Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Starting The Church In Iconium

Acts 14:1-7

Paul and Barnabas were driven out of Antioch of Pisidia because the Jews were jealous of their impact on the Gentiles, and stirred up the stable and respectable people of the city. The church remained but Paul and Barnabas went to Iconium to relieve the pressure.

“And it came to pass in Iconium, that they went both together into the synagogue of the Jews, and so spake, that a great multitude both of the Jews and also of the Greeks believed.” (Acts 14:1)

In Antioch of Pisidia, Paul had turned to the Gentiles because the Jews had largely rejected the gospel. This does not imply that he, or God has turned his back on the Jews. In Iconium, Paul and Barnabas again started by going to the synagogue and speaking to those people. Just as in Antioch, a large contingent of the Jews were converted, believing in Christ, as well as many of the Greeks who’d converted to Judaism.

“But the unbelieving Jews stirred up the Gentiles, and made their minds evil affected against the brethren.” (Acts 4:2)

Just as at Antioch, and at Jerusalem, the strongest opposition came from those who had the most knowledge of the truth and reject it. On the Navajo Reservation, we have faced far more opposition from supposedly Christian groups including Presbyterians, Church of Christ, Catholic and Native American church, than from the traditional Navajo religion. At the same time, we were told that if we’d just join their local ministerial group, they’d help us out. Had Paul and Barnabas been willing to just incorporate Christianity as a part of the Jewish belief, the Jews would probably have welcomed them. Focusing on Christ instead offended them. It still offends those who really don’t believe.

“Long time therefore abode they speaking boldly in the Lord, which gave testimony unto the word of his grace, and granted signs and wonders to be done by their hands.” (Acts 14:3)

Despite the opposition, Paul and Barnabas stayed a long time. We have no time frame, but in some later churches, they stayed several years, so this could have been quite a while. The Holy Spirit was active again in this church, and it became strong.

“But the multitude of the city was divided: and part held with the Jews, and part with the apostles.” (Acts 14:4)

The gospel always produces division, because some choose to reject God. In Luke 12:51, Jesus warned, “Suppose ye that I am come to give peace on earth? I tell you, Nay; but rather division.” While we are to try to live at peace with everyone, we must not compromise our beliefs. John 16:2-3 warns, “They shall put you out of the synagogues: yea, the time cometh, that whosoever killeth you will think that he doeth God service. And these things will they do unto you, because they have not known the Father, nor me.”

The reason for the division is that many don’t really know the Lord, although they think they do. Their opposition to the gospel clearly identifies them, Matthew 7:20-23 states, “Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them. Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.”

“And when there was an assault made both of the Gentiles, and also of the Jews with their rulers, to use them despitefully, and to stone them, They were ware of it, and fled unto Lystra and Derbe, cities of Lycaonia, and unto the region that lieth round about: And there they preached the gospel.” (Acts 14:5-7)

Led of the Holy Spirit, Paul and Barnabas did not deliberately stay in Iconium when an attempt was made on their lives. Jesus had commanded that if they would not receive you, you were to shake the dust off your feet and go your way. That is what they did in Antioch, and they did it again in Iconium. God provided others who led the church when they left Iconium, going to Lystra and Derbe. Timothy’s mother, Eunice, and grandmother, Lois were saved in Derbe, Timothy grew up in the Church at Derbe, and developed a good reputation among the Christians in Iconiun and Lystra. In Acts 16, when Paul again visited these Churches, he took Timothy with him as an intern.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Spiritual Evangelism

Acts 13:42-52

Paul’s message showing that Jesus was the Messiah, and that salvation was through believing in Him had a tremendous impact on those who heard it. Many Jews and Jewish converts Believed the message.

“And when the Jews were gone out of the synagogue, the Gentiles besought that these words might be preached to them the next sabbath. Now when the congregation was broken up, many of the Jews and religious proselytes followed Paul and Barnabas: who, speaking to them, persuaded them to continue in the grace of God.
And the next sabbath day came almost the whole city together to hear the word of God.” (Acts 13:42-44)

Paul and Barnabas encouraged the people who followed them to continue in the “grace” or gift of God, believing in Christ Jesus. The Gentiles wished to hear the message for themselves, and the following Saturday, almost the entire population came to hear the message.

The Holy Spirit inspired a curiosity in the minds of the unsaved, and a desire to share in the hearts of the believers, resulting in almost the entire city coming. There was no advertising program or organized visitation program, just the Holy spirit working in people’s hearts. How often does our modern methodology indicate our lack of spiritual power and understanding? It seems that modern Christians have developed human substitutes for real Spiritual power in almost every area.

“But when the Jews saw the multitudes, they were filled with envy, and spake against those things which were spoken by Paul, contradicting and blaspheming.” (Acts 13:45)

The Jews did not question what Paul had said until they saw that the crowd was larger than theirs. It was the same when the chief priests and Pharisees called for Jesus’ crucifixion in Mark 15:10, when Pilate questioned them. “For he knew that the chief priests had delivered him for envy.” The flesh naturally attacks those who appear poised to do better than oneself. Pride resents others doing well. As Proverbs 13;10 states, “Only by pride cometh contention:…” Conflict is always the result of the sin of pride, regardless of the trigger. The Jews rejected God’s word because of their pride, not because of doubt that it was true.

“Then Paul and Barnabas waxed bold, and said, It was necessary that the word of God should first have been spoken to you: but seeing ye put it from you, and judge yourselves unworthy of everlasting life, lo, we turn to the Gentiles. For so hath the Lord commanded us, saying, I have set thee to be a light of the Gentiles, that thou shouldest be for salvation unto the ends of the earth.” (Acts 13:46-47)

Because they considered themselves too good to receive ssalvation like the others, they said in effect they didn’t deserve it. Jesus told the disciples, “And whosoever shall not receive you, nor hear your words, when ye depart out of that house or city, shake off the dust of your feet. Verily I say unto you, It shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrha in the day of judgment, than for that city,” in Matthew 10:14-15. That is exactly what Paul and Barnabas did, quoting Isaiah 49:6 as the reason for going to the Gentiles.

“And when the Gentiles heard this, they were glad, and glorified the word of the Lord: and as many as were ordained to eternal life believed. And the word of the Lord was published throughout all the region.” (Acts 13:48-49)

All the Gentiles were glad to know that salvation was available to them as well, but only those who were ordained were saved. Romans 8:29-30 declares, “For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover whom he did predestinate, them he also called: and whom he called, them he also justified: and whom he justified, them he also glorified.” I cannot pretend to know all that is involved, but I understand that because of what God knew about me before hand, I was ordained unto salvation. Both the Calvinist and the Arminian positions are contrary to what God says about himself. I Peter 1:2 declares we are “Elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through sanctification of the Spirit, unto obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ:”

“But the Jews stirred up the devout and honourable women, and the chief men of the city, and raised persecution against Paul and Barnabas, and expelled them out of their coasts.” (Acts 13:50)

A well run campaign can overcome and change public opinion, but the results are not always right. The Jews focused on convincing the core people that Paul and Barnabas were dangerous to the established way. Sincere, respected and respectable people fell for the Jewish claims and forced Paul and Barnabas to leave.

"But they shook off the dust of their feet against them, and came unto Iconium.” (Acts 13:51)

Paul and Barnabas obeyed Matthew 10:14-15, but the Holy spirit was not limited by their leaving. The church remained and grew.

“And the disciples were filled with joy, and with the Holy Ghost.” (Acts 13:52)

Friday, May 27, 2011

Jesus Is the Messiah, The Son Of David

Acts 13:23-43

Speaking before the Synagogue, at their request, Paul had reviewed what God had done to establish the nation of Israel up to the reign of David. It was a story the Jews were very familiar with. In any attempt to communicate, it is essential that some common grounds be established. Once a common understanding is established it can be built upon. Jewish history provided a foundation on which to build, and Paul was expert in the field.

The Holy Spirit often uses shared knowledge to enable us to communicate with those we come into contact with and will direct to the things he can use. The Holy Spirit then enabled Paul to transition smoothly to Jesus Christ, showing that Jesus was descended from David.

“Of this man's seed hath God according to his promise raised unto Israel a Saviour, Jesus: When John had first preached before his coming the baptism of repentance to all the people of Israel. And as John fulfilled his course, he said, Whom think ye that I am? I am not he. But, behold, there cometh one after me, whose shoes of his feet I am not worthy to loose.” (Acts 13:23-25)

In the fifteen years or so after Christ’s death, Christians had been driven from Jerusalem and visited many outlying synagogues. In addition many Jews made pilgrimages to Jerusalem, so that Jews in far distant countries had some knowledge of the ministries of John the Baptist and Jesus and the church. They knew that John was very highly regarded as a prophet of God, and even thought by some to be the Messiah. John had stated clearly that he was not, but that the one to follow was.

“Men and brethren, children of the stock of Abraham, and whosoever among you feareth God, to you is the word of this salvation sent. For they that dwell at Jerusalem, and their rulers, because they knew him not, nor yet the voices of the prophets which are read every sabbath day, they have fulfilled them in condemning him. And though they found no cause of death in him, yet desired they Pilate that he should be slain. And when they had fulfilled all that was written of him, they took him down from the tree, and laid him in a sepulchre.” (Acts 13:26-29)

Because they didn’t recognize him or correctly interpret the prophecies about Jesus, the Jews had fulfilled the prophecies, condemning him to death. Every detail of the prophecies was fulfilled proving this was the Messiah, as John had said.

“But God raised him from the dead: And he was seen many days of them which came up with him from Galilee to Jerusalem, who are his witnesses unto the people.” (Acts 13:30-31)

More than five hundred people had seen Jesus after he was resurrected, over a period of forty days. As a result, it leaked out despite official efforts to conceal the truth, and was a topic of discussion far outside Israel.

“And we declare unto you glad tidings, how that the promise which was made unto the fathers, God hath fulfilled the same unto us their children, in that he hath raised up Jesus again; as it is also written in the second psalm, Thou art my Son, this day have I begotten thee.

And as concerning that he raised him up from the dead, now no more to return to corruption, he said on this wise, I will give you the sure mercies of David. Wherefore he saith also in another psalm, Thou shalt not suffer thine Holy One to see corruption. For David, after he had served his own generation by the will of God, fell on sleep, and was laid unto his fathers, and saw corruption: But he, whom God raised again, saw no corruption.” (Acts 13:32-37)

That Jesus is the fulfillment of the promise to David is demonstrated that he fulfilled those prophecies, even the one about his body never rotting. That prophecy could not have been about David himself, because he died and his body rotted just like everyone else. Jesus was raised from the dead, and his body did not.

“Be it known unto you therefore, men and brethren, that through this man is preached unto you the forgiveness of sins: And by him all that believe are justified from all things, from which ye could not be justified by the law of Moses.” (Acts 13:38-39)

For fifteen hundred years, the Jews had lived with having to offer a new sacrifice every year. They knew that the sacrifice of an animal didn’t take away all their sin, as Hebrews 10:1-4 states. “For the law having a shadow of good things to come, and not the very image of the things, can never with those sacrifices which they offered year by year continually make the comers thereunto perfect. For then would they not have ceased to be offered? because that the worshippers once purged should have had no more conscience of sins. But in those sacrifices there is a remembrance again made of sins every year. For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and of goats should take away sins.”

Jesus, on the other hand, offered his own blood on the heavenly altar, rather than on an earthly one, as Hebrews 9:24-25 tells us. “For Christ is not entered into the holy places made with hands, which are the figures of the true; but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us: Nor yet that he should offer himself often, as the high priest entereth into the holy place every year with blood of others;” As a result, no further sacrifice was required, and the work is finished according to Hebrews 10:12. “But this man, after he had offered one sacrifice for sins for ever, sat down on the right hand of God;”

“Beware therefore, lest that come upon you, which is spoken of in the prophets; Behold, ye despisers, and wonder, and perish: for I work a work in your days, a work which ye shall in no wise believe, though a man declare it unto you.” (Acts 13:40-41)

To ignore what Christ has done will carry serious consequences. Hebrews 10:28-30 reminds us of the consequences of ignoring the Mosaic Law. “He that despised Moses' law died without mercy under two or three witnesses: Of how much sorer punishment, suppose ye, shall he be thought worthy, who hath trodden under foot the Son of God, and hath counted the blood of the covenant, wherewith he was sanctified, an unholy thing, and hath done despite unto the Spirit of grace? For we know him that hath said, Vengeance belongeth unto me, I will recompense, saith the Lord. And again, The Lord shall judge his people.”

The consequences for ignoring Christ are not merely physical death, but eternal damnation. John 3:36 warns, “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.”

Mankind is destined for hell. His only hope is to believe in Christ. Failure to act will be disastrous.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

The Historical Basis for Faith

Acts 13:16-43

Filled with the Holy Spirit, Paul quietly waited until he was asked before addressing the Synagogue. Near the end of the service, He and Barnabas were asked to share, and Paul brought a message very similar to that of Peter on the day of Pentecost, or what Stephen preached just before being stoned. He starts with material the Jews were very familiar with, their history.

“Then Paul stood up, and beckoning with his hand said, Men of Israel, and ye that fear God, give audience. The God of this people of Israel chose our fathers, and exalted the people when they dwelt as strangers in the land of Egypt, and with an high arm brought he them out of it. And about the time of forty years suffered he their manners in the wilderness. And when he had destroyed seven nations in the land of Chanaan, he divided their land to them by lot.” (Acts 13:16-19)

A major debate today is when the Jews came out of Egypt, and no Egyptian records of Israel’s entrance or exit have been found, despite their having recorded almost everything. Paul’s statement here clarifies some of the problem. Both Joshua and Judges state that Israel served the lord all the days of Joshua and all the days of the elders that outlived Joshua. Caleb was forty when he went to spy out the land, and Joshua was one hundred ten when he died. Assuming Joshua was the same age as Caleb, that would have been over thirty years, but it is probable that Joshua was younger, since he was referred to as a young man when Israel first left Egypt, making the period of conquest even longer. Caleb’s son-in-law was the first Judge, after Israel had turned away from God.

Many Bibles use Usher’s Chronology to date historical events. They largely ignore the length of Joshua’s leadership, and only assign two hundred seventy years to the entire book of Judges, lumping Samuel in to the Judges. Paul describes the period of the judges as being about four hundred fifty years and until Samuel. Adding up the time periods in the book of Judges, one finds a total of close to four hundred seventy years, or a bout what Paul mentioned. No time period is given for Samuel’s or Eli’s leadership except that Samuel was very young when he started, and was old when he anointed Saul to be king. It seems reasonable to assume a period of a bout fifty years, and may well have been longer. Notice Paul’s statement.

“And after that he gave unto them judges about the space of four hundred and fifty years, until Samuel the prophet.” (Acts 13:20)

Using Paul’s statement, the time periods described in Judges, and our assumptions we find that the Exodus would be at least two hundred fifty or three hundred years before the dates sown in many Bibles. This would put the Exodus during the time of the Hyksos period in Egypt, possibly placing it right at the very beginning. The Hyksos were a relatively weak people and it has long been a question how they could conquer Egypt. The destruction of the Egyptian army at the Red Sea and the plagues would have made Egypt far more vulnerable than normal. Few records survive from the early years of Hyksos domination, explaining the lack of mention of the Exodus.

This would place the Israelites coming into Egypt during the period between the Old Kingdom and the Middle Kingdom, a period of famine and unrest, during which few records were kept, again explaining the lack of records of a little group of seventy people entering Egypt. It was during the Middle kingdom that the biggest pyramids and public works were built with slave labor. Toward the end of the period, most construction was with brick rather than stone, and at the last, inferior reinforcement materials were used in making the bricks, supporting the Biblical record. The end of the Middle Kingdom is marked by the Hyksos takeover, which lasted about a hundred years, and began around 1650-1700 BC. The lack of records makes it difficult to fix exact dates during the period.

“And afterward they desired a king: and God gave unto them Saul the son of Cis, a man of the tribe of Benjamin, by the space of forty years.” (Acts 13:21)

After Samuel’s administration, the people decided they wanted a more modern form of government than God had established and demanded a king. God warned them of the dangers, but allowed them to have one. The very first King immediately led them away from following the Lord and had to be replaced.

“And when he had removed him, he raised up unto them David to be their king; to whom also he gave testimony, and said, I have found David the son of Jesse, a man after mine own heart, which shall fulfil all my will.” (Acts 13:22)

Saul’s reign was characterized by a focus on Saul, rather than on God. He used human techniques to motivate the people to fight for Jabesh Gilead, rather than trusting God in I Samuel 11, by using threats. In I Samuel 13, he ignored God’s command, attempting to use religious ritual to motivate his followers, while his own son just trusted God and went to the battle. Finally, he just ignored God’s command completely in claiming what God had commanded to be destroyed for himself, then blamed the people and made excuses when he got caught. He was replaced with David, who devoted his life to obeying the Lord.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Letting the Holy Spirit Lead

Acts 13:14-16

In Luke 8:5-14, we have the story of the sower planting seed. The conditions of the soil where the seed was planted made a great deal of difference in the results the seed produced. What landed on completely unprepared ground, the wayside, produced little or no results. What landed among the rocks in areas that were plowed got a quick start, but because it had no root, died as soon as the nutrients in the seed were depleted. Some of the seed landed among the weeds on plowed ground, and the weeds out grew it and prevented it from being productive. Some landed on well prepared soil where the weeds didn’t get a chance to choke it and was very productive.

God had given his word to the Jews, to demonstrate his power to the rest of the world. They had had the basics for two Thousand years. Literally the soil had had two thousand years of preparation. It is a major factor in the number who believed on the day of Pentecost and the rapid growth of the church in Jerusalem. Paul and Barnabas nearly always started by visiting the local synagogue.

“But when they departed from Perga, they came to Antioch in Pisidia, and went into the synagogue on the sabbath day, and sat down.” (Acts 13:14)

In going to the Jewish synagogue. Paul could be sure of finding people who had a basic understanding and interest in Messiah’s coming. Many Gentiles converted to the Jewish religion, and Christian Jews usually attended as well. It was a logical place to start in a new community.

Notice that the apostles simply went into the synagogue and sat down. They made no attempt to gain attention by disrupting the service or questioning the leaders. They simply trusted the Lord to do what needed to be done. They sat quietly through the entire service, waiting on the Holy Spirit.

“And after the reading of the law and the prophets the rulers of the synagogue sent unto them, saying, Ye men and brethren, if ye have any word of exhortation for the people, say on.” (Acts 13:15)

When the Holy Spirit was ready, he caused the leaders of the synagogue to ask Paul and Barnabas if they had anything to add. The Holy Spirit has used their quiet and respectful attitude to impress the rulers that these men are to be trusted as knowing about God, and they asked to hear.

Several years ago, I observed that that some people did not come during the invitation, and that many who did never came back. On the other hand some would come around after church and ask questions about salvation. After talking some would ask to get saved on the spot while others would come back several times before doing so. Almost without exception. Those who asked me and then accepted the Lord went on to become strong Christians, while many of those who came during an invitation did not.

I began to realize that those who came asking sincerely were being drawn by the Holy Spirit, while many who came during the invitation were drawn by an emotional or psychological appeal rather than the Holy Spirit. The difference shows up in the product. While the results are usually slower, the Holy Spirit produces durable and productive results. How often have we accepted mere human results because we weren’t willing to wait for the Holy Spirit to accomplish his work and tried to make things happen ourselves? What would happen if we let the Holy Spirit do his work?

Only when he was asked did Paul address the crowd. As a result, he was guaranteed that they would hear at least part of what he said. He had earned the right to be heard.

In the current age, nearly everyone gets vast amounts of unsolicited junk mail. If you are like me, I rarely open letters from people I don’t recognize because so much is a waste of my time. On the internet, junk mail is called spam, and is deleted without reading. Sadly, much witnessing today is presented like junk mail or spam, unwanted and a nuisance. Is it any wonder people avoid it?. A hearing has not been earned.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

New Missionaries

Acts 13:5-13

Philip was the only one referred to as and evangelist in the Bible. From the description of what he did, he was the first missionary. As a result, I believe the biblical term evangelist referred to what we call a missionary who starts churches among un reached peoples. No name is assigned for what we refer to as evangelists.
The term is not a title, but a job description, like plumber or mechanic. Saul and Barnabas were sent out to do the same Job Philip had been doing, bringing the gospel to people who’d never heard. God announced the gospel to the Jews first, and Paul would reach out to them first wherever he went, because they were his own people, and because God had reached out to them first.

“And when they were at Salamis, they preached the word of God in the synagogues of the Jews: and they had also John to their minister.” (Acts 13:5)

When they came to Salamis, Paul and Barnabas preached in the synagogues. Apparently Jewish believers had already shared the gospel, because they did not spend much time there or make any effort to reach the Gentiles. John Mark, later known as Mark was accompanying them to take care menial jobs so they could concentrate on preaching. Apparently he was what would be called a missionary intern in modern circles.

“And when they had gone through the isle unto Paphos, they found a certain sorcerer, a false prophet, a Jew, whose name was Barjesus: Which was with the deputy of the country, Sergius Paulus, a prudent man; who called for Barnabas and Saul, and desired to hear the word of God.” (Acts 13:6-7)

Experience has proven that leaders who are concerned about their people often reach out to those who they think might have something of value to offer to the people. Sergius Paulus was interested in the good of the people. Barjesus, was a Jew who sought to ingratiate himself as a religious leader and gain influence and power. While there is a tendency to lump all Jews together in worshipping God, it is no more valid than believing all Middle Easterners are Jihaddists or all Americans are Christians. Barjesus’ religion was to to gain power.

“But Elymas the sorcerer (for so is his name by interpretation) withstood them, seeking to turn away the deputy from the faith.” (Acts 13:8)

Throughout history Satan has sough to gain control of others any way he could. Religion is one of the tools he has been able to use. If Elymas could also gain control of the deputy, he’d have far more power. On the other hand if they turned to God, he would lose his power, so he actively sought to prevent Sergius Paulus from hearing and believing. Unlike Simon, the sorcerer in Samaria, he actively tries to stop the spread of the gospel.

“Then Saul, (who also is called Paul,) filled with the Holy Ghost, set his eyes on him, And said, O full of all subtlety and all mischief, thou child of the devil, thou enemy of all righteousness, wilt thou not cease to pervert the right ways of the Lord? And now, behold, the hand of the Lord is upon thee, and thou shalt be blind, not seeing the sun for a season. And immediately there fell on him a mist and a darkness; and he went about seeking some to lead him by the hand.” (Acts 13:9-11)

Filled with the Holy Spirit, Paul did not make a ringing attack on Elymas, just pointing out his sin and warning that he would be unable to see for a time. In modern times many attempt to do similar acts, but ignore the example Paul set here. II Peter 2 warns of false teachers who undertake to do such things in the flesh, having no understanding of spiritual power, or their own weakness.

“The Lord knoweth how to deliver the godly out of temptations, and to reserve the unjust unto the day of judgment to be punished: But chiefly them that walk after the flesh in the lust of uncleanness, and despise government. Presumptuous are they, selfwilled, they are not afraid to speak evil of dignities. Whereas angels, which are greater in power and might, bring not railing accusation against them before the Lord. But these, as natural brute beasts, made to be taken and destroyed, speak evil of the things that they understand not; and shall utterly perish in their own corruption;” (II Peter 2:9-11).

Paul, being filled with the Holy spirit, spoke as the Holy Spirit directed, and with all the power of God behind him, and Elymas was temporarily blinded, making it clear that God’s power was greater than Satan’s. There was no need to destroy Elymas.

“Then the deputy, when he saw what was done, believed, being astonished at the doctrine of the Lord.” (Acts 13:12)

II Peter 3:9 tells us, “The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.” God would not kill Elymas at that time, choosing to give him opportunity to repent. It was the same thing he had done with Paul years before. Even though he actively tried to stop God’s message, God still cared about him. There is no indication that Paul and Barnabas spent much time in Paphos or won anyone else. The Holy Spirit had accomplished his purpose.

“Now when Paul and his company loosed from Paphos, they came to Perga in Pamphylia: and John departing from them returned to Jerusalem.” (Acts 13:13)

While John Mark had a burden for the ministry, and had had a strong Christian upbringing, he had not yet been called, and was not prepared spiritually. As a result, he dropped out after a very short time. It is easy for us to send people on mission trips believing it will strengthen them, like Paul and Barnabas took Mark. It was not until many years later that Mark was actually called. Because he had quit, Paul would be opposed to taking him with them again, in Acts 15:38.

How many young people today are sent on mission trips unprepared and either get a false idea of missions, or are turned away because of the experience. I suspect that John Mark’s failure to stick it out may have been a factor in Paul’s writing II Timothy to instruct Timothy on what he needed to do to prepare himself before he went to work with Paul. He did not want to make the mistake of taking a spiritually weak assistant again. II Timothy is a guide as to what every Christian should be seeking in their life. Until he has those basics down, one is not prepared to take on ministry.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Called To Special Ministry

Acts 12:25-13:5

Barnabas and Saul had made their trip to Jerusalem to deliver the relief offering around the time of Peter’s arrest, probably between 40-44 AD., ten to fourteen years after the resurrection. In his description of his training and ministry in Galatians, Paul never mentions this trip or meeting with the apostles, because it had no significant impact on his ministry.

“And Barnabas and Saul returned from Jerusalem, when they had fulfilled their ministry, and took with them John, whose surname was Mark.” (Acts 12:25)

John Mark appears to have been a young man who was deeply interested in ministry. Quite a bit younger than Saul, he accompanied them to Antioch to work in the church, never knowing how short his stay at Antioch would be.

“Now there were in the church that was at Antioch certain prophets and teachers; as Barnabas, and Simeon that was called Niger, and Lucius of Cyrene, and Manaen, which had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. As they ministered to the Lord, and fasted, the Holy Ghost said, Separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them. And when they had fasted and prayed, and laid their hands on them, they sent them away.” (Acts 13:1-3)

Barnabas had been very active in the church in Jerusalem for several years, was a spirit filled Christian, who the church sent out to help train the Christians at Antioch. Saul had been saved several years before, and had been taught by Jesus Christ himself for three years, had spent time in Joppa and in Tarsus preaching the word, before Barnabas found him and brought him to Antioch to help teach. They had then spent over a year working together in Antioch.

Other Christians had started the church in Antioch and it had grown quite bit before Barnabas arrived, but seeing the need for sound basic doctrine, Barnabas had gotten Saul to come help teach. Largely as a result of their efforts a group of men have been trained and developed who can minister to a stable group of Christians in Antioch.

The Holy Spirit did not call Barnabas and Saul as Missionaries until they were thoroughly trained, experienced church leaders who had demonstrated themselves to have good moral character who were filled with the Spirit, as described in I Timothy 3:1-7 and Titus 1:5-9. He also did not call them to another r work until the church at Antioch was able to forward without them.

Unfortunately this pattern has not been often followed in modern missions, with most announcing they were called to preach or the mission field during a youth camp or youth meeting, and going to Bible college especially to prepare for a career in missions. Many churches have been left without a pastor or sound leaders because the pastor surrendered to go to another work. How many times was it actually the Spirit leading?

Timothy was a young man who intended to go into the ministry. II Timothy is chronologically first, instructing him in how to develop his Christian life. I Timothy was written when he began his first pastorate, instructing him how to perform his duties. One of those duties is to prepare others for ministry. I Timothy 3 describes what is required for those who are to become pastors. I Timothy 3:1 starts out, “This is a true saying, If a man desire the office of a bishop, he desireth a good work.” Many have mistaken a strong desire for being called tot eh work. Young, spiritually immature Christians are especially susceptible to such a mistake, and pastors and youth leaders often play on the desires in order to gain prestige. Preachers used to joke about those who were “Mama called and Papa sent,” but far more are preacher called.

In the Old Testament, there was a group called the Sons of the Prophets. It was apparently a training school for prophets, a Bible college if you will. From the name, it seems to have been especially for those whose fathers were prophets. None of them are listed in scripture as being truly used of God to a great degree, despite associating with men like Samuel and Elisha, and several times their lack of spiritual development is apparent. Just getting proper training does not make one qualified.

Before being placed in the office, Paul said both prospective deacons and pastors should be examined. As I Timothy 3:10 commands “And let these also first be proved; then let them use the office..”

Neither Saul nor Barnabas were novices, both having spent several years of work in the churches. They had demonstrated a sound understanding of the scriptures and the ability to teach and work with others. They had demonstrated a sound moral character, both in financial matters and sexually, earning the trust of both the church and those outside the church. Their calling was revealed to the church as well as to them. They began their work immediately.

“So they, being sent forth by the Holy Ghost, departed unto Seleucia; and from thence they sailed to Cyprus. And when they were at Salamis, they preached the word of God in the synagogues of the Jews: and they had also John to their minister.” (Acts 13:4-5)

It was quite different than the way it’s usually done today.

Friday, May 20, 2011

God’s Judgment On Deliberate Sin

Acts 12:20-24

Both Herod’s grandfather, Herod the Great, and his father Herod Antipater or Herod II participated in the Jewish rituals, developing their own group, the Herodians, within the Jewish religion, to promote their own agenda. Like many politicians of today, their religious affiliation was primarily for political purposes, and they did not adhere to many of the teachings. They were familiar with the teachings of both the Jewish religion, and Christianity.

Herod Agrippa became king about 37 AD., shortly before Herod II’s death. He appears to have continued the family’s tradition, supporting the Jewish leaders to maintain his political standing. After learning that it pleased the Jews when James was killed, he set out to have Peter killed to further his political aspirations, but was thwarted when the angel set Peter free. He retreated to Caesarea to the Roman government center.

“And Herod was highly displeased with them of Tyre and Sidon: but they came with one accord to him, and, having made Blastus the king's chamberlain their friend, desired peace; because their country was nourished by the king's country.” (Acts 12:20)

Just as Mexico has been dependent for several years on trade with the United States, Tyre and Sidon were dependent on the Herod’s domain. Issues like drug smuggling and illegal aliens strain the U.S. and Mexico relationship, and some similar conflict was straining the relationship between Tyre and Sidon and Herod’s government. In an effort to ease the tensions, Tyre and Sidon invited Herod for a meeting to discuss trade issues, just like President Obama visiting various countries today.

“And upon a set day Herod, arrayed in royal apparel, sat upon his throne, and made an oration unto them. And the people gave a shout, saying, It is the voice of a god, and not of a man.” (Acts 12:21-22)

In an effort to win Herod’s approval and support, the people began to credit him with being a god who could solve all their problems. Like most political leaders, Herod lapped it up, glorying in the prestige and authority, ignoring the fact that it was not his power or authority. Like many another political leader, he learned how transitory fame is.

“And immediately the angel of the Lord smote him, because he gave not God the glory: and he was eaten of worms, and gave up the ghost.” (Acts 12:23)

If you’ve ever seen an animals body being consumed with maggots, you’ve probably got some picture of what this must have been like. It would have been a horrible way to die, but it wouldn’t have been very pleasant to watch either. That they had just proclaimed him as a god must have been especially shocking.

Herod knew about God from his family’s long association with the Jewish religion. He had heard repeatedly about God’s power, whether he believed it or not. When he accepted the glory as his own, he knew he was going against God, but he didn’t take it seriously, and it cost his life. Hebrews 10:26-31 warns of the danger for those who have heard but reject the truth.

“For if we sin wilfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins, But a certain fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation, which shall devour the adversaries. He that despised Moses' law died without mercy under two or three witnesses: Of how much sorer punishment, suppose ye, shall he be thought worthy, who hath trodden under foot the Son of God, and hath counted the blood of the covenant, wherewith he was sanctified, an unholy thing, and hath done despite unto the Spirit of grace? For we know him that hath said, Vengeance belongeth unto me, I will recompense, saith the Lord. And again, The Lord shall judge his people. It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” (Hebrews 10:26-31)

Romans 1:20 makes it clear that ignorance of God’s will is not an excuse. “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:” They chose not to find out, but they did not deliberately break God’s command.

To deliberately break a law is considered an aggravated crime, and carries greater penalty under our legal system. It does under God’s law as well, according to Luke 12:47-48. “And that servant, which knew his lord's will, and prepared not himself, neither did according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes. But he that knew not, and did commit things worthy of stripes, shall be beaten with few stripes. For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required: and to whom men have committed much, of him they will ask the more.”

Herod knew, but deliberately ignored God, and suffered the consequences. While God doesn’t always make his judgment so dramatic. Everyone who deliberately rejects him will suffer a similar fate, as can be seen by what happened to numerous tyrants throughout history. Herod’s efforts to destroy Christianity to promote his political agenda failed resulted in his death, about 44 A.D., but it didn’t stop God.

But the word of God grew and multiplied.” (Acts 12:24)

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Praying Without Believing

Acts 12:13-19

There are thousands of books about prayer in the world today. Some people emphasize using some prescribed prayer, as if prayer were some magic incantation or spell. These may range from just saying the words, “in Jesus Name”, to praying the scriptures, or prayer books to ensure the prayer is said properly and will get results. Jesus said we are not to use such vain repetitions.

Others focus on the hours spent in prayer with at least one old writer saying a person should spend four hours a day. Jesus said we are not to be like them believing that we can wear God down by much talk. Apparently, God doesn’t appreciate nagging anymore than other people do. It actually demonstrates one doesn’t trust him to do what’s right without our nagging. Some turn it into a hunger strike by fasting until God gives them what they want, but God forbade that as well.

Still others focus on the emotional and psychological benefits of praying, sometimes without even believing there is a God to answer. To them. It is just a motivational and psychological tool to change the persons attitude.

Sadly, many of these ideas about prayer had been accepted into the Jewish religious culture, just as they have in modern churches. The Christians in Jerusalem had been taught differently, having seen God deliver Peter and John from prison, doing miraculous healings and wonderful works as a result of the Holy Spirit’s power. They believed totally that God could answer prayer, and had come together for twenty four hour a day prayer that Peter would be delivered for several days. I am sure they were getting a little desperate, knowing the clock was ticking on the last day. Unaware that the angel had released Peter, they were praying fervently for his release when Peter came to the house where they were.

“And when he knocked at the door of the gate, a maid came to answer, named Rhoda. And when she knew Peter`s voice, she opened not the gate for joy, but ran in, and told that Peter stood before the gate. And they said unto her, Thou art mad. But she confidently affirmed that it was even so. And they said, It is his angel.” (Acts 12:13-15)

When Peter knocked, a young girl, answered the door, but hesitated to open it. When she heard Peter, she got so excited she forgot to open it in her eagerness to tell the others their prayers had been answered. They didn’t believe her and thought she was imagining things. When she insisted, they assumed the Lord had sent some spirit to comfort her.

Far too often we start praying for something, but when it doesn’t happen as soon as we think it should we begin to doubt that God will answer. We keep praying, largely in hopes of changing God’s mind, rather than in faith, because we are not convinced God heard us the first time, or that he would answer. We forget that God is not like the unjust judge, who only answered to get the lady to leave him alone, in Luke 18.

“But Peter continued knocking: and when they had opened, they saw him, and were amazed. But he, beckoning unto them with the hand to hold their peace, declared unto them how the Lord had brought him forth out of the prison. And he said, Tell these things unto James, and to the brethren. And he departed, and went to another place.” (Acts 12:16-17)

When nobody opened the door Peter knocked again and again. Finally somebody realized the knocking was real and opened the door, and they were amazed to see Peter standing there. I John 5:14-15 states, “And this is the confidence that we have in him, that, if we ask any thing according to his will, he heareth us: And if we know that he hear us, whatsoever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we desired of him.” If they really believed that, they would not have been surprised when it happened. Of course, they probably wouldn’t have felt the need for twenty four hour prayer either. How we pray reveals a lot about our faith.

Filled with the Holy Spirit, Peter’s first concern was for others, that they not worry about him. Even though his life was at stake, he took time to let others know what was happening before making his escape. Again, we see the love the Holy Spirit produces.

“Now as soon as it was day, there was no small stir among the soldiers, what was become of Peter. And when Herod had sought for him, and found him not, he examined the guards, and commanded that they should be put to death. And he went down from Judaea to Caesarea, and tarried there.” (Acts 12:18-19)

Seeing the furor a prisoner escaping causes today, one can imagine the stink when Peter escaped from maximum security. It was undoubtedly heightened by Roman law, which specified that a guard’s life was forfeit if his prisoner escaped. Imagine the panic among the sixteen guards assigned to keep Peter. Herod was unmerciful. After all, he had ordered special precautions, fearing such an escape.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Persecution by Herod

Acts 12:1-12

The Roman Empire each area was divided up in to areas some what like our states, with a king who ruled it. Unlike our governors, the King was selected by the Roman Empire rather than the people of the area. Herod’s family were politically connected, both in Rome and in Jerusalem, and so were given the position. Herod’s grandfather had been the one who ordered the babies slain in an effort to preserve his political power when Jesus was born.

His father, Archelaus, had been king during Jesus’ childhood. The Jews had tried to manipulate Herod in getting Jesus crucified, and Herod was not very popular, as a king who had been forced on the people against their will. Whether something had been preached that upset him, or to satisfy the Jewish leaders, Herod began to oppress the Christians.

“Now about that time Herod the king stretched forth his hands to vex certain of the church. And he killed James the brother of John with the sword. And because he saw it pleased the Jews, he proceeded further to take Peter also. (Then were the days of unleavened bread.)” (Acts 12:1-3)

Since James was killed with a sword, and not as a result of a trial, it seems likely that an effort to break up a Christian meeting resulted in violence. While Herod himself had no particular opposition to Christianity, the reaction of the Jews convinced him that he could consolidate his political position by persecuting them. Being a typical politician, he was willing to do anything to further his career, so he had Peter arrested, just about the time of the Passover.

“And when he had apprehended him, he put him in prison, and delivered him to four quaternions of soldiers to keep him; intending after Easter to bring him forth to the people. Peter therefore was kept in prison: but prayer was made without ceasing of the church unto God for him.” (Acts 12:4-5)

The feast of unleavened bread started the day after the Passover and ran the following seven days. Herod intended to try and then execute Peter after the feast was over, and so assigned four four man squads to keep him. Apparently, he remembered what had happened when the Jewish leaders had arrested Peter and John in Acts 5:17-26 and wanted to prevent a repeat. The Christians were in continual prayer about his safety.

“And when Herod would have brought him forth, the same night Peter was sleeping between two soldiers, bound with two chains: and the keepers before the door kept the prison. And, behold, the angel of the Lord came upon him, and a light shined in the prison: and he smote Peter on the side, and raised him up, saying, Arise up quickly. And his chains fell off from his hands. And the angel said unto him, Gird thyself, and bind on thy sandals. And so he did. And he saith unto him, Cast thy garment about thee, and follow me. And he went out, and followed him; and wist not that it was true which was done by the angel; but thought he saw a vision.” (Acts 12:6-9)

God frequently allows a problem to go to the point we think he isn’t going to act before resolving it. He allowed Peter to be kept until the night before he was to be executed. Though he was handcuffed between two guards, with other guards at the doors, in the maximum security ward, the angel set him free without disturbing any of the guards. Peter himself thought it was just a vision or dream until he found himself outside.

“When they were past the first and the second ward, they came unto the iron gate that leadeth unto the city; which opened to them of his own accord: and they went out, and passed on through one street; and forthwith the angel departed from him. And when Peter was come to himself, he said, Now I know of a surety, that the Lord hath sent his angel, and hath delivered me out of the hand of Herod, and from all the expectation of the people of the Jews.” (Acts 12:10-11)

Having had walked past numerous armed guards without being seen and having at least two locked doors and the main gate open with no one to turn the key, when he found himself a block from the prison, Peter realized God had truly delivered him from Herod’s power, and from the Jews’ intentions.

After some thought, Peter realized he could let the disciples at Mary’s home know what had happened and they would spread the word that he was safe.

“And when he had considered the thing, he came to the house of Mary the mother of John, whose surname was Mark; where many were gathered together praying.” (Acts 12:12)

John Mark would eventually write the gospel of Mark, and serve as a missionary. His mother had opened her home for the Christians to meet in prayer, and many were there praying when Peter came.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Charitable Giving

Acts 11:29-30

Love is one of the things the Holy Spirit produces in every Christian. Acts 2:44-45 Describes the expression of that love when the Christians were filled with the Holy spirit. “And all that believed were together, and had all things common; And sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all men, as every man had need.” The spiritual love was no longer concerned with possessions, but with what others were experiencing, according to Acts 4:32. “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.”

They were literally a family, and had the same attitude of sharing as a healthy family, willingly giving up their own desires because of love. There was no longer that old attitude of “it’s mine”. Some, like Barnabas, gave up a great deal for the sake of others, as Acts 4:34-37 describes. “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. 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.”

While many have tried to put such a system in place, in communes and experimental situations, they always fail because love has to be voluntary. Socialism always fails because human nature is selfish and no amount of forcing people to give resolves the problem. Only love overcomes that human trait. Even most charitable giving is for the sense of pride in helping others, or admiration from others, and rarely goes to the point of real sacrifice of one’s own comforts. The Holy Spirit produced a love that went far beyond that.

“Then the disciples, every man according to his ability, determined to send relief unto the brethren which dwelt in Judaea: Which also they did, and sent it to the elders by the hands of Barnabas and Saul.” (Acts 11:29-30)

Though they themselves suffered from the famine, the Holy Spirit produced a love by the Gentile Christians in Antioch that caused them to help the Jewish Christians in Israel when they heard of the lack. Years later, in II Corinthians 8:5, Paul described the actions of the Macedonians in giving to a similar relief effort. “And this they did, not as we hoped, but first gave their own selves to the Lord, and unto us by the will of God.” That is what is required to be filled with the Spirit.

The Macedonian Christians allowed the Holy Spirit to fill and direct them. As a result, their giving went far beyond what Paul and his companions expected. Through the years, I have been amazed by the number of Missionaries who have told us their people just would never support the church or give. As a result their churches continue to be supported by churches elsewhere. I can only conclude the Holy Spirit has not filled the people. II Corinthians 8 and 9 are devoted to encouraging the Corinthian Christians to yield to the Holy Spirit in this area.

Several Missionaries have told us their people are so poor it would be unfair to expect them to give. As Paul stated in II Corinthians 8:12, the willingness is more important than the amount. “For if there be first a willing mind, it is accepted according to that a man hath, and not according to that he hath not.”

II Corinthians 9:6-9 makes some wonderful promises for those who give freely. “But this I say, He which soweth sparingly shall reap also sparingly; and he which soweth bountifully shall reap also bountifully. Every man according as he purposeth in his heart, so let him give; not grudgingly, or of necessity: for God loveth a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound toward you; that ye, always having all sufficiency in all things, may abound to every good work: (As it is written, He hath dispersed abroad; he hath given to the poor: his righteousness remaineth for ever."

The missionaries who don’t allow their churches to give and support the church or to share other Christians’ needs deprive their people of spiritual growth, apparently lacking the faith themselves to believe that God will supply. They also prevent them from receiving the blessings God has promised.

God’s plan was never that one group support another, but that no one suffers unduly. II Corinthians 8:13-14 describes what was intended. “For I mean not that other men be eased, and ye burdened: But by an equality, that now at this time your abundance may be a supply for their want, that their abundance also may be a supply for your want: that there may be equality:”

If the church doesn’t do it’s part, it is not right for other churches to be asked to do it for them. In II Thessalonians 3:10 they were commanded not to support those who wouldn’t do their part. “For even when we were with you, this we commanded you, that if any would not work, neither should he eat.” We harm them by encouraging them to be selfish and unspiritual.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Prophets and Prophecy

Acts 11:27-28

“And in these days came prophets from Jerusalem unto Antioch.” (Acts 11:27

There is considerable debate about the role of prophecy in the modern church. Some believe there is no prophecy today, based on I Corinthians 13:8-10. “Charity never faileth: but whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away. For we know in part, and we prophesy in part. But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away.”

A second group insist that it is one of the gifts of the spirit and thus will always be present if the Holy Spirit is. Some even go so far as to state that if there are no prophets, then there are no pastors or teachers either, using Ephesians 4:11, “And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers;” as their basis.

Examining more of the passage, in Ephesians 4:11-13, we learn that the purpose of all the offices was to bring the church to a point of maturity. “And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ:”

I Corinthians 13:8-10 makes it clear that prophecy would end when it was no longer needed, as would other gifts. There is no conflict with the idea that prophets were given to bring the church to maturity. In examining the selection of Matthias in the post, Yielding To Urgency, we found that there is no modern day office of apostle.

There is a great deal of difference between Spiritual fruit and Spiritual gifts. Spiritual fruit is produced in every Christian’s life as the Holy Spirit is allowed to produce it. Galatians 5:22-23 defines Spiritual fruit. “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, Ga 5:23 Meekness, temperance: against such there is no law.”

I Corinthians 12:8-11 lists Spiritual gifts. “For to one is given by the Spirit the word of wisdom; to another the word of knowledge by the same Spirit; To another faith by the same Spirit; to another the gifts of healing by the same Spirit; To another the working of miracles; to another prophecy; to another discerning of spirits; to another divers kinds of tongues; to another the interpretation of tongues: But all these worketh that one and the selfsame Spirit, dividing to every man severally as he will.” It is very clear that not everyone receives all the spiritual gifts, but the Holy Spirit provides them as he sees fit. That one lacks the gift of prophecy or speaking in tongues does not indicate a lack of the Holy Spirit, but a lack of the fruit of the Spirit does.

One cause of the conflict is a misunderstanding of what prophecy is. Many people think prophecy is telling the future. In fact, biblical prophecy is telling people what God said. It might or might not include future events. In Revelation 19:10, we find, “… for the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.” Teaching and preaching Jesus Christ accomplishes the purpose of prophecy. The pastors and teachers have taken on the mantle of the prophets, and the office of prophet in no longer necessary. When Timothy began pastoring an established church, Paul directed him to do the work of an evangelist. Once the church was established there was no further need for a separate office of Evangelist, as the pastor would be responsible. During the book of Acts, that time had not yet arrived, and prophets were still needed.

“And in these days came prophets from Jerusalem unto Antioch. And there stood up one of them named Agabus, and signified by the Spirit that there should be great dearth throughout all the world: which came to pass in the days of Claudius Caesar.” (Acts 11:27-28)

The prophets of the Old testament usually prophesied about particular situations and the prophecy here is no exception, relating to a famine affecting the entire known world. It occurred during Claudius’ reign as Caesar sometime between 41 AD. and 54AD.

The prophet Agabus is mentioned again in Acts 21:10, when he warned of the consequences of Paul’s going to Jerusalem.

While the office of prophet has ended as no longer necessary, God can still give special prophetic messages relating to specific situations, and I believe some times does when needed, just as he may enable speaking in tongues to communicate with someone who does not speak our language. It is not for our own benefit but for the whole church as I Corinthians 12:7 states. “But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to every man to profit withal.”

Friday, May 13, 2011

Ministering To Other Churches

Acts 11:19-26

From the beginning man has been rebellious and self-willed. Eve was tricked into eating the forbidden fruit, but no one tricked Adam. He did it deliberately. That same selfish attitude has been passed from generation to t generation. It led to Cain’s murder of Abel, and to God’s destroying the world with the flood.

After the flood Go renewed his instruction to man to populate the whole earth. Man rebelled, and started building the Babel as a way of holding people in one location. The tower of Babel was a deliberate effort to use religion to gain control and prevent people from moving too far away. Genesis 11:4 describes the intent. “And they said, Go to, let us build us a city and a tower, whose top may reach unto heaven; and let us make us a name, lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth.”

To disrupt their attempts and prevent t from succeeding in the future, God caused them to speak in different languages. The break down in communication resulted in conflict and distrust. As a result people separated into language groups and separated, fulfilling God’s command. The racism and nationalism of today are largely a result of human selfishness and pride combined with the inability to communicate freely. Isn’t it interesting that the Holy spirit did the opposite to spread the gospel?

The Jews were no different than other groups throughout history in their focus on maintaining their own culture by isolating themselves from other groups, especially when confronted with a more powerful influence such as the Roman Empire. When they became Christians, the Jews carried many of those cultural beliefs with them. We do the same thing today, only dropping them as we mature spiritually.

“Now they which were scattered abroad upon the persecution that arose about Stephen travelled as far as Phenice, and Cyprus, and Antioch, preaching the word to none but unto the Jews only.” (Acts 11:19)

While the Christians who had been driven out of Israel were orthodox and would not associate with other cultures, some of the Jews who had been relocated to other areas through the centuries were more open to other cultures.

“And some of them were men of Cyprus and Cyrene, which, when they were come to Antioch, spake unto the Grecians, preaching the Lord Jesus. And the hand of the Lord was with them: and a great number believed, and turned unto the Lord.” (Acts 11:20-21)

Because they were less focused on Jewish culture, when they were forced to relocate yet again, the Christians from Cyprus and Cyrene spoke to the Greeks as well as other Jew, and a large number of Greeks believed. About the same time, Peter went to Caesarea and was shown that salvation was for the gentiles as well as for the Jews. Having accepted that Gentiles could be saved and children of God as well as Jews, the church at Jerusalem sent Barnabas to see how he could help, like they had sent Peter and John to Samaria.

“Then tidings of these things came unto the ears of the church which was in Jerusalem: and they sent forth Barnabas, that he should go as far as Antioch. Who, when he came, and had seen the grace of God, was glad, and exhorted them all, that with purpose of heart they would cleave unto the Lord. For he was a good man, and full of the Holy Ghost and of faith: and much people was added unto the Lord.” (Acts 11:22-24)

As missionaries, we were contacted by a number of churches who wanted to take a missions trip to help a missionary and inspire their people for missions. They pointed to Barnabas being sent as an example of the impact. After a couple of experiences, I suspect most such efforts are counter productive, often weakening, rather than strengthening the churches they go to help, and not producing real spiritual growth in the participants. Most of the teams were comprised of people the leaders hoped to inspire to become more involved.

Barnabas was already a mature Christian. In Acts 4, he had given a tremendous financial sacrifice, then in Acts 9, it was he who had the spiritual discernment to bring Saul to the apostles. Here he is described as “a good man, and full of the Holy Ghost and of faith.” he had done and was doing the things the church at Antioch needed to learn, and could show them how effectively because of his experience.

Sending spiritually immature Christians to “help” other churches sets that immaturity as the standard to be attained for those in the church they go to, and encourages those who were sent to view themselves as mature, harming both the church and the individual. I can attest to the fact that such a false standard of spirituality delayed my own spiritual development, by encouraging me to devote my efforts in the wrong areas.

“Then departed Barnabas to Tarsus, for to seek Saul: And when he had found him, he brought him unto Antioch. And it came to pass, that a whole year they assembled themselves with the church, and taught much people. And the disciples were called Christians first in Antioch.” (Acts 11:25-26)

Filled with the Holy Spirit, Barnabas didn’t try to plan everything out and do it all himself. Rather than trying to do all the teaching himself, he got Saul involved. One of the things I most admire about Barnabas is his concern to strengthen and develop others. It is largely through his efforts that Paul was given the opportunity to become the apostle, by recognizing him as a Christian, and starting him in the ministry.

Even though the church at Antioch was already fairly strong when he came, Barnabas spent a full year, helping Saul become Paul, developing church leaders and teaching the people. He would continue to mentor and work with Paul for several years.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

The Holy Spirit Prevents Conflict

Acts 11:1-18

Several years ago, I was working at a home in Window Rock Arizona. The owner, a school teacher, attended a small local church. He was resentful that the Navajo people wanted to sing some of the songs in Navajo and some times they prayed in Navajo. To him it just didn’t seem right.

As we talked, I learned that he had grown up in a Germanic community in Minnesota and as a boy, the church they had attended spoke mostly German, although some of the people who attended didn’t speak the language. It had never occurred to him that the Navajos were just doing the same thing his home church did.

So often we decide something is not right because it is not the way we are accustomed to, and never check to see whether it is Christian or not. After all, we’ve been Christians for years and that’s the way we’ve always done it, so it must be right.

The Jews had always shunned associating with other peoples. The Old Testament warned them against marrying certain groups because they would turn them toward idolatry. The Jews had applied the practice to everyone, refusing to associate with any but Jews. In doing so, they overlooked God’s instructions in Leviticus 19:34. “But the stranger that dwelleth with you shall be unto you as one born among you, and thou shalt love him as thyself; for ye were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God.”

Having practiced the policy for hundreds of years, the Jews viewed it as right. When they became Christians, they just carried the custom over without questioning whether it was right. When the churches in Israel heard that Peter had ignored their accepted norm, they were upset and challenged his actions when he returned.

“And the apostles and brethren that were in Judaea heard that the Gentiles had also received the word of God. And when Peter was come up to Jerusalem, they that were of the circumcision contended with him, Saying, Thou wentest in to men uncircumcised, and didst eat with them.” (Acts 11:1-3)

This is the first major conflict in the Church that we know about. It had tremendous potential for splitting the church or for hindering the spread of the gospel to the gentiles. Philip had gone to the Samaritans, but even they were part Jewish. If they decided Peter was wrong, he would be forced to decide whether to listen to them or to what the Holy spirit directed him to do.

"But Peter rehearsed the matter from the beginning, and expounded it by order unto them, saying, I was in the city of Joppa praying: and in a trance I saw a vision, A certain vessel descend, as it had been a great sheet, let down from heaven by four corners; and it came even to me: Upon the which when I had fastened mine eyes, I considered, and saw fourfooted beasts of the earth, and wild beasts, and creeping things, and fowls of the air.

And I heard a voice saying unto me, Arise, Peter; slay and eat. But I said, Not so, Lord: for nothing common or unclean hath at any time entered into my mouth. But the voice answered me again from heaven, What God hath cleansed, that call not thou common. And this was done three times: and all were drawn up again into heaven. “ (Acts 11:4-10)

Peter started out by explaining the vision he had seen, and the instructions not to reject what God had cleansed because it didn’t meet his own standards or ideals. He then described the events that followed which made him believe the vision applied particularly to reaching out to the gentiles.

“And, behold, immediately there were three men already come unto the house where I was, sent from Caesarea unto me. And the Spirit bade me go with them, nothing doubting. Moreover these six brethren accompanied me, and we entered into the man's house: And he showed us how he had seen an angel in his house, which stood and said unto him, Send men to Joppa, and call for Simon, whose surname is Peter; Who shall tell thee words, whereby thou and all thy house shall be saved.” (Acts 11:11-14)

As confirmation that going was God’s will, the Holy Spirit had directed Peter to go, and when he arrived, Cornelius’ explanation of why he’d asked him had further confirmed it. That the Holy Spirit came on the gentiles in the same way he’d come on the group on the day of Pentecost made it clear there was no difference.

“And as I began to speak, the Holy Ghost fell on them, as on us at the beginning. Then remembered I the word of the Lord, how that he said, John indeed baptized with water; but ye shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost. Forasmuch then as God gave them the like gift as he did unto us, who believed on the Lord Jesus Christ; what was I, that I could withstand God?” (Acts 11:15-17)

It was when the Holy Spirit came on the gentiles that Peter fully understood the difference between being baptized in water and being saved, or baptized with the Spirit. As Romans 6:3-6 explains, baptism in water portrays the spiritual baptism, in much the same way as the communion portrays our acceptance of Christ’s sacrifice.

To have refused to witness to them, or to have refused to baptize them and recognize them as part of the church would have been to refuse to obey God. Because the others were also Spirit filled people, having experience with the Holy Spirit themselves, and having his discernment, they accepted what Peter shared, especially as there were six witnesses.

“When they heard these things, they held their peace, and glorified God, saying, Then hath God also to the Gentiles granted repentance unto life.” (Acts 11:18)

This situation could easily have become a source of conflict. The reason it didn’t was that those involved were spiritual men. I Corinthians 3:3 tells us that conflict is the result of an unspiritual attitude. “For ye are yet carnal: for whereas there is among you envying, and strife, and divisions, are ye not carnal, and walk as men?" Proverbs 13:10 names the only source of conflict. “Only by pride cometh contention: but with the well advised is wisdom.” The Holy Spirit produces meekness instead. The conflicts in Christianity today are the result of not walking in the Spirit.

That the Holy Spirit used Peter to show that Christianity was for gentiles as well as Jews avoided future conflicts between the churches Paul started and the churches in Israel.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

The Rules Don’t Change

Acts 10:45-48

Preconceived ideas often limit our understanding of what we see. Charles Darwin came from a Unitarian background, not believing in the trinity, biblical inerrancy, original sin, and many other widely accepted Christian beliefs. His observations, like all observations, were then filtered through his own beliefs, resulting in his writings, including Origin of Species. Based on a different system of belief, totally different conclusions may have been drawn. Once a conclusion is accepted as true, it is very difficult to change people’s opinions.

The Jews had accepted that only those who practiced the Jewish law could be saved. Peter had been convinced by a vision from God, but even his explanation did not convince the Jewish Christians who accompanied him. God will have to do something to convince them.

“While Peter yet spake these words, the Holy Ghost fell on all them which heard the word. And they of the circumcision which believed were astonished, as many as came with Peter, because that on the Gentiles also was poured out the gift of the Holy Ghost. For they heard them speak with tongues, and magnify God. Then answered Peter, Can any man forbid water, that these should not be baptized, which have received the Holy Ghost as well as we?” (Acts 10:44-47)

When the Holy Spirit came on the disciples in the upper room, they were all practicing Jews, who’d been baptized. The Holy Spirit enabled them to speak in languages they had never learned, but were understood by others present. The group who came with Peter were amazed that the same manifestation of the Spirit was demonstrated with these Gentile believers as they had experienced on the day of Pentecost. There is no record of many others speaking in toungues, but these did, and again it was a sign for those who didn’t believe as I Corinthians 14:22 states. “Wherefore tongues are for a sign, not to them that believe, but to them that believe not:…”

As Peter asked, how could they refuse to allow them to be baptized and become part of the church when they had so obviously received the same thing from God as they had. It was an obvious contradiction of their cherished beliefs, and there could be no valid question as to the Holy Spirit’s action.

Many have a long held belief that Baptism is required for salvation, but the passage here makes it very clear that salvation preceded Baptism. They were allowed to be baptized because they had received the Holy Spirit, not so they could be saved. In the effort to explain Jesus’ statement to the thief on the cross, and the salvation of those who died before Christ, those who believe baptism is essential for salvation explain that there was one standard for salvation before Christ, and a different one for today. In addition, they say that the thief on the cross received a special salvation no one else received.

Galatians 3:16-18 makes it clear that the covenant with Abraham was by faith in Christ, and it was not changed by the Law. “Now to Abraham and his seed were the promises made. He saith not, And to seeds, as of many; but as of one, And to thy seed, which is Christ. And this I say, that the covenant, that was confirmed before of God in Christ, the law, which was four hundred and thirty years after, cannot disannul, that it should make the promise of none effect. For if the inheritance be of the law, it is no more of promise: but God gave it to Abraham by promise.”

I Peter 1:18-21 makes it clear the plan was in effect, even before the world was created. “Forasmuch as ye know that ye were not redeemed with corruptible things, as silver and gold, from your vain conversation received by tradition from your fathers; But with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot: Who verily was foreordained before the foundation of the world, but was manifest in these last times for you, Who by him do believe in God, that raised him up from the dead, and gave him glory; that your faith and hope might be in God.”

There has been only one plan of salvation, throughout history. That plan is simply by believing, as demonstrated by Abraham.

“And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of the Lord. Then prayed they him to tarry certain days.” (Acts 10:48)

Because no one had the right to refuse them baptism, Peter ordered that they be baptized. The Gentiles then asked that he stay awhile, undoubtedly because they wanted to learn more. It is a typical reaction of those who have been truly saved, that they want to learn more, and to be associated with other Christians.

Monday, May 9, 2011

It’s Not Just For Jews

Acts 10:34-44

Raised with the idea that only those who followed the Jewish religion could go to heaven, Peter has been confronted with a new concept. The vision he saw made it clear that It was not ritual Judaism that qualified a person for salvation. God had said, “What God hath cleansed, that call not thou common,” in Acts 10:15. Salvation was not limited to adherents to a particular religion or race.

“Then Peter opened his mouth, and said, Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons: But in every nation he that feareth him, and worketh righteousness, is accepted with him.” (Acts 10:34-35)

The Jews viewed non-Jews as unfit to associate with, and even proselytes who converted to Judaism often waited several generations for acceptance. God holds no such predjudices, accepting any one who is willing to yield to him and do right. For Jews it was a totally new concept that salvation was not based on keeping some moral code or religious system, but on a personal choice toward God. He then explains the basis of such a choice.

“The word which God sent unto the children of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ: (he is Lord of all:) That word, I say, ye know, which was published throughout all Judaea, and began from Galilee, after the baptism which John preached; How God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Ghost and with power: who went about doing good, and healing all that were oppressed of the devil; for God was with him.” (Acts 10:36-38)

The key to eternal salvation is that Jesus Christ is the Messiah god sent to take away the sins of the world. Even this group of gentiles had heard the stories about Jesus over the last several years, because Caesarea was the main seaport serving Jerusalem and most travelers would pass through the town. What happened in Jerusalem would almost certainly be known in Caesarea. They were familiar with John the Baptist’s ministry and had heard of Jesus and his crucifixion, as well as the persecution of the churches.

“And we are witnesses of all things which he did both in the land of the Jews, and in Jerusalem; whom they slew and hanged on a tree: Him God raised up the third day, and showed him openly; Not to all the people, but unto witnesses chosen before of God, even to us, who did eat and drink with him after he rose from the dead.” (Acts 10:39-41)

A witness can only testify of what he has observed first hand. What Cornelius and the group in his home knew was all hearsay. Peter was a witness of the various events. He had seen Jesus arrested and knew he had been hanged, like everyone in Jerusalem. More importantly, he had seen him after he was resurrected, as had many others, although not everyone, actually sitting and eating with him. His experience qualified him to speak on the subject.

“And he commanded us to preach unto the people, and to testify that it is he which was ordained of God to be the Judge of quick and dead. To him give all the prophets witness, that through his name whosoever believeth in him shall receive remission of sins. “ (Acts 10:42-43)

Because of what they had observed and experienced, seeing Jesus fulfill all the prophecies about the Messiah, and hearing god himself proclaim him as his son, they were qualified to testify as to who he was, and Jesus had himself instructed them to do so.

Under the law, making the sacrifices for sin just postponed sentencing for what they had done, and each year they had to redo it, according to Hebrews 10:1-4. “For the law having a shadow of good things to come, and not the very image of the things, can never with those sacrifices which they offered year by year continually make the comers thereunto perfect. For then would they not have ceased to be offered? because that the worshippers once purged should have had no more conscience of sins. But in those sacrifices there is a remembrance again made of sins every year. For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and of goats should take away sins.”

The prophets had declared that the Messiah would not just postpone, but actually take away the sin, removing all traces of it. When doctors say a cancer is in remission, it means they can detect no trace of it. While doctors may miss individual cancer cells, God doesn’t miss lingering sin. He gets it all. The remission of sin is based on believing in Jesus’ name. Acts 4:12 states, “Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.”

Salvation will not come by believing in the Mormon church or the Catholic church, or the Baptist church. Believing in the Pope, Joseph Smith, Buddha, Mohammed, or any other religious leader will not save any one. John 3:15-18 declares, “That whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life. For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. 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.”

“While Peter yet spake these words, the Holy Ghost fell on all them which heard the word.” (Acts 10:44)

This group of gentiles had been actively seeking the Lord, And trying to do what was right. They were convinced that it was God who brought Peter to them, and there was no hesitation in believing or in giving themselves wholly to God. As a result there was no delay in being saved or filled with the Holy Spirit. They accepted it fully, even before Peter finished speaking, and were filled with the Holy Spirit instantly.

Like the Ethiopian eunuch, a desire to please God was the key to God sending a teacher to them, and resulted in acceptance and filling with the Spirit. Over the years, I have observed the same scenario repeatedly, both in my own ministry and in that of others. The spiritual growth of such people is astoundingly fast, because they waste no time in allowing the Holy Spirit to have control.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Brought Together By The Holy Spirit

Acts 10:24-31

Cornelius’s messengers were tired, and they probably didn’t leave Joppa very early so it took more than a day to reach Caesarea. Think how the Holy Spirit worked to get Cornelius to send three men on such a trip, and to get Peter and a group of Christians to accompany them back. He has overcome the lack of a preacher in Caesarea, and the distance to the nearest church. He has also overcome the Preacher’s religious prejudices and standards.

“And the morrow after they entered into Caesarea. And Cornelius waited for them, and had called together his kinsmen and near friends. And as Peter was coming in, Cornelius met him, and fell down at his feet, and worshipped him.” (Acts 10:24-25

Cornelius was obviously excited about what he hoped would happen, waiting for them and bringing his relatives and friends together. When Peter came in, he received the same kind of respect that is often accorded a preacher or religious leader. Cornelius fell at his feet, worshipping Peter. While the degree shown toward the Pope exceeds what preachers usually receive, it can be very flattering to be shown such deference.

“But Peter took him up, saying, Stand up; I myself also am a man.” (Acts 10:26 )

Such an attitude of deference focuses on the man rather than on Christ and is wrong, but is to be common with unsaved people. The Holy Spirit Glorifies the Lord, not man or the himself, 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.” Led of the Spirit, Peter was quick to point out that he was no better than they were.

“And as he talked with him, he went in, and found many that were come together. And he said unto them, Ye know how that it is an unlawful thing for a man that is a Jew to keep company, or come unto one of another nation; but God hath showed me that I should not call any man common or unclean. Therefore came I unto you without gainsaying, as soon as I was sent for: I ask therefore for what intent ye have sent for me?” (Acts 10:27-29)

Any religious Jew would not have gone into a gentiles house to visit, and this was well known. Peter’s presence was unprecedented and so he explained why he had ignored his religious teachings to travel so far to meet with a bunch of gentiles. He was obeying a command of God to come, but now he needs to know why they sent for him.

“And Cornelius said, Four days ago I was fasting until this hour; and at the ninth hour I prayed in my house, and, behold, a man stood before me in bright clothing, And said, Cornelius, thy prayer is heard, and thine alms are had in remembrance in the sight of God. Send therefore to Joppa, and call hither Simon, whose surname is Peter; he is lodged in the house of one Simon a tanner by the sea side: who, when he cometh, shall speak unto thee. Immediately therefore I sent to thee; and thou hast well done that thou art come. Now therefore are we all here present before God, to hear all things that are commanded thee of God.” (Acts 10:30-33)

Cornelius explained how he came to send for Peter at God’s command, in answer to his prayers. He knew that God had something Peter was to tell him, but he had no idea what it was. The entire crowd had come together to hear what God directed Peter to say.

Peter was in Caesarea because the Holy Spirit led him to come, and he obeyed. Cornelius sent for Peter and was waiting with the crowd because the Holy Spirit led him, and he obeyed. Without obedience by both, the story would never have been completed.

The purpose was to hear the Word of God. When the Holy Spirit draws the people, that will always be the desire. If the people come because of the music, or program, or for any other reason than to hear God’s word, the Holy Spirit is not the motivating force. Jesus addressed the problem that they came only for physical pleasure in John 6:26 “Jesus answered them and said, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Ye seek me, not because ye saw the miracles, but because ye did eat of the loaves, and were filled.” They hadn’t come because they believed, but because they wanted the free food. How many are in church today because it offers free entertainment or food?

While God may still work, he will have to overcome their misplaced interest. I wonder how often our emphasis on the music, or activities, or the speaker interferes with the Holy Spirit’s work by focusing attention in the wrong place?

Friday, May 6, 2011

The Holy Spirit Works In Peter’s Heart

Acts 10:9-23

In the Jewish culture, association with non Jews was viewed much like associating with blacks in areas where the KKK was strong, or with Jews in Germany just before the start of world war II. Peter describes the attitude in Acts 10:28. “And he said unto them, Ye know how that it is an unlawful thing for a man that is a Jew to keep company, or come unto one of another nation;…” Peter’s prejudices and religious upbringing were a major obstacle to Cornelius’ salvation. The Holy Spirit will have to overcome them before he will consent to teach the gentiles. Frequently, the first thing that needs changed is the preacher’s attitude.

“On the morrow, as they went on their journey, and drew nigh unto the city, Peter went up upon the housetop to pray about the sixth hour: And he became very hungry, and would have eaten: but while they made ready, he fell into a trance, And saw heaven opened, and a certain vessel descending unto him, as it had been a great sheet knit at the four corners, and let down to the earth: Wherein were all manner of fourfooted beasts of the earth, and wild beasts, and creeping things, and fowls of the air.” (Acts 10:9-12)

About noon the day after the angel appeared to Cornelius, Peter went up to pray while waiting for lunch. During his prayer, God sent a vision to Peter. As a Jew, Peter was forbidden to eat most kinds of animals and birds, as a sign of their relationship to God. The animals Peter saw in his vision were forbidden.

“And there came a voice to him, Rise, Peter; kill, and eat. But Peter said, Not so, Lord; for I have never eaten any thing that is common or unclean.” (Acts 10:13-14)

Peter was not asleep and was still able to think and make decisions, and viewed the vision as a temptation he was determined to resist. He refused to eat ordinary food like other people’s ate. He was not going to compromise his standards. God rebuked him for putting his standards ahead of God’s command. How often do we let our standards keep us from obeying the Lord?

“And the voice spake unto him again the second time, What God hath cleansed, that call not thou common. This was done thrice: and the vessel was received up again into heaven.” (Acts 10:15-16)

Not all dreams and visions are from the Lord. Peter could well have decided that the vision was an attempt to tempt him and ignored it. If it was a product of his hunger or Satanic influence it probably would not have been repeated when he refused to eat. It came three times. God was making it clear what he wanted. Joseph refers to this in his statement to Pharaoh in Genesis 41-32. “And for that the dream was doubled unto Pharaoh twice; it is because the thing is established by God, and God will shortly bring it to pass.” Peter would have to reconsider his standards.

“Now while Peter doubted in himself what this vision which he had seen should mean, behold, the men which were sent from Cornelius had made inquiry for Simon's house, and stood before the gate, And called, and asked whether Simon, which was surnamed Peter, were lodged there.” (Acts 10:17-18)

Eighteen hours or so after Cornelius saw the angel, his messengers arrived at Simon’s house asking for Peter. Peter was still thinking about the vision and it’s implications when they arrived. Isn’t God’s timing marvelous?

“While Peter thought on the vision, the Spirit said unto him, Behold, three men seek thee. Arise therefore, and get thee down, and go with them, doubting nothing: for I have sent them. Then Peter went down to the men which were sent unto him from Cornelius; and said, Behold, I am he whom ye seek: what is the cause wherefore ye are come? “ (Acts 10:19-21)

Peter had no idea what they wanted, but the Holy Spirit told him they were looking for him and that he was to go with them. His first question was why they were looking for him.

“And they said, Cornelius the centurion, a just man, and one that feareth God, and of good report among all the nation of the Jews, was warned from God by an holy angel to send for thee into his house, and to hear words of thee. Then called he them in, and lodged them. And on the morrow Peter went away with them, and certain brethren from Joppa accompanied him.” (Acts 10:22-23)

Previously, Peter might well have just sent them on their way, because they were gentiles and not deserving his time, but God has shown him he isn’t to judge by such standards as he expressed in Acts 10:28, “…but God hath showed me that I should not call any man common or unclean.” Improper standards often hinder God’s work, turning people away who seek the truth. One of the reasons Mahatma Ghandi rejected Christianity and led India away was the English attitude toward dark skinned people, claiming it was God ordained.

Peter actually asked the gentile servants to stay with him, then accompanied them the next day. What a difference the Holy Spirit makes.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Strengthening The Churches

Acts 9:31-43

People tend to get distracted become less concerned about things when they are not forced on them everyday. Politicians count on this to let them get by with really unpopular decisions. With no one to focus on the persecution of Christians slackened, giving the churches a chance to regroup and rebuild. Having just been through the trials, they were aware of Satanic power and desirous to see it defeated, which gave a special impetus.

“Then had the churches rest throughout all Judaea and Galilee and Samaria, and were edified; and walking in the fear of the Lord, and in the comfort of the Holy Ghost, were multiplied.” (Acts 9:31)

The focus was still on edifying or building up the believers in the Lord, teaching them to walk in the fear of the Lord and the comfort of the Holy Spirit. As a result, the churches grew dramatically. Many churches today do not grow properly because we have so often focused on growth rather than on building up the believers.

If a shepherd will take the trouble to see that his older sheep are healthy and well fed, they will naturally produce lambs. If he also cares for the lambs and helps them to grow, one day they will produce more lambs and the herd will grow. If the older ones are not healthy enough to reproduce, or the younger ones don’t survive, the herd will shrink, no matter how many are born. The same is true of the church.

As the number of churches grew, the demands on the apostles grew as well. As much of the New Testament had not yet been written, new pastors and churches would need guidance from the apostles. In addition, men like Diotrophes would try to take over and manipulate the church for their own purposes, as III John describes. By visiting the churches, the apostles could could provide insights, deal with problems, and encourage those who were doing well. The signs of the apostles would also establish that the church was spiritually equal with any other church according to I1 Corinthians 13:12-13. “Truly the signs of an apostle were wrought among you in all patience, in signs, and wonders, and mighty deeds. For what is it wherein ye were inferior to other churches, except it be that I myself was not burdensome to you? forgive me this wrong.” It is in this capacity that Peter is visiting the churches.

“And it came to pass, as Peter passed throughout all quarters, he came down also to the saints which dwelt at Lydda. And there he found a certain man named Aeneas, which had kept his bed eight years, and was sick of the palsy. And Peter said unto him, Aeneas, Jesus Christ maketh thee whole: arise, and make thy bed. And he arose immediately. And all that dwelt at Lydda and Saron saw him, and turned to the Lord.” (Acts 9:32-35)

The gifts of the Spirit are given to benefit each member of the entire church according to I Corinthians 12:7. "But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to every man to profit withal.” That the people in Lydda benefited from the healing of Aeneas is clear because so many turned to Christ. The gifts of the Spirit are not to be used for the recipient’s benefit, but for the entire church. When empowered by the Holy Spirit, they will impact others who see or hear about them. This is demonstrated again in Joppa.

“Now there was at Joppa a certain disciple named Tabitha, which by interpretation is called Dorcas: this woman was full of good works and almsdeeds which she did. And it came to pass in those days, that she was sick, and died: whom when they had washed, they laid her in an upper chamber. And forasmuch as Lydda was nigh to Joppa, and the disciples had heard that Peter was there, they sent unto him two men, desiring him that he would not delay to come to them.

Then Peter arose and went with them. When he was come, they brought him into the upper chamber: and all the widows stood by him weeping, and showing the coats and garments which Dorcas made, while she was with them.” (Acts 9:36-39)

In our day, a great deal is made of the ritual of healing, anointing with oil and so forth. As I read through the scripture, I notice that there is no consistency of ritual. Peter simply knelt in prayer, then took her by the hand and told her to get up. It is not he ritual that heals, but the power of God. Even in James 5:14-15, the focus is not on the anointing with oil, but on the prayer of faith. “Is any sick among you? let him call for the elders of the church; and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord: And the prayer of faith shall save the sick, and the Lord shall raise him up; and if he have committed sins, they shall be forgiven him.” The anointing actually appears to be applying medication, similar to what the Good Samaritan did in Luke 10:33-34. The healing is still the result of God’s action.

“But Peter put them all forth, and kneeled down, and prayed; and turning him to the body said, Tabitha, arise. And she opened her eyes: and when she saw Peter, she sat up. And he gave her his hand, and lifted her up, and when he had called the saints and widows, presented her alive. And it was known throughout all Joppa; and many believed in the Lord.” (Acts 9:40-42)

Again, the Holy Spirit’s action impacted many other people.

“And it came to pass, that he tarried many days in Joppa with one Simon a tanner.” (Acts 9:43)