Acts 10:1-12:23: Times of Transition.

Actually, Acts 13:1 might be called a turning-point, although the conversion of Cornelius in Acts 10 is itself a landmark in early church history.  The Gospel had begun to be slowly diffused through the nations, but there was still a lot of ground to be covered in the disciples themselves.  They still had much to learn.  The conversion of Cornelius was one such lesson.

1. An Elect Gentile, 10:1-11:18.

Conversion of, 10:1-48.  This chapter shows us the opening to Gentiles of the door granting direct access to God.  The early church, made up of Jewish believers, had a very difficult time working through the idea that Gentiles could have such access.  After all, for centuries the Jews had been God’s chosen people and in order to come to God, one had to go through them, as it were. Over and over, Israel had gotten into trouble for mixing with other nations, and now, here was the Gospel message for them equally with Israel.  It was a tough nut to crack and took a direct message/vision from God to get it done.

In the conversion of Cornelius, we see God working both in Peter and Cornelius, vs. 1-33, and His witness in Peter’s message to Cornelius, vs. 34-43, and, finally, in the manifestation of the Spirit, vs. 44-48.

This incident forever refutes the idea that baptism is essential to salvation – unless one believes that unbelievers can receive the Holy Spirit.

Controversy concerning, 11:1-18.

1. Confrontation, vs. 1-3.  It seems terrible that believers would be upset over others receiving the Word of God, but we must remember the cultural and religious background of these people.  God Himself had forbidden religious and/or social admixture with other peoples and Jerusalem and the Temple had for centuries been the focal point of God’s worship.   As we noted above, the early church had great difficulty understanding this change in God’s dealing with mankind “one-on-one,” as it were, instead of through the mediation and channel of Jerusalem.  They failed to understand that a Person is the Way into God’s presence, not a place, John 14:6.

2. Recitation, vs. 4-17.  Peter gives a simple and straight-forward account of what happened, and then finished with the reasonable conclusion in v. 17 that since God was pleased to give “them the same gift as He gave us when we believed on the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could withstand God?”

3. Glorification, v. 18.  These early believers recognized the hand and will of God and submitted to it, even if they didn’t completely understand all that was going on.

2. Expanding Grace, 11:19-30.

The Gospel goes to Antioch in Syria and a second influential church is established.  With this church prospering, the church at Jerusalem recedes into the background as far as the divine record is concerned.

Growth of the church, vs. 19-21.  Here we pick up the record begun in 8:4 of the scattered believers.  Saul wanted to exterminate the church at Jerusalem, but all he succeeded in doing was extending the reach of the Gospel.  Note well v. 21.  See also Saul’s later testimony as Paul in Philippians 1:12, But I want you to know, brethren, that the things which happened to me have actually turned out for the furtherance of the gospel.

Grace of the church, vs. 22-24.  These verses record the last “investigation” we read of by a delegation from Jerusalem.  The church at Antioch was recognized as a true and independent assembly of believers.  There is no Scriptural support for the denominational and hierarchical structure we see in Christianity today.  There is no “holy city”  or “headquarters” in spite of what men might think.  Though they may choose to work together, no church has any authority over another church.  Each is to be autonomous and responsible only to her Lord.

V. 23 mentions a theme often recurring in Scripture:  the perseverance of the saints.  Cf. 13:43 and 14:22.  While certainly also teaching the preservation of the saints, Scripture also teaches the responsibility of the saints to act like it.

Gathering of the church, vs. 25, 26.  Barnabas became a key man at Antioch.  We saw him first in Acts 4:36, which tells us that he did what he could.  Here he was enabled to do much more, even to playing an important role in the early missionary efforts of Saul/Paul.

Gift from the church, vs. 27-30.  Nothing is said of this church having a “community of goods” as did the church at Jerusalem.  They did, however, have the same compassion and sent aid to relieve the poor saints at Jerusalem.

3. Escape From Death, 12:1-24.

Herod’s Murderous Design, vs. 1-4.  Perhaps this whole incident was politically motivated.  Herod was hated by the Jews.  V. 3 indicates at least that the arrest of Peter was done with the idea of getting on the Jews’ good side.  See in this the sovereign purpose of God.  He permits the death of one of His servants, v. 1, but then delivers another from death.  Why didn’t He deliver them both?  Only He knows.  Only He needs know.  Cf. Job 33:13.

Peter’s Miraculous Deliverance, vs. 5-19.  This is an unbelievable section.  Here is Peter, expecting to die.  Was he worried?  He was sound asleep!  He had witnessed the death of his Lord, had been reconciled to his risen Lord.  Death held no terror for him.

Herod’s Miserable Death, vs. 20-23.  One would think Herod might learn something from all this, but no.  How dense, how stupid we are, apart from the grace of God!

  

 

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March Memories: The Thief on the Cross: A Different Way of Salvation?

Note:  In my previous post in this series, I reprinted “The Thief on the Cross” and commented at the end that I had received a lengthy response to what I said.  I mentioned that I had answered that response with another post.  This is that post.  The reason I did this, and reprint the two posts together, is because the view expressed on the other side strikes directly at how people are saved.  It diverts them from faith in the Lord Jesus and what He did on the Cross to faith in a ceremony, a ritual, namely immersion in water for salvation.  Not faith in Christ for salvation, but baptism for salvation.

Several years ago, I attended a few Bible studies led by an elder of the Boston Church of Christ.  During one of these studies, at a home, this elder baptized a young lady in the swimming pool out in the back yard.  I have no difficulty with that, but after he brought her up from the water, he commented that “her sins were now at the bottom of the pool.”  I’m afraid I didn’t appreciate the  situation.  My first reaction was, “Boy, I sure don’t want to go into that water.”

Anyway, here is the post.

On November 23 [2013], I published a post about the thief on the cross.  Some time later, I got a lengthy response.  WordPress put it into spam.  It wasn’t, but neither was it something I could “approve.”  I have no difficulty with people disagreeing with something I believe, provided they can show their viewpoint from Scripture.  The trouble is that there are many, many conflicting views, most of which appeal to Scripture.

This was the case with this gentleman’s response.  He clearly believes that there has been more than one way of salvation.  His comment was titled, “Can Men, Today, Be Saved Like Enoch?”

He starts off, “Did you ever notice that the hydrophobic believers in Jesus want to be saved like the thief on the cross?”  I suppose the term “hydrophobic” (fear of water) has to do with the fact that this gentleman believes that baptism is necessary for salvation.  His whole response is based on that supposition.  At the same time, he refers to them as “believers in Jesus.”  So, are these “hydrophobic” “believers in Jesus” saved, or not?

He continues, “Their argument is that the thief was not baptized in water, and was still saved.”  I agree.  However, he also says, “Their proponents fail to mention that the thief was also saved without being born of the Spirit.”  I disagree.  Just because the Bible doesn’t specifically mention it in this case, doesn’t mean that He wasn’t active in the heart and mind of this thief to enable him to see that Jesus wasn’t just another criminal being executed.

According to this gentleman, “the Holy Spirit of promise had not been given at that time,” so, apparently, He was nowhere to be found until Pentecost.  However, the OT is filled with references to the activity of the Holy Spirit.  Pentecost may have inaugurated a new day in God’s dealing with men, with Gentiles being granted salvation apart from becoming Jews, but it did not begin the ministry of the Holy Spirit.

Then he brings in the case of Enoch, asking why men today don’t petition to be saved like Enoch.  He quotes Genesis 5:24, Enoch walked with God, and he was not, for God took him.

Having admitted that Enoch was saved, the writer then asks a series of questions about things which Enoch did not “believe.”  He didn’t believe that Jesus was the Son of God, nor that God raised Him from the dead.  He wasn’t immersed in water for the forgiveness of sins.  He didn’t believe that Jesus died on the cross so that his sins could be washed away.  He wasn’t born of the Spirit, again, because the Spirit hadn’t been given.

Except for the last item, all these things are irrelevant to the case of Enoch.  Hebrews 11:5 has a comment about Enoch, By faith Enoch was taken away so that he did not see death, ‘and was not found because God had taken him’; for before he was taken he had this testimony, that he pleased God.  How was Enoch saved?  BY FAITH, just like anyone else who has ever been saved, beginning with Abel.  (The Scripture nowhere reveals for certain whether Adam was ever saved.)

So then, what is “faith”?  According to Hebrews 11, it’s an obedient response to the Word of God.  We might add to that, the Word of God as it has been given, as it had been given to Enoch, not as it will be given, as it has been to us with the death and resurrection of Jesus.  Enoch was saved through faith in the revealed Word of God, just like you and I are.

Then the writer turns to the thief on the cross.  Again, he lists some things about the man.  The thief believed that Jesus was the Christ.  This is true.  He repented, but he did not confess that God raised Jesus from the dead.  This last is irrelevant.  Jesus hadn’t yet been raised from the dead, so the resurrection wasn’t yet an object of faith.  And, finally, he wasn’t born of the Spirit.  We believe this is inaccurate, as we mentioned above.

Then he asks, “Can men, today, be saved like the thief on the cross.  ABSOLUTELY NOT” (his emphasis.)  So, he believes that there have been at least two different ways to be saved.

He says, “men, today, can only be saved by meeting the terms of the New Covenant,” which, according to him, “started on the Day of Pentecost.”

It might be interesting to see what the Old Testament, which was written long before Pentecost, has to say about the New Covenant.

Jeremiah 31:31-34 says,

“Behold, the days are coming, says the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with THE HOUSE OF ISRAEL AND WITH THE HOUSE OF JUDAH (my emphasis)  – not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day when I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, though I was an husband to them, says the LORD.  But this is the covenant which I will make with THE HOUSE OF ISRAEL (my emphasis) after those days, says the LORD:  I will put My law in their minds and write it on their hearts; and I will be their God and they shall be My people.  No more shall every man teach his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for they shall all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them, says the LORD.  For I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.

The whole section of Jeremiah 30-33 is the context in which the above portion should be read.

Ezekiel 11:19-20; 16:60-63; 37:15-28, and 39:21-29 are just some of the OT Scriptures which refer to this promise of God to the nation of Israel.

Did all of this happen at Pentecost?  Did any of it?  To the nation?  To individuals, yes, but to the nation?

It’s commonly taught that verses like these were all fulfilled when Israel returned from the Babylonian Captivity.  Again, where is the Scriptural evidence?  It certainly isn’t in Nehemiah, Ezra, Haggai or Malachi, books written during or after the Return.

There’s not a verse in the OT about the New Covenant which includes baptism as one of its “terms of pardon.”

In a final “note,” the author refers to conversions listed in the Book of Acts.  Turning his argument around, he maintains that no one who was saved said that they did not have to believe that Jesus is the Son of God, that they did not have to be born of water and of the Spirit, did not have to believe in the Resurrection, did not have to be immersed in water in order to be saved, and did not have to repent in order to be saved.

Except for the two references to “water,” which we’ll look at in a moment, all the other things he lists are irrelevant.  Jesus had come, unlike the time of Enoch and even in some ways unlike the thief on the cross – as we’ve noted – and so there were things about Him, like His deity and Resurrection, which are now the objects of faith.  One cannot deny them and be saved.

So, what about “water”?

The writer refers a couple of times to John 3:5, where Jesus said to Nicodemus, “…unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.”  There are a variety of viewpoints about what the Lord meant by “water.”  Our friend says that it has to be immersion in water in order to be saved.  Others says it refers to physical birth, and still others look to Ephesians 5:26, where Paul refers to the washing of water by the word.  However, Nicodemus probably never read Ephesians, and the idea of it simply referring to physical birth seems unlikely.  All Nicodemus had to go by was the Old Testament, where baptism is never mentioned.

In his listing of salvation experiences on Acts, there’s one incident to which our friend never refers.  It’s found in Acts 10:  the conversion of Cornelius, his family and several close friends.  We’ll start reading from v. 43, which tells us something of what Peter told those in the house:

“to Him [Jesus] all the prophets witness that through His name, whoever believes in Him will receive remission of sin.”  While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit fell upon all those who heard the word.  And those of the circumcision who believed were astonished, as many as came with Peter, because the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out on the Gentiles also.  For they heard them speak with tongues and magnify God.  Then Peter answered and said, “Can anyone forbid water, THAT THESE SHOULD NOT BE BAPTIZED WHO HAVE RECEIVED THE HOLY SPIRIT AS WE HAVE?” (emphasis added).

“Whoever believes in Him will receive remission of sin.”  If Peter had agreed with our friend, wouldn’t he have said, “Whoever believes in Him and is baptized in order to be saved will receive remission of sin”?

Cornelius and his family and friends were all saved without baptism, as witnessed by their receiving the Holy Spirit, which, in turn, was evidenced by their speaking in tongues and glorifying God.

News of this reached Jerusalem and created quite a stir.  The early church, being mainly Jewish, had a great deal of difficulty accepting the idea that Gentiles could be saved without coming through Judaism; perhaps none of them more-so than Peter.  That’s why he received the vision in the early verses of Acts 10.

Acts 11 records the argument that arose over what Peter had done.  He gives a complete account of what happened before and when he arrived at Cornelius’ house.  In vs. 15-17, he said,

“And as I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell upon them, as upon us at the beginning.  Then I remembered the word of the Lord, how He said, ‘John indeed baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’  If therefore God gave them the same gift as He gave us when we believed on the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could withstand God?”

Notice in both these instances that Peter never asked for a “decision.”  He never told people to “pray to receive the Holy Spirit.”  He just simply told them about the Lord Jesus, and God did all the rest.  These may or may not have their place elsewhere, but they had no place here.

Unless one believes that lost people can receive the Holy Spirit, and in spite of the two or three other verses proponents of baptismal salvation use, Acts 10 forever refutes the idea that baptism is necessary for salvation.
__________

(originally published December 26, 2013.) edited.

 

Cornelius

Cornelius, a Roman centurion, is one of the most important people in the New Testament.  His conversion, along with that of his family and friends, recorded in Acts 10 and 11, was a watershed event in church history.

How so?

The early church had a really hard time accepting that Gentiles could be saved without first becoming Jews, and Peter perhaps more than most.  That’s why Peter received a special vision in Acts 10:9-16.  Three times he saw a sheet lowered from heaven, filled with all kinds of animals:  clean and unclean.  Three times he was told to rise and eat.  After all, he was “very hungry,” v. 9.  Three times, he said, “no,” that he’d never eaten an unclean animal:  no bacon, no rattlesnake, no kalimari.  Three times, he was told that what God had cleansed, he must not call unclean or common.

“What in the world?” thought Peter.

Just then, in God’s perfect timing, there was a knock at the front door, so to speak v. 17.  Three men – Gentiles – wanted to talk to Peter.  Now he understood.

Though a Roman centurion, Cornelius was what was known as a “God-fearer.”  Cf. Acts 13:16, you who fear God. These were Gentiles, like Cornelius, who had come to see the God of Israel as the true God.  They had not become “Jews” by being circumcised, but they still recognized and followed the God of Israel.

Cornelius was called a devout man and one who feared God with all his household, who gave alms to the people, and prayed to God always, Acts 10:1.  For all that, he and his household still needed something.

God sent Peter to tell him of that something.

Several somethings.

1.  God acknowledged what Cornelius was doing, but it was not enough.  Lest some use these verses to say that we can be saved by our own works and doings, Peter said that there was someone else involved, vs. 34, 35.

2.  This someone else was the Lord Jesus, whom God anointed with the Holy Spirit and with power.  He then went about doing good and healing, vs. 36-39a.

3.  In spite of all the good the Lord did, they killed Him by hanging Him on a tree, v. 39b.

4.  God raised Him from the dead, vs. 40, 41.  Jesus showed Himself to selected witnesses, among them Peter, who confirmed that He did indeed rise from the dead.  There are those who teach that He only rose “spiritually,” that His body remained dead, and is preserved somewhere, but He Himself proved His bodily resurrection by appearing to His disciples, telling them to touch Him and saying, “A spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have,” Luke 24:39.

5.  Jesus commanded His disciples to testify that it is He who was ordained by God to be Judge of the living and the dead.  To Him all the prophets witness that, through His name, whoever believes in Him will receive remission [forgiveness] of sins, vs. 42, 43.

Peter never got to finish his sermon.

In thinking about current practices and teaching, it strikes me that Peter never did several things we do today.

1.  He never told Cornelius to “make his decision for Christ.”
2.  He never told Cornelius to “pray to receive the Holy Spirit.”
3.  He never told Cornelius to “repent and be baptized for the remission of sins,” (even though he had indeed said that to an earlier audience, Acts 2:38).

With regard to that last “omission,” when I was just a new believer, I worked with a lady who belonged to a group who insisted that baptism was essential to salvation.  They’re still around today – I see them on facebook quite often.  Even though I had pleased the little old ladies in my grandmother’s Sunday School class because I knew that “sanctification” means “to set apart” (though it means more than that), I really didn’t know much about the Bible.  I did know the story in Acts 10; I just didn’t know where it was.  I looked and looked and finally found it.  (Didn’t have my trusty Strong’s Concordance, then. 🙂 )  When I showed Acts 10 to this lady, she had no answer, though she wouldn’t receive what it said.

Play close attention to what the Holy Spirit wanted us to know about what He sent Peter to do:

While Peter was STILL SPEAKING these words, the Holy Spirit fell upon all those who heard the word. And those of the circumcision who believed were ASTONISHED, because the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out ON THE GENTILES ALSO.  For they heard them speak with tongues and magnify God.  Then Peter answered, “Can anyone forbid water, that these SHOULD NOT BE BAPTIZED WHO HAVE RECEIVED THE HOLY SPIRIT JUST AS WE HAVE?” Acts 10:44-47, emphasis added

It seems to me that, unless one is willingly to believe that lost people can receive the Holy Spirit, the conversion of Cornelius and his family and friends puts to rest forever the false teaching that baptism is essential to becoming saved.

Having said that, it is essential for those who ARE saved – it’s their “profession of faith,” not walking an aisle or raising a hand.  It’s just never how you “get saved.”

The Sabbath and The Sacrifice

This is the final post in our series on “The Sabbath.”  In the preceding posts, we’ve traced the Sabbath from it’s beginning in God’s creation rest, through it’s inclusion in the Mosaic Covenant God made with Israel to remind them continually of their rescue from Egyptian slavery and their singular privilege as God’s people, through their dismal record of disobedience to it, ending with the Lord Jesus’ absolute honoring of it.  This, however, as we saw in the 12 incidents that the Gospels record, wasn’t in accord with what the religious leaders taught, but according to His own deity and authority.  Since the Lord ministered for more than three years, these 12 occurrences are just a drop in the bucket compared to what must have happened dozens of time, indeed, probably every Sabbath.

There are those who stop right there and say, “All right.  Since the Lord kept the Sabbath, we have to keep it as well.”  However, Scripture doesn’t end with the Crucifixion or even the Resurrection.  Luke refers to all that Jesus began to do and teach, Acts 1:1.  Though absent physically from His people, He is still active through the Spirit in His people.  However, this activity is in agreement with the Word of God as it was revealed to and through the first two generations of the church.  There is no new revelation, nor has there been since the giving of the last book of the New Testament, the Book of the Revelation of Jesus Christ.

So what does the rest of the New Testament have to say about the Sabbath?  You might be surprised.

There are 109 references to the Sabbath, by name, in the Old Testament.  There are 50 references in the Gospels.  That’s 159 references total.

In the rest of the New Testament, starting with the Book of Acts, there are –

10….

Ten.

Nine of those are in Acts.

Acts 1:12 tells of the disciples returning to Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives, where the Lord Jesus had just left them, returning to heaven, but giving them  their last instructions before doing so.  The “Sabbath day’s journey” was the distance the Rabbis had decided was the distance someone could travel on the Sabbath without breaking it. Perhaps based on their interpretation of Exodus 16:29 and Numbers 35:5, this was said to be 2000 cubits, or 3000 feet, about 3/5 of a mile.

The four references in Acts 13:14, 27, 42, 44 refer to about two weeks of Paul’s ministry in Antioch of Pisidia.  In v. 14, he and his party visited the Synagogue on the Sabbath and were given the opportunity to “exhort” the people, v. 15.  Vs. 16-41 give us Paul’s remarks to the people there, a wonderful summary of Israel’s history, finishing with David and God’s promise of a Savior coming from his line, vs. 23.  Then there’s the application to the Lord Jesus as the fulfillment of that promise, through His crucifying as fulfillment of prophecies read every Sabbath in synagogues, but not understood by those reading or hearing them.  Also promised, Jesus rose from the dead, as witnessed by his disciples, v. 31.  Paul closed with a warning to heed what he was saying.

As a result of his teaching, v. 42, the Gentiles begged to hear more the next Sabbath.  A lot of people followed Paul and Barnabas after the service, and they encouraged these people to continue in the grace of God, v. 43.  The next week, nearly the whole city turned out to hear Paul.  This aroused the enmity of the Jews, and they chased Paul out of the city.

Acts 15:21 is part of the account of the Jerusalem Council given in Acts 15, which convened as a result of opposition to Paul’s teaching by those who insisted that Gentile converts had to be circumcised according to the custom of Moses, without which you cannot be saved, v. 1, and to command them to keep the law of Moses, v. 5.

Peter answered these assertions by pointing out that Gentiles had been saved through his ministry without the necessity of becoming or acting like Jews.  This referred to the salvation of Cornelius, his family and friends, Acts 10.  By the way, Acts 10 also has something to say to those who insist that one can’t be saved without baptism.

Note carefully the decision of the council in Acts 15:24-29.  First, they had never sent out anyone insisting that keeping the Law was necessary for salvation.  What the Holy Spirit and they did want for Gentile converts were that they abstain from things offered to idols, from blood, from things strangled, and from sexual immorality, vs. 28, 29. Not a single reference to keeping the Sabbath for these Gentile believers.

Acts 16:13 tells of Paul’s meeting in Philippi with Lydia and other women.

Acts 17:2 tells us of the three Sabbath Paul spent in a synagogue in Thessalonica, reasoning from the Scriptures, and seeking to persuade them that this Jesus whom I preach to you is the Christ, that is, the Messiah.  Notice that Paul reasoned FROM the Scriptures.  There a lot of people who try to reason TO the Scriptures, that is, they think that if you can present enough “evidence,” people will receive Christ.  However, the Pharisees had all the “evidence” in the world about the Lord Jesus, but, with very few exceptions, all of them rejected Him.  The same is true of the Sadducees and Herodians, though there is no record of any of these ever being saved.

Acts 18:4 tells us of a man named Aquila, who reasoned in the synagogue every Sabbath, and persuaded both Jews and Greeks.

With the exception of Acts 16:13, these accounts all concern Jews and their required observance of the Sabbath.  But even in Philippi, I think we see Jewish influence because these women gathered together on the Sabbath.  Evidently there was no synagogue, which by Jewish law required ten men to start.

Peter and Paul and the others went to synagogue because they were Jews, yes, but also that they might witness through the prophets the truth about the Lord Jesus Christ. There is no evidence anywhere in Scripture that Gentiles were or are required to observe the Sabbath.  Many Gentiles did go to the synagogue because it was through the Jewish nation that one came to God.  However, as soon as opposition arose, the Gentiles and those Jews who believed Paul and the others separated themselves.

We mentioned the Holy Spirit.  Since we believe that the New Testament writings were inspired in their giving by the Holy Spirit, what does He have to say in the rest of the New Testament about the the Sabbath?

In the twenty-two remaining books of the NT, Romans – Revelation, containing about 3,146 verses, there is –

1 verse –

one-

which mentions the Sabbath.  That verse is,

Colossians 2:16, So let no man judge you in food or in drink, or regarding a festival or a new moon or sabbaths. 

Not a ringing endorsement of Sabbath-keeping.  Instead of being concerned that these believers weren’t observing the Sabbath, he worries that they were.  This verse is the conclusion of a section in which Paul tells us that Christ supercedes Moses, that it is through His death on the Cross that we’ve been made alive spiritually, not through keeping the rituals and requirements of Moses.  The writer of Hebrews makes the same point.

Hebrews was apparently written to Jews who were being tempted, perhaps by persecution and hardship, to return to their old way of doing things, that is, to the Temple worship and sacrifices.  Hebrews is a book of warning against doing that.  The theme of the book may be summarized by Colossians 1:18, that in all things He might have the preeminence.  In the first three chapters, the writer compares and contrasts the Lord Jesus with the Old Testament prophets, with angels and to Moses and Aaron.  In view of this superiority, the writer warns against “drifting away,” that is, not holding fast to His words, because He is God, but being influenced by the things they were experiencing.  Faithfulness in following the Lord Jesus is the evidence we are truly His, not legalism or formal ritualism.

Then, in 3:7-16, the writer turns to a familiar OT story, the failure of Israel to enter the land and the consequent 38 years wandering in the wilderness.  Because of their rebellion, God said, “They shall not enter My rest.”  See also 4:3.

It might be objected that the writer never refers to the Sabbath as such.  That’s true.  But Israel never achieved the “rest” the Sabbath foreshadowed.  They never achieved the completion, the “success,” if you will, of God’s creation rest.  In the wilderness, in the land, out of the land, returning to the land, being defeated as a nation in AD 70, spending centuries scattered among the nations, being recognized again as a nation in 1948, fighting with her enemies now in 2014 – Israel has never achieved that state of peace and perfection typified in the perfection and completion of creation.  They have never entered that rest.  Indeed, dark, dark days are ahead for her, Zechariah 14:1, 2.

Furthermore, as part of the Mosaic Law, the Sabbath was a only a shadow of good things to come, and not the very image of the things, Hebrews 10:1.  Though it was called “a rest,” it was always only temporary;  Israel always had to go “back to work.” They could never “cease” because they were never done.  Though they offered sacrifices for centuries, they never achieved the righteousness which would have allowed them to “be done”.  Redemption was never achieved.

In contrast, the writer speaks of the ONE sacrifice of the Lord Jesus by which sin was purged, 1:3.  No other sacrifice is needed. Sin has been paid for, redemption has been accomplished.  In contrast to Israel, the writer says that we who have believed do enter that rest, 4:3.   There is a rest for the people of God, 4:9.  Hebrews 4:8-10 tells us that our “rest” isn’t found in a day of the week, but in a Person, the Lord Jesus Christ.

Mark 16:9 tells us that Jesus rose early on the first day of the week.  John 20:19, that same first day of the week, Jesus appeared to the eleven as they huddled in fear in a closed room with a locked door.  Acts 20:7 tells us that the disciples came together to break bread, that is, to observe the Lord’s Supper, not just to “fellowship.”  In 1 Corinthians 16:2, Paul refers to the first day of the week as the time to prepare for a certain offering which was to be taken up.  The disciples met together on Sunday because that is the day the Lord Jesus arose, not because of some church edict.

Beyond these few references, there is no emphasis on a particular day of the week.  I believe that, if necessary, believers could decide to meet together on a Thursday morning at 3 AM and still please God with their worship.  It’s not a DAY, but a DEATH that brings us to God.

Those who worship on the Sabbath in effect say that redemption has still to be accomplished, sin has still to be paid for, God’s justice has still to be satisfied.  But redemption has been accomplished, sin has been paid for, God’s justice has been satisfied.

There is much more that could be said on all the subject we’ve written about in this series.  We hope that what we have written at least gives you something to think about.

He is not here,” said the angel on that first day of the week, “He is risen!”

That’s why we meet on Sunday.

The Sabbath has been realized.

 

 

The Thief on the Cross: A Different Way of Salvation?

On November 23, I published a post about the thief on the cross.  Some time later, I got a lengthy response.  Wordpress put it into spam.  It wasn’t, but neither was it something I could “approve”.  I have no difficulty with people disagreeing with something I believe, provided they show that the Scripture says I’m wrong. I just want what the Scripture itself says, not what folks say it says.  Such was the case for this response.  The gentleman who wrote it clearly believes there has been more than one way of salvation.  His comment was titled:  “Can Men, Today, Be Saved Like Enoch?”  His comments are largely a non-sequitur, because they fail to follow what the Bible actually says about the subject.

His comment starts off, “Did you ever notice that the hydrophobic believers in Jesus want to be saved like the thief on the cross?”  I suppose the word “hydrophobic” (fear of water) has to do with the fact that this gentleman believes that baptism is necessary for salvation.  His whole response is based on that supposition.  At the same time, he refers to them as “believers in Jesus.”  So, are these “hydrophobic” “believers in Jesus” saved or not?  He doesn’t say.

He continues, “Their argument is that the thief was not baptized in water, and was still saved.”  I agree.  However, he says, “Thief proponents fail to mention that the thief was also saved without being born of the Spirit.”  I disagree.  Because the Bible doesn’t specifically mention it in this case, doesn’t mean that He wasn’t active in the heart and mind of this thief to enable him see that Jesus wasn’t just another criminal being executed.

According to this gentleman, “the Holy Spirit of promise had not been given at that time,” so, apparently, He was nowhere to be found until Pentecost.   However, the Old Testament is filled with references to the activity of the Holy Spirit.  Pentecost may have inaugurated a new day in God’s dealing with men, with Gentiles being granted salvation apart from becoming Jews, but it did not begin the ministry of the Holy Spirit.

Then he brings in the case of Enoch, asking why men today don’t petition to be saved like Enoch.  He quotes Genesis 5:24, Enoch walked with God; and he was not, for God took him.

Then having admitted that Enoch was saved, the writer asks a series of questions about things that Enoch did not “believe”.  He didn’t believe that Jesus was the Son of God, nor that God raised Him from the dead.  He wasn’t immersed in water for the forgiveness of sins.  He didn’t believe that Jesus shed His blood on the cross so that his sins could be washed away.  He was not born of the Spirit, again, because the Spirit hadn’t been given.

Except for the last item, all these things are irrelevant to the case of Enoch.  Hebrews 11:5 has a comment about Enoch:  By faith Enoch was taken away so that he did not see death, ‘and was not found, because God had taken him’; for before he was taken he had this testimony, that he pleased God.  How was Enoch saved?  BY FAITH, just like anyone else has ever been saved, beginning with Abel.  (The Scripture nowhere reveals for certain whether Adam was ever saved.)

So then, what is “faith”?  According to Hebrews 11, it’s an obedient response to the Word of God, the Word, we might mention, which has been given, as in the case of Enoch, not which will be given, as in the case of the death and resurrection of Jesus. Enoch was saved through faith in the revealed Word of God, just like you and I are.

Then this gentleman turns to the thief on the cross.  Again, he lists some things about this man.  The thief believed that Jesus was the Christ [true].  He repented, but he did not confess that God raised Jesus from the dead [irrelevant.  Christ hadn’t risen from the dead yet, so the resurrection wasn’t a subject for faith], he wasn’t immersed in water for the forgiveness of his sins [also irrelevant], and he wasn’t born of the Spirit [inaccurate].

Then he asks, “can men, today, be saved like the thief on the cross?  ABSOLUTELY NOT” (his emphasis).  So, according to this writer, there have been least two different ways of salvation.

According to this writer, “men, today, can only be saved by meeting the terms of pardon under the New Covenant,” which, according to him, “started on the Day of Pentecost.”

It might be interesting to see what the Old Testament, written long before Pentecost, has to say about the New Covenant:

Jeremiah 31:31-34 says, “Behold, the days are coming, says the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with THE HOUSE OF ISRAEL AND WITH THE HOUSE OF JUDAH [my emphasis] – not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, though I was a husband to them, says the LORD.  But this is the covenant that I will make WITH THE HOUSE OF ISRAEL [my emphasis] after those days, says the LORD:  I will put My law in their minds, and write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people.  No more shall every man teach his neighbor,  and every man his brother, saying ‘Know the LORD,’ for they shall all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them, says the LORD.  For I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.” 

The whole section from Jeremiah 30-33 is the context in which the portion above should be read.

Ezekiel 11:19-20; 16:60-63; 37:15-28, and 39:21-29 are just some of the other OT Scriptures which refer to this promise of God to the nation of Israel.

Did all of this happen at Pentecost?  Did any of it?

It’s commonly taught that verses like these were all fulfilled when Israel returned from the Babylonian Captivity.  Again, where is the Scriptural evidence?  It certainly isn’t in Nehemiah, Ezra, Haggai or Malachi, books written about, during or after the Return.

There’s not a verse in the Old Testament about the New Covenant which includes baptism as one of it’s “terms of pardon.”

In a final “note,” the author refers to conversions listed in the Book of Acts.  Turning his argument around, he maintains that no one who was saved said that they did not believe that Jesus is the Son of God, that they did not have to be born of water and the Spirit, did not have to believe in the Resurrection, did not have to be immersed in water in order to be saved, and did not have to repent in order to be saved.

Except for the two references to “water”, which we’ll look at in a moment, all the others are irrelevant.  Jesus had come, unlike the time of Enoch and even in some ways unlike the thief on the cross – as we’ve noted – and so there were things about Him, like His deity and His resurrection, which now are the subjects of faith.  One cannot deny them and be saved.

So, what about “water?”

The writer refers a couple of times to John 3:5, where Jesus said to Nicodemus, “…unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.”   There are a variety of viewpoints about what our Lord meant by “water.”  Our friend, of course, says that it has to be immersion in water in order to be saved.  Others say that it refers to physical birth, and still others look to Ephesians 5:26, where Paul refers to the washing of water by the word.”  However, Nicodemus probably never read Ephesians, and the idea of it simply being physical birth seems seems somewhat strange.  All Nicodemus had to go by was the Old Testament, where baptism is never mentioned.

Though listing salvation experiences in the Book of Acts, there is one instance to which our friend never refers.  It’s found in Acts 10:  the conversion of Cornelius, his household and close friends, v. 24.  We’ll start reading in v. 43, which tells us something of what Peter told those in the house:  “to Him [Jesus] all the prophets witness that, through His name, whoever believes in Him will receive remission of sins.”  While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit fell upon all those who heard the word.  And those of the circumcision who believed were astonished, as many as came with Peter, because the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out on the Gentiles also.  For they heard them speak with tongues and magnify God.  Then Peter answered and said, “Can anyone forbid water, THAT THESE SHOULD NOT BE BAPTIZED WHO HAVE RECEIVED THE HOLY SPIRIT JUST AS WE HAVE?”  (emphasis added).

“Whoever believes in Him will receive remission of sins.”  If Peter had agreed with our friend, wouldn’t he have said, “Whoever believes in Him and is baptized will receive remission of sins”?

Cornelius and his family and friends were saved without baptism, as witnessed by their receiving the Holy Spirit, which, in turn, was evidenced by their speaking with tongues and glorifying God.

News of this reached Jerusalem and created quite a stir.  The early church, being mainly Jewish, had a great deal of difficulty accepting the idea that Gentiles could be saved without coming through Judaism and perhaps none of them more than Peter. This is why he received the special vision recorded in the first part of Acts 10.

Acts 11 records the argument that arose over what Peter had done.  He gives a complete account of what happened before and when he arrived at Cornelius’ house.  In v. 15-17, he said, “And as I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell upon them, as upon us at the beginning.  Then I remembered the word of the Lord, how He said, ‘John indeed baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’  If therefore God gave them the same gift as He gave us when we believed on the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could withstand God?”

Notice in both these accounts that Peter never asked for a “decision.”  He never told his audience to “pray to receive the Holy Spirit.”  He just simply told them about the Lord Jesus Christ and God did all the rest.  These may or may not have their place elsewhere, but they had no place here.

Unless one believes that lost people can receive the Holy Spirit, and regardless of the two or three other verses proponents of baptismal salvation bring forth, Acts 10 forever refutes the idea that baptism is necessary for salvation. 

Infant Baptism: A Study in Three Parts. Part 1: The Great Commission and Apostolic Practice.

When I was a young student at a Baptist Bible college, I came across a book entitled, “The Biblical Basis FOR Infant Baptism,” by Dwight Hervey Small.  It shook me to my very core because I couldn’t answer his reasoning.  In further study on the subject, I came across a book entitled, “Baptism Not For Infants,” by T. E. Watson, in which he showed that Reformed scholars themselves answer, or rather, contradict, the teachings of other Reformed scholars.

In looking at Small’s book now, some 50 years later, I see that it’s all marked up.  His reasoning is no longer compelling, as it once was.

Why would I get into such a divisive topic?  Why would I go against the practice of almost the entire professing Christian world?  Who cares?  Sadly, few do.  I do, because, as you may have seen in other posts, my concern isn’t, “What does a church teach?” but “What does the Scripture say?” Romans 4:3.  It isn’t about what different scholars say on the subject.  I’ve read books from authors on both sides of the question who once held the other view.  Scripture stays the same.  What was true in the apostles’ day about baptism is true in our day.  “The church” has neither the right nor the authority to do anything else but what the Scripture teaches – in those cases where it teaches.  For example, the Bible says nothing about the use of computers.  We have perfect liberty, except in those areas where God has spoken through His Word.  The problem is that most Christians apparently don’t read it – all of it.  A few verses here and there don’t usually give us the whole Biblical teaching on any subject.

I’ve divided this study into three parts because of its length. I had intended to post all three at the same time, but decided it would be better to post them a day or so apart.   These studies are as follows:
I.   The Great Commission and Apostolic Practice.
II.  Circumcision, Passover, Baptism and Communion.
III. Israel, the Church, and the Covenants.

I. The Great Commission and Apostolic Practice. 

Matthew 28:19, Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit (NKJV and everywhere, unless otherwise noted).

This familiar verse is part of the Lord’s final instructions to the disciples before He ascended into Heaven.  In the Book of Acts, we see how the disciples understood His instructions about baptism, which are the only such instructions anywhere in the Bible.  Please note in the context of this study that when we use the term “Reformed,” we are referring to Protestants, who practice infant baptism.  “Reformed Baptists” would agree with us on the topic of baptism, but differ on other areas.  Nor are we talking about the Roman Catholic practice which is unScriptural as well, but has a different emphasis.

– Examples in Acts

Acts 2:41, Then those who gladly received his word were baptized; and that day about three thousand souls were added to them.

This dramatic climax to Peter’s sermon on the Day of Pentecost shows that those baptized “gladly received his word.”

Acts 8:12, But when they believed Philip as he preached the things concerning the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, both men and women were baptized.

Here again we see “believing” preceding “baptizing.”  In the words of the first example, they “gladly received his word.”  The additional detail tells us that both men and women were baptized.

Acts 8:38, So he commanded the chariot to stand still.  And both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water, and he baptized him.

This is the familiar story of the Ethiopian eunuch, a high government official in his own country, who had come to Jerusalem to worship, v. 27.  On his way home, he was reading a copy of Isaiah, no small feat in a day when there were no printing presses or bookstores.  In the providence of God he was reading a portion we know as Isaiah 53 and so Philip had a ready made platform beginning at this Scripture to preach Jesus to him, v. 35.  This resulted in the eunuch wanting to know why he could not be baptized.  Some versions have Philip requiring a profession of faith; others leave that out.  Whichever is true, the eunuch’s faith in the Lord Jesus is implicit even if not specifically stated.  He, too, “gladly received” the word.

It’s interesting that these three instances cover the scope of instructions the Lord left with His disciples, and thus His church, in Acts 1:8 where He said, “You shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”  Acts 2:41 is Jerusalem (Judea).  Acts 8:12 was in Samaria.  In Acts 8:38, the eunuch represents the ends of the earth.

Acts 18:8, Then Crispus, the ruler of the synagogue, believed on the Lord with all his household.  And many of the Corinthians, hearing, believed and were baptized. 

Here again are the familiar elements of “hearing,” “believing,” and being baptized.

These verses give us examples of the understanding of the early New Testament church as to “baptism.”  It was given only to those who gladly received the word, that is, they “believed.”  Both men and women were baptized.  In one case, it was considered important enough for a question as to whether the person asking it could be baptized. Nowhere is it said that children, let alone infants, were baptized.

– Yes, but….

In the very first sentence of his book, Small says, “The majority of Christian churches in the world practice baptism by sprinkling, including the children of professing believers in what is commonly called ‘covenant baptism’.” (p. 5.).  Yet Louis Berkhof, a distinguished Reformed scholar, admits in his “Manual of Christian Doctrine,” p. 319, “There is no explicit command in Scripture to baptize children; nor is there a single instance in which we are plainly told that children were baptized.”  However, he continues, “But this does not necessarily make infant baptism un-Biblical.”  This brings us to

– Household baptisms.

On p. 321, Professor Berkhof says, “Whole households were repeatedly baptized [sic], and this is represented as something perfectly normal.  It is but natural to assume that there were children in some of these households.  We know that in the second century children were baptized.”

With regard to his last sentence, it doesn’t really matter what happened in the second century.  Reformed teachers commonly refer to “the early Church fathers.”  We only comment that in going to the New Testament for our beliefs, we are simply returning to “the ‘original’ Church fathers.”  Their writings alone are authoritative.  Later writings may be interesting and even informative, but they have no authority.

Even the New Testament tells us that error began to infiltrate the churches before it was completed.  Many of the NT books were written to combat these errors, e.g., Galatians. Even Small in his book (p. 184) laments “an incredible need for reformation began in the church in the generations immediately following the apostles….  The need for reformation was present at the beginning of the second century, and the subsequent history of the church only reveals a progressive departure.”  Perhaps a large contributing factor to this decline was the introduction of unregenerate persons into the church by means of infant baptism.

With regard to the assumption “that there were children in some of these households,” we quite agree.  However, it is just as easy to “assume” that the apostles and others would have been obedient to the plain command of their Lord and baptized only those who professed faith in Christ.  Let’s look at the instances of “household” baptism in the NT.

Acts 10:44, 46, 47, While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit fell upon all those who heard the word….  Then Peter answered, “Can any forbid water that these should not be baptized…?”  

There are several interesting things in this account – a watershed event in the NT: the first record of the salvation of a Gentile after Pentecost (Acts 10:1-11:18).  Cornelius, a Roman centurion, was a devout man and one who feared God with all his household, 10:2.  He was sent a vision from God in which he was told to send for Peter to hear words from him, v. 22.  When Peter and those who were with him got there, they discovered that Cornelius was waiting for them, and had called together his relatives and close friends, v.24.  Peter began to tell them about the Lord Jesus, vs. 34-43, and while Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit fell upon all those who heard the word, v. 44.  Then Peter said, “Can any forbid water, that these should not be baptized…?” v. 47.

This whole thing created a furor in the church at Jerusalem and so a meeting took place to discuss it, Acts 15.  There are many things here, but we’ll look only at vs. 17, 18, where Peter concludes his account:  “If God therefore gave them [that is, those with Cornelius] the same gift as He gave us when we believed on the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could withstand God?”  When they [that is, the others at the meeting in Jerusalem] heard these things, they became silent; and they glorified God, saying, “Then God has also granted to the Gentiles repentance to life.” 

There is nothing here that is different from the first accounts we looked at; these, too, “gladly received” the word.

Acts 16:14, 15, Now a certain woman named Lydia heard us.  She was a seller of purple from the city of Thyatira, who worshipped God.  The Lord opened her heart to heed the things spoken by Paul.  And when she and her household were baptized, she begged us, saying,”If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come to my house and stay.” 

Like Cornelius, Lydia was already “devout.”  Each Sabbath, likely, she would meet with other women who would gather to pray, not in a synagogue, but by a river.  And like Cornelius, God sent someone to her to tell her about the Lord Jesus.

There is so much here.

The Lord opened her heart to heed the things spoken by Paul.  Here is the ministry of the Holy Spirit, doing His work so that people understand the Word of God is the Word of God, not just another set of religious instruction that is really no different than that of any other religion.

Here is the baptism of Lydia and her household.  We’re told nothing about this household, but there’s no reason to assume that there was something different here.  No doubt, Lydia would have explained what had happened to her and why Paul and his company were with her.  We’re not told if these were only adults, or if, indeed, there were infants and children present.  Some believe that these were the servants and retinue of a businesswoman in a city not her home.  Possibly.  We just don’t know.  In any event, even if there were infants and children there, as we said before, it’s just as easy to believe that Paul would have been obedient to his Lord and baptized only those who professed faith in Christ.

In no instance in the NT is baptism separated from the prior faith of the one being baptized.  There are no instances of “second-hand” baptism, no “proxies,” based on the faith of someone else, parents or otherwise.

Acts 16:31-34, So they said, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, you and your household.  Then they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house.  …And immediately he and all his family were baptized.  …and he rejoiced, having believed in God with all his household.

Here again are the common elements preceding the baptism of these folks.  “All who were in the house” heard the Word and the jailer rejoiced, “having believed in God with all his household.”  Like all the others before them, “they gladly received the word.”

Reformed scholars argue that the Greek indicates that only the jailer believed.  The verb is singular.  The ESV translates v. 34, And he rejoiced along with his entire household that he had believed in God.  The verb is also singular in v. 31: “believe”.  However, if all that’s indicated is that only the jailer believed and yet his whole household was baptized on that account, why are we told that Paul and Silas spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house?

Since “household baptism” is one of the arguments for “infant” baptism, are we to believe that only infants were in this “household”?  Certainly not.  Why then, if the “household” were baptized on the faith of the jailer alone, and if the household consisted of more than infants, why then don’t the Reformed also baptize all members of a new believer’s household:  infant, child, teen or adult?  WHY ISN’T “HOUSEHOLD BAPTISM” HOUSEHOLD BAPTISM?  Why is it restricted to infants?

The truth is, we aren’t told everything that happened in this household prior to its baptism.  No doubt, the events that transpired with the jailer and his former prisoners at the house gave the opportunity we read of for Paul and Silas to witness about the saving grace of God.  Even though we’re not told directly about the household’s response to this witness, based on every other baptism in Acts, we may infer that the “household” believed along with the jailer.  As far as the mention of “his” faith, it is mainly “his” story.  As for his household rejoicing that he had believed [why would unbelievers rejoice at that?], couldn’t it simple be that they were happy he had indeed believed, and then brought the good news home to them with Paul and Silas so that they, too, “the household,” could hear and believe?

There is one more instance of “household baptism” in the NT.

1 Corinthians 1:16, Yes, I also baptized the household of Stephanas.  

Paul refers to these people later in the epistle:  you know that the household of Stephanas were the first converts in Achaia, and they have devoted themselves to the service of God, 16:15 (ESV).  Even in these brief verses, we can trace the NT pattern of faith before baptism.

On p. 42 of his book, Small claims that “baptism becomes a seal of the blessings which rightfully may be expected when in later years the child confirms his baptism by his act of personal faith.”  This is completely contrary to the NT, in which baptism is the confirmation of faith, not the other way around.

There is one more verse often used to support infant baptism.

– What about…? 

Acts 2:39, For the promise is to you and to your children, and to all who are afar, as many as the Lord our God will call.

In a note on this verse, the “Reformation Study Bible,” R. C. Sproul, editor, says, “Peter proclaims that salvation through God’s Messiah is promised to the Jews, their children, and to all those far off (i.e., the Gentiles, Eph. 2:11-13).”  Commenting on this verse, Small (p. 43) says, “One of the very first concerns [of new Jewish believers who were parents] would be whether or not the provisions of the covenant continued with respect to their children….  Peter first assures the Jewish believers that the promise is still in effect…the covenant promise continues to be in force for their children,” although he also says that an entirely new principle is added to the covenant in that it is extended to those who are afar off, Gentiles.

In common with his fellows, Small takes no notice of the qualifying phrase at the end of this verse: as many as the Lord our God will call.  In other words, the promise is only to those who are “called,” that is, “saved.”  Only those who are “called” are the subjects of this promise, and they alone are the only ones who should be baptized.

Next:  Circumcision, Passover, Baptism  and Communion.