Thursday, March 24, 2016

Is it Law or Grace?

Read Acts 15.

Indeed, Acts is a record of transitions.  This council meeting in chapter 15 underscores, perhaps, the greatest of those changes.
Approximately a decade had passed since Peter took the Gospel to the Gentile home of Cornelius in chapter 10.  Paul and Barnabas expanded the ministry of Jesus as far as Galatia in chapters 13 and 14.  The question being debated here is completely understandable.  If the Old Testament Law is all one has, and it is the word of God, then how does it fit with this new faith in Jesus?  The protesters wanted these Gentile believers to not just have respect for the roots of their faith but to obey the Old Testament Law also.  The issue included much more than circumcision, as Peter indicates in verse 10 and as Paul wrote to the Galatians in order to clarify the debate in Galatians 5:3.

The question being at hand has to do with the true definition of legalism; keeping the Old Testament law in conjunction with salvation.  The term has often been misused to apply to any expectation of Christian living one does not particularly like.  Notice the key phrases Peter uses to articulate salvation and to clarify the truth.

1. "...having cleansed their hearts by faith." (v.9)
That is the assurance or confidence in the message that Jesus died on the cross for our sins and paid the debt we owed in full.  And, that simple, personal, child-like belief alone results in the cleansing of all our sin.

2. "...saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus..." (v.11)
There is nothing one can do to earn grace.  Grace is a gift.  If there was anything we must do for our salvation, then it is no longer a gift and, therefore, no longer grace.

The Apostle Paul later wrote to the Ephesians believers, "For by grace you have been saved through faith.  And this is not your own doing; it is a gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast." (Ephesians 2:8-9)

But freedom from the demands of the Law is not a license to sin and live in an undisciplined manner.  The New Testament is filled with do's and don'ts for the believer in Christ.  James included three that seemed to be priorities that arose from the debates.  Again, it is not legalism to hold each other accountable for holy and obedient living.  Much of the first half of the book of Romans addresses this very issue.

"Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions.  Do not present your members to sin as instruments of unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments of righteousness.  For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace." (Romans 6:12-14)

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

5 essentials for sustaining Ministry

Read Acts 14.

Jesus said, in Acts 1:8 "...and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth."  This verse provides a broad outline of the book of Acts.  In chapters 1-7, the ministry took place in the city of Jerusalem.  In chapters 8-12, largely due to persecution, the ministry expanded to the provinces of Judea and Samaria.  From chapter 13 on, the primary geographical focus is on spreading the Gospel to new territories.  The account in chapters 13-14 is commonly referred to as the first missionary journey.

In verse 4, they are referred to as "apostles."  This is in the dictionary sense of the word: "a delegate" or one who is sent.  They had been sent by the church at Antioch.  In verses 26-28, they reported back to that congregation.  Paul and Barnabas taught Jews in the synagogues and sought opportunities to preach to Gentiles.  But when "a great number of both Jews and Greeks believed" (v.1), Satan intensified the spiritual war.  The opposition was so great they were forced to move on.

At Lystra, Paul healed a lame man.  The response from those who believed in the fantasy of celestial gods, wrongly interpreted the true power of God.  Seizing the opportunity, Paul urged them to "turn from these vain things to a living God."  In verses 15-17, he presented God as the Creator of all things, the One who blessed them with common grace, who had been trying to get their attention ("witness" see Romans 1), who is the source of their food, and provides the ability to enjoy this life with fulfillment and joy.  With that they stoned Paul and left him for dead.  Miraculously, Paul revived and continued the ministry.  He even went right back to the city that stoned him (v.21).

This flies right into the face of those who propagate the health and wealth gospel.  "Receive Jesus, think good thoughts, and everything will go well."  The Scriptures will dispel that false teaching quickly.  "Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted."  It is not something we go looking for and certainly is not to be the result of any offensive behavior on our part.  A commitment to Jesus first causes one to live differently than others.  This difference is not always welcomed by unbelievers.  Second, the message of Jesus presents an either or decision.  Unbelievers may condemn such a message as narrow-minded and an affront to their made-up beliefs.

How could Paul and Barnabas leave new followers of Christ in this territory?  What would they say and do?  In verses 22-23, they did five things that would sustain the ministry.
1. They strengthened their souls.  Surely, these events shook the faith of these new believers.  Nothing will reestablish, confirm and strengthen our faith like the Scriptures.  Our confidence is not in our circumstances but the unchanging Word of God.  It is our only offensive weapon in this spiritual war (Ephesians 6:17).
2. They encouraged their faith.  Speaking words of comfort, they urged them to be faithful no matter what happens.
3. They reminded them of persecution.  Trouble, anguish, and opposition because of our faith is to be expected.  It comes with being a part of a different kingdom than the one of this world.  We live in enemy territory.
4. They appointed leaders.  This was an official recognition of some spiritual men who could continue reaching the lost and ministering to these new followers of Christ.
5. They prayed and fasted.  Keeping our eyes on Jesus is the key to endurance (Hebrews 11:2)

Monday, March 21, 2016

3 results from presenting the Gospel

Read Acts 13.

The church at Antioch became the launching point for taking the Gospel to the rest of the Roman Empire.  Its leadership reveals a multi-ethnic and diverse congregation.  This was definitely did not have the homogeneous make up of the church in Jerusalem.

Barnabas was a Levite from Cyprus.
Simeon's Latin nickname, Niger, means black or dark.
Lucius was from an area in present day Lybia.
Manaen was politically connected and a "lifelong friend of Herod" Antipas.
Saul, of the tribe of Benjamin, had been a Pharisee and persecutor of believers in Christ.

Only God could have put this group together.  Their unity was based on their mutual faith and commitment to Jesus.

Sending out the team of Barnabas and Saul was not just an opportunity they planned.  It was a calling, or summons, of the Holy Spirit after much prayer and fasting.

Their first mission took them to through Barnabas' home territory of Cyprus.  Almost immediately they are met with demonic opposition.  It is at this incident that Saul became known as Paul for the first time and appears to assume the leadership.  As a side note, John (also known by his Latin name, Mark, the writer of the second Gospel and a cousin of Barnabas) went home.  From Cyprus, the missionaries journeyed to and preached in Pamphylia.  Then, they went further north to Pisidia in the larger area known as Galatia.

When Paul preached, it resulted in three responses:
1. The Gentiles rejoiced "glorifying the word of the Lord, and as many as were appointed to eternal life believed."
2. The Jews rallied influential leaders and the people to persecute Paul and Barnabas.  They were driven out of town.
3. "The disciples were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit."

Faithfully serving God in the face of opposition is turned to joy when we get to see lives changed for eternity.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

2 lessons learned the hard Way

Read Acts 12.

In 47 B.C., Julius Caesar appointed Herod the Great to rule as king over Judea.  Herod was part Jewish and was considered a friend to the Jews.  He was the first of four generations of Herod's mentioned in the New Testament.
-Herod the Great murdered the Bethlehem boys under the age of two in Matthew 2.
-Herod Antipas executed John, the Baptist in Mark 6 and saw Jesus before him in Luke 23.
-Herod Agrippa I executed James, the brother of John, and sixteen of his trusted guards in Acts 12.
-Herod Agrippa II heard the testimony of the Apostle Paul in Acts 25-26.

The national rejection of Jesus as the Messiah did not stop with the crucifixion.  The next goal was to put an end to any belief in Jesus.  Herod was only too eager to seize upon the opportunity to increase his popularity and influence.  We are not told why James had been singled out.  But, seeing the response of the Jews to this execution, he set his sights on Peter.  This time sixteen guards were assigned to secure Peter in prison in around the clock shifts.    

Two lessons should be learned here by those who believe and those who do not.
1. Belief in Jesus is an eternal, spiritual commitment.  No argument, governmental edict, prison, or execution has any power or authority against the Holy Spirit.  The Gospel is unstoppable.  Read the end of the Book.  Jesus has already recorded the victory over all His enemies.  He is the King of kings and the Lord of lords.

2. Prayer works.  We do not always know what the will of God is, but our faithfulness to ask and trust Him no matter the outcome is a command from Jesus.  He will be honored by every life, one way or the other.  Yes, Peter was delivered.  No, James was not delivered.  And, sooner or later, on God's timetable, all the enemies of Christ will receive their due.  Herod refused to give God His rightful glory.  He rejected Jesus, suffered at the end on earth, and is now in eternal suffering for his unwillingness to repent of his sin.

"But the word of God increased and multiplied." (v.24)

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Transitioning to a new Identity

Read Acts 11.

The transition continued as Gentiles came to faith in Jesus and Jewish believers moved from Law and traditions to grace.  During this time, the questions and misunderstandings would have been predictable.  Indeed, the tension builds up to chapter 15.

When Peter explained what had happened, the questioners "glorified God" that the Gentiles were repenting of their sin and believing in Jesus as they did.  The Holy Spirit made it plain that there is "no distinction" (v.12) and, even stronger, Peter added, "who am I to stand in God's way?"  This seems to be clear that those who continue to treat people differently because of their race do stand in God's way.

The geographical spread of the Gospel is carefully tracked in the book of Acts.  The persecution of believers in Jerusalem had caused them to flee into other parts of the Roman Empire.  Peter had been in the coastal city of Joppa.  He journeyed north to Cornelius' home.  This area was known as Phoenicia.  But they were also aware that believers had left the country and gone to the island of Cyprus and Antioch, Syria.

Next, the church in Jerusalem sent Barnabas to encourage those in Antioch.  Realizing that teaching help was needed and some time had passed, Barnabas personally enlisted Saul from Tarsus in the Roman province of Cilicia.  This dynamic partnership solidified the church at Antioch over time.  It was here that believers were first called Christians.  That was not a denomination but a label that they were committed followers of Jesus Christ.  It separated them from Judaism.  The term is only used here, in Acts 26:28, and in 1 Peter 4:16: "Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name."

Carrying the name of Christ as one's label in life is a sobering responsibility.  Glorifying "that name" requires daily discipline of one's thoughts, speech, and actions.

Friday, March 18, 2016

How God dealt with bigotry and Racism

Read Acts 10.

From the time God chose to work through Abraham and his descendants, Gentiles were included in the promise.  "...and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed" (Genesis 12:3c).  The promise in Acts 1:8, foretold that the good news of Jesus would spread "to the ends of the earth."

The initial spreading of the message came as a result of persecution of believers in Jerusalem and Judea.  Philip officially took the message to Samaria.  In Acts 9:17, the Lord Himself announced that Saul of Tarsus would be especially appointed to minister to the Gentiles.  With each step in the expansion of the Gospel, the Apostles were involved.  Peter and John were sent to Samaria to confirm the ministry there.  Here in chapter 10, Peter was sent by the Lord to officially begin the Gentile inclusion in the church.

Cornelius, a Roman centurion, did not know everything about Jesus, but he acted on the knowledge he had in worshiping the Lord.  His godly behavior was well-known and characterized by two elements: prayer and financial generosity.  This confirms what the Apostle Paul taught in Romans 1.  When someone does seek to know the true and living God, He will insure that they receive the knowledge that they need.

If the ministry in chapter 8 was considered a racial and cultural breakthrough, this chapter broke the sound barrier!  Peter's statement in verse 28 was, "You yourselves know how unlawful it is for a Jew to associate with or to visit anyone of another nation."  This was a taboo.  It just was not done.  God had to dramatically and graphically prepare Peter to cross this line, to erase the bigotry, and change his view of other human beings.  As a result, Peter invited the three Gentile visitors to stay with him overnight and then he entered Cornelius' home.  He even stayed with them "for same days" (v.48).

Note in verse 26, bowing down to an Apostle was forbidden by Peter.  "I too am a man."

Cornelius assembled all his family and friends.  His message underscored the Great Commission.  "Truly I understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him."  He preached forgiveness of sin by faith in the crucified and resurrected Jesus.  The Holy Spirit demonstrably confirmed that Gentiles could enjoy the same faith and experience as others.  Then, in accordance with the Great Commission, the believers were baptized.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

A time to Intervene

Read Acts 9.

Meanwhile, back in Jerusalem, the zeal of Saul had intensified.  He knew that some believers in "the Way" were fleeing outside of Judea.  He received arrest warrants from the high priest to pursue and apprehend Christians in Damascus, Syria.  Imprisonment or death would be the outcome of a swift Temple trial.

1. But Jesus intervened. (vv.3-9)
Surely, Saul reasoned his anger was righteous.  He thought he was doing God a favor.  Do not miss the question Jesus asked?  He did not asked why Saul persecuted Christians but why Saul was persecuting "Me" (Jesus)?  When the followers of Christ are under attack for their faith, Jesus takes it personally.

The Lord revealed Himself with a blinding light and a voice from heaven.  This event and subsequent days softened Saul's heart, began to retrain his mind, took away the spiritual blindness, and opened his ears to the truth.  Who would trust him?  Perhaps, he was pretending so he could infiltrate the believers.

2. But Ananias obediently went to him. (vv.10-26)
He embraced Saul and baptized him.  Being out of the country provided Saul an opportunity to safely preach Jesus in the synagogues of Damascus for a while.  When the Temple authorities got word of Saul's changed life, they sent a team to assassinate him.  Boldly, Saul returned to Jerusalem and openly proclaimed his new faith.  The disciples there were afraid of him.

3. But Barnabas befriended him.  (vv.27-30)
He even stood up for Saul before the Apostles.  Because Paul was from Tarsus, he could speak to the Greek-speaking Jews with credibility.  The pressure against him, however, continued to mount.  The brothers sent him to safety back to Tarsus.

With the number one persecutor of Christians now a believer in Jesus, the church meeting throughout Israel finally experienced a time of peace.

4. But peace did not mean the church relaxed. (v.31)
They grew spiritually.  They lived obediently to the Lord.  The Holy Spirit comforted them.  Their numbers multiplied.

A timely intervention by the Lord or a friend is a good thing.  We all need it occasionally and we all know someone who needs us to come alongside them at a strategic time in their life.

Monday, March 14, 2016

What happens when Christians are persecuted?

Read Acts 8.

The environment went from being hostile toward believers in Jesus to murder and imprisonment.  The Sanhedrin appointed a young enthusiast by the name of Saul of Tarsus to lead the persecution (7:58, 9:1-2).  The bad news is that Christ followers began leaving Judea, fleeing for their lives.  The good news is that they spread the message of Jesus everywhere they went.  In Acts 1:8,  Jesus foretold that the message would be proclaimed in "Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth."  Now, Philip, one of the seven selected to serve the church in chapter 6, officially took take the Gospel of Jesus to Samaria.

1. Signs confirmed the message.
This was not exactly virgin territory.  Previously, Jesus opened this door of belief at the Samaritan city of Sychar (John 4).  But the message of the death, burial and resurrection would have been new to them.  Like Stephen, Philip had no Bible, just Old Testament knowledge, a personal salvation, and the empowerment of the Holy Spirit.  In this transitional period of time in the book of Acts, God used the miracles of healing and exorcism to confirm the validity of the message preached.  The result was that "there was much joy in that city."  The believers were baptized as a public demonstration of their personal faith in Jesus (v.12).

2. The Spirit confirmed the ministry.
Other passages in the New Testament confirm that the Holy Spirit indwells the believer in Jesus at the moment of salvation (Romans 8:9).  However, here there is an abnormality.  Peter and John were sent by the Apostles to confirm the Samaritan ministry.  For God's own purposes, the indwelling of the Spirit was delayed in this instance until the Apostles arrived.  This happened in Acts 2 in Judea.  It occurred here as the church was being established for the first time in Samaria.  Another abnormality like this is recorded in Acts 10 as Peter officially took the Gospel to the Gentiles (10:44-45).  Step by step the word of God was being spread.

3. Baptism confirmed personal belief.
Next, Philip had a divine encounter with the treasury official of Ethiopia.  As a man of wealth, he possessed his own copy of at least Isaiah.  As a foreigner and a eunuch, he would have been denied access to full worship at the Temple.  But, despite this and his pagan culture, he had traveled to Jerusalem in order worship God.  As Philip explained Isaiah's message and told of Jesus, either he mentioned baptism or the eunuch knew of it.  His question and Philip's answer is clear.  Christian baptism is only for those personally believe in Jesus as Savior.  There is no power in the water.  Without personal faith, there is no meaning.  Being lowered into the water pictures a death to the old self.  Being brought up out of the water pictures being raised to a new life in Christ.    It is what the Holy Spirit has already done on the inside of the believer. (Romans 6:4)

Friday, March 11, 2016

A case against Compromise

Read Acts 7.

This is one of those chapters that causes us to pause and realize we are treading on some holy ground.  Stephen, a recently appointed Deacon in the Jerusalem church, was arrested for preaching that Jesus was the Christ.  Like Jesus, he was brought before the council and falsely accused by lying witnesses.  When given his opportunity to respond, Stephen delivered one of the strongest messages in the Bible.

Amazingly, with the few resources available to him, Stephen succinctly and accurately walked through the rudimentary teachings of Genesis (verses 2-16) and Exodus (verses 17-44).  Then, briefly mentioned Moses' successor, Joshua and two of Israel's kings, David and Solomon.  Along the way, he quoted Amos 5:25- 27 and Isaiah 66:1-2 from memory.  This he did in front of the nation's learned leaders and scholars of the Sanhedrin.

In the New Testament accounts, the council was always offended when a person outside their ranks instructed them in the Scriptures.  But what really set them off was Stephen's closing paragraph in verses 51-53.  He bluntly and rightly accused them of the following:
-Stiff-necked.  In other words they were obstinate, stubborn and unyielding.
-Uncircumcised in heart and ears.  They performed an outward religiosity but had hardened their hearts toward God and could no longer hear the truth of God's word.
-Resist the Holy Spirit.  Jesus said in John 16:8-14 the Holy Spirit would convict of sin, convince of truth, and point people to glorify Jesus.  But because they rejected the truth, they rejected the Holy Spirit's attempts to prick their conscience.
-Persecutors of preachers of truth.   Stephen tied them directly to those who rejected the Old Testament prophets.
-Murders of Jesus.  It was this High Priest and this council that took Jesus to Pilate and stirred up the crowd to chant for Barabbas.
-Did not keep the law.  The pride of these religious leaders, especially the Pharisees, was their idealism in perfectly obeying the Law of Moses and their traditions.

Instead of being broken hearted and repenting before God of their multiple sins, they became angry and filled with such resentment that they immediately committed a second recorded murder.

Taking such a bold stand for the faith cost Stephen his life.  However, there was One in heaven who personally observed the entire incident and was pleased with His servant.  Jesus allowed Stephen to get an advance glimpse of the throne.  Indeed, he saw Jesus, not sitting but standing to welcome home this faithful man with those words of "well done."  

In a secular culture that increasingly demands Christ followers to be accepting of sin,
In a religious culture where the Bible is forsaken for cultural acceptance,
In a positive thinking culture that encourages a prosperity gospel with good thoughts and words of peace toward everyone,
Stephen provides a benchmark of one who obeys God rather than men.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Church leadership 101

Read Acts 6.

With the explosive growth of the church in Jerusalem came the first recorded dissension.  Though most would have been bilingual in using Aramaic and Greek, there existed some tension between those Jews native to Israel, Jews who moved there from outside the country, and Gentiles who embraced faith in Jesus.

The environment of generosity, mentioned in chapter two, particularly benefited the widows and others who struggled within the congregation.  Criticism arose that the Greek speaking widows "were being neglected."  To put an end to the criticism, the Apostles appointed seven men to be charge.  All seven had Greek names.

This is the first mention of delegation of responsibilities in the church.  And, it is the simplest of leadership plans.
1. There were those who devoted themselves "to prayer and the ministry of the word" (v.4).
2. There were those who served to meet specific needs.

However, ministering in the name of Jesus, representing the body of believers, and fulfilling a fiduciary assignment required much more than a willingness to serve.  Each was selected based upon their personal reputation, personal character, and an obvious godliness.  The result was two-fold: a)the original criticism is never mentioned again in Scripture; b)"And the word of God continued to increase, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests became obedient to the faith."

These men, often referred to as the first Deacons in the church, could also minister the word of God.  Stephen is immediately mentioned as speaking for Christ and defending the faith.  In chapter 7, he became the first recorded martyr for Christ.  Philip led the Ethiopian to Jesus and baptized him in chapter 8.  In Acts 21, when the Apostle Paul made his way back to Jerusalem, he stopped in Caesarea to see Philip.  There Philip is called "the evangelist, who was one of the seven."

So, while the assignment to serve may have seemed merely practical, it is obvious that each one was involved in obeying the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20).  It was not just the main preacher's job to know the Scriptures and to lead others to Jesus.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

What confidence in God's word will Bring

Read Acts 5.

The church in Jerusalem was growing by the thousands.  In chapter 2 there were 3,000 baptized believers who had banded together for mutual spiritual growth, accountability, and service.  "And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved." (2:47)  In 4:4, the number of believers had grown to 5,000.  Here in 5:14, the congregation was expanding exponentially.  "And more than ever believers were added to the Lord, multitudes of both men and women..."

The twelve Apostles continued to lead, to minister to the human needs of the sick and afflicted, and to preach publicly.  This became an overwhelming challenge to the religious leaders.  Jealousy motivated the Sanhedrin to react.  Without charge of a crime, the Apostles were arrested and imprisoned.  But the word of God would not be silenced.

Verse 19 records the first of three times in Acts where God opened prison doors.  The angel told them to preach right on the Temple steps.  Their mission was to "speak to the people all the words of this Life."  Jesus said, "I came that they may have life and have it abundantly" (John 10:10b)  And, later Jesus added, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life." (John 14:6)  They proclaimed Jesus, crucified for our sins and raised as proof of being the Messiah, God in the flesh.

Though the council threatened them to stop, by the empowerment of the Holy Spirit, these men stood firm.  "We must obey God rather than men" (v.29).  The only hope the Sanhedrin had was that, perhaps, this Jesus movement would die out on its own.  It did not.  It continues to grow day by day, "more than ever."

Beaten and released, the Apostles rejoiced "that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name" (v.41).  That is certainly not a natural response to be being falsely arrested, threatened, and beaten.  But faith in Jesus provides the believer with an eternal perspective on temporal circumstances.

2 Timothy 3:12 reminds us, "Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted."  That is, not "may" but "will".  We do not go looking for such rejection, but in the process of living a changed life not everyone will appreciate our stand for the word of God.  One of the signs of maturity in our faith is the ability to implement that understanding when an unpopular decision must be made and the resultant persecution comes our way.   Ducking such times of rejection shows an absence of faith in Christ or an immaturity that lacks confidence in God's word.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Elements of a confident Faith

Read Acts 4.

Peter and John continued to publicly proclaim the resurrected Jesus.  With a large crowd gathered at the Temple, it did  not take long for the religious leaders to react.  When they heard the message from Peter and John and saw the response of the people, they immediately felt threatened.  They thought they could stop Jesus, but He is alive.  They had to stop the Apostles.  Peter and John were arrested and spent the night in jail without being charged of any wrong.

The next day, the Sanhedrin met to confront and intimidate the men.  Their questions and concerns were multiple and not all were voiced.
1. Authority (v.7)
The Sanhedrin saw themselves as the only ones to authorize the teaching about God and the Scriptures.  The problem was that the Pharisees held their traditions in equal or higher authority than the Old Testament.  The Sadducees did not go beyond the Pentateuch in their reverence for Scripture and they did not believe in the resurrection anyone, let alone Jesus.  Add to this that since Peter and John had not been educated as they were (v.13), there was no respect for these disciples of Jesus.

Peter's answer to "what power or by what name did you do this?" was direct and clear.  He spoke by the name (authority) of Jesus "whom you crucified."

2. Evidence (v.14)
What prompted this scene began in chapter 3 with the healing of a 40 year-old lame man.  The man had been unable to walk since birth.  This well-known beggar outside the Temple was "walking and leaping and praising God" (3:8).  The miracle validated the message.  God's power displayed was a "sign" to them (v.15).  "They had nothing to say in opposition."

Faced with such undeniable evidence of this man and the empty tomb, their hard hearts rejected what God was trying to say to them.  This falls into the category of "Don't bother me with the facts.  My mind is made up."  Since no crime had been committed, only good, all they could do was dismiss Peter and John (v.15).

3. Boldness (vv.23-37)
How were these followers of Christ able to stand up for their faith in this way?  First, they were filled with the Spirit (v.8).  They yielded themselves to God's authority and control.  As a result, they spoke with boldness, or "frankness, bluntness," with confidence.  A person who has doubts about the truthfulness of God's word and lacks the empowerment of the Holy Spirit will speak hesitantly of their faith and allow other opinions.  Afterwards, they prayed to be able to continue to speak with boldness.

Note that they were not being obnoxious in their boldness.  Their great confidence was in the uniqueness of the message.  "And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved" (v.12).  Their great power (v.33a) was not based on personality but the Holy Spirit working through them.  Their great grace (v.33b) was demonstrated in the open display of generosity toward other believers.

Monday, March 7, 2016

The miracle and the Message

Read Acts 3.

God used the miracles to validate the message.  Peter and John healed this man whom everyone knew had been lame since birth.  The news spread and a crowd gathered.  This provided a spontaneous preaching opportunity.

In some fifteen verses, we have a full gospel presentation to the people of Israel.  Here Peter synthesized the key Old Testament prophecies and declared that Jesus is the Messiah.  The key elements are all here.

1. The Gospel. (v.15)
The Apostle Paul defined the Gospel as: "that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures" (1 Corinthians 15:1-3).

2. Personal Repentance. (v.19 and 26)
Turning from one's sin and turning to Jesus by faith in Him alone results in forgiveness by God; "blotted out," literally "to obliterate" or wipe away one's sin debt.

3. National Restoration. (vv. 20-21)
All the prophecies concerning a future king and the restoration of the kingdom on earth will be fulfilled when Jesus returns.  That kingdom will last for one thousand years (Revelation 20:1-6).

4. The Promised Prophet. (v.22-23)
Peter claimed that Jesus was/is that person of whom Moses prophesied in Deuteronomy 18.

5. The Abrahamic Covenant. (v.25)
God has not forgotten nor reneged on His everlasting promises to Israel.  In Genesis 12, 15 and 17,  God made an unconditional, one-party covenant.  It included:
-Land.  The boundaries are given in Genesis 15:18-20.
-Descendants.  The family of Abraham would become innumerable.
-Blessing.  God promised to bless those who bless Abraham's descendants and curse those who curse them.  In addition, "in you all the families of the earth will be blessed."  Humanly, Jesus is a descendant of Abraham and by faith in Him we get to enjoy the blessing.

6. To the Jews First. (v.26)
The Gospel was always intended to be offered to the entire world (John 10:16).  But the good news of Jesus began here with the Jews.  The Apostle Paul wrote to the Roman believers, "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." (Romans 1:16)

Thursday, March 3, 2016

When life is going in the wrong Direction

Read Acts 2.

What better way to quickly spread the Gospel throughout the Roman world than this!  The Holy Spirit came upon these disciples as Jesus promised.  With Jews gathered in Jerusalem for the annual celebration of Pentecost, they heard "the mighty works of God" being proclaimed in their own languages.  This unusual event not only gained their attention and drew a crowd, but it provided a platform for Peter to preach the good news about Jesus.

As a nation, Israel had rejected Jesus.  The religious leaders of the day claimed Jesus was empowered by Satan.  Though the crucifixion was all "according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God" (v.23), the message presented human responsibility in no uncertain terms.  "This Jesus whom you crucified" (v.36).  Jesus taught in John 16 that the Holy Spirit would convict of sin.  "Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart" (v.37).

It is one thing to feel the pang of sin.  It is quite another to desire to resolve the problem.  When these listeners heard the message and were pricked in their conscience, they responded: "Brothers, what shall we do?"

The good news of Jesus is that forgiveness and life-change is available to all.  The remainder of this chapter provides an outline of what is required by all who desire to have eternal life and then to grow as a child of God.  What Peter said was in exactly the Lord's command in Matthew 28:18-20.
1. Repent.
The word means to turn.  It requires one to admit they have gone in the wrong direction and sinning against God.  Then, realizing that Jesus died for our sins, one must turn to the Lord for forgiveness.  That repentance saves one from eternal judgment and births them into the family God.

2. Be baptized.
This is the New Testament means of outwardly and publicly declaring one's faith in Jesus.  There is no power in the water.  Being let down into the water and raised back up, symbolizes what took place already on the inside.  It is a picture of the death of the old self and that God has made that one a new creation in Christ Jesus (2 Corinthians 5:17).

3. The gift of the Holy Spirit.
At the moment of salvation in Jesus, "you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit".  He takes up permanent residence in the life of the believer.  He is the seal and guarantee of our eternal life (Ephesians 1:13-14).  He affirms that we belong to Christ.  "Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him" (Romans 8:9b).

4. Added to the fellowship.
When a person was saved and baptized, they became an official part of the congregation of believers in Jerusalem.  The New Testament knows nothing about "lone ranger" Christians.  True believers gladly engage themselves in a committed body of believers for the purpose of mutual growth and service.  Without  this, one will never grow up spiritually and be all that God has designed that person to be.