July 6, 2017
Some of the same group of Jewish leaders who had accused Jesus before Pontius Pilate, now traveled to Caesarea to bring accusation against the apostle Paul before the Roman governor, Felix. This time, they hired a Roman orator and attorney named Tertullus to represent their case. He began his accusation by complimenting “noble” Felix and the Romans for the Pax Romana that they had brought to Judea. And in contrast, he named Paul, with ad hominem disdain, a “plague,” a pestilence, among the Jews throughout the Roman world. Yet, his climatic charge was that Paul was a “ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes,” using the same name that they had given Jesus, namely, Jesus of Nazareth.
The Greek word translated “sect” is the origin of our word for “heresy.” So, the Jews called the followers of Jesus of Nazareth, a heretical sect called “Nazarenes.” Muslims picked up this name and have called Christians by this same name since their invasion of Christian lands in the 7th century. Recently, the Christians in Mosul, Iraq, were labeled with the Arabic letter “nun” (“N” in our alphabet) by members of ISIS to show that they were “Nazarenes,” a name meant to shame them, but instead worn as a mark of faith by those so labeled.
The apostle Paul was essentially marked with the letter “N” for Nazarene. Yet he too, wore it not with shame, but with humble faith in the One who was first called the Nazarene.
July 2, 2017
The apostle Paul reported to James, the half-brother of Jesus (Gal. 1:19), and the Christian elders in Jerusalem concerning his missionary work among the Gentiles. They gave glory to the Lord when they heard his report. Yet, they also encouraged him to take steps to reconcile himself to the Jewish believers in Jerusalem by showing that he “walked orderly and kept the law” (Acts 21:25).
Paul submitted to the advice of James and the elders. Unfortunately, it was in the following of their advice that he was falsely accused by the mob and nearly beaten to death before being arrested by the commander of the Roman garrison.
Some would say that it was the following of the advice of James and the elders that led to Paul’s arrest. But Paul knew better. He knew that it was the Lord who guided his steps and determined his path. He knew that the Lord had sent him on an all-expense-paid trip to Rome to preach the gospel before Caesar.
July 1, 2017
Luke the physician and the traveling companion of Paul, gave detail of their arrival in Caesarea and their lodging at the house of Philip, one of the seven original deacons. This was Caesarea Maritima (not to be confused with Caesarea Philippi), which was built by Herod the Great and named after his patron, Caesar Augustus. Paul had come and gone out to sea many times from this amazing man-made harbor, but this would be the last time that he did so as a free man. The next time he would appear in Caesarea it would be in chains, just as the prophet Agabus had warned.
At Caesarea, he would appeal to Caesar as he stood before the Roman governor, Festus, and Herod Agrippa. At Caesarea, he would make his defense, so that Agrippa replied, “Almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian” (Acts 26:28). At Caesarea, Paul would depart for Rome, never to see Jerusalem again. Yet, he was willing to give his life to carry the gospel to the center of the Roman world.
June 17, 2017
Jesus had instructed His disciples that they were to be His witnesses to the “end of the earth” (Acts 1:8), yet it wasn’t until after the persecution in Jerusalem that they truly began to fulfill His call. As they scattered throughout the Roman world, great numbers of people turned to the Lord, especially among the Gentiles. Persecution had actually resulted in proliferation. The gospel went out across the world!
Are you going through a season of trouble? Perhaps the Lord is moving you out of your comfort zone to a place where the gospel can spread. Sometimes the Lord scatters us, in order to scatter the gospel seed to those whose hearts He has prepared to hear.
June 16, 2017
The Roman centurion, Cornelius, had sent for the apostle Peter and upon hearing that he was on the way, he “called together his relatives and close friends” to meet and hear him. Cornelius wanted everyone he cared about to hear the gospel. Have you invited your relatives and friends to hear the gospel? Have you “called” them to come with you to follow Jesus?
June 13, 2017
Saul the persecutor became Paul the preacher. Within days of his Damascus road experience with Jesus, Saul was preaching Christ in the synagogues. His passion for killing Christians had been replaced with a passion for making them. Why? Because he had encountered the risen Christ and believed. And he wanted everyone to know what Christ had done for them.
Are all believers immediately called to making disciples for Jesus? Paul certainly thought so.
June 9, 2017
Stephen’s defense before the Jewish council was amazing in its span and understanding of Jewish history. He offered a condensed version of the Old Testament story starting with Abraham and steadily progressing to the 1st Century time of Jesus. But it wasn’t just a summary. It offered profound spiritual insights on the ancient faith story.
Consider the Moses part of the story. Here, Stephen described not only the facts of Moses’ life, but his motivations. Stephen described Moses as being aware of his God-given calling to be the deliverer of Israel when he was only 40 years old. So, when he fled to Midian after killing the Egyptian, he wasn’t just fleeing Pharoah’s judgment, he was fleeing God’s call.
Stephen’s commentary on the Old Testament helps us understand the storyline from God’s perspective. He establishes the best practice for our reading today. For the best way to understand the Old Testament is through the lens of the New Testament and through the person of Jesus.
Stephen tried to help the Jewish council understand that their history had always pointed to Jesus, that He was the fulfillment of their Hebrew Scriptures. Yet, they would not believe. And they sentenced Stephen to be stoned to death.
June 8, 2017
It didn’t take long for the early church to experience the complaints of its members. The apostles had apparently started a food distribution ministry to the widows, but the church had grown so rapidly that the size of the task had become overwhelming. Plus, the Greek background believers complained that the Jewish background believers were neglecting their widows. What began as a complaint about unfair food distribution had become an accusation against the apostles of racism.
Depending on how the apostles responded, this problem could have either split the early church or severely slowed it down. If they had turned a deaf ear to the complaint and done nothing to address it, the disunity probably would have split the church. But if they had focused the work of the apostles on working at the tables to distribute food fairly, then they would have neglected their true calling, namely, the ministry of the Word and prayer, which would have severely slowed the growth of the church.
However, the apostles responded wisely, gathering the people together, they asked for seven men to be appointed as “deacons” (Greek: diakonos – “servant”) to administer the widow ministry and to address the disunity. In this way, they wisely delegated this ministry, so that they didn’t neglect their own ministry calling.
The first-century church offers a wise paradigm for ministry in the 21st-century church. It is wise to set apart certain ministers to focus on caring for the physical needs of the flock. But it is equally wise to set apart pastors who are to focus on preaching and teaching the Word and praying for the flock. Both are needed in the church today.
June 3, 2017
Just before His ascension, Jesus told the apostles to wait in Jerusalem for the promised Holy Spirit, so that they would receive power to be His witnesses. They obeyed. The remaining eleven disciples gathered in an upper room in Jerusalem “with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with His brothers.”
Those scattered in fear by Christ’s crucifixion were now gathered in faith by Christ’s resurrection and ascension. Even the brothers of Jesus were in “one accord” with the disciples now, having come to faith after His resurrection.
This little band of believers “continued” in united prayer over the next ten days while the rest of Jerusalem lay unaware of the spiritual earthquake that was about to turn the world upside down for Christ.