The Students

You can listen and watch the message here.

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.

Advertisements

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.

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.

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.

Redirection

Last week, Pastor Mike told us the apostles continued their work in Jerusalem. The Spirit of God was moving there and Simon, that misguided magician, believed in the power of God and was baptized and went with Phillip. Simon was continually amazed by what he saw, but thought he could purchase the power of the Holy Spirit. Peter rebuked Simon and encouraged him to repent of what was in his heart. We left with Simon asking Pete to pray for him not grasping the power of God. This morning, we’ll see what happens when you’re sensitive to the Holy Spirit’s leading.

I hope you’ll take the time to look at Acts 8:25-40.

We start with a Holy Spirit detour. How many of you are planners? Don’t you just hate it when you have everything all planned out and then something happens that causes you to change plans? Like Hurricane Irma? She messed up a lot of people’s plans. I had a haircut scheduled for the Wednesday after and it was cancelled. For many of us, Irma brought minor inconveniences, but for a lot of people in the Caribbean Islands and in south Florida, their lives were changed forever. I think we have all experienced the curve balls of life, but what about when the Holy Spirit redirects you? Acts 8:25 says, “So, when they had solemnly testified and spoken the word of the Lord, they started back to Jerusalem, and were preaching the gospel to many villages of the Samaritans.” The apostles were working their way back to Jerusalem and were sharing the truth of the Gospel as they went. There was no exclusivity in the message; it was available and applicable to all who would listen. Phillip began his ministry to the Samaritans in 8:5 and that mission was very fruitful.

Sometimes the best laid plans are changed. Remember Samaria is in the northern kingdom and the apostles are going back to Jerusalem. “But an angel of the Lord spoke to Philip saying, “Get up and go south to the road that descends from Jerusalem to Gaza.” (This is a desert road.)” Instead of going to Jerusalem with the apostles, Philip is singled out for an individual mission. How do you respond when God changes your plan? Understand there’s a difference between God’s plan and your plan. Herein lies a real danger when you go around playing the “God is leading me card” to justify your scatterbrained plans. I know some people that God seems to be toying with. He tells them to do one thing, then He changes it a week later, only to change it again, and again. My God is not wishy washy.

I love how Philip responds to this change of plans. Luke tells us that Philip, “Got up and went.” Obedience. Nike faith. He just did it. I know what you’re thinking because I’ve heard it before: “If God would tell me things, if He’d speak to me then I’d do it.” God tells us to do things all the time that we ignore. Honor your mother and father. Give generously and sacrificially to the work of the Lord. Study your Bible. Share your faith, love people, pray for those in authority. Husbands, love your wives as Christ loved the church. Be holy, be honest, be trustworthy. You see, God tells us a lot of things that we ignore or dismiss.        For most of us, a simple life of obedience is what God desires. There are people that God has called to a national or international platform to share the truth of Christ, but for most of us, loving God, loving our neighbors as ourselves, and living a life of obedience brings Him honor and glory and has God saying well done. So, Philip gets up and goes where God told him to go. Notice that there is no plan of action that the Spirit lays out, no guidance, no inkling of what God had in store for Philip – he is simply told to go. Philip heads down the desert road, the road that leads to Egypt.

As God’s timing would have it, Philip comes face to face with a guy that, “was an Ethiopian eunuch, a court official of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, who was in charge of all her treasure; and he had come to Jerusalem to worship, and he was returning and sitting in his chariot, and was reading the prophet Isaiah.” Really get this in your mind. Philip is walking where God wanted him to go and because of his immediate obedience, he meets a man that is coming from Jerusalem where he worshiped. Luke gives us some pretty good details about this man. He was Ethiopian – a Gentile. He was a eunuch. In biblical days, slaves were sometimes castrated as young boys and then used as keepers of harems and the treasury. One Bible scholar says that eunuchs were particularly trustworthy and that’s why they were often put in charge of the treasury. This practice became so widespread that the term eunuch and treasurer became synonymous. I share this because it is likely this man is a physical eunuch because both terms are used. That’s important because the man had just come from Jerusalem where he worshiped so he was probably a convert to Judaism. Deut. 23:1 says, “No one who is emasculated or has his male organ cut off shall enter the assembly of the Lord.”  He would have worshiped at the court of the Gentiles and not in the temple. This man is an official of Candace who is queen of the Ethiopians. Candace is to Ethiopia as Pharaoh is to Egypt. Candace is her title, not her name. This guy is in charge of all the queen’s treasure. He’s sitting in his chariot reading from the book of Isaiah.       So now you’re caught up on this Ethiopian eunuch.

“Then the Spirit said to Philip, “Go up and join this chariot.” Philip does and asks the guy, “Do you understand what you are reading.” Philip’s not being mean. In fact, the eunuch says, “Well, how could I, unless someone guides me.” This is critical and I don’t want you to miss this. This man is reading Scripture through the lens of someone that does not understand Jesus, that has not embraced Messiah. He needs someone whose eyes have been opened to the truth to explain Scripture to him. 1 Cor. 2:14 says, “But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised.”

So what’s the point? The eunuch is reading from Is. 53:7-8. We know this passage is talking about the Messiah, but put yourself in the eunuch’s place. He does not understand the passage. It’s confusing to him. He knows what it says, but not who Isaiah is talking about. I can picture the excitement building in Philip and he is probably praying and asking that the Lord would give him the right words to say. So, he asks Philip, “Please tell me, of whom does the prophet say this? Of himself or of someone else?” And there it is. The purpose for God sending Philip down this long and dusty road. Acts 8:35 says, “Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning from this Scripture he preached Jesus to him.” Philip didn’t say, “Well Bub, here’s a pamphlet that will explain it.” He didn’t say, “I’ve got a great book that will help you.” He didn’t say, “Let me call Peter, he can explain this stuff really well.” He didn’t say, “Come back to Jerusalem, my small group is awesome and you can get your questions answered there.” Why am I telling you what Philip didn’t say? Because those are the things I hear people say in response to someone that is asking questions about Jesus. If you are a believer in the Messiah, you have the answers to the questions people are asking. So, you better be studied up, prayed up, and ready to tell people why you have hope. Don’t outsource your faith.

Philip opens his mouth and speaks on behalf of Jesus who is the Messiah. The Scripture the eunuch read from was the starting off point. “Beginning from this Scripture he preached Jesus to him.” What did Philip say in response to that question? Philip must have presented the Gospel in a way the eunuch understood. He must have covered sin and its penalty. He must have shared the virgin birth of Christ and why that’s important. He must have shared about the sinless life of Christ and how the sacrifice of Christ atoned for sin. Keep in mind that the eunuch was coming from the temple so he would understand sacrifice and atonement. Philip must have shared about Christ’s crucifixion, His shed blood, and His death. I’m certain he shared about Christ being in the tomb for three days and then being miraculously resurrected in fulfillment of the Scriptures. He must have shared about Christ walking the earth for 40 days before ascending to heaven. He must have shared all about what Christ had done in him and in his friends. He must have shared about the picture of baptism. How can I come to that conclusion? After a while, “the eunuch said, “Look! Water! What prevents me from being baptized?” The eunuch understood; he got it and wanted to have what Philip had. You may or may not have v. 37 in your Bible. It does not appear in early manuscripts of Acts. It was probably added by a scribe at some point during copying to bring a conclusion to the eunuch’s conversion. With or without v. 37, the conclusion is the same. The eunuch heard the truth and responded to it. He wanted to be baptized as sign of his conversion.

The story takes a shocking turn here. The eunuch stops the chariot and he and Philip go down into the water where he is baptized. Like other places in the New Testament, baptism is by immersion. They come up out of the water and, “The Spirit of the Lord snatched Philip away; and the eunuch no longer saw him, but went on his way rejoicing.” Standing there dripping wet, Philip disappears right before the eunuch’s eyes. One second, Philip is there, and literally the next second he is not. That would freak people out today, but the eunuch? He went on his way rejoicing. “But Philip found himself at Azotus, and as he passed through he kept preaching the gospel to all the cities until he came to Caesarea.” Philip landed about 37 miles away and continued what he knew to do and that is preach the Gospel.

Philip surrendered to an unknown mission. God changed his plans to go back to Jerusalem and he was obedient. Because of his obedience, the Ethiopian eunuch was miraculously saved and became the first foreign convert in Scripture. The seed of the Gospel is carried to Africa. Philip’s ministry is really incredible. He began evangelizing the Samarians – a half-bred people despised by Jews. He shares with the crowds in Samaria and they responded. On the desert road, we see Philip engaged in personal evangelism – one on one. The message he shared was identical. The death, burial, and resurrection of Christ – the good news of the Gospel. The expected response was the same: believe and be baptized. In all cases, the response to the Gospel brought joy and it should be the same for us today.

The Persecution

Last week, Pastor Zane told us that Stephen was murdered for his faith at the hands of the people, yet he remained full of faith. Christlike to the end, he prayed forgiveness for the actions of the ignorant people. We see one man’s life ending and we were introduced to a young man named Saul whose story was just beginning. This morning, we’ll see what happens when a man full of self-righteousness and misaligned zeal goes on the offensive.

Take a couple of minutes and read Acts 8:1-8.

In Georgia, you can be charged with a crime simply because you knew it was going on. You can ask my buddy, Pastor Zane, for details because that’s what happened when he was convicted. We have Saul being in, “Hearty agreement with putting him to death.” The Council, led by the high priest, found Stephen guilty of the crimes to which he was falsely accused and drove him out of the city where he was stoned to death. While Saul agreed with putting Stephen to death, it had a profound effect on him as we’ll see later in Acts. This martyrdom of Stephen ushered in widespread attacks against Christians living in Jerusalem. “And on that day a great persecution began against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles.” When we read Scripture, we tend to think in periods of time, but all that we have been looking at the last several weeks occurred over a two-day period.

Stephen’s dead body was still warm when Satan went on the offensive against God’s holy plan for humanity. Every believer in Messiah was driven from the place most of them likely had lived their entire lives, and fled to places unfamiliar to them. They literally ran for their lives. Believers were scattered in the regions of Judea and in Samaria. Scattered mean to sow throughout. Now that’s pretty interesting. It’s the same word used when scattering seed. What happens when you scatter seed? It grows. The seed of the gospel left Jerusalem just as Jesus commanded in Matt. 28:19-20. But, the apostles remained in Jerusalem and we’ll see them mentioned again several times in Acts. Stephen is dead and, “Some devout men buried Stephen, and made loud lamentations over him.” This is not some misplaced parenthetical thought. These men took a real chance burying Stephen. Jewish law prohibited funerals for convicted criminals and Stephen was convicted of blasphemy and speaking against the temple and against the Law. They buried him, cried and wept loudly and beat their breasts.

It goes from bad to worse for believers. Saul, “Began ravaging the church, entering house after house, dragging off men and women, he would put them in prison.” Ravage comes from the same word that is used to describe what lions, and tigers, and bears do to their prey. He was vicious in his attacks against believers. He burst into houses and was an equal opportunity destroyer dragging men and women out. Saul would stop at nothing. How he put them in prison, we don’t know, but remember how many people turned to Christ in the first six chapters. There were thousands in Jerusalem and just because Luke says they were scattered doesn’t mean that everyone got out safely. Imagine sitting down for a meal or to unwind and the door to your house is kicked in and before you can react, a man grabs you and literally drags you out. Don’t think Saul was by himself in this, there had to be others that were working with him to bring such widespread destruction on the church.

The narrative takes a startling turn here. In v. 4, Luke says, “Therefore, those who had been scattered went about preaching the word.” Do not read this verse lightly. Understand what is going on. Family members, loved ones, friends, people they knew had been dragged off to prison or worse, and yet they preached the word. How can these believers, who are suffering such hardship, continue on the mission before them? I think it’s not only a fair question, but a stark contrast to how we react to adversity today. One of the seven men that the apostles chose to relieve them of the responsibility to feed the widows had been falsely accused, wrongfully convicted, and was stoned to death. These new believers who were forcefully driven from their homes fleeing for their lives went on doing the very thing that got Stephen killed. How can these things be? The only conclusion I can draw is that they truly believed that Jesus was the Messiah, that Jesus fulfilled the prophecies of old, that Jesus was Emmanuel meaning God with us, that Jesus’ death paid the penalty for sin, that new life is found in Christ, that all hope is found in Christ, that Jesus is the avenue to reconcile a sinful people to a holy and perfect God. It seems to me that they genuinely loved the Lord and that love moved them to action – to tell other people about Jesus. It’s not enough to say you love Jesus. If there is no action, then your love is just words. You love your children? You work a job to support them, to provide a place to live, food on the table, clothes on their back. You scrimp and save to give your kids a chance for a better life than you had. All this is motivated by your love for them. You say you love Jesus, but why don’t you share what Jesus has done for you with people that may not know anything more than we celebrate His birth on December 25th?

These believers are scattered throughout the land and they preached the word. Luke calls out Philip who was one of the seven mentioned in Acts 6:5 as, “Being full of faith and the Holy Spirit.” Verse 5 says, “Philip went down to the city of Samaria and began proclaiming Christ to them.” Samaria was the region northwest of Jerusalem and that’s where Philip ended up. The them refers to the people in the city. Philip took to heart the message that he heard and saw and wanted to share that with others. So, he begins by, “proclaiming Christ.” The Samaritans were largely considered half breeds by the Jews so they were neither Jew nor Gentile. Samaritan lineage goes back to the northern tribes of Israel when God divided the land to each tribe. The northern tribes were known as Israel and the southern tribes were Judah. Israel was taken captive by Assyria in 722 B.C., but not all the people were taken captive. Those that were still in the land intermarried with the native population and did things that were detestable to God like installing their own version of the high priest to conduct worship in the temples they built in the high places. Idolatry was widespread in Samaria. So, for Philip to begin ministry there is pretty incredible, but it wasn’t the first time a Samaritan would be shown the love of Christ. Remember the encounter between Jesus and the woman at the well?

Let’s take a quick look at Jo. 4:5-26. This is the story of Jesus and the woman at the well. V. 20 gives us some insight into the misguided notions the Samaritans have. She tells Jesus that her fathers worshiped on Mt. Gerizim, but the Jews say you have to worship at Jerusalem. Jesus then gives her the bombshell that there is coming a time that worship will not occur at a place. She tells Jesus that her people are looking for Messiah who is called Christ, but she doesn’t know that she is talking to the Messiah until Jesus reveals it. Jesus had to clear up some wrong teaching the woman received at some point. So, we fast forward to a time when all that Jesus said has been fulfilled. Remember that Philip is “proclaiming Christ” and for all the misunderstanding and idolatry in Samaria, the message Philip shared was exactly what was needed in that area. Luke says, “The crowds with one accord were giving attention to what was said by Philip, as they heard and saw the signs which he was performing. For in the case of many who had unclean spirits, they were coming out of them shouting with a loud voice; and many who had been paralyzed and lame were healed.” The crowds paid attention to Philip and the message that he preached was confirmed by corresponding signs. Demons were cast out, the paralyzed and the lame were healed. Don’t put the cart before the horse here though. The gospel was preached and that’s what the people responded to. Miracles are great and awesome and they can provide a draw to the truth of Jesus, but they do not take the place of genuine faith in Christ. The miracles are not the point of this story – the gospel is the point of the story.

The conclusion: “There was much rejoicing in that city.” The gospel is the great cycle breaker. The unclean are made clean under Christ. The lame are healed under Christ. Half-breeds are adopted by God. People of questionable backgrounds are made new. Racism eliminated; hatred replaced by love. I believe it can still happen today. There was much rejoicing just as was promised in Lk. 2:10 when, “The angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people.”

The good news really is for all people. It seems that the Samaritan people were ready to hear the life changing news of the gospel. Believe it or not, there are still people today that are waiting for the message. Be like Philip. Even in the midst of persecution and suffering, he proclaimed the Christ.

The Green-Eyed Monster

Last week, Pastor Zane went over the characteristics of the early church. We saw some incredible signs and wonders being accomplished through the apostles. The people had such faith that they would carry the sick into the streets hoping that Peter’s shadow would pass over them which led to others bringing their sick and afflicted to the apostles so that they could be healed and people flocked to get closer. God was using the apostles to do incredible things, and He wants to use us to transform the world. This morning, we’ll see what happens when people in authority get jealous.

I encourage you to take the time and real our passage for today found in Acts 5:17-32.

We start with a very important word: but. Signs and wonders were taking place by the power of the Holy Spirit through the apostles. Sick people were healed; the afflicted were made unafflicted. The popularity of the apostles was growing and as people heard the message of the Gospel, they responded with decisions to follow Christ. The church was growing to the point that the number of people became multitudes, there were too many to count.

And then we see something that can plague any ministry leader. “The high priest rose up, along with all his associates (that is the sect of the Sadducees), and they were filled with jealously.” And there it is. Jealousy is not always a bad thing. Divine jealousy is a single-minded pursuit of things that are holy. Ex. 20:5 speaks of God as a jealous God in the exclusivity of our worship. 2 Cor. 11:2 refers to jealousy in the exclusivity of the marriage relationship because you need that to make the marriage permanent. Not jealous because your spouse was talking to someone else or because they have a job. It’s jealousy over the importance of the marriage covenant. In modern English, jealousy is defined as a feeling or showing envy of someone or their achievements and advantages. In this context, jealousy is not good. In fact, I think I’ll paint with a broad brush and say that jealousy in ministry is rarely good. When we start looking at what others are doing for the Kingdom, or how many people they have, or how many salvations they experience, it can lead us to feel inadequate or somehow that we’re missing the mark. I’ve been there and it’s not a good place to visit. Your pastors regularly pray for other churches and pastors in our area. We must be Kingdom minded and not inwardly focused and that takes effort.

The high priest and all his associates were jealous of the apostles because of what was going on. They were filled with or consumed by jealousy. So, the high priest orders the apostles taken into custody and they were physically dragged to jail – again. Remember they were thrown in jail in 4:3. The next day, there was an inquisition as to what and why they were doing the things they were doing. Remember after the last encounter with the Council, they were, “commanded not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus.” (Acts 4:18) Don’t forget the important conclusion from that story: the Sanhedrin that Pastor Mike spoke about: the Pharisees and the Sadducees found no fault in them and let them go – they didn’t do anything illegal, immoral, or unethical. We don’t know the exact time frame between that day and the day we’re talking about now, but it couldn’t be long. The Council was jealous of the success experienced by the apostles. Success is very difficult to define, especially in church. I’ve experienced this myself when I was seeking a job in ministry. Search committees wanted measurable means of success that they determined. The Sadducees were envious that people were responding in droves to the truth that the apostles were teaching and demonstrating in their lives and in the lives of countless individuals that responded to the message.

So, into jail they go with the intention of being tried the following day just like in Chapter 4. The Lord had something else in mind. The Spirit of God is moving mightily and things are happening that are inexplicable – they are by definition miracles: people healed, demons cast out, people selling stuff and giving to those in need. These miracles could only be attributed to the power of God. And He shows up again in the form of the angel of the Lord. The angel of the Lord, “Opened the gates of the prison, and taking them out he said, “Go, stand and speak to the people in the temple the whole message of this Life.” This isn’t just a great escape, this is miraculous! They were let out and were told something very specific: “Tell the whole message of life.” Keep doing what you’ve been doing; tell people about the resurrection, tell people about the transforming power of God, tell people how He dragged you from the miry clay, tell people how you’re a new creation, tell people how you’ve been redeemed, redeemed, redeemed by the blood of the Lamb. Don’t miss this! The apostles, “entered into the temple about daybreak and began to teach.” No prayer service, no consideration if they should do it again and risk being thrown in jail again – it’s already happened twice, they simply obeyed. The high priest sent his minions to get the apostles out of jail, but those guys find the apostles gone and the jail locked up tight as a drum with the guards in place totally unaware that the prisoners had been set free. The officers report back to the Council and tell them what they found inside the jail – nothing.

“Now when the captain of the temple guard and the chief priests heard these words, they were greatly perplexed about them as to what would come of this.” They didn’t understand how those guys weren’t still locked up. As they’re scratching their heads, someone comes in and says, “The men whom you put in prison are standing in the temple and teaching the people!” The Sanhedrin are not the kind of people that take too kindly to having their orders ignored. Back to the temple the captain and his officers go to do over what they did yesterday. Remember the captain is second in line after the high priest and is responsible for what happens in and around the temple. If you want something done right, do it yourself, right? Something different happens from the previous day, the captain and officers brought them back to the Council, “without violence (for they were afraid of the people, that they might be stoned).” Normally, the punishment for disobedience would be stoning and the captain probably wanted to make that happen, but the apostles were so popular that if they were harmed, the captain and his officers feared retribution from the crowd. Remember the Council was filled with jealously over these men of God.

Here comes the stand-off. The stand-off includes one of the most often misquoted and misused phrases in Scripture. The apostles are brought before the Council again to be questioned by the high priest. The high priest reminds them, “We gave you strict orders not to continue teaching in this name, and yet, you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and intend to bring this man’s blood upon us.” Remember in Peter’s first and second sermons, he placed responsibility for the death of Jesus on those he is standing in front of. Of course, the Council is responsible for Jesus’ death just as we are in the sense that we needed atonement for our sin. The difference is the Council thought their religiosity would save them. Their message was not received by the people. The message of the apostles was received by many people and the Council sought to shut that down once and for all.

After the high priest’s accusation, Peter and the apostles respond by saying, “We must obey God rather than men.” I want to spend some time here to clear up this phrase. I have heard this used as justification for civil disobedience, for not submitting to a husband, for trying to dominate a wife, and for beating children. I’ve heard it used to justify witnessing for Christ on the job and not working. I heard it used as a legalistic proof text for anything and everything church related. What Peter says has nothing to do with any of that. If we are to take 2 Tim. 2:15 to heart, and we should, then we must understand what is happening in the context of the verse you’re looking at. I think we often get interpretation and application mixed up when studying scripture. Just to set the record straight, there are some things in Scripture you can read and understand the meaning in the context in which it was written. But there is great danger in carelessly handling the Word of God. It must be studied with the understanding of the human author, the intended audience, the time in history, the culture at the time, the language, and a host of other important aspects. Wait a minute, you’re thinking, that sounds a lot like work; I thought we’re supposed to sit back and enjoy so great a salvation! Let me put it in perspective. The average American spends just over 8 hours a day at work. That same guy spends almost 9 hours a day in personal care which includes sleeping, 2.5 hours a day in leisure pursuits, and just over an hour eating. The average American spends about 7.5 minutes a day in pursuit of religious activity. Hold on now, I’m not an average American, I am a Christian! How you spend your time reveals your priorities. When Jude says to, “Earnestly contend for the faith” in Jude 3, he means it. I cannot comprehend how people will work so hard at things of this world and casually pursue the things of eternity or perhaps even ignore them all together. If you find yourself without time to study God’s Word, to spend time with God, to pray, to fellowship with believers, to go to church, or to pursue God, you need to reevaluate your time.

“We must obey God rather than men.” Do you think God would tell us to, “Obey your leaders and submit to them,” (Heb. 13:17) yet not really mean it? Do think He would tell us, “Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God,” (Rom. 13:1) and not really mean every person? If you’re at work and your boss says you cannot witness on the job, consider what he is saying. Are you witnessing when you should be working? Do you have an attitude that you’re going to do whatever you want regardless of the authority? Do you think that God would have you sin no matter what you do? Obey God and sin against the authority. Obey the authority and sin against God. No win situation. If your boss really, really says you cannot mention God or Jesus at all, ever at work, find a different job. There are breaks that legally cannot restrict your conversation, but when your boss expects you to work, then be the very best worker you can be. Be a model employee. If you’re going to use the obey God card, you better know what God says and many, many times, people use that to justify their own desires.

Peter concludes his defense before the Council in vs. 30-32. He reiterates what he said the last time he was before these men. God had given these men the privilege and responsibility to carry the Gospel message to the people. The Council was attempting to stifle the message of hope the apostles carried to the people. What the apostles were doing was not illegal, but teaching about Christ did not line up with the goals of the Council. The message of hope carried people from the burden of religion to the freedom found in Christ.

I do not believe that God will put you in a situation where you must sin to honor Him. Believers absolutely should obey God, but it’s rarely an either-or situation. If you want to use the obedience card, you better play it consistently in every avenue of life. So, what happens next? What will become of the apostles? Will they be able to escape the clutches of the Sanhedrin? We’ll have to wait until next week to see what happens to these heroes of the faith.