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

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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!

“Beginning At Jerusalem,” Part 2.

This post continues and concludes our last post.

Scripture texts:  Luke 24:26, 27, 45-49; John 20:21-23.

3. Luke 24:26, 45-49, The Message Committed to the Churches.

Verse 26 gives us the essence of Gospel preaching.  There are many Biblical subjects we can preach and teach on, but the Gospel itself is about the two things in Luke’s text.

a. An Awful Reality, vs. 26,

1). “the sufferings of Christ”.

We pretty much don’t like the idea of suffering.  If we have a headache, we take an aspirin.  If we have to have surgery, we welcome the anesthesiologist.  In every part of our life, we try to be as comfortable as possible.  Even typing this, I’m not sitting on a hard, straight-backed chair.  We want air-conditioning and heat in our cars, comfortable pews in our churches.  We’re pretty spoiled.

Even in our views of Christ, we don’t think a lot about His suffering.  I’ve heard preachers describe the agony of crucifixion with the dispassion they might use with some ordinary topic.  And, truly, we have no idea what a crucifixion was like.  We are concerned in capital cases that the criminal suffer as little as possible and great outcry is made if, by some chance, something goes wrong and he does suffer.  I’m not advocating cruelty toward criminals, but the Romans had no qualms about things we cringe at.

Our pictures of His death have been pretty sanitized, as well.  One branch of the church even boasts of its “bloodless icons.”  But with the beatings, the scourging and the nails in His wrists and ankles, in the words of Isaiah 52:14, His visage was marred more than any man, and His form more than the sons of men.  In the common vernacular, He was a bloody mess.

Now, some men and women do have an idea of what physical suffering can be like, with serious injuries and such.  But there was more to it than just the physical.  Isaiah 53:6 says, The LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.  Paul carried it even further, he made Him to be sin for us, who knew no sin…, 2 Corinthians 5:21.

“He made Him to be sin….”

I don’t think we have any idea what that meant to the Lord Jesus.  Incarnate holiness to be made imputed sin.  That One who had enjoyed eternal fellowship with the Father now turned away and suffering His wrath against sin.

No.

We have no idea….

But He didn’t just die.

2). and that He should rise from the dead.

The Cross isn’t the end of the story.  He’s not still hanging there.  The crucifix gives a false narrative.  There is no grave holding His remains.  Yes, it was necessary for the Christ to suffer,” but something else was necessary, as well.  That was for Him to rise from the dead the third day,” Luke 24:45.  The Cross is empty.  So is the tomb.

The truth of the Resurrection is what distinguishes Christianity from religions of the world.  Other religions have holy books, death, angels, “visions,” etc.  But none of them has a resurrection, indeed, may even deny the resurrection.

Without the Resurrection, there is no proof that Christ’s death was any different than the deaths of the two men who dies with Him that day.  But He did rise from the dead.  This also proved His assertion that He was God, Romans 1:4.  Some deny that He ever claimed to be God, but that claim was the main reason, humanly speaking, He was crucified, John 19:7.  And, further, because He did rise from the dead, then we have –

b. An Individual Applicability, Luke 24:47.

“and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.”

The announcement of our Lord’s birth to Joseph was that “He will save His people from their sins,” Matthew 1:21.  The Cross was the payment that made salvation even possible.  The Resurrection was the receipt, if you will, for that payment.  We enter into that salvation through two things:

1). Repentance.

Why didn’t Peter mention “faith”?  To hear some preachers, repentance has nothing to do with it.  We have only to “believe.”  Some even say that repentance is a “Jewish doctrine,” and not applicable to us.  Is that true?  Why did Peter mention it?  – and not faith?

And, yes, just to be sure, we are “saved by faith.”  Scripture is very clear about that:  For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast, Ephesians 2:8, 9, emphasis added.

At the same time and regardless of what men may say about it, our Lord specifically commanded repentance to be preached.  In his last remarks to the Ephesian elders, Paul told that he had testified to Jews, and also to Greeks, repentance toward God and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ,”  Acts 20:21.

“Repentance toward God.”

Too many people have the idea that we’re already the children of God and He is our Father.  He is indeed our Creator and in Him we live and move and have our being,” Acts 17:28, but we are not little children wandering from the side of a loving Father.  We are traitors and rebels against the God of Heaven and would dethrone Him if we could.  Granted, there are different degrees of rebellion, but it is still true that we all go astray.  Isaiah 53:11 says, All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned, every one, to his own way.  While that verse refers directly to Israel’s repentance at the Return of our Lord, Romans 3:23 says, we have all sinned and fall short of the glory of God.

We have to do with God.  “Sin” is not defined by the latest social or cultural ideas.  It isn’t determined by “social justice warriors.”  Those who can riot and cause the most damage or kill the most people have nothing to say about it.  Indeed, such ideas lead only to the filth, violence and perversion we see engulfing our world and our cultures.

To “repent” means to change our mind so that we agree with and obey God, not this world or our own sinful inclinations.  It doesn’t mean just to be “sorry” for our sins, which too often just means that we’re sorry about the results of our sin.  It doesn’t mean just to “show remorse” at our sins, which just usually means that we got caught.  It means to reject our sins, to view them as God views them: as terrible, heinous things deserving of judgment and punishment and ourselves as wicked felons for doing such things and having pleasure in them.

Even the most decent and moral among us have “fallen short” in this matter.  Too often we judge ourselves by seeing someone worse that we are.  But that person isn’t the standard.  God’s Law is.  The Lord Jesus is the human example of what that looks like.

We have sinned, we have “fallen short.”  This brings us to the second thing our Lord mentioned:

2). remission of sin.

In the words of Paul, faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ.

He didn’t come to this world just to give us a reason to give each other presents or to dye eggs.  He came into this world to be a substitute, to be a sacrifice.

He came to take care of our sins.

That is why He lived and died:

to save His people from their sins.

It took the death of the incarnate God to pay for sin.  Money can’t do it.  Our “good works” can’t do it.  A few “Hail Marys” or “Our Fathers” can’t do anything about our sins.  Indeed such things, the good works or trying to “bribe” God in some way, only add to our sin.  No “priest,” no human effort or idea, can cause “remission of sin.”  There is nothing and no one in this world that can forgive sin.  Apart from the Lord Jesus Christ, even the very best we could possibly do is sin.  Apart from Him, there is no hope, no salvation.  He Himself said, “I am the way, the truth and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through Me,” John 14:6.

And “to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ” isn’t some physical thing: walking an aisle, “saying a prayer,” “raising a hand for salvation.”  It isn’t baptism or communion.  It isn’t about some ritual or ceremony.

It is to have a “death grip,” as it were, on Him as the Only One who can rescue us from our sin.

4. John 20:21-23, The Means Given to the Churches.

a. His promise, v. 21.

The Lord is not saying that He is sending out His disciples in the same way that the Father sent Him.  There are two words translated “send” in this verse.   The word translated “send” as it pertains to the disciples is more general than the other word.  Some translate the verse so as to indicate that even though the disciples are being sent out, it is still the Lord who is responsible for their mission.  This is a great blessing.  We have enough on our plates to think about without having to worry, as some think, about the results of our faithfulness.  It is the Lord’s mission and it will accomplish what He wants it to, cf. 1 Corinthians 3:6-8.

b. His power, vs. 22, 23.

Many think that the disciples didn’t receive the Spirit until the Day of Pentecost.  However, John indicates that they received Him here.  They received the power of the Spirit at Pentecost.

Verse 23 presents a great difficulty.  The KJV and some other translations seem to indicate that the loosing and remitting of sin is done by the disciples.  A more correct translation indicates that these actions have already been done, and the disciples, through the Holy Spirit, are merely confirming what has already taken place, as people either receive or reject the message.

This is solemn.  It is time to quit “playing church.”  We are dealing with eternity-bound men and women.  We are eternity-bound men and women.  How little do we really act as if we realize that we will soon stand before God and give an account of our lives.  The Word of God is all that really matters in this sin-cursed world.  Only the Lord Jesus is able to make “life” what it’s supposed to be.

“Beginning at Jerusalem”: Preparation, part 1.

Scripture references:  Matthew 28:16-20; Mark 16:14-20; Luke 24:36-53; John 20:19-23; Acts 1:9.

When we get into the study of individual passages in Acts, we’ll return to printing them at the beginning of each post.  For now, we trust you will read the references yourself.  Remember, our attitude must always be, What does the Scripture say? Romans 4:3.

Introduction:  We cannot divorce the Book of Acts from what goes before it.  As we noted in our first post, Pentecost happened less than 2 months after what seemed to be the absolute crushing of the disciples’ hopes and expectations, cf. Luke 24:17-21.  We believe it will be helpful to see how the Lord instructed His disciples in the days between His resurrection and His ascension.  We have 5 records of such times.  Each record seems to have a different emphasis, so we’re going to look at each one of them separately over the next two or three posts.

1. Matthew 28:16-20, The Master’s Command.

The Master’s Authority.  Verse 18b reads literally, “has been given to Me all authority (“exousia,” the right to command, jurisdiction) in heaven and on earth.”  This emphasizes that it is the Lord Who has the authority.  Nowhere in Scripture is it said that He’s given or transferred it to anyone or anything else.  There is no “head of the church” on this world.

In some circles, we hear a lot about “church authority.”  I spent some time among folks like this in earlier days, and this seemed to be their whole thing.  If something wasn’t done under “church authority,” it couldn’t have been of the Lord.  Now, I’ll admit, I have some reservations about “para-church” organizations.  I know the rationale is that such organizations can do more than the local church, and that may be true, but it seems to me that the churches in Acts did pretty well without mission boards, Bible colleges or denominational hierarchies.  The problem with such things is that they take time, talent and money from the local church to support themselves.  I may be wrong, but it could be that if we’d quit depending on human wisdom and ingenuity and do things the way the Lord laid them out, we might be surprised at the results.

So what did the Lord “lay out” for His church?

The Church’s Ministry.  The church is to “disciple” all nations…..  We seem to understand that this simply means “to evangelize” all nations.  And, certainly, that’s where it starts.  The problem, it seems to me, is that is also where it ends.  But the word translated “disciple” means “student,” “learner”.   Cf. Matthew 11:28-30.  This doesn’t mean that every convert has to go to “Bible College,” but rather that, through the local church, they are to be taught by word and example what it means to be a Christian.

I admit.  Just a few month after I was converted, I left for Bible college.  And I’m thankful for that experience.  If nothing else, it indirectly led to the young woman I married nearly 47 years ago.  But there were many other things, as well.  But I was “adrift” in a manner, as well.  There were 800 students in the freshman class.  There was no one there to “mentor,” to “disciple” me, a young believer.  The NT pattern is that the older believers in the church teach the younger.  And there is the “gift” of pastor-teacher.  The man who stands behind the pulpit has an obligation which affects eternity as he teaches and preaches.  Spurgeon said that the idea of standing before the thousands in his church crushed him into the dust.  In 2 Timothy 2:2, Paul wrote to Timothy, And the things that you have heard from me among many witnesses, commit these to faithful men who will be able to teach others.  I don’t know what would have happened if I had stayed under the ministry of that godly elderly pastor – at least, he seemed elderly to me at the time.  

According to our text, “discipling” has three parts:

1. baptizing, v.19  Among other things, New Testament baptism is an identifying of believing sinners with their Savior, even as He was identified with them, Isaiah 53:12; Matthew 3:5, 6, 13-15.  I know there’s a lot of teaching about baptism and its saving power, etc., and it’s not really our purpose to get into all that here.  But baptism is supposed to be an evidence of our salvation and our willingness to obey our Savior.  It was never intended to be the means of being saved.

2. teaching, v. 20a.   This isn’t to be just some theoretical or academic exercise.  I have nothing against “books,” but the problem I see with most of our instruction is that it’s out of books, which are what some man says about the Bible.  These may be useful, but how much better would it be if we simply let Scripture speak for itself? Further, it’s to be some teaching that relates to life.  We do need to know about “doctrine,” what we think about God affects how we think about everything else.  But what does it say about marriage, about the family, about how I relate to God and to others?  And is this life “all there is”?

I admit, the Bible has a lot to say.  It takes a while to get around it – something I think isn’t possible in this life.  After all, Ephesians 2:7 tells us that its going to take God Himself the ages to come to show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.  This means in no way that He will have difficulty in this, just that we’ll never get to the end of it.  There used to be a TV show that promised “a world of never-ending wonder.”  This is it. 

3. understanding, v. 20b.  This is about our understanding.  It’s simply to remind us that it is the Lord with whom we have to do and not simply with church or some religious organization.  It’s not about “us” as all.  But it’s also an encouragement – He’s always with us.  The task we’ve been given is truly a “Mission Impossible.”  I know we don’t really think that:  it’s just a matter of the right approach or the right atmosphere or the right something else, but it’s not.  As well go to a cemetery and tell the people there to live.  (If you’ve recently lost a loved one, I’m truly sorry.  I don’t mean to add to your sorrow.)  Especially with the lost, we’re talking to people who are spiritually dead and at enmity with God, Ephesians 2:1-3; Romans 8:7.  Even with believers, we’re dealing with people who are involved in many things which make it hard sometimes to concentrate on what really matters.  But He is with us to strengthen and encourage us. The battle truly is the Lord’s, 1 Samuel 17:47.

2. Mark 16:14-20, The Manifestation Commending the Churches.

I know there is a lot of discussion over the authorship of these verses.  We’ re not going to get into all that.  It’s enough for our purposes that they don’t disagree with the apparent intent of this Gospel and there are many who distort them to their own discredit and to the discredit of the Word of God.

There is a three-fold “manifestation,” if you will, in these verses.

1. through “preaching,” v. 15.  Again, the thought of Matthew 28:18-20 in intensive preaching of the Gospel, not just in “evangelism,” but in discipling.  Evangelism is only the start.

2. through “profession,” v. 16.  Some cults us this verse to “prove” their doctrine of salvation through baptism.  That’s not what it and the other NT verses about baptism are talking about.

Baptism is important, but not because that’s how we’re saved.  Remember, baptism is to be an identification with our Lord; we’re trusting Him with our souls.  In Matthew, He commanded believers to be baptized.  It’s the first step in the Christian life.  Many “believe” who “draw back to perdition,” Hebrews 10:38, 39; John 2:23-25.  There’s much more that could be said about this.  We did so in our study in Hebrews, but for now, baptism is one evidence, if properly done, that a person has truly believed.

This verse also goes against the Reformed view of infant baptism:  “The baptism [of an infant] becomes a seal of the blessing which rightfully may be expected when in later years the child confirms his baptism by an act of personal faith.  Dwight Hervey Small, The Biblical Basis for Infant Baptism, p. 47, emphasis added.)  According to the Lord and the subsequent teaching of Scripture, baptism is the confirmation of faith, and not the other way around!  Baptism is our profession of faith.

3. through “proof,” v. 18.  This is the verse which causes most of the controversy, as some with more zeal than knowledge handle poisonous snakes and drink strychnine as “proof” of their “faith.”  This is not what the Lord meant.

Notice that these signs “follow” believers; they aren’t to be “sought out” by them or deliberately performed as “proof.”  Cf. Acts 28:3-6 and Paul’s experience along this line.

The teaching seems to me to be that there will be evidence that the message preached by the disciples is not just another religious message.  There were plenty of those in the Lord’s day and there are plenty of those in our day.  The Book of Acts abounds in miracles done to substantiate the message of the early church.  However, notice Acts 14:3; 19:11 and others.  These miracles were not “automatic.”  See also 2 Corinthians 12:12, where Paul speaks of the signs of an apostle. Evidently, miracles (and tongues and other manifestations of the Spirit) were apostolic only, and were not passed on by them.

Verse 20 seems to help our understanding.  If you notice, the word “them” is in italics, as not being in the original language, but added by the translators.  If we leave it out, the verse reads like this:  And they went out and preached everywhere, the Lord working with and confirming the word through the accompanying signs.  Amen.  (emphasis added). There was abundant evidence of a supernatural power behind the message.  Now, we believe that the age of supernatural miracles has passed, but we also believe that when the Word is preached in the power of the Holy Spirit, it is evident, and the conversion of a sinner is as dramatic as any miracle in the New Testament.

Revelation 22:6-21, “Even So, Come, Lord Jesus!”

6] Then he said to me, “These words are faithful and true,”  And the Lord God of the holy prophets sent His angel to show His servants the things which must shortly take place.

7] “Behold, I am coming quickly!  Blessed is he who keeps the words of the prophecy of this book.”

8] Now I, John, saw and heard these things.  And when I heard and saw, I fell down to worship before the feet of the angel who showed me these things.

9] Then he said to me, “See that you do not do that.  For I am your fellow servant, and of your brethren the prophets, and of those who keep the words of this book.  Worship God.”  10] And he said to me, “Do not seal the words of this prophecy, for the time is at hand.  11] He who is unjust, let him be unjust still;  he who is filthy. let him be filthy still; he who is righteous, let him be righteous still; he who is holy, let him be holy still.”

12] “And behold, I am coming quickly, and My reward is with Me, to give every one according to his work.  13] I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End, the First and the Last.”

14] Blessed are those who do His commandments, that they may have the right to the tree of life, and may enter through the gates into the city.  But outside are dogs and sorcerers and sexually immoral and murderers and idolaters, and whoever loves and practices a lie.

16] “I, Jesus, have sent My angel to testify to you these things in the churches.  I am the Root and Offspring of David, the Bright and Morning Star.”

17] And the Spirit and the bride say, “Come!”  And let him who hears say, “Come!”  And let him who thirsts come.  Whoever desires, let take of the water of life freely.

18] For I testify to everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book:  If anyone adds to these things, God will add to him the plagues that are written in this book; 19] and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part from the Book of Life, from the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book.

20] He who testifies to these things says, “Surely I am coming quickly.”

Amen.  Even so, come, Lord Jesus!

21] The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all.  Amen. (NKJV)

Verse 6 is a witness to the authenticity of Revelation.  It says a lot about the wickedness of human nature that, over and over, God has to assure us that He can be trusted and that His word is true.

The second clause refers to the Lord God of the holy prophets, reminding us of 2 Peter 1:21, for prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit.  That’s why His word is “faithful and true.”  It isn’t just the product of man’s wisdom or imagination.  “Holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit.”

The Lord refers to His coming three times in this chapter, in vs. 7, 12 and 20.  In v. 7, it’s in connection with the prophecy of this book.  This doesn’t mean that prophecy is something to speculate or argue about or to sensationalize or trivialize.  It’s to assure us that the future is in His hands and that He has everything under control.  In v. 12, it’s in connection with His purpose to give everyone according to his work.  It’s too easy for us to seek a reward in the approval and praise of mere men, but the only praise that will amount to anything is the commendation of the One who is the Alpha and Omega, the Beginning and the End, the First and the Last.  The interesting thing is that He says it’s His “Reward.”  Unbelievers and skeptics, those who scorned Him at His First Coming and hanged Him on a Cross, and those down through the ages who have rejected Him or corrupted His teachings will discover that He is the Judge, not them!

Both the godly and the ungodly will find this to be true.  The godly, those who do His commandments, v. 14, will enter the city.  The wicked, described in v. 15, will never enter that city.  There will be nothing that corrupts or defiles allowed into that eternal paradise.

V. 15 says these things are to be testified in the churches.  Yet how seldom is this true, that churches are given the message in this book.  I know there is a lot of discussion, sometimes heated, about what that message is, but if nothing else, it concerns what is the emphasis in these verses:  that the Lord Jesus will return to this earth, that there is coming a time of reward or punishment, and that the invitation is freely given to “Come.”  I don’t have access to the original language at this time (I’m actually on vacation), but I wouldn’t be surprised if this word isn’t an imperative, that is, a command, for folks to come to the Savior.  This is similar to Acts 17:30, which says, God commands all men everywhere to repent.

There’s some discussion as to whether the Gospel is an offer or an invitation.  I think it’s actually a proclamation from the Court in Heaven that men are under condemnation because of their sin, but God, the High King of Heaven, has made a way of escape through His Son and those who repent of their sins and trust in Him for salvation will receive a full and complete pardon for those sins.

Verse 11 troubles some people:  He who is unjust, let him be unjust still; he who is filthy, let him be filthy still; he who is righteous, let him be righteous still; he who is holy, let him be holy still.  Some might think that the verse means that God is ok with unjust and filthy lives.  Perish the thought.  We think our Lord’s teaching in Matthew 13 is the answer.  In this chapter, He is describing the Kingdom of God using various similes and pictures.  In vs. 24-30 he uses the analogy of a man sowing wheat in his field.  An enemy comes along and sows tares in that same field.  BTW, the NIV version saying “weeds” is terribly inadequate and misleading.  Our Lord isn’t talking about something like dandelions!  No, no, the idea is that tares are almost indistinguishable from true wheat until harvest, hence, the reference to harvest in v. 30.

The meaning is that we can’t infallibly tell the heart condition of anyone.  Some looked down on in “church” might actually be godly individuals, while some who have huge ministries but whose praise is from men might find that that is all the reward they will ever get, and the Lord will tell them to depart from Him, Matthew 25:41.  This does not mean that there can be no church discipline or that we can’t “judge” brethren whose lives don’t measure up to Scripture.  It does mean that we are neither infallible nor omniscient.

There is also a solemn warning against tampering with the contents of this Book.  There’s some discussion about whether this warning is only for Revelation or for the whole Bible.  I think it’s the latter.  This book is God’s Word, and it’s a terrible presumption and a great wickedness for anyone to believe that it can be improved upon.  There has been no revelation since John closed his writing and to say otherwise is a wicked sin.

We can have no better close for this  post and this series than the one John gave to his own writing:

Even so, come, Lord Jesus!

The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all.  Amen.

Revelation 22:1-5, Paradise Regained.

1] And he showed me a pure river of water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding from the throne of God and of the Lamb.  2] In the middle of its street,and on either side of the river, was the tree of life, which bore twelve fruits, each tree yielding its fruit every month.  The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.  3] And there was no more curse, but the throne of God and of the Lamb shall be in it, and His servants shall serve Him.  4] They shall see His face, and His name shall be on their foreheads.  5] There shall be no night there:  They need no lamp nor light of the sun, for the Lord God gives them light.  And they shall reign forever and ever.  (NKJV)

These verses continue and finish the description of “the new heaven and the new earth” begun in chapter 21.  So far we’ve seen something of the New Jerusalem and of the inhabitants of the new earth.  Now we see something of the blessings of that eternal life.

In Psalm 46:4, the Psalmist wrote, There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God.  We believe this is a prophetic reference to “the pure river of water of life” John described in v. 1.  By the way, this river flows “out of,” not “by,” the throne, as one religious song used to put it.

However, John describes some things the Psalmist didn’t mention.  V. 2 might be translated, “Between its avenue on this side and its river on that side was the tree [or, wood] of life bearing fruit twelve times, yielding its fruit every month; and the leaves of the tree [or, wood] were for the healing of the nations.”

John describes what we would call a lush, beautiful park.  The Greek word is, “paradise,” hence the title.  As in the beginning, God fellowshiped with our first parents in a park, so throughout eternity He will do so in the New Jerusalem.

The leaves of the tree are for the “healing” of the nations.  The Greek word is where we get our word, “therapy”.  I don’t understand what might be involved in that thought, but Adam and Eve ate before the Fall.  Our Lord ate in His resurrected body, though it wasn’t necessary to His well-being.  Though the saints will have glorified bodies, there will be others who, though perfect and sinless, will have ordinary physical bodies, which perhaps will need some care.  As I said, I don’t really know.

V. 3-5 gives us the reason why eternity will be perfect for God’s people:  “there shall be no more curse, but the throne of God and of the Lamb shall be in it, and His servants shall serve Him.”  Never again will the glories of Heaven be marred by the intrusion of rebellion.  “They shall see His face, and His name shall be on their foreheads.”  Only once or twice in Biblical history have men been allowed anywhere near to the God of heaven and that was only very briefly.  Here such association will be forever.

There are records of men having been caught up into heaven and telling their stories.  I make no judgment on these stories, but after being caught up into the third heaven, Paul wrote that he heard inexpressible words, which it is not lawful to utter, 2 Corinthians 12:4.  The ESV translates this, he heard things that cannot be told, which man may not utter.   There is only one source of “heavenly things” and it’s not the minds or experiences of mere men.  Besides, these things “cannot be told.”  How could we?  What do we have in this life or world to compare?

It will be a time of continual day, with no need of artificial light, v. 5.  Cf. 21:23.  We will have the “true light,” that One who said, “Let there be light…,” Genesis 1:3.  God is light and in Him is no darkness at all, 1 John 1:5.

We live in a time when Christians are increasingly disregarded, even despised.  In some countries, the tag is a death sentence.  Somewhere in this world, a brother or sister may be killed while you read these words.  We won’t read or hear about them because, in the world’s eyes, they’re not important, maybe even deserve to die.

The time is coming when that won’t be true:  “they shall reign forever and ever.”  The devil will not forever have his way in this world.

This verse closes our view of the future.  Vs. 6-21 deal with other things.  We only have a brief glimpse of things which must shortly take place, v. 6.  Again, we don’t believe the angel was telling John that these things would happen soon, as we’ve said elsewhere.

But…

They will happen.