Friday, April 29, 2011

Drawn by the Father

Acts 9:1-8

When Stephen was stoned, a young and ambitious Pharisee was there to witness it, as we see in Acts 7:58. “And cast him out of the city, and stoned him: and the witnesses laid down their clothes at a young man's feet, whose name was Saul.” Apparently he had already attained a level of authority, as Acts 8:1 tells us. “And Saul was consenting unto his death. And at that time there was a great persecution against the church which was at Jerusalem; and they were all scattered abroad throughout the regions of Judaea and Samaria, except the apostles.”

In order to get their party’s support, both Republicans and Democrats are forced to support the Party platform without question, if they wish to advance their careers. As an aspiring leader of the Pharisees, Saul found it to his advantage to promote the high priest and his associates’ goals.

“And Saul, yet breathing out threatenings and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord, went unto the high priest, And desired of him letters to Damascus to the synagogues, that if he found any of this way, whether they were men or women, he might bring them bound unto Jerusalem.” (Acts 9:1-2)

Because he didn’t believe in Christ, he never questioned the leaders claims, according to I Timothy 1:13, “…but I obtained mercy, because I did it ignorantly in unbelief.” He was just trying to promote his career by actively arresting the Christians. That it was his religious leaders who wished it made it seem legitimate.

“And as he journeyed, he came near Damascus: and suddenly there shined round about him a light from heaven: And he fell to the earth, and heard a voice saying unto him, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me? And he said, Who art thou, Lord? And the Lord said, I am Jesus whom thou persecutest: it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks.” (Acts 9:3-5)

According to Romans 1:18-20, God reveals himself to every single person. “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness; Because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath showed it unto them. For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse:”

Some choose to reject the idea of God at all, calling themselves Atheists. Others, agnostics, decide they don’t want to know, avoiding the idea. Still others decide there must be a God, and become religious. The majority of these decide what they want God to be like and devise an explanation that fits their desires, as Romans 1:22-23 explains. "Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools, And changed the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and fourfooted beasts, and creeping things.”

John 3:18 informs us that it is this sin of refusing to believe that sends people to hell. “He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.” Every other sin is the result of rejecting God as Romans 1:28-32 makes clear.

We are surrounded by people who have rejected God, and many times, Like Saul we simply go along with their opinions. Saul had demonstrated an interest in God, even going beyond his peers, but his decisions were still based on other peoples’ beliefs. Like Saul, a lot of people who have grown up in church have just gone along with what the church told them without making a real decision for themselves. While most do not experience as dramatic a trigger event as Saul, every person comes to that same point of having to choose to believe or reject Christ. As John 6:44 tells us, they cannot be saved until God causes them to make that choice.

“And he trembling and astonished said, Lord, what wilt thou have me to do? And the Lord said unto him, Arise, and go into the city, and it shall be told thee what thou must do. And the men which journeyed with him stood speechless, hearing a voice, but seeing no man.” (Acts 9:6-7)

Saul’s decision to believe is clear. When he asked “Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?”, he was committed to believing in Christ, willing to give up what he had been doing. As John 3:336 states, “He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life:…”

Salvation is always an individual event. Only God and the believer are involved. Anyone else is just an observer, hearing only part of the conversation, kind of like they are overhearing someone talking on the phone. As Acts 22:9 tells us the others saw the light and heard Saul talking but did not hear God understandably.

“And Saul arose from the earth; and when his eyes were opened, he saw no man: but they led him by the hand, and brought him into Damascus. And he was three days without sight, and neither did eat nor drink.” (Acts 9:8-9)

For the next three days, the Holy Spirit prevented Saul from being distracted by those around him. He spent those three days in fasting and prayer, allowing the Holy spirit to teach him. While most new Christians are not physically unable to see after being saved, there is usually a period where they are protected from the evil around them, giving them a chance to understand what they have. It is exhilarating to be present during that period and see how God works in their lives, as sins drop away and the attitude changes.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

The Evangelist At Work

Acts 8:26-40

Philip, the only person referred to as an evangelist in scripture, had started a church in Samaria. Peter and John had come down to help establish the church, with the result that the people were filled with the Spirit. We have no indication how long Philip or the apostles spent building u the church, but once they had accomplished their purpose, the apostles preached in various villages on their way back to Jerusalem. Philip appears to have remained in Samaria for a time, teaching them, until God directed him to leave.

“And the angel of the Lord spake unto Philip, saying, Arise, and go toward the south unto the way that goeth down from Jerusalem unto Gaza, which is desert.” (Acts 8:26)

The city of Samaria was a large city. There were many people being saved and the church was growing spiritually. Now God instructs Philip to leave it and go to a desert place where nobody lives? It makes me think of the people who told my dad he was wasting his time going to the Navajo reservation because there weren’t enough people to build a big church. It would be better to go to a country with a larger population so he could reach more people. Thankfully, Dad, like Philip, listened to the Lord, rather than to human wisdom.

“And he arose and went: and, behold, a man of Ethiopia, an eunuch of great authority under Candace queen of the Ethiopians, who had the charge of all her treasure, and had come to Jerusalem for to worship, Was returning, and sitting in his chariot read Esaias the prophet.” (Acts 8:27-28)

There was only one person in that place, and he was an Ethiopian, a black man, and a powerful leader of the country, traveling in the equivalent of a modern day Rolls Royce. Ordinary people walked or rode donkeys. He had a definite desire to know God, having just been to Jerusalem to worship, and was reading the scriptures in an effort to understand what God expected. Perhaps, he’d heard enough in Jerusalem to want to go beyond just what the scribes and priests were teaching.

“Then the Spirit said unto Philip, Go near, and join thyself to this chariot. And Philip ran thither to him, and heard him read the prophet Esaias, and said, Understandest thou what thou readest?” (Acts 8:29-30)

Philip did approach the man because he was the only one there, but because the Holy Spirit commanded him to. When he approached the chariot, the man was reading aloud in an effort to understand what the scriptures were saying. Frequently reading aloud, observing the punctuation and ignoring verse divisions will clarify confusing passages, but it wasn’t working for this man. Philip asked if he understood what he was reading.

“And he said, How can I, except some man should guide me? And he desired Philip that he would come up and sit with him. The place of the scripture which he read was this, He was led as a sheep to the slaughter; and like a lamb dumb before his shearer, so opened he not his mouth: In his humiliation his judgment was taken away: and who shall declare his generation? for his life is taken from the earth. And the eunuch answered Philip, and said, I pray thee, of whom speaketh the prophet this? of himself, or of some other man? ” (Acts 8:31-34)

He was reading the prophecy in Isaiah 53, and recognized he had no basis to understand what the scriptures were saying. It is a key element of going as a missionary to people who have never heard. Even the Samaritans had an understanding of who Isaiah and the Messiah were, and would naturally assume that Isaiah was speaking of the Messiah. The Ethiopian eunuch had no such background. We were surprised when we came to the reservation that many Navajo’s only concept of a god was some historical being who gave them some benefit or caused a problem. Before they could understand what we were talking about, they needed a clear concept of who God was.

“Then Philip opened his mouth, and began at the same scripture, and preached unto him Jesus.” (Acts 8:35)

Teaching, like traveling, has to start from where one is. It is not possible to start from New York if I am in Albuquerque, nor is it possible to learn about God without starting with what we already know. Philip started where the man was, and taught him who Jesus was and what the prophecy was talking about, in a one on one setting. Clearly, the man had heard about or seen people being baptized, from his next question.

“And as they went on their way, they came unto a certain water: and the eunuch said, See, here is water; what doth hinder me to be baptized? And Philip said, If thou believest with all thine heart, thou mayest. And he answered and said, I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. And he commanded the chariot to stand still: and they went down both into the water, both Philip and the eunuch; and he baptized him.” (Acts 8:36-38)

The eunuch asked what would be required for him to be baptized. Philip’s answer was that he had to believe in Jesus Christ with all his heart he could be, implying that baptism is meaningless unless one truly believes. John 3:36 declares, “He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life: and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him.”

The eunuch’s response clearly fulfills Romans 10:9-10. “That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.”

Since Philip could have simply dipped up some water to sprinkle or pour it over the man’s head, as many do today, it seems obvious that immersion is what the passage is referring to.

“And when they were come up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord caught away Philip, that the eunuch saw him no more: and he went on his way rejoicing.” (Acts 8:39)

The Eunuch returned to Ethiopia and is believed to have started the Coptic church which, while having departed from the scriptures, endured until the communist took over of Ethiopia in the 1970’s. Though it appeared to have limited potential, Philip’s ministry to that man had a huge impact on Ethiopia for 1900 years, with Emperor Haile Selassie begging for missionaries to preach the gospel and turn Ethiopia back to God during the 1960’s.

“But Philip was found at Azotus: and passing through he preached in all the cities, till he came to Caesarea.” (Acts 8:40)

The Holy Spirit then took Philip to Azotus, where he began teaching in every city along the way, eventually arriving in Caesarea, the home of Cornelius, some time after Peter preached there in Acts 10. His ministry is our only example of an evangelist’s office.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

The Laying on of Hands

Acts 8:13-25

The Samaritans were a mixture of various ethnic groups that the Assyrians had brought in to occupy the old Kingdom of Israel after they went into captivity. Because God brought judgment for their failure to serve him, Jewish priests were brought in to teach them how to worship God. The Samaritans thus were a mixed people who worshiped God, and various other gods, as described in II Kings 17:28-34. In many respects they were like a lot of groups today with a religion composed of a mixture of idolatry and pseudo Christianity. The Jews shunned them.

Such societies are especially vulnerable to charlatans who pass themselves off as a powerful religious figure, using supposed miracles to convince people of supernatural power. Like many others, Simon had used the situation to set himself up as a spiritual power according to Acts 8:9-11. The Holy Spirit convicted him of his need of a savior, and he began to associate with Philip. He was especially intrigued that Philip could do real wonders that he could not even fake, and didn’t use it for his own benefit.

“Then Simon himself believed also: and when he was baptized, he continued with Philip, and wondered, beholding the miracles and signs which were done.” (Acts 8:13)

Hearing the reports about what was happening in Samaria, the church at Jerusalem sent Peter and John down to assist in establishing the church. While they had received salvation, the Samaritan Christians had not been yet been filled with the holy Spirit.

“Now when the apostles which were at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent unto them Peter and John: Who, when they were come down, prayed for them, that they might receive the Holy Ghost: (For as yet he was fallen upon none of them: only they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.) Then laid they their hands on them, and they received the Holy Ghost.” (Acts 8:14-17)

In the Old Testament, laying on of hands was a way of identifying with something. Leviticus 16:21-22 describes laying hands on the scapegoat, identifying him as the one who was to carry the guilt for the sins of Israel. “And Aaron shall lay both his hands upon the head of the live goat, and confess over him all the iniquities of the children of Israel, and all their transgressions in all their sins, putting them upon the head of the goat, and shall send him away by the hand of a fit man into the wilderness: And the goat shall bear upon him all their iniquities unto a land not inhabited: and he shall let go the goat in the wilderness.” It was also used to identify the a person who was being blessed as Jacob did in blessing Joseph’s sons in Genesis 48, or one who was guilty of sin in Leviticus 24.

The seven deacons were already men filled with the Spirit when the apostles laid hands on them in Acts 6:6, identifying with them in their new ministry, and this passage and the story of Ananias coming to Paul are the only passages where any connection is made between the laying on of hands and receiving the Holy Spirit. It was not involved on the day of Pentecost, or when Peter spoke to the gentiles in Acts 10. Why in this passage?

The Samaritan woman in John 4:9 was surprised that Jesus would talk to her or ask for a drink because the Jews would have nothing to do with Samaritans. While Philip had come down, the Samaritans were still expecting to be viewed as inferior. For the apostles to touch them and identify with them would have a tremendous emotional impact, eliminating any lingering feelings of inferiority or doubt. Suddenly, the people are prepared for the filling of the Holy Spirit.

While emotions are only one part of human life, and is largely reactive, it is a very important part and greatly affects our spiritual attitudes. Touch is an essential ingredient for emotional health, giving us a sense of being connected, and is part of normal human interaction. The laying on of hands, sharing and identifying with certain events has tremendous psychological impact. Coupled with real spiritual power it is far more than just a psychological phenomenon, but as a ritual, offers only an immediate emotional sensation with no real spiritual benefit, similar to baptism for an unbeliever.

“And when Simon saw that through laying on of the apostles' hands the Holy Ghost was given, he offered them money, Saying, Give me also this power, that on whomsoever I lay hands, he may receive the Holy Ghost.” (Acts 8:18-19)

When first saved, they still have the same old habits of thought they have learned. Simon had developed an habit of trying to promote himself, and being able to give the Holy Spirit would enable him to keep his prestige. It seemed like a profitable investment.

“But Peter said unto him, Thy money perish with thee, because thou hast thought that the gift of God may be purchased with money. Thou hast neither part nor lot in this matter: for thy heart is not right in the sight of God. Repent therefore of this thy wickedness, and pray God, if perhaps the thought of thine heart may be forgiven thee. For I perceive that thou art in the gall of bitterness, and in the bond of iniquity.” (Acts 8:20-23)

Simon’s focus on advancing himself is very common. It is the source of competition and envy between pastors, missionaries, and church members, and between different churches and religious organizations. It is the same attitude Jesus described in Matthew 23:1-15. It is always the result of a heart that is not right with God, controlled by selfish carnal impulses.

“Then answered Simon, and said, Pray ye to the Lord for me, that none of these things which ye have spoken come upon me.” (Acts 8:24)

New Christians come into the church with many ungodly attitudes and customs derived from their culture and experiences. If ignored, they are deemed acceptable and become entrenched. The Holy Spirit enabled Peter to discern the problem before it became entrenched in Simons life, and confront him about it, resulting in repentance.

“And they, when they had testified and preached the word of the Lord, returned to Jerusalem, and preached the gospel in many villages of the Samaritans.” (Acts 8:25)

Once the church was firmly established, Peter and John returned to Jerusalem, stopping to preach in many of the surrounding villages along the way. We have no idea how long they spent, except that it seems to have been a considerable time. It was clearly not the typical evangelistic trip or missions trip of today.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

The First Missionary

Acts 8:5-13

When people first do something wrong, they are very cautious, afraid they will get caught. If they succeed, they and appear to have gotten away with it, they will almost certainly repeat it. If there are no effective actions to stop them, it will escalate. This can be seen in alcoholism, drug addiction, Gang violence and sexual sin.

Having crucified Jesus, It was not a major step to killing Stephen, but when they killed him, and the majority of people went along with it, and the Roman authorities didn’t intervene immediately, the Jewish leadership felt they were free to do as they pleased, and began persecuting the Christians, forcing many to flee Jerusalem. As the church shrank, the seven deacons were free to do other things.

“Then Philip went down to the city of Samaria, and preached Christ unto them.” (Acts 8:5)

Just before his ascension into heaven, Jesus told the disciples, “But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth,” in Acts 1:8. Philip went as the first missionary, to the neighboring country of Samaria, preaching the Gospel, and fulfilling the next part of the verse. That Paul is generally considered the first missionary only demonstrates the superficiality of much Bible teaching.

Most books about great preachers today devote considerable time to his upbringing and training. The Bible does not do so because it really isn’t relevant, and the focus is on how the Holy Spirit empowered them rather than on the man.

We know that Philip was filled with the Holy Spirit and had a good reputation, because it was required to be selected as a deacon. His work is described briefly, then no further record appears until Acts 21:8, where it is clear he was still involved in ministry. “And the next day we that were of Paul's company departed, and came unto Caesarea: and we entered into the house of Philip the evangelist, which was one of the seven; and abode with him.”

This is one of only three times the word ‘evangelist’ is used in the entire Bible. The other places are Ephesians 4:11, “And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers;” and II Timothy 4:5, “But watch thou in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, make full proof of thy ministry.” Philip is the only one referred to as an evangelist, but it is obvious that it is an important position from Ephesians 4:11.

The Greek word translated as “evangelist” means “one who announces the Gospel.” No announcement is needed for people who have already heard. Each of the offices listed refer to what was needed by the church at the time. We know that the office of the apostles ended when the apostles died. We also know that the office of prophet would end when the scripture was complete from I Corinthians 13:8-10, because it would no longer be needed. That does not mean that God cannot give individual prophecies, but that the gift of prophecy has ended.

Timothy was beginning his ministry as a Pastor, taking over a church Paul had started, and building it up spiritually after Paul left. Paul instructed him to “do the work of an evangelist,” clearly implying that Timothy was not an evangelist, but that evangelism was part of his job. If the pattern holds, of the office ending when it is no longer needed, then the evangelist’s responsibility would be taken over by the pastors and teachers. Since Philip is the only one referred to as an evangelist, we will need to examine his work to understand the office and duties of an evangelist. We’ve already seen that he went to another country and people.

“And the people with one accord gave heed unto those things which Philip spake, hearing and seeing the miracles which he did. For unclean spirits, crying with loud voice, came out of many that were possessed with them: and many taken with palsies, and that were lame, were healed. And there was great joy in that city.” (Acts 8:6-8)

Philip was doing exactly the same thing in Samaria that the apostles did in Jerusalem, preaching Jesus Christ, healing the sick, and delivering them from satanic spirits, and reaching the local people. The only difference was he was in another country, working with a different culture.

“But there was a certain man, called Simon, which beforetime in the same city used sorcery, and bewitched the people of Samaria, giving out that himself was some great one: To whom they all gave heed, from the least to the greatest, saying, This man is the great power of God. And to him they had regard, because that of long time he had bewitched them with sorceries.” (Acts 8:9-11)

In Jerusalem, the apostles had to contend with an entrenched Jewish religion that had many elements similar to what Christians believed, but whose leaders would do anything they could to retain their power. The big difference was that the Jewish religion was all about the flesh, as opposed to the Spiritual life. The temptation was to fall back into the old way of doing things.

As an evangelist or missionary, Philip had to introduce the gospel and persuade people to leave their old customs and worship. Simon was as jealous of his power as the chief priests were in Jerusalem. The biggest difference is that Philip was less familiar with the religion of Samaria.

“But when they believed Philip preaching the things concerning the kingdom of God, and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women.” (Acts 8:12)

The Holy Spirit produced the same results in Samaria as he did in Jerusalem. Those who believed got baptized. It’s the first indication that their faith is real, and are committed to the Lord, that they do the first thing he asks a Christian to do. The failure to commit by being baptized indicates a lack of real faith. I am suspicious of the person who claims thousands saved, yet only sees one or two baptized. As James 2:26 says, “For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.”

It is clear from these verses that belief and baptism are separate, and John 3:36 makes it clear that belief is the crucial element of salvation. “He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life: and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him.” At the same time, it is clear that those who believed also got baptized.

“Then Simon himself believed also: and when he was baptized, he continued with Philip, and wondered, beholding the miracles and signs which were done.” (Acts 8:13)

The same power of the Holy Spirit reached Simon as reached the rest of the people, just like it reached many of the priests in Jerusalem. Romans 10:12 states, “For there is no difference between the Jew and the Greek: for the same Lord over all is rich unto all that call upon him.”

Monday, April 25, 2011

Accomplishing The Intended Purpose

Acts 7:54-8:4

In John 16:8-11, Jesus tells us that part of the Holy Spirit’s job is to point out what is wrong. “And when he is come, he will reprove the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment: Of sin, because they believe not on me; Of righteousness, because I go to my Father, and ye see me no more; Of judgment, because the prince of this world is judged.” Many devote most of their effort to preaching against sin, in an effort to produce conviction.

Examining the passage we learn quite a bit. First we learn that sin is transgression of the law, in I John 3:4. “…for sin is the transgression of the law.” The Holy Spirit will definitely convict us of overt sin. Too often we fail to realize that “…for whatsoever is not of faith is sin,” according to Romans 14:23. The Holy spirit causes guilt over these things that many modern churches overlook.

He also reproves the world of righteousness. How can we be condemned for being right? Isaiah 64:4 advises, “But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags;…” What we view as righteousness is only a very poor imitation of the right thing. Human efforts to be righteous completely fail according to Romans 10:3. “For they being ignorant of God's righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted themselves unto the righteousness of God.” The Holy Spirit makes us aware of the false righteousness.

Finally, he reproves for a lack of justice. Too often judgment is rendered on the basis of human standards and preferences, or on appearances, rather than on truth. It was this that resulted in their rejection of Christ, because he did not accept their standards.

As the Holy Spirit led him, Stephen described the on going rebellion of Israel against God, and the Holy Spirit produced a sense of guilt, or conviction, probably in all three areas.

“When they heard these things, they were cut to the heart, and they gnashed on him with their teeth.” (Acts 7:54)

When people have the sense of guilt, they can either rebel against it, or confess their guilt and be forgiven. This group chose to rebel and became very angry, literally gnashing their teeth together and trembling with rage.

“But he, being full of the Holy Ghost, looked up stedfastly into heaven, and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing on the right hand of God, And said, Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing on the right hand of God.” (Acts 7:55-56)

Because he was filled with the Spirit, Stephen was aware of things others could not see. When surrounded by the Syrian army, in II Kings 6, and his servant asked what they should do, Elisha asked the Lord to open his eyes. He saw a far greater host between the Syrians and themselves. Because people are not filled with the Holy Spirit, they do not see what is around us all the time. It results in the boldness Stephen showed.

“Then they cried out with a loud voice, and stopped their ears, and ran upon him with one accord, And cast him out of the city, and stoned him: and the witnesses laid down their clothes at a young man's feet, whose name was Saul. And they stoned Stephen, calling upon God, and saying, Lord Jesus, receive my spirit. ” (Acts 7:57-59)

The Word was preached with the power of the Holy Spirit. It produced tremendous conviction. Nobody repented. It’s totally contrary to what many teach today. After all, Isaiah 55:11 declares, “So shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it.”

The people laid their coats at Saul’s feet while stoning Stephen. It almost seems that Stephen’s death has been wasted and the Holy Spirit has failed.

“And he kneeled down, and cried with a loud voice, Lord, lay not this sin to their charge. And when he had said this, he fell asleep.” (Acts 7:60)

Again, we see the lack of concern by Stephen, more concerned that those who killed him be forgiven than that he was dying. The peace and love is clearly the Holy Spirit’s fruit.

“And Saul was consenting unto his death. And at that time there was a great persecution against the church which was at Jerusalem; and they were all scattered abroad throughout the regions of Judaea and Samaria, except the apostles. And devout men carried Stephen to his burial, and made great lamentation over him.” (Acts 8:1-2)

The anger at Stephen continued and led to persecution of the Church. The church was really saddened by Stephen’s loss, and Saul went along with his death, even becoming involved in actively persecuting Christians himself.

“As for Saul, he made havock of the church, entering into every house, and haling men and women committed them to prison.
Therefore they that were scattered abroad went every where preaching the word.” (Acts 8:3-4)

Fear of persecution caused the Christians to go to other places. The Holy Spirit’s leadership resulted in persecution that forced the church to begin to fulfill the command Jesus gave in Matthew 28:19-20. “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen.”

In addition, The Jews were forced to make a decision as to whether to believe in Christ, and a seed was planted in Saul’s heart that would lead to his salvation a few chapters later. God’s word has accomplished what it was sent for, even though no one got saved. How often we think Satan won because we are not walking in the Spirit, and don’t understand that his purpose was not what we thought.

Friday, April 22, 2011

A Demonstration of Spiritual Boldness

Acts 7:35-53

Israel rejected Moses as their deliverer forty years before he returned to lead them out. In Exodus 5, they blamed him for making things worse for Israel when Pharaoh increased the level of persecution after Moses requested permission to leave to worship God.

“This Moses whom they refused, saying, Who made thee a ruler and a judge? the same did God send to be a ruler and a deliverer by the hand of the angel which appeared to him in the bush. He brought them out, after that he had showed wonders and signs in the land of Egypt, and in the Red sea, and in the wilderness forty years.” (Acts 7:35-36)

For forty years, Moses led Israel, from Egypt through the wilderness and to the very edge of the promised land. Along the way they saw tremendous miracles by God, and giving the Law. As a result, Moses is and was one of the most revered of the leaders and prophets of Israel.

“This is that Moses, which said unto the children of Israel, A prophet shall the Lord your God raise up unto you of your brethren, like unto me; him shall ye hear. This is he, that was in the church in the wilderness with the angel which spake to him in the mount Sina, and with our fathers: who received the lively oracles to give unto us: To whom our fathers would not obey, but thrust him from them, and in their hearts turned back again into Egypt, Saying unto Aaron, Make us gods to go before us: for as for this Moses, which brought us out of the land of Egypt, we wot not what is become of him. And they made a calf in those days, and offered sacrifice unto the idol, and rejoiced in the works of their own hands.” (Acts 7:37-41)

Moses had prophesied about another prophet, like himself, that they needed to hear him. When he went to the mountain to receive the law from God, the people turned away to worship other gods, rejecting God again. Despite their pride in their faithfulness to God, Israel had rarely been faithful in their history, and had been punished repeatedly, finally being carried off to Babylon.

“Then God turned, and gave them up to worship the host of heaven; as it is written in the book of the prophets, O ye house of Israel, have ye offered to me slain beasts and sacrifices by the space of forty years in the wilderness? Yea, ye took up the tabernacle of Moloch, and the star of your god Remphan, figures which ye made to worship them: and I will carry you away beyond Babylon.” (Acts 7:42-43)

The Tabernacle had been built under Moses’ leadership as a testimony to them of what Christ would do for them and a reminder of their covenant with God. They had carried it with them for about six hundred years, from Joshua’s day until Solomon became king, being reminded of God every time they saw it.

“Our fathers had the tabernacle of witness in the wilderness, as he had appointed, speaking unto Moses, that he should make it according to the fashion that he had seen. Which also our fathers that came after brought in with Jesus into the possession of the Gentiles, whom God drave out before the face of our fathers, unto the days of David; Who found favour before God, and desired to find a tabernacle for the God of Jacob.” (Acts 7:44-46)

David had wanted to build a permanent house for God, but it was Solomon who actually built the temple. The tabernacle emphasized that God did not actually dwell in it. The munificence of the temple made it easier to focus on it rather than on God, forgetting who he is.

“But Solomon built him an house. Howbeit the most High dwelleth not in temples made with hands; as saith the prophet, Heaven is my throne, and earth is my footstool: what house will ye build me? saith the Lord: or what is the place of my rest? Hath not my hand made all these things?” (Acts 7:47-50)

Israel’s rejection of the Holy Spirit’s action in arresting Stephen was just a continuation of what they had done repeatedly through the ages, even though they had God’s law and prophecies, and either the Tabernacle or the Temple to remind them of God for all those years.

“Ye stiffnecked and uncircumcised in heart and ears, ye do always resist the Holy Ghost: as your fathers did, so do ye. Which of the prophets have not your fathers persecuted? and they have slain them which showed before of the coming of the Just One; of whom ye have been now the betrayers and murderers: Who have received the law by the disposition of angels, and have not kept it.” (Acts 7:51-53)

Stephen made it very clear that it was the religious Jews who had killed and ignored the prophets they claimed to revere, and then, ignoring the prophets’ teachings, had turned and killed the Messiah, and had not obeyed the law they purported to practice. What they were doing was not something new, or unusual.

Rather than defending himself, Stephen focused on his attackers need for repentance. The Holy Spirit gave him a different perspective as to what was needed. It resulted in an humble boldness with no element of self glory or self preservation. He was neither defensive nor defiant. It is not the attitude many stories of martyrs portray.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

A History Of Rejecting God’s Plan

Acts 7:1-35

After hearing the highly inflammatory claims against Stephen, the high priest himself had doubts as to their truth. Such a rebellious attitude would almost certainly have been noticed before.

“Then said the high priest, Are these things so?” (Acts 7:1)

Rather than defending himself, Stephen reviews Israel’s history, reminding them of the times they had rejected God’s chosen messengers, and ignored the messages. Their salvation was more important than Stephen’s life. He started with the progenitor of their race, and how Abraham came to the land.

“And he said, Men, brethren, and fathers, hearken; The God of glory appeared unto our father Abraham, when he was in Mesopotamia, before he dwelt in Charran, And said unto him, Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and come into the land which I shall show thee. Then came he out of the land of the Chaldaeans, and dwelt in Charran: and from thence, when his father was dead, he removed him into this land, wherein ye now dwell.” (Acts 7:2-4)

Some two thousand years before, God had directed Abraham to leave his homeland and go to a place God would show him. Eventually, he wound up in the land of Israel.

“And he gave him none inheritance in it, no, not so much as to set his foot on: yet he promised that he would give it to him for a possession, and to his seed after him, when as yet he had no child.” (Acts 7:5)

Abraham and his descendants lived in that land for two hundred and fifteen years without owning any of it, just being allowed to stay by the people who owned it, yet God promised Abraham that his descendants would own it, but not for another four hundred years. The sign of circumcision was instituted as a symbol showing they were born into Abraham‘s family and thus were heirs of the promise.

“And God spake on this wise, That his seed should sojourn in a strange land; and that they should bring them into bondage, and entreat them evil four hundred years. And the nation to whom they shall be in bondage will I judge, said God: and after that shall they come forth, and serve me in this place. And he gave him the covenant of circumcision: and so Abraham begat Isaac, and circumcised him the eighth day; and Isaac begat Jacob; and Jacob begat the twelve patriarchs.” (Acts 7:6-8)

Twenty two years before Israel went to Egypt, Joseph’s brothers started to kill him but were diverted from their intent, selling him as a slave instead.

“And the patriarchs, moved with envy, sold Joseph into Egypt: but God was with him, And delivered him out of all his afflictions, and gave him favour and wisdom in the sight of Pharaoh king of Egypt; and he made him governor over Egypt and all his house. Now there came a dearth over all the land of Egypt and Chanaan, and great affliction: and our fathers found no sustenance. But when Jacob heard that there was corn in Egypt, he sent out our fathers first. And at the second time Joseph was made known to his brethren; and Joseph's kindred was made known unto Pharaoh.” (Acts 7:9- 13)

For twenty two years, they had considered Joseph dead, yet their lives were saved and the nation preserved because of his efforts and obedience to God. It was because of him they came to Egypt and survived.

“Then sent Joseph, and called his father Jacob to him, and all his kindred, threescore and fifteen souls. So Jacob went down into Egypt, and died, he, and our fathers, And were carried over into Sychem, and laid in the sepulchre that Abraham bought for a sum of money of the sons of Emmor the father of Sychem.” (Acts 7:14-16)

About thirty years after they came to Egypt, a new king took over who didn’t recognize Joseph's contribution to Egypt and enslaved the Israelites. They remained in slavery for four hundred years.

“But when the time of the promise drew nigh, which God had sworn to Abraham, the people grew and multiplied in Egypt, Till another king arose, which knew not Joseph. The same dealt subtly with our kindred, and evil entreated our fathers, so that they cast out their young children, to the end they might not live. In which time Moses was born, and was exceeding fair, and nourished up in his father's house three months: And when he was cast out, Pharaoh's daughter took him up, and nourished him for her own son.” (Acts 7:17-21)

About three hundred and fifty years after Israel went into Egypt, Moses was born and adopted by Pharaoh’s daughter. He was raised as an Egyptian prince, but never lost sight of his Jewish heritage, seeking to protect them from Egyptian abuse, believing that it was why he was in that position.

“And Moses was learned in all the wisdom of the Egyptians, and was mighty in words and in deeds. And when he was full forty years old, it came into his heart to visit his brethren the children of Israel. And seeing one of them suffer wrong, he defended him, and avenged him that was oppressed, and smote the Egyptian: For he supposed his brethren would have understood how that God by his hand would deliver them: but they understood not.” (Acts 7:22-25)

The Israelites rejected his efforts to help them and he was forced to flee for his life.

“And the next day he showed himself unto them as they strove, and would have set them at one again, saying, Sirs, ye are brethren; why do ye wrong one to another? Ac 7:27 But he that did his neighbour wrong thrust him away, saying, Who made thee a ruler and a judge over us? Wilt thou kill me, as thou diddest the Egyptian yesterday? Then fled Moses at this saying, and was a stranger in the land of Madian, where he begat two sons.” (Acts 7:26-29)

Almost six hundred fifty years after Abraham entered the land of Canaan, Moses saw the burning bush and was instructed to return to Egypt and lead Israel to freedom.

“And when forty years were expired, there appeared to him in the wilderness of mount Sina an angel of the Lord in a flame of fire in a bush. When Moses saw it, he wondered at the sight: and as he drew near to behold it, the voice of the Lord came unto him, Saying, I am the God of thy fathers, the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. Then Moses trembled, and durst not behold. Then said the Lord to him, Put off thy shoes from thy feet: for the place where thou standest is holy ground. I have seen, I have seen the affliction of my people which is in Egypt, and I have heard their groaning, and am come down to deliver them. And now come, I will send thee into Egypt.” (Acts 7:30-34)

They had accused Stephen of blaspheming Moses. He showed that while they considered him one of the greatest leaders, at one time, as a nation, they had rejected him.

“This Moses whom they refused, saying, Who made thee a ruler and a judge? the same did God send to be a ruler and a deliverer by the hand of the angel which appeared to him in the bush. ” (Acts 7:35)

Human pride resents anybody who points out wrong doing, even when their intention is to help us. The guilty party resented Moses’ interference and human nature hasn’t changed. Despite their belief that they were better than others, the Jews were no different.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Dealing With False Charges

Acts 6:8-15

One of the seven deacons, Stephen, is specifically listed as being as being “a man full of faith and of the Holy Ghost,” in Acts 6:5. We know nothing about the man other than the description here. His walk with God is demonstrated by the miracles he performed.

“And Stephen, full of faith and power, did great wonders and miracles among the people.” (Acts 6:8)

The miracles and wonders undoubtedly attracted the attention of the community. The synagogues developed during the Babylonian captivity, as a center for maintaining worship of God. When they returned to Israel, local synagogues were established to teach and encourage keeping Jewish customs.

“Then there arose certain of the synagogue, which is called the synagogue of the Libertines, and Cyrenians, and Alexandrians, and of them of Cilicia and of Asia, disputing with Stephen. And they were not able to resist the wisdom and the spirit by which he spake.” (Acts 6:9-10)

The Libertines were people who had obtained their freedom under the Roman system. A group of Jewish proselytes from various countries joined members of the Synagogue of the Libertines in a debate with Stephen, trying to prove him wrong. They were unable to fluster or anger him because of the Holy Spirit’s leadership.

“Then they suborned men, which said, We have heard him speak blasphemous words against Moses, and against God. And they stirred up the people, and the elders, and the scribes, and came upon him, and caught him, and brought him to the council, And set up false witnesses, which said, This man ceaseth not to speak blasphemous words against this holy place, and the law: For we have heard him say, that this Jesus of Nazareth shall destroy this place, and shall change the customs which Moses delivered us.” (Acts 6:11-14)

The old saying about never discussing politics or religion had some validity. Some people will not accept any change from their opinion, becoming angry if they are unable to get the other side to yield to them. The group arguing with Stephen had this attitude. When they were unable to defeat him with facts, they paid people to perjure themselves in order to get him executed.

Their false witnesses accused him of blaspheming both God and Moses, literally implying that both were guilty of doing wrong. The charges were deliberately designed to offend people. Once they had the mob aroused, they brought him to the council, who were already seeking to silence the Christians. Lying witnesses then accused him of blaspheming or running down both the temple, and the Jewish law, again to stir up anti Christian feelings without regard to facts.

The charges that Jesus would destroy the temple and change the Jewish customs was a totally fabricated but were highly emotional issues. I was quite offended, as were many people by an Albuquerque police officer confronting a group of people and telling them there was no Jesus or God and they had no right to say there was. The demands for homosexual marriage and free abortion are definite attacks on our Christian values and offend many of us. The lies about what Stephen said would have had an equally offensive result on Jewish people. It is not hard to understand the people’s reaction.

At the end of World war II the American occupation forces in the Pacific needed things to occupy their free time, so Inter service boxing matches were held. Dad was assigned to train some of the boxers. One of his trainees had been a professional boxer before the war, and provided invaluable advice. One tip was that if a boxer could make his opponent lose his temper, he could whip him because he’d stop thinking, just swinging blindly. Over the years, it has been proven repeatedly in other areas as well. By making the crowd angry, they could manipulate them to do what ever was desired because they were focused on their anger, rather than the truth. Since the council wanted to stop the Christian message, they would allow even obvious efforts to evoke antagonism.

“And all that sat in the council, looking stedfastly on him, saw his face as it had been the face of an angel.” (Acts 6:15)

Stephen was not distressed by the accusations, simply trusting god to take care of it as he’d promised. Romans 8:28 declares, “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.” Philippians 1:28-29 describes the attitude of the Spirit filled Christian to such attacks. “And in nothing terrified by your adversaries: which is to them an evident token of perdition, but to you of salvation, and that of God. For unto you it is given in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for his sake;…” Stephen demonstrates the attitude.

It is not the attitude of most modern Christians when falsely accused.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Identifying Qualified Leaders

Acts 6:1-7

As the church in Jerusalem grew, and new people joined, problems began to develop. The first one was with Ananias and Sapphira focusing on themselves because of a failure to walk in the Spirit. Shortly, conflicts began to rise. I Corinthians 3:3 points out that anytime there is conflict between Christians, they are not walking in the Spirit. “For ye are yet carnal: for whereas there is among you envying, and strife, and divisions, are ye not carnal, and walk as men?” When the Holy Spirit was in control we find there was unity. Acts 2:46 describes them as “…continuing daily with one accord in the temple…” Acts 4:32 declares, “And the multitude of them that believed were of one heart and of one soul…” Suddenly racial strife develops.

“And in those days, when the number of the disciples was multiplied, there arose a murmuring of the Grecians against the Hebrews, because their widows were neglected in the daily ministration.” (Acts 6:1)

The church had mushroomed, with thousands of new people. Some of them, especially Greeks were not known to the apostles, with the result that they were unaware of their needs. As a result, the Greeks felt uncared for, and began to complain. There was a legitimate basis for their feelings of disenfranchisement.

The Holy spirit was portrayed by the oil in the lamps in the temple. Daily refilling was required. Unfortunately, we can allow even legitimate problems to siphon out the oil and destroy our spiritual walk. The Greeks fell into the trap of letting their emotions do so. When they began to complain, the Hebrews resented the complaints, allowing their feelings of resentment to siphon off their Spiritual supply, and conflict developed.

Led by the Spirit, the apostles recognized there was a valid problem and proposed a remedy. Unspiritual leaders find it difficult to admit there are problems or surrender authority.

“Then the twelve called the multitude of the disciples unto them, and said, It is not reason that we should leave the word of God, and serve tables. Wherefore, brethren, look ye out among you seven men of honest report, full of the Holy Ghost and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business. But we will give ourselves continually to prayer, and to the ministry of the word.” (Acts 6:2-4)

The ministering of the word, the teaching and preaching is too important to be neglected in order to administrate the church. They recommended selecting seven deacons to take care of church administration, so the apostles would be free to focus on pastoral duties. When the church had been smaller, both pastoral duties and administration required less effort. Essentially, the deacons were to serve as a board of directors, managing the physical needs of the church, working closely with the pastoral leaders.

Unless there is a unity of purpose, the deacons and pastors will run into conflict over how things should be done. To avoid this situation, specific guidelines were given. The horror stories about deacons make it clear that these guidelines are frequently ignored.

The first requirement for a deacon was that he had to have a good reputation as an honest man. Secondly they were to be full of the Holy Spirit, and then to demonstrate wisdom. Paul says that the requirements are similar, but slightly less rigorous than those for a pastor or bishop in his instructions to Timothy on how to pastor a church. He describes what to look for to identify those who are qualified.

“Likewise must the deacons be grave, not doubletongued, not given to much wine, not greedy of filthy lucre; Holding the mystery of the faith in a pure conscience.

And let these also first be proved; then let them use the office of a deacon, being found blameless. Even so must their wives be grave, not slanderers, sober, faithful in all things. Let the deacons be the husbands of one wife, ruling their children and their own houses well. For they that have used the office of a deacon well purchase to themselves a good degree, and great boldness in the faith which is in Christ Jesus.” (I Timothy 3:8-13)

In the description for the deacon. Paul focused more on the Good reputation, because the man is in the position of administering the financial and physical affairs of the church. The focus on the Bishop or pastor on the other hand focuses more fully on the spiritual qualifications. Both stress that the person must not be engaging in carnal practices or attitudes. Galatians 5:19-25 contrasts the carnal behavior with the spiritual attitudes.

“Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these; Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, Idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, Envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like: of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, Meekness, temperance: against such there is no law. And they that are Christ's have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts. If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit.” (Galatians 5:19-25)

Before electing a man as a deacon or pastor they needed to review his behavior and examine his attitudes. He was only to be elected if he met the standards.

“And the saying pleased the whole multitude: and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Ghost, and Philip, and Prochorus, and Nicanor, and Timon, and Parmenas, and Nicolas a proselyte of Antioch: Whom they set before the apostles: and when they had prayed, they laid their hands on them.” (Acts 6:5-6)

This could easily be seen to resolve the problem, and the church was pleased. The church selected seven men who qualified and recommended them to the apostles. This is important, because the church often has a better knowledge of the men’s qualifications than do pastors, who often only see them in a church setting. After prayer, the apostles placed their hands on them, identifying with them just as the Israelites did with their gifts and sacrifices in the Old Testament.

“And the word of God increased; and the number of the disciples multiplied in Jerusalem greatly; and a great company of the priests were obedient to the faith.” (Acts 6:7)

Resolving the issue in a Spiritual message enabled the church to grow greatly, freeing the apostles to accomplish more and eliminating distractions that turned people away. Even many of the priests broke away from the Sadducees and turned to Christ.

Monday, April 18, 2011

But They’re Wrong!

Acts 5:34-42

Fearing that people turning to Christ would further weaken their power, the Sadducees and chief priests were looking for some way to stop preaching in Jesus’ name. When their guilt was pointed out, Rather than acknowledging their sin and being forgiven, they decided to kill the apostles so no one would dare bring it up.

“Then stood there up one in the council, a Pharisee, named Gamaliel, a doctor of the law, had in reputation among all the people, and commanded to put the apostles forth a little space; And said unto them, Ye men of Israel, take heed to yourselves what ye intend to do as touching these men.” (Acts 5:34-35)

The prohibition movement was intended to stop drinking in the United States by preventing the production and sale of alcoholic beverages. Instead, the price of alcohol went up and illegal bars and nightclubs flourished. It became a challenge to obtain liquor. When Prohibition was repealed, an minimum drinking age was established, making drinking an adult pleasure kids weren’t allowed to enjoy. Drinking became the proof one was a man, and most kids looked forward to drinking. We’re still dealing with the consequences making drinking something desirable.

Satan used the same philosophy to get Eve to eat the forbidden fruit, telling her that God was trying to keep something good, a Godlike quality, from her. As Genesis 3:5-6 tells us, she fell for it. “For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil. And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one wise, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat,…” He still uses the same means of tempting people. How we oppose something frequently makes it more tempting.

During the Reagan administration, drug use declined, although less was spent trying to stop drugs than was spent in the previous few year. The primary anti drug program was Nancy Reagan’s “Just Say No” campaign encouraging people to turn drugs down as unsafe. The anti drug program was ampped up under Clinton, with a drug tsar and an huge budget, but drug use has risen steadily since the “Just Say No” program was scrapped.

Gamaliel reminded them of other groups that had become quite strong in Israel. Though they seemed a serious threat at the time, they faded away with little impact.

“For before these days rose up Theudas, boasting himself to be somebody; to whom a number of men, about four hundred, joined themselves: who was slain; and all, as many as obeyed him, were scattered, and brought to nought. After this man rose up Judas of Galilee in the days of the taxing, and drew away much people after him: he also perished; and all, even as many as obeyed him, were dispersed.” (Acts 5:36-37)

By attacking the apostles, and forcing the people to take sides without serious consideration, many might be tempted to side with the Christians, because they had established a good reputation. Such an attack would just call more attention to them and their teachings.

“And now I say unto you, Refrain from these men, and let them alone: for if this counsel or this work be of men, it will come to nought: But if it be of God, ye cannot overthrow it; lest haply ye be found even to fight against God.” (Acts 5:38-39)

Attacking forces those attacked to defend their position, and does not allow them to examine it honestly. An unprovoked attack tends to elicit sympathy, and the position may begin to appear to be legitimate. If the people are allowed to consider the position dispassionately, they will tend to determine the truth. On the other hand, no amount of opposition can change the truth. Even if every proponent were killed, it would eventually resurface.

“And to him they agreed: and when they had called the apostles, and beaten them, they commanded that they should not speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go.” (Acts 5:40)

Gamaliel was right that we can play into Satan’s hands by how we deal with those who do things we disapprove of. II Thessalonians 3:14-15 instructs, “And if any man obey not our word by this epistle, note that man, and have no company with him, that he may be ashamed. Yet count him not as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother.” While we should express our disagreement, we should not put them in a defensive position. Changing them is God’s job, not ours.

The Sadducees were still resentful of having their sin exposed and had the apostles beaten, ordering them not to speak in Jesus name, but they let them go.

“And they departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for his name.” (Acts 5:41)

By arresting the apostles, the leaders had given God the opportunity to miraculously deliver them and call attention to their teachings. Re-arresting them just called more attention to it, and this final beating is the icing on the cake. Turning them loose further emphasized that there were no legitimate grounds for the persecution. Gamaliel’s advice came too late. The disciples can rejoice that God has used the anger to further the Gospel. That God chose to use them to suffer is an indication that he considers them spiritually strong enough to do what asked. I Corinthians 10:13 states, “There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able;…” It was evidence of their walk in the Spirit, and an encouragement to continue.

“And daily in the temple, and in every house, they ceased not to teach and preach Jesus Christ.” (Acts 5:42)

The Holy Spirit produced an interest in the things about Jesus Christ, just as John 16:13-15 promised. “Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth: for he shall not speak of himself; but whatsoever he shall hear, that shall he speak: and he will show you things to come. He shall glorify me: for he shall receive of mine, and shall show it unto you. All things that the Father hath are mine: therefore said I, that he shall take of mine, and shall show it unto you.”

Saturday, April 16, 2011

A Spirit Filled Response To Authority

Acts 5:17-26

While attending a secular college, I had to take a philosophy course. The teacher’s focus was clearly to convince us that atheism was the only intelligent belief. We were required to read articles by a large number of different writers making it clear why they were atheists. I was shocked to learn that over half of those writers were considered Theologians in various religious groups. We were required to read a biography of one of them as one of the greatest missionaries of all times, and others were occasionally quoted in theology classes. I wonder if the Bible College professors had really read the theologians’ books, or just selected quotations.

To deliberately pose as a religious leader while denying any of it is, in my opinion one of the ultimate evils, because it is a deliberate effort to mislead people about their eternal future, yet many religious leaders have done just that. How can a man be a good man and knowingly lie and cheat? There were two main groups in Israel, the Pharisees, who zealously believed and practiced the old Jewish religion, and the Sadducees, who believed none of it, only viewing the religion as a tool for cultural unity. Acts 23:8 describes the different beliefs. “For the Sadducees say that there is no resurrection, neither angel, nor spirit: but the Pharisees confess both.”

While both groups worked together to lead and direct eh nation, the Sadducees appear to have taken over the highest offices in the Jewish religion. While the Pharisees were opposed to the Christian belief, it was very similar to the Pharisees‘ belief. If Christianity grew, it could well upset the balance of power in favor of the Pharisees.

“Then the high priest rose up, and all they that were with him, (which is the sect of the Sadducees,) and were filled with indignation, And laid their hands on the apostles, and put them in the common prison.” (Acts 5:17-18)

The imprisonment was a typical attempt to discredit the Apostles. While some cultures, such as organized crime of the gang culture look on imprisonment as a mark of honor, most people view it as an indication of bad moral behavior. By imprisoning the apostles the Chief priests and Sadducees hoped to weaken their influence, and thus preserve the balance of power.

“But the angel of the Lord by night opened the prison doors, and brought them forth, and said, Go, stand and speak in the temple to the people all the words of this life. And when they heard that, they entered into the temple early in the morning, and taught. But the high priest came, and they that were with him, and called the council together, and all the senate of the children of Israel, and sent to the prison to have them brought.” (Acts 5:19-21)

The miracle God performed to free the apostles was very low key. The disciples did not plan a jailbreak, they just trusted God to do what was right. There doesn’t even appear to have been an all night prayer vigil. The angel just opened the doors, and told them to go preach in the temple the next morning. Because it was so quiet, even the guards had no idea the prisoners were gone and didn’t report it. The leaders knew nothing a bout it until they were ready to have a hearing.

“But when the officers came, and found them not in the prison, they returned, and told, Saying, The prison truly found we shut with all safety, and the keepers standing without before the doors: but when we had opened, we found no man within. Now when the high priest and the captain of the temple and the chief priests heard these things, they doubted of them whereunto this would grow.” (Acts 5:22-24)

For a group of Agnostics who have chosen not to believe in miracles and spiritual things, this was a serious setback. They had spent a great deal of effort trying unsuccessfully conceal Jesus’ resurrection, because they knew that most of the people believed in religious matters, forcing them to work with the Pharisees to retain their power. How will they be able to spin this in their favor?

“Then came one and told them, saying, Behold, the men whom ye put in prison are standing in the temple, and teaching the people. Then went the captain with the officers, and brought them without violence: for they feared the people, lest they should have been stoned.” (Acts 5:25-26)

It would be impossible to cover up the escape since the apostles went publicly to the temple. Worse, from the Sadducees point of view, it supported the belief in a God they were trying to deny, and the people believed it. To come down hard on them might trigger a riot. They had to approach the matter cautiously.

“And when they had brought them, they set them before the council: and the high priest asked them, Saying, Did not we straitly command you that ye should not teach in this name? and, behold, ye have filled Jerusalem with your doctrine, and intend to bring this man's blood upon us.” (Acts 5:27-28)

The priests had commanded them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and Deuteronomy 17:12 commanded, “And the man that will do presumptuously, and will not hearken unto the priest that standeth to minister there before the LORD thy God, or unto the judge, even that man shall die: and thou shalt put away the evil from Israel.” The apostles have clearly disobeyed their command, spreading this teaching throughout Jerusalem, and what is really upsetting, they seem determined to blame the priests and religious leaders for the crucifixion. The chief priests’ attitudes were the same as the pastors of today, who quote Hebrews 13:17, “Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief: for that is unprofitable for you,” to pressure people to follow their standards or instructions.

“Then Peter and the other apostles answered and said, We ought to obey God rather than men.” (Acts 5:29)

When forced to choose between what God says and the authorities orders, our responsibility is to obey God. No one has authority to countermand or override God’s command. They have exceeded their authority in setting their own standards and rules. We are personally responsible to God for our actions, and Spirit filled people will not blindly follow the crowd. It makes them unpopular with ungodly leaders.

As far as the apostles making the religious leaders look bad, It was God, not the apostles who made Jesus to be Messiah, not the apostles, they were just witnesses of what happened, as is the Holy Spirit. It was the leaders own actions that made them guilty, not the statements of the apostles.

“The God of our fathers raised up Jesus, whom ye slew and hanged on a tree. Him hath God exalted with his right hand to be a Prince and a Saviour, for to give repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins. And we are his witnesses of these things; and so is also the Holy Ghost, whom God hath given to them that obey him. When they heard that, they were cut to the heart, and took counsel to slay them.” (Acts 5:30-32)

Throughout history, people have tried to destroy those who force them to recognize their guilt. Humans do not like admitting being wrong. Rather than repenting of our sin, we tend to attack the thing that reveals it. The Sadducees were no exception.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Running Out Of Oil

Acts 5:1-16

All the church in Jerusalem was filled with the Holy Spirit. Acts 4:32 describes their attitude. “And the multitude of them that believed were of one heart and of one soul: neither said any of them that ought of the things which he possessed was his own; but they had all things common.” Various individuals, including Barnabas, voluntarily sold property and gave the proceeds to the church, to make sure everyone had what they needed. Many groups have tried to attain that standard again, and it is the socialist ideal, yet it always fails.

We find that right in the middle of this ideal situation, a problem develops. It is the same problem that has caused the failure of every socialist endeavor. We find it causing trouble again later in the church as well.

“But a certain man named Ananias, with Sapphira his wife, sold a possession, And kept back part of the price, his wife also being privy to it, and brought a certain part, and laid it, at the apostles' feet.” (Acts 5:1-2)

How can this be if the Holy Spirit produces such an attitude of love and concern for each other? Olive oil was used for a lot of things , including cooking, medicine, fuel for lamps, and various ointments. In the tabernacle, and later in the Temple, it was used to represent the Holy Spirit, in anointing the priests, and as fuel for the golden candlestick now known as the Menorah.

The lamps, or liquid candles of the candlestick had to refilled every day, but they were never to be allowed to go out. If they waited too long before refilling them the level of oil would drop so low the lights would go out. It is a very clear picture of the Christian. As long as he is filled with the Holy Spirit, he is a light to the world, but if the level drops below a certain threshold, the light goes out. Just before the lamp runs out of oil, the wick begins to burn, producing a lot of smoke and soot, but a shrinking amount of light. The smoke and soot indicates a dangerous level of carbon monoxide, endangering those around in and enclosed area. Please understand that even when the light goes out there is some oil, just not enough to maintain the flame.

The entire church had been filled with the Holy Spirit, but some of the people did not bother to refill. The change in Ananias and Sapphira’s attitude indicates the lack of spiritual filling. Instead of being concerned about others, they begin to focus on themselves.

“But Peter said, Ananias, why hath Satan filled thine heart to lie to the Holy Ghost, and to keep back part of the price of the land? Whiles it remained, was it not thine own? and after it was sold, was it not in thine own power? why hast thou conceived this thing in thine heart? thou hast not lied unto men, but unto God.” (Acts 5:3-4)

The problem was not that they didn’t give all the money. As Peter pointed out, the land was theirs, and they had the right to do whatever they wanted to with it. They also had the right to use the money however they wanted to. The problem was that they wanted to be known for having given everything to the church while they held back part for themselves, to get the same recognition that others got for giving everything.

Many years ago, I knew a man who would flash a large bill before putting it in the plate, but at the end of the row, there’d only be a one. It was a smaller version of the Ananias’ and Sapphira’s sin, a deliberate effort to deceive people into thinking he was doing more than he did. How often are the numbers of souls saved inflated by “evangelists” or missionaries to gain more recognition and money, or people ask that the value of donations deliberately inflated to get a tax break?

“And Ananias hearing these words fell down, and gave up the ghost: and great fear came on all them that heard these things. And the young men arose, wound him up, and carried him out, and buried him.” (Acts 5:5-6)

God dealt with Ananias’ sin rather severely. It seems almost overdone until you realize he was making a mockery of both God, and everyone who willingly gave what they had. Had he gotten by with it, he would have been sharing everyone else’s bounty while hiding his own, actually robbing the church by pretending needs he didn’t have.

“And it was about the space of three hours after, when his wife, not knowing what was done, came in. And Peter answered unto her, Tell me whether ye sold the land for so much? And she said, Yea, for so much.” (Acts 5:7-8)

Because he was filled with the Spirit, the Holy Spirit was able to alert Peter to Ananias deception right away. He also caused him to check if Sapphira was involved. Many teach today that if a husband leads his wife to do wrong, she will be innocent for going along with it. God punished Sapphira just like he did Ananias. She could nor avoid her responsibility by claiming her husband told her to.

“Then Peter said unto her, How is it that ye have agreed together to tempt the Spirit of the Lord? behold, the feet of them which have buried thy husband are at the door, and shall carry thee out. Then fell she down straightway at his feet, and yielded up the ghost: and the young men came in, and found her dead, and, carrying her forth, buried her by her husband.” (Acts 5:9-10)

It came as a shock to the church to have two of their members killed so openly for what seemed so insignificant. Suddenly, being a member of the church was not something to be treated lightly. How many times are we told we are to fear god, not in the sense of being afraid of him but in the sense of fearing the consequences of sin. Suddenly, God was not just a figurehead, he was a real power.

“And great fear came upon all the church, and upon as many as heard these things.” (Acts 5:11)

That respectful fear for God had a great impact on the Church. The Apostles experienced far greater power in witnessing, there was a far greater unity than before, and people stopped trying gain power or take the apostles places. Suddenly the focus is on who God has chosen. There were no more Korahs(Numbers 16) wanting to take over the church and run it to please themselves. It also impacted the unsaved around them.

“And by the hands of the apostles were many signs and wonders wrought among the people; (and they were all with one accord in Solomon's porch. And of the rest durst no man join himself to them: but the people magnified them. And believers were the more added to the Lord, multitudes both of men and women.) Insomuch that they brought forth the sick into the streets, and laid them on beds and couches, that at the least the shadow of Peter passing by might overshadow some of them. There came also a multitude out of the cities round about unto Jerusalem, bringing sick folks, and them which were vexed with unclean spirits: and they were healed every one.” (Acts 5:12-16)

Socialism tries to force people to share, ignoring their selfish nature. Capitalism capitalizes on that selfishness, so it works better for a while. In both systems, someone eventually gains control and begins to use it selfishly. Some Americans tend to view capitalism as God’s preordained plan, while others embrace socialism the same way. They try to run their churches accordingly.

The church will only function as God intended when we allow the Holy Spirit to fill each member and change their attitudes. You can’t attain spiritual results through earthly methods. Sin is rampant in the modern church because there are so few spiritually filled Christians. Acts allows us to see what is missing. The lamps aren’t giving much light because they are out of oil.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

The Spirit Filled Life

Acts 4:31-37

As we look at the church today, we find little similarity to the church in Acts. One well known pastor of a very large church stated that he suspects more than half his congregation are not saved. If that’s true, where is the Holy Spirit’s power? I know that people make professions of faith at every service. After all, a lot of people believe the number of professions indicates the level of spirituality of a church.

Through the years, I have heard people say that various things denote a Spirit filled Church. Some measure spirituality by the ability to speak in tongues, or keep some moral or dress code. In Handbook to Happiness, Dr. Solomon measured it by the emotional strength, as determined using the Taylor-Johnson temperament analysis. Obviously there is some confusion about what it means to be spirit filled.

The book of Acts gives us the opportunity to look over the shoulders of the Apostles and see how the Holy Spirit works in their lives so we know what we are trying for. Until we know what the goal is, we will never know whether we have accomplished it or not.

When the Holy Spirit moved in such a might way on the day of Pentecost, it occurred after a period of sincere prayer and united purpose. In this passage, we again see that the Holy Spirit moved in a mighty way after a period of intense prayer.

“And when they had prayed, the place was shaken where they were assembled together; and they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and they spake the word of God with boldness.” (Acts 4:31)

While there was an immediate physical impact, In this case, shaking the place, or on the day of Pentecost, the appearance of flames and the ability to speak in tongues, the greatest effect was the difference in attitude of those filled.

“And the multitude of them that believed were of one heart and of one soul: neither said any of them that ought of the things which he possessed was his own; but they had all things common.” (Acts 4:32)

Humans are naturally self centered. Even our efforts to help others tend to focus on what we receive from them, whether emotional or physical. As a result our efforts to help often focus on our desires rather than what the person actually needs. The Holy Spirit changes that, making the focus what pleases God instead. When that is our focus, we allow the Holy Spirit to do things the way he wants them, and the impact is magnified, as we see here.

“And with great power gave the apostles witness of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus: and great grace was upon them all.” (Acts 4:33)

When we are focused on having our own way, or getting glory for ourselves, we quench the Holy Spirit, not allowing him to work freely in our lives. It’s kind of like a candle lighting service where each person holds a lighted candle to light the room. Each person who puts out his candle lowers the level of light. Each person not filled with the Holy Spirit is like a lamp that hasn’t been filled, providing little or no light, or even smoking things up and further reducing the light available if they try to continue without the Holy Spirit’s power. The change in the attitude is clearly demonstrated by a change in behavior.

“Neither was there any among them that lacked: for as many as were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the prices of the things that were sold, And laid them down at the apostles' feet: and distribution was made unto every man according as he had need.” (Acts 4:34-35)

There was no demand for such actions, it was purely voluntary, as an expression of their love. One of those who were filled with the Spirit and gave would later have a great deal of impact on the church. He started by allowing the Holy Spirit to have control of his life.

“And Joses, who by the apostles was surnamed Barnabas, (which is, being interpreted, The son of consolation,) a Levite, and of the country of Cyprus, Having land, sold it, and brought the money, and laid it at the apostles' feet.” (Acts 4:36-37)

We will see Barnabas many times in our study, and he is perhaps the one character other than Jesus himself I would most like to emulate of all those mentioned in the Bible.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Praying In The Spirit

Acts 4:23-29

The disciples knew that the Jewish leaders had instigated Jesus’ crucifixion. After deliberate attempts to intimidate them and repeated threats if they continued to preach in Jesus’ name, they were released. Clearly, the only reason they were released was God’s protection.

“And being let go, they went to their own company, and reported all that the chief priests and elders had said unto them.” (Acts 4:23)

Sometimes, I am offended by the attitude of a football player who successfully scores a touchdown because the little celebratory dance they put on demonstrates an attitude of “look how good I did.” The basketball player who shoots the full length of the court at the last second in a desperate attempt to win the game, with little hope of success, and scores the winning basket demonstrates a different attitude. He knows it was not his skill that won the game, and he is just thankful it went through the hoop.

The Apostles had a very similar attitude about what had happened. When there seemed to be no hope, victory was snatched from the very jaws of defeat, and they would repeat what happened to convince themselves it really happened. Can you imagine their description? There was no pride in having won, just thankfulness, that resulted in a prayer of praise.

“And when they heard that, they lifted up their voice to God with one accord, and said, Lord, thou art God, which hast made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and all that in them is: Who by the mouth of thy servant David hast said, Why did the heathen rage, and the people imagine vain things? The kings of the earth stood up, and the rulers were gathered together against the Lord, and against his Christ.

For of a truth against thy holy child Jesus, whom thou hast anointed, both Herod, and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles, and the people of Israel, were gathered together, For to do whatsoever thy hand and thy counsel determined before to be done.” (Acts 4:24-28)

The rulers did not oppose the man being healed, in fact they probably thought it was a good thing. Their opposition was wholly against Jesus Christ. They did not want anything to glorify him because it would imply they were wrong in what they were doing. Their pride would not allow them to admit that. The rulers were not alone in their actions, as they recognized, with both Roman and other nationalities serving in the Roman army and being in the crowd when Jesus was crucified. The disciples understood that the action was not directed against them personally, although they were personally at risk. It is something we need to understand as well.

Many times things happen that we had no expectation of, and that make no sense to us. I am sure that the tsunami in Japan makes very little sense to the Japanese people. If we understand that God knew about it before it happened and planned for it, it is far easier to accept those things. The persecution and crucifixion of Jesus was such an event. The disciples were initially devastated by the death and burial of Christ, but imagine the joy when he was seen afterward. Even more importantly, our salvation depended on his death, so while it made no sense to them at the time, it was essential.

When the Holy Spirit is in control, the focus will always be on Christ, not the person or even the Holy Spirit, according to John 16:13-14. “Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth: for he shall not speak of himself; but whatsoever he shall hear, that shall he speak: and he will show you things to come. He shall glorify me: for he shall receive of mine, and shall show it unto you.” He changes our attitude and our prayers change accordingly. The disciples did not pray that the persecution would end, but that God would empower them to not yield to fear.

“And now, Lord, behold their threatenings: and grant unto thy servants, that with all boldness they may speak thy word, By stretching forth thine hand to heal; and that signs and wonders may be done by the name of thy holy child Jesus.” (Acts 4:29-30)

In the story of Naaman, the leper, Naaman expected the prophet to do some impressive act . II Kings 5:11 describes his expectation. “But Naaman was wroth, and went away, and said, Behold, I thought, He will surely come out to me, and stand, and call on the name of the LORD his God, and strike his hand over the place, and recover the leper.” Instead, Elisha didn’t even come talk to him, just sending his servant to tell him to go dip in the Jordan seven times. Naaman was not impressed with Elisha.

After he was healed, he was very aware it was God who healed him, not Elisha. II Kings 5:15 describes it. “And he returned to the man of God, he and all his company, and came, and stood before him: and he said, Behold, now I know that there is no God in all the earth, but in Israel: now therefore, I pray thee, take a blessing of thy servant.”

The disciples prayed that the power of God would be seen in a similar way in their lives, that Christ would get all the glory. One reason many of us do not receive the power we want is explained in James 4:3, "Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your lusts." Our intent is to glorify ourselves rather than Christ.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Accountable To God Rather Than Man

Acts 4:13-22

“Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were unlearned and ignorant men, they marvelled; and they took knowledge of them, that they had been with Jesus.” (Acts 4:13)

By the standards of their day, John and Peter were poorly educated, and not qualified to speak about the things of God. They had no degrees to back up their statements. As a result they were expected to simply bow to the more learned teachers and acknowledge their superiority.

Instead, they boldly spoke as to what was right, but not in a proud or foolish manner, showing logically why they believed what they said with sound evidence for their position. It was not because they were so eloquent or wise, but that they were directed by the Holy Spirit. They had spent the time with the Lord, and it showed. Could they make the same claim about us?

“And beholding the man which was healed standing with them, they could say nothing against it..” (Acts 4:14)

Much as the leaders would have liked to deny that anything had happened, the man had been healed publicly, and couldn’t be concealed even as easily as they had tried to hide Jesus’ resurrection. It would be difficult to pretend it didn’t happen after so many people saw him, especially with him walking around town. They decided to just downplay it in hopes people would forget.

“But when they had commanded them to go aside out of the council, they conferred among themselves, Saying, What shall we do to these men? for that indeed a notable miracle hath been done by them is manifest to all them that dwell in Jerusalem; and we cannot deny it. But that it spread no further among the people, let us straitly threaten them, that they speak henceforth to no man in this name. And they called them, and commanded them not to speak at all nor teach in the name of Jesus.” (Acts 4:15-18)

They did their best to intimidate Peter and John with their authority and education, ordering them not to speak in Jesus’ name. After all they were the experts relating to religious matters and expected to be obeyed. Peter and John’s response was definitely not what they expected.

“But Peter and John answered and said unto them, Whether it be right in the sight of God to hearken unto you more than unto God, judge ye. For we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard.” (Acts 4:19-20)

One traditional doctrine of Baptists, and a few other groups, is a belief in the personal responsibility of the individual to God. Even many who call themselves Baptists now believe that obedience to the leaders supersedes any personal understanding of the scriptures. They use Hebrews 13:17 to support their position. “Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief: for that is unprofitable for you.”

Their position ignores the instruction in Hebrews 13:7, “Remember them which have the rule over you, who have spoken unto you the word of God: whose faith follow, considering the end of their conversation.” We are to look at what their life is producing before we follow their instructions. In I Corinthians 11:1 Paul commanded, “Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ.” We are not to blindly follow the leader. No one has the authority to override or ignore God’s Command.

The Jewish leaders were depending on their position to make the disciples yield to their commands. Peter and John, led by the Holy Spirit, explained that we are to follow God, rather than man. When the leadership goes contrary to God’s teaching, we are obligated to follow God instead. It didn’t go over any better with the Jewish leaders than it does with domineering leaders today.

“So when they had further threatened them, they let them go, finding nothing how they might punish them, because of the people: for all men glorified God for that which was done. For the man was above forty years old, on whom this miracle of healing was showed.” (Acts 4:21-22)

The leaders would have had them punished but they couldn’t find any justification, and it might result in the people turning on them. After all, there was no question the man was able to walk, which he’d never been able to do in the previous forty years. To claim it was not of God would make them look pretty foolish.

Monday, April 11, 2011

The Source of Our Authority

Acts 4:1-12

Jesus had angered the Pharisees, calling them hypocrites for substituting their own ideas for God’s word. Then he’d gone into the temple and chased out the sellers of religious items, destroying a very profitable enterprise, implying the priests were not doing their job. The entire time, he’d been teaching that God was real and that people were obligated to obey him, offending the Sadducees, the Jewish agnostics.

In the process, he had performed miracles that proved he was qualified to speak on the subjects. Because his teaching was readily understood, and his lifestyle backed up the his teaching, the leaders hated him. That he had gained such a following among the people heightened their resentment, leading to their efforts to get him crucified. They would probably have ignored him as a crackpot, as did others, had he not had such a following. Even pilat recognized that it was jealousy that motivated their actions according to Matthew 27:18.

Can you imagine the consternation of the leaders? Two months after they had Jesus killed, on the day of Pentecost, the apostles had preached to a huge crowd, miraculously speaking in every person’s native language, and many had joined them. Now the lame man was healed right outside the entrance to the temple and instead of coming in to pray, the crowd was stopping to listen to what Peter was telling them about Jesus. Clearly, killing Jesus didn’t make the problem go away.

“And as they spake unto the people, the priests, and the captain of the temple, and the Sadducees, came upon them, Being grieved that they taught the people, and preached through Jesus the resurrection from the dead. And they laid hands on them, and put them in hold unto the next day: for it was now eventide.” (Acts 4:1-3)

Desperate to keep their control, they had Peter and John arrested, but it was too late in the evening to do much else, so they detained them until morning, to give themselves time to decide what to do.

“Howbeit many of them which heard the word believed; and the number of the men was about five thousand.” (Acts 4:4)

Notice this? There were about five thousand saved, and they didn’t even offer an invitation? They didn’t on the day of Pentecost either. Why? It’s something to think about and examine as we continue our study.

“And it came to pass on the morrow, that their rulers, and elders, and scribes, And Annas the high priest, and Caiaphas, and John, and Alexander, and as many as were of the kindred of the high priest, were gathered together at Jerusalem. And when they had set them in the midst, they asked, By what power, or by what name, have ye done this?” (Acts 4:5-7)

Several years ago, an investment book I read said to examine the list of a company’s officers. If they’re all related, it is a pretty sure sign that the decisions are going to be unduly influenced by family matters rather than what is best for the company. Annas and his father in law Caiaphas loaded the hearing with their relatives to ensure the decisions went their way.

When they had asked Jesus what was the basis of his authority, he had referred to John the Baptist, of whose authority there was little doubt, asking them where he got his. They refused to answer because they either had to admit that John had authenticated Jesus’ authority, or discredit themselves by denying John authority. They asked Peter the same question, in hopes of discrediting him.

“Then Peter, filled with the Holy Ghost, said unto them, Ye rulers of the people, and elders of Israel, If we this day be examined of the good deed done to the impotent man, by what means he is made whole; Be it known unto you all, and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom ye crucified, whom God raised from the dead, even by him doth this man stand here before you whole. This is the stone which was set at nought of you builders, which is become the head of the corner.” (Acts 4:8-11)

Many believe that speaking in unknown tongues is the evidence of the Holy Spirit. There is no indication that Peter spoke in tongues at this time, yet he was filled with the Holy Spirit. He simply did what Jesus commanded in Luke 12:11-12. “And when they bring you unto the synagogues, and unto magistrates, and powers, take ye no thought how or what thing ye shall answer, or what ye shall say: For the Holy Ghost shall teach you in the same hour what ye ought to say.”

I have to wonder if the Scopes Trial would have turned out differently if they had depended on the Holy Spirit instead of on Clarence Darrow. A few Years ago, the Christian Law Association was giving the exact opposite advice. As I study the book of Acts, I realize that it is primarily the story of the Holy Spirit’s actions in people’s lives, not the story of the people. Hopefully, we can see some of the same power in our own lives as a result of the study.

Peter clearly states that the man’s healing is based on the authority of Jesus Christ, and was done in his name. He proceeds to remind them of the scripture in Psalm 118:22, “The stone which the builders refused is become the head stone of the corner,” which they knew referred to the Messiah, and point out their rejection of Jesus Christ. He then pointed out that Jesus had been raised from the dead, as they knew, despite their efforts to conceal the fact described in Matthew 28:11-15. “Now when they were going, behold, some of the watch came into the city, and showed unto the chief priests all the things that were done. And when they were assembled with the elders, and had taken counsel, they gave large money unto the soldiers, Saying, Say ye, His disciples came by night, and stole him away while we slept. And if this come to the governor's ears, we will persuade him, and secure you. So they took the money, and did as they were taught: and this saying is commonly reported among the Jews until this day.” They had known as early as any of the apostles. They can no longer claim they didn’t know.

The Jews thought they had the inside track on salvation because they had the Mosaic law. Peter’s conclusion must have jarred them thoroughly, contradicting their opinion. It still upsets people.

“Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12)

The Pope, Joseph Smith, Mohammed, Buddha, Moses, or any of thousands of other religious leaders cannot offer salvation. Being a member of the Catholic church, the Church of Christ, a Baptist church or any other religious group will not save you. Their names are just the term they are denominated by, what they are called. Salvation in only through Jesus Christ. John 3:17-18 states, “For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved. He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.”