Monthly Archives: February 2019

THE BOOK OF ACTS – DAVID IS DEAD

DAVID IS DEAD

“‘Dear friends, let me be completely frank with you. Our ancestor David is dead and buried – his tomb is in plain sight today. But being also a prophet and knowing that God had solemnly sworn that a descendant of his would rule his kingdom, seeing far ahead, he talked of the resurrection of the Messiah — ‘no trip to Hades, no stench of death.’ This Jesus God raised up. And every one of us here is a witness to it. Then, raised to the heights at the right hand of God and receiving the promise of the Father, He poured out the Spirit He had just received. That is what you see and hear.'” Acts 2:29-36 (The Message).

Someone once said, “Life is lived forward but understood backwards.” The same can be said about prophecy. Until it has been fulfilled, it is obscure and does not make sense. Once it has been fulfilled, it all comes together in an “o-o-oh” moment!

Peter must have been in his element when he preached his first sermon. All the Scriptures that he had memorised as a child came flooding into his mind through the revelation of truth from the Holy Spirit. What was once a mystery was now clear and it came pouring from his mouth in a torrent of declaration and, I guess, worship.

His message didn’t take hours to prepare, writing copious sermon notes and practising in front of a mirror or preaching to the dog! He stood up, opened his mouth and out it came with a fire that burned deep within him. It was graphic, logical and convicting, saturated in the Word and revealing the truth which cut the hearts of his hearers

Imagine what would happen in our world if those who proclaim the Word of God were energised by the Holy Spirit in the same way as Peter was. His sermon followed ten days of prayer and waiting on God.

Just as the life of the believer is a partnership between us and God, so also is preaching. Sometimes there is so much effort put into the technicalities of a sermon that the result is a carefully structured and crafted work of art which has no heart and no fire.

Peter got his message on his knees. It touched his heart first before it could touch any other. It flowed from his inner being through his mouth like a river and caught the hearers up in the mighty power of conviction.

Step by step, Scripture by Scripture, he built the throne, not David’s throne which the people were longing for God to re-establish, but a far greater throne, the throne of Jesus, David’s Son, to whom all the prophecies pointed and in whom they were fulfilled.

David was the greatest of Israel’s kings and the model against which every other king was measured. But, like every other mortal, he died and the proof of his death was still with them. David had spoken of a greater king, his descendant, who would not be a victim of the power of death. He died, yes, but death had no grip on Him because He had no penalty of His own to pay.

Imagine the energy Peter put into his triumphant declaration, ‘This Jesus God raised up’! It echoed around the building, stunning the people into silence and stabbing their hearts with shock and terror. “We killed Him. He’s alive again. What will He do to us now?” But Peter was not finished with them yet..

THE BOOK OF ACTS – BETRAYED – KILLED – RAISED UP

BETRAYED – KILLED – RAISED UP 

“‘Fellow Israelites, listen carefully to these words. Jesus the Nazarene, a man thoroughly accredited by God to you — the miracles and wonders and signs that God did through Him are common knowledge — this Jesus, following the deliberate and well-thought-out plan of God, was betrayed by men who took the law into their own hands, and was handed over to you. And you pinned Him to a cross and killed Him. But God untied the death ropes and raised Him up. Death was no match for Him…'” Acts 2:22-28 (The Message).

What was Peter to say on an occasion like this? The events of the past six weeks were fresh in the minds of his audience. Many of them had been in the city when Jesus was crucified. Passover was an important feast of the Jewish calendar. As pious Jews they would have come then and stayed for Pentecost.

They knew the events. Now it was time to understand their meaning. It was Peter’s role to interpret the prophetic Scriptures which would clarify everything for them.  True to the promise of Jesus, the Holy Spirit in them brought everything into sharp focus. Peter saw it all and was more than eager to explain what he himself had finally understood.

His famous first sermon was the outpouring of the revelation which had produced worship from the mouths of the disciples when the Spirit came. His mind was alight with the truth of the Old Testament which had lain dormant in him from his early childhood. It was all so clear and all so real!

What did Peter say? He began by quoting from the prophet Joel. ‘You think we are drunk or crazy. This isn’t something that just happened. God spoke about it centuries before through the prophet Joel. Like everything else God has done, He told us it would happen and now it has – just so that we will know it’s God.’

‘Jesus didn’t just happen either. God set it all up and then got it going. You and your unscrupulous leaders put God’s plan into action. They betrayed Him, handed Him over to you and you killed Him. But that didn’t work because God raised Him up again. Death had no permanent grip on Him and now He’s alive!’

What a bold and courageous thing to do! How could Peter have spoken like that when, just a few weeks before, he cowered before a serving maid in the courtyard of the high priest? Now he lays the blame for Jesus’ murder squarely at the door of his hearers. They could have easily mobbed and lynched him and all the others right there!

Instead of being apologetic, he declared the truth, loud and clear. But his intention was not to accuse or blame. He put their culpability in the context of God’s sovereignty and plan. Yes, they did it but God set it up because He had a higher purpose for His Son and for all who believe in Him. This was not about them. It was about Jesus.

When we compare the weak, tame preaching of the gospel in many streams of the church today – “Come to Jesus. He’ll forgive your sins so that you can go to heaven when you die” – with Peter’s startling declaration on the day of Pentecost, we miss the robust content of his message. ‘God planned it; you did it – killed Him by nailing Him to a cross. God had the last word; He raised Him up and He’s alive. Your little scheme didn’t work. And now? You are guilty. You will have to answer for what you did.’

What did Peter mean? Take ownership for your guilt. Only then does God’s mercy come into play. We were all guilty of murdering Jesus even if we weren’t there. Our sin was responsible for nailing Him to the cross. We can never receive mercy until we have received the verdict – guilty as charged.

“God presented Him as a sacrifice of atonement through faith in His blood. He did this to demonstrate His justice because, in His forbearance He had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished – He did it to demonstrate His justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who believe in Jesus.” Romans 3:25-26 (NIV).

THE BOOK OF ACTS – EVERY KIND OF PEOPLE

EVERY KIND OF PEOPLE

“That’s when Peter stood up and, backed up by the other eleven spoke out with bold urgency. ’Fellow Jews, all of you who are visiting Jerusalem, listen carefully and get this story straight. These people are not drunk as some of you suspect. They haven’t had time to get drunk – it’s only nine o’clock in the morning. This is what the prophet Joel announced would happen.'”

“In the last days I will pour out my Spirit on every kind of people…'” Acts 2:14-21 (The Message).

What made the sceptics think that the followers of Jesus were drunk? Were they staggering, slurring, speaking incoherently or lacking in judgment or without inhibitions? Were they outrageously joyful, perhaps dancing, singing and shouting? What were the critics saying about them?

They had certainly not lost control, like people drunk on alcohol. Those who witnessed their behaviour commented on one phenomenon — these people were communicating amazing things in their own languages. Drunken people don’t do that! Drunken people can hardly speak their own language coherently.

Although one of the gifts of the Spirit is the gift of speaking unlearned languages, this event was unique because it was the counterpart of the God’s proposal of “marriage” at Mount Sinai when He came down on the mountain with all the accompanying words and practices of a Hebrew wedding. At Pentecost they affirmed His proposal and the church – the Bride of Christ – was born.

It is not necessary for us to try to recreate Pentecost because it was a once-off event which inaugurated the church era. The Holy Spirit has never been withdrawn. According to Paul, we can grieve Him and we can quench Him, we can blaspheme Him but we cannot remove Him from the world. He has been given to mankind to implement the work of Jesus on earth and will continue to do so until Jesus comes.

The Holy Spirit’s ministry is threefold: He convinces the unbeliever of sin and draws him to Jesus; He convinces the believer of righteousness, teaching us about Jesus and reminding us of our standing in Him; He convinces the devil of judgement because he was judged at the cross.

Every facet of His work in the believer is related to our standing before God. The apostle Paul called Him “the Spirit of sonship”. “For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by Him we cry, ‘Abba, Father.’ The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children.” Romans 8:15-16 (NIV).

There is a phrase that is bandied about in certain circles of the church to distinguish between “ordinary” believers and those who have had a special “experience”, making them a cut above the rest. Christians are categorised by either being “born-again” believers, as though there are believers who are not “born-again”, or “born-again and Spirit-filled” believers, making them a little bit better than the rest!

Nowhere in the Bible do we find this distinction made. The Holy Spirit came at Pentecost and took up residence in the hearts of believers. No one can be a believer without Him. The issue is: not how much of Him we have but how much of us does He have. He came for and on every kind of people.

The plea of the New Testament writers is not “beg God to fill you with His Spirit” but “be filled with the Spirit” and “walk in the Spirit” and “be led by the Spirit” which puts the ball in our court. The key word is submission. The Holy Spirit is not primarily about gifts or goose bumps but about living and acting like sons of God because that’s who Jesus is and we are to be imitators of Him. Everything else follows according to the Holy Spirit’s initiative.

THE BOOK OF ACTS – DRUNK….ON THE HOLY SPIRIT

DRUNK…ON THE HOLY SPIRIT

“Parthians, Medes…..even Cretans and Arabs!

“‘They’re speaking our languages, describing God’s mighty works.’

“Their heads were spinning. They couldn’t make head or tail of any of it. They talked back and forth, confused. ‘What’s going on here?’

“‘Others joked, ‘They’re drunk on cheap wine.'” Acts 2:9-13 (The Message).

Confusion again! But the disciples were not confused – they had it all together for the first time. They had finally got it and were focussed on the right thing – the mighty works of God. No doubt they were telling the startled bystanders about Jesus, about His death and resurrection and about the forgiveness of sins and the kingdom of God.

As usual, there was a mixed reaction from the crowd. Some of them had no clue what was happening. They watched and listened with open mouths to these crazy people, mostly uneducated Galileans, who were now speaking their languages fluently and eloquently.

As usual, there were the sceptics and mockers among them who could not see beyond the end of their cynical noses. ‘Drunk!’ was their diagnosis, ‘and so early in the morning.’ They neither heard what they were saying, nor did they process it for their own benefit. They simply wrote them off as drunk and laughed at them.

Did the disciples know what they were saying? Probably not at first. They were simply celebrating this unique experience in the best way they knew how, by shouting out their joy, not realising that in it was a message and a sign for all the people around them. No longer would they secrete themselves behind closed doors. They had a story to tell to the world and the energy of the Holy Spirit to tell it in power and truth.

By sending the Holy Spirit to be in them forever God had initiated a partnership which guaranteed the effectiveness of their mission no matter where they went or what barriers and obstacles they met on the way. The same power that saturated Jesus was now saturating them and all those who would follow after them.

Why do we see so little of the evidence of Jesus’ presence in many parts of the church today? I guess there are many reasons why the church had slipped from being an exuberant organism to a sterile organization. Hosea’s diagnosis for Israel’s dismal failure to represent God to the world still holds: “My people are destroyed from lack of knowledge.” Hosea 4:6 (NIV)

Some groups, still believing that they are part of the church, have become nothing more than followers of a religion, practising rituals and keeping rules which have twisted the simple message and mission of Jesus so out of shape that it is no longer recognisable. Others have gone off the track, chasing the rabbits of theology, prosperity, titles and authority, and even mystical experiences, or majoring on minors to the extent that Jesus is buried under a thousand additions.

The early church experienced the undiluted power of the Holy Spirit working in and through them because they were in partnership with Him. They said what He said, did what He did and went where He sent them just like Jesus had done. Their eyes were on Jesus, their ears listened for His voice and their hearts were for Him.

Why have we lost the plot? Lack of knowledge! We have relied on others to tell us how to live and what to do instead of soaking ourselves in God’s Word and sticking to the simplicity of what Jesus taught and modelled. We have the same Spirit as He had, and we have the written Word to guide us – therefore we have no excuse for being so far from the truth.

It is imperative for the church to get back to Jesus’ command, ‘Follow me.’ Imagine what could happen in the world it we did!

THE BOOK OF ACTS – WHEN THE HOLY SPIRIT CAME

WHEN THE HOLY SPIRIT CAME

“There were many Jews staying in Jerusalem just then, devout pilgrims from all over the world. When they heard the sound, they came on the run. Then, when they heard, one after another, their own mother tongue being spoken, they were thunderstruck. They couldn’t for the life of them figure out what was going on, and kept saying, ‘Aren’t these all Galileans? How come we’re hearing them talk in our various mother tongues?'” Acts 2:5-8 (The Message).

The Bible is a unique book! Written by more than forty people from all walks of life over a period of 2000 years, it is a whole and tells one story. Approximately 4000 years before this event on the day of Pentecost, the entire human race spoke one language and lived together in one area. From one couple, Adam and Eve, they had multiplied and become many tribal groups.

They had become so wicked that God destroyed them with a universal flood, saving only Noah and his family and pairs of animals and birds of every species to repopulate the earth. His instruction was that they multiply and fill the earth.

There were three major tribes, descendants of Noah’s three sons, Shem, Ham and Japheth. Instead of spreading out across the globe as God intended, they decided to establish a rival religion in defiance of God. They built a ziggurat at a place later dubbed Babel, which meant confusion.

God knew that they would do anything to defy Him if they stuck together. The only way He could force them apart was to confuse their languages. They separated into their tribal and language groups when they could no longer understand one another. From that moment they moved farther and farther apart until they inadvertently had done what God wanted them to do, to fill the earth.

In their rebellion and sin against God, in whose image He had made man to be one with Him and with one another, they lived in conflict and war from that time onwards. It was the coming of Jesus, who brought reconciliation to God and man through His death and resurrection that made unity possible. What happened on the day of Pentecost was the beginning of the reversal of Babel.

Jerusalem was full of pilgrims from every part of the Roman Empire which was the civilised world of their day. Passover and Pentecost were the great draw cards and Jerusalem the hub of their religious festivals. There must have been a babble of dialects, in spite of Greek being the “lingua franca” of the time

Into this scenario came the unifying power and presence of the Spirit of God who had left man at the beginning when Adam and Eve decided to go it alone. In a mysterious and miraculous way the disciples, who had been together worshipping Jesus, were speaking in all the dialects represented in Jerusalem.

The people were astonished and even more so because most of the disciples were from an outskirt province –Galilee — and spoke with a distinctive accent which gave them away. They were despised by the Judean Jews because they were far more liberal than their Judean counterparts and influenced by their non-Jewish neighbours.

The unthinkable had happened. They were able to understand the speech of these Galilean peasants who had never learned their languages. How did that happen? The answer is God! He did it as a sign to the Jews but, even more than that, He reversed what had happened at Babel. The time had come to reconnect alienated people to one another because the reason for their alienation had been removed.

Jesus prayed for the unity of all believers which would be a powerful witness to His coming from God. Now it was happening. Babel was being overturned because Pentecost had happened and is still happening every time another person embraces Jesus as Lord.