Acts 4 – Prayer Power

Read Acts 4

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

Read Acts 3

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.

Day 317: Acts 1-2; Introduction to Acts

We turn a corner today, from the Gospels to the only book that is classified as a historical book in the New Testament; the book of Acts.  Sometimes called “The Acts of the Apostles” this book that is written by the same author as the book of Luke chronicles the early founding and expansion of the “Church,” or perhaps better stated the Church of Jesus Christ.  Many would contend that the Church has been present since the beginning of time in the people of God, however the Church in its current context includes both Jews and Gentiles in a new form that wasn’t necessarily present before the Incarnation of Christ Jesus.  As this book is a continuation of the book of Luke, written by the same author to the same person, we should remember at the end of Luke we left the disciples and followers of Jesus on the mount of Olives where Jesus “departed” from them.  He had promised to send the Holy Spirit, which is elaborated on in Acts 1:

It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority.  But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.

It is from this point that we then being our journey of the first 30 or so years of the new movement that, for a long time, was called “The Way.”  We read a short narrative of what happened to Judas the betrayer and how they filled his position within the group of Apostles with Matthias who brings their numbers back to the full 12, but then is not heard from again.  I often wonder what role he played in the early church.

From there we come to what many people consider the “birthday” of the Church, the day of Pentecost.  There are a lot of interesting details about this day that we don’t often focus on.  In our contemporary context, the focus has been placed (and rightly so) on the out-pouring of the Holy Spirit onto all of the believers which, for all intents and purposes, ushered in the “church age” and began the movement of believers spreading the Gospel throughout the entire world.  This day, however, is actually also Jewish holiday when the Hebrew people celebrated the giving of the Law to Moses on Mount Sinai.  It is certainly interesting and somewhat ironic that the Lord would chose this day as the one to pour out the Holy Spirit onto the believers of Christ Jesus and begin the Gospel movement.

As we talked about yesterday, the coming of the Spirit brought about a dramatic reversal of the happening of the tower of Babel.  For the first time (arguably) since the confusing of the languages, the Word of God and the good news of Jesus Christ was heard in every tongue, the Grace and Mercy of God was revealed to all people!  This was the first sermon, if you don’t count the teachings of Jesus, in the New Testament and it flowed directly from the Holy Spirit.  More over, on the day that the people celebrated the giving of the Law, something that had been used as a tool of condemnation and repression in the spiritual lives of the Jews, the Gospel of Grace through the blood of Jesus Christ!  The result?  About 3,000 people were brought to faith that day!  I’d say that is a good first day’s work for Peter’s first day preaching.

Finally, we start to get a glimpse of what the early church looked like in these first weeks and months as they gathered and grew in Jerusalem.  There are many people and churches that think that this is the model of how the Church should be operating even now in the 21st century.  While what they were doing was all well and good for that time, we have to understand that what we are reading here is coming out of a particular context and they were doing these things for a particular reason.  There are certain principles that have been carried throughout history and tradition as being a necessary part of what it means to “do church,” like being devoted to the Word and prayer, even breaking bread together in some instances, but there are other things that have changed throughout the years, and that is okay too.  The point and purpose of this writing has more to do with the fact that the Holy Spirit has been pours out and God is continuing His work with His people to be a light to the nations.  What we are seeing here and what we will continue to see is how the Holy Spirit is moving and working in the lives of believers to spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ from Jerusalem to Judea to Samaria, and to the ends of the earth… a calling that is still at the very core of the Church today.

Day 72: Judges 9-11; Abimelech and Jephthah

Throughout Israel’s history there are good leaders and there are bad leaders.  One thing that I have noticed in this is that those leaders who are good are leaders in whom the Spirit of God dwells.  There is no mention of the Spirit of God being anywhere near Abimelech, but when Jephthah leads Scripture tells us that the Spirit of God was upon him.  Abimelech does a great evil, killing many of the people of Israel, his own brothers even.  Jephthah does a great deed against Israel’s enemies striking a great blow and subduing them.

What strikes me as I read this is the nature of the reality that we live in post-Pentecost.  In Acts 2 we read that the Spirit of God was poured out on all who believe.  We believe that this is true even now, that those who believe in Jesus have the Spirit of God inside of them working in them and through them.  We ourselves are not like Abimelech, trying to grasp at power through evil means, but instead find ourselves filled with the Spirit, able to do great things for the Kingdom of God.  I wonder sometimes whether we really believe this, or whether its one more story that we remember sometimes.  We have received the Spirit of God in our lives and it works in ways that we don’t even know and are not capable of understanding.  However, it also works in us and through us, pushing and driving us to do the Lord’s work in our lives, transforming us into the Image of Christ each and every day.

Where is God in this story?  Well… it seems that God is above all these things, working out His will and Justice in due time.  And He is also working in the people of Israel, especially in the son of a prostitute.  It seems that this is something of a common theme with Tamar and Rahab also being counted among them in times past.  Yet we see here once again that God uses a broken person to bring about His will and show again that He is faithful to Israel and to the Covenant.  There is nothing that can keep God from using us, not even our horrible, sinful past.

I wonder, what are your thoughts on the final verses of Judges 11?  This is a hard story to read, and it doesn’t often sit well with us.  What do you think of Jephthah’s vow?  Do you think he should have kept it?

I found this map on Judges Bible Study, I think that it does a good job of putting some location placement within the nation of Israel.

Map of the Judges