Acts 5:12-28: In Trouble Again

12] And through the hands of the apostles many signs and wonders were done among the people. And they were all with one accord in Solomon’s porch.  13] Yet none of the rest dared join them, but the people esteemed them highly.  14] And believers were increasingly added to the Lord, multitudes of both men and women, 15] so that they brought the sick out into the streets and laid them on beds and couches, that at least the shadow of Peter passing by might fall on some of them.  16] Also a multitude gathered from the surrounding cities to Jerusalem, bringing sick people and those who were tormented by unclean spirits, and they were all healed.

17] Then the high priest rose up, and all those who were with him (which is the sect of the Sadduccees), and they were filled with indignation, 18] and laid their hands on the apostles and put them in the common prison.  19] But at night an angel of the Lord opened the prison doors and brought them out, and said, 20] “Go, stand in the temple and speak to the people all the words of this life.”

21] And when they heard that, the entered the temple early in the morning and taught. But the high priest and those with him came and called the council together, with all the elders of the children of Israel, and sent to the prison to have them brought.

22] But when the officers came and did not find them in the prison, they returned and reported, 23] “Indeed we found the prison shut securely, and the guards standing outside before the doors; but when we opened them, we found no one inside!” 24] Now when the high priest, the captain of the temple, and the chief priests heard these things, they wondered what the outcome might be. 25] So one came and told them, saying, “Look, the men whom you put in prison are standing in the temple and teaching the people!”

26] Then the captain went with the officers and brought them without violence, for they feared the people, lest they should be stoned. 27] And when they had brought them, they set them before the council. And the high priest asked them, 28] saying, “Did we not strictly command you not to teach in this name? And look, you have filled Jerusalem with your doctrine, and intend to bring this Man’s blood on us!”  (NKJV)

This portion seems like deja vu all over again.  Sometimes, instead of going away, trouble just gets worse.  This time, all the apostles were arrested.  However, God was pleased to intervene and the men were freed from their imprisonment, vs. 17-20.  They were told to resume their preaching.  Circumstances do not change responsibility.

We can well imagine the shock, astonishment and frustration caused by this deliverance.  To all appearances, everything was normal.  Gates were closed and locked; guards were at their stations, but “there was no one inside!” v. 23.

While the officials were pondering this unexpected turn of events, someone came and told them that the escaped prisoners were “standing in the temple and teaching the people!” v, 25.

Arrested once more, but peacefully because the people held them in high esteem, v. 26, the apostles were brought before the council.  The high priest reminded them that they had been commanded not to teach in the name of Jesus of Nazareth, but, instead of obeying that injunction, the apostles had “filled” Jerusalem with their doctrine.  This is described in vs. 14-16.  He then blamed them for trying to fix the blame for the death of Jesus on him and his fellows.  By this, we see that he totally missed the point of the apostles’ preaching.  It wasn’t about assigning “blame” at all, but about revealing the purpose of that death, which was “to bring repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins,” v. 32.

People today still “miss the point.”  As I write these words, we’re in the middle of the Christmas season, with all its festivities and frivolity.  But in the midst of all that, with the exception of an occasional Christmas carol or maybe a nativity scene tucked in among all the decorations, there is still no room for the Lord Jesus.

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Hebrews 13:20-25, “Grace Be With You All”

[20]Now may the God of peace, who brought up our Lord Jesus from the dead, that great Shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant, [21]make you complete in every good work to do His will, working in you what is well pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever.  Amen.
[22]And I appeal to you, brethren, bear with the word of exhortation, for I have written to you in few words.  [23]Know that our brother Timothy has been set free, with whom I shall see you if he comes shortly.
[24]Greet all those who rule over you, and all the saints.  Those from Italy greet you.
[25]Grace be with you all.  Amen.  (NKJV)

As the writer comes to the end of his thoughts, he returns to where he started – with God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.  Earlier, he had spent several chapters on the nature, character and preeminence of the Lord Jesus in connection with the place of God the Father in His life and ministry, 1:1, 2, 5, 8 13, etc.  Now, as he closes, he commends his readers into the care of that same God the Father.

In describing the Father, the writer goes at once to the very heart of the Christian faith.  He says that the Father brought up the Lord Jesus from the dead, v. 20.  The idea of resurrection from the dead includes the thought of death.  It isn’t separate from it.  And “death” relates to the person who dies.  If the Lord Jesus isn’t who He claimed to be, and who the Scripture says that He is, fully God and fully human, then His death has no meaning and the resurrection is nothing more than a fable.  It’s a shame that many professing Christians seem to have this view.  If there is no resurrection, there is no salvation, 1 Corinthians 15:12-17, and those who believe in the Lord Jesus are of all men the most pitiable, v. 19.

In contrast to this gloomy and hopeless idea, the writer describes the Lord Jesus in view of His mission:  that great Shepherd of the sheep, Hebrews 13:20.  Our Lord used that same figure to describe Himself in John 10.  The angel Gabriel told Joseph that this child whom Mary would bear would save His people from their sins, Matthew 1:21.  Though Joseph possibly only ever knew the OT promises of the salvation of Israel, the Lord Jesus came to redeem folks out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation, Revelation 5:9 (emphasis added), not just the nation of Israel.

If you are a believer, then the Lord Jesus had you in mind when He walked the dusty roads of Israel.

In the NT, believers are described as “sheep.”  Though this isn’t a particularly complimentary description, in Biblical times, sheep were a common sight and the Bible uses the relationship of shepherd and sheep more than once.  Psalm 23 and John 10 are only two examples.  The thing is, sheep are utterly dependent on the shepherd.  Left to themselves, they will get into all kinds of trouble and are exposed to danger on every side, against which they are defenseless.  It’s the shepherd who takes care of them and keeps them safe.  Cf. John 10:11-13.

The Lord Jesus came with a specific goal in mind:  the salvation of His sheep.  He didn’t just come to this world hoping for the best.  To hear some preachers and believers, apparently all that happened when the Lord left the glories of heaven was that the Father hugged Him and wished Him luck.  That’s a completely inadequate and false idea.  The writer alludes to this when he mentions the blood of the everlasting covenant, v. 20.

An old “gospel” song painted a scene in heaven of utter confusion when Adam and Eve fell into sin, with God searching everywhere to find someone who could step in and do something about it.  Finally, according to this utterly unScriptural and God-dishonoring song, Jesus volunteered to come to this world as Savior.

Whatever difficulty we might have in understanding or accepting it, the Bible is clear that salvation is carefully thought out and planned.  It speaks of believers being chosen by God for that blessing even before the foundation of the world, Ephesians 1:4, and given to the Lord Jesus, John 10:29, in order that He might save them, John 17:2.  It describes the Lord Jesus as the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world, Revelation 13:8.  So certain is our salvation, in fact, that believers are already considered “glorified” in the mind and purpose of God, Romans 8:30.

Just to clarify something:  this “choice” by God the Father means the salvation of some who would otherwise by lost, Romans 9:29, not the condemnation of some who would otherwise be saved, as some charge that we believe.  Without election, there would be no salvation.

One more thing.  God didn’t just “look down the corridors of time,” as some say, and choose those whom He saw would choose Him.  That is not what the Scripture means when it refers to our salvation according to God’s foreknowledge, as in 1 Peter 1:2.  God’s foreknowledge isn’t dependent on what He sees His creation is going to do, but on what He Himself has planned to do.  This is taught in such verses as Acts 2:23, which says that Christ was delivered by the determined purpose and foreknowledge of God, and Romans 8:28, which says that believers are the called according to His purpose, before it says, in the next verse, says that we are “foreknown.”

In v. 21, the writer continues the appeal he began in v. 20, asking God to do something in according with that everlasting covenant, namely, to make his readers complete in every good work to do His will.

This verse was the subject of the saddest example of misreading the Bible that I’ve ever heard.  The college-age class I was in years ago had a leader who taught from this verse that we were to make ourselves complete, etc., etc.  It was all about us.  Apparently, he had never noticed that the subject of the verb “make” in v. 21 was “God” in v. 20.  It’s not about what “we” do at all, but about what God will do.  Now he was a good man, an earnest man, but he himself admitted that, though he had led the class for 17 years, he had never read the Bible through.  It is so sad that there are so many like him, believers to whom the Bible is as foreign a book as if it had never been translated into a language they can read, because they never read it.

The objective of salvation isn’t just to take us to heaven, or to give us “a life without a care,” as another unfortunate “gospel” song put it, but to make us like the Lord Jesus Christ, holy and without blame before God, Ephesians 1:4.  The work won’t be completed in this life to be sure, but it does begin here, and it’s a work which God must do because we don’t know how to do it – and can’t do it, for that matter.

In v. 22, the writer does turn his attention to his readers and appeals to them to bear with the exhortation, the few words he had written to them.  He’s not the only one who ever had difficulty with this.  John had the same problem.  There’s just so much that could be said about the Lord that, as John put it, even the world itself could not contain the books that would be written, John 21:25.  There’s just too much that could be said.  Indeed, according to Ephesians 2;7, it will take God Himself the ages to come…to show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.  I don’t think we get much more than the first little bit of the introduction in this life.

And he’s not the only one who has been concerned that his readers pay attention to what he wrote, or, if he were a preacher, to what he said.  I’ve often wondered, when a person leaving a service tells the preacher, “What a wonderful sermon that was,” what would happen if the preacher would ask him, “What was it about?”  (What was your preacher’s sermon about last week?)  This may seem harsh, and it may be, and I’m sorry, but as I look around and see the terrible condition this nation is in, and “Christians” right out there in the middle of it, I wonder if anybody is listening to the Word at all.  Too many churches seem to be concerned more about personalities or programs or prosperity or politics than they are about the proclamation of the Gospel of our Lord and God Jesus Christ.

The writer closes his “few words” with grace be with you all.  I hear a great deal today about “love” and very little about “grace.”  Without the grace of God, though, we’ll never experience the love of God.

That’s why the writer closes his writing, and I close this series, with –

Grace be with you all.  Amen.

Jesus and His Revelation

This is the post I started to write under the title “The Revelation of Jesus Christ.”  That’s not the first time this has happened – starting off in one direction and winding up somewhere else.  Not complaining, just commenting.

The point I was planning to make in that post, and in this post, too, was that we need to get away from all the inadequate views of the Lord Jesus that are floating around contemporary Christianity, and have been probably have been floating around in different forms since His life and ministry.  We need to get away from the “bumper sticker theology – ‘My boss is a Jewish carpenter'” kind of stuff.  And a lot of the stuff that gets posted on facebook.

Yes, He was a carpenter, although the word behind that translation simply means, “craftsman.”  Yes, He did walk among men and women.  As Hebrews 4:15 puts it, we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weakness, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin.

He has walked in our shoes.

The thing is, we can never walk in His shoes.  We can never even begin to understand what it meant for Him to leave the glories of Heaven, to inhabit a body formed in the womb of His mother by the power of the Holy Spirit.  We can never know what it must have been like for He Who gave men and women legs to have to learn how to walk; for the One Who gave them tongues to have to learn how to talk.  For Holiness to walk among sinners.

He never complained about it, though He did indicate a few times how it affected Him.  For example, in Luke 12:50, He said, “I have a baptism to be baptized with [referring to His coming Crucifixion and all that accompanied it], and how distressed I am till it is accomplished!” (NKJV)  In Luke 22:15, He said, “With fervent desire I have desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer.”  His suffering was about to come to an end, even though the worst of it lay before Him.

So, even though a large portion of professing Christendom still has Him on the Cross, we’re not dealing any more with that One Who hung naked on a Roman cross, to the jeers of His enemies and the tears of His supporters.  We’re not dealing with a Christ Who still lies in the tomb or Who never actually existed.  That’s what the world thinks.

We’re not dealing with the incarnate Christ Who lived in obscurity, but with the glorified Christ, Who again resides in the heavenly splendor He left when He came to redeem us.

As we wrote in the other post, “the people to whom John wrote needed to know they served a Christ Who was greater than what they were going through.  They needed to know that what they were suffering, and were going to suffer, wasn’t just some ‘accident of history.’  They needed to know that when Satan did his worst, he was still a defeated foe and that his wouldn’t be the final word.”

So John describes the Lord Jesus as He is, not as He was.

I started this post a few days ago.  It’s been simmering on the stove since then.   In the other post, I divided the Revelation as “the revelation of Jesus Christ to the reader, to the churches and to the world.”  It occurred to me, though, that not only does “the reader” need to understand Who the Lord Jesus is, so do the churches!  Too often, we have more a Christ of sentiment or supposition or Sunday School than of Scripture.  That’s why, in chs. 2 and 3, in each letter to a church, there is reference to the vision of ch. 1.

I was going to write about each aspect of that vision in some detail, and still might, but the whole picture tells us what we need to know.  It all points to one thing.

In Revelation 1:13, John said he saw One like the Son of Man, clothed with a garment down to the feet and girded about the chest with a golden band, standing in the midst of seven lampstands.  This is somewhat reminiscent of the attire of the High Priest in Israel, and, indeed, it’s in that role that the Book of Hebrews presents Him – not only as Prophet, nor even yet as King, but as High Priest, interceding for His people at the right hand of the throne of God.

One of the duties of the High Priest was to make the lamps burn continually, … He shall be in charge of the lamps on the pure gold lampstand before the LORD continually, Leviticus 24:3, 5.

So John presents our Lord as examining His churches to see if and how they are “burning”.  And He has a lot to say to each one of them.

But “churches” aren’t about buildings or denominations, but about people, the people who are their members.  Each believer can find himself or herself in the descriptions of the seven churches.  What the Lord said to them, He says to us.