Monthly Archives: March 2019

THE BOOK OF ACTS – THE WORD OF GOD PROSPERED

THE WORD OF GOD PROSPERED

“They went ahead and chose — Stephen, a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit, Philip, Procorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, Nicolas, a convert from Antioch. Then they presented them to the apostles. Praying, the apostles laid on hands and commissioned them for their work.

“The Word of God prospered. The number of disciples in Jerusalem increased dramatically. Not least, a great many priests submitted themselves to the faith.” Acts 6:5b-7 (The Message).

The church…what was it? An organization, or an organism? It must have begun as an organism. Jesus didn’t start with a committee or a council — He began with twelve followers and taught and imparted to them everything He could about the way God runs things in His universe so that they would come under His rule themselves and bring others who would believe in Him under His authority.

When He returned to the Father, having reconciled alienated sons to the Father through His death, He gave them the same Person who directed and empowered Him throughout His earthly life to live in them and perpetuate His life through them.

Like any human family, the infant church needed fathers to protect, lead and teach them and mothers to nurture them. As the needs arose so the apostles guided the people along the growth process. Sometimes, like any immature child, they needed discipline. All the while, the church was growing numerically and spiritually.

The evidence of God’s favour on His church was the unusual spurts of increase whenever a new phase was successfully negotiated. Every problem, sparked by the old human nature rearing its head, for example greed, as with Ananias and Sapphira, and racism, as happened with the distribution of food to the widows, became an opportunity to bring God’s way of doing things into the situation.

The church submitted to the leadership of the apostles who wisely consulted with the people but, at the same time, exercised their authority and issued the instructions which the people carried out. They were recognized and honoured as their legitimate leaders and no-one rebelled against them by setting up rival leadership.

Why did the early church function so well? The Apostle Paul’s letter to the Corinthian church gives us a clue. There were problems in the church. Paul put his finger on the root cause. “I appeal to you, brothers, in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another so that there may be no divisions among you and that you may be perfectly united in mind and thought.” 1 Corinthians 1:10 (NIV).

Why were there cracks in this group of believers? “My brothers, some from Chloe’s household have informed me that there are quarrels among you. What I mean is this: One of you says, ‘I follow Paul’; another, ‘I follow Apollos’; another, ‘I follow Cephas’; still another, ‘I follow Christ.’ Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptized into the name of Paul?” 1 Corinthians 1:11-13 (NIV).

When a leader wittingly or unwittingly connects people to himself instead of to Jesus, he sets up the potential for competition in the Body which will inevitably lead to the fracturing of unity which is exactly what the devil wants. Destroy the unity and you destroy the power of the church’s witness.

The answer? Jesus said, ‘Follow me,’ not anyone else. “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith…” Hebrews 12:2a (NIV).

THE BOOK OF ACTS – GROWTH BRINGS ITS OWN OPPORTUNITIES

CHAPTER 6 

GROWTH BRINGS ITS OWN OPPORTUNITIES

“During this time, as the disciples were increasing in numbers by leaps and bounds, hard feelings developed among the Greek-speaking believers — “Hellenists” — toward the Hebrew-speaking believers because their widows were being discriminated against in the daily food lines.

So the Twelve called a meeting of the disciples. They said, ‘It wouldn’t be right for us to abandon our responsibilities for preaching and teaching the Word of God to help with the care of the poor. So, friends, choose seven men from among you whom everyone trusts, men full of the Holy Spirit and good sense, and we’ll assign them this task. Meanwhile we’ll stick to our assigned tasks of prayer and speaking God’s Word.’

“The congregation thought that was a great idea.” Acts 6:1-5a (The Message).

It had to happen sometime! However idyllic the early church appeared to be, the people were still ordinary people, with evidences of their “humanness” coming through now and then. How this “racist” attitude crept in we do not know. Perhaps there was another “rotten apple” in the box who deliberately side-lined the Hellenistic widows; perhaps it was a simple oversight; perhaps it was an administrative omission. Who knows?

However it happened, it caused ill-will which had to be corrected quickly before their unity was compromised. What a lesson for us! Preserve unity which is a fundamental characteristic of a Spirit-led church and the Holy Spirit is free to move in the church and in the community.

Jesus set a great deal of store on unity. It was the zenith of His high priestly prayer in John 17. “‘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.'” John 17:20-21 NIV).

Why is oneness so important to God? God is one; He created us in His image to be one with Him and with one another. Unity of this nature is a supernatural work of the Holy Spirit but it is our responsibility to guard and maintain unity in the Body. “Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” Ephesians 4:3 (NIV).

A simple plan to delegate solved their problem and set the church back on course to be a witness to the unbelieving world that Jesus had come from the Father and that the Father loved them as He loved Him – (John 17:23).

The early church was a genuine product of “evolution” — not an organisation with a set structure but a living organism that developed as it grew. Its function determined its leaders, and the gifts of individuals and the needs they met determined their ministries.

It is heartening to see how the apostles knew and protected their ministry from “needs” that could easily have crowded out their calling. Here was godly wisdom in operation. They knew what they had to do and were not so high-minded that they took on everything themselves instead of sharing the load with suitable people.

How many spiritual leaders fall into this trap! Pastors and ministers can be so insecure that they are afraid to delegate in case someone overshadows them and threatens their ministry. It is the person secure in God and in his or her calling and gifting that can develop a team of people who minster effectively because:

  1. They do what they are called and gifted to do.
  2. They are not doing what they don’t like doing and are uncomfortable in.
  3. They are able to develop their gifts and skills doing what brings them joy and fulfillment.
  4. Many more people benefit from the wider ministry of the team.
  5. The church experiences the power and blessing of unity.

The church is a not a game with most of the members sitting on the grandstand watching the experts play. It is a family in which everyone takes part in family life so that they can all grow up together.

THE BOOK OF ACTS – HONOURED TO BE DISHONOURED

HONOURED TO BE DISHONOURED

“That convinced them. They called the apostles back in. After giving them a thorough whipping, they warned them not to speak in Jesus’ name and sent them off. The apostles went out of the High Court overjoyed because they had been given the honour of being dishonoured on account of the Name. Every day they were in the Temple and homes, teaching and preaching Christ Jesus, not letting up for a minute.” Acts 5:40-42 (The Message).

Isn’t this a rather strange way to react to an unfair whipping? What had these men done to deserve such drastic treatment at the hands of their justice system? Given people back their health and a better quality of life? Introduced them to the God who forgave their sin and gave them inner peace? What kind of crime was that?

The authorities might just as well have beaten them with an ostrich feather, for all the effect it had on the apostles. In fact, instead of deterring them, it made them even bolder and more determined to obey the Lord Jesus in spite of the consequences. Their response? They were honoured to be dishonoured for the Name of their Master.

What is the significance of that specific statement “for the Name”? In Hebrew thought a name had far more meaning than the handle by which a person was known. A name was a prophetic utterance of character. When a child was named it was sometimes a reflection of the circumstances of the child’s birth but often prophetic of what that child would become. “You are to give Him the name Jesus,” – “Saviour” (Luke 1:31b (NIV).

The name of Jesus is much more than His handle; it is the character of the Person whose name we carry. We have been given the name of Jesus to wear as the distinguishing garment of our identity. When we were baptised, we were immersed into the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit as representatives of the triune God; and those who wear His name are to be witnesses to the world of who He is and how He behaves towards all people.

The apostles were delighted to be dishonoured for the honour of wearing His name because He was willing to suffer disgrace in the eyes of man to rescue them, and us, from the clutches of the enemy. How different from the attitude of many so-called believers today. We whine and even walk away when God does not answer our “prayers” when we issue our instructions.

What did these incorrigible apostles do about the beating and the warning that went with it not to propagate the name of Jesus ever again? They went right back and carried on from where they were interrupted! No puny Sanhedrin had the power to stop them from obeying their divine Master.

Such was the focus of these men on the mandate they had been given to make Jesus known that nothing could veer them off course — not even the physical and verbal abuse of the highest court in their land. Their guiding star was, “We must obey God rather than men.” These were only unexpected interruptions which they brushed off like flicking off an irritating fly so that they could get right on with the task at hand.

If we claim to wear the name of Jesus we, too, must learn to flick off every irritating interruption to our calling to be His witnesses. It may not mean beatings and imprisonment, but it does mean not being fazed by the circumstances of living in a fallen world. Instead of whining, “Why me, Lord?” let’s get on with the business of being His witnesses by walking in the unshakeable confidence of who He is and serving a broken world with all our hearts.

THE BOOK OF ACTS – HANDS OFF THESE MEN!

HANDS OFF THESE MEN!

“When they heard that, they were furious and wanted to kill them on the spot. But one of the council members stood up, a Pharisee by the name of Gamaliel, a teacher of God’s Law who was honoured by everyone. He ordered the men taken out of the room for a short time, then said, ‘Fellow Israelites, be careful what you do to these men. Not long ago Theudas made something of a splash, claiming to be somebody and he got about four hundred men to join him. He was killed, his followers dispersed and nothing came of it. A little later, at the time of the census, Judas the Galilean appeared and acquired a following. He also fizzled out and the people who were following him were scattered to the four winds.

“‘So I am telling you: Hands off these men! Let them alone. If this programme or this work is merely human, it will fall apart, but if it is of God, there is nothing you can do about it — and you had better not be found fighting against God.'” Acts 5:33-39 (The Message).

Wise words! If only they had heeded them!

Gamaliel was the only one in the Sanhedrin with enough sense to realise that something was happening that was more than human. He was a contemporary of Jesus and one of the few rabbis in Israel with authority, having a following of disciples and teaching his “yoke” to them.

Apart from the threat to their own position of power and wealth, this new movement that was dubbed “The Way” had political implications for them as well. They were allowed limited power in Israel under the Roman governor responsible for this remote outpost of the Roman Empire. The, y could rule their people as long as they did nothing to stir up rebellion against Rome.

From time to time, as Gamaliel explained, there were uprisings led by hothead rebel leaders but nothing came of them because they were ruthlessly dealt with by Rome. But what was happening now was something bigger than they could handle. The Sanhedrin was aware of the threat of Roman intervention because the apostles were leading a revolt against the very foundation of Roman power – Caesar worship.

The Caesars played on the superstitious nature of their subjects by declaring themselves to be gods and demanding worship on pain of punishment. The password to favour was “Caesar is Lord” and that confession allowed the people to live a life relatively untroubled by the authorities.

Israel had long been a trouble spot in the empire. Rome had declared a truce with them by allowing them to worship their God and not be subject to the many gods recognised in the rest of the empire. That maintained an uneasy peace until this! A group of uneducated Galilean Jews were propagating a dangerous new teaching, that another Galilean peasant named Jesus, who had been put to death for blasphemy and treason, had actually risen from the dead and was claiming the title belonging to Caesar. They were adamantly declaring that “Jesus is Lord” and teaching that His resurrection was the proof.

What’s more, supernatural things were accompanying their preaching for which the religious authorities had no answer. The leaders of The Way were saying it was God and, instead of their action against them shutting it down, it only served to fan the flames and increase the popularity of the movement.

They could not understand where the courage and boldness of their leaders came from and they were afraid that, when the Roman authorities got to hear about it, it would spell the end for Israel.

Gamaliel was the only one who had the wisdom to recognise that this was something bigger than their blustering threats could deal with. “Let it take its course,’ he advised them, ‘and then we will know its origin.’ Wise words, Gamaliel! At least you had the sense to know where your power ended!

THE BOOK OF ACTS – STICK TO THE POINT

STICK TO THE POINT

“Bringing them back they stood them before the High Council. The Chief Priest said, ‘Didn’t we give you strict orders not to teach in Jesus’ name? And here you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and are trying you best to blame us for the death of this man,’

“Peter and the apostles answered,’ It’s necessary to obey God rather than men. The God of our ancestors raised up Jesus, the One you killed by hanging Him on a cross. God set Him on high at His side, Prince and Saviour, to give Israel the gift of a changed life and sins forgiven, and we are witnesses to these things. The Holy Spirit, whom God gives to those who obey Him, corroborates every detail.'” Acts 5:27-32 (The Message).

Aha! So that’s the reason for all this antagonism! The High Priest and his cronies have guilty consciences but they won’t admit it.

How blatant their refusal to acknowledge responsibility for killing Jesus! Who had Him arrested and condemned to death? Who led the frenzied demand for Him to be crucified and Barabbas released? Who mercilessly taunted Him while He hung on the cross? Little did they think that their actions would turn around and bite them!

The tragedy for them was that their guilt was shouting so loudly inside them that they were not hearing Peter’s message. Had they only listened, they would have heard God’s offer of unconditional forgiveness for them as well. Peter was not trying to nail blame on them. They already knew they were guilty. He was trying to show them the extent of God’s mercy towards them as well.

This was not an exercise in “naming and shaming” anyone. That’s not how God works to alert people to His offer of forgiveness. No, He does not wink at sin. He dealt with it by nailing it all on Jesus at the cross. He allows the conscience to do its work without rubbing people’s faces in their guilt. It is the Holy Spirit’s work to convince us of sin so that He can point us to the Saviour.

Until we acknowledge our guilt and take responsibility for our rebellion against God, we will be on the run like the religious hierarchy who were trying to shrug off their responsibility by compounding it! Peter and his fellow apostles stuck to the point. Why didn’t they? They were a heartbeat away from forgiveness, even for killing Jesus, and a new life of joy and freedom, but they refused to stick to the point.

Once again Satan was locked in combat for the lives of these men, but so obsessed were they about being in control that they missed their golden moment for handing over the reins to the true Master of their lives. They did not realise that the command centre was not in their hands but in the hands of their enemy, the devil. He was not interested in their well-being — only in their demise at their own hands because of their stubborn resistance to the One who could rescue them from themselves.

How tragic that people should be so suspicious of God, in spite of what He did for us at the cross, that they would rather run from Him than run to Him. Even some of those who claim to be followers of Jesus run from Him when guilt is exposed.

The true message of the cross is often obscured by the humanistic trend that makes the gospel a man-centred message. Peter stuck to the point. Jesus was crucified, yes, but God raised him from the grave and exalted Him to the highest place. He is both Lord and Christ and to Him every knee shall bow. Those who bow now are absolved from guilt and the penalty of their sin, and will enjoy the benefits of being united to their Saviour both now and in the life to come.

Those who refuse to acknowledge guilt will carry it into the life to come and the unthinkable penalty of separation from God, the place where the master they served in this life will serve out his sentence for eternity.

The choice is mine and yours…