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ACTS 1 - 7

TRACING THE CHURCH'S WITNESS TO THE WORLD

by LARRY CORY

 

A SUMMARY OF THE MESSAGE OF
ACTS

 

ACTS 1:8

THE CHURCH'S WITNESS IN JERUSALEM (1-7)

THE CHURCH'S WITNESS IN JUDEA AND SAMARIA (8) (the first barrier broken—between Jewish and Samaritan Christians)

THE CHURCH'S WITNESS TO THE ENDS OF THE EARTH (9-28)
(the second barrier broken—between Jewish and Gentile Christians)

1. The Preparation Period (9-12)

2. The First Missionary Journey (13:1-15:35)

3. The Second Missionary Journey (15:36-18:22)

4. The Third Missionary Journey (18:23-20:38)

5. Paul's Prison Journey and Imprisonment (21-28)

 

Introductory Information about the Book of
Acts

The author:  The author is not mentioned in the book.  We know from the book that the author traveled with Paul on his missionary journeys and was with Paul in person from "we" being used in Acts 16:10-17, 20:5-21, 21:1-18, and 27:1-28:16.  Early church writings tell us that Luke was the author of both the Gospel of Luke and the book of Acts.  "The earliest of the external testimonies appears in the Muratorian Canon (c. A.D. 170), where the explicit statement is made that Luke was the author of both the third Gospel and the 'Acts of All the Apostles.' Eusebius (c. 325) lists information from numerous sources to identify the author of these books as Luke (Ecclesiastes History, 3.4)" "NIV Study Bible Introduction."

Luke is mentioned in only three verses in the Bible.  But from these verses we learn much about him:  "Our dear friend Luke, the doctor . . . ." (Colossians 4:14a)  From this verse, we learn that he was a doctor and a good friend of Paul's.  We also learn of his loyalty to Paul, for he was with Paul while he was in prison.  Furthermore, we learn that he was a Gentile, for in 4:11 Paul said that those he just mentioned were "the only Jews among" his "fellow workers."  Then, in 4:14, he speaks of Luke.  So, he was not a Jew but a Gentile.  He was, therefore, the only Gentile author of the books of the New Testament.

"And so do Mark, Aristarchus, Demas and Luke, my fellow workers." (Philemon 24)  Paul, here, describes Luke as one of his "fellow workers."  Luke, on these journeys was not someone like a news reporter who came along on these journeys with Paul, but he was one of the "workers" in the ministry—he was involved in the work of sharing the gospel and making disciples.

"Only Luke is with me. Get Mark and bring him with you, because he is helpful to me in my ministry." (2 Timothy 4:11)  Luke was with Paul at his second imprisonment and he was probably with him there in Rome when he was killed—tradition tells us Paul was killed by Nero.

We learn of Luke's method of gathering information from Luke 1:1-4.  "Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word. Therefore, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, it seemed good also to me to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught."  In these verses, we find four steps in how what Luke wrote came to us and was recorded:  1) Jesus' life fulfilled prophesies made about Him ("that have been fulfilled among us").  2) The accounts "were handed down" from "eyewitnesses."  Although Luke was not an eyewitness, what he recorded was passed on to him from "eyewitnesses."  3) Luke "carefully investigated" what was passed on to him.  4) Luke wrote it down.  Then, Luke sums it up saying, "that you may know the certainty" that what is recorded in the Gospel of Luke is accurate.

The book of Acts takes off right where the Gospel of Luke leaves off, by reviewing the last words of Luke in more detail, and continuing on from there.  "In my former book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach until the day he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles he had chosen. After his suffering, he showed himself to these men and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God."  (Acts 1:1-3) 

Who was this "Theophilus"?  We are not told anywhere.  "Theophilus"  means "God lover."  It may refer to all Christians, but it is most likely he was some Gentile official.  "Most excellent" was an appropriate way to speak to an official of some type.  Luke may have written these two accounts to some official as a defense against charges that were made against Christianity, Jesus, and Paul.

The historical accuracy of Luke's account in the book of Acts was challenged by the skeptic William Ramsay.  John Stott described what Ramsay's personal pursuit of truth led to:  "Sir William Ramsay . . . who at first had been an admiring student of the radical critic F. C. Baur, was later led by his own researches to change his mind.  He tells us in his St Paul the Traveler and Roman Citizen (1895) that he began his investigation 'without any prejudice in favour of the conclusion' which he later reached, but 'on the contrary . . . with his mind unfavorable to it.'  Yet he was able to give reasons 'for placing the author of Acts among the historians of the first rank.'" "Taken from The Spirit the Church and the World by John Stott.  Copyright 1990 by Intervarsity Press."

 

THE MESSAGE OF ACTS

In Acts 1:8, Jesus gives the church its mission.  "'But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.'"    The book of Acts describes how that mission was carried out.  Also, the book of Acts describes how the church developed from a small band of Jesus' followers to the worldwide movement that it became.  We see in the book of Acts the power of Jesus Christ and the strategy used by His followers to penetrate a pagan society and transform people's lives from Jerusalem and beyond.

THE CHURCH'S WITENSS IN JERUSALEM (1-7)

1. Jesus Christ prepared the first leaders of the church (1:1-11)

a. Jesus taught His followers His goals for them (1:1-3) (during the forty days after His resurrection and before His ascension)
"In my former book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach until the day he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles he had chosen. After his suffering, he showed himself to these men and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God."

Thought Question #1:  List reasons why you believe the resurrection of Jesus Christ was essential to the ministry of the early church.

 

 

Thought Question #2:  List reasons why the resurrection is important to the ministry of Jesus' church today? 

 

 

"In my former book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach until the day he was taken up to heaven,"  The Gospel of Luke describes what "Jesus began to do and to teach" before "he was taken up to heaven."  What, then, does the book of Acts describe?  It describes what He continued "to do and teach" after His ascension into "heaven."  The language Luke uses "binds together the life and teachings of Jesus as if to say that Jesus is still carrying on from heaven the work and teaching of the disciples which he started while on earth before his ascension." "Taken from Word Pictures in the New Testament by A. T. Robertson.  Copyright 1930 by Broadman Press."

"after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles he had chosen."  The apostles carried on Jesus' ministry after they had been fully instructed and commissioned by Him.  He chose and trained these men to continue His work in the world.  In Robert Coleman's book, The Master Plan of Evangelism, he describes Jesus' strategy for training His disciples.  Then, in his Master Plan of Discipleship, Coleman describes how Jesus' strategy was applied in the early church.  Jesus trained His closest followers and then turned His ministry over to them.  We are to continue Jesus' ministry and then turn the ministry over to those we have trained to further carry on Jesus' ministry.

"After his suffering, he showed himself to these men and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God."  Jesus had made it absolutely certain to His followers that it was not a dead Jesus that they were serving, but an alive Jesus.  They saw Him a number of times, they touched Him, ate with Him, and the alive Jesus gave them instructions for continuing His life and work in the world.  Paul emphasized the importance of believing in the resurrected Jesus.  "For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles . . . And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith . . . And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins." (1 Corinthians 15:3-7, 14,17) See also Matthew 28:1-20; Mark 16:1-20; Luke 24:1-53; John 20-21

"He appeared to them over a period of forty days"  "Forty" is a significant number in the Bible.  The rain that caused the Genesis flood lasted "forty days and forty nights." (Genesis 7:4)  Moses' life was divided into three forty year periods (see Acts 7:23,29-30).  And Israel and Moses were "forty" years in the wilderness (See Numbers 14:34)  Moses spent "forty days and forty nights" on the mountain with God. (Exodus 24:18)  Joshua was "forty years old" when he sent a spy into the Promised Land (Joshua 14:7).  David was king over Israel for "forty years." (II Samuel 5:4)  Solomon reigned over Israel for "forty years." (I Kings 11:42)  Elijah traveled "forty days and forty nights" to get to Mount Sinai after he was threatened by Jezebel. (I Kings 19:8)  Jesus fasted for "forty days and forty nights." (Matthew 4:2)

b. He filled them with expectation (1:4-8) (that they would be baptized with the Holy Spirit and be empowered to be God's witnesses!)
"On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave them this command: 'Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.' So when they met together, they asked him, 'Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?' He said to them: 'It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.'"

Thought Question:  How would these early Christians be different after God's Spirit came upon them? (How does this apply to us?)

 

 

"On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave them this command: 'Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.'" 

What is this baptism of "the Holy Spirit" that Jesus' disciples had not yet received?  Old Testament believers and believers up to this point had not experienced the constant presence of the Holy Spirit.  In the Old Testament, the Spirit came on people, but did not stay with them. See Numbers 11:25,29; Judges 3:10, 11:29; I Samuel 10:6, 16:14     There was at least one exception.  In Luke 1:15, we learn that John the Baptist was "filled with the Holy Spirit even from birth.  "For he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He is never to take wine or other fermented drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit even from birth." (Luke 1:15)

Jesus Christ predicted that the Holy Spirit would come to His disciples in a new way after His death and resurrection.  "'Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him.' By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive. Up to that time the Spirit had not been given, since Jesus had not yet been glorified." (John 7:38-39)  "And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever— the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you." (John 14:16-17)  "But I tell you the truth: It is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Counselor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you." (John 16:7)

Listen also to John the Baptist's prediction.   "I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me will come one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not fit to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire." (Matthew 3:11)

"my Father promised"  The "Holy Spirit" was promised in the Old Testament.  "I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws." (Ezekiel 36:26-27)  "And afterward, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days." (Joel 2:28-29)

"but wait for the gift my Father promised,"  Waiting is not easy for humans to do, especially in our microwave world.  But without God's timing and God's power, we will just make a mess of things—like Peter cutting off the servant at Jesus arrest.  Instead, we need to trust and wait for God's open doors and God's power.  "He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint." (Isaiah 40:29-31)  Paul recognized his need for God's power and for open doors.  "And pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ, for which I am in chains. Pray that I may proclaim it clearly, as I should." (Colossians 4:3-4)

"So when they met together, they asked him, 'Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?' He said to them: 'It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority."  The resurrection of Jesus had produced renewed hope in them that Jesus was going to rescue Israel from Rome and set up an earthly kingdom with Jesus as King.  The disciples were eager that the dramatic events at the end of the age would begin to happen.  Nothing has really changed, for we are also eager that these events would begin to happen and that the new age would begin.  Waiting for this kingdom to begin has never been easy for any of us who are followers of Jesus.

In my life time, there have been a number of dates that have been set when people have eagerly anticipated the return of the Lord:  1) 1988.  The Lord was to return a generation of 40 years after the restoration of Israel as a nation.  2) Y2K.  The end of the twentieth century was eagerly anticipated as possibly being the end of life as we knew it.  3) 2012.  The end of the Mayan calendar was another date that many thought would be the date when it would all change.  Jesus settles it here, though.  We cannot know the date of His return.  "'It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority.'" 

"But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you;"  Luke records similar words of Jesus in Luke 24:49.  "I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high."  The book of Acts describes the spread of the church from "Jerusalem," to "Judea," to "Samaria," and, finally, "to the ends of the earth.'"  How was a small and unpolished group of men able to carry out Jesus' mission to them?  The answer is given in this verse: "But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you."  The Greek word translated "power" is dunamis, from which we get our words "dynamite" and "dynamic." 

Jesus highlighted the difference between sharing the gospel in the power of the flesh and sharing the gospel in the power of the Spirit with His two fishing miracles in Luke 5:1-11 and John 21:1-16.  "When they had done so, they caught such a large number of fish that their nets began to break. So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them, and they came and filled both boats so full that they began to sink." (Luke 5:6-7)  Then, in Luke, Jesus said, "from now on you will catch men." (Luke 5:10b)  Bill Bright, the founder of Campus Crusade for Christ used to instruct those who were about to go out witnessing: "Share the gospel in the power of the Holy Spirit and leave the results to God."  We need the power and dynamic of the Holy Spirit as much today as they did at the beginning of the church.  This week, I went to the local jail as I do each week.  The group that came to the church was an unusually diverse group.  At the end of the time, a young man who was raised as a Jehovah Witness said that he liked the dynamic of what took place as everyone present opened up about their doubts and questions, and as we interacted about it.  That was not my dynamic that made that possible, it was the power of God's Spirit.

We, today, have been empowered to be Jesus' effective witnesses.  Each of us can do it because God's Spirit and His power resides in us.  And we are to start in our "Jerusalem."  My brother is involved in a ministry that starts in the neighborhood surrounding one's own home.  Some go out to other parts of the world.  Shirley and I have been blessed to spend a short time on the mission field.  There, we have learned of the impact missionaries are having in other parts of the world.  We met a family far out in the hills of Uganda that was reached with the gospel years ago.  This family is active in ministry and works with a missionary today.  The church's goal is not to build successful religious corporations, but to penetrate our world with the gospel witness.  Each of us is called to spread what Jesus did on the cross for us to everyone who will listen. See 3:15, 10:39, 22:15

Paul describes how it is to take place.  "When I came to you, brothers, I did not come with eloquence or superior wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. I came to you in weakness and fear, and with much trembling. My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on men’s wisdom, but on God’s power." (I Corinthians 2:1-5)

c. He leaves them and He leaves the church in their hands (1:9-11)
"After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight. They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. 'Men of Galilee,' they said, 'why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.'"

Thought Question:  Why is the ascension of Jesus important to us today?

 

 

"After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight. They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. 'Men of Galilee,' they said, 'why do you stand here looking into the sky?'" Luke also describes Jesus' ascension to heaven in Luke 24:50-51

Stuart Briscoe at a Christian rally at San Jose State College years ago called "Project 7" said that this was the most unfair question ever asked.  "Where else would they be looking?"

Clouds often represent God and heaven in the Bible.  A cloud led Israel in the wilderness.  It pictured to the Israelite people that God was leading them.  God spoke out of a cloud at the Mount of Transfiguration.  "While he was still speaking, a bright cloud enveloped them, and a voice from the cloud said, 'This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!'" (Matthew 17:5) See also Exodus 13:21 See also Psalm 68:4, 104:3; Isaiah 14: 14. 19:1; Daniel 7:13; Luke 21:27; I Thessalonians 4:17; Hebrews 12:1; Revelation 1:17, 14:14

Why is the ascension important to us?  It gives us the reason why there is no grave with Jesus' body in it.  Jesus is alive today.  Also, as we will see next, Jesus is to come back in the same way as He left.  Jesus is alive today, and one day He will return.  Also, His ascension was a visible end to His resurrection appearances to His disciples.  It terminated His earthly ministry to them.  They were now ready to carry out His ministry in the power of God's Spirit, once the Spirit came upon them.

 "'Men of Galilee,' they said, 'why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.'"  "The implication seems to be that they will not bring him back by gazing into the sky.  He has gone, and they must let him go; he will return in his own good time, and in the same way." "Taken from The Spirit the Church and the World by John Stott.  Copyright 1990 by Intervarsity Press."  Jesus predicted how He would return.  "At that time they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory." (Luke 21:27)  Paul also predicted how Jesus would return.  "For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever." (1 Thessalonians 4:16-17)  John also predicted Jesus' return.  "Look, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him; and all the peoples of the earth will mourn because of him. So shall it be! Amen." (Revelation 1:7)

2. The first leaders of the church spend a special time together (1:12-26)

a. They prayed together (1:12-14)
"Then they returned to Jerusalem from the hill called the Mount of Olives, a Sabbath day’s walk from the city. When they arrived, they went upstairs to the room where they were staying. Those present were Peter, John, James and Andrew; Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew; James son of Alphaeus and Simon the Zealot, and Judas son of James. They all joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers."

Thought Question:  What do you think these early Christians talked about while they were waiting for the Holy Spirit to come on them with power?

 

 

"Then they returned to Jerusalem from the hill called the Mount of Olives, a Sabbath day’s walk from the city. When they arrived, they went upstairs to the room where they were staying."  The disciples entered an unusual time in their time of following Jesus.  Jesus was no longer physically present with them and they had not yet received power from the Holy Spirit.  What did they do?  We will see that they prayed.  They could now go to the Father in Jesus' name.  There are also times when we do not know what to do.  What can we do?  We can do what these close followers of Jesus did; we can pray.

The early church in Antioch also followed this pattern when they did not know what to do next.  "In the church at Antioch there were prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen (who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch) and Saul. While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, 'Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.' So after they had fasted and prayed, they placed their hands on them and sent them off. The two of them, sent on their way by the Holy Spirit, went down to Seleucia and sailed from there to Cyprus." (Acts 13:1-4)

"a Sabbath day’s walk from the city."  "It was only about two-thirds of a mile (1,100 meters) because this was all the Mishnah would allow." "Taken from Acts by R. Kent Hughes.  Copyright 1996 by Crossway Books."

"they went upstairs to the room where they were staying."  It is likely that this was the same room where the Last Supper took place.

"Those present were Peter, John, James and Andrew; Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew; James son of Alphaeus and Simon the Zealot, and Judas son of James. They all joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers."  Jesus prayed to the Father saying that He had not lost anyone that the Father had given to Him.  "While I was with them, I protected them and kept them safe by that name you gave me. None has been lost except the one doomed to destruction so that Scripture would be fulfilled." (John 17:12)  And, here they are, still together, plus others.  His brothers have now become believers in Him, where they once did not believe.  "When his family heard about this, they went to take charge of him, for they said, 'He is out of his mind.'" (Mark 3:210  "For even his own brothers did not believe in him." (John 7:5) See also John 7:2-5  But, two of His brothers—James and Jude—wrote books in the New Testament; and James became a leader in the church at Jerusalem. See Acts 15:13:21 and Galatians 1:19

"along with the women"  They was a group of women who were at the cross when Jesus died and at the tomb right after Jesus resurrected.  "Many women were there, watching from a distance. They had followed Jesus from Galilee to care for his needs." (Matthew 27:55) See also Mark 16:1-5; Luke 24:1-11  And, of course, there was Mary and Martha.

"They all joined together constantly in prayer,"  In the late 1960s at San Jose State College.  It was a remarkable time for Christian college students.  We united together in prayer for a Christian rally called, "Project 7."  It took place on 7th Street in the middle of the campus.  We did what these early followers of Christ did.  We were united and we prayed constantly, particularly between 10-11 P.M.  What happened years ago at many colleges in northern California and what happened in that upper room are rare—a united group of Christians praying together "constantly."  Their prayers in Jerusalem were powerfully answered, as we can see in the book of Acts.  Our prayers back in the 1960s were also answered, for they preceded what has come to be called "the Jesus movement."  Today, we can pray that the church of Jesus Christ will once again become united in praying "constantly."  This pattern of prayer continued in the early church.  See 2:42, 4:23-31, 12:12

b. They replaced Judas with Matthias (1:15-26)

(1) Peter describes Judas' fall (1:15-20)
"In those days Peter stood up among the believers (a group numbering about a hundred and twenty) and said, 'Brothers, the Scripture had to be fulfilled which the Holy Spirit spoke long ago through the mouth of David concerning Judas, who served as guide for those who arrested Jesus— he was one of our number and shared in this ministry.' (With the reward he got for his wickedness, Judas bought a field; there he fell headlong, his body burst open and all his intestines spilled out. Everyone in Jerusalem heard about this, so they called that field in their language Akeldama, that is, Field of Blood.) 'For,' said Peter, 'it is written in the book of Psalms, “May his place be deserted; let there be no one to dwell in it,” and, “May another take his place of leadership.”'"

Thought Question #1:  Why do you think that the other disciples did not recognize that Judas was going to betray Jesus?

 

 

Thought Question #2:  It appears that the report in the Gospels that Judas hanged himself and what is stated here—he "fell headlong"—contradict each other.  How can this be explained?

 

 

"In those days Peter stood up among the believers (a group numbering about a hundred and twenty) and said, 'Brothers, the Scripture had to be fulfilled which the Holy Spirit spoke long ago through the mouth of David concerning Judas, who served as guide for those who arrested Jesus—he was one of our number and shared in this ministry.'"

It is unlikely that this event took place in the upper room.  One hundred twenty was too many people for a room at that time.  It may have happened in the temple courts.

"'Brothers, the Scripture had to be fulfilled which the Holy Spirit spoke long ago through the mouth of David . . .'"  Peter is saying that David predicted the betrayal of Judas and that David was led by the Spirit in predicting it.  We have come to call Psalms that predict the Messiah, "Messianic Psalms."  Peter clearly says here that God used David to predict Judas' betrayal of the Messiah.  Later, in verse 20, Peter quotes Psalms 69:35 and 109:8.  In Psalm 69, there are other verses that predict the Messiah:  "I am a stranger to my brothers, an alien to my own mother’s sons; for zeal for your house consumes me, and the insults of those who insult you fall on me." (Psalm 69:8-9)  "You know how I am scorned, disgraced and shamed; all my enemies are before you. Scorn has broken my heart and has left me helpless; I looked for sympathy, but there was none, for comforters, but I found none. They put gall in my food and gave me vinegar for my thirst." (Psalm 69:19-21) See also John 2:17, 7:5, 15:25; Matthew 27:48

"which the Holy Spirit spoke"  Here, we have Peter's view of how the Scriptures were written.  It is also exactly what He said in II Peter 1:20-21: "Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation. For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit." (2 Peter 1:20-21)

"who served as guide for those who arrested Jesus"  Judas' betrayal of Jesus was predicted in the Old Testament.  "Even my close friend, whom I trusted, he who shared my bread, has lifted up his heel against me." (Psalm 41:9)  "I told them, 'If you think it best, give me my pay; but if not, keep it.' So they paid me thirty pieces of silver. And the Lord said to me, 'Throw it to the potter'—the handsome price at which they priced me! So I took the thirty pieces of silver and threw them into the house of the Lord to the potter." (Zechariah 11:12-13)  Judas' betrayal of Jesus for thirty pieces of silver is described in the Gospels.  "Then one of the Twelve—the one called Judas Iscariot—went to the chief priests and asked, 'What are you willing to give me if I hand him over to you?' So they counted out for him thirty silver coins. From then on Judas watched for an opportunity to hand him over." (Matthew 26:14-16)  "Now the betrayer had arranged a signal with them: 'The one I kiss is the man; arrest him.' Going at once to Jesus, Judas said, 'Greetings, Rabbi!' and kissed him." (Matthew 26:48-49)

"he was one of our number and shared in this ministry.'"  Jesus chose Judas just as He chose the other eleven disciples. See John 13:18-19, 17:12  Judas had not been recognized by the other disciples as being different from them.  "One of them, the disciple whom Jesus loved, was reclining next to him. Simon Peter motioned to this disciple and said, 'Ask him which one he means.' Leaning back against Jesus, he asked him, 'Lord, who is it?'" (John 13:23-25)

"(With the reward he got for his wickedness, Judas bought a field; there he fell headlong, his body burst open and all his intestines spilled out. . . . )  It appears that the words in the parenthesis are not Peter's words, but an explanation provided by Luke.  Matthew's account of what Peter describes here is found in Matthew 27:3-10:  "When Judas, who had betrayed him, saw that Jesus was condemned, he was seized with remorse and returned the thirty silver coins to the chief priests and the elders. 'I have sinned,' he said, 'for I have betrayed innocent blood.' 'What is that to us?' they replied. 'That’s your responsibility.' So Judas threw the money into the temple and left. Then he went away and hanged himself. The chief priests picked up the coins and said, 'It is against the law to put this into the treasury, since it is blood money.' So they decided to use the money to buy the potter’s field as a burial place for foreigners. That is why it has been called the Field of Blood to this day. Then what was spoken by Jeremiah the prophet was fulfilled: 'They took the thirty silver coins, the price set on him by the people of Israel, and they used them to buy the potter’s field, as the Lord commanded me.'" (Matthew 27:3-10)

So, Matthew says that Judas "hanged himself," and it says here that "he fell headlong, his body burst open and all his intestines spilled out."  How can both be true?  "Hackett observes that the place suits admirably the idea that Judas hung himself (Matt. 27:5) and the rope breaking, fell flat on his face and burst asunder in the midst." "Taken from Word Pictures in the New Testament by A. T. Robertson.  Copyright 1930 by Broadman Press." 

Then, Matthew says that Judas did not use the money to buy a field, but "threw the money into the temple and left."  Then, "the chief priests picked up the coins" and bought "the potter's field."  "So, did the priests purchase the field or did Judas?  It is reasonable to answer that both did, the priests entering into the transaction, but with money that belonged to Judas.  For, as Edersheim wrote, 'by a fiction of law the money was still considered to be Judas'.'" "Taken from The Spirit the Church and the World by John Stott.  Copyright 1990 by Intervarsity Press."

"(. . . Everyone in Jerusalem heard about this, so they called that field in their language Akeldama, that is, Field of Blood.)"  It appears to have been called the "Field of Blood" for more than one reason.  Matthew 27 says it was called the "Field of Blood" because it was purchased with "blood money";  whereas, here in Acts, Luke says it was called the "Field of Blood" because Judas died there.  Of course, both provide a good reason, together, to call it the "Field of Blood."

"'For,' said Peter, 'it is written in the book of Psalms, “May his place be deserted; let there be no one to dwell in it,” and, “May another take his place of leadership.”'"  Peter, as was mentioned earlier, quotes Psalm 69:25 and Psalm 109:8 

"'“May his place be deserted;”'"  We learn in Matthew 27 that it became a burial field.  "So they decided to use the money to buy the potter’s field as a burial place for foreigners." (Matthew 27:7)  Of course, a cemetery is not a place for building houses for people to live in.  "To this day you can visit the field in Jerusalem."  "Taken from Birth of the Body by Ray Stedman.  Copyright 1974 Vision House Publishers."

"'“May another take his place of leadership.”'"  And, so, guided by Scripture, Peter begins the task of selecting a replacement for Judas.

There is some question about whether or not Peter was correct in replacing Judas.  Some believe that God chose Paul the apostle to replace Judas.  But Paul did not meet a requirement that Peter is about to state, so he could not have replaced Judas as one of the Twelve.

(2) The replacement for Judas (1:21-26)
"'Therefore it is necessary to choose one of the men who have been with us the whole time the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from John’s baptism to the time when Jesus was taken up from us. For one of these must become a witness with us of his resurrection.' So they proposed two men: Joseph called Barsabbas (also known as Justus) and Matthias. Then they prayed, 'Lord, you know everyone’s heart. Show us which of these two you have chosen to take over this apostolic ministry, which Judas left to go where he belongs.' Then they cast lots, and the lot fell to Matthias; so he was added to the eleven apostles." (Acts 1:21-26)

Thought Question:  Why do you believe that it was important for Judas to be replaced?

 

 

"'Therefore it is necessary to choose one of the men who have been with us the whole time the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from John’s baptism to the time when Jesus was taken up from us. For one of these must become a witness with us of his resurrection.'"  "The one chosen should be a personal witness who can speak from his own experience of the ministry, resurrection, and ascension of the Lord Jesus." "Taken from Word Pictures in the New Testament by A. T. Robertson.  Copyright 1930 by Broadman Press."

Paul did not meet this criteria.  They had to choose from those who had been an actual eyewitness to Jesus' ministry.  There needed to be twelve apostles, for in the future there would be "twelve thrones" and "twelve foundations."  "Jesus said to them, 'I tell you the truth, at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man sits on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.'" (Matthew 19:28)  "The wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them were the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb." (Revelation 21:14)

If Peter was mistaken and Paul was God's choice, Luke, who was a loyal follower of Paul would have explained that Peter made a mistake.  He doesn't; so we can conclude that Peter was correct in replacing Judas.
"So they proposed two men: Joseph called Barsabbas (also known as Justus) and Matthias. Then they prayed, 'Lord, you know everyone’s heart. Show us which of these two you have chosen to take over this apostolic ministry, which Judas left to go where he belongs.' Then they cast lots, and the lot fell to Matthias; so he was added to the eleven apostles."  Why did they only select two men?  It may have been that only two men fit the criteria.  But, we do not know for sure.

"Then they prayed,"  It was Jesus' church, so they desired and asked for Him to select Judas' replacement.  It is still Jesus' church.  We also should humbly desire for His direction for His church. Acts 13;1-3

"'which Judas left to go where he belongs.'"  What we do with Jesus determines where we belong.  "Judas" knew Jesus.  He knew His words, His heart of love, and His miracles.  Yet he coldly rejected Him for a small financial gain.  And, sadly, he is now "where he belongs." 

"they cast lots,"  This was the method used in the Old Testament to seek God's direction.  "'Aaron is to offer the bull for his own sin offering to make atonement for himself and his household. Then he is to take the two goats and present them before the Lord at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting. He is to cast lots for the two goats—one lot for the Lord and the other for the scapegoat. Aaron shall bring the goat whose lot falls to the Lord and sacrifice it for a sin offering. But the goat chosen by lot as the scapegoat shall be presented alive before the Lord to be used for making atonement by sending it into the desert as a scapegoat. Aaron shall bring the bull for his own sin offering to make atonement for himself and his household, and he is to slaughter the bull for his own sin offering.'" (Leviticus 16:6-11)  "Distribute the land by lot, according to your clans. To a larger group give a larger inheritance, and to a smaller group a smaller one. Whatever falls to them by lot will be theirs. Distribute it according to your ancestral tribes." (Numbers 33:54)  "Now these are the areas the Israelites received as an inheritance in the land of Canaan, which Eleazar the priest, Joshua son of Nun and the heads of the tribal clans of Israel allotted to them. Their inheritances were assigned by lot to the nine-and-a-half tribes, as the Lord had commanded through Moses." (Joshua 14:1-2) See also I Samuel 14:42; I Chronicles 25:7-8; Nehemiah 10;34; Esther 3:7 

It was also practiced in Jesus' time.  "Once when Zechariah’s division was on duty and he was serving as priest before God, he was chosen by lot, according to the custom of the priesthood, to go into the temple of the Lord and burn incense." (Luke 1:8-9) See also Matthew 27:35

They trusted that God would use the casting of "lots" to select which of the two would become the twelfth apostle.  "The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the Lord." (Proverbs 16:33)  The lot fell to "Matthias"—God selected "Matthias."  And he become the twelfth apostle.

2. The Holy Spirit launches the church (2:1-47)

a. An empowering from above (2:1-13)

(1) The empowering by God's Spirit accompanied by miraculous signs (2:1-4)
"When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them."

Thought Question:  What happened that day that is unique to that day? (What is a true Pentecostal experience?)

 

 

"According to the Sadducees, Pentecost was reckoned from the first Sunday after Passover ('the morrow after the Sabbath,' Lev. 23:11) [see also Leviticus 23:15-16], and therefore occurred on Sunday. . . . On the other hand, the Pharisees reckoned Pentecost from the day of Unleavened Bread, which varied according to the day of the New Moon and therefore could occur on any day of the week.  Modern Judaism follows the Pharisee tradition." "Taken from Church Alive by William LaSor.  Copyright 1972." 

"Pentecost" was one of three Feasts that God required Israel to attend.  "Three times a year all the men are to appear before the Sovereign Lord." (Exodus 23:17)  Because "Pentecost" was in the early summer (the other two feasts were in the spring and fall), "Pentecost, therefore, came to be the occasion when the greatest number of pilgrims would be present in Jerusalem, as Luke indicates (Acts 2:9-11)." "Taken from Church Alive by William LaSor.  Copyright 1972."  "'Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome (both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs—we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!'" (Acts 2:9-11)  "By that time traveling conditions were best." "Taken from The Acts of the Apostles by William Barclay.  Copyright 1976 by >Westminster Press." 

"Pentecost" was also called "the Feast of Harvest." (Exodus 23:16)  It was when the grain was harvested: "Count off fifty days up to the day after the seventh Sabbath, and then present an offering of new grain to the Lord." (Leviticus 23:16)  At the "Pentecost" recorded here in Acts 2, we will see that there was also a great spiritual harvest.

Jesus had only told His disciples to "wait for the gift" of the Holy Spirit. (Acts 1:4)  He did not tell them when the Holy Spirit would come.  So, on that day of "Pentecost," they had no way of knowing it was the day when Jesus' promise would be fulfilled—they did not know that their time of waiting was over.  Then, suddenly, they heard a loud and "violent wind."  We live in a small city that is known for its wind.  But, only occasionally is it a "violent wind."  Our children's families have lived for a time where hurricanes and tornadoes are common.  When those winds blow outside of one's home, they have the inhabitants of that home's immediate attention.  But, the sound that was "like the blowing of a violent wind" was coming from within the house that day.  It "came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting."  It immediately caught the attention of the disciples in that "house."  It also caught the attention of the people in Jerusalem outside of that "house."  "When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard them speaking in his own language." (Acts 2:6)  Certainly, the sound must also have included the "sound like the blowing of a violent wind."  It was God's Spirit moving among them.

"They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them."  "The fire-like appearance presented itself at first, as it were, in a single body, and then suddenly parted in this direction and that; so that a portion of it rested on each of those present (Hackett)." "Taken from Word Pictures in the New Testament by A. T. Robertson.  Copyright 1930 by Broadman Press."  Again, it was not actual fire, but it looked like fire.

The presence of God symbolized by the pillar of fire separated and went to each follower of Christ.  God's presence is also present in each Christian today.  It started on this "Pentecost" and continues as God's presence separates and indwells each new Christian as they believe and become part of Christ's body.

Both "wind" and "fire" are symbolic of God's presence in the Bible.   Jesus used "wind" to describe the invisible presence of God's Spirit when He was talking to Nicodemus—it is described in John chapter three.  "You should not be surprised at my saying, 'You must be born again.' The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit." (John 3:7-8) 

"Fire" symbolized God's presence when God talked to Moses from a burning bush and when the pillar of fire led Israel through the wilderness. See Exodus 3:1-6, 13:21-22; and Deuteronomy 5:4  John the Baptist also predicted that Jesus would baptize with "fire."  "I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me will come one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not fit to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor, gathering his wheat into the barn and burning up the chaff with unquenchable fire." (Matthew 3:11-12)

The presence of the Holy Spirit dramatically coming to baptize and indwell the disciples also dramatically brought about the birth of Christ's church.  "For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink." (1 Corinthians 12:13)  The presence of the Holy Spirit within the church is essential to the existence of the church.  "Without the Holy Spirit, Christian discipleship would be unconceivable, even impossible.  There can be no life without the life-giver, no understanding without the Spirit of truth, no fellowship without the unity of the Spirit, no Christlikeness of character apart from His fruit, and effective witness without his power.  As a body without breath is a corpse, so the church without the Spirit is dead." "Taken from The Spirit the Church and the World by John Stott.  Copyright 1990 by Intervarsity Press."

 "All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them."  So, the order of events was as follows: First, there was "a sound like the blowing of a violent wind."  Second, there were the "tongues of fire" that "came to rest on each of them."  And, then, they "began to speak in other tongues."  The Bible does not record this exact order ever happening again.  As far as we know, it only occurred at the very dramatic beginning of the church.  There were, though, other times when the speaking in tongues is said to have occurred when a new people group was initiated into the church: the Gentiles (see Acts 10:44-47, 11:15-170 and the disciples of John the Baptist (see Acts 19:6)

The filling of the Holy Spirit was miraculously accompanied by the ability to praise God in languages that they did not know.  ". . . We hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues." (Acts 2:11)  On this day of "Pentecost," at least, the miraculous gift of "tongues""enabled" these followers of Christ to speak in the languages that are listed in the following verses.  The miracle of "tongues" predicted that Christ's church was going to include people of all races and "tongues."  It was also a judgment on Israel for rejecting their Messiah.  "Brothers, stop thinking like children. In regard to evil be infants, but in your thinking be adults. In the Law it is written: 'Through men of strange tongues and through the lips of foreigners I will speak to this people, but even then they will not listen to me,' says the Lord." (1 Corinthians 14:20-21)

(2) The effect of the empowering of God's Spirit and the miraculous sign on the crowd (2:5-13)
"Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard them speaking in his own language. Utterly amazed, they asked: 'Are not all these men who are speaking Galileans? Then how is it that each of us hears them in his own native language? Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome (both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs—we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!' Amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, 'What does this mean?' Some, however, made fun of them and said, 'They have had too much wine.'"

Thought Question:  What do you learn about the miraculous gift of tongues that occurred on that day from these verses?

 

 

"Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard them speaking in his own language."  "Did the Spirit-filled disciples speak their own language, with the miracle occurring in each hearer so that he heard the message in his own language (2:7-8,11)?  Or did they speak in the language of the hearers, the miracle occurring in the speakers?  Or did they speak in some unknown tongue ("other tongues" 2:4), which each hearer heard as his own language, the miracle occurring in both the speakers and in the hearers?" "Taken from Church Alive by William LaSor.  Copyright 1972."  Another question is, "Were they all speaking at the same time?"  First of all, verse four makes it clear, they were speaking "in other tongues."  We cannot tell from Luke's description if they all spoke in different languages simultaneously, yet each in the crowd was able to pick out any that were speaking in their language.  It is also possible that there was some order to the miraculous event, resulting in those in the crowd hearing easily those who spoke in their particular language.  Then, they communicated to others that they heard God being praised in their own language.

"Utterly amazed, they asked: 'Are not all these men who are speaking Galileans? Then how is it that each of us hears them in his own native language? Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome (both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs—we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!' Amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, 'What does this mean?'"

The church began with Jews and proselytes from every part of the world represented.  The church that will gather in heaven will come from "every nation."  "After this I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands." (Revelation 7:9)

Robertson gives us an overview of where these Jews were from—"Page notes four main divisions here:  (1) The Eastern or Babylonian, like the Parthians, Medes, Elamites, Mesopotamians.  (2) The Syrian [north] like Judea, Cappadocia, Pontus, Asia, Phyrgia, Pamphylia.  (3) The Egyptian [south] like Egypt, Libya, Cyrene.  (4) The Roman [west]." "Taken from Word Pictures in the New Testament by A. T. Robertson.  Copyright 1930 by Broadman Press."   

"Cretans and Arabs"  Robertson believes these two were "'added to the list as an afterthought.' (Knowling)." "Robertson."  "Crete" to the north and "Arabia" to the south.

"Amazed and perplexed,"  A miraculous sign does just what this miracle of "tongues" did; it creates immediate astonishment and gains the complete focus of those who are witnesses to it.  When Peter preached his sermon, he had their complete  attention.  Would not each Christian speaker like something like what occurred at "Pentecost" to precede his or her message?

"Some, however, made fun of them and said, 'They have had too much wine.'"  There were "God-fearing Jews" (Acts 2:5) who believed that it was a sign from God.  But, there were also those who rejected even what was an obvious miracle from God.  There was the same type of response to Jesus' miracles.  "Even after Jesus had done all these miraculous signs in their presence, they still would not believe in him." (John 12:37)

Men deny what they do not want to believe.  Those who did not want to believe it was the work of God, ridiculed what was taking place—they mocked them and said that they were drunk.

There are those who believe that what happened to these Christians on this day of "Pentecost" is what God desires would happen to all Christians—we first of all believe in God and are born-again, and then at a later date are baptized in the Spirit enabling us to operate in the gifts of the Spirit.  Those who hold this view believe that this baptism of the Spirit will be accompanied by the miraculous gift of "tongues" as it did on this "Pentecost."  There are a number of problems with this view.  First of all, what happened on this day of "Pentecost" included the loud noise "like the blowing of a violent wind" and the visual sign of what "seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on them."  A true Pentecostal experience would also include these supernatural phenomena.  Also, if someone said that they did speak in "tongues," is there someone present that immediately recognizes that the person is speaking supernaturally in a language that they do not know?  A truly Pentecostal experience would include all of these phenomena.

Also, Paul says that every Christian in the church at Corinth had been baptized in the Spirit.  "For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink." (1 Corinthians 12:13)  Furthermore, there is nothing in the New Testament that says we should seek after the baptism of the Spirit.  Why is there no encouragement to Christians for them to seek after the baptism of the Spirit?  The simple answer is that every person who is a Christian has already been baptized by God's Spirit.  "You, however, are controlled not by the sinful nature but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ." (Romans 8:9)   If the baptism of the Spirit was a second experience that Christians should seek after, there would be a strong emphasis in the New Testament to seek after it.

We can conclude, therefore, that what occurred on that day of "Pentecost" was the unique beginning of the church and the church when it was indwelt by God's Spirit.  It led to Peter's sermon and the conversion of  "about three thousand." (Acts 2:41)

b. A God-empowered message (2:14-41)

(1) The miracle of tongues was predicted in the Old Testament (2:14-21)
"Then Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice and addressed the crowd: 'Fellow Jews and all of you who live in Jerusalem, let me explain this to you; listen carefully to what I say. These men are not drunk, as you suppose. It’s only nine in the morning! No, this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel: “In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy. I will show wonders in the heaven above and signs on the earth below, blood and fire and billows of smoke. The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord. And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”'"

Thought Question:  What parts of Joel's prophecy do you believe apply to today—that are already fulfilled—and what parts are still unfulfilled?

 

 

John Stott gives this summary of the speeches found in the book of Acts: "There are eight by Peter (in chapters 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 10, 11, and 15), one each by Stephen and James (in chapters 7 and 15), and nine by Paul (five sermons in chapters 13, 14, 17, 20, and 28, and four defensive speeches in chapters 22 to 26).  Approximately 20 % of Luke's text is devoted to addresses by Peter and Paul; if Stephen's speech is added, the percentage rises to about 25 %."  He further explains that it is unlikely that Luke gave "verbatim accounts of what was said on each occasion." "Taken from The Spirit the Church and the World by John Stott.  Copyright 1990 by Intervarsity Press."

"Then Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice and addressed the crowd:"  "The large crowd and the confusion of tongues demanded loud speaking." "Taken from Word Pictures in the New Testament by A. T. Robertson.  Copyright 1930 by Broadman Press."  So, Peter "raised his voice" in the power of the Spirit and not in the power of his flesh.

"These men are not drunk, as you suppose."  "In other words, they are drunk, but not from new wine;  rather, it is what Joel said would happen—the Spirit of God has come upon them.  It is true that to be controlled by the Holy Spirit does affect a person somewhat like alcohol does.  Paul implies this in Ephesians.  'Do not get drunk with wine . . . but be filled with the Spirit' (Eph. 5:18)." "Taken from Birth of the Body by Ray Stedman.  Copyright 1974 Vision House Publishers."

"It’s only nine in the morning!"  Drunkenness would be common in the late evening hours, but not in the early morning hours.  So, their unusual behavior needed another explanation than drunkenness with wine. 

"No, this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel: “In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy." See Joel 2:28-32

The difference between before this "Pentecost" and after this "Pentecost" is that here God pours out His "Spirit on all people."  In the Old Testament times, God poured out His Spirit on some people so that they could accomplish some purpose that He desired to do through them.  God's Spirit, for example, guided the authors of the Bible.  "Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation. For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit." (2 Peter 1:20-21) 

God came on men for a specific purpose. See Exodus 31:3; Numbers 11:25; Judges 3:10, 6:34, 11:29, 13;25,; I Samuel 16:13; II Chronicles 24:20  But, the Spirit also departed from people when they were disobedient to God.  "Now the Spirit of the Lord had departed from Saul, and an evil spirit from the Lord tormented him." (1 Samuel 16:14) See also Judges 16:20 and Psalm 51:11

After this "Pentecost," all who believe in Jesus Christ are immediately indwelt by the Holy Spirit.  Paul is speaking to every Christian in the church at Corinth when he says these words to them: "Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit lives in you?" (1 Corinthians 3:16) See also John 7:37-39, 14:16-17, 16:7; Romans 8:9; I Corinthians 6:19, 12:13

"Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams."  In the early church, both men and women were called prophets and prophetesses. "He [Phillip] had four unmarried daughters who prophesied. After we had been there a number of days, a prophet named Agabus came down from Judea." (Acts 21:9-10) See also I Corinthians 11:5

Jesus described the whole period of the last days that we are now in as being like the "birth pains" of a mother (Matthew 24:8).  The book of Revelation describes the very last of the "birth pains"  just before Jesus returns.  As we will see, as Peter continues to quote Joel, that some of the climactic events described in these verses have not happened yet.  But, the pouring out of the Spirit is the sign of the beginning of the last days.

The Charismatic and Pentecostal movement believes that all the prophecies of Joel are being fulfilled right now—prophesy, visions, and dreams.  My own conclusion is that we are not yet experiencing all of what is predicted here. See Revelation 11

"I will show wonders in the heaven above and signs on the earth below, blood and fire and billows of smoke. The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord."  Van Kampen wrote a book titled The Sign.  In this book, he emphasized that just before Jesus' return and God's wrath begins, "the sun" will turn black.  "Immediately after the distress of those days 'the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from the sky, and the heavenly bodies will be shaken.' At that time the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and all the nations of the earth will mourn. They will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky, with power and great glory." (Matthew 24:29-30)  "I watched as he opened the sixth seal. There was a great earthquake. The sun turned black like sackcloth made of goat hair, the whole moon turned blood red, and the stars in the sky fell to earth, as late figs drop from a fig tree when shaken by a strong wind. The sky receded like a scroll, rolling up, and every mountain and island was removed from its place." (Revelation 6:12-14)

These days are still in the future, but the last days where God's Spirit is poured out on all people began when God's Spirit was poured out on this day of "Pentecost."

"'“And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”'"  This invitation is to "everyone."  There are those who believe that there are those who cannot call "on the name of the Lord" and be "saved"—those who are not the elect are unable to call "on the name of the Lord" and be "saved."  But, we see here that Peter meant this invitation to apply to "everyone."  "Peter replied, 'Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.'" (Acts 2:38-39)

(2) Jesus' death and resurrection was predicted in the Old Testament (2:22—36)
"'Men of Israel, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know. This man was handed over to you by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross. But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him. David said about him: “I saw the Lord always before me. Because he is at my right hand, I will not be shaken. Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices; my body also will live in hope, because you will not abandon me to the grave, nor will you let your Holy One see decay. You have made known to me the paths of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence.” Brothers, I can tell you confidently that the patriarch David died and was buried, and his tomb is here to this day. But he was a prophet and knew that God had promised him on oath that he would place one of his descendants on his throne. Seeing what was ahead, he spoke of the resurrection of the Christ, that he was not abandoned to the grave, nor did his body see decay. God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of the fact. Exalted to the right hand of God, he has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear. For David did not ascend to heaven, and yet he said, “The Lord said to my Lord: ‘Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet.’” Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.'"

Thought Question #1:  Was it God's purpose that led to Jesus' death or were men responsible for it? (or both)  Please explain your answer.

 

 

Thought Question #2:  What evidence does Peter give that Psalm 16 predicts Jesus?

 

 

"'Men of Israel, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know.'"  There was no denying that Jesus performed astonishing "miracles, wonders and signs."  It is the way that God reveals to us that someone is a spokesman for Him.  "The things that mark an apostle—signs, wonders and miracles—were done among you with great perseverance." (2 Corinthians 12:12)  "We must pay more careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away. For if the message spoken by angels was binding, and every violation and disobedience received its just punishment, how shall we escape if we ignore such a great salvation? This salvation, which was first announced by the Lord, was confirmed to us by those who heard him. God also testified to it by signs, wonders and various miracles, and gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will." (Hebrews 2:1-4) See also Exodus 4;1-9

The "miracles" are given three names by Luke: "miracles or, literally 'powers' (dynameis, their nature being a demonstration of the power of God), wonders (terata, their effect being to arouse astonishment) and signs (semeia, their purpose being to embody or signify spiritual truth)." "Taken from The Spirit the Church and the World by John Stott.  Copyright 1990 by Intervarsity Press."  The people Peter was speaking to wondered about the "miracles" that ended in His death.

 "accredited by God"  That Jesus was a spokesman for God was demonstrated by the "miracles" that Jesus performed.

"This man was handed over to you by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross."  In an older Bible of mine, I wrote down every time a verse taught God's sovereignty or man's responsibility—if it taught God's sovereignty I put "GS" and if it taught man's responsibility or free will I put "FW."  Also, next to those verses that taught both God's sovereignty and man's free will, I put GS/FW.  This is one of those verses where GS/FW is appropriate.  God "handed over" Jesus according to His "set purpose and foreknowledge"; yet, it was "wicked men" who "put him to death by nailing him to the cross."  It was God's plan; yet, it was also men's "wicked" plan.

The cross was part of God's eternal plan.  "All inhabitants of the earth will worship the beast—all whose names have not been written in the book of life belonging to the Lamb that was slain from the creation of the world." (Revelation 13:8)  This truth is stated throughout the Bible.  "'The kings of the earth take their stand and the rulers gather together against the Lord and against his Anointed One.' Indeed Herod and Pontius Pilate met together with the Gentiles and the people of Israel in this city to conspire against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed. They did what your power and will had decided beforehand should happen. Now, Lord, consider their threats and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness." (Acts 4:26-29)  Nevertheless, those who chose to hang Him on the cross are fully responsible for their evil choice to do it. "The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God of our fathers, has glorified his servant Jesus. You handed him over to be killed, and you disowned him before Pilate, though he had decided to let him go. You disowned the Holy and Righteous One and asked that a murderer be released to you. You killed the author of life, but God raised him from the dead. We are witnesses of this." (Acts 3:13-15)  "The God of our fathers raised Jesus from the dead—whom you had killed by hanging him on a tree." (Acts 5:30)

"foreknowledge;""  God knew before it happened that wicked people would choose to kill His Son.  Here we see God sovereignty and man's free choices together in one verse.  How can both be true?  They both are true, even if we cannot figure out how they can both be true.  The easy way out is to emphasize only one.  But, then, you have deviated from what is taught in the Bible.

"But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him."  Peter proclaims Jesus' resurrection from the dead in the very city where He died in such a public way.  No one challenges him.  They probably had heard of His resurrection appearances.  They also probably knew that His body had disappeared.  Peter gives an explanation for what was probably common knowledge.  He rose from the dead!

"the agony of death,"  "Agony"  translates the Greek word for "birth pains"—oidinas.  In other words, the "birth pains" "of death."  "But birth pains do bring deliverance to the mother also." "Taken from Word Pictures in the New Testament by A. T. Robertson.  Copyright 1930 by Broadman Press."

"because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him."  "Death" could not "hold on" to Him, because He is God.  It was predicted that He would rise from the dead.  "Finally the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went inside. He saw and believed. (They still did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead.)" (John 20:8-9)  Jesus Himself predicted He would rise from the dead.  "On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, the women took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. While they were wondering about this, suddenly two men in clothes that gleamed like lightning stood beside them. In their fright the women bowed down with their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, 'Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; he has risen! Remember how he told you, while he was still with you in Galilee: “The Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, be crucified and on the third day be raised again.”'" (Luke 24:1-7)

"'David said about him: “I saw the Lord always before me. Because he is at my right hand, I will not be shaken. Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices; my body also will live in hope, because you will not abandon me to the grave, nor will you let your Holy One see decay. You have made known to me the paths of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence.”'"  Peter uses these verses in Psalm 16:8-11 to show that Jesus could not remain in the grave.  "David" was predicting an ancestor of his who would be a "Holy One."  This "Holy One" was and is Jesus Christ.  "David" predicted that God the Father would not allow His Son to remain in the grave.

Jesus died, but His body did not rot and "decay," as is the normal destiny of bodies that are in the grave.  Instead, Jesus saw the Father "always before" Him.  Ultimately, the Father raised Him from the dead as it was predicted.  He did not experience death, but "the paths of life" and "joy in" the Father's "presence." 

"Brothers, I can tell you confidently that the patriarch David died and was buried, and his tomb is here to this day. But he was a prophet and knew that God had promised him on oath that he would place one of his descendants on his throne. Seeing what was ahead, he spoke of the resurrection of the Christ, that he was not abandoned to the grave, nor did his body see decay. God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of the fact."  Peter is saying that Psalm 16 is what has come to be called, a "Messianic Psalm." See also Psalms 2, 8, 16, 22, 23, 23, 40, 41, 45, 68, 69, 72, 87, 89, 109, 110  Peter says here that this Psalm's prediction of Someone who is "the Holy One" and One who would not stay in the grave is not "David," for "David's" body was in a grave in Jerusalem.  "His tomb was on Mount Zion where most were buried." "Taken from Word Pictures in the New Testament by A. T. Robertson.  Copyright 1930 by Broadman Press."  Instead, "David" was predicting the resurrection of Jesus the Messiah and the predicted King.

Some deny that these Psalms predict Jesus' life, death, and resurrection.  But Peter makes if very clear here that "David" in Psalm 16 predicted the Messiah; and Jesus fulfilled those predictions.

"and we are all witnesses of the fact."  We are not told if the "hundred and twenty" (1:15) had all witnessed the resurrected Jesus.  I Corinthians 15 tells us that "five hundred" had seen Him "at the same time."  "After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep." (1 Corinthians 15:6)  We are not sure how many of those that were there on that day of Pentecost had seen the resurrected Jesus, but it was a substantial number.

"Exalted to the right hand of God, he has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear. For David did not ascend to heaven, and yet he said,' The Lord said to my Lord: “Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet.”'"  Not only did the Psalms predict the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, but David predicted the ascension and exaltation of Christ.  The Jesus who lived in front of them and performed miracles from God, had been murdered as God had planned it.  Then, He rose from the dead; again, as it was predicted He would.  And, now, He is at the "right hand" of the Father.  This exaltation of Jesus Christ was predicted in Psalm 110:1.  " . . . The Lord says to my Lord: 'Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet.'" (Psalm 110:1)  Finally, because of His present "exalted" position with the Father, He has "poured out" "the promised Holy Spirit." 

"For David did not ascend to heaven,'  Psalm 110 could not be speaking of "David," for he "did not ascend to heaven."  Jesus did ascend to heaven.  "After he [Jesus] said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight." (Acts 1:9)

"the promised Holy Spirit."  The Holy Spirit is sent by the Father and the Son. See John 15:26, 16:7

"Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.'"  The proofs have already been stated.  Jesus fulfilled the Old Testament prophesies of the Messiah.  Now, "all Israel" can "be assured."  Jesus is the Messiah.  But, He was also the One whom they "crucified."

"God has made this Jesus . . . both Lord and Christ.'"  Wasn't he already "Lord and Christ"?  Why was it necessary for "God" to make Him what He already was?  "Not, of course, that Jesus became Lord and Christ only at the time of his ascension, for he was (and claimed to be) both throughout his public ministry.  It is rather that now God exalted him to be in reality and power what he already was by right." "Taken from The Spirit the Church and the World by John Stott.  Copyright 1990 by Intervarsity Press."

Jesus Himself said that Psalm 110:1 was a prediction of the Messiah.  "While Jesus was teaching in the temple courts, he asked, "How is it that the teachers of the law say that the Christ is the son of David? David himself, speaking by the Holy Spirit, declared: 'The Lord said to my Lord: “Sit at my right hand until I put your enemies under your feet.” David himself calls him “Lord.” How then can he be his son?' The large crowd listened to him with delight." (Mark 12:35-37)

(3) Many believed in Jesus as their Messiah (2:37-41)
"When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, 'Brothers, what shall we do?' Peter replied, 'Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.' With many other words he warned them; and he pleaded with them, 'Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.' Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day."

Thought Question:  According to these verses, what comes first, faith or a person being born again by the Holy Spirit?  Please explain your answer.

 

 


"When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, 'Brothers, what shall we do?'"  "Cut to the heart, that is, convicted of sin and conscience-stricken." "Taken from The Spirit the Church and the World by John Stott.  Copyright 1990 by Intervarsity Press."  "katanusso, a rare verb . . . to pierce, to sting sharply, to stun, to smite." "Taken from Word Pictures in the New Testament by A. T. Robertson.  Copyright 1930 by Broadman Press."  Jesus predicted in John 16 that after He left, people would be convicted by the Holy Spirit.  "When he comes, he will convict the world of guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment:" (John 16:8)  Here, we see the result of the convicting work of the Holy Spirit: the people listening to Peter "were cut to the heart."  Possibly, there were those there who had mocked Jesus while He was on the cross.  Now, they recognized that they were mocking God's only Son.  We can understand why they said, "What shall we do?" 

Calvinists believe that people will not be motivated to respond to the gospel message until they are already born-again.  But, here, these people were "cut to the heart" and asked, "what shall we do?" before they were born again of the Spirit.  They had a feeling of complete "helplessness and need." ." "Taken from Church Alive by William LaSor.  Copyright 1972."   They had become "poor in spirit." (Matthew 5:3), and they had become "good soil" (Matthew 13:23) for the gospel message.  Convicting men of sin is part of God drawing people toward His Son. See John 6:44

"Peter replied, 'Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit."  "Repent" is a verb in the aorist tense.  Peter is commanding them: "change your mind and your life." "Taken from Word Pictures in the New Testament by A. T. Robertson.  Copyright 1930 by Broadman Press."  The Greek word is metanoesate.    It means, change your thinking in such a way that it turns your life in another direction.  "You crucified this Jesus.  Now crown him in your hearts as Lord and Christ." "Robertson."

"and be baptized,"  Peter is not teaching that baptism is required to be saved.  That is called "baptismal regeneration."  Some are able to argue quite persuasively from verses like this verse that baptism is needed for salvation—that you are only saved as you are being baptized. See John 3:5, I Peter 3:20-21; and Titus 3:5 for other verses that are used to support the baptismal regeneration view.

Years ago, I spoke at a youth camp and invited young people to believe on Jesus for salvation—implying that they could be saved by faith previous to being baptized.  A pastor at that camp strongly disagreed with me and emphasized to me individually that these young people would only be saved as they were being baptized.  Baptism, though, is not necessary for salvation, but is a symbolic expression describing that a person has been saved.  A person who has been saved, in obedience to Jesus Christ, proclaims that they are saved by being baptized.

Jesus and the Bible are clear that all that is necessary for salvation is faith.  "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life." (John 3:16)  "Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son." (John 3:18)  "Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on him." (John 3:36)  "I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life." (John 5:24)  "Then they asked him, 'What must we do to do the works God requires?' Jesus answered, 'The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.'" (John 6:28-29)  Baptism, again, is a way of publicly declaring that we have believed in Jesus and have repented by turning to Him and away from our old unbelieving life.  It symbolizes our identification with Christ in His death, burial, and resurrection. See Romans 6:1-4

"be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ"  Peter's exhortation to "be baptized" "in the name of Jesus Christ" does not contradict Jesus' instruction to baptize people "in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit." (Matthew 28:19)  Peter was not saying "be baptized" only "in the name of Jesus Christ."  A knowledge of the Trinity teaches us that if we are "baptized" "in the name of Jesus Christ," we are also "baptized" "in the name of" the Father and the Holy Spirit.  In Matthew 28:19, the "name" is singular—there is one name, because there is one God.

"for the forgiveness of your sins."  Jesus died in their place and did all that was necessary to satisfy God's justice and righteous wrath for their sins.  Those listening to Peter on that day may have actually, in some way, participated in the murder of God's Son; yet, if they repented, their sins would be forgiven.

"And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit."  Calvinists teach that we receive the "gift of the Holy Spirit" first, and then we repent and believe.  Here, it could not be more clear that this teaching is unbiblical.  Peter says here that after you repent, "you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit."  John Stott describes this "gift of the Holy Spirit" as follows: "to regenerate, indwell, unite, and transform them." "Taken from The Spirit the Church and the World by John Stott.  Copyright 1990 by Intervarsity Press."  

"With many other words he warned them; and he pleaded with them, 'Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.'"  Someone may truly accept the message of Jesus, but that does not change the fact that they have a whole habit pattern of living in conformity with the world.  That is the reason that the apostle John made the following exhortation to Christians:  "Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For everything in the world—the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does—comes not from the Father but from the world. The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever." (1 John 2:15-17)

Much of the New Testament is dedicated to exhortations directed toward Christians, urging them to turn from worldliness and toward a life controlled by God's Spirit. See Romans 12;1-2; II Corinthians 6:14-18; Ephesians 4:17-19; Colossians 3:1-12; II Timothy 2:22  Peter focused in on urging these new believers to leave their old sinful patterns and to seek to be obedient to Christ.

"Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day."  After one message by Peter, the church in Jerusalem multiplied from 120 to about 3,120.  There is no mention of the "violent wind" and the "tongues of fire" that had accompanied the coming of the Spirit to the first group in Acts 2:1-4.

c. A God-empowered fellowship (2:42-47)
"They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved."

Thought Question:  In what ways is your current church fellowship like this earliest church fellowship, and in which ways is it not? (in case that is true.)

 

 

"They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer."  First, "they devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching."  There were "three thousand" new converts.  What did the "apostles" teach them?  "The epistles?  The epistles had not been written yet.  The Gospels?  There was no written biographies of Christ at that time.  What, then, did they teach?  The Old Testament, the sayings of Jesus as they recalled them, the Sermon on the Mount, the conversations in the Upper Room. . . ." "Taken from Acts by R. Kent Hughes.  Copyright 1996 by Crossway Books."

Luke describes them as continually devoting themselves "to the apostles' teaching.  The verb tense of "devoted" is in the present tense, describing a continual devotion.  They were new Christians who were continually hungry for God's word.  I Peter 2:2 describes what they were like.  "Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation," (1 Peter 2:2)

The early church started with a devotion to being taught God's truth.  In some circles within the church, experience is emphasized and learning what the Bible teaches is deemphasized and even discouraged.  That is not what these early Christians were like.

Jesus and the Bible teaches the importance of learning the Bible and applying its teaching to our lives.  "All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work." (2 Timothy 3:16-17)  "Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction." (2 Timothy 4:2)  "Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God." (Colossians 3:16)  "Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful." (Joshua 1:8)  "Oh, how I love your law! I meditate on it all day long. Your commands make me wiser than my enemies, for they are ever with me. I have more insight than all my teachers, for I meditate on your statutes. I have more understanding than the elders, for I obey your precepts. I have kept my feet from every evil path so that I might obey your word." (Psalm 119:97-101)  "Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says." (James 1:22)  "But the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it—he will be blessed in what he does." (James 1:25)

Second, "they devoted themselves  . . . to the fellowship."  "Fellowship" is the Greek word koinoniai.  It describes a group of people sharing what they have in common.  As new Christians, they now shared a belief that "the apostles' teaching" was God's truth.  They now shared the truth that God's Spirit now indwelt each of them.  They had repented and each of them received "the gift of the Holy Spirit." (2:38)   They shared with each other a desire to obey Jesus Christ and to love each other.

Thirdly, "they devoted themselves . . . to the breaking of bread."  There are two possible meanings to "the breaking of the bread."  (1) The "breaking of the bread" means that they ate meals together.  It has this meaning in Luke 24:35:  "Then the two told what had happened on the way, and how Jesus was recognized by them when he broke the bread." (Luke 24:35)  They were referring to when Jesus ate with them.  "When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them." (Luke 24:30)  (2) "Breaking of the bread" also can refer to the communion service.  "And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, 'This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.'" (Luke 22:19)  I agree with Robertson that the "breaking of the bread" referred to combined meal and communion service or "love-feast."  To these new Christians, celebrating the Lord's Supper was a very fresh reminder of the cost Jesus paid for them. See I Corinthians 11:20-22 for this practice of the Agape meal which included both a meal and the Lord's Supper.

Fourth, "they devoted themselves . . . to prayer."  "Prayer" was a primary emphasis when Christians gathered together.  "They all joined together constantly in prayer." (Acts 1:14) See also Acts 3:1, 4:23-31, 12:12  "Prayer" is also to have a primary place in our church gatherings today.  "pray continually;" (I Thessalonians 5:17)  "And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints." (Ephesians 6:18) See Romans 12:12

"Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles."  The church began with God powerfully demonstrating that it was His church by the miracles He did through "the apostles."  Peter said that Jesus "was accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know." (Acts 2:22)  Here, we learn that "the apostles" were also "accredited by God" when He enabled them to perform "many wonders and miraculous signs."

One of the signs that someone was an apostle was the miracles that they performed.  "We must pay more careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away. For if the message spoken by angels was binding, and every violation and disobedience received its just punishment, how shall we escape if we ignore such a great salvation? This salvation, which was first announced by the Lord, was confirmed to us by those who heard him. God also testified to it by signs, wonders and various miracles, and gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will." (Hebrews 2:1-4)  "The things that mark an apostle—signs, wonders and miracles—were done among you with great perseverance." (2 Corinthians 12:12)

"All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need."  At least one cult uses this verse to require that its members give all that they own to its leaders.  Stott points out that the Essene sect of Jesus' time were required to give all that they owned to the sect.  Others believe that this verse teaches communism.  But, what we see here is not an involuntary giving that is imposed on them by a religious authority or be a communist dictatorship, but a voluntary and sacrificial giving motivated by compassion toward the truly needy.  It is not an involuntary redistribution of the wealth.  There are many who had come to Jerusalem for the Feast of Pentecost who had planned on going home after the Feast.  Then, they became Christians.  They wanted to stay in Jerusalem with the newly formed church, but had no source of income in Jerusalem.  Those with resources helped them out financially during this unique time of need.  There is no indication that this voluntary giving then became imposed on the church.  Peter later tells Ananias that his "money" was at his "disposal," not that it belonged to the church.  Of Ananias' land, Peter said, "'Didn’t it belong to you before it was sold? And after it was sold, wasn’t the money at your disposal?' . . ." (Acts 5:4a)

Although this verse cannot be used to force Christians to give, it does provide us with a model of generous giving to the needy that should be copied in our modern day.  We do see this type of generosity being practiced by Christians today.  I was told by a former missionary pilot to Indonesia that the help that came to the Indonesians after the terrible tsunami was almost entirely from Christian groups.  In our country, Christians support food banks, Gospel missions and benevolent funds.

"Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God."  What should we have in our churches, large gatherings or small group meetings?  The answer to that question is given here.  We need to have both large group gatherings and small groups.  These early Christians met in large groups "in the temple courts," and they met in small groups "in their homes."  The large group meetings gave them encouragement that they were not alone in their faith in Jesus.  There were many that shared this faith in Jesus with them.  The small groups provided intimate friendships where individual needs could be met and where encouragement toward spiritual growth could be made.

"with glad and sincere hearts,"  New Christians often have "glad and sincere hearts."  They are excited about their new faith and all that God has rescued them from.  Older Christians can also have "glad and sincere hearts" as they grow in their understanding of all that God has graciously given them in their new life in Christ and as they come to a greater understanding of what is ahead for them in God's eternal kingdom.  In short, both new and older Christians are both able to have "glad and sincere hearts." 

"praising God"  I am convinced that the greatest happiness and joy on this earth is experienced by those who truly praise God and are deeply thankful to Him.  A joyful Christian and joy-filled church is a church that is truly full of praise toward our wonderful God.  Praise is what we will join together to do in heaven.  "Then I looked and heard the voice of many angels, numbering thousands upon thousands, and ten thousand times ten thousand. They encircled the throne and the living creatures and the elders. In a loud voice they sang: 'Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise!' Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all that is in them, singing: 'To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honor and glory and power, for ever and ever!' The four living creatures said, 'Amen,' and the elders fell down and worshiped." (Revelation 5:11-14)

"enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved."  In verse 43, we learn that "everyone was filled with awe" when they saw the miracles "done by the apostles."  Here, we learn that these early Christians were "enjoying the favor of all people."  It was a perfect setting for evangelism.

A few years ago, my wife Shirley and I were on a short-term missions time in Kabale, Uganda.  After the church service, during my time there, I taught a class.  Those who attended the class had walked to the church service.  They did not walk back home and then walk back for my class.  Instead, they stayed after the church service to attend my class.  After one of my classes, I walked back with a number of high school young men.  The main topic among these young men was how they could reach young people with the gospel message.  In an email that I received about a year after we had returned home from our trip, I learned that these young men had been used to reach a number of other young men with the gospel message.  Even more recently, I learned that one of those young men has since been trained at a Bible college and is about to become a church pastor.  The enthusiasm of the early church and these Ugandan young men describes the ultimate goal.  As John Stott states, we are meant to be a missionary church.  A love-motivated and praising church will also be a church that is adding "to their number daily those who were being saved."

4. The apostles' leadership kept the church going (3-7)

a. God miraculously heals a crippled man through Peter (3:1-10)
"One day Peter and John were going up to the temple at the time of prayer—at three in the afternoon. Now a man crippled from birth was being carried to the temple gate called Beautiful, where he was put every day to beg from those going into the temple courts. When he saw Peter and John about to enter, he asked them for money. Peter looked straight at him, as did John. Then Peter said, 'Look at us!' So the man gave them his attention, expecting to get something from them. Then Peter said, 'Silver or gold I do not have, but what I have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk.' Taking him by the right hand, he helped him up, and instantly the man’s feet and ankles became strong. He jumped to his feet and began to walk. Then he went with them into the temple courts, walking and jumping, and praising God. When all the people saw him walking and praising God, they recognized him as the same man who used to sit begging at the temple gate called Beautiful, and they were filled with wonder and amazement at what had happened to him."

Thought Question:  What about what happened to this lame beggar would surprise and get your attention if it happened in your home town?

 

 

"One day Peter and John were going up to the temple at the time of prayer—at three in the afternoon. Now a man crippled from birth was being carried to the temple gate called Beautiful, where he was put every day to beg from those going into the temple courts. When he saw Peter and John about to enter, he asked them for money."  "The Jewish day began at 6 o'clock in the morning and ended at 6 o'clock in the evening.  For the devout Jew there were three special hours of prayer—9 a.m., 12 midday and 3 p.m.  They agreed that prayer was efficacious where it was offered; but they felt that it was doubly precious when offered in the Temple court." "Taken from The Acts of the Apostles by William Barclay.  Copyright 1976 by Westminster Press."

At this time, these two leaders of the church—Peter and John—were continuing their Jewish tradition and were going up to the temple at one of the times of prayer.  When they reached "the temple gate called Beautiful," they met "a man crippled from birth" who begged "every day from those going into the temple courts." 

"In the East it was the custom for beggars to sit at the entrance to a temple or a shrine.  Such a place was considered the best of all stances because when people are on their way to worship God they are disposed to be generous to their fellow man." "Barclay."

"the temple gate called Beautiful,"  "Commentaries mostly identify this as the Nicanor Gate, which was the main eastern entrance to the temple precincts from the Court of the Gentiles.  Because Luke names it 'the Beautiful Gate', it is probably the one made of Corinthian brass which Josephus, 'greatly excelled those that were only covered over with silver and gold.'  It was about seventy-five feet high and had large double doors." "Taken from The Spirit the Church and the World by John Stott.  Copyright 1990 by Intervarsity Press."

"Peter looked straight at him, as did John. Then Peter said, 'Look at us!' So the man gave them his attention, expecting to get something from them. Then Peter said, 'Silver or gold I do not have, but what I have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk.' Taking him by the right hand, he helped him up, and instantly the man’s feet and ankles became strong. He jumped to his feet and began to walk. Then he went with them into the temple courts, walking and jumping, and praising God." 

Many of us have passed someone begging and have avoided looking directly into their eyes.  One reason we avoid looking into their eyes is that we are suspicious, based on prior experience, that they are sincere.  This beggar was genuinely needy.  He probably saw many who avoided eye contact with him.  But, "Peter looked straight at him."  And Peter even said to the lame beggar, "Look at us!"  He probably did not hear these words in his lifetime of "begging."  What comes next, surprised him much more.

In quick succession, the lame man heard Peter say that he had no money for him, then, Peter commanded him, "in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth," to "walk."  Immediately, Peter took him by the "right hand" and "helped him up."  "Instantly the man’s feet and ankles became strong." 

Luke, the physician and author of Acts, reveals here his medical expertise in the way he describes this healing.  Hughes quotes G. Campbell Morgan's explanation of the words Luke used.  "The phrase ankle-bones is again a medical phrase, to be found nowhere else.  The word 'leaping up' describes the coming suddenly into socket of something that was out of place, the articulation of a joint." "Taken from Acts by R. Kent Hughes.  Copyright 1996 by Crossway Books."

The next thing this man knew is that he was able to walk and jump.  So, he started "walking and jumping, and praising God." 

"When all the people saw him walking and praising God, they recognized him as the same man who used to sit begging at the temple gate called Beautiful, and they were filled with wonder and amazement at what had happened to him."  In most communities there are those who are disabled that we regularly see.  And we may see them at a customary place.  What if we saw them completely healed?  Would not the news of that healing spread quickly throughout the community.  "Did you hear what happened to ________?" (you fill in the name)  That is what happened in Jerusalem after this man was healed.  He was a common sight at the temple.  The lame were not allowed inside the temple. See Leviticus 21:16-18  Now, he was healed and he joyfully enjoyed "walking and praising God" inside  the temple.  He expressed the joy of a new Christian who now was able to rejoice in God's presence, where once he could not stand in God's presence due to his impurity.

b. Peter's second recorded sermon (3:11-26)

(1) Jesus, the One they murdered, healed this man (3:11-16)
"While the beggar held on to Peter and John, all the people were astonished and came running to them in the place called Solomon’s Colonnade. When Peter saw this, he said to them: 'Men of Israel, why does this surprise you? Why do you stare at us as if by our own power or godliness we had made this man walk? The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God of our fathers, has glorified his servant Jesus. You handed him over to be killed, and you disowned him before Pilate, though he had decided to let him go. You disowned the Holy and Righteous One and asked that a murderer be released to you. You killed the author of life, but God raised him from the dead. We are witnesses of this. By faith in the name of Jesus, this man whom you see and know was made strong. It is Jesus’ name and the faith that comes through him that has given this complete healing to him, as you can all see.'"

Thought Question:  What do you learn from "Peter" about how we should handle praise that is directed to us for our Christian service?

 

 

"While the beggar held on to Peter and John, all the people were astonished and came running to them in the place called Solomon’s Colonnade."  The healed beggar saw Peter and John as the ones who had healed him.  Here, we see him holding "on to Peter and John," as the crowds came running to the "Colonnade" that was found on the eastern side of the temple.  This was a hallway "formed by a double row of marbled columns and roofed with cedar, which ran all the way along the eastern wall of the outer court." "Taken from The Spirit the Church and the World by John Stott.  Copyright 1990 by Intervarsity Press."

What would "Peter and John" do in response to the praise coming from this healed beggar?  Would they receive the accolades of the crowd and bask in the glory of the healing they had performed?  We see what they did next.

"When Peter saw this, he said to them: 'Men of Israel, why does this surprise you? Why do you stare at us as if by our own power or godliness we had made this man walk? The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God of our fathers, has glorified his servant Jesus. You handed him over to be killed, and you disowned him before Pilate, though he had decided to let him go. You disowned the Holy and Righteous One and asked that a murderer be released to you. You killed the author of life, but God raised him from the dead. We are witnesses of this.'"  If anyone said it as it is, Peter did on that day in the temple.  He made it clear that it was not John and he who performed the miracle, but it was the "God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob" that had performed the healing miracle.  The "God of" Israel had revealed Himself to "Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob," and now through this miracle He had revealed Himself to them.  It was the God they professed to believe in that sent "his servant" to them.  What did they do?  They " handed him over to be killed."  They continued to pursue His death even though "Pilate" tried to release Him.  They chose that a murderer be released, and, then, they murdered "the Holy and Righteous One."  Yet, their evil purposes were thwarted, for "God raised him from the dead."

How rarely we see this type of frankness.  Normally, we are political and diplomatic.  Peter fearlessly told the truth and let the chips fall where they may.  "Don't miss the direct accusations: you handed him over; you disowned him; you asked that a murderer be released; you killed the author of life." "Taken from Acts by Kenneth Gangel.  Copyright 1998 by Broadman & Holman Publishers." 

"You killed the author of life,"  What a powerful statement in a few words—you took the life away from the One who gave you life!  You released a murderer, then, you murdered the One who gave you life.  What could be more wrong than this?

"but God raised him from the dead. We are witnesses of this."  Jesus' last words to His followers were: "But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth." (Acts 1:8)  Peter and the others had this power, and they are here Spirit-empowered witnesses that He rose from the dead!

"'By faith in the name of Jesus, this man whom you see and know was made strong.  It is Jesus’ name and the faith that comes through him that has given this complete healing to him, as you can all see.'" 

"Jesus' name"  "Luke uses this phrase thirty-three times in the book of Acts." "Kenneth Gangel."  A name captures all that a person is.  When my name or your name is mentioned, those that know us think of all that they know about us (good or bad).  So, when the name Jesus is mentioned, it sums up all that He is.  He is the God-man described throughout the Gospels, but He is also the all-glorious One in heaven.  Peter has just called Him "the Holy and Righteous One." (3:15)  The healing of the lame man came as a result of Peter's and John's belief in this all-glorious Jesus.  The crowd before Peter and John had witnessed this miracle done in "Jesus' name."

(2) Repent, then, and turn to God (3:17-20)
"'Now, brothers, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did your leaders. But this is how God fulfilled what he had foretold through all the prophets, saying that his Christ would suffer. Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord, and that he may send the Christ, who has been appointed for you—even Jesus.'"

Thought Question:  What do you believe is the difference between rejecting Jesus "in ignorance" and rejecting Him not "in ignorance"?

 

 

"'Now, brothers, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did your leaders. But this is how God fulfilled what he had foretold through all the prophets, saying that his Christ would suffer.'"  Here, we are introduced to one of the more difficult teachings in the Bible to understand.  The people of Israel had murdered their Messiah, but they had "acted in ignorance."  Jesus said the same when He was hanging on the cross.  "Jesus said, 'Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing. . . . " (Luke 23:34)  Paul describes his own participation in the persecution of Christians in the same.  "Even though I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man, I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and unbelief." (1 Timothy 1:13)  "God sees what you did, says Peter, not as a deliberate act of a perverted and twisted will trying to strike back at God, but as the blundering act of an ignorant mind that doesn't realize what it is doing . . . Here, and perhaps nowhere else as clearly, we see how God sees man.  He sees him as ignorant, blind, and stupid, blundering along in darkness, not knowing what he is doing." "Taken from Birth of the Body by Ray Stedman.  Copyright 1974 Vision House Publishers."

Paul sums it up in this ways.  "We do, however, speak a message of wisdom among the mature, but not the wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are coming to nothing. No, we speak of God’s secret wisdom, a wisdom that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began. None of the rulers of this age understood it, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory." (1 Corinthians 2:6-8)

The Bible distinguishes between sins of ignorance and sins that are done in complete understanding of what one is doing.  "But if just one person sins unintentionally, he must bring a year-old female goat for a sin offering. The priest is to make atonement before the Lord for the one who erred by sinning unintentionally, and when atonement has been made for him, he will be forgiven. One and the same law applies to everyone who sins unintentionally, whether he is a native-born Israelite or an alien. But anyone who sins defiantly, whether native-born or alien, blasphemes the Lord, and that person must be cut off from his people. Because he has despised the Lord’s word and broken his commands, that person must surely be cut off; his guilt remains on him." (Numbers 15:27-31)    

Jesus made this same distinction.  "And so I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. Anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but anyone who speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come." (Matthew 12:31-32)  Rejecting Jesus when you have not been enlightened by the Holy Spirit is different than rejecting Him when God's Spirit has enlightened you and you know Whom it is that you are rejecting.  Many use Jesus' name in vain, but are blind to Whom it is they are using as a cuss word.  But for them to do that when they have been enlightened by God and realize His glory, that is quite different.

The author of Hebrews wrote that there is no forgiveness for those who reject Jesus after they are given understanding by the Holy Spirit as to Who Jesus is.  "It is impossible for those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit, who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age, if they fall away, to be brought back to repentance, because to their loss they are crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting him to public disgrace." (Hebrews 6:4-6)  "If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God. Anyone who rejected the law of Moses died without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. How much more severely do you think a man deserves to be punished who has trampled the Son of God under foot, who has treated as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant that sanctified him, and who has insulted the Spirit of grace?" (Hebrews 10:26-29)

"Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord, and that he may send the Christ, who has been appointed for you—even Jesus.'"  Though they acted "in ignorance," what they did was still horribly wrong.  Now, that it is clear to them that what they did was wrong, what should they do?  They should acknowledge that participating in killing their Messiah was monstrous and they should "turn to God." 

Peter gives three blessings that will come to them if they "repent" "and turn to God."  First of all, their "sins" will "be wiped out."  This was promised in the Old Testament.  If Israel repented of their "sins," their "sins" would "be wiped out."  "'Come now, let us reason together,' says the Lord. 'Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool . . . '" (Isaiah 1:18)  "As far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us." (Psalm 103:12)  "Who is a God like you, who pardons sin and forgives the transgression of the remnant of his inheritance? You do not stay angry forever but delight to show mercy. You will again have compassion on us; you will tread our sins underfoot and hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea." (Micah 7:18-19) See also Psalm 51:7

"Wiped out"  "This is a vivid word.  Ancient writing was upon papyrus and the ink had no acid in it.  It therefore did not bite into the papyrus like modern ink, but simply lay on top of it.  To erase the writing a man simply wiped it away with a wet sponge; so God wipes out the sin of the forgiven man." "Taken from The Acts of the Apostles by William Barclay.  Copyright 1976 by Westminster Press." 

(3) Repent and you will be among those who wait for Jesus' return     (3:21-23)
"'He must remain in heaven until the time comes for God to restore everything, as he promised long ago through his holy prophets. For Moses said, “The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own people; you must listen to everything he tells you. Anyone who does not listen to him will be completely cut off from among his people.”'"

Thought Question:  According to these verses, what will happen when Jesus returns?

 

 

"'He must remain in heaven until the time comes for God to restore everything, as he promised long ago through his holy prophets. For Moses said, “The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own people; you must listen to everything he tells you. Anyone who does not listen to him will be completely cut off from among his people.”'"

"restore everything, as he promised long ago through his holy prophets."  "Josephus uses the word [apokatastaseos] of the return from captivity and Philo of the restitution of inheritances in the year of jubilee.  As a technical medical term it means complete restoration to health." "Taken from Word Pictures in the New Testament by A. T. Robertson.  Copyright 1930 by Broadman Press."

Israel, mankind, and the earth remain today in a state of God's judgment, ruled by Satan and under God's curse.  There is a desperate need for Jesus to return and restore us. See Isaiah 54:155-8, 60:1-62:12, 65:17-25; Zechariah 14:1-21

"'For Moses said, “The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own people; you must listen to everything he tells you. Anyone who does not listen to him will be completely cut off from among his     people.”'"  Peter Quotes Deuteronomy 18:15, 18-19  Peter is clearly saying that Jesus was the fulfillment of Moses' prediction of a future prophet.  Reject Jesus the predicted prophet and you also reject the God who sent Him.  Obey Him and you will be blessed.

(4) Repent and you will be blessed (3:24-26)
"'Indeed, all the prophets from Samuel on, as many as have spoken, have foretold these days. And you are heirs of the prophets and of the covenant God made with your fathers. He said to Abraham, “Through your offspring all peoples on earth will be blessed.” When God raised up his servant, he sent him first to you to bless you by turning each of you from your wicked ways.'"

Thought Question:  How do Peter's words here apply to you?

 

 

"'Indeed, all the prophets from Samuel on, as many as have spoken, have foretold these days. And you are heirs of the prophets and of the covenant God made with your fathers. He said to Abraham, “Through your offspring all peoples on earth will be blessed.”'"  After Jesus' resurrection, He appeared to two of His disciples and said the following words to them: "'Did not the Christ have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?' And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself." (Luke 24:26-27)

Peter explains also to his listeners that Jesus is the fulfillment of the promises of the prophets.  He is also the One through whom the whole "earth will be blessed."  Each of us who has believed in Jesus as the promised Messiah of Israel are part of the fulfillment of God's promise to Abraham—we are a part of those on the whole "earth" who have been blessed through the promise made to "Abraham."

Samuel anointed David as king and David was a type of Jesus the King. See I Samuel 16:1-13; II Samuel 7:10-16

"'When God raised up his servant, he sent him first to you to bless you by turning each of you from your wicked ways.'"  Jesus the Messiah was sent by God first to Israel.  Those who turned to Him and received Him were blessed.  "He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God." (John 1:11-13)

b. The apostles and the church stood up to persecution (4)

(1) The apostles and the church stood up to persecution in God-empowered boldness (4:1-22)
"The priests and the captain of the temple guard and the Sadducees came up to Peter and John while they were speaking to the people. They were greatly disturbed because the apostles were teaching the people and proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection of the dead. They seized Peter and John, and because it was evening, they put them in jail until the next day. But many who heard the message believed, and the number of men grew to about five thousand. The next day the rulers, elders and teachers of the law met in Jerusalem. Annas the high priest was there, and so were Caiaphas, John, Alexander and the other men of the high priest’s family. They had Peter and John brought before them and began to question them: 'By what power or what name did you do this?' Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them: 'Rulers and elders of the people! If we are being called to account today for an act of kindness shown to a cripple and are asked how he was healed, then know this, you and all the people of Israel: It is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead, that this man stands before you healed. He is “the stone you builders rejected, which has become the capstone.” Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.' When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus. But since they could see the man who had been healed standing there with them, there was nothing they could say. So they ordered them to withdraw from the Sanhedrin and then conferred together. 'What are we going to do with these men?' they asked. 'Everybody living in Jerusalem knows they have done an outstanding miracle, and we cannot deny it. But to stop this thing from spreading any further among the people, we must warn these men to speak no longer to anyone in this name.' Then they called them in again and commanded them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. But Peter and John replied, 'Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God’s sight to obey you rather than God. For we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.' After further threats they let them go. They could not decide how to punish them, because all the people were praising God for what had happened.  For the man who was miraculously healed was over forty years old."

Thought Question:  Why do you think Peter and the others were emboldened to defy the same leaders who had crucified Jesus? How does this apply to us?

 

 

"The priests and the captain of the temple guard and the Sadducees came up to Peter and John while they were speaking to the people. They were greatly disturbed because the apostles were teaching the people and proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection of the dead. They seized Peter and John, and because it was evening, they put them in jail until the next day. But many who heard the message believed, and the number of men grew to about five thousand."  "Twenty-four bands of Levites guarded the temple, one guard at a time.  They watched the gates.  The command of each band was called captain (strategos)." "Taken from Word Pictures in the New Testament by A. T. Robertson.  Copyright 1930 by Broadman Press."

The Levites were the descendents of Jacob's son Levi.  They were the tribe that was chosen by God to have responsibility for the religious life of Israel.  The "Sadducees" were the priestly sect.  "They created a priestly nobility.  There were the educated, wealthy elite.  But they were also unprincipled collaborationists, political sycophants who would sell their mothers to stay in power.  Though a minority, they controlled Jewish political and religious life.  They were evil control freaks, and they did not want anyone rocking their boat." "Taken from Acts by R. Kent Hughes.  Copyright 1996 by Crossway Books."

They would be today's liberals.  Though, they were religious leaders, they did not believe that there was a resurrection from the dead.  Matthew highlights this unbelief of the "Sadducees" in Matthew 22:23: "That same day the Sadducees, who say there is no resurrection, came to him [Jesus] with a question."   

So, the liberal religious leaders in Israel who did not believe in the resurrection were upset that "Peter and John" were teaching that Jesus rose from the dead.  They put a stop to it immediately by putting them in jail (at least, they thought that they did).  Since "it was evening," they would bring them to court the next day.

These religious leaders thought that they had stopped Jesus when they crucified Him, but now His followers were saying that He rose from the dead.  As a result of their preaching, Jesus is once more gathering a growing following.  Luke tells us that the church had grown "to about five thousand."  That is about the following Jesus had when he fed the five thousand in John 6.  In each case, only the men were counted; so, there were many more women and children.

LaSor quotes a significant observation by F. F. Bruce:  "It is particularly striking that neither on this nor any subsequent occasion (so far our information goes) did the Sanhedrin take any serious action to disprove the apostles' central affirmation—the resurrection of Jesus.  Had it seemed possible to refute them on this point, how readily would the Sanhedrin have seized the opportunity!  Had they succeeded, how quickly and completely the new movement would have collapsed." "Taken from Church Alive by William LaSor.  Copyright 1972.  he quotes F. F. Bruce."  The dead body of Jesus would have ended Christianity shortly after it began.  They could not produce the body because it was located out of their reach in heaven!

"Peter and John" knew that proclaiming the resurrection of Jesus in Jerusalem where the religious rulers were united in their thinking against belief in a resurrection was a dangerous thing to do.  Yet, they nevertheless boldly proclaimed the truth of Jesus' resurrection.  People have faced this type of united agreement many times.  Martin Luther stood against the united thinking of the Roman Catholic Church.  Creationists stand against the united thinking of the evolutionists.  Just because people are united in their thinking does not mean that what they believe is the truth.  But it is very hard to go against this type of group.  "Peter and John," nevertheless, boldly proclaimed the truth.  The result was they were thrown "in jail." 

"The next day the rulers, elders and teachers of the law met in Jerusalem. Annas the high priest was there, and so were Caiaphas, John, Alexander and the other men of the high priest’s family. They had Peter and John brought before them and began to question them: 'By what power or what name did you do this?'"  Anybody in Jerusalem who was anybody was there.  "Annas" was the godfather of Israel.  He had been "high-priest," but the "high priest" of that time was his son-in-law Caiaphas.  Nevertheless, "Annas" was the power broker.  Jesus had been brought before "Annas" and Caiaphas during His trial. See John 18:12-14, 19-24; Matthew 26:57-68  Also there were "John" and "Alexander" "and the other men of the high priest's family."  The new church and its leaders had not been flying under the radar in Israel.  They had attracted the attention of the very upper-crust of Jewish society.  And, so, here were these two fishermen standing in front of the power bloc of Jewish society.  "'By what power or what name did you do this?'"  "Annas'" question could not have provided a more natural lead into a Christian witness.

"Peter and John" had been in jail all night.  Now, they stand before the very men who led the conspiracy that ended in the crucifixion of Jesus.  Would Peter wilt before them as he had wilted before a girl servant after Jesus' arrest?

"Memories of the trial of Jesus must have flooded the apostles' minds.  Was history to repeat itself?  They could hardly expect justice from that court, which had listened to false witnesses and unjustly condemned their Lord.  Were they to suffer the same fate?  Would they to be handed over to the Romans to be crucified?  They must have asked themselves such questions." "Taken from The Spirit the Church and the World by John Stott.  Copyright 1990 by Intervarsity Press."

"Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them: 'Rulers and elders of the people! If we are being called to account today for an act of kindness shown to a cripple and are asked how he was healed, then know this, you and all the people of Israel: It is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead, that this man stands before you healed."  They pitched the ball to "Peter," and "Peter" knocked the ball out of the ballpark.  The "man" "was healed" "by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth," the man "whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead."  Where did "Peter" get this boldness?  He was "filled with the Holy Spirit."  "Peter" no longer relied on himself, but now he totally relied on God's Spirit in him.  Jesus prepared "Peter and John" for this moment early in His ministry to them.  "Be on your guard against men; they will hand you over to the local councils and flog you in their synagogues. On my account you will be brought before governors and kings as witnesses to them and to the Gentiles. But when they arrest you, do not worry about what to say or how to say it. At that time you will be given what to say, for it will not be you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you." (Matthew 10:17-20)  "Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell." (Matthew 10:28)

"'He is “the stone you builders rejected, which has become the capstone.”'"  "According to Jewish tradition, during the building of the temple a great rock was quarried and shaped by the master mason, but when the builders received it they could find no place to put it.  It didn't seem to match any of the blueprints they were working from, so they placed it to one side.  After awhile, because the rock seemed to be in the way, someone pushed it over the edge of a bank and it rolled down into the Kidron Valley and was lost in the bushes.  But when the time came to hoist the cornerstone, the great square rock that held everything in place, no one could seem to find it.  The masons sent word that the cornerstone had already been delivered some time earlier, so the on-site builders looked around some more for it, but still no one could seem to find it.  Then someone remembered the huge 'extra' rock that had been pushed over the edge.  Down they went to the valley where they found it lying in the bushes.  With great effort the builders returned the rejected stone to the temple site and hoisted into place, where it fit perfectly as the cornerstone of the temple.  That's what Peter meant when he quoted this Psalm.  God had planned that Jesus of Nazareth would be the cornerstone of His government on earth, the Rock upon which all human government would rest and from which it would take all authority.  But the builders of various nations rejected the cornerstone." "Taken from Birth of the Body by Ray Stedman.  Copyright 1974 Vision House Publishers."

"'Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.'"  For years, I worked with older boys in our church's Awana program.  I helped many boys to memorize this verse.  Along with John 14:6, it is one of the key verses in affirming that there is no salvation apart from Jesus Christ.  "Jesus answered, 'I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.'" (John 14:6)  Here, we see that the One who was rejected by men is the only One and the only "name" by which we can be "saved." 

"When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus."  These religious leaders could not explain what they saw.  Here were "unschooled, ordinary men," fishermen, speaking with authority about the Bible.  Then, they figured out how they had gotten both their boldness and their schooling.  They "had been with Jesus."  Today, we can have a clergy-laity split, and have the idea that only seminary trained men can teach the Bible.  I don't want an untrained person to do surgery on me; but that type of thing does not apply to teaching the Bible.  In fact, the pattern we see with Jesus is that all Christians are to be trained to understand and apply the Bible to their lives.  Some people may choose to go to a seminary or Bible college to be trained in Bible, but it is also true that anyone who has a heart to follow Jesus can grow to become a Bible teacher and a spokesman for Him.  Peter and John were trained without a formal education, but they became very respected leaders and teachers in the early church.

"But since they could see the man who had been healed standing there with them, there was nothing they could say. So they ordered them to withdraw from the Sanhedrin and then conferred together. 'What are we going to do with these men?' they asked. 'Everybody living in Jerusalem knows they have done an outstanding miracle, and we cannot deny it. But to stop this thing from spreading any further among the people, we must warn these men to speak no longer to anyone in this name.'"  These religious leaders position of prestige in Israel was being threatened by Peter and John.  They would like to have eliminated them and their followers from Israel, but they had at least three major problems.  First of all, there were now thousands of people who were eagerly following them.  Second, there was this "man" who had obviously been "healed."  "'Everybody living in Jerusalem knows they have done an outstanding miracle, and we cannot deny it.'"  The people saw the "miracle" as a sign that these men spoke for God—which was true.  Third, the religious leaders had broken all their rules of justice in crucifying Jesus.  Could they get by with doing it all over again, with all the followers of  Jesus?  Their conclusion:  All we can do is "warn these men to speak no longer to anyone in this name.'"  They would try to get them to stop by trying to intimidate them into stopping. 

"this name.'"  They would not even say Jesus' name.  Today, people who do not believe in Jesus say His name, but they say it as a swear word.

"Then they called them in again and commanded them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. But Peter and John replied, 'Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God’s sight to obey you rather than God. For we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.'"  Throughout the years of the church, there have been those who have been commanded by religious authorities not to teach or preach what they believed to be the truth.  Certainly, there have been many who have yielded and took the safer route.  But, there have also been those who did what was right and not what was safe.  Many died as a result of their courage and boldness.  Some also, however, lived on to continue boldly proclaiming what they believed to be the truth.  Those who chose truth and right are now looked upon as heroes.  I recommend reading the stories of Athanasius, Polycarp, Justin Martyr, William Tyndale, John Wycliffe, John Knox, John Huss, Martin Luther, and many more who chose not to be intimidated, but followed the pattern of "Peter and John."  It was said of John Knox: "He feared God so much that he never feared the face of any man." "Taken from The Acts of the Apostles by William Barclay.  Copyright 1976 by Westminster Press."

The proper pattern for Christians is to submit to both civil authorities and church authorities.  "Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God." (Romans 13:1) See Romans 13:1-7; I Peter 2:13-14  But, there are times when Christians cannot both submit to God and submit to an authority over them.  One example of when this is true is given here.  "Peter and John" were commanded not to do what Jesus had commanded them to do.  "Then Jesus came to them and said, 'All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.'" (Matthew 28:18-20)  And so, they responded as they did to these religious authorities who commanded them not to do what Jesus had commanded them to do.  "But Peter and John replied, 'Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God’s sight to obey you rather than God. For we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.'"

"After further threats they let them go. They could not decide how to punish them, because all the people were praising God for what had happened. For the man who was miraculously healed was over forty years old."  How do you legally and justly punish someone for doing an act of kindness and being empowered by God to heal a person who has been crippled for more than "forty years."  This man had been "crippled from birth." (3:2)  He had been seen at the temple gate begging for years and years.  Now, he was able to walk and jump.  What was the people of Israel's response to this miracle?  They "were praising God for what had happened."  These religious leaders who had hated Jesus and now hated Peter and John saw that it was not a good time to punish them.  So, "they let them go."

(2) The apostles stood up to persecution by depending on God in prayer (4:23-31)
"On their release, Peter and John went back to their own people and reported all that the chief priests and elders had said to them. When they heard this, they raised their voices together in prayer to God. 'Sovereign Lord,' they said, 'you made the heaven and the earth and the sea, and everything in them. You spoke by the Holy Spirit through the mouth of your servant, our father David: “Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth take their stand and the rulers gather together against the Lord and against his Anointed One.” Indeed Herod and Pontius Pilate met together with the Gentiles and the people of Israel in this city to conspire against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed. They did what your power and will had decided beforehand should happen. Now, Lord, consider their threats and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness. Stretch out your hand to heal and perform miraculous signs and wonders through the name of your holy servant Jesus.' After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly."

Thought Question:  What is there in these verses that explains the boldness of these early Christians? (How does it apply to you?)

 

 

"On their release, Peter and John went back to their own people and reported all that the chief priests and elders had said to them. When they heard this, they raised their voices together in prayer to God. 'Sovereign Lord,' they said, 'you made the heaven and the earth and the sea, and everything in them. You spoke by the Holy Spirit through the mouth of your servant, our father David: “Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth take their stand and the rulers gather together against the Lord and against his Anointed One.”'"

How would this young church respond to the attempt by the Jewish religious leaders to intimidate them into silence?  It is very human for us when people oppose us and when they outnumber us or are more imposing than we are to only focus on them and the threat to us that they are.  This early church had learned their lesson, though, through seeing God's power raise Jesus from the dead.  The God who was fully in charge of all even when Jesus was on the cross was the "Sovereign Lord." See Luke 2:29-32; Revelation 6:10; Jude 4

And they remembered David's words in Psalm 2 about how senseless it was for mere people to attack God and His Messiah.  Like a row boat attacking a battleship, it is a futile and hopeless effort for men to oppose Almighty God.

It is easy for us to forget or not really believe that man cannot thwart God's purposes in our lives and in this world. 

"'Indeed Herod and Pontius Pilate met together with the Gentiles and the people of Israel in this city to conspire against your holy servant Jesus,"  "Herod,'" "Pilate," the Sadducees, the Pharisees, the Jews, and "the Gentiles" were all enemies until Jesus became an issue in Israel.  Then, they all united together against Jesus.  For example, "Herod" and "Pilate" united because of their mutual opposition to Jesus.  "That day Herod and Pilate became friends—before this they had been enemies." (Luke 23:12)" See also Luke 23:6-12

"'They did what your power and will had decided beforehand should happen.'"  Here, we have a verse that clearly teaches both the responsibility of man and the sovereignty of God.  Were "Herod," "Pilate,"  and the Jewish religious leaders responsible for the choice to murder Jesus?  The obvious answer is "Yes."  Did God determine before it happened that they would do it?  Again, the obvious answer is, "Yes."  So, who made the choice?  They did and God did.  "God works through the free will of man.  These people had opposed the plan of God.  They had tried to thwart God's purposes.  They had tried to derail His program.  But God operates in such a marvelous way that He was able to use even this opposition to accomplish His will." "Taken from Birth of the Body by Ray Stedman.  Copyright 1974 Vision House Publishers."

Peter, John, and the other Christians who had just been threatened and commanded not to preach in Jesus' name.  Yet, even when they crucified Jesus, the Almighty was not prevented from fulfilling His plans.  These early Christians show through the words of their prayer that they believed that these enemies of God would not be able to thwart God's plan during their ministry either.  And, so, they continued to proclaim the truth about Jesus.  Jesus' enemies could not stop Him by crucifying Him, and they could not stop the proclamation about His death and resurrection either.  Each of us who are Christians can benefit from their model of boldness and trust.

"'Now, Lord, consider their threats and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness.'"  "Literally, 'with all boldness to go on speaking (present active infinitive) thy word.'" "Taken from Word Pictures in the New Testament by A. T. Robertson.  Copyright 1930 by Broadman Press."

"'Stretch out your hand to heal and perform miraculous signs and wonders through the name of your holy servant Jesus.'"  The church was just starting.  They knew that God would not allow the evil men who opposed them to bring it to an end.  They also knew that the God who was for them was much greater than those who were opposed to them.  So, they asked this great God who had sent them the "holy" and "Anointed" Jesus Christ to "stretch out" His "hand" to "perform miraculous signs and wonders through the name of " "Jesus."  It was a scary time because they were going up against the united leaders of their country and the Roman Empire, but it was an exciting time because they believed that Almighty God would miraculously support them.  We will learn in the following chapter how God would miraculously support them.

Although we do not see the same type of great miracles today as they did at this critical time at the beginning of the church, it is still true that "those who are with us are more than those who are with them." (Kings 6:16)  After working  my way through John, I came to realize how comforting it must have been to have the Son of God constantly with the early disciples.  Then, Jesus said that "another" comforter would come to them after He was gone. (John 14:16)  So, today, we also have God's Spirit with us, just as the early disciples had Jesus with them.  God also promised: ". . . 'Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.' So we say with confidence, 'The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?'" (Hebrews 13:5-6)  We can go forth doing the will of God with the same confidence in God as the early disciples went forth doing God's will. 

"After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly."  Was the place "shaken" by an earthquake or by the power of God in response to their prayers?  I believe that "the place where they were meeting was shaken" by the power of God.  It was as if God was saying, "I heard that prayer of confidence in Me!"  Then, they were "filled with the Holy Spirit" and were enabled by God to speak "the word of God boldly."  By temperament, I have never been a bold person.  Nevertheless, God has enabled me to be bold on many occasions.  I know by my experiences that God still emboldens His servants today.

(3) The apostles and the church stood up to persecution by lovingly meeting each others' needs. (4:32-37)
"All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they shared everything they had. With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and much grace was upon them all. There were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned lands or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone as he had need. Joseph, a Levite from Cyprus, whom the apostles called Barnabas (which means Son of Encouragement), sold a field he owned and brought the money and put it at the apostles’ feet."

Thought Question:  How can Christians be "one in heart and mind" and still have their unique personalities and appearances?

 

 

"All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they shared everything they had."  "Two things are to be noted about them: (i) They had an intense sense of responsibility for each other.  (ii) This awoke in them a real desire to share all they had.  We must note one thing above all—this sharing was not the result of legislation; it was utterly spontaneous.  It is not when the law compels us to share but when the heart moves us share that society is really Christian." "Taken from The Acts of the Apostles by William Barclay.  Copyright 1976 by Westminster Press." 

"All the believers were one in heart and mind."  What does Luke mean by these words?  "One in heart and mind" certainly does not mean that they all dressed the same, talked the same, and had the exact same personality.  Their oneness of "heart and mind" centered around their common belief in Jesus' death for our sins and His resurrection from the dead.  Also, they were united around the apostles' teaching.  Their unity was not at all like the unity of those who opposed Jesus Christ and the Christians.  Theirs was a unity based on arrogance and uniting in the seeking after political power.  The unity of the early church was the unity of humility and the unity that comes from seeking Christ together.  ". . . How good and pleasant it is when brothers live together in unity!" (Psalm 133:1)  In this case, Jesus' prayer was answered.  "My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me." (John 17:20-21)

"No one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they shared everything they had."  Luke is not laying down a requirement for every Christian.  One group that I am aware of makes these words a requirement for every one in their group and believes that all of a person's possessions belong to their group leaders.  Luke contradicts this belief in the very next chapter with regard to Ananias' possessions.  Peter says the following to Ananias about the land he owned and the money that came from the sale of that land.  "Didn’t it belong to you before it was sold? And after it was sold, wasn’t the money at your disposal? What made you think of doing such a thing? You have not lied to men but to God." (Acts 5:4)  What Luke is describing here is the attitude of these early Christians, whereby they voluntarily gave up what was theirs to provide for the needs of others.

"With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and much grace was upon them all."  The resurrection of Jesus Christ was a very significant belief of the early church.  Belief in the resurrection gives us boldness; for when we do not fear death, we do not fear the worst that men can do to us.  We see here that it was also a significant message of the early church.

"With great power"  They witnessed successfully, not because they had great personalities and were gifted speakers, but because of God's power.  Paul described this type of power in his first letter to the Corinthian church.  "When I came to you, brothers, I did not come with eloquence or superior wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. I came to you in weakness and fear, and with much trembling. My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on men’s wisdom, but on God’s power." (1 Corinthians 2:1-5)

"There were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned lands or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone as he had need."  The new church was made up not only of Jews from Jerusalem, but it was also made up of Jews who had traveled a long distance to attend the Feast of Pentecost—which because it was in early summer was the Feast most suited for traveling.  So, many of those from far away lands who had just become Christians wanted to stay and be part of the early church life in Jerusalem.  But because they had no source of income in Jerusalem, they now were in need of help from the church.  Well-to-do Christians from Jerusalem responded to this need by selling land and houses so that the apostles would have money to distribute to these needy Christians. 

It is important to notice that their possessions did not belong to the church, so that they were required to sell them.  Instead, out of gratitude to God for the great price He paid for them, they were willing to give back to Him by giving to the poor.  They recognized that they were not their own and they were stewards of what God had given to them.  "Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body." (1 Corinthians 6:19-20)  " . . . What do you have that you did not receive? . . ." (1 Corinthians 4:7)

"Joseph, a Levite from Cyprus, whom the apostles called Barnabas (which means Son of Encouragement), sold a field he owned and brought the money and put it at the apostles’ feet."  Here, we are introduced to "Barnabas" who was a key figure in the early church.  In these verses, we see his generosity.  He, later, would accompany Paul on the first missionary journey.  He got into a strong dispute with Paul over Mark when Mark wanted to go with Paul and "Barnabas" on the second missionary journey, even though he (Mark) had deserted Paul and Barnabas on the first missionary journey. See Acts 9:26-30, 11:22-26, 13:1-14:28, 15:36-40; I Corinthians 9:6; Colossians 4:10  Although Mark failed on the first missionary journey, Barnabas' belief in him paid off; for Mark became the author of the Gospel of Mark, and, in the end, he was also useful to Paul.  " . . . Get Mark and bring him with you, because he is helpful to me in my ministry." (2 Timothy 4:11)

Here, in Acts 4, we see that "Barnabas" was a sacrificial leader in the early church who put God's work over his own material gain.  The church, through the ages, has been dependent on so many who have given sacrificially as Barnabas gave.  Missionaries throughout the world are dependent on the giving of fellow Christians.  Pastors, church facilities, gospel missions, needy people, and all types of ministries are made possible through giving of faithful Christians like "Barnabas."

c. The apostles dealt with phoniness in the church (5:1-11)
"Now a man named Ananias, together with his wife Sapphira, also sold a piece of property. With his wife’s full knowledge he kept back part of the money for himself, but brought the rest and put it at the apostles’ feet. Then Peter said, 'Ananias, how is it that Satan has so filled your heart that you have lied to the Holy Spirit and have kept for yourself some of the money you received for the land? Didn’t it belong to you before it was sold? And after it was sold, wasn’t the money at your disposal? What made you think of doing such a thing? You have not lied to men but to God.' When Ananias heard this, he fell down and died. And great fear seized all who heard what had happened. Then the young men came forward, wrapped up his body, and carried him out and buried him. About three hours later his wife came in, not knowing what had happened. Peter asked her, 'Tell me, is this the price you and Ananias got for the land?' 'Yes,' she said, 'that is the price.' Peter said to her, 'How could you agree to test the Spirit of the Lord? Look! The feet of the men who buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out also.' At that moment she fell down at his feet and died. Then the young men came in and, finding her dead, carried her out and buried her beside her husband. Great fear seized the whole church and all who heard about these events."

Thought Question #1:  Why do you believe that God took the life of this husband and his wife, but does not do that today?

 

 

Thought Question #2:  How do these verses support the view that the Holy Spirit is both a Person and God?

 

 

"Now a man named Ananias, together with his wife Sapphira, also sold a piece of property. With his wife’s full knowledge he kept back part of the money for himself, but brought the rest and put it at the apostles’ feet. Then Peter said, 'Ananias, how is it that Satan has so filled your heart that you have lied to the Holy Spirit and have kept for yourself some of the money you received for the land? Didn’t it belong to you before it was sold? And after it was sold, wasn’t the money at your disposal? What made you think of doing such a thing? You have not lied to men but to God.'"  "Ananias" wanted to give the impression that he, like Barnabas, sold some land and gave all the money from the sale of the land to the church to help the needy.  But he lied, for he had not given all the money from the sale of the land to help the needy.  "He wanted praise for giving all and yet he took care of himself by keeping some." "Taken from Word Pictures in the New Testament by A. T. Robertson.  Copyright 1930 by Broadman Press."

"Ananias" and "Sapphira" wanted the acclaim that Barnabas received without actually making the sacrifice Barnabas made.  "What appeared to be public generosity was actually family conspiracy." "Taken from Acts by Kenneth Gangel.  Copyright 1998 by Broadman & Holman Publishers." 

"Didn’t it belong to you before it was sold? And after it was sold, wasn’t the money at your disposal?"  Peter makes it clear that Christian giving is not to be done as a requirement that is imposed on us by dominating church leaders.  Some cults and even churches can seek to intimidate their members into giving.  It is good that most pastors have no idea how much church members are giving to support the church they are pastoring (at least, most pastors that I am aware of don't know).  Christian giving is to be voluntary giving, not pressured giving.  "Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver." (2 Corinthians 9:7)   

"Then Peter said, 'Ananias, how is it that Satan has so filled your heart that you have lied to the Holy Spirit . . . You have not lied to men but to God.'"  God, in some way, revealed to "Peter" that "Ananias" was being evil and deceptive.  "Peter," here, exposes what was happening in Ananias' heart.  He was a Christian, but at this point he was not filled with God's Spirit, but he was 'filled" with Satan.  Peter used the same word for "filled" that Paul uses in Ephesians 5:18 (though it is a different form of that verb).  "Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit." (Ephesians 5:18) See also Acts 4:31

What does Paul mean by "lied to the Holy Spirit""Ananias" had somehow lied to himself, convincing himself that he was someone that he was not.  That lie was taking place while God the Holy Spirit indwelt him.  So, he was not just lying to himself and to the rest of the church, but he was also lying to God the Holy Spirit.  He had allowed Satan to fill his heart, and as a result he had rejected the Spirit's leading and was, instead, being guided by Satan.

What a message for each of us who are Christians.  We must be careful that Satan does not get any type of foothold in our lives.  We, instead, should seek to always be filled with God's Spirit and not filled by Satan's spirit.

These verses that state that lying to the Holy Spirit means that "Ananias" was lying to God state that the Holy Spirit within us is God.  Also, it implies that the Holy Spirit is both God and a Person. See Matthew 12:31-32; Acts 8:29, 13:2

"When Ananias heard this, he fell down and died. And great fear seized all who heard what had happened. Then the young men came forward, wrapped up his body, and carried him out and buried him. About three hours later his wife came in, not knowing what had happened. Peter asked her, 'Tell me, is this the price you and Ananias got for the land?' 'Yes,' she said, 'that is the price.' Peter said to her, 'How could you agree to test the Spirit of the Lord? Look! The feet of the men who buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out also.' At that moment she fell down at his feet and died. Then the young men came in and, finding her dead, carried her out and buried her beside her husband."  Why was God so severe with "Ananias" and "Sapphira"?  It is obvious that there have been others through the ages who have done what "Ananias" and "Sapphira" did.  In fact, any time any of us gives the impression we are more spiritual, loving, or generous than we actually are, we are doing what "Ananias" and "Sapphira" did.  Why was God so severe and so dramatic in judging this man and his wife?  It appears that God dealt severely with this couple because it was a critical time at the beginning of the church.  God did not want this type of hypocrisy and deception to spread throughout the church in its early stages.  For the church to be what God desired it to be, lying to the Holy Spirit, as this couple did, needed to be stopped in its tracks before it spread throughout the church.

How can we avoid sinning as this couple did?  Hughes gives a clear description of what we do not want to be like.  "We share Ananias' sin not when others think we are more spiritual than we are, but when we try to make others think we are more spiritual than we are.  Examples of Ananias' sin today include: creating the impression we are people of prayer when we are not; making it look like we have it altogether when we do not ; promoting the idea that we are generous when we are so tight that we squeak when we smile; misrepresenting our spiritual effectiveness (for example, saying, 'When I was at the crusade in New York, I ran the whole follow-up program,' when the truth is, you were a substitute counselor).  When a preacher urges his people toward deeper devotion to God, implying that his life is an example when in actuality he knows it is not, he is repeating Ananias's sin!  When an evangelist calls people to holy living but is secretly having an affair with his secretary, he is an Ananias!  This gives us all a lot to think about, if we dare." "Taken from Acts by R. Kent Hughes.  Copyright 1996 by Crossway Books." "Dr. Barnhouse, on the basis of this text, would never let his congregation sing the third stanza of 'At Calvary:' 'Now I have giv'n to Jesus everything, now I gladly own him as my King.' 'You see,' he said, 'If God acted in the same way today that he did in the fifth chapter of Acts, you'd have to have a morgue in the basement of every church and a mortician on the pastoral staff.'" "Hughes."

"Great fear seized the whole church and all who heard about these events."  This is the first use of the work ekklesia in the book of Acts.  God accomplished His purpose in judging "Ananias" and "Sapphira"  The whole church was fearful of sinning.  They recognized that it was God's church and the consequences could be severe if they brought sin into His church!  We also should learn from what happened to "Ananias" and "Sapphira" not to be the cause of unconfessed sin coming into God's church.

d. The apostles persevered through persecution (5:12-42)

(1) God enables the apostles to do miracles and to heal many (5:12-16)
"The apostles performed many miraculous signs and wonders among the people. And all the believers used to meet together in Solomon’s Colonnade. No one else dared join them, even though they were highly regarded by the people. Nevertheless, more and more men and women believed in the Lord and were added to their number. As a result, people brought the sick into the streets and laid them on beds and mats so that at least Peter’s shadow might fall on some of them as he passed by. Crowds gathered also from the towns around Jerusalem, bringing their sick and those tormented by evil spirits, and all of them were healed."

Thought Question #1:  How could it be that "no one dared join them" and yet people "were added to their number"?

 

 

Thought Question #2:  Why do you think we do not see miracles in this number today?

 

 

"The apostles performed many miraculous signs and wonders among the people. And all the believers used to meet together in Solomon’s Colonnade. No one else dared join them, even though they were highly regarded by the people. Nevertheless, more and more men and women believed in the Lord and were added to their number."  We learn here that the early church was not a church in hiding.  They met in the temple area—the most public place in Israel.  Also, they were willing to be recognized as believers in Jesus Christ even though the people of Israel were afraid to be associated with them for fear of the religious leaders.  Finally, God made it clear that He was with them by enabling them to perform many miracles.  It must have been a scary but also a very exciting time for this new church.

How could it be that "no one dared join them" and yet people "were added to their number"?  It appears that people did not join them until they become believers themselves.

A question that is often asked is "Why does not the church now perform "many miraculous signs and wonders"?  There are at least two possible answers: (1) we are doing something wrong; (2) God is not choosing to do them now.  If the first possibility is true, then what should we do that we are not doing?  Over the years, I have heard many answers to this question.  Here are some of them that I have heard:  In our materialistic and scientific world, we do not believe in the spirit world.  In countries that believe in the spirit world, there are more miracles.  Another answer that is given is that we lack faith.  So, we need to develop our faith until we can perform miracles.  My own conclusion is that the Bible's pattern is that God performs miracles at key times in history.  The ministry of Jesus and the beginning of the church were key times.  "We must pay more careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away. For if the message spoken by angels was binding, and every violation and disobedience received its just punishment, how shall we escape if we ignore such a great salvation? This salvation, which was first announced by the Lord, was confirmed to us by those who heard him. God also testified to it by signs, wonders and various miracles, and gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will." (Hebrews 2:1-4)  "The things that mark an apostle—signs, wonders and miracles—were done among you with great perseverance." (2 Corinthians 12:12)

We do not see "many miraculous signs and wonders" right now because God is not choosing to do them right now.  That will change in the future. See Revelation 11:1-12

"Nevertheless, more and more men and women believed in the Lord and were added to their number."  The church had grown to over 3,000 (see 2:41), then to 5,000 (see 4:4), and here we see that it continued to grow in numbers. 

"As a result, people brought the sick into the streets and laid them on beds and mats so that at least Peter’s shadow might fall on some of them as he passed by."  During times of great movements of God, the excitement level rises.  We see what happened in response to the miracles of "Peter" and the other "apostles."  The people thought that if "Peter's shadow" would pass over them that they would be healed.  Notice, it does not say that "Peter" taught this or that anyone was healed by "Peter's shadow." 

"Crowds gathered also from the towns around Jerusalem, bringing their sick and those tormented by evil spirits, and all of them were healed."  Three observations can be easily made about this verse.  First, the word of the healings had spread beyond Jerusalem and people in other towns were coming.  Next, Luke distinguishes between the "sick" and "those tormented by evil spirits."  Certainly, there are also those today who are "tormented by evil spirits."  The problem we face is to distinguish between those who  suffer from psychological problems, those who have some type physiological mental disorder, and "those tormented by evil spirits."  Finally, we are told that "all of them were healed."  Even the most saluted healer does not do what "the apostles" did here—heal every person that came to him or her.  Without question, what was happening with "the apostles" is only paralleled by the healing ministry of Jesus.  Certainly, it was an unusual time in God's miracle working.

(2) Out of jealousy, the apostles are put in jail, but an angel rescues them (5:17-20)
"Then the high priest and all his associates, who were members of the party of the Sadducees, were filled with jealousy. They arrested the apostles and put them in the public jail. But during the night an angel of the Lord opened the doors of the jail and brought them out. 'Go, stand in the temple courts,' he said, 'and tell the people the full message of this new life.'"

Thought Question:  What were the apostles doing that so offended the Sadducees?

 

 

"Then the high priest and all his associates, who were members of the party of the Sadducees, were filled with jealousy. They arrested the apostles and put them in the public jail."  The "Sadducees" were the liberal religious leaders in Israel.  These religious leaders who rejected the supernatural were being upstaged by the apostles in the city that they ruled.  And to make it worse, these "apostles" were demonstrating in an unmistakable way that God does do that which is supernatural.  So, out of misplaced zeal and "jealousy" they put a stop to all of this so-called miracle-working.  They put them in jail.  But, as we will see, that did not put an end to the miracles.

"But during the night an angel of the Lord opened the doors of the jail and brought them out. 'Go, stand in the temple courts,' he said, 'and tell the people the full message of this new life.'"  Oh, another thing about the Sadducees' liberal beliefs—they did not believe in angels.  Here, it was "an angel" that freed the apostles and it was also this "angel" that encouraged them that though the religious leaders were opposed to their public teaching about Jesus, God fully supported them.  So, as we will see, they continued to preach and teach about Jesus.

(3) The apostles boldly continued preaching (5:21-26)
"At daybreak they entered the temple courts, as they had been told, and began to teach the people. When the high priest and his associates arrived, they called together the Sanhedrin—the full assembly of the elders of Israel—and sent to the jail for the apostles. But on arriving at the jail, the officers did not find them there. So they went back and reported, 'We found the jail securely locked, with the guards standing at the doors; but when we opened them, we found no one inside.' On hearing this report, the captain of the temple guard and the chief priests were puzzled, wondering what would come of this. Then someone came and said, 'Look! The men you put in jail are standing in the temple courts teaching the people.' At that, the captain went with his officers and brought the apostles. They did not use force, because they feared that the people would stone them."

Thought Question:  When do you believe that God wanted you to do something that was in defiance of someone in authority?

 

 

"At daybreak they entered the temple courts, as they had been told, and began to teach the people."  In the early morning, they were out doing what the angel told them to do, and they were doing the very opposite of what "the Sanhedrin" told them to do—they were ordered by them to stop preaching.  "Then they called them in again and commanded them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus." (Acts 4:18) 

"When the high priest and his associates arrived, they called together the Sanhedrin—the full assembly of the elders of Israel—and sent to the jail for the apostles. But on arriving at the jail, the officers did not find them there. So they went back and reported, 'We found the jail securely locked, with the guards standing at the doors; but when we opened them, we found no one inside.' On hearing this report, the captain of the temple guard and the chief priests were puzzled, wondering what would come of this."  The Greek word translated "puzzled" was also used by Luke to describe the crowd's reaction when the early church were praising God in languages that they did not know.  "Amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, 'What does this mean?'" (Acts 2:12)  The religious leaders could not figure out how "the jail" was as it should be with doors "locked, with the guards standing at the doors," yet the church people that they arrested were gone.  Ray Stedman calls it "one of the classic examples of doubletake in all of history." "Taken from Birth of the Body by Ray Stedman.  Copyright 1974 Vision House Publishers." 

"Then someone came and said, 'Look! The men you put in jail are standing in the temple courts teaching the people.'"  The normal pattern when someone escapes from a "jail" is for them to go into hiding.  But these early Christians had received orders from an "angel of the Lord." (5:19)  So, they were boldly doing what they were told to do by him.

"At that, the captain went with his officers and brought the apostles. They did not use force, because they feared that the people would stone them."  There were a number of dynamics in play at this moment in time.  The "Sadducees" were in charge in Jerusalem as long as there was not a revolt of the people.  At the time that I am writing, there is a revolt going on in Syria against the dictatorial ruler there.  In Jerusalem in the time of the early church, the religious leaders were in charge under the Romans.  But, God was the One truly in charge of all that was taking place (as He is the only One truly in charge today).  Certainly, "the apostles" were learning this truth.  They calmly submitted to the "captain" and "his officers" as they were taken back before "the Sanhedrin."

(4) The apostles are once more brought before the Sanhedrin (5:27-32)
"Having brought the apostles, they made them appear before the Sanhedrin to be questioned by the high priest. 'We gave you strict orders not to teach in this name,' he said. 'Yet you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and are determined to make us guilty of this man’s blood.' Peter and the other apostles replied: 'We must obey God rather than men! The God of our fathers raised Jesus from the dead—whom you had killed by hanging him on a tree. God exalted him to his own right hand as Prince and Savior that he might give repentance and forgiveness of sins to Israel. We are witnesses of these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him.'"

Thought Question:  What do these verses teach you about when it is correct to disobey those in authority?

 

 

"Having brought the apostles, they made them appear before the Sanhedrin to be questioned by the high priest. 'We gave you strict orders not to teach in this name,' he said. 'Yet you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and are determined to make us guilty of this man’s blood.'"  Through the years, there have been those who have stood against religious authority.  They are often looked upon as being stubborn resisters: men like Athanasius, Martin Luther, and Wilberforce.  These men stood against an unbiblical teaching on the nature of the Trinity and of Jesus Christ, the gospel of grace, and against slavery in Great Britain.  Here, the stubborn "apostles" were "determined to make" the religious leaders of Israel "guilty of" Jesus' "blood."

But, these religious leaders did not want to be "guilty of" Jesus' "blood."  What they wanted or did not want is irrelevant, for they did accept this guilt before Pilate.  "All the people answered, 'Let his blood be on us and on our children!'" (Matthew 27:25)

The religious leaders called Jesus' "name" "this name."  They refused to even say Jesus' "name."  It was, to them, a "contemptuous slur." "Taken from Word Pictures in the New Testament by A. T. Robertson.  Copyright 1930 by Broadman Press."

"'Yet you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching'"  These defiant Christians were doing the very opposite of what the Jewish religious leader had ordered them to do.  They wanted to eliminate Jesus and pernicious teaching from Israel.  Instead, teaching about Him was filling Israel.  Years ago, in a debate between an evolutionist biology professor and myself at the local university, he said that we creationists were like a fire in a mattress that you cannot get out.  I saw in the paper a week ago that he had died.

"Peter and the other apostles replied: 'We must obey God rather than men! The God of our fathers raised Jesus from the dead—whom you had killed by hanging him on a tree. God exalted him to his own right hand as Prince and Savior that he might give repentance and forgiveness of sins to Israel. We are witnesses of these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him.'"  

There is not any compromise in Peter and the apostles' words.  They proclaimed the truth, even though they knew that it was the very opposite of what these religious leaders wanted to hear.  The religious leaders resented the apostles' attempts to hold them "guilty" for the "blood" of Jesus.  So, what did the apostles do?  They proclaimed Jesus' resurrection from the dead, "whom you had killed by hanging him on a tree."  Everything else the apostles told them was equally offensive.  "The God of our fathers raised Jesus from the dead."  "God exalted him to his own right hand."  And they followed it up with an invitation for them to repent and receive "forgiveness" for their "sins." 

"You killed Jesus, God raised Him up from the dead."  Could the apostles have made it clearer?  The apostles were saying in an unmistakable way that these religious leaders were not on God's team.  What they had done was the very opposite of what God had done—they treated Jesus as a criminal; the Father treated Him as "Prince and Savior." 

"'We must obey God rather than men!'"  Peter and John made the same response to these religious rulers earlier.  "Then they called them in again and commanded them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. But Peter and John replied, 'Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God’s sight to obey you rather than God. For we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.'" (Acts 4:18-20)

We, as Christians, are to submit to government. See Romans 13:1-7; I Peter 2:13-14  But when government of any kind commands us not do what God has commanded us to do, "we must obey God rather than men."  And Jesus had commanded them to preach the gospel.  "Then Jesus came to them and said, 'All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.'" (Matthew 28:18-20)

"We are witnesses of these things,"  They saw with their own eyes the risen Savior. see John 21:19-21:22   They also saw Him ascend into heaven. "After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight." (Acts 1:9)  How could they not proclaim what they had personally witnessed?

"'and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him.'"  God's "Spirit" came dramatically at Pentecost to believers in Jesus and demonstrated powerfully that God stood with these early believers.  Also, the "Holy Spirit" enabled the apostles to work the miracles that they performed.  Furthermore, the "the Holy Spirit" powerfully came to indwell these early Christians as they chose Jesus as their Savior and Lord.  He also indwells each person today who becomes a Christian.  "You, however, are controlled not by the sinful nature but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ." (Romans 8:9)  It is His power that enables us to obey Christ today. See Romans 8:3-11; Galatians 5:16-25

(5) Gamaliel's reasoning results in the apostles being freed (5:33-42)
"When they heard this, they were furious and wanted to put them to death. But a Pharisee named Gamaliel, a teacher of the law, who was honored by all the people, stood up in the Sanhedrin and ordered that the men be put outside for a little while. Then he addressed them: 'Men of Israel, consider carefully what you intend to do to these men. Some time ago Theudas appeared, claiming to be somebody, and about four hundred men rallied to him. He was killed, all his followers were dispersed, and it all came to nothing. After him, Judas the Galilean appeared in the days of the census and led a band of people in revolt. He too was killed, and all his followers were scattered. Therefore, in the present case I advise you: Leave these men alone! Let them go! For if their purpose or activity is of human origin, it will fail. But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop these men; you will only find yourselves fighting against God.' His speech persuaded them. They called the apostles in and had them flogged. Then they ordered them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go. The apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name. Day after day, in the temple courts and from house to house, they never stopped teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Christ."

Thought Question #1:  When has some person who was not a Christian been used by God to help you or your church to continue in ministry?

 

 

Thought Question #2: Why do you believe that they were able to rejoice "because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name"?

 

 

"When they heard this, they were furious and wanted to put them to death. But a Pharisee named Gamaliel, a teacher of the law, who was honored by all the people, stood up in the Sanhedrin and ordered that the men be put outside for a little while." See also Acts 7:54 Because of the apostles continual determination "to make" Israel and its leaders "guilty" of Jesus' "blood," the religious leaders wanted to "put" the insolent apostles "to death," just as they had already put their Leader to death.  Then, a mysterious Pharisee orders the apostles to be taken out of the room, so he can talk calmly to these "furious" men.  We know little about this man "Gamaliel."  He was "the grandson of Hillel, teacher of Paul (Acts 22:3), later president of the Sanhedrin, and the first of seven rabbis termed "Rabban." "Taken from Word Pictures in the New Testament by A. T. Robertson.  Copyright 1930 by Broadman Press."  "He was given the honorific and affectionate title "Rabban" 'our teacher.'" "Taken from The Spirit the Church and the World by John Stott.  Copyright 1990 by Intervarsity Press."

Hillel was the leader of the more moderate or more liberal school of the Pharisees.  He was of a calmer spirit than the 'furious" leaders who wanted the apostles "put to death." 

"Then he addressed them: 'Men of Israel, consider carefully what you intend to do to these men. Some time ago Theudas appeared, claiming to be somebody, and about four hundred men rallied to him. He was killed, all his followers were dispersed, and it all came to nothing. After him, Judas the Galilean appeared in the days of the census and led a band of people in revolt. He too was killed, and all his followers were scattered. Therefore, in the present case I advise you: Leave these men alone! Let them go! For if their purpose or activity is of human origin, it will fail. But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop these men; you will only find yourselves fighting against God.'"

We do not have clear agreement as to the identities of "Theudas" and "Judas the Galilean" from other historical sources.  Gamaliel's point, though, is that their movements were short-lived—probably ended by the Romans.  "Gamaliel" counsels them to let this movement die at the hands of others, rather than involve themselves in the murder of the leaders of the movement.

Furthermore, "Gamaliel" cautions them: "'if it is from God, you will not be able to stop these men; you will only find yourselves fighting against God.'" 
Sometimes, those opposed to God's people believe that they are doing God a service.  "They will put you out of the synagogue; in fact, a time is coming when anyone who kills you will think he is offering a service to God." (John 16:2)

"Gamaliel" warns them to restrain themselves so that that they will not in their anger, actually oppose and kill those who are leading a movement of God.  We do not know where "Gamaliel" stood on the crucifixion of Jesus.  He did not take a stand there as Nicodemus did. See John 7:50-52  "Gamaliel" was probably more interested in maintaining the status quo than in the welfare of the apostles—as can be seen by what happens next.

"His speech persuaded them. They called the apostles in and had them flogged. Then they ordered them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go."  Paul, a student of "Gamaliel" later experienced the same type of flogging that the apostles here experienced.  "Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one." (2 Corinthians 11:24)  Once more, the religious leaders commanded them to "not speak in the name of Jesus." See 4:18  Then, they "let them go." 

"The apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name." The Bible is clear, "suffering" will be part of unashamedly and boldly following Jesus.  "In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted," (2 Timothy 3:12)
"I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death," (Philippians 3:10)  "Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you. If you suffer, it should not be as a murderer or thief or any other kind of criminal, or even as a meddler. However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name. For it is time for judgment to begin with the family of God; and if it begins with us, what will the outcome be for those who do not obey the gospel of God? And, 'If it is hard for the righteous to be saved, what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?' So then, those who suffer according to God’s will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good." (1 Peter 4:12-19)

These "apostles" believed that their suffering came as a result of their obedience to Jesus, and they rejoiced for the privilege of suffering for Jesus' sake.  "The apostles felt honoured by dishonour." "Taken from Word Pictures in the New Testament by A. T. Robertson.  Copyright 1930 by Broadman Press."

"Day after day, in the temple courts and from house to house, they never stopped teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Christ."  The Messiah had come, died for man's sins as predicted in the Old Testament, rose from the dead, and had ascended in heaven.  What should His "apostles" do?  They either played it safe or they continually told everyone.  They boldly and with great enthusiasm told the world of their time about this great news.

e. They stuck to the right priorities (6:1-7)
"In those days when the number of disciples was increasing, the Grecian Jews among them complained against the Hebraic Jews because their widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food. So the Twelve gathered all the disciples together and said, 'It would not be right for us to neglect the ministry of the word of God in order to wait on tables. Brothers, choose seven men from among you who are known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom. We will turn this responsibility over to them and will give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the word.' This proposal pleased the whole group. They chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit; also Philip, Procorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolas from Antioch, a convert to Judaism. They presented these men to the apostles, who prayed and laid their hands on them. So the word of God spread. The number of disciples in Jerusalem increased rapidly, and a large number of priests became obedient to the faith."

Thought Question:  What do these verses tell us about what pastors, elders, and deacons should be busy with in modern-day churches?

 

 

"In those days when the number of disciples was increasing, the Grecian Jews among them complained against the Hebraic Jews because their widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food."  Two cultures collided in Israel.  There was the Jewish culture and language that had survived in Israel in spite of attempts by men like the Syrian Antiochus Epiphanes to eradicate it and replace it with the Greek culture.  And there was the Greek culture and language that was present in the world outside of Israel.  So, there were Jews that maintained the Jewish culture and language and there were also Jews that had been raised in the Greek culture.  When Jews in Jerusalem became Christians, some were "Grecian Jews" and some were "Hebraic Jews."  The "Grecian Jews" felt their widows were not receiving equal treatment "in the daily distribution of food."  We are not told if it was a deliberate oversight or an administrative failure.  The fact that the apostles dealt with it by improving the administration of the food "distribution" indicates that poor administrative was the cause of the problem.

"complained" The actual word used could be better translated "murmured."  It is a Greek word goggusmos which when pronounced sounds like murmuring.  It is the type of muttering that is continued until someone does something to satisfy those complaining.  It was a threat to the vitality and unity of the early church. 

Grumbling is a very human malady.  In fact, when we do not do it, it stands out.  "Do everything without complaining or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe" (Philippians 2:14-15)  It is something that should not be part of the church, but nevertheless it is too frequently present.  "And do not grumble, as some of them did—and were killed by the destroying angel." (1 Corinthians 10:10)

"So the Twelve gathered all the disciples together and said, 'It would not be right for us to neglect the ministry of the word of God in order to wait on tables. Brothers, choose seven men from among you who are known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom. We will turn this responsibility over to them and will give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the word.'" 

What could have happened is that "the Twelve" could have gotten bogged down with resolving this conflict and with making sure that all of the widows were getting equal treatment.  Then, they would no longer have been spearheading the church and preaching and teaching about Jesus.  So, in wisdom, they gave the problem back to the people.  They directed them to choose men who would be led of God to solve the problem—men "full of the Spirit and wisdom."  Then, "the Twelve" would be able to continue to focus their "attention to prayer and the ministry of the word."

How does what the apostles chose to do apply to us today?  "It almost looks as though the apostles were saying, 'We're too good to serve tables.  After all, were apostles.  Let's pick out seven flunkies who can do that while we devote ourselves to the tremendously spiritual work of prayer and preaching the Word.'  But that would be to completely misread this passage.  Remember that the apostles had been in the upper room with the Lord Jesus.  They had seen him divest Himself of his garments, gird Himself with a towel, take a basin of water, and wash their dirty feet.  They had heard His words, 'He who is greatest shall be your servant.' (Matthew 23:11)." "Taken from Birth of the Body by Ray Stedman.  Copyright 1974 Vision House Publishers."

The apostles did not feel superior to the rest of the people.  But, they did feel a responsibility to lead the church in its highest priority—to further Jesus' kingdom through the preaching and teaching "of the word" and through "prayer."

Today, we need to free our church elders and pastors so they can continue to primarily focus on "prayer and the ministry of the word."  As much as possible, pastors need to be able to focus on spending regular time in the Bible, disciple making, and "prayer."  "It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ." (Ephesians 4:11-13)  "All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge: Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction." (2 Timothy 3:16-4:2)

"This proposal pleased the whole group. They chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit; also Philip, Procorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolas from Antioch, a convert to Judaism. They presented these men to the apostles, who prayed and laid their hands on them."  "Each of the seven has a Greek name and was undoubtedly a Hellenist, not an Aramaean Jew." "Taken from Word Pictures in the New Testament by A. T. Robertson.  Copyright 1930 by Broadman Press."  

The church members chose these men.  It shows that that they had a real desire to resolve the problem completely by choosing only Grecians Jews.  Then, the apostles confirmed their choices by laying "their hands on them."  It may be, though, that not all were Grecians, for Peter, a "Hebraic Jew" has  Greek name.

"Nicolas from Antioch, a convert to Judaism."  "Nicolas" was not even a Jew.  He was a Gentile convert to Judaism.  This does lend support to the view that all of the "seven" were "Grecian." 

We see in this section of verses that the church is to be concerned about both spiritual and material matters.  It is a balance.  If the church overemphasizes either one at the expense of the other, it is not practicing the balance the Bible emphasizes.  Jesus' parable of the Good Samaritan illustrates a church that focuses just on the spiritual.  Here, the apostles maintained the focus on the spiritual when material needs could have come to dominate the early church.  Gospel missions, for example, emphasize both the gospel message and the meeting of real material needs.

"So the word of God spread. The number of disciples in Jerusalem increased rapidly," And, so, the balanced church meeting material needs and focusing on the spiritual "ministry of the word of God" and "prayer" continues to grow and gain new converts.

"and a large number of priests became obedient to the faith."  "That a large number of priests—who were for the most part Sadducees—would accept Jesus as their Messiah is a startling fact.  It testifies to the power of the gospel. . . We may assume that those who had been 'more moderate' in their attitude toward the First Church were largely included in the converts, leaving behind those who were 'more extreme.'  The moderating influence was now largely removed, and the open persecution of the First Church would shortly follow." "Taken from Church Alive by William LaSor.  Copyright 1972."

f. The were willing to give their lives (6:8-8:1)

(1) Stephen seized (6:8-15)
"Now Stephen, a man full of God’s grace and power, did great wonders and miraculous signs among the people. Opposition arose, however, from members of the Synagogue of the Freedmen (as it was called)—Jews of Cyrene and Alexandria as well as the provinces of Cilicia and Asia. These men began to argue with Stephen, but they could not stand up against his wisdom or the Spirit by whom he spoke. Then they secretly persuaded some men to say, 'We have heard Stephen speak words of blasphemy against Moses and against God.' So they stirred up the people and the elders and the teachers of the law. They seized Stephen and brought him before the Sanhedrin. They produced false witnesses, who testified, 'This fellow never stops speaking against this holy place and against the law. For we have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place and change the customs Moses handed down to us.' All who were sitting in the Sanhedrin looked intently at Stephen, and they saw that his face was like the face of an angel."

Thought Question:  What situations are you aware of where a godly person was falsely charged by using lies to make the charges?  Give one example.

 

 

"Now Stephen, a man full of God’s grace and power, did great wonders and miraculous signs among the people. Opposition arose, however, from members of the Synagogue of the Freedmen (as it was called)—Jews of Cyrene and Alexandria as well as the provinces of Cilicia and Asia. These men began to argue with Stephen, but they could not stand up against his wisdom or the Spirit by whom he spoke." 

Up to this time, only the apostles had performed miracles.  Why are Stephen and later Philip able now to able perform " great wonders and miraculous signs"?  Stedman believed that the apostolic ministry was expanded to these deacons when the apostles laid hands on them.

"Opposition arose, however, from members of the Synagogue of the Freedmen (as it was called)—Jews of Cyrene and Alexandria as well as the provinces of Cilicia and Asia."  The NIV Study Bible note does a thorough job of explaining this "Synagogue of the Freedmen."  "Freedman" Persons who had been freed from slavery.  They came from different Hellenistic areas.  Cyrene. the chief city in Lybia and North Africa . . . Alexandria.  Capitol of Egypt and second only to Rome in the empire . . . Cilicia.  A Roman province in the southeast corner of Asia minor adjoining Syria.  Tarsus, the birthplace of Paul, was one of its principal towns.  Asia.  A Roman province in the western part of Asia Minor.  Ephesus, where Paul later ministered for a few years, was its capital." "NIV Study Bible note." 

"These men began to argue with Stephen,"  The Jews from these areas outside of Israel took strong issue with what Stephen was teaching.  They may have been more zealous than the local Jews of Israel because they had experienced more opposition to their Jewish beliefs in the Roman and Greek cultures of their homes.

"but they could not stand up against his wisdom or the Spirit by whom he spoke."  When we Christians speak with non-Christians, we have an advantage, for a number of reasons.  First of all, we are not defending a false view of reality; we are defending what is the truth.  Also, we can depend on God's strength in us to give us the ability to clearly and strongly represent Him.  "When I came to you, brothers, I did not come with eloquence or superior wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. I came to you in weakness and fear, and with much trembling. My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on men’s wisdom, but on God’s power." (1 Corinthians 2:1-5) Stephen was enabled by God to powerfully withstand the opposition he faced from this "Synagogue" who opposed his message.

"Then they secretly persuaded some men to say, 'We have heard Stephen speak words of blasphemy against Moses and against God.'"  When men or women, with selfish motives, are unable to win their cause through reasoning through an issue, they will resort to some type of devious tactic.  Here, they "secretly" began to spread false rumors about "Stephen."  They did it in secret because if they said it publicly, the false charges would have easily been challenged as being untrue and as not matching the facts.

"Stephen" probably taught that Jesus fulfilled the prophecies in the Old Testament and that the temple symbolized Jesus' death for us, enabling us to enter into God's presence.  Stephen said nothing, though, that was "blasphemy against Moses and against God."  Notice they said that he said "words of blasphemy against Moses.  "Moses" was elevated in their minds to being like God and as being one who could be blasphemed.

"So they stirred up the people and the elders and the teachers of the law. They seized Stephen and brought him before the Sanhedrin. They produced false witnesses, who testified, 'This fellow never stops speaking against this holy place and against the law. For we have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place and change the customs Moses handed down to us.'"

Those who have selfish goals often argue using some of the truth, but it is a twisted and distorted version of the truth.  It is a version of the truth that helps them to accomplish their personal agendas.  The real truth requires that we adjust to it, rather than truth adjusting to our selfish aspirations.  So those who were opposed to Stephen, put what he said in the very worst light.  He probably said that Jesus had fulfilled the symbolism of the temple; they twisted it to say that he never stops speaking against the "holy place."  Their goal was to maintain their human traditions; Stephen's goal was to explain how Jesus fulfilled what the temple symbolized.

Jesus faced the same type of atmosphere as Stephen did.  "The chief priests and the whole Sanhedrin were looking for false evidence against Jesus so that they could put him to death. But they did not find any, though many false witnesses came forward. Finally two came forward and declared, 'This fellow said, “I am able to destroy the temple of God and rebuild it in three days.”'" (Matthew 26:59-61)  That explains why, as Stephen was being stoned, he saw Jesus "standing at the right hand of God." (7:56)  Jesus knew exactly what Stephen was going through; he had gone through it as well!

"All who were sitting in the Sanhedrin looked intently at Stephen, and they saw that his face was like the face of an angel."  Those who have been with God in a special way will show it on their faces.  "When Moses came down from Mount Sinai with the two tablets of the Testimony in his hands, he was not aware that his face was radiant because he had spoken with the Lord. When Aaron and all the Israelites saw Moses, his face was radiant, and they were afraid to come near him. But Moses called to them; so Aaron and all the leaders of the community came back to him, and he spoke to them. Afterward all the Israelites came near him, and he gave them all the commands the Lord had given him on Mount Sinai." (Exodus 34:29-32) See II Corinthians 3:18

We are humbled by Stephen who under the worst of circumstances remained loving, merciful, joyful, and peaceful.  How have we done when have been strongly opposed?  Was our face like Stephen's face—"like the face of an angel"?

(2) Stephen's defense—he retraces Israel's history from Abraham to Jacob (7:1-8)
"Then the high priest asked him, 'Are these charges true?' To this he replied: 'Brothers and fathers, listen to me! The God of glory appeared to our father Abraham while he was still in Mesopotamia, before he lived in Haran. “Leave your country and your people,” God said, “and go to the land I will show you.” 'So he left the land of the Chaldeans and settled in Haran. After the death of his father, God sent him to this land where you are now living. He gave him no inheritance here, not even a foot of ground. But God promised him that he and his descendants after him would possess the land, even though at that time Abraham had no child. God spoke to him in this way: “Your descendants will be strangers in a country not their own, and they will be enslaved and mistreated four hundred years. But I will punish the nation they serve as slaves,” God said, “and afterward they will come out of that country and worship me in this place.” Then he gave Abraham the covenant of circumcision. And Abraham became the father of Isaac and circumcised him eight days after his birth. Later Isaac became the father of Jacob, and Jacob became the father of the twelve patriarchs.'"

Thought Question:  What do you see in these verses that answers the charges made against Stephen?

 

 

"Then the high priest asked him, 'Are these charges true?' To this he replied: 'Brothers and fathers, listen to me! The God of glory appeared to our father Abraham while he was still in Mesopotamia, before he lived in Haran. “Leave your country and your people,” God said, “and go to the land I will show you.”'"

A message throughout Stephen's defense of the gospel message he preached is that God, as He revealed Himself and his ways to men, continually brought change to them.  He, "Abraham," was directed by God to leave his home in "Mesopotamia"—modern-day Iraq—"'“and go to the land I will show you.”'"  "Abraham" trusted God and was willing to change his plans as God revealed to him that being a part of God's plans required that he change his plans.

"The God of glory"  "By these words Stephen refutes the charge of blasphemy against God in Acts 6:11." "Taken from Word Pictures in the New Testament by A. T. Robertson.  Copyright 1930 by Broadman Press."

"appeared to our father Abraham while he was still in Mesopotamia [Ur of the Chaldees], before he lived in Haran."  Genesis 12:1 could be taken to state that God appeared to Abraham in Haran.  "The Lord had said to Abram, 'Leave your country, your people and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you.'" (Genesis 12:1)  But Genesis 12:1 in the NIV says that God "had said," referring back to when God spoke to Abraham in the Ur of the Chaldees. "You are the Lord God, who chose Abram and brought him out of Ur of the Chaldeans and named him Abraham." (Nehemiah 9:7) See also Joshua 24:2-3

"'So he left the land of the Chaldeans and settled in Haran. After the death of his father, God sent him to this land where you are now living. He gave him no inheritance here, not even a foot of ground. But God promised him that he and his descendants after him would possess the land, even though at that time Abraham had no child.'"  Another charge against Stephen was, "This fellow never stops speaking against this holy place."  Abraham met God in "Mesopotamia," and then when he came into the land that became Israel, none of it ever belonged to him

"Of course, Abraham did possess the cave of Machpelah in Canaan (Gen 23:3-20), but perhaps Stephen meant that God gave him no continuing or full possession to Abraham." "Dr. Constable's notes."

"'God spoke to him in this way: “Your descendants will be strangers in a country not their own, and they will be enslaved and mistreated four hundred years.”'" Stephen rounds it off to "four hundred years."  The exact number was 430. See Exodus 12:40-41.  Genesis 15:13-14 also says "four hundred years."  So, God's people were out of the land and in the land of Egypt for about "four hundred years."  At that time, they were still God's people and still part of His plans.  But it is not at all true that they were born and had lived continually in the holy land.

"'“But I will punish the nation they serve as slaves,” God said, “and afterward they will come out of that country and worship me in this place.”'"  Finally, God predicts that Israel would come to and settle in the land that He promised to them. 

"'Then he gave Abraham the covenant of circumcision. And Abraham became the father of Isaac and circumcised him eight days after his birth. Later Isaac became the father of Jacob, and Jacob became the father of the twelve patriarchs.'"  "Circumcision" became a sign that Abraham and his descendents were God's covenant people. See Genesis 17  It was not just because of the "place" that they were God's people, but because of their ongoing relationship with God and His progressive revelations to them that they were His people—even when they were in another place.  God was now revealing to them the most significant next step in His plans for them through Jesus Christ; and they, unlike Abraham, were rejecting this new revelation about His plans.  The next step in God's plans was Jesus Christ—His death, resurrection, ascension, and His indwelling of believers.  They were not like Abraham, but unlike him.  He had moved out of his homeland in response to what God had revealed to him.  They were stubbornly unwilling to change anything in response to this new revelation from God.

(3) Stephen's defense: He retraces Israel's history from Jacob to Joseph (7:9-16)
"'Because the patriarchs were jealous of Joseph, they sold him as a slave into Egypt. But God was with him and rescued him from all his troubles. He gave Joseph wisdom and enabled him to gain the goodwill of Pharaoh king of Egypt; so he made him ruler over Egypt and all his palace. Then a famine struck all Egypt and Canaan, bringing great suffering, and our fathers could not find food. When Jacob heard that there was grain in Egypt, he sent our fathers on their first visit. On their second visit, Joseph told his brothers who he was, and Pharaoh learned about Joseph’s family. After this, Joseph sent for his father Jacob and his whole family, seventy-five in all. Then Jacob went down to Egypt, where he and our fathers died. Their bodies were brought back to Shechem and placed in the tomb that Abraham had bought from the sons of Hamor at Shechem for a certain sum of money.'"

Thought Question:  What do you see in these verses that answers the charges made against Stephen?

 

 

"'Because the patriarchs were jealous of Joseph, they sold him as a slave into Egypt. But God was with him and rescued him from all his troubles. He gave Joseph wisdom and enabled him to gain the goodwill of Pharaoh king of Egypt; so he made him ruler over Egypt and all his palace.'"  Joseph's brothers, out of jealousy, rejected Joseph just as Israel's religious leaders rejected Jesus.  As a result, God's chosen people ended up outside of the promised land—the "place" they were so proud of.

But God "was with" Joseph and "rescued him from all his troubles."  Each of us who are Christians desire to know that what was true of Joseph is true of us—God is "with us and He will rescue us from all" our "troubles."  Most are familiar with how Joseph ended up in jail when Potiphar's wife turned on him and falsely accused him after Joseph rejected her sexual advances toward him.  Most also know how God elevated Joseph to the second highest position in all of Egypt, second only to the Pharaoh.  Of the sons of Jacob, only Joseph did what was admirable before God.  Shortly after Stephen says these words, the religious leaders of Israel he was talking to would treat him as Joseph's brothers had treated him so many years before.

"'Then a famine struck all Egypt and Canaan, bringing great suffering, and our fathers could not find food. When Jacob heard that there was grain in Egypt, he sent our fathers on their first visit. On their second visit, Joseph told his brothers who he was, and Pharaoh learned about Joseph’s family. After this, Joseph sent for his father Jacob and his whole family, seventy-five in all. Then Jacob went down to Egypt, where he and our fathers died. Their bodies were brought back to Shechem and placed in the tomb that Abraham had bought from the sons of Hamor at Shechem for a certain sum of money.'"  We see in these verses, God's sovereign control over life's circumstances to accomplish His purposes.  People made their choices, yet God fulfilled His purposes.  And God's purposes were not just about Israel having a land; God's plans also included the humbling of His people.  Joseph was exalted, after a time of suffering, but his brothers were humbled.  When the brother they had turned on turned out to be a ruler in Egypt, and the one they needed to turn to because of the famine in their land, they were humbled.  They were also humbled when they died outside of their land.

"seventy-five in all."  Moses records a different number that went to Egypt: "All those who went to Egypt with Jacob—those who were his direct descendants, not counting his sons’ wives—numbered sixty-six persons. With the two sons who had been born to Joseph in Egypt, the members of Jacob’s family, which went to Egypt, were seventy in all." (Genesis 46:26-27) See also Exodus 1:5; Deuteronomy 10:22  Was the number given by Stephen incorrect?  "Stephen follows the LXX [the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the old Testament] which counts some grandchildren of Joseph and so makes it 75." "Taken from Word Pictures in the New Testament by A. T. Robertson.  Copyright 1930 by Broadman Press." 

"'Their bodies were brought back to Shechem and placed in the tomb that Abraham had bought from the sons of Hamor at Shechem for a certain sum of money.'"  "Moses wrote that Jacob, not Abraham, had purchased the tomb from Hamor in Shechem (Gen. 33:19; cf. 23:16, 50:13).  This is probably a case of attributing to an ancestor what one of his descendents did (cf. Heb. 7:9-10).  In the ancient Near Eastern view of things, people regarded an ancestor as in one sense participating in the action of his descendents. (Gen. 9:25, 25:2-3; cf. Mal. 1:2-3; Rom. 9:11-13)." "Dr. Constable's notes."

(4) Stephen's defense: He retraces the history concerning Moses (7:17-44)

(q) Moses' first 40 years (7:17-29)
"'As the time drew near for God to fulfill his promise to Abraham, the number of our people in Egypt greatly increased. Then another king, who knew nothing about Joseph, became ruler of Egypt. He dealt treacherously with our people and oppressed our forefathers by forcing them to throw out their newborn babies so that they would die. At that time Moses was born, and he was no ordinary child. For three months he was cared for in his father’s house. When he was placed outside, Pharaoh’s daughter took him and brought him up as her own son. Moses was educated in all the wisdom of the Egyptians and was powerful in speech and action. When Moses was forty years old, he decided to visit his fellow Israelites. He saw one of them being mistreated by an Egyptian, so he went to his defense and avenged him by killing the Egyptian. Moses thought that his own people would realize that God was using him to rescue them, but they did not. The next day Moses came upon two Israelites who were fighting. He tried to reconcile them by saying, “Men, you are brothers; why do you want to hurt each other?” But the man who was mistreating the other pushed Moses aside and said, “Who made you ruler and judge over us? Do you want to kill me as you killed the Egyptian yesterday?” When Moses heard this, he fled to Midian, where he settled as a foreigner and had two sons.'"

Thought Question #1:  What do you see in these verses that answers the charges made against Stephen?

 

 

Thought Question #2:  What do you see in these verses that explains how God prepares His people so that they can be used by Him?

 

 

"'As the time drew near for God to fulfill his promise to Abraham, the number of our people in Egypt greatly increased. Then another king, who knew nothing about Joseph, became ruler of Egypt. He dealt treacherously with our people and oppressed our forefathers by forcing them to throw out their newborn babies so that they would die.'"  Stephen was accused of speaking "against Moses." (6:11)  Starting with these verses, Stephen shows that he is very familiar with the life of "Moses."  Nevertheless, "Moses" was just a man, and he was, like other men, a man whose life was filled with both its ups and its downs.  Gene Getz's book on Moses is titled, Moses, Moments of Glory . . . Feet of Clay.  God is the hero in Moses' life.  For He humbled "Moses," and then He used the humble "Moses" to fulfill His plans.

Stephen recounts, first, the condition of Israel when "Moses" was born.  The people of Israel were no longer favorably looked upon by the pharaoh of that time, as had been the case when Joseph was alive.  It appears that there was a change in dynasties that had taken place.  "Probably Ahmose, the founder of the 18th dynasty, who expelled the Hyksos (foreign—predominately Semitic—rulers of Egypt)." "NIV Study Bible note on Exodus 1:8."

The growing population of Israelites was a threat to the new Pharaoh, and he sought to slow their growth by ordering the death of their baby boys. See Exodus 1:8-22

This Pharaoh's attempt to kill all the baby boys of Israel represents one of Satan's attempts through the centuries to prevent the birth of the promised Savior from being born.  Haman's desire in the time of Queen Esther to kill all of the Jews was another one. See Esther 3  Then, the murder of the baby boys by King Herod was still another. See Matthew 2;16-18

"At that time Moses was born, and he was no ordinary child. For three months he was cared for in his father’s house. When he was placed outside, Pharaoh’s daughter took him and brought him up as her own son. Moses was educated in all the wisdom of the Egyptians and was powerful in speech and action." See Exodus 2:1-10  God arranged that "Moses" received the very best of educations that a Pharaoh's family could receive.  "Moses was educated in all the wisdom of the Egyptians."

"and was powerful in speech and action."  In Exodus 4:10, Moses describes himself in this way: "Moses said to the Lord, 'O Lord, I have never been eloquent, neither in the past nor since you have spoken to your servant. I am slow of speech and tongue.'"  Who is accurate about Moses' eloquence or lack of it, Moses or Stephen?  Here is Gene Getz's answer to that question: "At one time, Moses had been very eloquent . . . Though at one time he had been able communicate fluently and to use words dramatically, he now had 'lost his touch,' his ability." "Taken from Moses, Moments of Glory . . . Feet of Clay by Gene Getz.  Copyright 1976 by Regal Books pp. 52."  Moses' words in Exodus 4:10 occurred after Moses had fled Egypt and after Moses had been out in the desert tending sheep for forty years.  He had quite simply lost his confidence in himself.  But, he was ready to put his confidence in God.

"When Moses was forty years old, he decided to visit his fellow Israelites. He saw one of them being mistreated by an Egyptian, so he went to his defense and avenged him by killing the Egyptian. Moses thought that his own people would realize that God was using him to rescue them, but they did not. The next day Moses came upon two Israelites who were fighting. He tried to reconcile them by saying, “Men, you are brothers; why do you want to hurt each other?” But the man who was mistreating the other pushed Moses aside and said, “Who made you ruler and judge over us? Do you want to kill me as you killed the Egyptian yesterday?” When Moses heard this, he fled to Midian, where he settled as a foreigner and had two sons.'"

What we see here is what needs to happen in the lives of believers before God can use them as a true servant of His.  Moses thought that because of his prestigious position in Egypt and because of his great abilities, that the Israelites would rally behind him after he rescued an Israelite from an abusive Egyptian by killing that Egyptian.  Instead, he found himself all alone with both the Israelites and the Egyptians opposed to him.  Moses discovered how helpless he was to do God's work without God enabling him to do it.  Peter tried to rescue Jesus with a sword. See John 18:10-11  Paul tried, after first becoming a Christian, to evangelize Damascus, but was lowered over a wall in a basket. See Acts 9:19-25  God needs to break us of our self-confidence, so that we will become reliant on Him. See II Corinthians 1:8-0, 12:9-10

"Moses thought that his own people would realize that God was using him to rescue them, but they did not."  "Moses thought that" his people "would realize" that he was God's chosen man to deliver them from Egypt—the George Washington of Israel.  "But they did not."  "Moses" did not realize that he needed to wait so that God could use him in His time and His way.

This is undoubtedly a part of Moses' life that the conceited leaders of Israel in Stephen's time did not like to see.  "Moses" was not a great man who, using his own resources and personal greatness, led Israel to become a superior nation; which then became greater than all of the other nations—so that these religious leaders could bask in the greatness.  Instead, he was a very human man that God chose to use—after he had been broken by God so that He could use him.

(b) Moses' second forty years (7:30-34)
"'After forty years had passed, an angel appeared to Moses in the flames of a burning bush in the desert near Mount Sinai. When he saw this, he was amazed at the sight. As he went over to look more closely, he heard the Lord’s voice: “I am the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.” Moses trembled with fear and did not dare to look. Then the Lord said to him, “Take off your sandals; the place where you are standing is holy ground. I have indeed seen the oppression of my people in Egypt. I have heard their groaning and have come down to set them free. Now come, I will send you back to Egypt."'"

Thought Question #1:  What do you see in these verses that answers the charges made against Stephen?

 

 

Thought Question #2:  What do you see in these verses that explains how God prepares His people so that they can be used by Him?

 

 

"'After forty years had passed, an angel appeared to Moses in the flames of a burning bush in the desert near Mount Sinai. When he saw this, he was amazed at the sight. As he went over to look more closely, he heard the Lord’s voice: “I am the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.” Moses trembled with fear and did not dare to look.'"  The once mighty "Moses" has been a shepherd for "forty years."  He expected to remain a shepherd for the rest of his earthly days.  On a day like any other of his days as a shepherd, his life would be dramatically changed.  He sees a "bush" burning but not burning up.  When God spoke to him from the "bush," he "trembled with fear and did not dare to look."  The once mighty "Moses" trembles in the presence of the truly mighty God.  Now, he was ready to become God's servant.

"'“I am the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.”'"  "Jesus makes powerful use of these words in his reply to the Sadducees in defense of the doctrine of the resurrection and future life (Mark 12:26, Matt. 22:32; Luke 20:37f.) that God here describes himself as the God of the living." "Taken from Word Pictures in the New Testament by A. T. Robertson.  Copyright 1930 by Broadman Press."

"'Then the Lord said to him, “Take off your sandals; the place where you are standing is holy ground.”'"  The Jewish religious leaders saw their land and their place as being "holy ground."  But God said here that there was a place in Midian "near Mount Sinai" that was "holy ground."  It was not "Moses" that made a place "holy," but it was God alone that made a place "holy."

"'“I have indeed seen the oppression of my people in Egypt. I have heard their groaning and have come down to set them free. Now come, I will send you back to Egypt.”'"  E. V. Hill, a man God used powerfully in Los Angeles, spoke years ago at a national convention of the Conservative Baptists in Fort Collins, Colorado.  I will never forget his words on this verse.  He said, "God told Moses, 'I have come down!'"  He said that Moses said, 'Yes, God, that is what we need, for You to come down!'  Then, God said, 'Now come, I will send you back to Egypt!'  Moses does a double-take and says, 'No! Not me!'"

(c) Moses' third forty years (7:35-44)
"'This is the same Moses whom they had rejected with the words, “Who made you ruler and judge?” He was sent to be their ruler and deliverer by God himself, through the angel who appeared to him in the bush. He led them out of Egypt and did wonders and miraculous signs in Egypt, at the Red Sea and for forty years in the desert. This is that Moses who told the Israelites, “God will send you a prophet like me from your own people.” He was in the assembly in the desert, with the angel who spoke to him on Mount Sinai, and with our fathers; and he received living words to pass on to us. But our fathers refused to obey him. Instead, they rejected him and in their hearts turned back to Egypt. They told Aaron, “Make us gods who will go before us. As for this fellow Moses who led us out of Egypt—we don’t know what has happened to him!” That was the time they made an idol in the form of a calf. They brought sacrifices to it and held a celebration in honor of what their hands had made. But God turned away and gave them over to the worship of the heavenly bodies. This agrees with what is written in the book of the prophets: “Did you bring me sacrifices and offerings forty years in the desert, O house of Israel? You have lifted up the shrine of Molech and the star of your god Rephan, the idols you made to worship. Therefore I will send you into exile” beyond Babylon. Our forefathers had the tabernacle of the Testimony with them in the desert. It had been made as God directed Moses, according to the pattern he had seen.'"

Thought Question:  What do you see in these verses that answers the charges made against Stephen?

 

 

"'This is the same Moses whom they had rejected with the words, “Who made you ruler and judge?” He was sent to be their ruler and deliverer by God himself, through the angel who appeared to him in the bush.'"  It was the same way that Jesus was rejected by Israel when He offered Himself as Israel's Savior.  So, "Moses" was rejected as Israel's savior and, then, later is used by God to lead and deliver them.

"through the angel who appeared to him in the bush."  We immediately think, wasn't it God who appeared to Moses in that "bush"?  "Now Moses was tending the flock of Jethro his father-in-law, the priest of Midian, and he led the flock to the far side of the desert and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in flames of fire from within a bush. Moses saw that though the bush was on fire it did not burn up. So Moses thought, 'I will go over and see this strange sight—why the bush does not burn up.' When the Lord saw that he had gone over to look, God called to him from within the bush, 'Moses! Moses!' And Moses said, 'Here I am.' 'Do not come any closer,' God said. 'Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.' Then he said, 'I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.' At this, Moses hid his face, because he was afraid to look at God." (Exodus 3:1-6)

So, if God, appeared to Moses, why does Stephen say it was an 'angel who appeared to him in the bush"?  Constable clearly answers this question for us.  "The angel that appeared to Moses was the Angel of the Lord, very possible the preincarnate Christ (vv. 31-33; cf. Exod. 3:2, 6; 4:2; John 12:41; I Cor. 10:1-4; Heb. 11:26)." "Dr. Constables notes."  It may be that Stephen recognized that it was Jesus who appeared to Moses; this same Jesus that the religious leaders of Israel had rejected.  They accused Stephen of blasphemy, but it was actually they who had blasphemed the God who appeared to "Moses" when they said that He was "demon-possessed." See Matthew 11:24; John 6:35, 8:12, 10:19, 30-33

"He led them out of Egypt and did wonders and miraculous signs in Egypt, at the Red Sea and for forty years in the desert."  What "Moses" in his own strength and ability was unable to do, he was able to do as God enabled him to perform miracles "in Egypt," when God miraculously opened up "the Red Sea," and when God performed miracles "for forty years in the desert."  Moses was great only because God enabled him to be great.  Stephen was saying, "You should give glory to God, not to the man Moses." 

"'This is that Moses who told the Israelites, “God will send you a prophet like me from your own people.”'" See Deuteronomy 18:15  God did send that "prophet."  His name was Jesus, and they had rejected Him.  They did not really honor "Moses" if they rejected the "prophet" "Moses" predicted.

"He was in the assembly in the desert, with the angel who spoke to him on Mount Sinai, and with our fathers; and he received living words to pass on to us. But our fathers refused to obey him. Instead, they rejected him and in their hearts turned back to Egypt."  "Moses" "received living words" from God at "Mount Sinai."  How did the people receive him and the "living words" from God?  Did they honor him and his "words" from God?  No, they did the very opposite of honoring him.  Instead, "they rejected him" and "in their hearts turned back to Egypt."  Stephen's point is very clear.  Israel's pattern has not been to receive God's messengers, but to reject them; just as they had rejected Jesus and those who spoke to them on His behalf—and as they were about to reject him! 

"the angel who spoke to him on Mount Sinai,"  The book of Exodus, again, does not speak of an "angel" who "spoke to him on Mount Sinai."  The New Testament does speak of an angelic presence on Mount Sinai. See Galatians 3:19 and Hebrews 2:2 See also Deuteronomy 33:2

"'They told Aaron, “Make us gods who will go before us. As for this fellow Moses who led us out of Egypt—we don’t know what has happened to him!” That was the time they made an idol in the form of a calf. They brought sacrifices to it and held a celebration in honor of what their hands had made. But God turned away and gave them over to the worship of the heavenly bodies.'" See the following verses for times in Israel's history when they worshipped "heavenly bodies": Deuteronomy 17:3; II Samuel 17:16, 21:3; II Chronicles 33;3-5; Jeremiah 8:2, 19:13

Stephen recounts a time when Israel's attitude toward God and toward Moses was at it lowest.  Stephen had great respect for "Moses."  The people of Israel at the time in Israel's history that Stephen is talking about here had the very lowest respect for "Moses."  "Moses" was on "Mount Sinai" receiving God's instructions for His nation.  The people took advantage of the absence of "Moses" to turn back to idolatry.  God "gave them over to" their choice. See Roman 1:24

"'This agrees with what is written in the book of the prophets: “Did you bring me sacrifices and offerings forty years in the desert, O house of Israel? You have lifted up the shrine of Molech and the star of your god Rephan, the idols you made to worship. Therefore I will send you into exile” beyond Babylon.'"  "Stephen quotes Am 5:24-27 as translated in the Septuagint except that he replaces Damascus with Babylon in view of the fact the final exile of Israel from the Promised land was carried out by the Babylonians. (Amos was speaking first of the Assyrians exile of the northern kingdom)." "NIV Study Bible note."

Stephen ties the idolatry in the wilderness to the idolatry of Israel throughout its history; the idolatry that led to God banishing them from their land and bringing them under the control of the Babylonian Empire for 70 years.  This is a part of Israel's history that should have eradicated any national conceit.  God chose them, but throughout their history, they rejected Him—choosing idolatry over obeying Him.

"Our forefathers had the tabernacle of the Testimony with them in the desert. It had been made as God directed Moses, according to the pattern he had seen."  God's presence with Israel was not just at the temple site, for God had been with Israel wherever they went in the wilderness.  He met with "Moses" and Aaron at the "tabernacle of the Testimony."

(6) Stephen's defense: He retraces the history of the tabernacle and the temple (7:45-50)
"'Having received the tabernacle, our fathers under Joshua brought it with them when they took the land from the nations God drove out before them. It remained in the land until the time of David, who enjoyed God’s favor and asked that he might provide a dwelling place for the God of Jacob. But it was Solomon who built the house for him. However, the Most High does not live in houses made by men. As the prophet says: “Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool. What kind of house will you build for me? says the Lord. Or where will my resting place be? Has not my hand made all these things?”'"

Thought Question:  What do you see in these verses that answers the charges made against Stephen?

 

 

"Having received the tabernacle, our fathers under Joshua brought it with them when they took the land from the nations God drove out before them." 
The "tabernacle" preceded the temple.  The instructions for the "tabernacle" were given to Moses on Mount Sinai. See Exodus 25-27  The "tabernacle" was not limited to one place.  It moved with Israel throughout their forty years in the wilderness.  And, then, it was brought into the Promised Land under the leadership of  "Joshua."  Certainly, the point that Stephen is making is that God's way of relating to His people was not static, but ever changing.  They should, then, realize that God had made a choice to relate to them in an even more dynamic way then in the past; for God had appeared to them and walked with them as a man—as the man Jesus.

The "tabernacle" and the temple described God's plan for the Lamb of God to give Himself as a sacrifice for our sins, to take that payment for our sins into the Holy of Holies, and through that price open the way for unholy man to have an eternal relationship with God.  The religious leaders completely did not understand the symbolism of the temple.  Instead, they turned it into a means for elevating themselves religiously.  It remained in the land until the time of David, who enjoyed God's favor and asked that he might provide a dwelling for the God of Jacob.  Still, there was no temple.  It was the "tabernacle" that "remained in the land until the time of David," and not the temple.  So, for a good part of Israel's history, there was no temple.

"But it was Solomon who built the house for him. 'However, the Most High does not live in houses made by men. As the prophet says: “Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool.” What kind of house will you build for me? says the Lord. Or where will my resting place be? Has not my hand made all these things?'"

So, in Solomon's time, the temple was built.  Nevertheless, God made it clear that He was much greater than this little temple.  Actually, the temple was a teaching device that was meant to instruct Israel on how the blood of God's Lamb would atone for their sins. See Leviticus 16 for a description of the Day of Atonement that symbolized Jesus' payment for man's sins.

Solomon himself recognized that God was much greater than the temple:  "But will God really dwell on earth? The heavens, even the highest heaven, cannot contain you. How much less this temple I have built!" (1 Kings 8:27) See also II Chronicles 6:18; Acts 17:24; Hebrews 9:11-15

Stephen then quotes Isaiah 'the prophet's" words in Isaiah 66:1-2: "'“Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool.” What kind of house will you build for me? says the Lord. Or where will my resting place be? Has not my hand made all these things?'"

What Israel had done with the temple, we can do with our church buildings.  We can make them a place where religious duty takes place—where people dress up and become religiously respectable once a week, and then forget that God is with us all week and in every place.  Some of the words in Isaiah 66:1-2 that Stephen does not quote are the following: "This is the one I esteem: he who is humble and contrite in spirit, and trembles at my word."

Stephen makes it very clear that his perspective of the temple was Solomon's perspective also—a perspective that these arrogant and hardened religious leaders totally missed.

(7) Stephen's defense; He charges them with resisting God's Spirit (7:51-53)
"'You stiff-necked people, with uncircumcised hearts and ears! You are just like your fathers: You always resist the Holy Spirit! Was there ever a prophet your fathers did not persecute? They even killed those who predicted the coming of the Righteous One. And now you have betrayed and murdered him— you who have received the law that was put into effect through angels but have not obeyed it.'"

Thought Question #1:  Do you think that Stephen made a mistake by being so blunt and strong with these religious leaders?  Please explain your answer.

 

 

Thought Question #2:  Do you believe these religious leader could have chosen not to "resist the Holy Spirit"?  Please explain your answer.

 

 

"'You stiff-necked people, with uncircumcised hearts and ears! You are just like your fathers: You always resist the Holy Spirit!"  Apparently Stephen had not read the book, How To Win Friends and Influence People.  He certainly was not trying to win friends among the Sanhedrin.  It was, instead, time for him to boldly speak the truth.  The truth was that they were not at all the righteous people that they thought they were.  They were not holy God-seeking people.  Instead, they were following the pattern of those in Israel who, with hardened hearts, had rejected what God's Spirit was teaching them.  God desires a humble people who easily acknowledge their sins.  Jesus summarized the difference between what God wanted compared to what they were like in the parable of the Pharisee and the tax-collector.  "To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everybody else, Jesus told this parable: 'Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself: “God, I thank you that I am not like other men—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.” But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, “God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.'" (Luke 18:9-14)

If the Sanhedrin had not resisted God's Spirit speaking through Stephen on that day, what would have happened?  There would have been a national repentance as the Sanhedrin humbled themselves and acknowledged their national sin of rejecting God's spokesmen through the years—rejecting their prophets, their Messiah, and rejecting Jesus' followers.  As we will see, the very opposite happened.

"You always resist the Holy Spirit!"  One of the teachings of Calvinism is "irresistible grace."  Here, we learn that Israel "always" resisted "the Holy Spirit." Stephen states here that it was a hardened choice that they made, stating clearly also that could have chosen not to "resist the Holy Spirit."

"with uncircumcised hearts and ears!"  Stephen was saying they were physically circumcised, but in their hearts they were just like the pagans who were "uncircumcised."  This was a description of these arrogant men that was the opposite of how they saw themselves.  He couldn't have offended them more.

Paul, who heard Stephen's words, had something similar to say in Romans 2:28-29.  "A man is not a Jew if he is only one outwardly, nor is circumcision merely outward and physical. No, a man is a Jew if he is one inwardly; and circumcision is circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the written code. Such a man’s praise is not from men, but from God."  The circumcision of the heart occurs as people do not "resist the Holy Spirit," but receive God's message to them and are born again of "the Holy Spirit."  That did not happen to the Sanhedrin on this day.

"'You stiff-necked people,'"  Zechariah said the same about the Jewish people of his day.  "And the word of the Lord came again to Zechariah: 'This is what the Lord Almighty says: “Administer true justice; show mercy and compassion to one another. Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless, the alien or the poor. In your hearts do not think evil of each other.” But they refused to pay attention; stubbornly they turned their backs and stopped up their ears. They made their hearts as hard as flint and would not listen to the law or to the words that the Lord Almighty had sent by his Spirit through the earlier prophets. So the Lord Almighty was very angry. “When I called, they did not listen; so when they called, I would not listen,” says the Lord Almighty. “I scattered them with a whirlwind among all the nations, where they were strangers. The land was left so desolate behind them that no one could come or go. This is how they made the pleasant land desolate.”'" (Zechariah 7:8-14)

"Was there ever a prophet your fathers did not persecute? They even killed those who predicted the coming of the Righteous One."  Jesus made the same charge against them. See Matthew 23:29-36; Luke 12:47-51  Persecution of God's spokesmen and spokeswomen is found throughout the Bible. "But they were disobedient and rebelled against you; they put your law behind their backs. They killed your prophets, who had admonished them in order to turn them back to you; they committed awful blasphemies." (Nehemiah 9:26)  See also Exodus 33:1-6; II Chronicles 36:15-17; Jeremiah 6:10, 9:25-26

"They even killed those who predicted the coming of the Righteous One."  Isaiah predicted the coming of Jesus in a number of ways. See Isaiah 7:14, 9:6, 11:1-50, 52:14-53:12, 61:1-3  Tradition teaches that he was "sawed in two." (Hebrews 11:37)

"And now you have betrayed and murdered him— you who have received the law that was put into effect through angels but have not obeyed it.'"  After a judge learns that someone in a trial before him has been convicted of murder, he will often have some strong words for the murderer.  But the judge is well protected so that the murderer is not able to retaliate against his strong words.  Here, Stephen is completely outnumbered as he gives some of the strongest words ever uttered.  He strongly and clearly convicts them of the murder of their Messiah.  What could be worse?  Then, he says that they, the supposed holy ones of Israel had not obeyed "the law" given to them by God and "put into effect through angels."  They were left with two choices: repent or murder their accuser.

"the law that was put into effect through angels"  Although it is stated in Exodus that "angels" were involved in the giving of "the law," this verse is one of the places that states Moses received "the law" through the assistance of "angels."  "He said: 'The Lord came from Sinai and dawned over them from Seir; he shone forth from Mount Paran. He came with myriads of holy ones from the south, from his mountain slopes.'" (Deuteronomy 33:2)  "What, then, was the purpose of the law? It was added because of transgressions until the Seed to whom the promise referred had come. The law was put into effect through angels by a mediator." (Galatians 3:19)  "For if the message spoken by angels was binding, and every violation and disobedience received its just punishment," (Hebrews 2:2)

(8) The violent response to Stephen's message (7:54-81a)
"When they heard this, they were furious and gnashed their teeth at him. But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. 'Look,' he said, 'I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.' At this they covered their ears and, yelling at the top of their voices, they all rushed at him, dragged him out of the city and began to stone him. Meanwhile, the witnesses laid their clothes at the feet of a young man named Saul. While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, 'Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.' Then he fell on his knees and cried out, 'Lord, do not hold this sin against them.' When he had said this, he fell asleep. And Saul was there, giving approval to his death."

Thought Question:  Why do you think that Stephen was able to be angelic while his murderers were totally hellish?

 

 

"When they heard this, they were furious and gnashed their teeth at him."  "The mob had not time for the mediating voice of Gamaliel in this situation.  Such heresy deserved a death penalty—and not tomorrow.  In their vicious anger they could not wait to get their hands on him.  The text implies wild, jeering shouts of hatred and hostility.  They ground their teeth at Stephen, making a hissing sound.  This scholarly assembly of religious leaders had become a murderous lynch mob." "Taken from Acts by Kenneth Gangel.  Copyright 1998 by Broadman & Holman Publishers." 

Why did they become so hateful toward Stephen?  Down through the years, there have been many that religious leaders have hated in this way.  It can be put very simply.  There is a great deal of difference between men building their own religious kingdoms and men participating in the building of God's kingdom.  Men's kingdoms are built by men to glorify men.  Their goal is that men be honored—that they be honored.  God's kingdom is built by God and those who participate in the building of it desire that God alone will be honored and glorified.  Their goal is that God is honored and men, women, and children are served in Jesus' name.  If we are honest, we will admit how easy it is for us to be more like the men here who were furious with Stephen and how hard it is to be like Stephen.  These men were obviously building their own religious kingdom for their own glory, so that they could be in power.  When Stephen exposed their ugly motives, they were "furious"!

Are all churches and religious organizations led by men like Stephen and the early apostles?  Or, are there some or many religious organizations today that are like the religious empires of the Pharisees and Sadducees of Jesus' time and the early church?  Down through the centuries, many have been killed by religious empires.  It would be naive to think that there is nothing like this in our modern-day world?  We need to be careful to be like Stephen and not at all like those were about to murder him.

"But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. 'Look,' he said, 'I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.'"  We can see where Stephen's courage came from.  He was not focused on the fury of those who hated him, but on the glory of the One who loved him.

"'I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.'"  "The Son of Man" is a name Jesus often used to refer to Himself. For example, see Matthew 8:20, 12:8, etc.  See also Daniel 7:13-14  He describes His present position as "the Son of Man" "sitting at the right hand of God."  "But from now on, the Son of Man will be seated at the right hand of the mighty God." (Luke 22:69)  But here Stephen sees "the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God."  Why is He standing?  We cannot be absolutely sure, but it is most likely that Jesus was standing as a show of support for what Stephen was doing as the first to follow Him by dying in service to Him as he had died for mankind. See Mark 14:62, 16:19; Ephesians 1:20; Colossians 3:1; Hebrews 1:3

"At this they covered their ears and, yelling at the top of their voices, they all rushed at him, dragged him out of the city and began to stone him."  "The law of the land was clear; they had to wait at least one more day, and they needed approval from Roman authorities.  Obviously, this crowd no longer thought about law and order." "Taken from Acts by Kenneth Gangel.  Copyright 1998 by Broadman & Holman Publishers."  "It was mob violence like modern lynching that took the law into the hands of the Sanhedrin without further formalities." "Taken from Word Pictures in the New Testament by A. T. Robertson.  Copyright 1930 by Broadman Press." "The method of stoning was as follows.  The criminal was taken to a height and thrown down. . . . If the fall killed the man good and well; if not, great boulders were hurled down upon him until he died." "Taken from The Acts of the Apostles by William Barclay.  Copyright 1976 by Westminster Press."

"Meanwhile, the witnesses laid their clothes at the feet of a young man named Saul."  "Saul" later became the apostle Paul.  Paul describes his part in the stoning of Stephen in Acts 22:20.  "And when the blood of your martyr Stephen was shed, I stood there giving my approval and guarding the clothes of those who were killing him." (Acts 22:20)

Here, we see that Paul was a part of the stoning of Stephen.  Later on, he saw it with new eyes.  But at the time of the stoning, he felt that what he was doing was out of service to God.  "They will put you out of the synagogue; in fact, a time is coming when anyone who kills you will think he is offering a service to God." (John 16:2)

"While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, 'Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.' Then he fell on his knees and cried out, 'Lord, do not hold this sin against them.' When he had said this, he fell asleep."  The similarity between how Jesus died and how Stephen died are unmistakable.  Listen to Jesus' final words on the cross.  "Jesus said, 'Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing. . . .'" (Luke 23:34a)

Stephen's words humble us.  Can we pray these words and mean them about those who have deeply wronged us?  Just as Jesus forgave those who murdered Him, so Stephen forgave those who murdered him.

"When he had said this, he fell asleep."  "Fell asleep" means that he died.  "Fell asleep" is used as a figure of speech—a euphemism—for the death of a Christian.  "After he [Jesus] had said this, he went on to tell them, 'Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep; but I am going there to wake him up.'" (John 11:11) See also I Corinthians 15:18

"And Saul was there, giving approval to his death."  We see how much "Saul"—Paul—approved of Stephen's death in Acts 8:3: "But Saul began to destroy the church. Going from house to house, he dragged off men and women and put them in prison."

How could the man we have come to love through the acts of his life later in Acts and through his writing have been so blind that he did not see that Stephen was pure in his motives?  How could he not see that Stephen's motives were pure and that the motives of those who killed him were completely impure?  We see here how blind our deceitful hearts can make us.  "The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?" (Jeremiah 17:9)  Stephen forgave Saul who became Paul, and so did God!

 

Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION. ®   NIV ®   Copyright ©  1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission.  All Rights reserved.

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