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.
July 10, 2016
Paul’s status changed from prisoner to priest and from accused criminal to acting captain as everyone aboard the storm-driven ship began to listen to him. Although others may disregard our Christian testimony or even demean it, when storms come they often turn to the one who knows the Lord. This is what happened to Paul. Both the sailors and the soldiers were encouraged to hear his words.
July 9, 2016
Dr. Luke once again includes himself in the Acts narrative with the use of the first person plural “we.” This is the last of the four “we passages” found in Acts (Acts 16:10-17; 20:5-15; 21:1-8; 27:1-28:16). Although there is some debate about these passages, the simplest explanation is that Luke was actually an eye witness of these four events. This explains the great detail of these passages, where Luke even gives the name (“Julius”), rank (“centurion”) and company (“Augustan Cohort”) of the one responsible for transporting Paul to Rome to appear before Caesar. Throughout the account of their sea voyage to Rome, this Roman centurion showed favor to Paul, allowing him to receive comfort from his friends when visiting a port and protecting him from his soldiers when they were shipwrecked. Luke speaks so favorably of Julius, and they spent so much time together, that one must wonder whether he came to faith during this time. Will “we” meet Julius the Centurion in heaven someday?
July 8, 2016
When Felix, the Roman governor over Judea, heard Paul’s testimony, he accused him of being “out of his mind.” Felix recognized Paul as an educated man, referring to his “great learning” (v.24). Yet, Paul’s report of his vision of the resurrected Christ was too much for the Roman governor. He dismissed it as insanity. Paul’s response was notable. He replied that his testimony was both “true and rational.”
This reminds me of C.S. Lewis’ observation that the testimony concerning Jesus as the Christ can only rightly be answered in one of three ways:
1) It was false and Jesus knew it = Jesus was a LIAR.
2) It was false and Jesus didn’t know it = Jesus was a LUNATIC.
3) It is TRUE and Jesus proved it = JESUS IS LORD!
Felix dismissed Paul’s testimony as lunacy. Yet, many others believed. The truth is, many are “out of their minds” in this world. However, it isn’t those who believe, but those who reject Jesus as Lord, who have been given over to a “debased mind” (Rom.1:28).