Archives for posts with tag: Acts

And the Lord said to Paul one night in a vision, “Do not be afraid, but go on speaking and do not be silent, for I am with you, and no one will attack you to harm you, for I have many in this city who are my people.”” (Acts 18:9–10, ESV)

I love the words:  I have many in this city who are my people!  To understand why, you have to understand the background of Corinth.  The city sat on a major land and sea transportation route.  It was the third largest city in the Roman Empire at the time containing an estimated 150,000 freemen and another 450,000 slaves.

Corinth was kind of a cross between New York City and Las Vegas.  It was both a major trade center and a town where licentiousness and immorality was so strong that the word “to corinthianize” came into the Greek language as a verb that meant “to live wantonly.”

It was in this city with its mix of rich and poor, free and slave; with it’s penchant for sexual immorality and partying, that the Lord told Paul he had many in this city who are my people. Amidst the paganism and wanton living, God was going to reach down and save many people and bring them to faith and Paul and his companions were the chief instruments that God was going to use to accomplish this great and beautiful task.

We tend to think that God is least likely to work where the people are the most immoral, but God isn’t boxed in by our assumptions about how he works.  He is pleased to draw people to faith from every background, from every class of society, and from both the immoral and those who fancy themselves good and moral (though they are neither).  Indeed, it often seems that the least likely to come to faith are the ones who do come to faith most often.

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We are in Day 53 of our expedition through the NLT Chronological Bible and today we begin the book of Acts.  Written by Luke, this book has been referred to in church history as “The Acts of the Apostles,” but in reality it should be “The Acts of the Holy Spirit.”

There is a radical and fundamental change that overcomes the disciples after Jesus’ resurrection and ascension and we know exactly when this change takes place.  On the Day of Pentecost (which came 50 days after the Passover, when Christ was crucified) while the fledgling little group that Jesus left behind when he ascended into heaven is meeting, the Holy Spirit comes upon them suddenly and they are changed.

Peter gets up to speak to the crowd that is gathered in Jerusalem for Pentecost and this is not a Peter with which we are familiar.  He is bold.  He speaks frankly and directly.  He does not appear to fear the authorities any more, nor, we come to find out, does John.  Indeed, when the pair are arrested for preaching in the temple some time later, at their trial Peter and John proclaim to the council (who happen to be the same people who interrogated Jesus, then had him crucified!):

“Do you think God wants us to obey you rather than him? We cannot stop telling about everything we have seen and heard.” (Acts 4:19–20, NLT)

This is the work and power of the Holy Spirit within the disciples.

Persecution of the believers begins and it is led by a young, fervent, (self)righteous man named, Saul.  While on a trip to Damascus to find and imprison followers of Christ, Luke recounts what happens to Saul.  After being surprised by a sudden bright light in the sky, Saul:

“Fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul! Saul! Why are you persecuting me?” “Who are you, lord?” Saul asked. And the voice replied, “I am Jesus, the one you are persecuting! (Acts 9:4–5, NLT)

Saul is radically and fundamentally changed also by his encounter with the living Jesus on the road to Damascus.  This will have wide-ranging consequences for the church, for church history, and in a weird way for us 2000 years removed, because Paul will become the apostle to the Gentiles, of which I myself am one.

It takes Jesus wrestling a self-righteous Pharisee to the ground and humbling him and drawing him to faith, for me to be reached with the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ some 2000 years later.  I am grateful for this.

 

“When neither sun nor stars appeared for many days, and no small storm continued to rage, all hope of our being saved was at last abandoned.” (Acts 27:20)

Luke writes concerning the vicious storm in which he and Paul, a centurion and Roman soldiers assigned to bring Paul to Rome, and many other people were trapped.  On board were experienced sailors [of which Luke appears to have been one himself] so when he writes that all hope of being saved was abandoned, we can be sure that the ship and all 276 people who were on it, were in existential danger.

They had not, however, reckoned with Paul’s God.  God had a plan to get Paul to Rome and of course that plan was going to be accomplished and as a sign that it was going to be accomplished, an angel appeared to Paul to tell him.

“For there stood by me this night an angel of the God whose I am and whom I serve, saying, ‘Do not be afraid, Paul; you must stand before Caesar; and behold, God has granted you as a gift all those who sail with you.” (Acts 27:23–24)

Thus the angel prophesied, and so it was done.  Eventually all souls on board the ship made it safely to shore.  God did what he said he would do.

The God that we serve today is the same God whom Paul served.  We do not often see visions in our day [though it appears that the Islamic world is somewhat different], but God is still God and will accomplish his purpose for us and stormy winds and raging seas are no barrier to Him doing so.

[Side note:  My son, a pastor, just returned from a trip to a Middle Eastern country and while there he heard the testimony of a guy who had received a vision of a man telling him to walk 45 minutes in a certain direction, because he needed to meet someone.  The man walked 45 minutes, stopped in front of the building that was next to him and went inside.  There was a man waiting who said, “I’ve been waiting for you to appear.”  The man led him to faith in Christ.]

Acts 18:27 And when he wanted to continue on into  Achaia, the brothers encouraged him and wrote to the disciples to welcome him. When he arrived there, he greatly helped those who had come to believe through  grace. (Mounce NT)

The Complete Word Study Bible defines “grace” as: “A favor done without expectation of return; the absolutely free expression of the loving kindness of God to men finding its only motive in the bounty and benevolence of the Giver; unearned and unmerited favor.” We have a good example of what this means in Acts 18.27.

Remember that Luke, no doubt due to the fact that he was a physician, is very precise and careful in his use of theological terms.  Here Luke is describing the ministry of Apollos and how many responded to his preaching of the gospel and came to believe through grace.  We expect Luke to write that many people came to believe through the preaching of Apollos, or through the preaching of the apostles, but Luke knows that this isn’t accurate.  Yes, Apollos played his part, but those who came to follow Jesus by faith did so because of grace, not Apollos.

Here is why this is such a crucial and happy fact:  God doesn’t need an Apollos to draw us to faith.  He can use a terrible Methodist preacher as he did with Charles Spurgeon; He can use the death of an unknown, suffering person in the next hotel room (who turned out to be a close, colleague from college), as he did with Adoniram Judson; or He can even use no one in particular, as he did with my wife who came to faith wandering around a graveyard.  God doesn’t need an Apollos because he uses grace.  Thank the Lord that He uses men like Apollos, he doesn’t need them, but he uses them, but everything is ultimately of grace, the sheer bounty and benevolence of the Good Giver.

 

Acts 15:3 So being sent on their way by the church, they went through  both Phoenicia and Samaria, narrating in detail the conversion of the Gentiles, and brought great joy to all the brothers.

I was reading through Acts 15 this morning and came across vs. 3 in which we discover that the news that many Gentiles were coming to faith brought "great joy" to the church [which at the time was composed mainly of Jews]. I began to wonder what else brought the believers "great joy." Here are some things:

  • The discovery of the resurrection of Jesus. Matt. 28:8 So they left the tomb at once, with fear and great joy, and ran to break the news to his disciples.
  • The demonstration of the power of the gospel under Philip's preaching. Acts 8:8 So there was great joy in that city.
  • The news that followers of Christ were walking in the truth. 3John 4 I have no greater joy than this: to hear that  my children are walking in the truth.
  • Our reaction when we stand in God's glorious presence. Jude 24 Now to the one who is able to keep you from stumbling, and to make you stand in his glorious presence  without blame and with great joy

Great joy then comes in the knowledge of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, that he is not dead, but that he has risen and this leads both to the salvation of our own souls and the promise of our own resurrection. Great joy comes in seeing the work of the Holy Spirit extended to people whom we did not expect to see follow Jesus. Great joy comes when we see the working of the Holy Spirit in power as people come to faith and as those who are sick are healed. Great joy comes to us as we see fellow believers overcoming the temptation to live according to the world's standards and embrace and live according to the truth of God's word. Finally, this great joy will extend into the gates of heaven itself as we stand in the presence of our Great God with everyone else who has been washed clean by the blood of Jesus, who has been forgiven, and who stands before God's presence with us in great joy.

Amen and Amen!

“When he had seized him, he put him in prison, handing him over to four squads of four soldiers each to guard him, intending after the Passover to bring him out to the people. So Peter was kept in prison, but prayer was made earnestly to God for him by the church.” (Acts 12:4–5)

As near as we can tell from what Luke describes, Peter was imprisoned in this way.  There were 16 soldiers that were responsible for guarding him.  He was shackled with two chains. He was not dressed with his outer clothes. He was behind at least two locked doors…and he arose, followed the angel and everything opened for him.  He simply walked right out of that prison.

It’s interesting how Luke connects his rescue with prayer from the broader church.  Frederik Meyer writes: “a praying household is stronger than the strongest precautions of human might.”

And so it is.

“So the church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria had peace; being built up, and walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it increased in number.” (Acts 9:31)

There is an interesting juxtaposition in Acts 8 an 9.  At the beginning the fledgling church is under threat by Saul of Tarsus:

“But Saul was making havoc of the church; entering every house, he dragged off both men and women and put them in prison.Now those who were scattered went from place to place preaching the word” (Acts 8:3–4)

While Saul was rabidly persecuting the church, the church was under pressure and so Christians fled away from Jerusalem to various parts of Israel and even beyond.  Then Saul got radically saved while on the way to Damascus to continue his oppression of Christians there.  He suddenly began preaching for faith in Christ!

The result is listed in our verse.  Paul was no longer in pursuit of Christians and so the broader church was at peace and then: It increased in number.

When the church was under pressure it was increasing in number due to Christians being spread out and preaching the word.  When it was at peace it was also increasing in number.  This is something that only the Lord could bring about in his sovereignty.  It should also make us think twice about our assumptions of how and where the Word of God will bear fruit.