Acts 11 – To the Ends of the Earth

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In the opening of Acts, Jesus tells His followers they would be His witnesses.  He spoke of a series of expanding concentric circles which they would be ministering in.  It only takes us 10 chapters to move out from the center to “the ends of the earth.”  And it only takes us 11 chapters to see resistance from within when it comes to ministering to those on the “outside.”

Yet Peter has no hesitations about his explanation, speaking clearly about the vision God showed him.  Those who heard him were quick to believe too.  I often wonder if we would be so quick to believe Peter if this happened today.

To me, it is interesting how closely this mirrors some contemporary issues that my denomination has and is facing.  While Peter received this message from the Lord, and those who heard him believed this message, it was slow to be implemented throughout the Church at that time.  This has been the case for us as well.  As we have struggled with different issues (women severing in leadership, children at the Lord’s Table, etc.), leaders have seen a clear message from God in Scripture that reveals to us an inclusion and an openness that welcomes God’s people and their gifts.  However, the churches of the denomination have been slow to respond.  Acts 11 shows us that we aren’t the only ones to struggle with this though, to support something verbally while reject it in practice.

This chapter, however, also gives us hope that as the Holy Spirit continues to move through the Church, building her up and molding her into the true bride of Christ, we will see more of this lived out in our actions; a testimony of God’s love and the anointing of the Holy Spirit on all who believe.



Acts 10 – Clean and Unclean

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As the Gospel continues to spread in the first century, there were many barriers to overcome.  We’ve see persecution and even language barriers be overcome through the work of the Holy Spirit.  One thing that happens here, something that is abundantly important to the rest of the world, is the Gospel going out to the gentiles.

Until now, all that we have read has been primarily a movement within Judaism itself, a sort of Jewish reformation. When the believers were scattered, they would go to the synagogues of other towns and preach the name of Jesus in those places.  They would go to the people that were familiar, keeping to tradition of Israel that encouraged avoidance of outsiders (which is completely contrary to the Law, but that is another subject for another time).

Here Peter receives a revelation of the true nature of the Gospel and its impact: God, in Jesus Christ, has taken the unclean and made it clean.  Jesus’ death was a once for all sacrifice for the sins of the whole world; the truest, deepest realization of His statements, “I AM the Light of the World,” “I AM the Way, the Truth, and the Life, no one comes to the Father  accept through me,” and all the other I AM statements too.  Through Him, this way has been open to all people who place their faith in Jesus Christ.

In many ways, this is the beginning of the reality of freedom that comes in Christ Jesus.  Through sin, the world was made unclean, but in Christ Jesus, all of that has been reversed and true restoration has happened and is happening.  This is the nature of the Kingdom of Heaven, the realization of the redemption of the whole universe through the work of Jesus Christ.



Acts 9 – Saul (aka: Paul)

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The conversion of Saul, more commonly known in the New Testament as Paul, is arguably the 5th most significant event of the New Testament.  Behind the Birth, Death, Resurrection, and Ascension of Jesus, Paul’s coming to know Jesus Christ as His Lord and Savior has profound repercussions throughout the whole of Christianity.  He is credited with authoring nearly half of the New Testament, all of the books following Acts from Romans through Philemon.  Much of what He wrote also has become the basis for our Theologies and Doctrines in the Church throughout history.

Yet Paul, despite all the depth of relationship that He has with God in Jesus Christ, and with all of the revelation, He receives through the Holy Spirit, remains profoundly humble, truly living into the example the Christ teaches: “He who would be great must be your servant.”  Never once do we see Him lording over others his encounter with Christ, his understanding of the Gospel, or his influence over the church.  Instead, he faithfully preaches the Gospel, plants churches throughout the Roman empire, and lovingly corresponds with them working to help them deepen their faith and understand their identity in Jesus Christ.

As we get to know Paul better over the course of the book of Acts, and later in his own writings, we get the sense that he has a deep understanding of Christ’s work and its meaning.  Maybe it is because of the revelation he receives from God and/or the application of Old Testament Scriptures that he knew well.  But one thing strikes me: never once does he claim to be “ahead” of anyone.  In fact, in the midst of his work, he consistently “counts it all for nothing” for the sake of the Gospel.  This is an example we should follow.



Acts 8 – Scattered

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Throughout history, the persecution of the church has almost always led to the expansion of the Gospel.  There are a lot of potential reasons why this is, one of which has to do with the physical scattering of believers to other areas.  Until this point, the Apostles and those who became believers were operating in Jerusalem and likely its surrounding towns.  But when persecution broke out, we read that people were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria.  This is the second move outward that Jesus spoke of before he ascended into heaven.

The reality of the identity of the people of God, though, is one of being a “sent people.”  Israel was always meant to be a light to the nations.  Jesus told His disciples that they are the salt of the earth.  Throughout His ministry even, Jesus would send out His followers ahead of Him, all the time declaring the “good news of the Kingdom of Heaven.”

So it isn’t much of a surprise that, when the people of God move outward, whether by choice or by force, that the Gospel of God spreads and lives are changed.

Sometimes believers actually need that push to move outside the places of comfort in their lives.  One of the problems plaguing the Church in North America is the lack of outward movement.  Churches invest vast sums of money into buildings for “ministry” purposes that really are simply creature comforts.  When we do find ourselves pushed out of our norms, we will often be found complaining about the lack of comfort, not spreading the Gospel to everyone we see.

In reality, we face little, if any persecution in the United States, something we are thankful for and celebrate, but ironically enough may also be the reason we find ourselves so complacent.



Acts 7 – Stephen

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We first met Stephen in chapter 6 when he was chosen as one of the 7 original deacons.  Stephen is described as “full of the Holy Spirit” and able to do “great wonders and signs.”  His witness to Jesus Christ gets him hauled in front of the Sanhedrin, the whole counsel of religious leaders in Jerusalem.  Think of it as a joint session of the U.S. congress.

While before them, he is questioned vigorously by the authorities and they even bring in false witnesses to testify against him.  They twist his words and think that they have him backed into a corner.  Some things, it seems, never change.

However, Stephen’s testimony is nothing less than spectacular.  Driven by the Holy Spirit, a promise Jesus gave His disciples back in Matthew 10 and Luke 12, Stephen recounts the history of the people of God, drawing it all forward to the one person that all of Scripture points: Jesus Christ.

From Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, through Egypt with Moses, Stephen shows how God has been working and continues to work to bring salvation to His people.

All this time, the religious leaders are worried that they are going to get blamed for Jesus’ death.  When Stephen accuses them of also being related to those who “killed the prophets,” they loose it.

Ultimately Stephen looses his life for the testimony that he gave here.  He becomes the first recorded martyr for Christianity.  We see something here that far too often we forget: even here, God is with Stephen.

We worry so much about what other people are going to call us or think about us when we testify to our faith.  Sticks and stones may break our bones, but by the word of our testimony will they know who we are and whose we are.



Psalm 115 – "For Thine is the Kingdom…"

The Lord’s prayer sets up a structure for our prayer life, one that always comes back to God and is never ending.  Like breathing, something we do constantly and that gives us life, our relationship and conversation with God should be ongoing and unceasing.



Psalm 115 "For Thine is the Kingdom…"

The Lord’s prayer sets up a structure for our prayer life, one that always comes back to God and is never ending.  Like breathing, something we do constantly and that gives us life, our relationship and conversation with God should be ongoing and unceasing.



Acts 6 – Deacons

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Many agree that this beginning narrative was the founding of the role of “deacon” within the Church.  Deacons are called to serve and oversee the physical needs of both the church and the community in which they serve.  For many churches, this has defaulted to overseeing the budget process and making sure that the churches finances are in order.  It has also meant the creation of funds that are specific for benevolence.  To be clear, none of this is inherently bad.

However, there has been a disturbing trend within the Church in North America that often creeps its way into how deacons operate within their churches.  We don’t always like to get our hands dirty in the work, believing that others are more suitable, more equipped, and have a “special calling” to go and ‘do ministry,’ whether local or abroad.  Instead, we are content to just throw money at these people or ministries.  It makes us feel like we are helping and participating without having to put any skin in the game.

This mindset has crept into our deacon boards who have often taken the position that, as long as the finances are in order, we are doing our job well and are ready to respond when a need arises.

While this is all well and good, and we should be ready for such needs, I wonder if we have maybe gotten a bit lazy in matters such as this.  I wonder if, instead of waiting for problems to come to us, we should be going out and meeting people where they are?  After all, Jesus’ commission to us was to “go into all the world,” not wait for the desperate and desolate to come to us.  Acting in this way could redefine and reinvigorate the Church’s witness.



Acts 5 – Giving Everything

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The story of Ananias and Sapphira comes on the heels of chapter 4’s conclusion that the believers had all things in common and because of this, no one among them was needy.  How this came to be, apparently, was through the selling of possessions and pooling their money.  It is a testimony to them living out Jesus’ teaching to love one another and to care for those that are marginalized.  In fact, most of the early church was made up of those on the fringes of society who have found both healing and redemption in Jesus’ name.

So when this couple comes to them, pretending to be a part of them, and yet still holding on to selfish motives, Peter calls them out.  It isn’t that what they did in principle was wrong.  In fact, Peter tells them that the money was theirs to do with as they pleased.  Indeed, it was the principle of the matter; true benevolence is a matter of the heart, not founded on empty actions or lies.  God doesn’t truly care about money, He wants your heart.

Remember the story of the widow’s mite in Luke 21?  Her offering amounted to throwing a penny in the offering plate, but it was honored by Jesus because of her willingness to give everything she had.

Contrast the beginning and end of this chapter.  A couple lies about their giving and winds up dead.  Peter and John continue preaching the Gospel, fully determined to spread the news about Jesus.  They hold nothing back, wind up in prison and are flogged for teaching about Jesus in the synagogue.  Yet here they have found true life and even rejoice in the persecution “rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name.”  What a stark difference!



Acts 4 – Prayer Power

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After Peter and John are released from their interrogation by the religious leaders, yet another opportunity that they took to spread the Gospel Message, they returned to those who believed.  Likely the other disciples, who are now called Apostles, were there too.

Scripture says that, upon their return, the first thing they did after reporting what had taken place was to pray.  This wasn’t simply a passing “thank you God for protecting us” type of prayer, but rather a deep prayer of acknowledgement of God’s faithfulness and power shown through Jesus Christ.  It is also a petition that God would continue to show that power in the midst of the threats and turmoil that they continued to face.

I wonder how often we turn to prayer like this in the face of turmoil in our lives… or in our culture?  Scripture says that when they prayed like this, both committing to continue in God’s name and asking for the Holy Spirit to empower them to advance God’s Kingdom, that the whole room shook and they were filled with the Holy Spirit.  It was almost like a second Pentecost!

Sometimes it seems like, when confronted with things that challenge our faith, we more readily turn to social media to complain than to pray and ask for the Spirit’s guidance.  More often than not, the resistance that is put up from the church comes in the form of memes, not prayer.

The simple fact is that our power does not come from our prowess on social media, just like the newest, latest, and greatest of anything doesn’t guarantee the advance of the Gospel.  It is the Holy Spirit’s work in our lives that yields the fruit that Jesus talked about throughout His ministry.  This is what we must pray for.



Acts 3 – Gospel Message

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After healing the crippled man, which in an of itself was a testimony to the power that they had received from the Holy Spirit, Peter addresses the crowd that had gathered at the Temple.  They had gone there to worship God but instead found themselves confronted with a much greater reality of God’s love and power in Jesus Christ.

Peter’s message, however, is not new to us.  If you read Acts 2 yesterday you might notice some similar language and themes that are present here.  Why?  Because Peter is presenting the Gospel.

Today, it seems, churches throughout North America are focusing on new ways to reach people with the message of Jesus.  We feel that we need to be flashy and fresh with our message, our music, our building, our mission, and even possibly, our leadership.  People feel the need to fit the Gospel into cultural movements so that it becomes more relevant.

Yet here Peter’s message is consistent.  We aren’t told how many days have passed since Pentecost when Peter addressed the crowd that had gathered.  It is, however, safe to say that some of these people had heard, or heard of Peter on that Pentecost day.  Does that mean that Peter’s felt the need to change the message He preached?  No.

The message of the Gospel needs no assistance in reaching people.  In fact, the Holy Spirit works through the preaching of God’s Word wherever it happens.  Our desires to “dress it up” and “make it new” reflect a rather shallow opinion of what the Holy Spirit can and will do when God’s Word is proclaimed.

Now, this doesn’t give us an excuse to not study God’s Word, but it does remind us of the priority of the Spirit’s work in the spread of the Gospel Message.



Acts 2 – Pentecost

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The day of Pentecost is, for Christians, one of the most important days of the year; its significance is upstaged only by Christ’s birth, death, and resurrection.  As Jesus was preparing to leave this earth, He comforted His disciples that a helper would be sent to be with them.  Pentecost sees this promise fulfilled.

There are a number of things that begin to happen here, impacts of the pouring out of the Holy Spirit on all who believe in Jesus.  While this outpouring is important, we actually begin to see the beginnings of God’s restorative work in the world; the realization of the Kingdom of Heaven here on earth.

Pentecost was the day that Jewish people celebrated the giving of the Law of Moses.  That Law represented a specific revelation of God to His people in how He called them to live.  Yet when the Holy Spirit is poured out, the limitation of ethnicity disappears, a fulfillment of the prophecy of Joel:

And afterward,
    I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy,
    your old men will dream dreams,
    your young men will see visions.
Even on my servants, both men and women,
    I will pour out my Spirit in those days.”

More than this, however, is the fundamental reversal of the curse of babel.  At the tower of Babel, all language was confused separating and dividing people.  Yet here, as the Holy Spirit comes, this division again disappears and all people hear the Gospel clearly.

This is the teaching of Jesus about the Kingdom of Heaven coming to pass.  In God’s Kingdom, there are no more divisions, no more broken relationships; “there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for we are all one in Christ Jesus.”



Psalm 91 "Lead us not into temptation…"

We all struggle through trials and hardships in life and, though God is not responsible for causing them, He does allow us to go through them and faithfully walks alongside us during them.  Praying that God would “save us from the times of trial” creates space for the Holy Spirit to work in our hearts that we may listen better to what God teaching us and trust more in God’s faithful and steadfast protection.



Acts 1 – Ascension

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The beginning of the book of Acts contains within it a number of “housekeeping” things.  Luke covers and introduction and explanation of why he continues to write.  He also talks about the replacement of Judas Iscariot, who went out and hanged himself after betraying Jesus and unsuccessfully trying to take it back.

In the middle of all of this, however, is an event that is of paramount importance to the Christian faith: Jesus’ ascension.  Christ’s human presence in heaven is important for many reasons and the event of His ascension, sadly, receives little fanfare or remembrance in the Church.

So why is this so important and how does it benefit us?  How is this even possible if we talk about Christ always being with us, yet we know that He is in heaven?  The answers to this can be found in Creeds and Confessions of the Church.  Of particular interest today is the Heidelberg Catechism, Lord’s Day 18.

Christ’s presence in heaven is a comfort for us because we know that He is seated at the right hand of God the Father, ruling and reigning with Him and the Holy Spirit, one God, for all eternity.  At the same time, we also know that we have an advocate in heaven who is interceding for His people all the time.

Jesus is both fully human and fully divine, so we have confidence also that “we have our own flesh in heaven as a sure pledge that Christ our head will also take us, his members, up to himself.”

Finally, Jesus promises in John 16, that, though He was going away, His departure would signal the sending of the Holy Spirit, something He promises His followers here.  The Holy Spirit’s presence unifies us with Christ to be His body here on earth.



Introduction to Acts

The book of Acts is the first book following the Gospels but is also linked very closely to them, particularly the book of Luke.  Acts is Luke’s second volume, a companion book the Gospel of Luke, that follows the expansion of the Church after Jesus ascends into heaven.

At the beginning, Jesus gives a charge to His followers before He returns to heaven.  “You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”  This is effectively the “thesis statement” for the book of Acts.  Luke follows the work of Peter and the apostles, and then the work of Paul as the message of Christ spreads in ever expanding circles throughout the Roman Empire.

Acts is the only book deemed “historical” as a writing genre.  What this means is that there is less teaching associated with it and more recording that takes place.  We will see more narratives of things that happened and less of the teaching that we have seen Jesus doing in the course of His ministry.  That said, there is still plenty that God’s Word will teach us in this book.

Finally, a note about the language of the “early church” that refers to Acts and is used in our contemporary church today.  We will observe a number of ways that the Church functioned in the setting of the first century under Roman rule.  The book of Acts is by no means “prescriptive” of the “ideal” church, but rather a record of God’s faithfulness in building the Church.  Rather than trying to copy what they did, something incredibly difficult for us in the 21st century, it is important that our focus is drawn to the One who provided for, empowered, and sustained the Church in these difficult times.