Reflections From ACTS 15: “BECAUSE TRUTH MATTERS—THE WORD IS DEBATED & DISSENSION ARISES”

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The second part of the book of Acts starts with chapter fifteen and the Jerusalem council being gathered because some Judaizers and Pharisees insisted that Gentiles must be circumcised and observe the Law of Moses in order to be saved (Vv.1-6).

Paul and Barnabus confronted this belief and thus engaged in “verbal combat”, they, “had great dissension and debate with them—[the men from Judea]” (V.2).  When God’s word is being twisted to “mean” something its authoritative spokesmen never intended, its cause for intense debate.  Essentially, these Jews wanted to add works of the Law of Moses in order for someone to be declared saved.  When in the 21st century someone wants to skew scripture to mean something it never meant, and salvation is at stake, we’d better get in the fight for Christ’s sake and those who are entering into eternity.

After this debate had ensued for some time, Peter gives a mini-apologetic by explaining his account of how Cornelius a Gentile had received the Holy Spirit even as they had from the beginning (Vv.7-12).  Then James speaks up assuring the Jewish hearers that God had through the prophets included the Gentiles in his scheme of salvation (Vv.13-20).  It’s as if the notion of reaching the Gentiles with the gospel was a foreign concept to many Jews as Peter’s account revealed in Acts 10.

To the Gentiles a letter was then written by the council and they were encouraged to grow in God’s grace but to guard against idolatry and fornication, the contents of which were read in Antioch and much joy resulted (Vv.21-31).  Paul and Barnabus continued in Antioch, “teaching and preaching with many others also, the word of the Lord” (V.35).  But not long afterward, these two had a “sharp disagreement” over whether or not to bring John Mark along with them.  Here, the “dynamic duo” parted ways (Vv.36-41).  Here’s a reminder that no matter what quality work people do for the kingdom—and Paul and Barnabus did—issues arise and do separate ministry partners.

There are several things from this chapter we learn; first, doctrine matters and specifically what it means for one to be saved is crucial.  There’s no casual approach here.  Christ plus anything is a distortion of the gospel and thus damnable (see Galatians), thus verbal combat must be had for love’s sake.  Today, this view of love is foreign to most outside the church and to many within her walls.  Sometimes love requires for there to be dissension within the ranks in order to uphold the word of the Lord in truth when distortions are arising.

Second, note that no burdens were placed on the Gentiles to be circumcised but they were warned to guard against idolatry and fornication because these go contra what it means to be Christ’s disciples.  When we say “Christ plus anything is a distortion of the gospel” it clearly does not mean that how we live is inconsequential.  No, new life produces new desires and holiness of living where love for God and others is practically demonstrated, one such way is to not be an idolater or a fornicator.

Lastly, Paul and Barnabus show us that God will separate even the closest of companions for His names sake.  Even though these two separated, rather than hindering the gospel, this propelled its propagation because now more ground could be covered than while they were together.    This is ironic because I can imagine Satan thinking he’s won a victory by dividing this duo, but God was providentially using this friction to reach more Gentiles in darkness with the gospel of God’s light.  Amazing!  When we consider that God works all things together for good to them that love Him and are called according to His purposes, we should consider this account of Paul and Barnabus in order to derive hope, rather than sink into despair when we experience similar situations.         

(SDG)

Reflections From Acts 14: “THE WORD IS PREACHED, RECEIVED, & REJECTED”

THE SPIRIT SPEAKS & PAUL AND BARNABUS OBEY

The saga of word proclamation, reception of and opposition to the Gospel continues in this chapter.  There’s a few incidents that caught my attention, first, the text says, “they entered the synagogue of the Jews together, and spoke in such a manner that a large number of people believed, both Jews and Greeks.” (V.1)

This struck me because somehow their speech and mode of delivering the message deeply impacted the conversion of the hearers.  It reminds me of accounts in the Gospels where Jesus spoke or taught such that amazement and wonder seized the listening crowds.  What manner of speech is this?

I’ve experienced in the preaching of the word (both in hearing and delivering the message) an unusual dynamic where the words seem to take you from one realm of reality to another and the soul is strengthened with hope.  Other times I’ve heard preaching where (and this is unusual) the atmosphere in the room changes—often attributed to the Spirits special manifestation—and the weightiness of the message causes the hair on the back of my neck to arise.  These are moments I “know” the message is directly for me.  I’ve also experienced this when reading the bible alone.

Clearly the Lords power was present with Paul and Barnabus to not only teach and preach but also to perform signs and wonders as they boldly continued to preach the word of God in the midst of opposition (Vv.2-3).  Thus, much joy came to those converted, but those opposing the message put together a death squad in order to quell the propagation of the gospel.

Second, a recurring theme in Acts is that the word is received on the one hand, but rejected on the other hand with lethal opposition.  Here the one who murdered and incarcerated Christians is now receiving what he previously “dished out”.  Was this “karma” as some would suggest or was this by Christ’s “design”?  I deny the former and affirm the latter because the karmic view is an “impersonal force” that operates on cause and effect, whereas the biblical view demonstrates that the “personal” Son of God is working out his specific plan for Paul on whom he’s had mercy (Acts 9:15-16).

Moreover, the cause of Paul’s suffering ordained by the Savior was not based on Paul’s previous life (I.e., before he converted) but was for the sake of Jesus’ Name.  Many Christians in America don’t have a theology of suffering for the Christian.  This is unfortunate because the means to follow Christ is to deny ourselves, take up the Cross, and then follow him—the metaphor is telling.

While sufferings are multifaceted, the grace of Christ is present to bring us through whatever circumstance (Whether we are healed in this life or not).  Sometimes God chooses to deliver us from suffering, but other times, because of His hidden purposes for us, we must endure them.  Regardless, we must not conclude that God has removed His love from us (Read Rom.8:28-39) because He never will.

Third, signs and wonders can be misinterpreted by pagans so that they don’t attribute the power to heal to the infinite God, but to some contingent false god like Hermes and Zeus (Vv.8-13).  But faithful servants of the Lord correct such misunderstandings with the word of God even if it’s difficult to persuade men otherwise (Vv.14-18) and note what Paul says:

“Men, why are you doing these things? We are also men of the same nature as you, and preach the gospel to you that you should turn from these vain things to a living God, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and all that is in them.” (V.15)

Paul affirms he is like they, denies the existence of their gods, and points to the God who is the fountain of all that exists.  Note also the phrase, “should turn” implying that to not turn to the living God is wrong, immoral, sin.  So thus far, we have: conversions, reception and rejection of the gospel, signs and wonders, and now…

Fourth, Paul is stoned for the faith (Vv.19-22).  The natives were not passing around a “joint” here, but they were actually trying to kill the apostle.   This is part of God’s ordained plan according to Jesus’ words in Acts 9 so that through the hands of culpable sinners the Name would be glorified (See also Acts 2:14-47).  Thinking Paul to be dead after having been dragged out of the city (not sure if he was or not), the disciples around him witnessed Paul get up and go back into the city to preach the gospel.  Amazing!!!!!!!  What must have his executioners thought when they saw him back at it in the city?

After going to Derbe and making disciples there, Paul returned to Antioch and Iconium and warned them that, “Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God” (V.22) which is in line with Jesus’ teaching of denying self, taking up the cross and following him.

This section is quite overwhelming, filled with varied action all of which in spite of opposition, the message of the gospel went forth.  This truly emboldens me for witness and perseverance, may many others also be strengthened.

(SDG)

Reflections From ACTS 13: “THE SPIRIT SPEAKS AND THE MESSAGE IS FULFILLMENT”

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            In this section of Scripture there are two big ideas I will consider: First, in what circumstance does the Spirit speak; and secondly, what’s Paul’s central message in his preaching?

First, the Holy Spirit spoke, “While they were ministering to the Lord and fasting…” (V.2a)  What it means to minister to the Lord, is not clear here, other than the fasting.  Scripture teaches that one way for us to humble ourselves before God is through fasting and prayer (Ps.35:13).  In light of this, all kinds of prayer must have been offered such as thanksgiving, intercessions, and petition.  Moreover, in this gathering they probably also included the reading or recitation of the Law—Torah, the Prophets and the Writings.

The point here is that as the prophets and teachers from the church in Antioch ministered to the Lord, the “Holy Spirit said set aside/apart for Me Barnabus and Saul for the work which I have called them.” (V.2b)  Here is an example of God doing the unusual and speaking—how though we are not told.  Was it through a vision, or an impression, or an audible voice like at Jesus’ baptism where it’s recorded that the Father’s voice was heard?  The text plainly says, “The Holy Spirit said”.

I think Luke is focusing on something essential that we do well to heed: monumental work which these two are about to embark (the First Gentile mission) comes at a cost.  It’s birthed from a posture of humility (fasting) and dependence (prayer), rather than self-reliance and the latest business model on how to grow or run the church.

Humility and dependence on the Father’s will and purposes is what Jesus demonstrated in his earthly ministry for us to consider and to emulate.  It’s how the work of the kingdom is accomplished as the message of the kingdom is proclaimed and lived, as it’s explained and defended.

Second, Paul gives a salvation history message when he’s asked to speak.  He gives a “topical” sermon using texts from the Psalms, Genesis, Exodus, I Samuel, Judges, Kings, Habakkuk, and Isaiah explaining their own Hebrew history, the promise of the coming Messiah, the fact of Jesus’ resurrection and the doom awaiting recalcitrant souls who reject Yeshua (Vv.14-43).  This preaching as always is first rejected by the Jews (Vv.44-47) even if others received it with joy (Vv.42-43).  The message is fulfillment!  What God promised he accomplished in Christ Jesus!  This is not a new message but the completion of what had already been preached to the patriarchs and the prophets.

This fulfillment included salvation for the Gentiles which for many Jews was difficult to bear.  Why?  It was because they neglected heeding God’s word.  Now, if the word of the Lord that’s central to all this ministry is what caused many to be saved—to those “as many as had been appointed to eternal life believed”, ought we do any less?

Consider what the text says, “those appointed, chosen, elected for eternal life—believed”.  The scripture, in other words, was the means of salvation for those “appointed”.  This appointment preceded their believing and is marvelous to consider.  For it seems to me, that something outside the creature, not something within the believer is working to effect salvation.  I think that something is someone—the Holy Spirit.

Nevertheless, the word is central for salvation to be realized and it must always be if our converts are going to be genuine.  Thus, God does extraordinary things when his people choose to like a child walk humbly and dependent before Him—he brings life where death once reigned!  And as always, God’s faithfulness is on display when the fulfillment of prophecy occurs.  Let God be true and every man a liar!

(SDG)

Reflections From ACTS 12: “PERSECUTION AND JUDGEMENT BECAUSE OF THE WORD”

petrus_et_paulus_4th_century_etchingWhenever God moves we should not flinch at the opposition that often accompanies it by His enemies.  The purpose for why rulers oppose the disciples is because they really hate Jesus and his message.  The text says:

“Now about that time Herod the king laid hands on some who belonged to the church in order to mistreat them.” (V.1)

The king’s purpose was nothing less than to mistreat his captives such that he had James the brother of John put to death by the sword (V.2).  Peter is then incarcerated but an angel of the Lord rescues him from his chains (Vv.4-11) and those praying for Peter’s release doubt he’s been rescued (Vv.12-17).  O men of little faith!  Can’t we relate?!

So persecution came because of the word and it’s that same word which will judge and end Herod’s life.  Not only does Herod have the guards executed because of Peter’s escape but (Vv.18-19) he’s eaten by worms in Caesarea after the angel of the Lord struck him.  This death took place because the people cried to Herod “the voice of a god and not of a man!”, as he was delivering a speech in royal garb (Vv.21-23).  Somehow it seems that the king’s appearance and voice so captivated the hearers that they were moved to adore him.

Nevertheless, the word of God the king tried to squash continued to grow and multiply (Vv.23-24).  Herod reminds of king Nebuchadnezzar who also did not glory God—he did not acknowledge from where his might and pomp came—and was as a beast for seven years grazing with the cows.

Luke is however making the point that the church has angelic help even when persecution erupts.  These angels both rescue God’s people and kill the church’s enemies.  The word preached caused all this unrest!

Today the word of the Cross, Christ’s exclusivity and many other things are bringing persecution to the church through a totalitarian system increasingly being unleashed in the West.  Yet believers should not forget that there are more with us than those who oppose us (E.g., Elisha angelic vision).  God’s word can’t be chained if those who belong to Him will proclaim and live the message.  Maranatha!

(SDG)

Reflections From ACTS 11: “PETER’S WORLDVIEW CHALLENGED BUT THE GOSPEL SPREADS”

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News got out that the Gentiles had received the word of God (V.1) which indicates a very important aspect of what true conversion is: it’s the reception of God’s word and submission to it that produces kingdom life as it is preached (Rom.10:9-10).  Without the word preached there’s no salvation, but by submitting to the word one evidences genuine conversion.

This implies that the apostles’ model is to be the model we use for reaching people for Christ.  Without the word, men remain dead in their trespasses and sins, they remain in darkness.  In the same way Peter needed his worldview to shift, so did the Jewish community in Jerusalem who disapproved of Peter’s exchange with Cornelius:

“And when Peter came up to Jerusalem, those who were circumcised took issue with him, saying, “You went to uncircumcised men and ate with them.” (Vv.2-3)

 Apparently they didn’t get the memo that Jesus had declared all foods to be clean.  According to Jesus, what makes men unclean is not foods but motives and attitudes of the heart that lead to murder, adultery and gossip (Mk.7:1-23).  By this declaration Jesus admitted to be divine for no prophet ever spoke on his own initiative as he does in Mark’s account.

Nevertheless, Peter explains the turn of events and points out the following which Luke emphasizes. First, what God has cleansed, no longer consider unholy.  In the New Covenant the ceremonial laws which God instituted to make Israel stand out in the world, no longer apply (V.9).  It’s because these have been already fulfilled in Christ.

Second, “the Spirit told me to go with them” (V.12).  Peter and six of his companions obeyed God’s command so that Christ who came to seek and to save the lost might be glorified by rescuing this Gentile—Non Jew!  There should have been much rejoicing here but it was slow coming from the Jews.

Third, God’s angel had to instruct Cornelius to specifically ask for Peter—the preacher.  Why Peter?  Because he, “will speak words to you by which you will be saved, you and all your household.” (V.14). Here again emphasized is the primacy of preaching the word in order for sinners to be saved.

Fourth, “…who was I to stand in God’s way” Peter concludes after explaining that these saved received the Holy Spirit as the disciples did when they had first spoken in tongues.  If God wants to gift them as he did us, then something much bigger than we anticipated is taking place in the Name of Jesus.

Fifth, “well then God has granted to the Gentiles also the repentance which leads to life” the Jews rejoiced in God only after Peter explained the meaning of the events.  The early church’s theology was developing concerning the gospel of the kingdom and salvation.

In short, only after the light of God’s word is revealed, explained, understood and received can anyone be set free.  The hesitation of preaching to the Gentiles unfortunately remained to be an issue of contention for many Jews (V.19), but thankfully others got the message that Gentiles, not Jews alone, need the word also (Vv.20-24).   God answered prayers and converted many through the preached Gospel evidenced by many who “turned to the Lord” (V.21).

If the word of God is not central in our Gospel proclamation then many will not come into glory, but everlasting doom.  It’s sobering and yet it seems that many today enjoy their stupor in church week after week, not preaching this most glorious message.

(SDG)

Reflections From Acts 10: “ST. PETER’S WORLDVIEW SHIFTED”

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Just as it took some time for the Jewish believers to scatter for the sake of spreading the Gospel message, it appears that Peter, the early church’s leader needed to be reminded of Jesus’ words.  He needed to be “scattered” regarding his worldview.

In Acts 9:32 and onward, Luke focuses his account on Peter’s ministry where he raises Tabitha from the dead, thus fulfilling Jesus’ words of the greater works his disciples would perform.  But as we move into chapter 10 we see the extent to which the Holy Spirit goes in order to reach a non-Jew.

Cornelius a Caesarean centurion from the Italian cohort is a God fearing man who continually gave alms to the Jewish people and prayed.  An angel of the Lord was sent to him not to preach the Gospel but to get him to Peter who would.  The details needed to get a hold of Peter were specific; his name, his location, and so forth (Vv.1-8).

Concerning Peter, he too needed a vision from God in order to prepare him to meet Cornelius.  Jewish customs, some of which Jesus eradicated (E.g., all foods are now clean) would have kept the Gospel from going forth to this God fearer but the Lord’s mercy vanquished this exclusion.  Why Peter was still stuck with dietary restrictions after Jesus declared all foods to be clean is puzzling to me.  Perhaps he forgot or letting go of certain things for him was difficult.  Regardless, this obstacle had to first be removed for the Gospel to go forth.

The chapter ensues with Peter proclaiming the Gospel to Cornelius and his household.  As is the pattern in Acts, the historicity of Jesus the Nazarene, his life, works, death and resurrection are the centerpiece of Gospel preaching and so is the fact that the apostles were eyewitnesses of these events (Vv.34-38).  Real conversions occurred only after divine intervention followed for both Jew and Gentile alike.

It’s as if this account is bringing to the reader’s attention the need to remove any obstacle/stronghold (I.e., false ideas) from the hearer before Gospel life can be experienced.  May God have mercy on the church and those she longs to reach with His life giving truth, and may God’s people labor to understand those outside the fold so that we are not a hindrance to those coming into the kingdom.

(SDG)

Reflections From Acts 9: “SAUL THE JEW CONVERTED BY MEETING THE RESURRECTED JESUS”

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This chapter in Acts is one of the most significant in all of Scripture because the enemy of the Cross is confronted with the risen Lord.  There are many different “kinds of conversions”, but according to Jesus, there’s only one kind that is authentic—where the seed of the word is planted on good soil and thus brings in a harvest of kingdom fruit, be it 30, 60, or a 100 fold.

The text reads of Saul in verses 1-2:

Now Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest, and asked for letters from him to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, both men and women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem.

There’s nothing more resolute than a religious zealot for here, belief fuels all of life, and such conviction can’t be bought nor bribed to compromise—usually.  Saul was a zealot but his encounter with the resurrected Christ would forever change the course of his life and that of the Gentile world.  While Saul could not be bought, he would be broken as Jesus’ interrogation ensued:

As he was traveling, it happened that he was approaching Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him; and he fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?” And he said, “Who are You, Lord?” And He said, “I am Jesus whom you are persecuting, but get up and enter the city, and it will be told you what you must do.” The men who traveled with him stood speechless, hearing the voice but seeing no one. Saul got up from the ground, and though his eyes were open, he could see nothing; and leading him by the hand, they brought him into Damascus. And he was three days without sight, and neither ate nor drank.   

This is the event where Saul converted to the Way where he became a disciple of Christ.  This was as radical as it gets.  One author has commented on Saul’s conversion to be akin to the catholic Pope converting to Protestantism, this was huge but so is He who conquered the grave.

Jesus had to prepare the disciple Ananias of Damascus to receive Saul because there’s no way he could believe that this murderous zealot was genuinely converted (vv.10-14).  Jesus however assured Ananias of Saul’s purpose:

15 But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of Mine, to bear My name before the Gentiles and kings and the sons of Israel; 16 for I will show him how much he must suffer for My name’s sake.” (Vv.15-16)     

 Plainly Jesus describes Saul’s ministry call and the suffering allotted to him because of the Name.  Jesus is hammering the issue of persecution because of the Name which comes from religious and pagan people alike (Mt.5:9-12).  Up to this point, persecution seems to be the norm, not the exception in Acts.  Not only does Ananias give Saul back his sight, but he immediately begins to proclaim the risen Jesus in the synagogues that, “He is the Son of God”…and proving that Jesus is the Christ (Vv.17-22).  It’s as if Saul’s temporary physical blindness served as a reminder of his spiritual sightlessness concerning Jesus.

On two occasions we read that the Jews were plotting to kill Saul because of his message (Vv.23, 29).  When Jesus said, “You are either for me or against me” the hearer must not understand it’s actually a matter of life or death.  Side with Christ now and eternal life is assured with persecution and temporary death.  Come against Jesus now, and eternal doom is assured with temporary life.

If this is the case and Christ’s enemies have no chance, why then don’t they bow the knee to the Master?  They also can’t see as was true of Saul.  Spiritual blindness is lethal and satanic forces are all too glad to assist.  Interestingly, while Saul boldly preached Christ, he did not desire to die as is evidenced by his two escapes from death in Damascus and Jerusalem.  He did not have a death wish even though he was consumed with God’s zeal in truth and in deed.

The marvel of Saul’s conversion should not be missed.  Consider how the disciples feared him (Vv.21, 26-27) and if it were not for Barnabus, Saul’s reception among the disciples would have taken much longer.  We must nevertheless remember that the God of the living raises the walking dead.  Saul’s an example of just that.  We ought never to loose heart but always pray as Jesus commanded because of who God is.  For in God’s time and providence many of our requests will be the means through which God ushers souls into the kingdom.  What a Savior!

(SDG)

Reflections From Acts 8: “PERSECUTION—THE MEANS FOR SPREADING THE GOSPEL”

persecutionSometimes for us to be moved, God must act.  Before Jesus ascended he commanded the disciples to wait for power from on high, his purpose was so they would start witnessing in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and so forth.  This is finally occurring in chapter eight.  How many years have transpired is not clear.  Perhaps it wasn’t years nevertheless it’s through the furnace of suffering that the Gospel went forth.

Ironically, Saul who would become Paul the apostle is the key figure used by God to bring swift persecution on the church.  He ravaged the church and dragged off men and women to prison (v.3).  The irony is that he would eventually become the apostle to the Gentiles.  So both as an enemy and then as a bond servant of Christ, God used him to get the word out.

Like Stephan, Philip too was filled with the Spirit and wisdom, he preached Christ to Samaria and performed signs and wonders which included casting out demons (vv.4-8).  He preached on the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ.  Note that God’s rule and reign and God’s chosen Messiah filled the content being preached.

Moreover, Philip is seen preaching to the individual Ethiopian Eunuch and explaining to him the meaning of the Isiah passage he was reading.  Philip from this text preached Christ and assuredly he went to others (vv.25-35).  Eventually the Eunuch was baptized in water and Philip was snatched away by the Spirit of the Lord in order to continue preaching in Azotus and the surrounding cities the gospel of Jesus Christ.

As in Acts 6 & 7 and now in chapter 8, the key figure is the deacon, Philip, doing what God called him to do: preach the gospel and perform acts of power.  The office of deacon in many Christian churches seems to have fallen on hard times.  Hardly are the qualities of preaching and acts of power seen in those who wait on tables and yet this is exactly what Acts reveals.

Could it be that looking for these qualities is of no interest to us today?  For as long as the chairs are set up, the Sunday school room prepared and the coffee and donuts in place (these things are important—maybe not donuts) with these we seem content.  Could it be that we as a church are making a massive mistake by not asking God to fill the diaconal office with those filled with the Spirit and wisdom?, perhaps, perhaps?

To perform diaconal duties (serving tables) is not equal to having diaconal qualities (1 Tim.3), but the example of those chosen by the people seemed to be an election of men known to already have a dynamic walk with God.  So maybe, if we installed leadership of Philip’s ilk we’d do the cause of Christ more service?  Setting up chairs and performing menial tasks are very important and they are to be performed all to the glory of God.  But when we neglect the biblical pattern for leadership within the church everyone loses—including the lost.

(SDG)

Reflections From ACTS 6&7: “PERSECUTION BECAUSE OF THE NAME”—Part Three

    acts-of-apostles     With growth comes pain that must be addressed.  Apparently, the Hellenistic Jews were not being cared for as the native Hebrews, for the widows portions of daily sustenance were not being allotted fairly to the former (6:1).

            It’s the human experience here that God points out to us that even while all of these exciting events are occurring (E.g., signs and wonders, church growth, etc.), all is not well.  Sin remains and manifests in favoritism.  The Twelve did not excuse the situation, but realized they were not to neglect their duties in order to serve tables.  Thus, they wisely ordered the brethren to select a certain seven men from the Greeks to rectify this matter.

This order solved several problems and demonstrates God’s wisdom.  First, through delegation, those complaining were now responsible for solving the issue.  Second, these were to be men from a Hellenistic background so that the Hebrew/Hellenistic rivalry would be quelled at the apparent source—the issue of ethnicity.  Third, ethnicity and favoritism were only symptoms of the real problem—the need for leaders with specific qualities in order to rule well.

These men had to have a good reputation, but more than that, they needed to be “full of the Spirit and wisdom.”  One of these men was Stephan and his life illustrates what it means to have the “Spirit and wisdom.”  He is seen ministering through acts of power because he’s filled with the word of God—Acts 7 his salvation history sermon.

How desperately the church in every age needs deacons like Stephan and the others mentioned, for they are like a fount that gushes out life from God’s throne as they submit to God in word and in deed.  In their obedience to the word persecution assuredly follows as Jesus predicted because of the His Name’s sake (Mt.5:9-12).  It’s amazing how through Gods word spreading (6:7) the church continued to grow.  [I say amazing because true church growth here occurs through gospel proclamation, not programs and clever ideas.  Today, the church would do well to heed this example so that less false conversions occur].  And yet persecution was just around the corner.

When someone picks a fight against you, like Stephan, don’t back down (6:9-7:1), but also like Stephan, you must be filled with the Spirit and wisdom which comes through the word of God richly dwelling in you, or else you will cower.

Stephan faced a mob who falsely accused him of doing many things, but the text says: “But they were unable to cope with the wisdom and the Spirit with which he was speaking” (6:10).  In Jesus’ ministry this often took place where the rulers presented him some difficult dilemmas in order to catch him in a falsehood or contradiction only to be silenced through the Spirit and wisdom in which he walked.  Jesus is described as one who spoke with authority and not as their scribes.  Why?  When the Spirit and the word are working alongside each other any falsehoods or lies are exposed and the truth is seen.  The effect is silence and awe.

Stephan knew the story of redemptive history as he so cogently displays in (7:2-53) and because the hearers rejected God’s word they opted to kill him through stoning (7:54-60).  If we reject God’s word as Stephan’s executioners did, we may find ourselves imitating their hard hearts.  But even in death, the genuineness of Stephan’s faith hearkens back to Jesus crucifixion, “Lord do not hold this sin against them!”

It seems that Luke here wants the reader to be clear on what it means to be filled with the Spirit and wisdom—it includes living to God’s glory which will often include the death of his servants for the sake of the Name.  What will become of me and my family, or what will become of you friend?

(SDG)

Reflections From Acts 5: PERSECUTION BECAUSE OF THE NAME (Part Two)

actsThe persecution from chapter 4 continues through into this chapter.  This persecution results from the Name of Jesus being preached and signs that follow the preaching attest to Christ’s resurrection.  The following observations are instructive concerning the power of the word and the persecution continues to follow its: declaration, explanation and practice.

First, the death of Ananias and Sapphira because of their greed and deception served as an opportunity for God to affirm the apostolic authority and unique position in the church.  Note how lying to God ended these people’s lives.  The text, nowhere says that this couple were eternally lost.  This has the earmarks of God’s discipline that too often Christians consider an abhorrent thought.  But if this is Gods church, and it is, then He will do all His good pleasure for the glory of His name.

Second, God continued to grow the church such that the sick were brought within the apostle’s reach in order to be healed.  These acts of power were signs of the new age which had come into this evil age through the ministry of Jesus of Nazareth and now extended through his apostles.

Third, persecution, imprisonment, flogging and shame came as a result of the Name of Jesus.  [Quick note here: the name of Jesus (possessive) is not what is referred to when it’s talking about the name.  The name Jesus was common (I.e., Joshua), but the name above all names is “I Am” referring to the self-existent One Moses spoke to on Mount Sinai.  It’s this name Jesus says to the Jews, “Before Abraham was I Am” in John’s Gospel that triggered in the hearers a desire to stone him].  Anyway, and while they were apostles, they nevertheless must have felt the danger they were in before the leaders of the land.

Even though they were commanded to cease preaching in Jesus’ name, Peter and the apostles civilly disobeyed because God’s is much weightier than the command of the creature.  And as always, Peter is preaching, as an eyewitness, the fulfillment of prophecy God demonstrated through the resurrection of Christ from the dead.

Fifth, this manner of preaching did not get them killed just yet because it was not their time and God used the Pharisee Gamaliel to speak sense to those enraged.  Essentially, his message was that if these deeds and movement are based on human power, then it would not last as was the case with Theudas and Judas of Galilee as examples.

But, if these men and this movement originated in God, not only will you not be able to overthrow it (Jews), you will also find yourselves to be enemies of God.  There’s much wisdom here and yet, the apostles were released after being flogged.  It seems the Jews weren’t convinced they were beating God’s servants.

Lastly, instead of recoiling, the apostles rejoiced after being flogged because their theology of suffering was God-centered (E.g., they knew about Job, they witnessed Jesus’ passion).  The text reads:

41 So they went on their way from the presence of the Council, rejoicing that they had been considered worthy to suffer shame for His name. 42 And every day, in the temple and from house to house, they kept right on teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ.

Assuredly they recalled the Sermon on the Mount where rejoicing is the only response worthy to be expressed after being persecuted for righteousness sake and because of Jesus’ name (Mt.5).  Moreover, they must have understood that in God’s providence their lot included such shame which was a seal of honor, not disgrace.  Ironically, the shame suffered before men results in honor before God—that’s much to consider.

(SDG)