Acts 5:40-42: Shame.

40] And they agreed with him, and when they had called for the apostles and beaten them, they commanded that they should not speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go.  41] So they departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for His name.  42] And daily in the temple, and in every house, they did not cease teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ.  (NKJV)

Though there is a lot in these verses, we want to focus on the middle verse in this post.

For a while, I didn’t really know how to approach these verses. The Bible does have a lot to say on the subject of “shame”, how the wicked don’t have any or that they revel in things they ought to be ashamed of, and many other things as well.

In my reading the other day, I came across Mark 8:38, where our Lord says, “Whoever is ashamed of Me and My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him the Son of Man also will be ashamed when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels,” also Luke 9:26.

This got me to thinking.  This led me to Hebrews 12:1, 2,Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great of cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him, endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.

“despising the shame.”

In our superficial and sentimental Christianity, we have such a sanitized and inadequate view of the death of Christ on the cross.  Our pictures and icons show pretty much a bloodless Christ, modestly covered.  The real thing was far different.  Without meaning to minimize the horror of that event, our Lord was a bloody mess.  Scripture tells us His face was almost unrecognizable, Isaiah 52:14.  He had been whipped with a Roman flagellum, a thing made of leather cords in which were embedded bits of bone.  Contemporary accounts of such things tell us that the ribs became visible and that many died from this alone, before they ever got to a cross.  If they did make it that far, there was no modest covering.

No, my friends, it is not without meaning that Hebrews tells us that the Lord Jesus endured the Cross.  We cannot even begin to imagine what He suffered for those for whom He died.  And this doesn’t count what He suffered on account of sin as the wrath of God was poured out on Him.  We read of no cry for His physical suffering, only for His abandonment by the Father:  “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?”  – “My God, My God, Why have You forsaken Me?”  There was no profanity in that cry, as it is too often when we use God’s name.  That was the cry of One who had never ever before experienced separation from the Father. 

That cry should echo and reverbrate through our beings to remind us of the agony the Savior was willing to endure to rescue people like us from our sins.

But Scripture also tells us He “despised” the shame of hanging there open to view.  I don’t even really know how to write about that.  The shame of public exposure, of being condemned as a criminal, of being executed – though He died of His own will, not that of the Romans.

But there is something else of which Scripture tells us that the Lord Jesus will be ashamed.  We quoted the verse earlier in this post:  “Whoever is ashamed of Me and My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him also will the Son of Man be ashamed when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels,” emphasis added.

I don’t want to minimize this in any way, but perhaps the word carries an idea of “embarrassment.”  We think of the Return of Christ as a joyous time, a time of being reunited with our loved ones, of meeting other brothers and sisters in Christ, of being done with this wicked world and our own lives, which are too often marred by failure and heartache, of seeing our Lord.  And those things will be true, far more than we can realize.  We will be able to worship and serve Him as He deserves – without the hindrances of our fallen natures.

But there will also be a time of judgment,  Romans 14:10; 2 Corinthians 5:9, 10.

In 2 Corinthians 5:11, Paul used the word “phobos,” which the NKJV translates as “terror,” in describing how we should view standing before the judgment seat of Christ.  We get our word “phobia” from that word.  I don’t think that Paul had our definition in mind when he wrote, but perhaps it ought to make us stop and think a little about the idea of standing before the holy and righteous Creator of the universe to give an account of the years He gives us on this planet.

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Acts 4:34-5:11: …Greed

34] for all who were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the proceeds of that things that were sold, 35] and laid them at the apostles’ feet; and they distributed to each as anyone had need.

36] And Joses, who was also named Barnabas by the apostles (which is translated Son of Encouragement), a Levite of the country of Cyprus, 37] having land, sold it, and brought the money and laid it at the apostles’ feet.

5:1] But a certain man named Ananias, with Sapphira his wife, sold a possession.  2] And he kept back part of the proceeds, his wife also being aware of it, and brought a certain part and laid it at the apostles’ feet.  3] But Peter said, “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and keep back part of the price of the land for yourself?  4] While it remained, was it not your own?  And after it was sold, was it not in your own control?  Why have you conceived this thing in your heart?  You have not lied to men but to God.”

5] Then Ananias, hearing these words, fell down and breathed his last.  So great fear came upon all those who heard those things.  6] And the young men arose and wrapped him up, carried him out, and buried him.

7] Now it was about three hours later when his wife came in, not knowing what had happened.  8] And Peter answered her, “Tell me whether you sold the land for so much?”

She said, “Yes, for so much.”

9] Then Peter said to her, “How is it that you have agreed together to test the Spirit of the Lord?  Look, the feet of those who have buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out.”  10] Then immediately she fell down at his feet and breathed her last.  And the young men came in and found her dead, and carrying her out, buried her by her husband.  11] So great fear came upon all the church and upon all who heard these things.  (NKJV)

We’ve already seen the general description of the unity, selflessness and generosity of the early church in 4:34-37, first with the believers themselves and then with a particular individual:  Joses, or as he was named later, Barnabas.  Right now, he’s just one of them; later on, God will single him out for special service.

No doubt, Joses’ gift was received favorably, but….

Among the believers was a couple named Ananias and Sapphira.  They, too, sold a possession, but brought only a part of the proceeds from it to the apostles.  We’re not told what their thinking was or why they did this, but it got them into trouble.

1. Their falsehood, vs. 1-3.

They brought only a part of what they had received from the sale of their land.  Apparently they made it seem as if they donated the whole amount, not just a part of it.

2. Their freedom, vs. 4.

As we mentioned before, this sharing of possessions was voluntary, not compulsory.  There was no requirement that it be done, or that any certain amount had to be given.  Peter said to Ananias that while he and his wife had owned the property, it was theirs to do with as they wished.  And even after they had sold it, they were in control of what they had received.  If they wanted to give only part of the proceeds, they could have.  There was no need to lie about it.

3. Their forgetfulness, vs. 4-9.

They forgot one important fact:  they weren’t just dealing with men.  They were dealing with God.  They hadn’t just lied to others about this sale; they had lied to God.  I think we’ve forgotten this to a large degree in our culture.  We go by current social or cultural norms instead of by the word of God.  Even in church, too often it’s more about tradition than truth.   We mold our beliefs by the catechism or confession of faith than from the Scriptures.  These may be useful and helpful, but we must always say, “What does the Scripture say,” Romans 4:3, not what does the catechism say.  Even as I write these posts, it isn’t or at least shouldn’t be just to get more visits to the blog or favorable comments.  Yes, they have their place, but if God doesn’t bless these efforts to those who read them, nothing of lasting value is accomplished.

4. Their fate, vs. 5-10.

God killed them for their presumption.

We don’t like that.  The god of contemporary Christianity loves everybody and wants to bless them.  Everybody’s going to a better place.  Everyone is a child of God.

That God is love is a wonderful Bible truth, 1 John 4:8, but it is not the only Bible truth.  Earlier in 1 John, he said, God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all, 1 John 1:5.  He goes on to say, If we say that we have fellowship with Him, and walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth.

Hebrews 12:29 puts it like this:  Our God is a consuming fire.  This after the admonition in v. 28, Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us have grace, by which we may serve God acceptable with reverence and godly fear.

“Godly fear.”

This leads to our next thought.

5. The fear, v. 11.

Great fear came upon all the church and upon all who heard these things.

I don’t want to make too much of this, but I think perhaps we tend to make too little of it.  A common definition of “the fear of God” is “reverential awe.”  Is that what these people who had seen or heard of Ananias and Sapphira being struck down for their sin – is that what these people felt?  Just “awe”?

Or was it an actual fear coming from divine judgment?

By this, I do not mean that we should come cringing into the presence of God, expecting Him to hit us up side the head if we don’t do everything just right.  He is the God who has saved us and brought us into His family.  He has exhibited a great deal of patience with our fallibility and fallenness.  He sent His Son to take our place.  That’s something we should remember this “Christmas.”  Jesus wasn’t born on that long ago morning so we could give each other presents, have family get-togethers and eat too much.  He was born into this world because there is not a single thing we can do to redeem ourselves.  Without that birth, there would be no death.  Without that death, there is no salvation.  God did all that, things way beyond our understanding, in order that sinners like us might be saved.

At the same time and for all that He has blessed us, God is God, not our buddy.

Acts 4:5-18, “No Other Name”

5] And it came to pass, on the next day, that their rulers, elders, and scribes, 6] as well as Annas the high priest, Caiaphas, John, and Alexander, and as many as were of the family of the high priest, were gathered together at Jerusalem.  7] And when they had set them in the midst, they asked, “By what power or by what name have you done this?”

8] Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, “Rulers of the people and elders of Israel:  9] If we this day are judged for a good deed done to a helpless man, by what means he has been made whole, 10] let it be know to you all, and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead, by Him this man stands here before you whole.  11] This is the ‘stone which was rejected by you builders, which has become the chief cornerstone.’  12] Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”

13] Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated and untrained men, they marveled.  And they realized that they had been with Jesus.  14] And seeing the man who had been healed standing with them, they could say nothing against it.  15] But when they had command them to go aside out of the council, they conferred among themselves, 16] saying, “What shall we do to these men?  For, indeed, a notable miracle has been done through them, and we cannot deny it.  17] But so that it spreads no further among the people, let us severely threaten them, that from now on they speak to no man in this name.”

18] So they called them and commanded them not to speak at all nor teach in the name of Jesus.

Chapter 4 divides into three sections:  the detention of Peter and John, vs. 1-4; their defense, vs. 5-20; their dismissal, vs. 21-23.  In the post today, we see that Peter and John have been arrested and we enter the courtroom where they are being questioned.

1. The Court, vs. 5-7.

a. The Council, vs. 5, 6.  In the providence of God, it seems the whole rulership of the Jews was gathered at Jerusalem, perhaps still the result of Passover and Pentecost.  In this court, as it turned out, there was a confrontation of those who said they were the rulers of the Jews – and they were, and those who claimed to represent the King of the Jews.  The contrast must have been startling.  On the one hand – power, wealth, influence, position.  On the other hand, three men, one dressed in beggar’s rags, all of them dirty and disheveled from a night in a prison where “criminal rights” were still a fantasy of the far distant future.
b. The Question, v. 7.  Our Lord faced a similar question in Matthew 21:23, perhaps from some of the same fellows.  There is more to that incident than might appear on the surface.  Controversy had raged over whether or not the Lord Jesus was doing miracles by demonic power, cf. Matthew 12:24.  If such in any way could have been proven, He would have been discredited before the people and the rulers would have had legitimate and Scriptural ground to execute.  Indeed, they would have been obligated to do so.
Something of the same holds true here.  The word translated “power” is “dunamis,” from which we get the words, “dynamic,” “dynamo,” “dynamite.”  It refers to power to get the job done. If “magic,” that is, demonic power, had entered into this man’s healing, it would have been a capital crime, worthy of death.
I wonder if something else might not also be here.  After all, these two men were nobodies:  uneducated and untrained.  They weren’t the first to run afoul of the authorities, and they weren’t the last.  History flows with the blood of martyrs who were outside the “official” church.  I do respect the Reformers and, considering the times they lived in and the corrupt church they left, am surprised they did as much as they did.  At the same time, I wish they would have gone all the way back to the New Testament instead of stopping with the early church fathers.

2. The Confession, vs. 8-12.

Peter acknowledged that the healing of the lame man was the reason he and John were before the council.  However, he denies that they themselves healed the man, giving a three-fold answer as to who had performed the healing.  In each answer, there is a difference between seems to be and what actually is.  Each answers revolves around Jesus Christ.

a. The Risen Christ, v. 10.  3:12 echoes here:  “Men of Israel, why do you marvel at this?  Or why look so intently on us, as though by our power or godliness we had made this man walk?”  Peter refused any credit before the crowd, and he refuses any credit before the rulers.  The crucified, risen “Jesus Christ of Nazareth.”  In this description of the Lord, Peter offers positive proof of the resurrection.  The “name” of an ordinary executed criminal would have had no such power.  Peter did not say, “We serve (the memory of) Jesus and we did it,” but rather, by Him (that is, Jesus) this man stands here before you whole.  He did it, not us!

b. The Resurgent Christ, v. 11.  I admit this word also means “risen,” but it seems to me to convey much more than just that Jesus rose from the dead.  He didn’t just “barely” rise from the dead; He rose in complete triumph over sin, death, hell and the grave!  He conquered them, not just escaped from them!
By crucifying the Lord, the rulers, including at least Annas and Caiaphas, had vehemently rejected the claims of Jesus as to His Person – Deity – and to His office – Messiah, or Christ, Matthew 27:41-43.  The Resurrection vindicated those claims, cf. Romans 1:1-4.  Even though Romans hadn’t been written yet, Peter did know this truth, Acts 5:29-32.
This exaltation of Christ was prophesied in Psalm 110:22-24 and Isaiah 28:16.  After rebuking the chief priests and elders for their refusal to listen to Him, Jesus quoted Psalm 118 and it’s telling truth that their rejection of Him would only further God’s purpose of redemption.
Psalm 118:22, 23 is a clear example of the truth that NT truth is hinted at, though never revealed in the OT.  In Ephesians 2:29, after telling the Ephesian believers that they have been included in the people of God, Paul wrote, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone…, emphasis added.
So it seemed to the rulers of Israel that this Galilean interloper had finally been silenced.  In truth, Peter told them, the fulfillment of all God’s promises and purpose rests in and upon Him, and even one’s eternal standing before God, as the Lord Himself taught in Matthew 21:44, hinges on this Crucified, Risen One, a truth which Peter emphasized as he continues to speak.

c. the Redeeming Christ, v. 12.  Little did the chief priests, scribes, and elders realize the truth of what they said as they mocked the crucified Lord, “He saved others…,” Matthew 27:411, 42.  Peter said the same thing.  There are two thoughts in what he said.
1. Christ is the particular Redeemer.  Peter said it twice, “There is not any other, there is no other” Savior.  In this day of diversity and “inclusiveness,” this is not a welcome idea.  If the idea is even accepted that we need to be saved, there are any number of ways, of saviors, to get us into heaven.  So it is said.  Peter said otherwise.  So did our Lord.  He said, I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.  No one comes to the Father, except through Me,” John 14:6, emphases added.  There will be an enormous multitude at the Last Day who will find out to their everlasting dismay and loss that they’ve been lied to by their priest, teacher, prophet, preacher, imam, holy man, guru or whatever.  There is only one way into heaven:  faith in the redemptive work of the Lord Jesus.  He saved others.”   There are no other “saviors”.
2. Christ is a personal Savior.   Peter said, “…we must be saved”  He included himself.   In some circles, there is a vigorous debate about “the extent of the atonement,” which is not our purpose to enter into in this post.  In the matter of our salvation, that discussion is irrelevant.  By faith, the true believer is able to say, in wonder, “Christ died for me.”  That is the only “extent” which really matters.  Salvation has always been “one-on-one:”  Christ dying in the place and for the sins of the individual sinner; the individual sinner accepted, forgiven and restored in and because of the Lord Jesus Christ.

The Psalmist exclaimed,

He has not dealt with us according to our sins,
Nor punished us according to our iniquities.
  Psalm 103:10.

That’s because He dealt with the Lord Jesus according to them.

“Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved,” Acts 16:31.

Acts 3:11-18, “His Name”

11] Now as the lame man who was healed held on to Peter and John, all the people ran together to them in the porch which is called Solomon’s, greatly amazed.  12] So when Peter saw it, he responded to the people: “Men of Israel, why do you marvel at this?  Or why look so intently at us, as though by our own power or godliness, we had made this man walk?  13] The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the God of our Fathers, glorified His servant Jesus, whom you delivered up and denied in the presence of Pilate, when he was determined to let Him go.  14] But you denied the Holy One and the Just, and asked for a murderer to be granted to you, 15] and killed the Prince of life, whom God raised from the dead, of which we are witnesses.  16] And His name, through faith in His name, has made this man strong, whom you see and know.  Yes, the faith which comes through Him has given him this perfect soundness in the presence of you all.

17] “Yet now, brethren, I know that you did it in ignorance, as did also your rulers.  18] But those things which God foretold by the mouth of all His prophets, that the Christ should suffer, He has thus fulfilled.

Our last post looked at the healing of the man born unable to walk, and the amazement of the crowd which witnessed the healing.  Today we look at Peter’s refusal to “take credit” for it and some of the other things which happened.

In the first place, Peter did indeed refuse to “take credit” for it.  He said, “Why do you marvel at this?  Or why look so intently at us, as though by our own power or godliness we had made this man walk?” v. 12, emphasis added.  Instead, he turned the attention of the crowd away from himself and John and even from the miracle and the healing back to what he had preached at Pentecost.  “They,” that is, the nation as represented by the rulers and leaders, and perhaps some of Peter’s present crowd had been there at the Crucifixion as well – “they” had delivered up and denied the One who ultimately had healed the man.  Added to their guilt was the fact the Pilate was determined to let Him go, but the crowd that was there insisted with a great uproar, cf. John 19:12-16.  The fact that Pilate himself was weak took nothing away from the guilt of the crowd, v. 13.

They denied the Holy One and the Just, and asked for a murderer to be granted to you, v. 14.  This denial is mentioned twice.  To make it worse, they denied their own Messiah in the presence of a Gentile ruler.  Not only that, but they preferred a murderer.

This denial was further intensified by Who He was whom they denied:  “the Holy One and the Just” or “righteous,” a clear reference to Deity.  This One was the “Giver” of life, as opposed to Barabbas, who was a “taker” of life.

“They” may have denied the Lord Jesus, but God glorified His Servant Jesus, and raised Him from the dead, vs. 13, 14.  Some people might be bothered by our Lord being called a servant, but that’s how Isaiah 53:11 portrays Him, My righteous Servant.

He Himself once said,  “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many,” Mark 10:45; Matthew 20:28.

Further, “God…raised Him from the dead.”  As the NT emphasizes, the Resurrection is the distinguishing mark of Christianity.  It is the reason for the hope we have, 1 Corinthians 15.

In v. 16, Peter said that it was “His name, through faith in His name, that has made this man strong.”  Through the crucifixion, the “name” of Jesus has acquired “infamy.”  Yet it was this very name, or rather the Person whose name it is, that provided the power to heal this man.  This DOES NOT mean simply “saying” the name of Jesus, as some sort of magic talisman or abracadabra.  It is not a ritual or an exorcism.  It is a recognition of and submission to that Name to which Scripture tells us every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father, Philippians 2:9-11.

Men today may argue over “the Lordship of Jesus” or what they deride as “Lordship salvation,” as if they can receive salvation from our Lord, but reject the Lord Himself.  The time is coming when that will not be possible.

Acts 2:1-13: Pentecost…Fully Come

1] When the Day of Pentecost had fully come, they were all with one accord in one place.  2] And suddenly there came a sound from heaven, as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting.  3] Then there appeared to them divided tongues, as of fire, and one sat upon each of them.  4] And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.

5] And there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men, from every nation under heaven.  6] And when this sound occurred, the multitude came together, and were confused, because everyone heard them speak in their own language.  7] Then they were all amazed and marveled, saying to one another, “Look, are not all these who speak Galileans?  8] And how is it that we hear, each one in our own language in which we were born?  9] Parthians and Medes and Elamites, those dwelling in Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia,  10] Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya adjoing Cyrene, visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes,  11] Cretans and Arabs – we hear them speaking in our own tongues the wonderful works of God.”  12] So they were all amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “Whatever could this mean?”

13] Others mocking said, “They are full of new wine.” 

Acts 2 records a watershed event in the history of the church:  the pouring out of the Holy Spirit.  Unlike those instances in the OT where the Spirit came upon God’s people for a limited time and a specific task, for example, 2 Chronicles 15:1, the Spirit came upon these believers to indwell them permanently.  Like the Crucifixion, it was a one-time event.  Christ doesn’t have to die for each new generation and the Spirit doesn’t have to come in such an overt way for them.  Christ has died and the Spirit has come.  He indwells each believer as a guarantee of each believer’s final arrival in heaven and as the “firstfruits” of our relationship with God as His children:

2 Corinthians 1:22, who [God] also has sealed us and given us the Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee.

2 Corinthians 5:5, Now He who has prepared us for this very thing [the victory of eternal life over mortality, vs, 1-4] is God, who also has give us the Spirit as a guarantee.

Ephesians 1:14, who [the Spirit] is the guarantee of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, to the praise of His glory.

In these three verses, the KJV has “earnest” for “guarantee.”  I think I like this word better.  An “earnest” is a down-payment on something, or at least that’s what it used to be called.  At least to me “guarantee” doesn’t really have the same impact.  When my wife and I bought our present house, we had to give the owner some money to seal the deal, as it were.  It was our “earnest.”  This was our promise to buy the house, which we did.  It was also his promise to sell us the house.  By the grace of God, we now own it free and clear.

The Holy Spirit is God’s down payment, if you will, on the eternal blessings He has promised to His people.  But, unlike our lengthy time of paying for the house, the payment for our redemption was made all at once by the Lord Jesus on Calvary.  By the grace of God, salvation is ours, free and clear.

In the case of the house, that doesn’t mean that there isn’t “upkeep”.  I need to get out and mow the yard once more before winter gets here.  We recently had the house painted.  We’ve had the roof replaced and the sewer lines cleaned out.  But the house is ours.

So it is with salvation.  There is “upkeep”.  This does NOT mean that we have to “keep” it or else we might lose it.  It’s ours, free and clear.  But, as with the house, there are things to do as Christians:  prayer, Bible study, fellowshiping with other believers, faithfulness during the week and not just on Sunday.

On this first Pentecost, what happened to the believers?  They were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance, v. 4.

“Other tongues.”  What does this mean?  Was it just gibberish, or “angel tongues,” or something else?   Luke clearly tells us.  In v. 5, the crowd drawn by the sound of the “rushing mighty wind,” v. 2, heard them speak in their own language, v. 6.  Then Luke lists 17 languages understood by those who heard the disciples.

This astonished the crowd because it was evident that these disciples were Galileans, v. 7.  Galilee was in the northern part of Israel, next to Gentile territory.  In fact, it was called Galilee of the Gentiles, Isaiah 9:1; Matthew 4:15.  Galileans were considered uncouth and ignorant, without learning and speaking even their own language clumsily and without grace.  Yet here were these men, speaking foreign languages, and, we might imagine, doing so quite fluently, though Luke doesn’t specifically tell us that.

This brings us to what they were talking about: the wonderful works of God, v. 11.

“The wonderful works of God.”

We’re not told which of these works are included, but I think there’s a lesson here, nonetheless.  Our world and culture is awash with skepticism and unbelief.  We’re told that this world just happened, that it evolved from nothing into the wonder we see all around us.  There is no God, no rhyme or reason for anything, it just happens.  The Bible is just another religious book, subject to human wisdom and scholarship.  There are no absolutes (except that one!), everything is just what culture and society say and accept.  We see the results of that teaching in the degeneracy and violence all around us.

We need to return to a Biblically-based preaching and teaching.  This world didn’t just happen; in the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth, Genesis 1:1.  Man didn’t “evolve” from lesser creatures; he was created as a direct and unique act of God, Genesis 1:26, 27.  Death entered for no other reason than man sinned, Romans 5:12.  There are absolutes; man is accountable.  There are a heaven and a hell, and there’s only one way to enter the one and to escape the other:  faith in the Lord Jesus, Acts 4:12.

Some received the message, others mocked, saying, “These men are drunk!”

Lord willing, we’ll see Peter’s response to this jibe in our next post.  Continue reading

Acts 1:12-26, In The Upper Room

12] Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a Sabbath day’s journey.  13] And when they had entered, they went up into the upper room where they were staying:  Peter, James, John, and Andrew; Philip and Thomas; Bartholomew and Matthew; James the son of Alphaeus and Simon the Zealot.  14] These all continued with one accord in prayer and supplication, with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with His brothers.

15] And in those days Peter stood up in the midst of the disciples (altogether the number of names was about a hundred and twenty), and said, 16] “Men and brethren, this Scripture had to be fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit spoke before by the mouth of David concerning Judas, who became a guide to those who arrested Jesus; 17] for he was numbered with us and had obtained a part in this ministry.”

18] (Now this man purchased a field with the wages of iniquity; and falling headlong, he burst open in the middle and all his entrails gushed out; 19] And it became known to all those dwelling in Jerusalem; so that field is called in their own language, Akel Dama, that is, Field of Blood.)

20] “For it is written in the Book of Psalms:

‘Let his dwelling place be desolate,
And let no one live in it’;

and ‘let another take his office.’

21] “Therefore, of these men who have accompanied us all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, 22] beginning from the baptism of John to that day when He was taken up from us, one of these must become a witness with us of His resurrection.”

23] And they proposed two:  Joseph called Barsabas, who was surnamed Justus, and Matthias.  24] And they prayed and said, “You, O Lord, who know the hearts of all, show which of these two You have chosen 25] to take part in this ministry and apostleship from which Judas by transgression fell, that he might go to his own place.”  26] And they cast their lots, and the lot fell on Matthias.  And he was numbered with the eleven apostles.

Our Lord’s earthly ministry had ended.  He told His disciples to stay in Jerusalem until they received the Promise of the Father, v. 4.  There had been a question about the re-establishing of the Davidic kingdom, and He had replied that it wasn’t time for that, such was up to the Father, and that in the meantime there were things for them to do, namely being His witnesses world-wide, vs. 6-8.  Then He ascended, but not with sending an angel with the wonderful promise that He would return in like manner as you saw Him go into Heaven.”  He didn’t tell them to look for signs or wonders, to check the news for evidence that “the end” was near, or to expect that folks would listen to them.  He simply told them to wait, after which they would be busy.

“To wait.”  That didn’t mean to be idle.  The eleven along with some women, Mary the mother of Jesus, and His brothers, continued with one accord in prayer and supplication, v. 14.  It’s interesting that nothing is said about them praying to Mary or through her.  She held no place of importance among them.  There was no “veneration” of her.  She was just there as one of them.  And, evidently, His brothers had been converted after first rejecting Him, cf John 7:1-5.

It’s a shame prayer doesn’t have a greater place in our lives.  I’m guilty, too.  We get so busy with lesser things that we forget the important thing.  And I don’t mean just some repetitive formula,  or a few words hastily uttered before bedtime, but real communication with and intercession before God.  And it isn’t just about “asking and receiving,” as one author wrote.  That is certainly part of it, but God is not some heavenly Concierge just waiting around to tell Him what to do.  No, no, if we are believers, we are His children and as children love to be with their father – if he’s the right kind of father – so God’s children love to be around Him.  God is the right “kind” of Father!  If we remember who He is and what He has done and is doing and will do, we have a lot to thank and praise Him for.

There was something to be done while they waited.  One of their number had perished.  Now we don’t exactly what was going through Peter’s mind at this time.  He does say in v. 22 that someone must be chosen to “become a witness with us of His resurrection.”  Again, the importance of our Lord’s resurrection.  If Peter had been a modern preacher, he probably would have talked about witnessing of His love.  But the early church in the book of Acts never once mentioned the love of God.  In fact, the one occurrence of any Greek word for “love” is found in Acts 28:2, where the inhabitants of the island the shipwrecked survivors landed on showed them “unusual kindness.”

Perhaps Peter had in mind the Lord’s promise that the time was coming when the apostles would “sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel,” Matthew 19:28; Luke 22:30.  Since there were only eleven apostles at the time, one more was necessary.

Some have criticized Peter for not praying before making this statement.  However, those in the room had been in constant prayer, and it is possible, though not stated, that the lack of an apostle was part of that prayer.

There is a solemn thought in all this.  For three years, Judas had been an active member of The Twelve.  They had no inkling that he was any different from them; indeed they made him the treasurer.  True, Scripture tells us he was a thief and stole from their treasury, but they didn’t know that until afterward.  There was nothing outwardly to mark him as different.  As Peter put it, Judas had obtained a part in this ministry.”

But he was lost.

In Matthew 7, our Lord made a sobering statement:

“Many will say to Me in that day [the Day of Judgment], ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?”  And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’ “ vs. 22, 23.

It’s a solemn thought.  Many in our time “prophesy” or “cast out demons” or do “wonders” or make much of “the Lord’s name.”  But our Lord rejects such things!  Why??  Read Matthew 7 again.  It’s all about what they have done!  Nothing about what He has done.  Cf. Paul in Romans 15:18, For I will not dare to speak of any of those things which Christ has not accomplished through me…, emphasis added.  Not once did Paul take the credit for his ministry.  Christ used him, yes, and He uses others, but it is God who gives the increase, 1 Corinthians 3:7.

Oh, that we would remember this.  No one praises the paint brush of a great artist or the chisel and hammer of a sculptor.

We are only tools in the hand of that One who designed the ages and brings His work to pass.  After all, He doesn’t need us.  He simply spoke the worlds into existence.  But He’s pleased to use us, imperfect though we are, not because of us, but because of His great mercy.

Thank you, Lord.

Acts 1:1-11, Laying The Foundation

1] The former account I made, O Theophilus, of all that Jesus began to do and teach, 2] until the day in which He was taken up, after He through the Holy Spirit had given commandments to the apostles whom He had chosen, 3] to whom He also presented Himself alive after His suffering by many infallible proofs, being seen by them during forty days and speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God.

4] And being assembled with them, He commanded them not to depart from Jerusalem, but wait for the Promise of the Father, “which,” He said, “you have heard from Me; 5] for John truly baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.”  6] Therefore, when they had come together, they asked Him, saying, “Lord, will You at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?”  7] And He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons which the Father has put into His own authority.  8] But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”

9] Now when He had spoken these things, while they watched, He was taken up, and a cloud received Him out of their sight.  10] And while they looked steadfastly toward heaven as he went up, behold, two men stood by them in white apparel, 11] who also said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand gazing up into heaven?  This same Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will so come in like manner as you saw Him go into heaven.” (NKJV)

Our Lord’s ministry after His resurrection is briefly described in the first 8 verses of Acts 1.  Forty days ministry is reduced to just a few words in v. 3.  Yet they serve to remind us that Acts didn’t happen in a vacuum, but is the continuation of what had begun in the lives of the apostles some three years earlier, and, indeed, in the life of mankind in the Garden of Eden.

Acts continues where the Gospel of Luke leaves off.  In that account, we have some post-resurrection appearances of our Lord, and then it closes with this:  And He led them out as far as Bethany.  Now it came to pass, while He blessed them, that He was parted from them and carried up into heaven.  And they worshiped Him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and were continually in the temple praising and blessing God.  Amen.  Luke 24:50.

Luke uses the ending of his account in the Gospel as the beginning of his letter to Theophilus.  The Gospel gives us an account of all that Jesus began both to do and to teach.  Some Bibles refer to Acts as “the Acts of the Apostles.”  This, I think, is incorrect.  Only three of the apostles, Peter, James and John, are mentioned, and of these three, we read mainly of Peter.  We don’t really count the mention of Judas, which happens only because he had to be replaced.  But even Peter gives place to Paul.  The other disciples, and Matthias, the replacement for Judas, disappear from the pages of Scripture.

As Luke tells us what the Lord Jesus began to do in His physical body, so Acts tells us what He continued to do through “His [spiritual] body, which is the church,” Colossians 1:24.

Our post today is divided into three parts, not a word-by-word study, but a summary, if you will, of essentials which weren’t only for the apostles but are for us as well.  These essentials serve to remind us that Christianity is not just another “world religion”.  In fact, it’s not of this world at all, or it has no value at all.  Its doctrines are unique.  Its Holy Book is authoritative in a way unlike any other book known to men.  Its character as revealed by its Author is such that there is no hope relative to eternity apart from it.

These three essentials remove as unimportant most of the traditions tacked on by men over the centuries.  These essentials are –

1. The Foundation of all we believe, vs. 1-3.

He…presented Himself alive…v. 1.

The Resurrection of Christ is God’s seal of approval, if you will, to the life and ministry of the Lord Jesus.  As we’ve said before, it marks as different the deaths of the men who died with Him that day, as well as every other death that’s ever happened.  If that is false, nothing else matters.  After dealing with some questions about the resurrection of our Lord and of the idea of resurrection in general, Paul wrote, If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men the most pitiable, 1 Corinthians 15:19.

The preaching of the early church was filled with the hope and truth of the Resurrection.  Preaching to the crowd who gathered because of the healing of a man born lame, Peter said that Christ has been killed, but “God raised [Him] from the dead, Acts 3:15.  The authorities, coming upon this scene, were greatly disturbed that they taught the people and preached in Jesus the resurrection from the dead, Acts 4:2.  Defending his message before these same authorities, Peter said, Let it be known to you all, and to all the peoples of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead…,  Acts 4:10.

Extending the Gospel to Gentiles, after having been assured it was alright, in his remarks Peter told Cornelius and those gathered in his house that “Him [Jesus of Nazareth, v. 38] God raised from the dead, Acts 10:40, 41.

Paul held aloft that same torch.  In Acts 13:30, he told the Jews in Antioch in Pisidia, concerning Christ, that the Jews “took Him down from the tree and laid Him in a tomb.  But God raise Him from the dead.”  He repeats his thought in v. 34, “He raised Him from the dead, no more to return to corruption.”

There are multiple references to the Resurrection throughout the rest of Acts and the NT.  It isn’t just some fiction or fable designed to fool people.  The disciples were hard to convince he was alive!  Cf. John 20:24 with Thomas and Luke 24:9-11 with the eleven…and all the rest.  Peter and some of the others fully intended to go back to fishing as their livelihood, John 21:1-3.

What changed?

He…presented Himself alive….

2. The Fitness For All We Do, 1:4-5, 8.

These verses were given specifically to the apostles.  They are not for us today, though many speak of seeking “the baptism of the Holy Spirit.”  Pentecost cannot be duplicated anymore than the Crucifixion can be duplicated.  Nor is it necessary.

Having said that, even the apostles were “filled with the Spirit” more than once.  Cf. Ephesians 5:18.

Why did they need this?  In order to receive the power, the “ability” to do what the Lord told them to do. The word translated “power” is the word we get our words “dynamite,” “dynamo,” dynamic” from.  It refers to a power that gets the job done!  This is not something we have naturally!  We might have various natural gifts and abilities, but they’re not enough to “get the job done,” in spite of what we might think.  Even the OT recognized this.  Faced with an impossible task, Zerubbabel received this encouragement, “Not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit,” says the LORD of hosts, Zechariah 4:6.  Finney might have thought that “moral suasion” or human ability and wisdom was enough, but he was sadly mistaken.  We see the results of his teaching, and that of his followers with their emphasis on “making your decision” and “results” and “raising your hand for salvation” in the mess all around us, even in the churches.

All believers have something of the Spirit, it’s not something we have to “ask” for.  In those Gospel verses which are sometimes used to teach otherwise – the Spirit had not yet been given.  That is not true now.  The manifestation of the Spirit is given to each one for the profit of all [lit., “for the mutual benefit.” – the “gifts of the Spirit” aren’t about us, but about serving others], 1 Corinthians 12:7.  One and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually as He wills, 1 Cor. 12:11.  Indeed, if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ [that is, the Holy Spirit], he is not His, Romans 8:9.

3. The Focus of All We Hope, 1:6-7, 9-11.

In Acts 1:3, Luke tells us that for forty days, the Lord had taught of things pertaining to the kingdom of God.  During His ministry, it had occupied an important place.  Matthew 8:11; 19:27-29; 20:20-23; Mark 14:24, 25; Luke 22:15-18, 29-30 are just a few of the references to the kingdom of God, or of heaven given in the Gospels.  The disciples had heard most, if not all, of these and some of them speak directly to the involvement and importance of the disciples in that kingdom, cf. Matthew 19:28; Luke 22:30.  Just in passing, and without particularly meaning to be difficult, I can’t really see how these two verses are “fulfilled” in the church.

According to Luke, the Lord continued teaching after His resurrection.  As a result of this teaching, one of the disciples asked what seems to me to be a reasonable question:  “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” Acts 1:6.  If, as some believe, God is done with Israel and there is no kingdom for her, it seems to me that this would have been an ideal place for the Lord to have told that to His disciples.  But there’s no whisper of such a thought.  The disciples had asked, “Is it time“?  The Lord answered, “It is not for you to know times or seasons…,”  vs. 6, 7.  It’s no use trying to set dates, though that doesn’t stop folks from trying; all that is under the “authority” of the Father – and He isn’t telling us.

In the meantime, there was something for the disciples – and for us – to do, to be witnesses to [Him] in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth,” v. 8.

In His earthly ministry, the Lord Jesus promised the Holy Spirit to His disciples, saying, “…when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth; for He will not speak on His own, but whatever He hears He will speak; and He will tell you things to come.  He will glorify Me, for He will take of what is Mine and declare it to you, John 16:13, 14.

Pay special attention to v. 14:  “He will glorify Me….”  Literally, it reads, “Me He will glorify….”  It’s emphatic – the ministry of the Spirit is to glorify the Lord Jesus.  Not Himself.  Not believers.  Not the “gifts.”

The Lord Jesus.

Any ministry which emphasizes the Spirit or His gifts or any believer doesn’t understand the ministry of the Spirit.  In everything, the Lord Jesus is to have first place, if not the only place, Colossians 1:18.  There are far too many in the modern church like Diotrephes, 3 John 1:9.

But it isn’t just who our Lord was or what He did or taught.  These are vitally important.  The angel made a promise to the disciples as they gazed heavenward toward that One they loved:  “Men of Galilee, why do you stand gazing into heaven?  This same Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will so come in like manner as you saw Him go into heaven,” Acts 1:11.

Having finished His earthly mission, our Lord ascends, leaving His disciples with a blessing and a promise.  They never forgot.

Nearly 70 years later, the last surviving apostle, given a vision of His eternal exaltation and splendor, and hearing again from His blessed lips the promise of His coming, wrote in the last verse of the New Testament but one, the heart cry and soul’s desire of His people ever since.  Is it yours?  Is it mine?  It must be.  It must be!

EVEN SO, COME, LORD JESUS!