The Students

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Last week, Pastor Zane told us about the meeting that took place between Paul and Silas and the people in the synagogue at Thessalonica. Paul and Silas stayed there three sabbaths and gave powerful messages about the suffering of Christ, about His death, burial, and glorious resurrection. The long awaited Messiah had come! The Bible tells us, “And some of them were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, along with a large number of the God-fearing Greeks and a number of the leading women.” The Jews became jealous of these conversions and as we have seen before, a mob is formed and the attacks commenced. The Jews couldn’t find Paul so they dragged Jason before the city authorities and after Jason pinky swore that Paul wasn’t there, they let him go. This morning, we’ll pick up the story and see what happens to our missionary heroes.

Take a look at our passage today in Acts 17:10-15.

We begin with the next city. Paul and Silas narrowly escape another mob and leave Thessalonica under the cover of darkness. As is often the case in Acts, we lose a sense of time because we pick up with them leaving at night and then arriving in Berea. I imagine we think about this like going from St. Marys to Kingsland. It was about a three day walk from Thessalonica to Berea. Luke leaves out the details of the journey including where they stopped for the night, where they ate, and what they did along the way. Berea is on the eastern slope of Mt. Vernon in the Olympian mountains. It is located in a fairly remote area and was a city of some prominence having been one of the four capitals of Macedonia. Paul and Silas arrive and as is their custom, they go directly to the synagogue.

I love how Luke describes these people from Berea. Remember Paul just left Thessalonica where many people decided to follow Jesus. Thessalonica was the location of the church that Paul sent two letters to that are so important, they’re included in Scripture. But the Bereans Luke describes as, “More noble-minded than those in Thessalonica.” We need to be careful when we look at the words here. You could easily draw the conclusion that the Thessalonians weren’t noble, but that’s not what Luke says. Noble in this context means a willingness to learn and evaluate something fairly. It’s the difference between exegesis and eisegesis. You’ve likely heard both of those terms from the pulpit here at Three Rivers. One term is very healthy and one is very damaging. One term is biblical and one is not. One term demonstrates a willingness to learn, one does not. One term will foster growth; one term will stifle growth. The Bereans demonstrated one term. Let me be crystal clear on something. Bible study is hard work. There are no shortcuts. Even if you paid close attention to every sermon you heard, every Sunday School lesson you heard, every small group you attended, you will never get what you need to have a healthy relationship with Jesus. You will not be equipped in the manner necessary to prepare you for the challenges of life.

What makes the Bereans noble? “They received the word with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see whether these things were so.” If you have spent any length of time in an evangelical church, you’ve heard of the Bereans. They are often referred to as an example of what each person should be like. I will echo those statements about the Bereans. There were several things they did that should be emulated. First, “they received the word.” They were attentive. They weren’t thinking about lunch, or about grocery lists, or laundry, or how they have it worse than their neighbors. They heard what Paul was saying and they were listening. They weren’t simply sitting there taking credit for being present. There are people that take great pleasure in being at church, but don’t participate in the things that make the church the church, they’re simply in the building.

Second, they did this, “with great eagerness.” Not just with eagerness, that would be encouraging enough, but these Bereans received the word, “with great eagerness.” It is very exciting to be preaching or teaching God’s word and see the faces of the people in front of you. There are times you look out and the people are on the edge of their seats, they can’t wait to hear what comes next. They’re hanging on the Word of God.

Third, and always very important, the Bereans, “Examined the Scriptures daily to see whether these things were so.” The Bereans did not take what Paul said with blind faith. They didn’t conclude that since Paul said something, it must be true. I always cringe when someone tells me, my pastor says, or my Sunday School teacher says, or some famous pastor says. I want to know what the Bible says and I want you to know what the Bible says. I find it shocking the people that stand on the authority of John MacArthur, David Platt, James MacDonald, Chuck Swindoll, or a host of other people. I’m not saying don’t read these guys or listen to them but filter it through the lens of Scripture. Too often, people in the church are not willing to apply due diligence to their Bible study, diligence they’ll apply to other areas of their life. They want it easy, they want it fast, they want it efficiently, they want it cheap, but it takes hard work to mine the depths of God’s Word and you’ll never reach the bottom. At the risk of offending you, many people in the church have a casual walk of faith and limited knowledge of the Bible and much of that comes from word of mouth or tradition. That’s why you see and hear arguments from professing believers about topics such as the inerrancy of Scripture, biblical marriage, judgment of sin, sanctity of human life, and sexuality. We have parents in the church more interested in dance, t-ball, and soccer than we do in Sunday School, children’s church, or AWANA. The believers from Berea did not take what Paul said at faceAWAN value. The word examine, as it is used here, is an incredible word. It means try to learn the truth of something by the process of careful study, evaluation, and judgment. It means to investigate. This is what the Bereans did: they dug into the Scriptures every single day to make sure that what Paul was saying lined up with the standard of truth.

The Bible must be studied properly. In historic context. With the meaning intended by God through the human authors as inspired by the Holy Spirit. The Bible cannot have multiple meanings for various passages of Scripture. For example, you have some people that talk about God’s blessings. Their teaching is that God’s favor is on you if you have everything you want: multi-million-dollar homes, airplanes, successful TV programs, stadium events, or good health. If you don’t have all of that, there is something wrong with you. We have other people in the church think that if something bad happens in their life, Satan is attacking them or they’re being persecuted. Still others want prayer for their kids for an upcoming test or sports event, or something else like that. These examples are examples I have observed myself. They only apply here in the United States. The idea of a multi-million-dollar home for a believer in a small village of Romania, Brazil, or Paraguay is non-sensical. For many believers in the world, their daily prayer is for food or to withstand the physical punishment of their faith and still glorify God. You see, we can’t rewrite the Bible to fit the American dream yet that’s what we seem to do with regularity. The Bible can have only one meaning. Many applications. The application of the principles of Scripture can look different in different cultures and in different families, but when the Bible says, “Abstain from sexual immorality,” that’s exactly what it means.

Here’s the reality. Paul was in the synagogue at Berea. His message was likely similar to what he preached in v. 3 when he was in Thessalonica. What did he preach there? The same message he preached everywhere: the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus who is the Messiah. He preached the good news that is called the gospel. What happened? The same thing that has been happening since humanity began: “Many of them believed.” “Them” refers to the noble-minded Bereans. When the truth of the gospel is presented, people have a choice. You can choose to accept Jesus as Messiah by grace through faith or you can continue in your sin. Many Bereans believed, but also, “a number of prominent Greek women and men.” Prominent means important or having special prestige or honor. Those prominent people are unnamed, but we know what happens when people of influence turn to God. You can see what happens to nations when their leaders follow God. You can also see what happens when people of influence do not follow God. Paul enjoyed great success in Berea, but the joy, peace, and tranquility were short lived. “But when the Jews of Thessalonica found out that the word of God had been proclaimed by Paul in Berea also, they came there as well, agitating and stirring up the crowds.” Will the opposition ever stop? As long as we continue to zealously pursue Christ and actively participate in the mission of the church, expect opposition to be there. The Jews stirred the pot and got the crowds agitated to the point that Paul needed to head on out to continue the mission that God had appointed him to. The brethren in Berea, “sent Paul out to go as far as the sea.” They got Paul safely out, but “Silas and Timothy remained there” in Berea. The Jews viewed Paul as the primary opposition to their way of life and they wanted to stop him. Don’t underestimate the importance of Silas and Timothy. Even though Paul has the primary role, don’t think that Silas and Timothy just hung out and carried Paul’s luggage and washed his feet. “Now those who escorted Paul brought him as far as Athens; and receiving a command for Silas and Timothy to come to him as soon as possible, they left.” Paul is escorted from Berea to the sea which is about 20 miles. Then from the sea to Athens is another 250 miles or so. This is sort of an undefined conclusion. Luke doesn’t tell us exactly how Paul got to Athens. All we know for sure is that Silas and Timothy join Paul some time later.

It seems that trouble follows Paul everywhere he goes. Trouble in our life often causes us to wonder, but for Paul, we don’t get that idea. We don’t see him waiver or doubt. He seems focused on the mission given him. What about us? Do we seem to waiver depending on the circumstances of life? Are we intent to accomplish the mission God has put before us regardless of the circumstances? Are we diligent to seek out the truth of Scripture for ourselves or do we think somehow, we are exempt from the hard work of truth seeking? What will happen to Silas and Timothy? What about Paul? Join us next week as we continue looking into the incredible journey of Paul and his companions.

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You can watch the message here.

Last week, Pastor Mike told us that there were some men trying to add to the Gospel. There was such dissension between this new idea introduced that the brethren decided clarification from the church in Jerusalem was needed so they sent Paul and Barnabas back to Jerusalem. Paul and Barnabas take advantage of the opportunity and continue sharing the good news of Gentile conversions as they make their way back to Jerusalem through Phoenicia and Samaria. We left last week with some Pharisees saying that circumcision and observing the Law of Moses was necessary for salvation. This morning, we’ll look at the argument and see the decision made by the apostles and elders in Jerusalem.

Our passage for today comes from Acts 15:6-29. Take the time and read this great passage.

Here’s the argument. For years, civilized society has engaged in debate. There are a number of hot topics in the news today. Gun control in light of school shootings. entitlements. Abortion. Race and religion. Social Justice. The push to remove historic monuments that seem to offend a few. Immigration. Open borders. Sanctuary cities. Debates also find their way into the church. Traditional vs. contemporary worship which I always find amusing given that singing and music are elements of worship. Baptism as a requirement for salvation and then is it by immersion or is sprinkling okay. What translation of the Bible is the approved one. Free will vs. predestination. Chairs vs. pews. Tile vs. carpet. What color a wall will be painted. Obviously, there are matters of preference that really can’t be effectively debated because it’s based on personal opinion.

That’s not quite the issue facing Paul and Barnabas. Some men have come alongside them, not to assist or help, but to challenge them on what they know to be true. I assure you folks, there is room in the church for healthy, honest, soul searching debate on matters of Scripture. Your pastors do not have a corner on the market for understanding the Bible and as we grow, our knowledge and understanding of the Bible grows as well. The same is true for you. Unfortunately, many times in debating topics of Scripture, there is a side that comes to the table without that understanding of Scripture. People that have been in the church a long time want to impart what they believe to be true. Notice I said have been in the church a long time, not necessarily walking with God a long time. So here we have some men that have come against the simplicity of the Gospel. The matter before the apostles and elders is this question: how are gentiles assimilated into the faith community? For the Jewish Christians, they believed that Gentiles should be circumcised and follow Mosaic Law. Any Gentile converting to Judaism was required to follow the Law, that’s the way it’s always been. The first Christian converts were Jews, right? So here we have the dilemma. Should Gentile converts to Christianity submit to Jewish requirements, particularly circumcision? How can Jews and Gentile converts live together in a faith family?

Paul and Barnabas head back to Jerusalem to get the answer to this question. Luke says, “The apostles and elders came together to look into this matter.” Luke leaves out all the specific aspects of the debate but there, “was much debate.” I’m sure that arguments from both sides were taken up. There was point/counter-point. There was passion and I’m sure some elevated speech patterns. Peter, who we have not heard from in a while, stands up and provides the following answer. Look at vs. 7-11.

There are a number of very important aspects of Peter’s answer. First, he shares that he was the one chosen by God to deliver the message of salvation to the Gentiles. Peter mentions, “In the early days.” Remember in Chapter 10 that Peter was sent to Cornelius opening the door to widespread Gentile evangelism. That was about ten years earlier. Every nation is welcome at the foot of the cross. Every tribe, every tongue, every background, every socioeconomic class of people can find forgiveness through the Messiah, through Jesus Christ! In God’s eyes, there is no distinction between Jew and Gentile. Hearts receive cleansing by faith, not by ceremony. Peter asks the rhetorical question, “Why do you put God to the test by placing upon the neck of the disciples a yoke which neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear?” That yoke of bondage, of keeping the law, didn’t work for our forefathers, why do you think it will work now? We couldn’t keep the Law, the people before us couldn’t keep the Law, why do you expect people today to keep the Law? Peter is reminding them of the inadequacy of the Law to affect salvation because no one could keep the Law. Jesus even addressed this in Matt. 11:29-30 when He said, “Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”

Peter doesn’t hesitate when he says, “But we believe that we are saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, in the same way as they also are.” Grace is unmerited favor. Your Jewish lineage won’t save you. Your ceremony won’t save you. Your Law won’t save you. Remember that Peter is speaking from personal experience. He has tasted the freedom found in Christ. He has been delivered from the bondage of the Law and has been set free by the power of the Holy Spirit to preach a message of redemption to all people. Salvation is by grace through faith! Peter gives the proverbial salvation mic drop. The liveliness of the debate was over and the people sat in stunned silence. At some point when Peter finishes, Paul and Barnabas talk about, “The signs and wonders God had done through them among the Gentiles.” The apostolic response is not over. After Peter shared from his personal experience and Paul and Barnabas share, James gets up and says, “Brethren, listen to me.” Referring to this Jerusalem conference in Gal. 1:19, Paul said he saw, “James, the Lord’s brother.” In Gal. 2:9, Paul said that James, Peter, and John were pillars of the church at Jerusalem. It looks like James has taken on the role of the leading elder at Jerusalem.

Look at vs. 14-18. James provides scriptural evidence to support what Paul and Barnabas were teaching. James calls on the prophets Amos and Jeremiah. He shares truths from Moses, Isaiah, and Daniel to help the Jews understand what is happening regarding the Gentiles. Remember, this is all new to them. James has established from Scripture, the handbook for all things in Christianity, that Gentiles and Jews are one in Messiah. Here’s what James says, “Therefore it is my judgment that we do not trouble those who are turning to God from among the Gentiles.” The only restriction to membership was that Gentiles accept Jesus by grace through faith. Of course, that’s the same restriction now. Anticipating some possible push back from the Jews, James issues what has been called apostolic decrees. Since Gentiles were not required to keep the Law as the Jews thought they should, these decrees were designed to allow fellowship between Jews and Gentiles.

There are four decrees in James’ conclusion to the matter: “We write to them that they abstain from things contaminated by idols and from fornication and from what is strangled and from blood.” Three decrees are ceremonial and are no brainers for a Jew. They were a huge part of their daily lifestyle. Abstain from food offered to idols. Idolatry was absolutely detestable to a Jew and the devout Jew would want to stay far away from this. Abstain from what is strangled.    This referred to any process of killing an animal that did not remove all the blood. Jews could not and would not eat an animal that still contained blood. Abstain from blood. This falls in the same category as the previous one. Don’t consume the blood of any animal. Blood was considered sacred to them. There is one decree left that has to do with the moral code. Abstain from fornication. This is also translated sexual immorality. In a nutshell, any sexual activity outside the confines of biblical marriage is prohibited. The reasons for this are many and if we adhered to this principle, much heartache could be avoided in our lives. As long as Gentiles followed these four decrees, fellowship between them and Jews would be possible. If you’re thinking, hold on, aren’t there many, many more principles to follow? The short answer is yes. The issue being brought to Jerusalem is fellowship. Jews were arguing that they couldn’t have fellowship with Gentiles on the fundamental premise of ritual Law. They weren’t talking about the fundamental principles of holy living which can be assumed based on what we’ve already since throughout Acts. That’s likely why James said this in conclusion: “For Moses from ancient generations has in every city those who preach him, since he is read in the synagogues every Sabbath.”

What’s the effect? I love how we conclude this potentially explosive situation. The first part of v. 22 says, “Then it seemed good to the apostles and the elders, with the whole church.” The conclusion to the issue was satisfactory with everyone involved. I wish that all debates ended this well. The varying positions and opinions were evaluated. A conclusion was made and was agreed upon by the leadership of the church and the church as a whole. Perhaps you’ve seen a church wide debate that didn’t end so well. Lines of division are drawn and no one is willing to see the other side, no one is willing to evaluate the issue based on the illumination of Scripture. Unfortunately, many times in the modern church, the issue is not a matter of Scripture, but a matter of personal preference. Again, too many times, those stronger voices will not stop after a decision has been made by leadership. Some in the church think their voice is the only voice that matters and if things do not go their way, then all hell will break loose in the church. On behalf of all the pastors and leaders at Three Rivers, we will not let unbiblical behavior go unchecked, we will not allow unholy or ungodly attitudes prevail. Yes, we will listen, we will pray, we will search the Scriptures, we will consider varying viewpoints and experience, we will labor over decisions, but we will not compromise on the truth of Scripture. Now, what of matters that we find are not as clear as others. That is where we will wait. If we don’t know or aren’t sure, we will commit to pray. So, here’s what they did. The church chose, “men from among them to send to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas – Judas called Barsabbas, and Silas, leading men among the brethren, and they sent this letter by them.” Much like we do when an issue arises, we’ll send an email, put something in the Current, post it on Facebook, or anything to get the word out about a policy implementation or a change to how we have been doing things or what we’ll do from here on out. That’s exactly what the Jerusalem church did with this issue.

The letter they sent is found in vs. 23-29.

An issue was raised by people in the church at Antioch. There was dissention among the people and they decided they needed insight from the church in Jerusalem. The points were argued and after hearing the issue, a decision was made by the leading elder and leading apostle based on the truth of Scripture. A policy letter was sent to the church at Antioch and if the people will follow the apostolic decrees as well as the other Scripture they have available, he says they will do well. What about you? How do you respond when problems arise? Are your problems a scriptural issue or a preference issue? When issues arise, and they will, if you handle them in a biblical manner, following biblical principles of behavior, holiness, and godliness, I assure you, it will be well with you.

The Opposition

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Last week, Pastor Mike told us that a large number of Jews and Gentiles responded to the Gospel message Paul preached in Iconium. But there were some unbelieving Jews that stirred up the minds of the Gentiles and embittered them against Paul and his colleagues. Paul’s preaching divided the city with some supporting the Jews and some supporting the apostles. A plot was formed to stone our dear brothers and they fled for their lives, but they continued to preach the Gospel. This morning, our missionaries end up in Lystra and we pick up the story with Paul preaching the truth.

Our passage today comes from Acts 14:8-20. Grab your Bible and take a look at it.

The stage is set and the narrative picks up with Paul already in Lystra. We don’t see him entering the synagogue which leads many to conclude there was no synagogue in this Roman colony. Paul encounters a man that is described three ways. He, “had no strength in his feet.” He was, “lame from his mother’s womb.” He, “had never walked.” Just to make sure we all understand: this man never enjoyed getting from one place to another on his own. He relied on other people to help him. The man is sitting somewhere that he can hear Paul speaking, but we don’t know the setting in which this takes place. At some point, Paul looks out into the crowd and locks eyes with the man. The man was listening, he was paying attention to what Paul was saying. As Paul is gazing into the man’s eyes, he recognizes the lame man’s faith.

We throw that word around a lot in the church. Faith is belief to the extent of complete trust and reliance. We put our faith in many things. The government. Teachers, coaches, schools, police officers, doctors, the military, cars, and other people. We find it so easy to trust these people; we find it easy to trust organizations and businesses. Is our faith as strong when it comes to God as it is with our kid’s coaches and teachers? I’m not saying don’t trust these folks, but I think we often have blind faith in these people. I think it’s safe to paint with a broad brush and say in most cases, coaches and teachers and police officers and government officials can be trusted. We’ve got many teachers right here as part of our faith family and I assure you, they love your kids and have their best interests in mind.

Does our faith in God compare with our faith in humans? I think of all the times I’ve counseled with people that have been hurt by others. Relationships that have gone awry. Family members estranged refusing to talk with one another. Unresolved anger and bitterness in the workplace. Friends gossiping about friends. Time and time again, people let us down that rightfully causes us to mistrust others, but often we find ourselves drawn back into those painful situations. God has never been involved in a scandal. We don’t have anywhere in recorded history where He does not do what He says He will do. We have nowhere written where God acts based on impulse or whim. Why do we find it easy to trust others and so difficult to trust God?

Whatever Paul was saying resonated with this lame man and Paul recognized his, “faith to be made well.” This is the third time in Acts that we see lameness healed. Remember the lame man in Chapter 3 that was laid at the Gate Beautiful that was healed by Peter. Then there was Aeneas that had been paralyzed for eight years in Chapter 9 that was healed by Peter. The result for all three is the same: Paul says, “Stand upright to your feet.” The man, “leaped up and began to walk.” Do you find it curious that he didn’t have to learn to walk. No shakiness, no tentative steps, no falling down, no trying to catch his balance, he miraculously, “leaped up and began to walk.” The response of the people in Lystra differs dramatically from the healings I just mentioned. In Chapter 3, the people, “Were filled with wonder and amazement.” (Acts 3:10) In Chapter 9, the people, “Turned to the Lord.” (Acts 9:35) But here in Lystra, “they raised their voice, saying in the Lycaonian language, “The gods have become like men and have come down to us.” Get the picture in your mind. The lame man is healed and the people raised their voices and began shouting. I’m sure there were looks of amazement, shock, awe, and wonder. They shout out in their native language, but there’s just one problem with that. Paul and Barnabas don’t speak Lycaonian. They didn’t know what was being said.

The people called, “Barnabas, Zeus, and Paul, Hermes, because he was the chief speaker.” Zeus is the legendary Greek god of the universe, ruler of the skies and the earth. The Greeks considered him the god of all natural phenomena; the personification of the laws of nature; the ruler of all things and the father of all gods. He had a Roman equivalent named Jupiter. Hermes was Zeus’ attendant and spokesman. Legend has it that he was the son of Zeus and Maia. His Roman equivalent was known as Mercury, the fleet of foot protector of travelers, thieves, and athletes that was able to move freely between the land of mortal and the land of the gods. Luke doesn’t say, but I bet the people began bowing down to Paul and Barnabas. I’m sure our Apostles thought the people’s response was strange, but they really began to understand when, “The priest of Zeus, whose temple was just outside the city, brought oxen and garlands to the gates, and wanted to offer sacrifice with the crowds.” The people witnessed the miraculous healing of the lame man and concluded that the gods have become like men and are standing right in front of them. The false, pagan priest of the pagan god Zeus comes from the pagan temple just outside the city and wants to offer pagan sacrifices to Paul who the pagan priest thought just had to be Hermes.

This action caused Paul and Barnabas such distress, “They tore their robes and rushed out into the crowd, crying out and saying, “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.” In our day and age, we often treat important people differently than we treat common folk. We tend to fawn over stars and big-time athletes and often are excited just to get a glimpse of someone famous. Paul did not appreciate being treated like this. He and Barnabas tore their robes as a sign of great distress and opposition to this inappropriate demonstration by the people.

In Paul’s mind, everything is clear. He and Barnabas are simply on a journey telling people about Jesus and demonstrating His power as they have opportunity. The people mistakenly think they are gods and begin worshiping them. I can picture Paul waving his arms and screaming, “we’re just men like you, stop this!” Paul explains by saying, we “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 this is in them.” That’s Paul’s explanation. We’re just guys sharing the message of the Gospel. They worship, “vain things.” Empty worship. Worthless worship. Idolatrous worship of gods who were not gods. Paul goes on to say, “In the generations gone by He permitted all the nations to go their own ways; and yet He did not leave Himself without witness, in that He did good and gave you rains from heaven and fruitful seasons, satisfying your hearts with food and gladness.” This is the first time in Acts that a group of people like this are addressed. They are totally pagan. They believe in many false gods so Paul had to start at the beginning. One fundamental aspect of Christianity is that there is one God. He told them they needed to turn from idols to a singular, living God. Any religion that will transform men into gods is worthless. This principle was likely very strange to these people.

Paul gives three main points in this mini-message. First, God is the Creator of all that lives in the sea and on land. Second, Paul tells them of God’s mercies with past generations. If people wanted to walk away, God allowed it. We’ll see this more clearly in Acts 17:30. There is an indication that people acted in ignorance, but now they should know better. Third, God left proof of who He is. He still provided the rain that allowed food to grow that produced fruitful seasons that the people could be satisfied. This concept would not be foreign to these people of Lystra. There were writers of the day that spoke of divine providence of the gods, but the idea of only one true God would have rocked their world. One God was the source of all things natural; one God was the source of all things from heaven, one God that left proof of His involvement in the world. “Even saying these things, with difficulty they restrained the crowds from offering sacrifice to them.” As he’s speaking, the people are still thinking he and Barnabas are gods. It’s got to be frustrating for Paul. He’s telling them the truth of God, but they’re not picking it up. Paul is building a bridge between the creation and the Creator.   He’s trying to meet these people where they are. He’s trying to bring them to the place where they can know the one true God, but something interrupts his message.

Before Paul could proceed to the next phase of the message, “Jews came from Antioch and Iconium, and having won over the crowds, they stoned Paul and dragged him out of the city, supposing him to be dead.” The religious left comes again against what God wants to do. Remember the Jews were jealous of the crowds at Pisidian Antioch that wanted to hear from Paul and Barnabas. Just a few weeks ago, we heard Pastor Zane tell us these same Jews, “incited the devout women of prominence and the leading men of the city, and instigated a persecution against Paul and Barnabas, and drove them out of their district.” (Acts 13:50) Last week we saw large numbers of people turning to the Lord such that, “The Jews who disbelieved stirred up the minds of the gentiles and embittered them against the brethren.” (Acts 14:2) The Jews have been pursuing Paul and Barnaba because of the success they’ve had in turning people from a religion to a relationship with Christ. The Jews from Antioch and Iconium won over the crowds and then stone Paul and leave him for dead. This is a mob and they have a mob mentality – even if not everyone participated. The people that just witnessed the miraculous healing of the lame man; the people that just wanted to worship Paul and Barnabas are turned against them and gathered stones. Why Barnabas was not given the same treatment is not known. In a stoning, large boulders, as big as someone can pick up are thrown at the person. Those stones are hurled at Paul and the crowd thinks he’s dead and drag him out of the city. In a miraculous turn of events, “While the disciples stood around him, he got up and entered the city.”

You cannot stop what God wants to accomplish. You might be able to delay it, but it’s not really a delay because all things work in God’s timing. Paul is stoned to death, but not death. Undeterred, “The next day, he went away with Barnabas to Derbe.” What will become of our missionary heroes? Will they receive the same treatment in Derbe as they did in Lystra? Join us next week as we continue to watch the incredible events of the early church unfold.

Three Promises

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We’ll skip 13:1-12 because that was the passage Pastor Mike was to preach through on Feb. 25th but was away in Tennessee. Last week we enjoyed a wonderful anniversary service so if you’re wondering when we’ll cover those verses, we’ll circle back after Easter. This morning, we’ll look at a history lesson Paul gives in the synagogue.

Take a look at Acts 13:13-25.

Verse 13 says, “Now Paul and his companions put out to sea from Pathos and came to Perga in Pamphylia; but John left them and returned to Jerusalem.” When they arrived in Perga, John Mark decided he’d head back to Jerusalem. Luke leaves out the details about why John Mark left and there has been much speculation. In Chapter 15 we’ll get some insight into the fallout resulting from this so we’ll wait until we get there to talk about John Mark. Luke continues by telling us Paul and his companions went, “on from Perga, they arrived at Pisidian Antioch.” Again, Luke leaves out the details of this trip to a different Antioch. To get to Pisidian Antioch from Perga would have been an extremely difficult trip. I want to mention this because we have a tendency to forget the incredibly difficult journeys these biblical people went on in obedience to the Lord. The trip to Pisidian Antioch was about a 100 mile trip, on foot, over the Taurus Mountains on a very desolate route known for its danger. Luke simply says they go there and arrive.

We don’t know the day they arrived, but, “on the Sabbath day they went into the synagogue and sat down.”We’ll see this pattern over and over again with Paul. His normal course of action is to be in the Synagogue on the Sabbath – even when he is not at home. This synagogue was the center of all the activity in the Jewish community. Back in the olden days, you’d have a church in the center of town and everything revolved around church on Sunday. Paul and his companions arrive and find their seats. The order of service in your typical synagogue followed the same pattern from week to week. Just like at 3RC, we typically have the same routine week after week – it’s not good or bad, or right or wrong, it’s what works for us. The synagogue was a bit more rigid. The service was generally divided into six parts and depending on who was there, some parts might not be done. One of the standard parts was the reading from the Law and the Prophets. So, “After the reading of the Law and the Prophets the synagogue officials sent to them, saying, “Brethren, if you have any word of exhortation for the people, say it.” It’s kind of comical to ask a preacher of God’s Word if they have anything to say. Probably all the pastors here have had this happen when visiting a church out of town. Somehow word gets to the pastor that a visiting pastor is in the congregation and they might be invited to say something or offer a prayer. We don’t know the specifics, but Paul and his companions are invited to speak to the synagogue.

Paul delivers a message that focuses on three main promises. Notice immediately that he speaks to two groups: men of Israel and those that fear God. You’ll see some pointed remarks directed at each group as we read through the text. The first part is the promise God made to Israel. Look at vs. 16b-25. I want to highlight a couple of points. Notice that God chose the fathers of Israel and it was through His hand that they were delivered from Egyptian bondage. During the exodus from Egypt, the people were generally belly-achers, complainers, disobedient and just plain awful and because of this, God determined not to let any of them in the promised land. “For a period of 40 years,” Paul says, God “put up with them in the wilderness.” Paul reminded them how God destroyed the seven nations of the Hittites, the Gergashites, the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Perizites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. It was a battle of epic proportions and God was their deliverer. Then God distributed the land to the twelve tribes. Then after the land was distributed which took 450 years, God gave them judges until Samuel the Prophet came along. The people asked for a king and God gave them Saul. Saul lasted 40 years until David, a man after God’s own heart, ascended to the throne. Fast forward through the lineage of Jesus and Paul says, “According to promise, God has brought to Israel a Savior, Jesus.” John the Baptizer proclaimed that Jesus was coming and a baptism of repentance was available to all the people of Israel. John described Jesus as a man he wasn’t fit to untie His sandals. A quick history review from the Exodus to Jesus just as God promised Israel.

Paul’s second part reveals God’s promise fulfilled by Christ. Paul starts out again speaking to the two groups he calls, “Sons of Abraham’s family, and those among you who fear God.” “The message of this salvation has been sent.” He just said in v. 23, “According to promise, God has brought to Israel a Savior, Jesus.” Paul is systematically setting up what God has done in the history of Israel. God has demonstrated his mercy to Israel from Abraham to David. And don’t forget the promise made by Nathan to David in 2 Sam. 7:16, “Your house and your kingdom will endure forever before me; your throne will be established forever.” Don’t forget Matt. 1:1 where Jesus is called, “the son of David.” These facts are really important because of what Paul says next.

Look at what Luke says in vs. 27-31. This is the Gospel message and should be familiar to you if you’re a believer. The death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Yes, the people killed Jesus out of ignorance as Acts 3:17 says, but those acts of ignorance fulfilled the prophecies that Messiah must suffer and die. What’s even more crazy is that Paul is talking to the people that should have recognized Jesus because they read about Him every week in the synagogue. If this section sounds familiar to you, it’s essentially the same message Peter preached in Acts 5. The Gospel message is still sufficient to accomplish salvation without adding to it or trying to make it more attractive. When you add or subtract or otherwise alter the Gospel, it’s not the Gospel. After Jesus was resurrected, Paul reminds the people what happened next. Jesus walked among the people and those people are now His witnesses throughout the land. Notice the lack of a personal pronoun from Paul. He’s putting everything on those that should have recognized Jesus. Paul zeroes in on the critical aspect of the Gospel – the resurrection. Look at vs. 32-37. The good news of the Gospel hinges on the resurrection. Paul quotes from Ps. 2:7, Is. 55:3, and Ps. 16:10. Anyone can die, but being raised from the dead is another matter. Predicting a resurrection is something altogether impossible. And that’s what we have in Jesus. Our faith hinges on the resurrection. Paul devoted 1 Cor. 15 to the resurrection and concluded in vs. 16-19, “For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If we have hoped in Christ in this life only, we are of all men most to be pitied.” If Christ was not raised, we have no hope and this life is all there is, but I submit to you, that’s just not true.

The final part of Paul’s message is an invitation to accept the promise. Read vs. 38-41. Paul recaps what is available if they’ll take the step of belief. Forgiveness of sin is proclaimed. Through Christ, “everyone who believes is freed from all things, from which you could not be freed through the Law of Moses.” He even provides a warning that they would never believe what he is saying even though he is describing it to them. Remember Paul is in the synagogue speaking to the men of Israel and those who fear God. How many times have you shared something with someone even though you really believed they wouldn’t listen? You still do what’s necessary and trust the Holy Spirit will work in them. You don’t give up and you take every opportunity the Lord provides to share the life changing truth with people. You remain consistent and authentic in your walk of faith knowing that it makes a difference. You go back time and time again hoping and praying they’ll still listen.

Paul took the opportunity to share the truth with these people in the synagogue. He reminded them of the promise God made to Israel. He took them from Moses in Egypt to the exodus, to the division of the land to Saul to David. he shared how the promise of God was fulfilled in Jesus. The death, burial, and resurrection of Christ is the good news they needed to hear – the message of salvation. He invited them to accept the promise that afforded forgiveness that could never be found in the Law of Moses. Something pretty exciting happened in vs. 42-43. The people were intrigued and wanted to hear more so Paul and Barnabas were invited back the following Sabbath day. Many of the Jews and proselytes – those that converted to Judaism, followed after Paul and Barnabas and they were urged to continue in the grace of God. Not saved, but on the path. What’s next for Paul and Barnabas? What will come of their next meeting in the synagogue? Good questions that will be answered if you join us next week.

Two Churches

Last week, Pastor Mike told us the Holy Spirit of God had been poured out on the Gentiles. This amazed the Jews of the day. They believed in who Jesus was and what He did and because of this, they were baptized. Jews and Gentiles are equal in God’s eyes. This morning, we’ll see how Peter responds to this incredible revelation.

Our passage today comes from Acts 11:1-30.

We start out with a confrontation with the church in Jerusalem. When you’re in ministry, confrontation is inevitable. Confrontation has a negative connotation; it’s not fun or exciting, but it is sometimes necessary. Sometimes there is confrontation where none is needed. Over the years, I’ve had my share of both and more often than not, it’s the latter category. People that disagree just because. No doctrinal issues, no scriptural misinterpretation, no ungodly or unholy behavior. Just disagreement with the thought that they have a right to voice their objection or provide an opinion. I hope I, and all the pastors here, are approachable enough that you can come and share your thoughts and feelings about a wide variety of topics and issues. If it’s a doctrinal or theological matter, we’re eager to sit down and reason through the scriptures. But if you’re complaining about something you prefer to be done or not done, you’re probably not going to be satisfied. Matters of doctrine will be carefully evaluated, but matters of preference really cannot be entertained.

“Now the apostles and the brethren who were throughout Judea heard that the Gentiles also had received the word of God.” News spread throughout Judea that the Gentiles received God’s Word. As Peter made his way back home and entered Jerusalem, there were people waiting for him. It looks like many people had no issue with this, but there were some loud complaints that came from a smaller group of people Luke says, “were circumcised.” Those people were Jews and they had an issue with something that Peter did and they confronted him by saying, “You went to the uncircumcised men and ate with them.” Remember, it was unlawful for Jews to associate with Gentiles. Peter even said so in 10:28: “You yourselves know how unlawful it is for a man who is a Jew to associate with a foreigner or to visit him.” Peter had to be convinced that all were equal in God’s eyes and now he must do the same with the Jews. Peter doesn’t freak out, doesn’t get offended, doesn’t look down on the Jews for asking this question. Instead he does what all leaders should do, he, “began speaking and proceeded to explain to them in orderly sequence saying.”

Look at vs. 5-17. This is Peter’s defense. He simply told them what happened, and it’s the fourth time we’ve heard it. I wish all confrontations ended the way this one did. You can see the move of the Spirit of God on the Jews Peter was talking to. Listen to this in v. 18: “When they heard this, they quieted down and glorified God, saying, “Well then, God has granted to the Gentiles also the repentance that leads to life.” When we consider people the way God considers people, division should melt away, racism should be eliminated, and discrimination a thing of the past. Society in America is becoming more and more divided. I’m reminded of the children’s song: black and yellow, red and white, they’re all precious in His sight, Jesus loves the little children of the world. Whether you’re rich or whether you’re poor, it matters not to Him, He remembers where you’re going, not where you’ve been. Simple words, profound truth. I’m praying God would break down the walls that divide us. That’s the message Peter is conveying to these people and they got it! Perhaps you have a cross reference note next to the word repentance. Repentance crosses over to 2 Cor. 7:10 that tells us, “For the sorrow that is according to the will of God produces a repentance without regret leading to salvation, but the sorrow of the world produces death.” The Jews understood Peter’s explanation and rejoiced that Gentiles could receive salvation. This is yet another example of the incredible power of the Holy Spirit and how he works in people’s lives.

The second church is located in Antioch. Luke tells us, “So then those who were scattered because of the persecution that occurred in connection with Stephen made their way to Phoenicia and Cyprus and Antioch, speaking the word to no one except to Jews alone.” Remember back in 8:1, Saul was leading the effort to eradicate these followers of Christ that forced them to flee for their lives. Believers are scattered throughout Samaria and Judea and they’re telling Jews about Jesus. So, we arrive in Antioch. Antioch was a really important place. It was a strategic city for the Gospel message. It was founded about 300 B.C. and was a Hellenistic city that promoted Greek culture. It was not known for godliness. Antioch was a major cult center for the Greek goddess Daphne and the Assyrian goddess Astarte and was known throughout the Empire for its immorality, so what better place to introduce the cleansing power of God? It was the third largest city in the Roman Empire that had a population somewhere between 500,000 and 800,000 with a Jewish population somewhere between 25,000 and 50,000.

The Gospel began with the truth being told to the Jews as mentioned in v. 19 and here’s a good reason why. There was fairly large Jewish Hellenistic population there. Greek would be the dominant language spoken and those people that were there teaching the Word would also have to speak Greek. Something else was also happening. Verse 20 says, “But there were some of them, men of Cyprus and Cyrene, who came to Antioch and began speaking to the Greeks also, preaching the Lord Jesus. And the hand of the Lord was with them, and a large number who believed turned to the Lord.” Perhaps one of the men is Lucius who is mentioned later in 13:1. Fast forward to Paul’s words in Rom. 1:16, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.” God used Jews to reach the Gentiles, but at the same time, again according to Paul, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Gal. 3:28) Jesus Christ is the common denominator that fuses diversity together in the Kingdom. When you preach the truth of who Jesus is and what His mission is, God blesses the message. The messenger need not be perfect, only willing.

Gentiles responded to the life changing message of the truth of who Jesus Christ is. “A large number who believed turned to the Lord.” The church continues to grow through the preached Word from people that were transformed by the very message they are proclaiming. As the church was growing, word got back to Jerusalem, “and they sent Barnabas off to Antioch.” Conversions to Christ are awesome and miraculous, but we cannot stop there. There must be a training period where the new convert is taught the fundamental doctrines and principles of the faith. In my opinion, this has been one of the grandest failures of the modern church. Once saved, many church folk assume new converts will miraculously become what God wants them to be through some sort of magical, mysterious, Holy Spirit infusive, transformative process. If we compare our spiritual growth to our biological growth, we see the fallacy of such assumptions. When a baby is born, the parent does everything for that child. As the child grows, more and more responsibility is transferred to the child. At first the kid is carried from place to place, then the kid is taught to crawl and walk; is taught to dress themselves and brush and floss their teeth. The parent reads to the child and engages in intentional instruction. The parent teaches the kid about colors and shapes and animal names. The child is taught to recognize letters and words and learns how to read and then in school, is given assignments to read themselves. This continues throughout their scholastic career. Students are given syllabi so they know what to expect during the course or semester. On the job, a person is given instructions on how to perform certain tasks within their responsibilities. Employees are given handbooks or manuals giving them instructions. In the church? We attempt discipleship using hopes, dreams, and recommendations. As a result, many people don’t take the time to truly disciple others because they were not discipled themselves. We either assume someone else will do it, or the individual will somehow know how to be transformed. Of course, there is individual responsibility, but the child has a parent, the student has a teacher and the worker has a supervisor. If we want to be effective for the Kingdom, we must engage in intentional discipleship.

When Barnabas arrived in Antioch, he saw something I am sure made a profound impact on him. “Then when he arrived and witnessed the grace of God, he rejoiced and began to encourage them all with resolute heart to remain true to the Lord; for he was a good man, and full of the Holy Spirit and of faith. And considerable numbers were brought to the Lord.” When news of Philip’s work in Samaria got to Jerusalem, the church sent Peter and John, who were apostles, to check it out. Hearing about the work in Antioch, the church sends the non-apostle Barnabas, a very good choice. Barnabas was the one that introduced Saul into the circle of the apostles. Luke described Barnabas as, “a good man,” the same phrase he used of Joseph of Arimathea in Lu. 23:50. Barnabas was, “full of the Holy Spirit and of faith,” the same way he described Stephen back in Acts 6:5. Barnabas was the right man for this mission and he did it all without a title. Remember: you don’t have to have a title to minister to God’s people. You don’t have to be in some assigned position from the church to do God’s work. Barnabas literally saw what the Lord had done in the people and he was filled with joy, unspeakable and full of glory. Believers who had been scattered following Stephen’s murder had powerfully shared the hope of Christ in this Gentile community and the people responded in considerable numbers. Considerable means notably large. As in other places we’ve seen in Acts, the church is now growing so fast, new converts cannot be counted.

Barnabas encouraged the people to remain steadfast and true to the Lord and leaves Antioch, very encouraged, “for Tarsus to look for Saul,” because he sees the amount of work that needs to be done and knows he cannot accomplish it by himself. In Tarsus, “When he had found him, he brought him to Antioch. And for an entire year they met with the church and taught considerable numbers; and the disciples were first called Christians in Antioch.” Saul and Barnabas go back to Antioch and engage in intentional, concentrated discipleship for a year. Saul and Barnabas worked shoulder to shoulder with this Gentile community continuing a partnership that would take them on a missionary journey to Cyprus and beyond that we’ll see in Acts 13 and 14. Because of their devotion to Christ, the people that followed Jesus were called Christians and this happened first in Antioch.

Luke mentions the prophet Agabus to close out the story of Antioch. Take a look at 11:27-30. Agabus predicted a famine in the land and Luke says it occurred during the reign of Claudius. Extra-biblical documents confirm there was a famine throughout the Roman Empire around 46 A.D. That’s not the point of Luke telling us this seemingly random fact. The reason he points this out is how the people responded to hearing a famine was coming. “And in the proportion that any of the disciples had means, each of them determined to send a contribution for the relief of the brethren living in Judea.” The brethren didn’t ask for help although they probably heard Agabus’ message since he went to Antioch from Jerusalem. Agabus says a famine is coming and the disciples in Antioch respond. Nobody way forced to give, but everyone did give: everyone participated. “Each of them determined to send a contribution.” Then look how the offering got to Jerusalem. They sent, “It in charge of Barnabas and Saul to the elders.” If you recall from the first mention of Barnabas back in Acts 4:36-37, he sold a tract of land and laid the proceeds at the apostles’ feet. Now he and Saul are going to bring money and bring it to the elders. This represents a shift in leadership. The elders have been present from the beginning, but where are the apostles? Verse 1 says they were throughout Judea. And we know Peter just arrived back in Jerusalem. It seems their responsibilities took them away from Jerusalem and the daily operations were left with the elders. We’ll see that take shape as we continue our walk through Acts.

We started off this morning looking at the confrontation between Peter and the church at Jerusalem. They took issue with Peter eating with uncircumcised men. Peter shared his vision that God is no respecter of persons and everyone is equal in God’s eyes and the people responded with rejoicing. We moved on to Antioch where large numbers of Gentiles responded to the gospel message. Barnabas and Saul are dispatched from Jerusalem and spend a year engaged in intentional discipleship. The story of the church at Jerusalem and Antioch are not over: next week, we’ll see a challenging shift in Peter’s life.

The Preparation

You can listen and watch the message here.

Last week, Pastor Zane introduced us to Cornelius. Cornelius was a devout, praying man that had a vision. God told Cornelius to send for Peter who was staying 

with Simon the Tanner in Joppa. The same time Cornelius was having a vision, Peter fell into a trance and was given a vision. They sky opened up to him and it was revealed that what had been unclean and unholy was no longer unclean and unholy. The dietary restrictions had been lifted, but the meaning was far deeper than that. This morning, we’ll see how Peter responds to this incredible revelation.

I hope you grab your Bible and read our text for today found in Acts 10:17-33.

One of the biggest church killers is the phrase, “We’ve never done it that way.” Since the dawn of humanity, people all across the globe have uttered those six words. That phrase has stifled fresh ideas, innovative methods, and new technology along with a host of other things that could impact eternity. While not always, the phrase it typically uttered by people who have been around a while, who feel vested in a church, and who feel a sense of ownership. They’re content with the status quo no matter how out of touch it may be. Early in my vocational ministry, I was being interviewed by a church just like this.          For Peter, this is what is happening. Change has come and he cannot process it.

Luke says, “Now while Peter was greatly perplexed in mind as to what the vision which he had seen might be, behold, the men who had been sent by Cornelius, having asked directions for Simon’s house, appeared at the gate; and calling out, they were asking whether Simon, who was also called Peter, was staying there.” (Acts 10:17-18) Remember, Cornelius was told in a vision to send men to Joppa to find Peter. Cornelius briefed his men on why they were going and the importance of the mission. We don’t know much about these three men, but we find them at Simon’s door asking if Peter is there.  Just an interesting note, the phrase, “had been sent” comes from the same root word where we get our word apostle. As the men are asking about Peter, the Spirit reveals to him that three men are looking for him. You might task, why all the vision and dream stuff? In Acts 2:17, Luke quoted the prophet Joel that said, “And that it shall be in the last days, God says, that I will pour out My Spirit on all mankind; and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams.” (Joel 2:28) Remember, the people we’re looking at did not have what you are currently holding in your hands. They were living out the New Testament and relied on the leading of the Holy Spirit and the leading of the Apostles without being able to line it up with Scripture in the manner we can.

Peter is contemplating what this vision could mean when he is interrupted by the Spirit of God telling him to go downstairs and go with the men who are there. Peter was to go, “without misgivings.” That literally means doubting nothing. God even qualifies that by saying, “For I have sent them Myself.” Peter goes downstairs and without introduction says, “Behold, I am the one you are looking for; what is the reason for which you have come?” It’s a fair question and one you would ask to any stranger that comes to your door. What can I do for you? What do you want? Can I help you? Now a days, you might not even open the door to someone you don’t know. The men answer Peter by telling him. “Cornelius, a centurion, a righteous and God-fearing man well-spoken of by the entire nation of the Jews, was divinely directed by a holy angel to send for you to come to his house and hear a message from you.” They provide Cornelius’ credentials. By society’s standards, and it seems by God’s standards, Cornelius is someone. Devout. Righteous. He and his family were God-fearing. He was a prayer warrior. He gave alms. He was well spoken of by the entire nation of the Jews – he had a good reputation. His private life lined up with his public life. This guy was the complete package. Too often, our life outside of church is markedly different than our life inside. If you’re considered for leadership here at 3RC, don’t be surprised if we ask for references. There are far too many people in  leadership who do not consistently demonstrate the fruits of the Spirit. We’re looking for people that are authentic. We’re looking for people that are growing, but haven’t arrived. We’re looking for people that want to be righteous, not right. People that are prayerful, not powerful. People that are committed, not contentious. Cornelius was that kind of guy.

His men tell Peter of their mission and that confirms what the Spirit had revealed to Peter. Peter is given instructions to go with the men to Cornelius’ house. So here we have an impasse of faith. What do you do with what God clearly tells you to do? In this case we have an angel of God telling Cornelius what to do, the voice of God speaking to Peter in a vision, and the Spirit of God telling Peter what to do. Nothing is left to chance, variables are removed; there are no what ifs or if onlys. Will you walk through the door opened by God? Will you go down the path God illuminates? Will you walk by faith? Would Peter hesitate and if so, why? Peter had a choice. Obedience or disobedience. 2000 years later, we face the same choice each and every day.

We move from we’ve never done it that way, to let’s walk down this new path that we’re not sure where it’ll take us. Peter is beginning to understand the vision because he doesn’t slam the door in the face of the three sent by Cornelius. Peter, “Invited them in and gave them lodging.” That’s pretty funny considering it wasn’t his house. Sure, come on in, we’ve got plenty of room. After a night’s rest, Peter, “Got up and went away with them, and some of the brethren from Joppa accompanied him.” Peter leaves with the three men sent by Cornelius with some believers from Joppa and they head off to Caesarea. It was a long walk. Caesarea is about 30 miles from Joppa and, “On the following day he entered Caesarea. Now Cornelius was waiting for them and had called his relatives and close friends.” Get the picture in your mind. Cornelius has a vision to get Peter and then sends men to get Peter. While all that walking is going on, Cornelius begins to gather his family and friends to hear from Peter. He is confident that Peter will come with his men.

Verse 25 says, “When Peter entered, Cornelius met him, and fell at his feet and worshiped him.” Don’t think too ill of Cornelius. He had been told in a vision to send for Peter. Did Cornelius know exactly who Peter was? Had Peter’s reputation preceded him? Peter quickly corrects Cornelius and says, “Stand up; I too am just a man.” Of course, it’s wrong to worship a man. We would never do that. I find it interesting how star struck we get these days. From athletes to singers; from actors to musicians and even politicians. How many people would stand in line to meet Tua Tagovailoa? That starriness has even crossed into the church. Pastors that you don’t have access to. I have a friend in ministry on staff at a very large church. I asked him of his interaction with the pastor and he told me that he had met him a couple of times. Paul told us in Rom. 12:3 not to think too highly of ourselves. So, Peter walks in and sees the place packed with people. The people are not like Peter or the other apostles. Look at vs. 28-29. Peter’s vision about the sheet is becoming clearer as he remembers God’s words: “What God has cleansed, no longer consider unholy.” (Acts 10:15) Peter is standing in the midst of a house full of Gentiles. I came like you asked me to, I didn’t object, so tell me what I’m doing here.

Cornelius gives Peter his message. I don’t get any impatience in Peter’s tone; I don’t think he’s all huffy. Why am I here, Peter asks. Cornelius gives it to him straight. It’s found in vs. 30-33. Cornelius recaps the incredible vision he had. Remember that Cornelius is a God-fearing, devout, giving, praying Gentile of some importance in Caesarea. Peter is all those same things that Cornelius is, but is a Jew. The fuzziness of the vision Peter had about the sheet is becoming clearer and clearer with each passing moment. Peter’s vision involved animals of all kinds: “four footed animals and crawling creatures of the earth and birds of the air.” It’s been four days since Cornelius’ vision and it’s the third time we’ve heard about it in these 33 verses in Chapter 10. One of the tools in Bible study is noting repetition. Any time Scripture repeats itself to this extent, we really need to take notice. While the vision is becoming clearer, Peter still does not know the specific reasons behind this visit. However, one thing is crystal clear: God has orchestrated this visit between Cornelius and his family and friends with Peter. Cornelius finishes by saying, “We are all here present before God to hear all that you have been commanded by the Lord.”

Things are spinning in Peter’s mind. He’s been in front of crowds before so the people staring back at him are no big deal. He’s been in pressure situations before: dragged before the religious leaders of the day, he’s healed the lame, raised the dead, led by the Spirit, heard from God. All in a day in the life of a servant. But this? This is different. He’s in a room full of people that talk differently, look differently, eat differently, have different backgrounds and as he listens to Cornelius’ reasons for bringing him there, the light bulb goes off. You’ll have to wait to find out what happens next.

What about the Change?

You can watch the message here.

Last week, Pastor Mark introduced us to Ananias. The Lord told Ananias to get ready to receive a new Christian named Saul. Ananias protested reminding the Lord that Saul was a known persecutor of the church. God told Ananias that Saul was a chosen instrument and that He needed to show Saul how much he was to suffer for the name of Jesus. This morning, we’ll see how Ananias responds to God’s command.

I encourage you to read Acts 9:17-22.

The first thing we see is that Ananias does as instructed. Notice that Ananias does not offer alternative plans. He doesn’t bargain with the Lord. He doesn’t spend time in prayer, or speak with his friends, or fast, or put a poll on Facebook. We have so many examples in Scripture where people immediately obey what the Lord has told them to do so why do we find it so difficult to be obedient? Do we really comprehend Jeremiah’s words in Jer. 29:11 when God says, “For I know the plans that I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope.” Sometimes we’re expected to do things that don’t make sense to us, things that cannot be explained; things where we must exercise faith. Don’t be scared of God’s will.

Put yourself in Ananias’s position. He’s told in a vision to make nice with a guy that has been persecuting the church. Saul’s reputation precedes him. Saul is known throughout the area as a guy that is on the offensive against the church. It’s not that he’s saying mean things – he’s murdering or has his hands in the death and imprisonment of believers. So, for Ananias to put aside what he knows about Saul is pretty significant. Ananias obeyed the Lord even when it made no sense to him. “Ananias departed and entered the house, and after laying hands on him says, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on the road by which you were coming, has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” Ananias calls him “Brother Saul.” We know from reading the Scripture that Saul was not a biological brother. This is a reference to being related through the blood of Christ so something also happened in Ananias’s heart to greet Saul so warmly. Ananias was given two jobs for this first encounter with the infamous Saul of Tarsus. First, Ananias tells Saul that it’s the Lord Jesus, the same Lord Jesus that he had been persecuting, that sent him to get Saul his sight back. We know from 9:8 that even though Saul could open his eyes, he could not see. Now that’s a scary endeavor. When Ananias laid his hands on Saul, “immediately there fell from his eyes something like scales, and he regained his sight.” We don’t know what those scales were or how they worked other than the Lord put them there to help Saul recognize exactly who Jesus was.

Second, Saul, “got up and was baptized.” When we allow Scripture to interpret Scripture, we see that baptism is an outward demonstration of a changed heart. We saw it with the Ethiopian eunuch and it’s the pattern that has been established in Acts. Maybe you’re thinking, hold on, what about Simon? Simon was baptized in 8:13, but Peter told him in 8:21 that he has, “no part or portion in this matter, for your heart is not right before God.” Peter went on to tell Simon that he was, “in the bondage of iniquity.” Instead of repenting as Peter told him to do in 8:22, Simon asked them to pray that he would escape judgment in 8:24. Simon was not a true convert. We know that Saul was a true convert because of what follows. Right after being baptized, Saul, “took food and was strengthened.” He had not eaten for the three days he was without sight.

Here’s some proof of a life transformed. God really can change people. Often in the church, we want to hear stories of how God snatched people out of the gutter, how He redeemed someone from drugs, alcohol, and wild living. It’s a big draw to have someone from the absolute worst of society share how God saved them. Of course, we should all rejoice in being saved from the bondage of sin, but often times, those stories of deliverance from great sin leave people longing for a more “powerful” testimony. I have said it before and I will say it again. God gets more glory from a life of obedience than He does from a life of sin. Let’s take a quick look at something this man we’re looking at wrote. Read what Paul had to say about this in Rom. 6:1-7.

So, let’s take a look at what happened to Saul right after he was made new. Look at the rest of v. 19. “Now for several days he was with the disciples who were at Damascus.” We’ll see from Acts 22:3 that Saul studied under the Pharisee Gamaliel so he would know the Old Testament. He spent several days with the disciples perhaps receiving some specialized instruction in his new found faith. V. 20 says, “and immediately he began to proclaim Jesus in the synagogues, saying, “He is the Son of God.” This is vitally important and one of the reasons Saul had been in such opposition to what the apostles were teaching. The apostles were dragged into jail twice for doing what Saul is now doing. Stephen was killed for what Saul is now doing. Saul is proclaiming that Jesus is God which was defined as blasphemy by the religious crowd. This is quite the turnaround from what people knew about Saul. He’s going into the synagogues of Damascus and telling people that Jesus is God. That’s where there are people – remember the synagogue played a key role in the life of a Jew. He went into the synagogue and freaked out the people.

You remember in the 1843 Charles Dickens classic, A Christmas Carol, Ebenezer Scrooge was a miserly man who had disdain for all things good. When wished Merry Christmas by his nephew, Scrooge replied, “Bah, humbug.” Scrooge’s nephew says, “Christmas a humbug, uncle! You don’t mean that, I am sure.” Humbug means fraud or hoax so Scrooge was saying Christmas was a hoax. I quote from Dickens’ the words of Scrooge: “What else can I be,” returned the uncle, “when I live in such a world of fools as this? Merry Christmas! Out upon merry Christmas! What’s Christmas-time to you but a time for paying bills without money; a time for finding yourself a year older, and not an hour richer; a time for balancing your books, and having every item in ‘em through a round dozen of months presented dead against you? If I could work my will,” said Scrooge indignantly, “every idiot who goes about with ‘Merry Christmas’ on his lips should be boiled with his own pudding, and buried with a stake of holly through his heart. He should!”

Everyone is probably familiar with Scrooge and when the ghosts of Christmas past, present, and future visit him, he has a change of heart. A complete turn around and the people are shocked and amazed. This is what I envision to be the response of the people of Damascus. “All those hearing him continued to be amazed, and were saying, “Is this not he who in Jerusalem destroyed those who called on this name, and who had come here for the purpose of bringing them bound before the chief priests?” Every single person that heard Saul speak was amazed. Amazed here means so astounded as to be practically overwhelmed. The people knew about Saul; he had a reputation and Christians were probably warned about him. They knew he was a destroyer; they knew he imprisoned believers; they likely knew he was at the stoning of Stephen; they knew he would stop at nothing; they knew he was on his way to Damascus with the authority from the chief priests to haul them off to Jerusalem in chains so for Saul to have a turn around to the extent that he declared that Jesus is the Son of God was nothing short of miraculous. I’m sure the people were skeptical, I’m sure they were guarded, I’m sure they had their doubts just like Ananias did, but one thing is for sure: they were they were completely shocked.

Here’s some more proof. While the people sat around talking about Saul and how incredible the current events were, “Saul kept increasing in strength and confounding the Jews who lived at Damascus by proving that this Jesus is the Christ.” There are two really cool things in this verse. First, Saul grew stronger and stronger. How that took place, we can only imagine. Perhaps it was the Lord speaking to him, maybe the disciples shared some things they had picked up the previous few years as they walked with Jesus, maybe Saul saw the confidence people had in Jesus; we just don’t know. Second, he confounded the Jews in Damascus. Confound means confuse, cause astonishment as to bewilder and dismay. The Jews were befuddled. These are still the Jews that rejected Jesus as Messiah. They were confused because Saul was preaching what he had previously condemned as blasphemy. Finally, Saul confounded the Jews because he proved that Jesus is the Christ. Now that’s a pretty huge statement. Saul was able to defend what he now believed. What he previously rejected, he now embraced. What had been defined as blasphemy, now brought hope. What he had attacked, he now articulated. What he had condemned, he now communicated. Jesus of Nazareth is the Christ. Christ is the New Testament designation of the Old Testament Messiah. He is the sacrificial Lamb of God that cleansed humanity from sin. Jesus is the anointed one as prophesied in 1 Sam. 2:10 and Ps. 2:2. Jesus is the mediator, the advocate, the redeemer, the reconciler, the Holy One, the everlasting God, the all knowing God, the all seeing God. He is our strength, our Creator, our comfort, our confidence. He is our banner, our shepherd, our great High Priest, our provider, our healer, our help. As John so beautifully wrote, “Therefore many other signs Jesus also performed in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name.” (Jo. 20:30-31) This is what Saul proved. No refuting, no doubt, no shame. This is Jesus who is the Christ, the strong Son of the living God.

Saul is miraculously saved and the outward demonstration of that transformation is a complete 180. What will happen to him? Will he suffer persecution like the apostles? How much will he suffer? Will the religious crowds seek to silence him? Join us next week at we continue to look at the former Christian killer turned Christian convert.