the moment sin entered the picture God had a plan to rescue his people from their own brokenness.  In Gen 3:15 He revealed his plan; He would send a savior, the offspring of the woman, who would crush the head of the serpent.  God’s plan was Jesus and continuing from this point is the story of God’s redemptive plan to send the God-man, the second Adam to represent man and pay the price for our sin so we may be redeemed (1 Corinthians 15:21).

Our state in Sin

“We tend to think of sin as an infraction of rules. But the story of the Prodigal Son makes it clear that our sin is not just an infraction of a set of laws but a terrible offense against God, our loving Father. By taking the good gifts we’ve been given -our time, money, and talents – and running away to live life our own way, we are acting like the prodigal who turns his back on his father, sells the ancestral lands, and then squanders his inheritance. It is tantamount to wishing God were dead.” -Spangler & Tverberg

Now that we know the context lets take a broad glance at Redemption.

Doctrine of Redemption

            Jesus was the offspring spoken of in Gen 3:15; born of the virgin Mary, from birth was wholly man and wholly God. He lived a perfect life, was crucified died and was buried, then rose again conquering sin and death. He then ascended into heaven and sent his spirit to testify and empower believers for ministry.  Redemption is a one time event where God softens the heart of a sinner and they agree with God about their sin, who Jesus is, and their need for him, then they are called Sons of God, and cannot loose this free gift of salvation (Romans 3:23-24, 5:8, 6:23, 10:9-10). Christ’s death on the cross absorbed all the consequences of our sin, bridging the gap between us and God, which we could never do by our own actions, and started his reign over his new creation defeating sin once and for all, fulfilling God’s redemptive plan.

            So that’s the 30,000 foot view if you will. Now that you know where we have come in the Gospel story thus far, and I have given you the broad view of Redemption, lets dig in and unpack it further. Graeme Goldsworthy said: “Redemption is in the event by which God reconstructs an acceptable human history while judging the unacceptable. The doctrine of justification by faith involves the substitution of God’s righteous history in Christ for our fallen and condemned histories of rebellion.” -Graeme Goldsworthy. So in explaining redemption it’s important to understand justification, as this is the means for which Christ redeems sinners to a Holy God. For an explanation of justification I thought it would be fitting to dig into the text of Galatians since that is where we have been studying this fall. Today I will be teaching from Galatians 2:16-20.

                   “16 know that no one is justified by the works of the law but by faith in Jesus Christ. And we have believed in Christ Jesus so that we might be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law, because by the works of the law no human being will be justified. 17 But if we ourselves are also found to be “sinners” while seeking to be justified by Christ, is Christ then a promoter t of sin? Absolutely not! 18 If I rebuild the system I tore down, I show myself to be a lawbreaker. 19 For through the law I have died to the law, so that I might live for God. I have been crucified with Christ 20 and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me. 21 I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness comes through the law, then Christ died for nothing.” Galatians 2:16-20 HCSB

            The passage of Galatians 2:15-21 is the most important and foundational passage in all of Galatians, and in Christian doctrine as a whole. In the context of Galatians Paul was addressing both how Jewish Christians should live out their faith going forward and how new gentile converts should live out their faith. McKnight explained the dilemma well in his commentary on Galatians “Were they, in turning to Christ, abandoning their Jewish heritage, fulfilling it, or simply adding to it? Peter’s struggle was similar to that of other Jews: Are we Jews? Jewish Christians? or Christians? Are we reformers of Judaism or are we starting the church?” (McKnight) Before approaching how gentiles could live out their faith first through studying justification they had to answer the question of what is our doctrine and what is our right practice.

            The thesis of this passage lays in verse sixteen in that justification is through faith alone in Christ alone, or to put it simpler Jesus plus nothing is everything. In studying the text I broke this passage into two parts; in the first(gal. 2:15-16) asking and answering the question how is one justified, and in the second part(gal. 17-21) focusing on how one who is justified lives that declaration out.

            In answering the question of justification Paul first appealed to all Jewish Christians common conversion experience. “These Jewish Christians had been born with all the rights and privileges of Judaism. But even at that, they recognized that such a status did not automatically equate to righteousness before God. Paul articulates that which he considers to be a given in the discussion when he states that these Jews “know” (eidotes, GK 3857, “we know”) that a person cannot be justified by observing the law.” (Rapa) He then places a “but” in the text to also show that not only did they know how they were not justified; they know how they are, “by faith in Jesus Christ.”

          In the discussion of justification I would like to explain what is meant. Justification here is not to be confused with sanctification. Paul use of the “word dikaioun does not suggest the infusion of moral qualities, a justum efficere in the sense of the creation of right conduct,”(Fung) rather Paul was referring to the legal position of one after being redeemed by Christ. “In the courtroom people may be declared “guilty” or “acquitted.” Theologically considered, we can never be “acquitted” because the Judge’s decision is not that we are “not guilty.” Rather, the Judge pronounces us “guilty but nonetheless forgiven” because Christ has assumed our penalty. The verdict then is “guilty” but the penalty is eliminated because Christ bore it on our behalf.”(McKnight) Justification is the position to God not the qualitative nature of ones character, that will be dealt with later in verse 20.  

          The position of legal justification is one that is received through faith in the redemptive work of Jesus by the work of the Holy Spirit. “To have faith in Jesus Christ is to express, as an element of one’s faith, a confidence in his faithfulness to God and in God’s redemptive purposes.” (Rapa) Thus it is by this faith in Jesus and not in works that one receives right position to God.

            Since all men are declared justified through faith and not by works the next question is how does one live out their faith. As Paul confirmed Peter himself had left the old customs of the law behind and began living as a gentile, among gentiles, and teaching gentiles. In doing so they had “in certain matters of diet and association decided not to live like Jews, they had become, from the Judaizers’ perspective, “sinners” and “unclean.””(Rapa) However Paul declared that those standards were no longer in place, and no longer declared them unrighteous, for if they did Christ would be leading His followers in to sin. As Paul stated later the law was meant to be a guardian for a time, and after Christ had fulfilled the law it was no longer necessary to live by the ceremonial codes. In fact “to do the law after Christ was to deny his sufficient work; it was to step back in salvation-history to a period before Christ. For Paul, this was abominable and denied the very purpose of Christ’s coming.” (McKnight) Also if they indeed did continue to try to live by the law, they would only be declaring themselves guilty, because the purpose of the law was never to justify but to show the need for salvation.

            Our new life as believers is not based on our works but on the work of Christ and His power being displayed in us through the Holy Spirit. Through Christ’s work on the cross and in our hearts convicting us of our sin and gifting of faith in Him our old self dies and we are reborn with the spirit of God indwelling us and empowering us to live a life of faith in God. Paul’s last assertion in the text was that if one could become righteous through the law, there was never a need for Christ in the first place, and His death was in vain.

            So Christ through his atoning work on the cross and resurrection made it possible for God’s originally intended relationship with mankind to be redeemed. Also through His work He gave us the gift of the Holy Spirit to empower our new life in Him. Where God had given His people the law on stone tablets in the Old Covenant with Israel He sent the Spirit to write the moral law on our hearts and enable us to follow it by loving God and loving others. So as a redeemed person we are a new person. Scot McKnight said it this way: Those who have been justified, live justly; those who have been made holy in Christ, live holy lives; those who have experienced God’s love, love others; those who have experienced God’s forgiveness, forgive others; those who have been called from the world, no longer live in the world and call others to be “out with them”; those who have died to the flesh, live in the Spirit.”

            Now the act of living out our new redeemed status is the work of restoration or sanctification. That will be the topic of our next meeting. But I want to give you a glimpse of what it is to be made new in Christ and see fruit of your faith. Again lets look in Galatians 5:16-26:

16 I say then, walk by the Spirit and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh. 17 For the flesh desires what is against the Spirit, and the Spirit desires what is against the flesh; these are opposed to each other, so that you don’t do what you want. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.

19 Now the works of the flesh are obvious: a sexual immorality, moral impurity, promiscuity, 20 idolatry, sorcery, hatreds, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambitions, dissensions, factions, 21 envy, o drunkenness, carousing, and anything similar. I tell you about these things in advance—as I told you before—that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.

22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faith, 23 gentleness, self-control. Against such things there is no law. 24 Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 Since we live by the Spirit, we must also follow the Spirit” Galatians 5:16-25 HCSB

            The work of restoration or sanctification is done by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. So redemption is a one time event where a person believes that Jesus Christ has died for their sins and God rose Him from the dead. Restoration or sanctification is a process of the believer being remade to resemble Christ, and man’s original intended design without sin. This process is complete in death and our new life with God in paradise.

           For application for you today I ask you to evaluate your relationship to God. Do you have faith, not just in knowledge of what the Bible says but faith that has changed who you are. Have you been redeemed? In evaluating this consider the fruit of the spirit, has the Holy Spirit started a work in you that has caused your human interaction to show love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faith, gentleness, and self-conrol? Not perfection but a lifestyle change. You will always struggle with sin, but if you have been redeemed you will not be content to live a lifestyle of sin, you will be convicted of sin as it occurs, and your demeanor will be that of love for others, and love for God.

            If this is the case, tell someone about the gospel. Look for opportunities to share your story of redemption with others.

            On the other hand if you evaluate your life and decide you don’t believe you have been redeemed but desire that or have more questions about anything I talked about tonight, come talk to me or Eric, Lara, or Johnny. We would love to talk to you about it and pray with and for you.



The Gospel Crosses Racial Barriers

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       Thus far in Acts the spread of the Gospel has taken place in Judea. However the great commission was to go to Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and to all the world. Here in Acts 8 we see the spread of the Gospel to Samaria and the beginning of the spread to all of the world.

            Last week we focused on Stephen and it ended in his death, which resembled Christs sparking the spread of the Gospel. This week we will focus on Philip and how God used him to bridge the racial gap and preach the gospel to an excluded people group then person excluded by circumstance.

Philip in Samaria

So those who were scattered went on their way preaching the message of good news. Philip went down to a city in Samaria and proclaimed the Messiah to them. The crowds paid attention with one mind to what Philip said, as they heard and saw the signs he was performing. For unclean spirits, crying out with a loud voice, came out of many who were possessed, and many who were paralyzed and lame were healed. So there was great joy in that city. Acts 8:4-8 HCSB

      The death of Stephen and persecution of the church was the method of sending the first church out of Jerusalem. Notice they did not scatter and cower, they scattered and continued preaching the gospel. The death of Stephen sparked a wildfire of evangelistic mission, and Philip the second of the seven first deacons was the next to be used by the Holy Spirit. Wethersby said “Persecution does to the church what wind does to seed: it scatters it and only produces a greater harvest.”

      The Samaritans and Judeans were bitter enemies. In fact in Jesus parable of the good Samaritan He used the opposition to drive His point home about who a good neighbor was, and made a second point that not only was it God’s will that we love others, serve those in need but there should be no racial boundaries. The Samaritans used to be part of Israel, but back in the tenth century BC the ten northern tribes separated from Judah, Benjamin and the city of Jerusalem as Israel split after Solomon’s death. This split became a racial divide when the Assyrians destroyed Samaria’s capital in 722 BC and these conquerors deported the population and systematically mixed the remnant with other populations, as was standard practice. They were no longer pure blood Israelites, racially descendants of Abraham. Later the animosity grew as the Samarians opposed the rebuilding of the temple and built their own temple to worship God in.

         So in going to Samaria Philip was crossing racial boundaries doing God’s redemptive work of redeeming relationships between God’s image bearers. Racial tension is still very much a problem today, even in our own nation. It seems to me as we saw in Acts 6:1-7 and now here in chapter 8 the answer to bridging racial divide is the gospel. God’s will is for unity, His two laws that make up all of His moral law are love God and love others. We love others best through the lens of the gospel, meeting their needs and telling them the good news. I like the words of Warren Wethersby in describing the Gospel. “The Gospel of Jesus Christ is much more than an idea. The Gospel is “the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes” (Rom. 1:16,nkjv). It is God’s “dynamite” for breaking down sin’s barriers and setting the prisoners free. Its time had come and the church was on the move.”

 

The message of the Christ, which Philip spoke to them was most likely derived from Deutoronomy:

15 The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own brothers. You must listen to him.” Deut 18:15

18 I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers. I will put My words in his mouth, and he will tell them everything I command him. 19 I will hold accountable whoever does not listen to My words that he speaks in My name.” Deut. 18:18-19 HCSB

        Peter, and Stephen had also used this basis in proclaiming Jesus as the prophesied Messiah. Just as God has sent Moses to redeem His people from slavery in Egypt and performed many miracles through him, and given the law to His people through him, God sent Jesus the better and perfect redeemer. Jesus redeemed His people of their sin nature, and brought them in to a more intimate relationship with God dwelling in them through the Holy Spirit, rather than among them in the tabernacle. As God had given them the law in stone under the first covenant, in the second covenant (Jeremiah 31:31-34) inaugurated through Christ, He wrote the law in their hearts and empowered them to follow it. Philip like Peter and Stephen would have started back in the Torah that these people knew then worked through the rest of the Law and the Prophets showing them how Jesus was the fulfillment of scripture and prophecy.

       Miraculous works also accompanied Philips message. The demon possessed found freedom, and paralytics, and sick were healed. The response to this evangelism of words and deeds was that the people found great joy. The gospel holistically professed brings joy. To just give them the knowledge but do nothing for their needs would not be modeling for them that which was preached. Jesus taught to love and serve. This is done both physically and intellectually. To tell someone God loves them but not show them is bad practice. Also to show someone love, but not tell them is incomplete. If Philip had merely come and healed the sick and set the demon possessed free they would only have temporal freedom. They may have been happy in their situation but would not have the joy of a purposeful life, or hope of being in God’s eternal Kingdom.

        Another interesting thing happening here starting with the work of Stephen and now Philip was the passing of the baton of leadership from Apostles to second generation of leaders. Previous to Stephen and Philip only the Apostles had done great works and preached the word, but now Two of those who were appointed to serve had risen up and in the power of the Holy Spirit preached and performed great works. Through the struggles of the church and the forming of structure to care for those needs they were prepared to grow and spread the gospel. It seems the precedent we have here is that part of discipleship in the church is to be observant of those who are growing in spiritual maturity and possess the attributes of spiritual leadership and invest in training those people and prepare to send them as God calls. By being intentional about preparing people for doing God’s work we are in essence raising our sails and preparing for the spirit to move. We are agreeing with God that His mission is our mission and being obedient in preparing to do His work, with the knowledge that He will empower it at the right time.

       Another point to make about Philip specifically being the person used to do ministry was his background and experience in the 1st church in Jerusalem. Philips background was messy. He was a Hellinistic Jew, a Greek Jew who’s people had suffered neglect at the hands of their Hebraic Christian brothers. He had also gone through racial tension, so he understood the Samaritans context and feelings. Who better to speak to the Samaritans than someone who had first person encounters with racial tension. An application here for us is that God has a habit of using people’s mess for His glory. You can have confidence even in your mess that God is in control and in the end a mess even between Christians can serve God’s purposes of redeeming His people. Also if you have suffered or have mess in your past, don’t hold on to the pain of the situation, be free in Christ to forgive those who wronged you and use your experience to help you to love others well. Your experiences have purpose, not

      Now just as there were obedient and faithful responses to God’s call there were also deceivers in the first church who were not part of God’s redemptive work but part of Satan’s work to thwart the progress of the first church, and our churches today.

The Response of Simon

A man named Simon had previously practiced sorcery in that city and astounded the Samaritan people, while claiming to be somebody great. 10 They all paid attention to him, from the least of them to the greatest, and they said, “This man is called the Great Power of God!” x 11 They were attentive to him because he had astounded them with his sorceries for a long time. 12 But when they believed Philip, as he preached the good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, both men and women were baptized. 13 Then even Simon himself believed. And after he was baptized, he went around constantly with Philip and was astounded as he observed the signs and great miracles that were being performed.” Acts 8:9-13 HCSB

      Simon was a powerful sorcerer in Samaria. We tend not to take this kind of thing to seriously in our present time and in the West. However what we have here is an account of someone much different than some trickster doing slide of hand on the street. People of all socio economic levels believed Simon to be “The Great Power of God!” There are stories in history later of a Simon Magus who had great power and competed with Peter, however was out done by Peter repeatedly. Early church fathers believed the two men were the same. The point is this man had great power, but it was not from God. There are two places power comes from, the Holy Spirit or Satan. In fact part of the many works of Philip was casting out demons, showing there was demonic presence in the area.

       Previous to Philip arriving the people were attentive to Simon, BUT when the people heard Philips words and saw the power of the Holy Spirit in him, they believed and they were baptized. This changed their allegiance from Simon to Phillip in following Christ. Then, after the people were no longer attentive to Simon he made a profession of faith and was baptized. His response after being baptized was to follow Philip in astonishment of the miracles being performed. This does not seem to be the response of one who is amazed by the love of their savior, and has repented of their sins. He seems to be focused on that which has caused the people to stop following him, and start following Philip. Though Simon had made a profession it does not seem he has had a heart change. This truth is also spoken of in John:

23 “While He was in Jerusalem at the Passover Festival, many trusted in His name when they saw the signs He was doing. 24 Jesus, however, would not entrust Himself to them, since He knew them all 25 and because He did not need anyone to testify about man; for He Himself knew what was in man.” John 2:23-25 HCSB

and Jesus even proclaimed that there would be those that not only professed believing in Him but preached in His name, and performed miracles in His name that did not know him:

21 “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord!’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of My Father in heaven. 22 On that day many will say to Me, ‘Lord, Lord, didn’t we prophesy in Your name, drive out demons in Your name, and do many miracles in Your name?’ 23 Then I will announce to them, ‘I never knew you! Depart from Me, you lawbreakers!” Matthew 7:21-23 HCSB

      It seems to me these texts describe Simon, and as we continue on in Acts it seems that this is what Peter confirms.

 Simon’s Sin

14 When the apostles who were at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had welcomed God’s message, they sent Peter and John to them. 15 After they went down there, they prayed for them, so the Samaritans might receive the Holy Spirit. 16 For He had not yet come down on any of them; they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. 17 Then Peter and John laid their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit.

18 When Simon saw that the Holy Spirit was given through the laying on of the apostles’ hands, he offered them money, 19 saying, “Give me this power too, so that anyone I lay hands on may receive the Holy Spirit.”

20 But Peter told him, “May your silver be destroyed with you, because you thought the gift of God could be obtained with money! 21 You have no part or share in this matter, because your heart is not right before God. 22 Therefore repent of this wickedness of yours, and pray to the Lord that the intent of your heart may be forgiven you. 23 For I see you are poisoned by bitterness and bound by iniquity.”

24 “Please pray to the Lord for me,” Simon replied, “so that nothing you have said may happen to me.”

25 Then, after they had testified and spoken the message of the Lord, they traveled back to Jerusalem, evangelizing many villages of the Samaritans.” Acts 8:14-25 HCSB

            This was the first that the gospel had been received outside Jerusalem, so it seems the Apostles were sent to confirm the conversion of the Samaritans. A similar practice occurred when Cornelius came to faith in Acts 10:1-11:18. God sent an Angel to Cornelius, then sent Peter to tell him the gospel and take part in the conversion experience so that Peter as an Apostle could witness their conversion and receiving the Holy Spirit and report it to the other leaders in Jerusalem so as to make precedence for spreading the gospel to the gentiles.

            It is of interest in this text that they believe and are baptized but haven’t yet received the Holy Spirit. Peter in his sermon in Acts 2:38-39 stated that belief, baptism, and indwelling of the Holy Spirit were immediate occurances.

“Repent,” Peter said to them, “and be baptized, each of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 For the promise is for you and for your children, and for all who are far off, a as many as the Lord our God will call.” 40 And with many other words he testified and strongly urged them, saying, “Be saved from this corrupt generation!” Acts 2:38-40 HCSB Clearly something different has happened here. It seems the best way to approach this question is to follow the story line and consider the context of who had come to faith, and who had led them to faith. The Samaritans were outcasts and enemies of the Jewish people. Their conversion would be suspect from the Jerusalem church. Also Philip was a Hellenistic Jewish Christian, who’s people were being neglected back in 6:1-7. So for this great ministry to have taken place would have been amazing to say the least, and obviously worth looking into. If everything had happened and was final before Peter and John had arrived they would only have been able to judge the fruit of these new believers lives to determine the validity of their conversion. However because the Spirit had not yet come and this happened when Peter and John laid hands on them the full completion of their conversion was experienced by the Apostles so they had eyewitness of the true acceptance of the gospel and work of God in the Samaritans. It seems God worked this way at this time to give assurance to the new and growing church as well as to the Samaritans themselves. Both could have confidence that God’s kingdom was being extended beyond the ethnic people of Israel.

            When the apostles laid hands on the people and prayed for them the Holy Spirit came, this occurrence was visible, Simon saw it happen and tried to pay to receive this power. It seems Simon was an unbeliever. He saw others receive the Holy Spirit but it doesn’t mention he received it, and his concern was not salvation but in receiving the power.

            Peter offers strong words of rebuke to Simon. No part or share in this matter seems to mean no inheritance as an adoptive child of God. Peter then pointed out Simons heart was poisoned by bitterness and bound by iniquity. He then told Simon to repent and pray for forgiveness, which means he had not received it. Simon’s response was to ask for prayer but not to repent or ask forgiveness, he just wanted freedom of the consequences.

            Finally we see that even the Apostles return journey to Jerusalem is not wasted. The Apostles continued evangelizing from town to town on their way back, spreading the gospel throughout Samaria. This seems to be continued verification of the validity of the conversion of Samaritans. Not only did the Apostles verify the work of Philip and the faith of those believers but they continued in Philips work of evangelizing the Samaritan people.

            It seems a very real application here is that we can judge the fruit of salvation in our selves and in others. Peter saw that Simon displayed the fruit of bitterness and enslavement in sin. When one has received God’s freedom and the gift of the Holy Spirit their lives are transformed. They haven’t changed to receive God’s love, but God’s love changes them. So a great question for us to ask is how can we know? First we must agree that conversion does not mean perfection, so we are not looking for a life that is free from all sin, we are looking for the presence of the spirit of God. Lets look to Galatians 5.

16 I say then, walk by the Spirit and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh. 17 For the flesh desires what is against the Spirit, and the Spirit desires what is against the flesh; these are opposed to each other, so that you don’t do what you want. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.

19 Now the works of the flesh are obvious: a sexual immorality, moral impurity, promiscuity, 20 idolatry, sorcery, hatreds, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambitions, dissensions, factions, 21 envy, o drunkenness, carousing, and anything similar. I tell you about these things in advance—as I told you before—that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.

22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faith, 23 gentleness, self-control. Against such things there is no law. 24 Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 Since we live by the Spirit, we must also follow the Spirit. 26 We must not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another.” Galatians 5:16-26 HCSB

            Again the litmus test for a true believer is not absence of sin, but a overall disposition of love, the desire to glorify God, and a freedom from the power of sin. A believer will not be content to live a lifestyle of sin, rather they will struggle against temptation, and though they will fall at times, the spirit of God will bring conviction in their hearts rather than complacency.

            Another truth here is that we cannot serve two masters. If we profess to know God but still live a life that shows the fruit of the flesh rather than the spirit we should question our true allegiance. Consider this text in 1 John:

“5 Now this is the message we have heard from Him and declare to you: God is light, and there is absolutely no darkness in Him. If we say, “We have fellowship with Him,” yet we walk in darkness, we are lying and are not practicing the truth. But if we walk in the light as He Himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say, “We have no sin,” we are deceiving ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we say, “We don’t have any sin,” we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us.” I John 1:5-10 HCSB

            Now I tell make these points not to cause believers to question their faith but to show you that it is important to evaluate our lives and the lives of professing Christians. In evaluating our own lives we can have confidence in our salvation. This was the purpose of Johns letter of 1 John:

            “Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Messiah has been born of God, and everyone who loves the Father also loves the one born of Him. This is how we know that we love God’s children when we love God and obey His commands. For this is what love for God is: to keep His commands. Now His commands are not a burden, because whatever has been born of God conquers the world. This is the victory that has conquered the world: our faith. And who is the one who conquers the world but the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?” John 5:1-5 HCSB

            In addition to having confidence in our own salvation it is necessary to evaluate the lives of others. The most unloving thing Peter could have done for Simon was not speak this truth to him. It would have been unloving to Simon and the new believers in Samaria. Peter also did not simply rebuke him and cast him off, he rebuked him and encouraged him to confess and repent. He spoke truth to reveal his heart condition then gave him the answer of how to respond. I would not encourage anyone to walk around telling everyone they are going to Hell, however in the context of relationships and loving conversation I do believe we need to speak truth into the lives of others. If we are talking with someone professing to be a Christian but who misunderstands the gospel or is blatantly living a life of sin the most loving thing we can do is point out the truth, explain the path of salvation, and pray God works in their heart.

            Here in the story of the Ethiopian Eunich we switch from an account of a false conversion to a true conversion. We also switch from a broad view of many coming to salvation to one specific person coming to faith. God is indeed interested in large numbers coming to faith and joining His kingdom in the church, but not because of a scoreboard, because each number represents a soul being transferred from death to life. This is the most amazing miracle God performs.

            In this account we see that just as God is interested in numbers he is interested in individuals. He is interested in YOU. He has a plan for how each soul will be saved and a purpose for each one. Now as we see here and elsewhere in scripture God is the one orchestrating events and personally interacting in His redemptive plan. However the acknowledgment of God’s sovereignty is not an excuse for you to be complacent in spreading His word. Sometimes God specifically tells us to go to a place and person, but we should not sit and wait for this kind of revelation because God has already revealed his mission for all believers, to go where we are, and everywhere including the ends of the earth making disciples and teaching them to do the same. Philip in this case was sent by an angel of God to a place, for the purpose of saving one specific man. Here is what happened:

The Conversion of the Ethiopian Official

26 “An angel of the Lord spoke to Philip: “Get up and go south to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” (This is the desert road.) l 27 So he got up and went. There was an Ethiopian man, a eunuch and high official of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, who was in charge of her entire treasury. He had come to worship in Jerusalem 28 and was sitting in his chariot on his way home, reading the prophet Isaiah aloud.

29 The Spirit told Philip, “Go and join that chariot.”

30 When Philip ran up to it, he heard him reading the prophet Isaiah, and said, “Do you understand what you’re reading?”

31 “How can I,” he said, “unless someone guides me?” So he invited Philip to come up and sit with him. 32 Now the Scripture passage he was reading was this:

He was led like a sheep to the slaughter,

and as a lamb is silent before its shearer,

so He does not open His mouth.

33 In His humiliation justice was denied Him.

Who will describe His generation?

For His life is taken from the earth. r Isaiah 53:7-8

34 The eunuch replied to Philip, “I ask you, who is the prophet saying this about—himself or another person?” 35 So Philip proceeded to tell him the good news about Jesus, beginning from that Scripture.

36 As they were traveling down the road, they came to some water. The eunuch said, “Look, there’s water! What would keep me from being baptized?” [37 And Philip said, “If you believe with all your heart you may.” And he replied, “I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.”] 38 Then he ordered the chariot to stop, and both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water, and he baptized him. 39 When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord carried Philip away, and the eunuch did not see him any longer. But he went on his way rejoicing. 40 Philip appeared in Azotus, and he was traveling and evangelizing all the towns until he came to Caesarea.” Acts 8:26-40 HCSB

 

            Here we have a great example of Spirit led ministry, the Angel of the Lord spoke to Philip and sent him on mission.   Just as Philip had led the movement of evangelism into Samaria, the Holy Spirit was now leading him to spread the gospel to Ethiopia. It is noteworthy that the Eunich was Ethiopian rather than any other race. In ancient literature Ethiopia was considered the ends of the earth. In going to Samaria then the Ethiopian Philip had gone to the last places called for in the Great Commission of Acts 1:8.

            It also seems of note that just as it wasn’t the Apostles but the next generation leaders that were taking part in this evangelistic ministry, now it wasn’t Philip that was going to Ethiopia but ministering to an Ethiopian who would take his new faith back to his own people. The work of the gospel is given not just to a few individuals with certain gifting but to all believers, and we must all grow in wisdom of the gospel and prepare to do the work and speak the words to those we come in contact with.

            It seems God chose this Eunich next after Samaria to continue not just His mission in reaching the world but also in redeeming people. You see a Eunich was a man that had been castrated. They did this often in the royal court to people who worked in and around the palace. The purpose was to keep the royal women safe. Now in Old Testament law as quoted in Deuteronomy

            ““No man whose testicles have been crushed or whose penis has been cut off may enter the Lord’s assembly.” Deut. 23:1. HCSB

            Just as God had redeemed the people of Samaria to His kingdom he was about to redeem those who had been excluded from fellowship as well. Just a few chapters after where He had been reading is the following text, that it seems likely Philip would have pointed out to him while explaining the gospel because it speaks directly to his situation.

No foreigner who has joined himself to the Lord

should say,

“The Lord will exclude me from His people”;

and the eunuch should not say,

“Look, I am a dried-up tree.”

For the Lord says this:

“For the eunuchs who keep My Sabbaths,

and choose what pleases Me,

and hold firmly to My covenant,

I will give them, in My house and within My walls,

a memorial and a name

better than sons and daughters.

I will give each of them an everlasting name

that will never be cut off. Isaiah 56:3-5 HCSB

            The Eunich responded to the gospel in faith and asked to be baptized immediately. Philip baptized him and the Eunich’s response to believing and being baptized was to rejoice. He could rejoice because he had a relationship with Jesus, and God’s word revealed to him his new identity. He was no longer simply a Eunich, someone who was not whole, an outsider in temple worship, he was now an heir of the one true God. This is a very different response than that of Simon. Also God whisked Philip away and left the Eunich in the hands of the Holy Spirit.

            Now for me an important application I see from Philip and the Eunich is the importance of evangelism even in awkward situations. Philip had been prompted by God to go to the middle of nowhere then approach a man of another race, socioeconomic status, and who was a complete stranger. He observed the man reading scripture and asked him if he understood. We need to be on the lookout for opportunities to share the gospel, even with complete strangers. God will provide the right circumstances and we just need to seek them and to be ready to answer when people ask questions. I believe the way we can prepare for this is by studying His word, praying for opportunities and wisdom, as well as being in fellowship with others who encourage and challenge our own spiritual growth and understanding.



God’s Upside Down Kingdom

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      God’s work often involves sacrifice.  There is a cost to be a disciple of Christ. The words of Christ in Matthew sum this up well and are extremely relevant in today’s passage.

           “If anyone wants to come with Me, he must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow Me. 25 For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life because of Me will find it. 26 What will it benefit a man if he gains the whole world yet loses his life? Or what will a man give in exchange for his life? 27 For the Son of Man is going to come with His angels in the glory of His Father, and then He will reward each according to what he has done. 28 I assure you: There are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in His kingdom.” Matthew 16:24-28 HCSB

            Jesus words were basically come follow me and suffer. He didn’t promise life as a disciple would be easy, he promised it would be hard. He also didn’t ask his disciples to do anything he wasn’t willing to do. He didn’t say here’s the mission go struggle for my sake. He said come follow me. He led by example and as we travel the path of obedience we do so in his presence. He commanded his disciples and us to do the impossible, then empowered his followers for the mission by indwelling them with the Holy Spirit.

            As we saw last week struggles lead to opportunities to serve. Now we see that serving leads to opportunities to grow in spiritual maturity and increased ministry opportunities. Prior to this the only people who exhibited power or performing signs were the apostles. Here we see the power is spreading to other believers as they mature in their faith and use their gifting.

            Today we will be studying in Acts 6:8-8:3. In this text we will be focusing on the person and ministry of Stephen. The three main topics of today are:

1 Who was Stephen – what does a godly leader look like?

2 What did he have to say? This was his only recorded sermon, what was the theological contribution to the Bible?

3 How did God use Stephen in His redemptive plan?

Who was Stephen and what led to his sermon?

Stephen, full of grace and power, was performing great wonders and signs among the people. Then some from what is called the Freedmen’s Synagogue, composed of both Cyrenians and Alexandrians, and some from Cilicia and Asia, came forward and disputed with Stephen. 10 But they were unable to stand up against his wisdom and the Spirit by whom he was speaking. Acts 6:8-10 HCSB

Attributes of Stephen 

            There were five attributes given of Stephen

– full of faith 6:5 “As David Williams points out, “His faith was not different in kind from the faith that all Christians have, but exceptional in the extent to which he was willing to trust Christ, to take him at his word and to risk all for Christ’s sake.” This was a key requirement for one who blazed new trails for the gospel. Many opposed him. Probably even people within the church would have preferred for him to take a more cautious approach. But Stephen saw certain implications in what the Bible taught and what Christ did, and he was willing to risk all for the truth of those implications.

– full of Holy Spirit 6:5 This was an attribute given when listing the seven chosen. It should not have been of note given that all believers were filled with the Holy Spirit. It’s possible Stephen like others such as Barnabas were so filled with the spirit that others observed it and made note of it. 11:24

– full of Gods grace 6:8 The word used here was the Greek word Charis. Which in this case would best be explained as grace, spiritual charm, or winsomeness. His relationship to God had impacted him so deeply that he exuded the grace of God while relating to others.

– wisdom & spirit (preaching) “15 for I will give you such words and a wisdom that none of your adversaries will be able to resist or contradict.” Luke 21:15 HCSB

            How can we acquire inspired wisdom like Stephen? I will offer 5 requirements to this. “(1) We must know the Scriptures. (2) We must know the people to whom we minister and the way they think. (3) We must be able to let the Scriptures speak penetratingly to the issues our audience faces. This comes through careful reflection, as we look for ways to make the connection between the world of the Bible and the world of our audience. (4) We must ensure that there is no hindrance to the infilling of the Spirit in our lives. We must be vessels fit for the Master’s use, purified of ignoble things and prepared to do any good work (2 Tim. 2:20–21). (5) We must, through prayer, make sure that we are in tune with the mind of the Spirit.

Frustration of those who oppose God 

            Now in this section of the text it is noteworthy where specifically these men are from. Cilicia was the area in which Tarsus was located which was where Saul had come from. Its possible then that Saul had encountered Stephen, especially since Saul took place in Stephen’s execution.

            These men were frustrated by Stephens powerful and wise preaching rather than touched by it. There have been multiple sermons thus far in Acts during the growth of the new church and each time there was powerful teaching two things happened; people were attracted to the gospel and people were repelled by it. We just learned last week that many priests were converted to the new faith, but we also have encountered members of the Sanhedrin and now the Freedmen’s synagogue who were being actively hardened by the continued teaching in the name of Jesus.

            In their in ability to stand up to his teaching and refute it they turned to trying to discredit him in order to disperse the church. This is normative even today for how people interact with Christianity. Our faith is only acceptable if we keep it to ourselves, and proclaim it in silence and private places. However when we share the gospel explicitly and publicly we will face opposition and the strategy of the world is to discredit and disperse.

            In the case of Stephen they couldn’t find any junk on him so they had to make it up and twist his words. “11 Then they persuaded some men to say, “We heard him speaking blasphemous words against Moses and God!” 12 They stirred up the people, the elders, and the scribes; so they came, dragged him off, and took him to the Sanhedrin. 13 They also presented false witnesses who said, “This man does not stop speaking blasphemous words against this holy place and the law. 14 For we heard him say that Jesus, this Nazarene, will destroy this place and change the customs that Moses handed down to us.” 15 And all who were sitting in the Sanhedrin looked intently at him and saw that his face was like the face of an angel.” Acts 6:11-15 HCSB

            It strikes me that in the midst of all of this mess the Sanhedrin is staring at Stephen and remarking at how he resembles an Angel. As they have all been being stirred up and angry Stephen has remained constant, and even his countenance is resembling that of his adoptive father. There is a great point here on our adoption into the family of God. As God’s adoptive spiritual children unlike physical adoptive children our DNA is changed to resemble our new Father. Stephen by the work of the Holy Spirit was being made to resemble Christ, in his words, wisdom, works, and now even his face.

            David Williams points out that Luke has given a “description of one whose communion with God was such that something of the divine glory was reflected in him.” He reminds us that “oddly, the same had been said of Moses (Exod. 34: 29ff.; cf. 2 Cor. 3:12–18).” Both “bore the mark of having been with God. And yet Stephen was accused of ‘speaking against Moses and against God.’ ”[3]

            It’s amazing that Stephen was constant even when outside factors were not. The world was blowing up around him, he had been taken in to the same court where Jesus had been sentenced to death, and the apostles had been taken to multiple times now and beaten and ordered not to speak in the name of Jesus. Yet his description is angelic, dudes calm and as we will see in the beginning of his sermon he even remains respectful. However lets also remember angelic doesn’t mean wimpy, in fact most times angels appear in scripture the first thing out of their mouth was don’t be afraid. Stephen angelic face and all was about to launch into a bold and articulate theologically rich sermon in the audience of the Sanhedrin. These uneducated Christians keep being dragged before the religious leaders for teaching things they don’t agree with and their response is always to boldly give a sermon

Stephen’s  sermon 

Jesus is the key to interpreting the bible, Stephen offered a Biblical Theology to understanding scripture.  

Read acts 7:1-53

3 points: 

1 the activity of God is not confined to Israel

            God interacted with His chosen people throughout Mesopotamia, Haran, Egypt, Sinai, the Red Sea and the desert. All before coming to Israel. The implications later would be that just as God’s work did not start there it should not end there.

 2 proper worship of God is not confined to the temple

            Previous to the temple God had spoke from a burning bush, on a mountain top, in the tabernacle, and in the wilderness. In fact “Stephen is implying that “to announce the suppression or destruction of the temple was not to commit blasphemy or sacrilege against God, because God was independent of any temple.”In Jesus death the temple curtain had been ripped, giving all access to God, and at Pentecost His spirit had been poured out on all believers.

3 Jews have constantly rejected Gods chosen representatives 

            They had rejected Joseph, and Moses.  Joseph’s brothers had planned to kill him then sold him off into slavery.  Moses people had rejected him, and he fled into the desert for forty years only to return after encountering God in a burning bush.

Moses was type of Christ.  Moses saved the people, gave them the law to live by and made them a nation.

   Jesus provided full atonement, wrote the new law in their heart, and created the church.

 Stephens application

            He pointed out that they didn’t love God 6Moreover the LORD your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your descendants, to love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, so that you may live.” Deut 30:6 NASB and didn’t keep His laws. He also pointed out that their linage had persecuted the prophets who foretold the coming of Jesus, and they indeed had murdered Him.

The First Christian Martyr

            The result of his sermon was that they were enraged and his response only spurred on their anger. Stephen again remained calm then saw a vision of Jesus in heaven at the right hand of God the Father, then he proclaimed it using Jesus nickname the son of Man. In the moment just before his death he offers the very words of Jesus, offering his life as a sacrifice and interceding on behalf of those who were persecuting him. Stephen’s life shows us how to maintain winsomeness is a hostile world. He was “a man full of God’s grace” (6:8). Whatever people may do to us, however severe their sins against us may be, we must be able to affirm the supremacy of grace—that God’s grace “superabounds” (lit. trans. of hyperperisseuo in Rom. 5:20 and hyperpleonazo in 1 Tim. 1:14) over all sins and situations.[5]

Saul the Persecutor

            Just to be clear Saul was opposed to God, as we have clear in the text. Saul agreed with the execution, and that very day Saul was leading others in ravaging the church and dragging people off to jail. Stephen however was being mourned and buried.

 Applications

Stephen’s death resembled Jesus’

Stephen was radical in his Christian walk. He boldly proclaimed the truth especially in the presence of opposition. He stood up to opposition and did not water down his message in order to not offend, in fact he made accusations against his persecutors, all while being gracious and kind. This is what a warrior of God looks like.  Stephen also knew his audience well and contextualized his message for them. He knew the Old Testament scriptures and used them in his explanation of the gospel showing Jesus was the fulfillment and the promise.

How do the scriptures make us radicals?

            1 We can rediscover truths that have been hidden from us because of theological, cultural, historical, or other blinds.

            2 We can see implications in what the Bible says, which will open the door to radical ideas.

            3 The Bible can become a radical book when we try to apply it in a thoroughgoing manner.

            4 We can be radical in the form in which we express Christianity.

            In God’s upside down kingdom winning looks like loosing, being a Christian is costly, but that cost is never in vain. In the view of the world Stephen lost. He paid the ultimate price and died. Had he just toned it down a little or not had been so radical he could have taught more ppl right? Maybe reached more? Truth is Stephen made a much larger impact by being obedient until death. Though his death was tragic it resulted in both the church spreading from Jerusalem to the world.

            A modern day example of this could be the Christians in the middle east. The 21 executed last year could have been more quiet about their faith, kept it a secret but they didn’t and they paid the ultimate price for it.

– we think God will save us from suffering, truth is God saves us from ourselves, but the cost of following God is often to face more suffering. We’re saved from our own depravity and saved to being part of Gods kingdom and mission.  

– the result of their suffering was The church scattered and the Gospel spread through the world.  

– the author and perfecter of our faith had to die 

– becoming a believer requires death!  Baptism symbolizes this, the death of our worldly deprived self, and rebirth with Christ Galatians 4:20

  • even though suffering is for a purpose we still need to mourn, we don’t discount the price paid by our brethren, we respect their lives.

 

  1. Obedience to God can be costly, and the obligations to obedience don’t vanish even when there is a cost.
  2. If we belong to God in Christ, he will care for us, and all things will work together for our good. We must choose the path of obedience, trusting his care for them. Sometimes our good is painful; sometimes our good is being brought home to be with our father.


Leaders Chosen to Serve

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        So far our overall view of the first church is an amazing body of believers that cared for one another, meeting each others needs physically, financially, and spiritually, and spending time together learning from the Apostles and sharing meals together. The apostles had been arrested a few times now, and there was one instance of believers misrepresenting their gift to God, however they continued to pray for boldness and continue on in the mission to spread God’s word. The church also had grown from 120 to thousands in a very short time. Organizationally they had only had the Apostles so far to care for the community but as we will see today new needs will present themselves and opportunities for others to use their gifting had arrived.

 

6 In those days, as the number of the disciples was multiplying, there arose a complaint by the Hellenistic Jews against the Hebraic Jews that their widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution. Then the Twelve summoned the whole company of the disciples and said, “It would not be right for us to give up preaching about God to handle financial matters. Therefore, brothers, select from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Spirit and wisdom, whom we can appoint to this duty. But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the preaching ministry.” The proposal pleased the whole company. So they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit, and Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolaus, a proselyte from Antioch. They had them stand before the apostles, who prayed and laid their hands on them.

So the preaching about God flourished, the number of the disciples in Jerusalem multiplied greatly, and a large group of priests became obedient to the faith. Acts 6:1-7 HCSB

 

Growth brought challenges

       So a positive thing here was presenting challenges and in this case a problem came about between two sects of people within the body. As the church was growing the first church had some racial problems arising. The Hellenistic Jews was referring to the Greeks while the Hebraic Jews were those native to Jerusalem. Though the community was generous and giving of their belongings to fill the needs of others, somehow there was a breakdown in the system and the needy from the Greek community were not being cared for with the same level of care as the Hebraic Jews.

Acts 2:42-47

Acts 4:31, 34-35

       The message in these passages was not that the fellowship gave of their money, they were united and generous. The two had to work together in order to be effective. They were a family which was based on fellowship with God, and that caused them to be generous and united in caring for one another.

         1 Corinthians 13 this passage is often used in marriages but it is actually a passage concerning the church. It seems to me it speaks very well into this context, the lack of love is what brought the break down in the care of the people. The overall theme of the generosity and beauty of the first church thus far was their unity and love for each other. The needy of one specific group were being overlooked as the needs of others were being met daily. This wasn’t a one time thing, daily one group was being overlooked while the others was being cared for.

 

Godly Leadership

         The response of the Apostles was to gather the whole body together to talk about the issue. They didn’t make light of the issue, they brought it to the light and involved the people in the solution process. Another key point here is that the apostles also didn’t make assumptions or try to determine who was right or wrong. They could have rushed in and rebuked the one group and commanded them to give equally, but they were looking deeper into the issue. Their concern was the hearts of the people and bringing unity in the church.

          They pointed out their main mission and gifting was preaching, and that to focus on another area and not fulfill the functions of their job would be a detriment to the community and to the mission. They actually made the issue a larger deal and stressed the importance of it by dealing with it right away and proposing a solution. They also decentralized control and leadership. It seems they admitted to being part of the problem, prior to this point money had been presented to the apostles for dispersion, but here they state that they cannot do their appointed job well and handle financial matters. They delegated responsibility for finances to others. Not just the collection of finances, but the decision making and dispersion of the finances. The role of the teachers and preachers was the spiritual health and maturity of the body, as well as evangelizing unbelievers, and they had the people appoint others for the role of financial issues.

Prayer

         The leaders needed to be devoted to prayer and their preaching ministry. Prayer in the early church had already shown great power, and was a real way that they depended on the Spirit of God. From the beginning in chapter one Jesus had commanded them to wait on the arrival of the spirit, and they were united in prayer as they awaited. Then he showed up and His great power was displayed at Pentecost followed by 3,000 people coming to faith. In chapter 4:23-31 (read 29-31) The Apostles had just been arrested for speaking in Jesus name then released. They prayed for boldness and the place shook and they were filled with the spirit and preached with boldness. Next we saw the community united and caring for one another, with many people being added to the community daily as well as at times when the spirit moved in a big way; such as the healing of the lame man, and the arrests of the apostles for doing miracles and teaching in Jesus name.

         A prayer filled life was a cultural norm for Jews and especially for these new believers. The Jewish people had been taught back in Deuteronomy 8:10-14 to bless the Lord when they were satisfied. The people made prayer a tradition of praying blessings throughout the day to keep prayer a normal part of their routine. These blessings are prayers of thanksgiving. They would pray “Blessed are you, O Lord our God, King of the univers…… for giving me life, health, food etc…” Here in acts even more so the young new church was devoted to prayer not just in thanking God for His provision but in dependence on His continued presence and action in order to continue the mission.

 

        John taught in 1 John 3:22 then 5:14-15 that God answers prayer and gave us three requirements for when He would do so. 1 When we are keeping His commands, 2 when we are doing the things that please Him, and 3 when we ask according to His will, and when those requirements are met we can know that we have what we have asked for.

14 “Now this is the confidence we have before Him: Whenever we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. 15 And if we know that He hears whatever we ask, we know that we have what we have asked Him for.” 1John 5:14

22” and can receive whatever we ask from Him because we keep His commands and do what is pleasing in His sight. 23 Now this is His command: that we believe in the name of His Son Jesus Christ, and love one another as He commanded us. 24 The one who keeps His commands remains in Him, and He in him. And the way we know that He remains in us is from the Spirit He has given us.” 1 John 3:22-24 HCSB

         Paul also gave us many commands to pray and give thanks; Ephesians 5:20 Always be giving thanks to God the Father for everything. Colossians 3:17 Whatever you do… do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father. 1 Thessalonians 5:17-18 Pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances.”

         The apostle’s devotion to prayer and preaching were important for the movement and a great example for all. Their prayer lives modeled their dependence on God rather than their own abilities, and taught those they led to do the same.

“We can’t manufacture a movement of God but we can get on our knees and get sails up so if a wind of God blows we are ready.” Vance Pitman

One Body many gifts

      The solution they made was to find men gifted in this area that met certain criteria, and they tasked the congregation with finding these people. The response to the problem was to empower the people and get them involved in the process of positive change.

 1 Corinthians 12:4-14

 Criteria for leadership in the Church

There were three criteria stated in this passage and one that was assumed.

 Good reputation – they lived out their faith and were a good role model

 Filled with Wisdom – gifted in this area.

 Filled with the Holy Spirit – they were a believer.

 Member of the Church – people knew them

            Titus 1:5-9, 2:2-8; 1 Timothy 3:1-13

 Inspirational leadership

       The people bought in to the mission, and were unified. When people are inspired and empowered great missions are accomplished. In this case not only did they choose leaders but they chose Greek men for the task, the very group that had been neglected were chosen by the people. The leaders focused on the gospel and leading people spiritually and unity and positive change in the hearts of the people were accomplished. The apostles also realized who they were leading. This issue was in the church, among believers who were indwelled with the Holy Spirit.

       The Apostles laid hands on these men whom the people had chosen and recognized God had called them into this ministry.

 The result

        The mission continued and many more were added to the Kingdom! When the church faces a problem from within but deals with it well, the gospel is proclaimed. People outside the church see the problems the Christian community faces and how we deal with them. The gospel redeems people to God and people to people. Part of the curse as a result of sin was the breakdown of relationships. God’s law is to love God and love others, this is part of the redemptive work of the gospel. Jesus death on the cross redeems His people to Him, and the Holy Spirit that indwells His people empowers them to do these two things. Even a large number of Priests were saved. Why mention priests specifically? It’s possible the priests, who were religious leaders saw the wisdom and Godly example of the Apostles as well as the results and were moved by how God worked through them.

Applications for us

-Challenges in relationships are opportunities for the Gospel to be proclaimed and applied to our lives.

-Godly leadership inspires and empowers, rather than seeking to micromanage and control

-One body many gifts. The gospel flourishes and the fellowship of believers grows when everyone in the body is active and using their gifting

-Criteria for Godly leadership; good reputation, wise, believer, and part of the fellowship.



Cleansed and Empowered for Continuing the Mission

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        Last week we studied about Ananias and Sapphira, and we learned of how God took great measures to keep His church pure. By lying about the sale of their land and misrepresenting the amount they gave the church as the whole amount they had received they had lied to the Holy Spirit and God dropped them on the spot. The result of their judgment was that all of the members of the church as well as all of the people who heard of this account feared God.

            This fear provided a healthy balance to the ministry and a reality in tangible actions to the fullness of God’s character as He established His church. So far there had been many miracles showing the power and glory of God; Jesus had rose from the dead, appeared many times teaching for forty days then ascended into heaven. After which He sent the Holy Spirit at Pentecost at which time a great wind blew and tongues of fire fell on the heads of the apostles then they were empowered to speak the wonders of God in the original languages and dialects of people who had come to Jerusalem from all over the known world. Peter had spoken multiple sermons clearly laying out the gospel in words that both convicted people of their sin and brought the hope of salvation through the work of Christ on the cross. In addition to these miracles a lame man was healed and finally God revealed a misrepresentation of gifts to the church and punished lying to the Holy Spirit for personal gain with instant death.

            With this holistic reality of the new kingdom of God that was coming forward people were both repelled and attracted to God’s family. You see Christianity rightly taught and practiced should do both. It’s not possible for an unbeliever to hang out long term in this community because even though the people should be loving, humble, and generous as we saw back in 4:32-37 selling there possessions and giving to those in need, there is not room for hypocrisy or lukewarm faith in God’s kingdom. Ananias was trying to keep up with the Jones’ by joining in the generosity movement but his heart wasn’t in the right place and this resulted in his sin bringing about his demise. This brought two passages to mind one in the New Testament and one in the Old, which show God’s consistency in despising false worship:

            God said in Revelation “I know your works, that you are neither cold or hot. I wish that you were cold or hot. So because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I am going to vomit you out of my mouth.” Rev 3:15-16 HCSB

      He also said to the Israelite priests back in Malachi: When you present a blind animal for sacrifice, is it not wrong? And when you present a lame or sick animal, is it not wrong? Bring it to your governor! Would he be pleased with you or show you favor?” asks the Lord of Hosts. “And now ask for God’s favor. Will He be gracious to us? Since this has come from your hands, will He show any of you favor?” asks the Lord of Hosts. 10 “I wish one of you would shut the temple doors, so you would no longer kindle a useless fire on My altar! I am not pleased with you,” says the Lord of Hosts, “and I will accept no offering from your hands.

11 “For My name will be great among the nations, from the rising of the sun to its setting. Incense and pure offerings will be presented in My name in every place because My name will be great among the nations,” says Yahweh of Hosts.” Malachi 1:8-11 HCSB

      Through judgment and trials God both strengthens the faith of believers and repels those who do not believe and that is what we see going forward in chapter five of Acts. With this cleansing of the church having taken place and the prayers of boldness being answered from chapter 4:23-31 the church continued to meet publicly in the temple teaching the gospel and healing the sick, as well as bringing the dead to life.

Apostolic Signs and Wonders

12 Many signs and wonders were being done among the people through the hands of the apostles. By common consent they would all meet in Solomon’s Colonnade. 13 None of the rest dared to join them, but the people praised them highly. 14 Believers were added to the Lord in increasing numbers—crowds of both men and women. 15 As a result, they would carry the sick out into the streets and lay them on cots and mats so that when Peter came by, at least his shadow might fall on some of them. 16 In addition, a large group came together from the towns surrounding Jerusalem, bringing sick people and those who were tormented by unclean spirits, and they were all healed.” Acts 5:12-16 HCSB

           The power of the Holy Spirit continued to work wonders among the people proclaiming Christ in word and deed, and boldly in the Temple. Remember Peter and John had recently been arrested and ordered not to teach in the name of Jesus, yet here they are doing so and publicly in the temple. The fear we had just heard about also is fresh in the minds of the unbelievers, they liked what they saw, people being healed and miracles performed but because they didn’t believe they feared death and so they didn’t dare join the assembly. However crowds of people were coming to faith and joining the church daily. This is what I was referring to by attracting and repelling. The people on the outside were attracted to what was going on in the church, obviously good things were happening and the community was a beautiful picture of family. Even with miraculous signs and widespread a widespread healing campaign the church didn’t lower it’s standards in order to attract people. No way were they going to mess with these crazy people and chance being struck dead right. Even before the judgment there were those who made fun on the miracles at Pentecost accusing the apostles of being drunk. Without the spirit of God to reveal the truth to you the church, and scripture seems foolish and even though there may be parts of it that are appealing if the gospel is holistically being presented in word and deed unbelievers will not want to stay unless God saves them and adds them to the family. A result of the growing of the church was that many were healed of sickness both physically and spiritually. But not everyone was happy with this.

In and Out of Prison

17 Then the high priest took action. He and all his colleagues, those who belonged to the party of the Sadducees, were filled with jealousy. 18 So they arrested the apostles and put them in the city jail. 19 But an angel of the Lord opened the doors of the jail during the night, brought them out, and said, 20 “Go and stand in the temple complex, and tell the people all about this life.” 21 In obedience to this, they entered the temple complex at daybreak and began to teach.

         Another result of the growing of the church and the good deeds and miracles being performed was the continued persecution of the church. In this section of the text we see the Jewish religious rulers enraged by the spreading of this new faith and they arrested the apostles and threw them in jail again. With the miraculous signs and wonders and large growth of the church they were threatening the power of the religious leaders. God then sent an angel to free them but not for the purpose of their own safety but so they could return to the temple and he ordered them to “tell the people all about this life.” Three times in this passage the evangelistic ministry of the apostles is described with the verb “teach” (didasko, vv. 21, 25, 28). There must have been a major emphasis on the content—the truth—of the gospel. Truth is communicated through what the Bible describes as preaching and teaching.[1] What was God’s mission? In acts 1:8 he had ordered them to be “His witness in Jerusalem, in all of Judea, Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” They were to preach the gospel and make disciples, their mission was not to receive the gospel and be safe. So when we see them freed it’s for a purpose, to continue the mission, in this case to be caught again doing what they were ordered not to do by men, but to do by God.

            In addition to the attracting and repelling of people to the gospel, and the church is the presence of fear among those on both sides of this story. You see fear can be good or bad. The fear of God is a good healthy thing, but the fear of man is dangerous and reveals a lack of fear of God. Who should we fear the creator or the created? The unbelievers fear of God at least kept them safe from God’s wrath at the present time, but unless they had a change in heart and followed God, and that fear turned to reverence and fear of not being one of His they would face death eventually. However we will see the priests did not fear God, yet did fear man.

            The Apostles on Trial Again

When the high priest and those who were with him arrived, they convened the Sanhedrin—the full Senate of the sons of Israel—and sent orders to the jail to have them brought. 22 But when the temple police got there, they did not find them in the jail, so they returned and reported, 23 “We found the jail securely locked, with the guards standing in front of the doors, but when we opened them, we found no one inside!” 24 As the commander of the temple police and the chief priests heard these things, they were baffled about them, as to what could come of this.

25 Someone came and reported to them, “Look! The men you put in jail are standing in the temple complex and teaching the people.” 26 Then the commander went with the temple police and brought them in without force, because they were afraid the people might stone them.27 After they brought them in, they had them stand before the Sanhedrin, and the high priest asked, 28 “Didn’t we strictly order you not to teach in this name? And look, you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and are determined to bring this man’s blood on us!”

29 But Peter and the apostles replied, “We must obey God rather than men. 30 The God of our fathers raised up Jesus, whom you had murdered by hanging Him on a tree. 31 God exalted this man to His right hand as ruler and Savior, to grant repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins. 32 We are witnesses of these things, and so is the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey Him.” Acts 5:21-32 HCSB

            So the priests had them arrested and intended to try them again. I love God’s sense of humor as we find it in His revealed word. Picture this these bureaucrats arrest these annoying Christians but plan to deal with them on their own schedule. Lets arrest them now and leave them in jail over night. The get together the next morning and send for them only to find their gone! This had to heap burning coals on these guys heads, I mean they were already enraged now these guys escaped, and get this before they can even move on passed being baffled they get a report from someone else they had found the apostles. And they were found back in the same place doing the same thing they were ordered not to. You see the last words of Peter and James to these men when they were ordered not to do this was “Whether it’s right in the sight of God for us to listen to you rather than to God, you decide; 20 for we are unable to stop speaking about what we have seen and heard.” Acts 4:19-20 HCSB Now Peter and James were walking their talk. Their fear of God outweighed their fear of man. They had been threatened after making this proclamation, and now arrested. Yet an angel had sent them free and commanded them to go back and do that which Jesus had commanded them. They knew they would be arrested again, what they didn’t know was what would happen to them when they stood trial this time. But they acted boldly, that is without fear, not just courageously in the face of fear, but boldly towards man.

            However the priests acted in fear. They went and arrested the apostles again but out of fear they did so peacefully because they were afraid of being stoned by the people! When they reminded them they had ordered them not to preach in Jesus name, they accused them of being determined to bring Jesus blood on their head. As if it wasn’t already right? They were the ones who had Him arrested and demanded He be crucified. They had rejected Him as the Messiah and were remaining hard hearted. They wouldn’t accept that they were in the wrong, but Peter again boldly tells them how it is. Indeed His blood is on your hands is basically what he replied. You murdered Him, and cursed Him by hanging Him on a tree which was referring back to Deuteronomy 21:23. Then he declared that God had raised Him from the dead, and now He is ruling over His kingdom offering Israel forgiveness of sins. He is acting as high priest, which means He had replaced these men, and is offering them forgiveness for this very act, if they would only repent. As a result of being exalted, forgiveness and repentance were given by Christ. Repentance is triggered through the hearing of the Word, which brings the conviction of sin. But this act is not done by our own efforts; the grace to repent is given by Christ[2] He then presents themselves all as eyewitnesses to these accounts, and claims to be anointed by the Holy Spirit along with any who believe in Jesus, the Messiah. He is claiming the New Covenant promises from Jeremiah. The truth of this claim is one we to can cling to. The same Holy Spirit that was in them bearing witness to Jesus being the Christ indwells all believers today as well. Just as He empowered them, made them witnesses of His truth, and emboldened them, He does the same for us today.   The priest’s response was to become enraged rather than repent. Much like Pharaoh in Egypt God was hardening their hearts by bringing truth and offering the opportunity to obey. Then God used one man to spare the Apostles for now in order to continue the mission.

Gamaliel’s Advice

33 “When they heard this, they were enraged and wanted to kill them. 34 A Pharisee named Gamaliel, a teacher of the law who was respected by all the people, stood up in the Sanhedrin and ordered the men to be taken outside for a little while. 35 He said to them, “Men of Israel, be careful about what you’re going to do to these men. 36 Not long ago Theudas rose up, claiming to be somebody, and a group of about 400 men rallied to him. He was killed, and all his partisans were dispersed and came to nothing. 37 After this man, Judas the Galilean rose up in the days of the census and attracted a following. That man also perished, and all his partisans were scattered. 38 And now, I tell you, stay away from these men and leave them alone. For if this plan or this work is of men, it will be overthrown; 39 but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them. You may even be found fighting against God.” So they were persuaded by him. 40 After they called in the apostles and had them flogged, they ordered them not to speak in the name of Jesus and released them. 41 Then they went out from the presence of the Sanhedrin, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to be dishonored on behalf of the Name. c 42 Every day in the temple complex, and in various homes, they continued teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Messiah.Acts 5:31-42 HCSB

           Gamaliel was a wise famous rabbi, who Saul was studying under at the time. His advise was not to be to rash in handling this matter. A time would come later when these priests would not relent and Gamaliel’s very student would be the one to take up arms against the Christians. However for this time they decided to let them go after having them beat and threatened again. The response of the Apostles was miraculous itself. The rejoiced that they were worthy to have been dishonored, beaten on behalf of Jesus name. Wow! How often do we Pray for the opposite. We go on mission’s trips and pray for safety, pray that everyone will make it back unharmed. How often do people today rejoice for suffering for Christ. His words were pick up your cross and follow me, these men were doing that and with great joy! This brought to reminded me of Jesus prediction of Peters denial:

31 “Then Jesus said to them, “Tonight all of you will run away because of Me, for it is written: I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered. i32 But after I have been resurrected, I will go ahead of you to Galilee.” 33 Peter told Him, “Even if everyone runs away because of You, I will never run away!” 34 “I assure you,” Jesus said to him, “tonight, before the rooster crows, you will deny Me three times!” 35 “Even if I have to die with You,” Peter told Him, “I will never deny You!” And all the disciples said the same thing.” Matthew 26:31-35 HCSB

      Jesus had predicted at the time of His arrest they would all abandon Him, and Peter and all the rest of the disciples had claimed they would never run from him, even if it meant death, yet then they all failed. The difference here was they now had the Holy Spirit. The game changer between being able to be constant and faithful to God is His spirit inside of us empowering us. It seems the Apostles indeed were rejoicing because finally they were able to do that which they had failed at previously. This was the same court in which Jesus had been arrested and sentenced to death, after they had abandoned Him. This time God empowered them to remain faithful, and to boldly remain faithful even if it meant death. After rejoicing they again went about their fathers business, teaching and preaching Jesus, in the temple and their homes.

 



The Sign of Jonah

background

 Scripture

29 As the crowds were increasing, He began saying: “This generation is an evil generation. It demands a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of Jonah. e 30 For just as Jonah became a sign to the people of Nineveh, so also the Son of Man will be to this generation. 31 The queen of the south will rise up at the judgment with the men of this generation and condemn them, because she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon, and look—something greater than Solomon is here! 32 The men of Nineveh will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, because they repented at Jonah’s proclamation, and look—something greater than Jonah is here! Luke 11:29-32 HCSB

Observations

  1. This is building on verse 28 which was making the point those who hear the word of God and keep it are blessed.
  2. Jesus spoke boldly and with conviction to large crowds.
  3. He was condemning the people for demanding proof rather than trusting Gods word.
  4. He used the stories of Jonah and the Queen of Sheba to make His point.
  5. He compared Israel who had been blessed by receiving Gods revelation and who had a personal relationship with God as His people to Nineveh who was an evil gentile nation.
  6. Nineveh responded to Jonah’s proclamation of God’s word with no signs, his word was enough to cause them to repent and seek God’s mercy.
  7. The Queen of Sheba sought wisdom at great expense and through great inconvenience from hearing of the wisdom.
  8. Israel had the wisdom of Christ brought to them and they still rejected it.

Applications

            Just as the Queen of Sheba heard of Solomon’s wisdom and sought after it I should seek wisdom from Gods word. She was blessed to have the opportunity to seek wisdom from the wisest man who had ever lived, and by the grace of place I enjoy this side of redemptive history I have access to the full revelation of God’s redemptive work available to me in scripture. I need not take it for granted but to be diligent in studying His word, and seeking His knowledge that I have access to.

            Just as Nineveh took Jonah at his word and didn’t require miracles or signs, God’s word should be enough for me. I need to trust and obey Him, and be humble as the Ninevites were in their repentance.

            Just as Jesus clearly spoke truth with conviction I need to boldly proclaim His truth, and the explicit gospel. I need to be careful not to fall in to the temptation to soften the blow as I teach larger groups or skip harder truths that are in scripture for fear of offending. The most loving thing I can do is have awkward conversations and speak tough messages because those conversations and messages change lives through the power of Christ.

Prayer
            O Lord, Creator and sustainer of the universe, thank you for revealing your self to me. Please empower me to take you at your word, and to seek after more of your wisdom that you have already revealed to me in scripture. Embolden me to proclaim your message with conviction and bless it to do your work in bringing the dead to life? Thank you for your grace and for the opportunity to join you in your work. Amen.


Jesus Baptism

background

While reading through “Sitting at the feet of Rabbi Jesus” by Spangler and Tverberg this week I was brought back to Jesus baptism.  I love the telling of this event but honestly hadn’t realized the “stringing of pearls” going on here from the voice of God in His declaration about Jesus.  I chose to take a deeper look at the surrounding verses as well to discover more about this portion of scripture. 

  “In those days Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized in the Jordan by John.  As soon as He came up out of the water, He saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit descending to Him like a dove.  And a voice came from heaven:  You are My beloved Son; I take delight in You!  Immediately the Spirit drove Him into the wilderness.  He was in the wilderness 40 days, being tempted by Satan.” Mark 1:9-13 HCSB

1.  I’ve been teaching through Acts recently and when studying Pentecost came back to this passage because of the similarity in which the Spirit was poured out.  Here the spirit descended like a dove, in acts it descended like tongues of fire resting over their heads.  It’s interesting in both places the Spirit manifests itself in visible form as it descends upon those who’s ministry was being inaugurated. 

2.  Another point here in Mark is the fact he gives you the visual of the heavens being torn open as the spirit descends.  This evokes the event of the curtain of the temple being torn from top to bottom at Christ death symbolizing our being given access to God.  That also leads to reasoning for the disciples to wait in Jerusalem for the gift of the Spirit because it then symbolizes that which used to dwell in the temple now being poured out on the apostles to inaugurate their ministry and the beginning of the church. 

3.  As they pointed out in the book God’s declaration of Jesus here God links up the Torah (Genesis 22), the Prophets (Isaiah 42), and the Psalms (Psalm 2).  Just as Jesus would later say in the sermon on the mount he did not come to destroy the Law or the Prophets, God from His inauguration has declared that this is who all of scripture points to. 

4. “You are My Son” in Psalm 2:7 it says: “I will declare the Lord’s decree: He said to Me, You are My Son, today I have become Your Father.” Here God affirms the deity of Jesus, and declares Him the Son of God. 

5. “Whom I love” (beloved) Genesis 22:2 “Take your son, “He said, “Your only son Isaac, whom you love, go to the land of Moriah, and offer him as a burnt offering on one of the mountains I will tell you about.” This account in Genesis is a type of Christ.  Abraham was asked to sacrifice his one son, the son of the promise through which God would give him a people, land, and blessing.  In obedience and faith he was willing to sacrifice this son of promise, but then God provided another sacrifice in his stead.  The antitype being Jesus, here God is declaring this is My Son, the Son of the promise.  Just as God provided a sacrifice in the place of Abraham’s son, Jesus was that which God provided in our place. 

6.  “With you I am well pleased”  Isaiah 42: “This is My Servant; I strengthen Him, this is My Chosen One; I delight in Him.  I have put My Spirit on Him; He will bring justice to the nations.”  God’s placing the Spirit upon Jesus here inaugurates His ministry, gives Him power to do miracles and fulfills prophecy both of His empowerment and in His bringing justice.  The justice he provided wasn’t that which they expected.  This Son of the promise brought justice to the nations by making atonement for sins, thus He made a propitiation for us, that is he didn’t merely forgive us our sins but He took on the debt for himself while giving us His position.  In order to give mercy He had to bring justice. 

7.  Immediately after receiving God’s blessing and the power of the Spirit He faced opposition.  In Matthew 3 we see that not only did the Devil tempt Him but his first attack is on His very identity.  “If you are the Son of God..”  He tried to create doubt about His identity and doubt God’s words just as he did in the garden with Eve in Gen 3. 

  Previously I have applied this text to the identity Jesus provided me through His atoning work on the cross in my stead.  That is just as God here had affirmed Jesus sonship, and love for Him before Jesus had done anything, this happened before He performed any miracles or started His ministry, He also has loved me in saving me not based on my works but His electing love.  Then just as the Devil attacked His identity first and God’s goodness as he did with Eve, I know to be on the look out for him to attack me in the same way.  Through guilt and shame the Devil causes us to doubt our identity as God’s children, and through the world he tempts us to that which God has told us is not good for us.  He tries to make us doubt God’s goodness by making sin look appealing and God look like a kill joy.  Now I would add to that application God’s goodness in revealing in scripture at great debts that all of scripture works together to tell His story of His love for us and how redemptive history has played out from the beginning and still plays out today through the work of Christ.  God was intentional about providing proof and strong evidence along the way so that after we knew Him we could be certain of our faith, and to be a reminder to us in times when we doubt. 

Lord God thank you for loving me.  Thank you for saving me from the domain of darkness and bringing me into the light joining your family that you are building here on earth.  Thank you for including me in your redemptive story and for the opportunity to share your good news with others.  Please empower me to ignore the lies of Satan when he tries to get me to doubt your goodness, and love for me, and empower me to continue to thirst for your word and hide it in my heart to use against these attacks.  In your Holy name Lord Jesus Amen!



Jesus Church Plant

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 Throughout all of redemptive history we see God using people as part of his rescue plan. He doesn’t need people to carry out His work however he chooses to include us in the work of restoring His creation to its original purposes.  The interesting thing we see throughout the Bible is that God almost never chooses who you would expect. The same was true when establishing His church. If you were starting a business, putting together a sports team or even planting a church one of your first questions would be who’s going to be on your team. You want the most talented driven people on your side because you know that businesses and teams rise and fall based on their people.   So the best plan for success is to pick the most qualified people.

 In Acts we find like all through the Bible God does the exact opposite. He doesn’t look for the best people, because the truth is there are no qualified people, all people inherit their sin nature from Adam. So Jesus picked all the people who would normally be picked last, or overlooked to lead the movement of His great rescue plan here on earth. He picked these guys then prepared them by living life with them, teaching them, loving on them, and then He empowered them.

 Today we will be studying in Acts 1:12-26 and we will be learning about the time after Jesus ascension into heaven leading up to the arrival of the Holy Spirit.  I am going to start with Jesus ascension both in Luke and Acts to go back and give us context for our study today.

In Luke:

50 “Then He led them out as far as Bethany, and lifting up His hands He blessed them. 51 And while He was blessing them, He left them and was carried up into heaven. 52 After worshiping Him, they returned to Jerusalem with great joy. 53 And they were continually in the temple complex praising God.Luke 24:50-52 HCSB

“The reference in Luke to Bethany is appropriate because it closely links the closing scene with the triumphal entry scene at 19:28–40. The closing scene of the Gospel, set as it is in Bethany, becomes Jesus’ triumphal exit. In the same way that the triumphal entry closes the journey of Jesus to Jerusalem, so the triumphal exit brings an end to Jesus’ exodus.[1]

In Acts:

12 “Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called the Mount of Olives, which is near Jerusalem—a Sabbath day’s journey away. 13 When they arrived, they went to the room upstairs where they were staying: Peter, John, James, Andrew, Philip, Thomas, Bartholomew, Matthew, James the son of Alphaeus, Simon the Zealot, and Judas the son of James.14 All these were continually united in prayer, along with the women, including Mary the  mother of Jesus, and His brothers.” Acts 1:12-14 HCSB

In Acts their response was to obey and pray. The first part of being sent was to stay. Combining Luke and acts we see they were joyful and they prayed. In Luke we see they were continually in the temple complex praising God, and in Acts they were united in prayer first in the upper room. These two give us the full picture. Both books were written by the same author however different points were being stressed for the context of the narratives. In Luke he is stressing they have joy because they were given hope, Christ had opened up their minds to understand the scriptures about who he was and what he must do, then he promised them the Spirit, which would empower them to be His witnesses. “He promised them the Spirit in them was better than Himself beside them.” –Greear

  In Acts the main point was that because of that same hope they finally were able to devote themselves to prayer. They had repeatedly failed at prayer previously. They had fallen asleep when Jesus was praying in the garden, and their response to His being taken by the guards was to flee and hide. Peter actually denied knowing Jesus three times during His trial. But now they had hope and a sense of desperation, they had just been charged with continuing the movement started by Jesus, God himself. And having finally been given the full picture and full understanding they were united in one mind and their dependence was on God.

In verse 13 we have a list of the 11 as well as Mary the women and His brothers.

Looking at those who Jesus chose as His disciples we have a group most church planters wouldn’t have chosen. There was nothing great about these men, just a great God who called them. God doesn’t call the equipped he equips the called. A great explanation of this comes from Matthew 11:11

11 I assure you: Among those born of women no one greater than John the Baptist has appeared, but the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.” Matt 11:11 HCSB

  Jesus was addressing disciples of John the Baptist who were asking Jesus if He was the Messiah that had been prophesied. He assured them He was by quoting scripture then when on to affirm John as having been the greatest man that had ever lived. He also said that the least in the kingdom of God would be even greater than John. Jesus was using God’s definition of great not the worlds. We find God’s definition in Jeremiah:

23 “This is what the Lord says: The wise man must not boast in his wisdom; the strong man must not boast in his strength; the wealthy man must not boast in his wealth. 24 But the one who boasts should boast in this, that he understands and knows Me — that I am Yahweh, showing faithful love, justice, and righteousness on the earth, for I delight in these things. This is the Lord’s declaration.” Jer 9:23-24 HCSB

  John was not great because of anything special about himself, rather he was great because unlike anyone before him he could point out the Messiah the most clearly. From his mother’s womb he began pointing out Jesus, later he called Jesus the Lamb of God who has come to wash away our sins, pointing to Jesus death on the cross to make atonement for our sins. However John would not live to see the full extent of Jesus ministry as John was beheaded before Jesus death and resurrection.

  These men that Jesus called to be His disciples were great because they knew Jesus personally and had witnessed events that proved His deity, and Jesus gave them understanding of the scriptures. Like the apostles we today by our grace of place in redemptive history are greater than John, because we can look back on scripture and realize the full extent of Jesus redemptive work on the cross for our sins. We can more clearly point to Jesus for what He has done, rather than what He would do.

It’s also worth mentioning that Mary was present. Just as she had a part in birthing Jesus, she was included in the birth of the church. We also see in the birth of the first church the restoration of Jesus earthly family. There is also account of Jesus brothers being present. This is very note worthy as Jesus brothers hadn’t believed in Him previously, in fact they thought He had gone insane. “The disbelief of Jesus’ brothers is recorded in Mark 3:21–35

21 And when his family heard it, they went out to seize him, for they were saying, “He is out of his mind.” Mark 3:21 HCSB
Previous to this text Jesus had called the twelve and commissioned them to preach and cast out demons. His family’s response was to go get him because they thought he had gone mad. It continued on in 31-35:
 
31 “And his mother and his brothers came, and standing outside they sent to him and called him. 32 And a crowd was sitting around him, and they said to him, “Your mother and your brothers are outside, seeking you.” 33 And he answered them, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” 34 And looking about at those who sat around him, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! 35 For whoever does the will of God, he is my brother and sister and mother.Mark 3:31-35 HCSB

 “Perhaps Jesus’ resurrection appearance to James (1 Cor. 15:7) was responsible for the conversion of Joses, Judas, and Simon also (cf. Mk. 6:3). James became the leader of the Jerusalem church (cf. 12:17; 15:13–21; 21:18), and ‘the Lord’s brothers’ were acknowledged alongside the apostles as a distinctive group in the Christian community (cf. 1 Cor. 9:5)”[2] This truth is something that hadn’t stood out to me previously when reading through the text. Though Jesus was perfect, and in fact was God the Son in the flesh, he had a broken family. However one of the works of the Gospel was to restore His earthly family, and bring them into His kingdom as part of the church family. The work of the gospel was to restore God’s people to Himself, and restore relationships among people.

Next we have an account of the final act they needed to be ready, they needed to restore the twelve, by electing the last apostle to replace Judas.

15 “In those days Peter stood up among the brothers (the company of persons was in all about 120) and said, 16 “Brothers, the Scripture had to be fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit spoke beforehand by the mouth of David concerning Judas, who became a guide to those who arrested Jesus. 17 For he was numbered among us and was allotted his share in this ministry.” 18 (Now this man acquired a field with the reward of his wickedness, and falling headlong he burst open in the middle and all his bowels gushed out. 19 And it became known to all the inhabitants of Jerusalem, so that the field was called in their own language Akeldama, that is, Field of Blood.) 20 “For it is written in the Book of Psalms,

       “ ‘May his camp become desolate, and let there be no one to dwell in it’; and “ ‘Let another take his office.’” Acts 1:15-20 HCSB

Scripture Gods living word

Peter was their leader, and referred to the group as brothers, again stressing the familial relationship of the church.  In verse sixteen we have clear reference to scripture being Gods word, and our need to follow it.  “the Holy Spirit spoke beforehand by the mouth of David.”  We also see reference to this in 2 Timothy”

 16 “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” 2 timothy 3:16-17 HCSB

 The Greek word translated to breathed here is theopneustos, which is literally God –spirated” or breathed out, which affirms that the living God is the author of Scripture and that Scripture is the product of his creative breath. This is the same creative breath that spoke the universe into existence and breathed life into man. This word is also used when Jesus appeared to the men in the garden after His resurrection:

22 “And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” John 20:22 HCSB

Here like in the beginning of creation story places us in a garden and Jesus giving life and power with His breath, just as God created with His breath and words.

Peter then quotes psalm 69:25 and 109:8, which both point to the failure of those who oppose God. By electing a twelfth they show God wins, the opponent did not succeed. Also Judas was another sign or evidence of who Jesus is, the events of his betraying Jesus then his demise fulfilled prophecy. And in following scripture they are to appoint another to take his place. The replacement had to be a witness of Jesus ministry from baptism through ascension.

Jesus Christ—He is the One who came by water and blood, not by water only, but by water and by blood. And the Spirit is the One who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth. For there are three that testify: i the Spirit, the water, and the blood —and these three are in agreement. If we accept the testimony of men, God’s testimony is greater, because it is God’s testimony that He has given about His Son.” 1 John 5:6-9 HCSB

The men that met the standard Peter put forth in Acts 1:21-22 had witnessed Jesus baptism in the Jordan by John, and after that baptism God spoke audibly confirming Jesus was his son in whom he was well pleased. This miracle inaugurated Jesus ministry here on earth, and served as evidence of Jesus divinity. God’s voice was heard audibly to a crowd of people and the Holy Spirit descended on Jesus in the form of a dove empowering Jesus for the work he was about to do. The replacement also would have had to witness Jesus death and resurrection. These also were clear signs of Jesus divinity. At His death the temple curtain tore from top to bottom, there were earthquakes, tombs opened, and after His resurrection the dead came back to life and walked around Jerusalem. These events caused the guards of Jesus to proclaim He was the Son of God. The resurrection even more so because it exemplified Jesus power over death, then He appeared to many before leaving earth via levitation into the clouds. This replacement would restore the number of the apostles to the original twelve making them ready to receive God’s gift of the Holy Spirit. Having witnessed these events the replacement could give full account of Jesus ministry and the evidence of His deity, for the purpose of spreading the gospel with authority. These twelve would be the leadership of this first church plant, and the purpose of this movement was to grow Gods family, as we see also in first John:

 “1What was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have observed and have touched with our hands, concerning the Word of life— that life was revealed, and we have seen it and we testify and declare to you the eternal life that was with the Father and was revealed to us — what we have seen and heard we also declare to you, so that you may have fellowship along with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ. We are writing these things so that our joy may be complete.” 1 John 1:1-4 HCSB

Ministry is highly relational. The goal here is not just to convert people, but to have them join the family, to be known and loved by God and by other followers of God. This restores God’s original design in creation. Before sin entered creation man and God were in perfect relationship, as well as humans with each other. Sin caused humans to hide from God and each other. The gospel restores that intimacy, and the driving force of the gospel is the Holy Spirit who empowers all believers for ministry.

My takeaway from this text is that knowing God is what makes us great, and God makes us great for a purpose. Knowing Jesus is what enables us to testify about Him. Also the purpose of knowing Him is to glorify Him and join the mission of growing His family, bringing the dead to life.

[1] Peterson, D. G. (2009). The Acts of the Apostles (p. 117). Grand Rapids, MI; Nottingham, England: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.

[2] Parsons, M. C. (2008). Acts (p. 29). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.

 


Power and Purpose

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  While meditating on the beginning of Acts this week I was reminded that I in myself am inadequate, there is nothing I have to offer that can gain me favor with God, or that can benefit you. All that I am is fallen, depraved in nature, but God has seen fit to redeem me by the work of Jesus Christ, and when he redeemed me he indwelt me with his Spirit. So as a redeemed son of God Jesus is continuing His mission through me, and through all who believe. The God who spoke and breathed creation into existence, also breathed life into man for the purpose of relationship with God and other humans, and that same God breathed the words of Scripture, and that same breath gives us understanding. Our ability to do the work He has given us to do comes from the power of God. This is what we will find in the first chapter of the book of Acts. Jesus gives His people power and a purpose. The power he gives is the Holy Spirit and the gifts that come from the spirit, and the purpose is to join Him in the redemptive work of restoring His image bearers back into the intended relationship with Him. Before we jump in to the text I want to preface with context to help us understand the bigger picture.

Background

  The book of Acts is the second part in a series, the sequel if you will. Luke and Acts were written by Doctor Luke, who was a companion of Paul. He addressed them both to Theophilus. It is assumed that Theophilus was a man, but it is also possible that based on the Greek name, which is translated into English as “lover of God” means it was addressed to gentile Christians. Luke was written so that Theophilus could be sure of the gospel he/they had been taught. Whether this was specifically addressed to one man or all gentile Christians the broader audience was the gentiles who had been taught the gospel to confirm the truth they had been taught, and bring them to maturity. This book also serves that purpose for readers today. There is also an important principle we can derive from the very purpose of this book. Luke tells us that after hearing the gospel it is important to study it, so that we can be certain of it. After hearing it, we need to confirm it. There is proof that the gospel is valid and real, and that is what Luke offers us, evidence so we can be certain and have confidence.

Main points

Today as we walk through Acts 1:1-11 there are two main points that we will find in the text. Jesus mission continues through the church, and Jesus gives us both purpose and power.

Prologue 1-3

In the first book, O Theophilus, I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach, until the day when he was taken up, after he had given commands through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. 3 He presented himself alive to them after his suffering by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God.”  Acts 1:1-3 ESV

In Acts 1:1-3 Luke claims the authorship of the book of Luke as well, and gives us the purpose of that book. It was to tell all that Jesus had began to do and teach. “This is important because the development of the church builds on the life and work of Jesus.”6  The text is also telling us He’s not done yet, what Jesus began in the Gospels, in His life on earth, he continues to do and teach. Lets take notice of the words he uses here. He said that which Jesus began to Do, which was his actions and deeds, as well as that which he began to teach which was His words and instructions.   Jesus’ ministry was and is a ministry of both word and deed.

He began his work until He was taken up, but before He left He gave “orders.” This is key. Luke is telling us ahead of time that before Jesus ascended he gave orders. We are about to receive instructions from Jesus in the beginning of this book. Do you want to know God’s will for your life? Here it is; In the power I give you, go make disciples. And it’s not a suggestion or an option, it’s a command, this is the purpose He has for His people. It’s also not a new revelation in scripture, this reflects Abraham’s calling in Genesis 12:1-3. He chose Abraham and said He would bless him with the purpose of being a blessing. God’s blessing was not intended to terminate on Abraham, rather it was meant to be shared, and used to bless all people. Also the blessing that he bestowed on Abraham was not health, wealth, or happiness. God’s blessing was being chosen for relationship with Him, and God revealing Himself to him.  

 Next in verse three Luke established Christ did suffer, he physically died and rose again. After he suffered he presented Himself alive. This alone is a convincing proof of His deity, and it wasn’t a one-time event, he continued to spend time with them for 40 days appearing to many. In Luke 24:36-43 He appeared to them, He told them to touch Him, confirming He had flesh and bones, He showed his hands and feet, and He ate with them. These are all proofs of His physical resurrection, which is important because this would later be one of the very things people would question. He offered these proofs to those who would be His witnesses to refute that, which would be brought in question. Our Lord Jesus is alive! In verse 45 he gave them additional proofs, the proof of understanding, “he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures” “true understanding of scripture, so that one understands how all of redemptive history fits together is a gift of God.”1 This is a proof he gave to the disciples, and gives to all believers. We also find mention of Jesus giving understanding in 1 John “and we know that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true, and we are in him who is true, in his son Jesus Christ.” 1 John 5:20 ESV

   From this introduction to the book of Acts we can take away the knowledge that our Lord Jesus is alive and His mission continues today. That mission is also one of both word and deed. It’s not enough to speak the gospel we also need to do the work of loving people and serving them. The converse is also true, it’s not enough to love people and serve them we must also tell them the gospel. His ministry, our mission is a holistic ministry of words and deeds.

Holy Spirit Promised 4-8

Next we will learn that this mission is only possible with the Holy Spirit.

“And while staying with them he ordered them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father, which, he said, “you heard from me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.” So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” Acts 1:4-8 ESV

  In verse four His first order was to wait. They could not do his work until they received power from him. Also note they were to wait in Jerusalem. They would have wanted to go where it was safe, this was the scene of the crime where Jesus had been crucified, and they were in danger. They were to wait here, because Jesus would continue his mission there. It’s also note worthy that Jerusalem was where the temple was. This was the center of worship for all who worshiped the one true God because the spirit of God dwelt in the temple. However when Jesus died along with making atonement for our sins the curtain in the temple was ripped from top to bottom symbolizing that we had been given access to God. The coming of the Holy Spirit especially in Jerusalem would symbolize the transfer of God dwelling in a building to God dwelling in the very hearts of His people. This is possible because of the work of Christ. When he made atonement for our sins he set His people apart as Holy and now our bodies act as the temple of our Lord.

  In verse five Isaiah 11:1-3, 32:14-17, 44:1-4 are reflected in which baptism of the Holy Spirit signifies the beginning of the arrival of the eschatological era. That is it was prophesied in scripture that the arrival of the Spirit would mark the beginning of the restoration of the Kingdom. Water baptism is a sign of repentance and forgiveness, and the reception of the spirit enables the believer for ministry. However the disciples naturally think of the promises of restoration of the kingdom of Israel. Jesus doesn’t deny but qualifies the timing, and reformulates what that looks like. Also “Authority for determining the events of History is ascribed to God.”

  In verse eight we find the mission, our orders. Our power comes from the Holy Spirit. This power has a purpose.   The power enables them and us to be witnesses, and take the good news to the world.

“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come on you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” Acts 1:8 ESV

We also find this account in Luke and Matthew.

“The He told them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you – that everything written about Me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets, and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” The He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures. He also said to them, “This is what is written: The Messiah would suffer and rise from the dead the third day, and repentance for forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed in His name to all the nations, beginning at Jerusalem. You are my witnesses of these things. And look, I am sending you what My father promised. As for you, stay in the city until you are empowered from on high.” Luke 24:44-49 ESV

Then Jesus came near and said to them “ All authority has been given to me in Heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe everything I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” Matt 28:18-20 ESV

  The essence of what Jesus was saying here was, “Go make disciples, and teach them to obey!” “The last command He had given them was to make disciples so your not done disciplining new Christians until they are making disciples themselves.” – Max Barnett. Also note as we will see in the first church the focus was making disciples, if you make disciples you will plant churches, but you can plant churches without making disciples, that is not God’s plan. The purpose of the church is to make disciples.  The church is a family, and in that family are spiritual fathers who are to raise up and send out their children.  All churches are to be sending churches, if the church does not birth new churches it ends up looking like a family with the thirty year old son living in the basement playing video games.  We have a mission to make disciples and send them, not keep them, and we do this in the power of the Spirit.

  From this section of scripture we find both the promise of the Spirit and the command to go make disciples. A principle we can apply here is phrased well by a quote I heard from my professor in class last semester. “Jesus commands come with his enabling, He doesn’t command the impossible with out enabling us to do it.”-Carl Laney. Here Jesus commanded us to go make disciples, but he also commanded to do that in the power of the Holy Spirit. He provided the means in order to accomplish the task He gave.

Ascension 9-11

 And when he had said these things, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. 10 And while they were gazing into heaven as he went, behold, two men stood by them in white robes, 11 and said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.” Acts 1:9-11 ESV

After He gave the command he gave them another proof of his power and position. He made them all eyewitnesses of his bodily ascension. He is still both fully man and fully God. He arose from the dead, then ascended in bodily form. Angels came and confirmed he had gone to heaven and would return again in bodily form just as he had gone.

Closing

  The spirit of God inspired scripture, gives understanding of scripture, and empowers Gods people for His work. Our mission today is the same as it was given here in Acts. As God’s chosen people we have the purpose of making disciples, and we have been given the power to complete the task. We now need to study the gospel and learn it well and rely on the power of the Spirit to enable us to live out the gospel in word and deed. 

Bibliography
  1. “Acts.” The ESV Study Bible, ESV Bible. Wheaton, Illinois. Crossway. 2011.
  2. Brand, Chad; Draper, Charles; England, Archie. Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary. Nashville, Tennessee. 2003
  3. Erickson, Millard, J. Christian Theology, Grand Rapids Michigan. Baker Publishing Group. 1983
  4. Elwell, Walter A. Evangelical Dictionary of Theology. Grand Rapids, Michigan. 1984
  5. Hughes, PH.D. Robert B.; Laney, TH.D. J. Carl, “Acts.” Tyndale Concise Bible Commentary. Tyndale House Publishers, Inc. 1990.
  6. Schultz, Richard L., “Acts.” The Baker Illustrated Bible Commentary. Ed. Burge, Gary M, Hill, Andrew E. Grand Rapids Michigan, Baker Publishing Group. 2012.