Monthly Archives: January 2015

Acts 9:32-35

32Now as Peter traveled throughout all the area, he came down to the saints who lived in Lydda. 33There he found a man named Aeneas who had been bedridden for eight years, paralyzed. 34Then Peter said to him, “Aeneas, Jesus Christ heals you! Get up and make your bed!” And immediately he got up. 35And all who lived in Lydda and Sharon saw him, and they turned to the Lord.

 

Somehow through the years, someone began teaching the idea that Peter—and, by proxy, other Christians—had some sort of gift of healing. But a closer reading of the text will reveal that this just isn’t true. He was minding the Lord’s business, and his eyes lit on a paralyzed man. From this moment on, this miracle is quite similar to the one in Acts 3. Peter speaks to Aeneas and invokes the authority of Jesus Christ. In fact, Peter explicitly tells Aeneas that “Jesus Christ heals you!” (9.34). The end result of this miracle? The same as in Acts 3—many people turned to the Lord (9.35).

 

Let’s review. What happened in Acts 1? Jesus appointed the disciples to spread the gospel, right after they received the promise of the Father. They were together, having a single purpose and mind, waiting on that promise in the upper room. What happened in Acts 2? They received the promise of the Father? What happened after that? They were energized and empowered to boldly proclaim the gospel—and signs and wonders followed them. Don’t you wish church today was like that?

 

Actually, in many places around the world, it is.

 

What happened that caused our devolution to “Jesus Club?” There is no upper room. There is no trusting the Father to provide what He said. There is no togetherness—no “koinonia” partnership. There is no expectation to receive the Baptism in the Holy Spirit—in many corners, we no longer even believe that. And we wonder why there is no multiplying church, and no signs and wonders.

 

Peter didn’t heal Aeneas; Jesus did. Peter was simply a man of prayer and faith who walked in his calling. Until we rediscover the upper room, the togetherness, and the total reliance on the Father, the American Aeneases in our midst will only see churchy church people, not a powerful move from God. Rediscover the upper room with your church this week. Join in prayer. Be of one single purpose and mind. Earnestly wait for the promise of the Father. Seek the Baptism in the Holy Spirit. When you are part of a single-minded family like Peter was, God will indeed move on that body and transform it.

 

 

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Acts 9:26-31

26 And when he had come to Jerusalem, he attempted to join the disciples. And they were all afraid of him, for they did not believe that he was a disciple. 27 But Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles and declared to them how on the road he had seen the Lord, who spoke to him, and how at Damascus he had preached boldly in the name of Jesus. 28 So he went in and out among them at Jerusalem, preaching boldly in the name of the Lord. 29 And he spoke and disputed against the Hellenists. But they were seeking to kill him. 30 And when the brothers learned this, they brought him down to Caesarea and sent him off to Tarsus. 31 So the church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria had peace and was being built up. And walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it multiplied.

 

 

Saul has now journeyed from Damascus to Jerusalem, the center of this new faith being called The Way. The disciples have heard of him, and suspect that his presence in their city is a trap. It is Barnabas who leads the way in welcoming the new convert, and it doesn’t take long at all for everyone to become convinced of the veracity of Saul’s conversion. One of the things he did as he went “in and out among them” (9.28) was to “dispute” (συνεζητει) among the Hellenists. The Hellenists were the same Greek-speaking Jews who had executed Stephen, and they were now out to kill him, too. The fact that he is “speaking” and “disputing” demonstrate an ongoing action—a habit that he quickly makes. Note also that he is working together in conjunction with the church at Jerusalem—he is no “lone ranger” out fulfilling God’s call on his individual life. He is part of a cell, or group, that is bound by time and space. He is not just part of some metaphorical “Body of Christ;” that Body is manifest in a real, live, honest-to-goodness, geographically bound group of fellow believers who are working together with one purpose. And this church which itself is part of the Church is being “built up” (οἰκοδομουμενη) and “multiplying” (9.31) as it walks in the fear of the Lord and the comfort of the Holy Spirit (9.31). The natural progression of such a group—utterly dependent on the Holy Spirit—is to multiply.

 

Once again, the text points us to a core reason that the early Church was successful where the modern Church is failing. Once again, the text itself shines a light on the definition of “church” that contrasts wildly with the one we’ve come to believe in the last 150 years. They were a tightly-knit cell of people who were devoted to one another and never stopped working together. They worked together.

 

I once had a conversation with a dear couple who believed that they had been called to be evangelists. By this, they meant that they were under the impression that “church” was a place you went one or two weeks a month when you weren’t traveling to other churches to use your “gift” of evangelism. In addition to misunderstanding the idea of “gifts” as it’s taught in the New Testament (1 Co 12), they had also misunderstood the concept of “church.” Had they been walking as one body with the local cell group to whom they had committed themselves, their gifts and abilities would have been devoted to the local church, which in turn would have contributed to their growth and maturity as well. The notion that individual Christians are somehow acting distinctly from one another is a recent idea, and an unbiblical one. This foreign concept would never have crossed the minds of the early Christians.

 

If you are truly part of the “Church,” then you must devote yourself to the local church. The local church is the present manifestation of the entire Body of Christ, and to marginalize her is to disrespect her Husband. Your own growth and development is dependent on her as she grows in the fear of the Lord and the comfort of the Spirit—your growth is NOT a function merely of your devotional life. If you want to be a mature believer, devote yourself to the church, as it is devoted to the Church.

 

“He cannot have God for his Father who does not also have the Church for his mother.”

–Cyprian

 

 

Acts 9: 23-25

23When many days had passed, the Jews plotted to kill him. 24But their plot became known to Saul. And they were also watching the gates day and night in order to kill him. 25But his disciples took him by night and let him down through an opening in the wall, lowering him in a basket.

 

This tiny pericope demonstrates the arc of the Christian walk, writ small on the life of Saul. He is converted, he becomes an evangelist, time passes, adversity strikes, and God delivers. Who was Saul’s enemy? The same Satan who is yours. Who was Saul’s protector? The same God Who rescues you. And whom did God use to rescue Saul? The community of faith.

That’s the same community of faith to whom you belong—the Church. Cyprian famously said “He cannot have God for Father who does not have the Church as Mother.” We have devolved a long way from this New Testament view in our postmodern evangelical age. Now, we think of “salvation” as a personal, individual thing—as opposed to the corporate variety that is spoken of in 1 Corinthians and Philippians. Now we think it’s actually possible to walk the Christian walk by ourselves.

 

But no one in the New Testament saw it that way. No one then would have believed in such a myth. When Saul is rescued in the night, it’s the Church through whom God works. And when you grow spiritually, it’s in the Church that He founded. .

 

Are you one of those individualist Christians who thinks that “church” is about the message you hear? Do you sometimes believe that you’re in “church” by catching Ed Young’s podcast? You’re not really walking the walk until you struggle side by side with a group of fellow Christians who are devoted to each other (Philippians 1.12-30). If you’re trying to do this by yourself, you’re doing it wrong. Reach out and share someone’s struggle today.

Acts 9:19b-22

For some days he was with the disciples at Damascus. 20 And immediately he proclaimed Jesus in the synagogues, saying, “He is the Son of God.” 21 And all who heard him were amazed and said, “Is not this the man who made havoc in Jerusalem of those who called upon this name? And has he not come here for this purpose, to bring them bound before the chief priests?” 22 But Saul increased all the more in strength, and confounded the Jews who lived in Damascus by proving that Jesus was the Christ.

 

 

Ananias had taken the time to disciple Saul, and the young man had then spent a few days with the disciples in Damascus. But it didn’t take long for him to open his mouth and proclaim Jesus in the synagogues (9.20). This, as he knew all too well, was an extraordinarily dangerous decision—but he was compelled to do it by the call of the Lord on his life. The irony of his identity rocked the crowds as he preached, and he began to draw strength from his polemic position. He proved that Jesus was the Christ to them.

 

This is an interesting chapter in the gospel. Oftentimes, we’re told that the gospel just “spread.” Much of American fundamentalism has been predicated on the faulty notion that the gospel is its own independent entity that “spreads” all by itself. We have too frequently forgotten that what the gospel is “spreading” to is other people….and people need to be convinced of it. They need to be persuaded. The fundamentalist says “that’s the Holy Spirit’s job.” But the text demonstrates, over and over again, that the early evangelists took the time to lay out the case for Jesus as the Christ (Philip, Paul). As a hilarious aside, I’ve noticed that many of the people making this silly and spurious argument are people who don’t bother sharing the gospel with someone else anyhow.

 

This is really our purpose on the earth. Michelangelo was put here to create, Hendrix was put here to play, Staubach was put here to lead. We all have our gifts and talents and abilities, but those are just tools. Our purpose here is to tell others about Christ. First we live the gospel, then we share the gospel. The antipathy that society has toward the gospel has stopped us in our tracks: we dare not offend anyone or cause any eyes to roll. But sharing the gospel is our entire reason for existence.

 

And we should note that there is an intellectual element to it.

 

The fact that Saul stands in synagogues doesn’t just mean that he has spine…it also means that he stands in a congregation of YHWH-believers who know their stuff. He must think carefully about the gospel he’s sharing and how he will articulate it. He has studied history, literature, language, and theology—and this preparatory time that he took to learn those things comes in handy now as he proves to the Jews using their own scripture that Jesus is the Christ.

 

Somewhere (fundamentalism), we got the idea that the gospel is an unthinking proposition. We should begin to challenge that notion at every turn. The gospel is the greatest truth ever known…who told us that it wouldn’t require any capacity to learn and think? Pastors should be theologians, theologians should be pastors, and every Christians should be on a constant upward arc of learning and knowledge of God’s word.

 

And we should never stop finding ways to convince others of the veracity of the gospel. Convince someone today.

Acts 9:1-19a

1But Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. Now as he went on his way, he approached Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven shone around him. And falling to the ground he heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” And he said, “Who are you, Lord?” And he said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. But rise and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.” The men who were traveling with him stood speechless, hearing the voice but seeing no one. Saul rose from the ground, and although his eyes were opened, he saw nothing. So they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus. And for three days he was without sight, and neither ate nor drank. 10 Now there was a disciple at Damascus named Ananias. The Lord said to him in a vision, “Ananias.” And he said, “Here I am, Lord.” 11 And the Lord said to him, “Rise and go to the street called Straight, and at the house of Judas look for a man of Tarsus named Saul, for behold, he is praying, 12 and he has seen in a vision a man named Ananias come in and lay his hands on him so that he might regain his sight.” 13 But Ananias answered, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to your saints at Jerusalem. 14 And here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who call on your name.” 15 But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel. 16 For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.” 17 So Ananias departed and entered the house. And laying his hands on him he said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus who appeared to you on the road by which you came has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” 18 And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and he regained his sight. Then he rose and was baptized; 19 and taking food, he was strengthened.

 

 

he young Pharisee Saul is passionate about killing Christians. It is, he feels, his destiny. He is a jealous guardian of the Law of YHWH, and is absolutely offended at any form of worship that demolishes the middle wall of partition. But as it turns out, he’s not really in charge of his destiny. While on the way to do what HE wanted to do, God got his attention and changed that direction. In the case of Saul, the change was immediate. The experience at Damascus was so powerful that it left absolutely no doubt in his mind that Jesus was exactly Who the Christians said He was. He had met the risen Christ. Meanwhile, poor Ananias had to invite what he thought was a murderous enemy into his family’s house—the cost of faith. He trusted God rather than his own eyes and ears, and the result was the discipleship and healing of Saul…the transformation into Paul.

 

Have you met the risen Christ yet? We had a powerful church service yesterday morning in which He was present. He was there at small group last night when a young lady turned from her sin and trusted Him for her salvation—she met the risen Christ. He was the Guide of Ananias, who simply bloomed where he was planted. And he is gently leading you now. Ananias’ devotion to the Body of Christ is the model for us all, and Saul’s change to Paul is my own story. If you’ve met the risen Christ, you should follow the model of Ananias.

 

He knew what he knew…but he also had the sort of relationship with the Lord that He trusted Him more than he did his own knowledge. Casting aside the danger to himself and his family, Ananias trusted the word of the Lord and was able to disciple Saul into Paul.

 

Whom are you discipling today? Do you trust the will of God that you make room in your life for discipleship?

Acts 8:26-40

26 Now an angel of the Lord said to Philip, “Rise and go toward the south to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” This is a desert place. 27 And he rose and went. And there was an Ethiopian, a eunuch, a court official of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, who was in charge of all her treasure. He had come to Jerusalem to worship 28 and was returning, seated in his chariot, and he was reading the prophet Isaiah. 29 And the Spirit said to Philip, “Go over and join this chariot.” 30 So Philip ran to him and heard him reading Isaiah the prophet and asked, “Do you understand what you are reading?” 31 And he said, “How can I, unless someone guides me?” And he invited Philip to come up and sit with him. 32 Now the passage of the Scripture that he was reading was this: “Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter and like a lamb before its shearer is silent, so he opens not his mouth. 33 In his humiliation justice was denied him. Who can describe his generation? For his life is taken away from the earth.” 34 And the eunuch said to Philip, “About whom, I ask you, does the prophet say this, about himself or about someone else?” 35 Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning with this Scripture he told him the good news about Jesus. 36 And as they were going along the road they came to some water, and the eunuch said, “See, here is water! What prevents me from being baptized?”] 38 And he commanded the chariot to stop, and they both went down into the water, Philip and the eunuch, and he baptized him. 39 And when they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord carried Philip away, and the eunuch saw him no more, and went on his way rejoicing. 40 But Philip found himself at Azotus, and as he passed through he preached the gospel to all the towns until he came to Caesarea.

 

 

Once again, a pericope begins with Philip being sent to proclaim the gospel in a different place (8.26). And once again, Philip obeys (8.27). This time, an Ethiopian eunuch had come to Jerusalem to worship. A eunuch was a castrated individual who served in a royal court, so by Jewish law he would not even be allowed full worship privileges (Dt 23.1). He was most likely black, so this episode reflects the gospel jumping to a new ethnic group. He is already reading the Scripture, but simply is reading it inadequately. He needs someone to expound on it and give it context. Philip pounces on the opportunity presented to him, and leads the eunuch to trust Christ for salvation. Then he followed the Lord in baptism.

 

Philip and the eunuch were as different as night is from day. Yet Philip was able to speak to him directly about the gospel. Until we learn to engage people and people groups who are not like us and our own, we will fail. Until we fearlessly present the gospel in our daily engagements, we cannot hope to see the paradigm of the Acts church come to pass. Moreover, I think it is worth noting that Philip simply bloomed where he was planted. Wherever he was, he preached the gospel. And wherever that happened to be, it was exactly where God had sent him.

 

So where is God sending you today? And what are you going to do once you get there?

 

Acts 8:4-25

Now those who were scattered went about preaching the word. Philip went down to the city of Samaria and proclaimed to them the Christ. And the crowds with one accord paid attention to what was being said by Philip when they heard him and saw the signs that he did. For unclean spirits, crying out with a loud voice, came out of many who had them, and many who were paralyzed or lame were healed. So there was much joy in that city. But there was a man named Simon, who had previously practiced magic in the city and amazed the people of Samaria, saying that he himself was somebody great. 10 They all paid attention to him, from the least to the greatest, saying, “This man is the power of God that is called Great.” 11 And they paid attention to him because for a long time he had amazed them with his magic. 12 But when they believed Philip as he preached good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women. 13 Even Simon himself believed, and after being baptized he continued with Philip. And seeing signs and great miracles performed, he was amazed. 14 Now when the apostles at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent to them Peter and John, 15 who came down and prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit, 16 for he had not yet fallen on any of them, but they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. 17 Then they laid their hands on them and they received the Holy Spirit. 18 Now when Simon saw that the Spirit was given through the laying on of the apostles’ hands, he offered them money, 19 saying, “Give me this power also, so that anyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit.” 20 But Peter said to him, “May your silver perish with you, because you thought you could obtain the gift of God with money! 21 You have neither part nor lot in this matter, for your heart is not right before God. 22 Repent, therefore, of this wickedness of yours, and pray to the Lord that, if possible, the intent of your heart may be forgiven you. 23 For I see that you are in the gall of bitterness and in the bond of iniquity.” 24 And Simon answered, “Pray for me to the Lord, that nothing of what you have said may come upon me.” 25 Now when they had testified and spoken the word of the Lord, they returned to Jerusalem, preaching the gospel to many villages of the Samaritans.

 

 

As part of the scattering (“diaspora”), Philip ends up in Samaria. You might recall the words of Christ in the first chapter: that the disciples would be witnesses in Jerusalem, then Samaria, then the ends of the world. Now the gospel enters Phase 2 of this promise—going to the land of those hated by true Jews in the first century. The received the gospel willingly and spectacularly, with signs and wonders following. Two facts present themselves in this pericope: The Simon Factor and the Baptism in the Holy Spirit.

 

  • The Simon Factor. Simon had been a magician, which was a truly abominable practice. His activities had been worthy of death in ancient Israel, and he had made quite a name for himself doing it. When he got saved, it made no small stir. But we notice that, although Simon’s life was changed, it still needed changing: he was in pursuit of his own greatness more than that of the gospel. He needed a reprioritization; a humbling—a period of growth. Simon’s “salvation,” then, wasn’t a punctiliar moment in time, but a process.
  • The Baptism in the Holy Spirit. Look carefully at the order of events in this chapter, particularly verses 14-16: “Now when the apostles at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had receive the word of God, they sent to them Peter and John, who came down and prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit, for he had not yet fallen on any of them, but they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.” It was evident here that the Samaritans had received justification for their sins already. They had already been “saved.” They had begun the process of the life of sanctification that we call “salvation” (or at least the first part of it, until a person is with Christ). The early Church recognized that something was missing; that something further needed to happen. When they received the Baptism in the Holy Spirit, it is clear from this text that it was a second definite work—something in addition to “salvation.”

 

There are many people who believe that “salvation” is a single moment in time—that a person can always recall their “spiritual birthday” because that was the moment that their lives changed. As far as they are concerned, someone should be able to ask you when you were saved—and you should be able to respond with a day or date on the calendar. But that’s a little like someone asking you when you were alive. The “alive” bit is an ongoing process. It’s the same with salvation. There is a moment in which you turn INITIALLY from sin and trust Christ—and then there are all the moments afterward in which the Holy Spirit leads you through a twisting, turning, road of sanctification in which you grow in Him. We must stop thinking of “salvation” as a moment—the Bible indicates here that salvation and sanctification are functions of one another. Let’s not forget that Paul will eventually tell the Corinthians that “the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1 Co 1.18). Once we understand salvation correctly, we’ll not fall for that old hyper-Wesleyan silliness about wondering whether or not you’ve “lost” your salvation through error. As an Assembly of God minister, I hold to a classical Arminian position on soteriology: that is, a person doesn’t “lose” salvation…but is capable of changing his mind and rejecting it individually. But that is not the same as “losing” it—especially through sin. If a person can lose his salvation by sinning, then in what sense was is “salvation?” What, exactly, was he saved from—if sin got him in the end? I submit to you that salvation is the moment AND process by which you learn to trust Christ for your salvation—rather than your own obedience to a code. The Simon Factor proves this—a man who got saved, and then had more repenting and growing to do afterward.

 

Let us not overlook the significance of the Baptism in the Holy Spirit, as well. It is fair to wonder why the gospel spread so rapidly in those days. The reason: Jesus had promised that they would be empowered after receiving the promise of the Father. Once they had been baptized in the Holy Spirit, they became firebrands of the gospel. I submit to you that a church that does not evangelize is a church that is in need of a Holy Ghost revival. In the book of Acts, we see that the church saw this as a normative experience—not something “extra” that they could do without. They immediately sent Peter and John down to rectify the situation—implying that they placed a great deal of importance on the Baptism in the Holy Spirit. And look at verse 17: “then they laid their hands on them and they received the Holy Spirit.” How did they know? There must have been some sort of visible physical evidence in order for the early church to (a) know that the Samaritans weren’t yet baptized in the Holy Spirit, and (b) recognize that, after verse 16, they had been. Just what was this physical evidence? As we saw earlier and will see more times in Acts, there is physical evidence. This passage doesn’t list it specifically, but implies it; other passages will reveal it to be speaking in tongues.

 

The Baptism in the Holy Spirit is for all Christians. We are told to make disciples. In our own power, we are quite limited in this task. When we receive the Baptism in the Holy Spirit, we are empowered to do what Christ commanded. We should not see this as some mystical, unnecessary act: it was part of the normative behavior of the early Church—which spread supernaturally and was followed by mighty signs and wonders. Some might argue that this happened only for that generation, in order give the gospel a boost of some sort. But this view reduces God to an arbitrary figure who decided that THIS generation needed something from Him and THIS one over here does not. If God is unchanging and consistent, it seems inconceivable to view the early apostles as somehow “special” as human beings touched by God.

 

And this means that we should see the same stuff they did.

 

Our reading of this passage shows us that we should grow in Christ, unmarred by the worry of our salvific status. We should not be in pursuit of our own greatness, but His. We should be assured of His rescue of us—and we should seek the Baptism in the Holy Spirit, so that we may be empowered to make disciples.