Sunday – March 8, 2020
Word On Worship – Sunday – March 8, 2020
Sunday – March 1, 2020
The high priest said, “Are these things so?” And he said, “Hear me, brethren and fathers! The God of glory appeared to our father Abraham when he was in Mesopotamia, before he lived in Haran, 3 and said to him, ‘LEAVE YOUR COUNTRY AND YOUR RELATIVES, AND COME INTO THE LAND THAT I WILL SHOW YOU.’
It was charged that Stephen had spoken blasphemous words against Moses and also against God. This developed into the more specific accusation that he never ceased to speak against “this holy place and the law” (Acts 6:13) and teaching “Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place and will change the customs that Moses delivered to us” (Acts 6:14). In other words, Stephen is accused of teaching what Jesus taught. And what Jesus taught, so far as Stephen’s accusers claimed, was He would destroy the temple (with Jerusalem) and the customs which the Jews attributed to Moses (even though they were man-made traditions that violated the law of Moses).
As one can quickly sense, Stephen’s sermon is hardly a defense as we know it. Stephen is not seeking to prove his innocence, but rather he is strongly indicting his accusers for their guilt. Stephen is the prosecutor, so to speak, and is not acting as an attorney for his own defense. His opponents are upset because Stephen, like Jesus, emphasized the Abrahamic Covenant over the Mosaic Covenant. This is because salvation comes through the Abrahamic Covenant, not through the Mosaic Covenant. It all began with Abraham, Stephen is saying, and the covenant God made with Abraham.
Stephen is certainly not pleading for his life here. He is pressing charges against his accusers, for it is they who have blasphemed God. It is they (and their ancestors) who have rebelled against Moses and the prophets. They are a stubborn people, just as God had often said of them. Stephen had to know what lay ahead for him. Luke tells us what enabled Stephen to continue to stand fast, dying in a way that underscored the truth of his faith and of his sermon. Full of the Spirit, Stephen looked into heaven, which opened for him, showing him what lay ahead. He beheld the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God.
In Stephen, God offers the Sanhedrin a second chance. He is being accused of the very things which were the real reasons for Jesus’ rejection and execution by this same body. This was their golden opportunity to confess their sin with regard to Jesus, and to acknowledge Him as Israel’s Messiah. Instead, they even more strongly rejected the gospel. And in so doing, they reaffirmed their sin and their guilt in rejecting and crucifying Jesus. The irony of all this is that because when they rejected Jesus once again, they not only confirmed their guilt; they brought on the very destruction they opposed in the preaching of Jesus and the apostles.
Sunday – February 23, 2020
“Now Stephen, a man full of God’s grace and power, did great wonders and miraculous signs among the people.”
Stephen was described as a man who was both “full of the Spirit and wisdom” (6:3) and as one who was “full of faith and of the Holy Spirit” (6:5). His ministry to Hellenistic widows seems to have put him in contact with a great many Hellenistic Jews. Through Stephen, among the Hellenistic Jews, God accomplished many “great wonders and signs” (6:8). Feeding the widows gave Stephen a much greater exposure and the opportunity to function in a way that was similar to the twelve apostles. The mention of Stephen’s ability to perform “signs and wonders” is very significant. Up to this point, only the apostles were said to have worked signs and wonders. Since the twelve apostles would remain in Jerusalem after the church was scattered (Acts 8:1), it would seem that Stephen (here) and Philip (Acts 8) would serve as apostles to a more diverse group.
We are not told how the power to perform signs and wonders came upon Stephen. Had we been told, we would probably find this viewed as a formula by which saints are to manipulate or persuade God into acting as we would desire. Every indication is that both Stephen and the apostles were surprised by his ability to perform such miracles. It was not because Stephen “prayed through” the right formula nor because of the apostles, of their training, of discipleship, or ordination that these signs and wonders were performed. The simplest explanation for the mighty power which Stephen possessed was that the sovereign God had purposed to make him an apostle, in His own time, and in His own way.
In previous sermons in Acts, many have been saved. Here (and for the first time), the preacher is put to death. God prospers some sermons in the salvation of many, but He also uses sermons for other purposes, as here. We also see that there is an evangelistic thrust, resulting from this sermon. This is an evidence of God’s sovereign control. Those who are saved are not the audience of Stephen, but the Samaritans and Gentiles who will be saved because of the persecution resulting from Stephen’s death. Without knowing it, these Jews are propelling the gospel beyond Jerusalem to the very places from which they have come. Many will be saved because of the sermon and the death of Stephen. And the one who was a part of Stephen’s death—Saul—will be God’s chosen instrument to reach the Gentiles.
No wonder Stephen, a man who was “full of faith and the Holy Spirit,” did not fear death and did not revere the physical temple in Jerusalem. He was a man who “saw” a better temple and whose hope was not earthly. He was free to die, as were the saints of old, because of His faith in God and the promises which were sure to come. May we be more like this great man of old whose life and ministry were short but significant.
Sunday – February 16, 2020
So the Twelve gathered all the disciples together and said, “It would not be right for us to neglect the ministry of the word of God in order to wait on tables. Brothers, choose seven men from among you who are known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom. We will turn this responsibility over to them 4 and will give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the word.”
Someone has said, “If you ever find the perfect church, don’t join it because you will spoil it!” I often tell the new members class, “I promise that if you join this church, we will at some point offend you.” Or, as some wag put it, “To dwell above with the saints we love, O that will be glory! But to dwell below with the saints we know, well, that’s a different story!” To have been in the early church would have been a wonderful experience to see God was working in powerful ways. But the early church was not a perfect church. We’ve already seen the problem of hypocrisy, with Ananias and Sapphira. Now Luke shows us another problem that occurred in the midst of this phenomenal growth: a complaint arose that threatened to split the church.
It is significant that the apostles did not say, “It’s time that we divide the church up into the First Hellenistic Church of Jerusalem and the First Hebrew Church of Jerusalem.” They never considered division as an option. Even though these two groups had diverse backgrounds and even different mother tongues, they wanted to work this problem out in a spirit of unity, not division.
Not even the apostles could do it all. They were gifted and called to the ministry of prayer and preaching the Word. They were not control-freaks, who had to direct every aspect of church ministry. They were willing to delegate responsibility to other godly men who could deal with the problems. One key to solving church problems is to recognize and implement the division of labor on the basis of spiritual gifts. No one man or group of men, however gifted, can carry on the work of the local church. It is only when every member gets involved in serving in accordance with his or her gifts that the church will be strong.
The church is primarily an organism—the living body of which Christ is the head. But all organisms are organized. It is a mistake to over-emphasize organization to the neglect of organism. It is also a mistake to over-emphasize organism and neglect proper organization. The solution was the blend between apostolic direction and congregational participation. The apostles did not choose these seven men; they delegated that job to the congregation after giving the necessary qualifications. The congregation brought the seven back to the apostles, who validated the choice by praying and laying hands on them. The church is not a democracy, but wise elders will involve the congregation on important decisions. The entire church must be functionally under the headship of Jesus Christ, seeking to honor Him and follow His will.
Sunday – February 9, 2020
But during the night an angel of the Lord opened the doors of the jail and brought them out. “Go, stand in the temple courts,” he said, “and tell the people the full message of this new life.”
The early church in the Book of Acts experienced the Lord’s power through the many miracles performed by the apostles, and through powerful witness and the resulting powerful conversions of the Jewish population of Jerusalem. Jesus had told the apostles that they would receive power when the Holy Spirit came upon them to be His witnesses and Peter testified to the Sanhedrin that it was the Holy Spirit in them that was the source of their power (5:32).
Many say that if the church would only repent of her sins and have faith in God, then we would again see miracles on a par with these recorded in the Book of Acts. But I believe such thinking not to be in line with biblical teaching. It was not every church member who was performing these miracles, but rather the apostles and a few other leading men in the church. The purpose for God granting these miracles was to confirm the gospel message and to authenticate these men as God’s messengers in these early days of the church.
While God obviously still does mighty miracles in our day if He so chooses, to argue that it is His will to do them as a common occurrence is to ignore the overall teaching of God’s Word. Many fail to note that while the apostles performed many great miracles, and the angel miraculously delivered them from prison, the angel did not spare them from being flogged. (There is a bit of humor here: since the Sadducees did not believe in angels, the Lord sent one to deliver the apostles!) God did not deliver James (12:2) or Paul from prison (Acts 24:27) or spare them and most of the other apostles from martyrdom. Paul did not heal Trophimus (2 Tim. 4:20) or tell Timothy to claim healing by faith for his frequent stomach problems (1 Tim. 5:23).
On the one hand, we should never limit God’s power by our unbelief or by our rationalistic theology. We should pray in faith, knowing that all things are possible with God. Yet on the other hand, we should submit to the fact that it is not always His will to deliver us from illness, persecution, or death. Above all, we should be people who are “strengthened with all power, according to His glorious might, for the attaining of all steadfastness and patience; joyously giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified us to share in the inheritance of the saints in the light” (Col. 1:11-12). I would point out that you don’t need steadfastness and patience if God miraculously delivers you! We see God’s mighty power in our text, not only in the miracles of healing, but also in the disciples rejoicing that they had been considered worthy to suffer shame for His name.
Sunday – January 26, 2020
As they were speaking to the people, the priests and the captain of the temple guard and the Sadducees came up to them, being greatly disturbed because they were teaching the people and proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection from the dead.
Most of us don’t know much firsthand about persecution for the sake of Christ. The threat of someone rejecting us or thinking that we’re weird is enough to make cowards of us when it comes to witnessing. We don’t know what the council said by way of threats, but if Peter and John continued to proclaim the resurrection of Jesus Christ, they would pay a severe price. But rather than saying, “Yes sir, we’ll be more restrained in the future,” they said, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to give heed to you rather than to God, you be the judge; for we cannot stop speaking about what we have seen and heard” (4:19).
There are two common misconceptions that we need to keep in mind regarding opposition or persecution for our faith. The first is that if we’re faithful to the Lord, He will protect us from persecution. I’ve heard many Christians say something like, “I don’t understand what’s happening. I was faithful to the Lord, but I’m being attacked by my co-workers or friends. Why isn’t the Lord protecting me?” The Old Testament prophets were bold and faithful witnesses, but many of them were persecuted and killed. John the Baptist, the twelve, the apostle Paul, and the Lord Jesus Himself all were faithful witnesses who suffered much because of their faithfulness to God. Paul promised, “Indeed, all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Tim. 3:12).
The second misconception is that persecution comes mainly from those outside the church. We expect the world to oppose the name of Jesus, but for some reason, we are surprised when those who profess to be Christians that attack us. But it was the religious establishment that opposed the prophets. The religious leaders opposed and crucified our Lord. Here the religious rulers lead the opposition against the apostles. The Sadducees were mainly wealthy priests who wanted to protect the status quo in order to preserve their wealth and influence over Jewish affairs. The chief priest and the high priests were all Sadducees, along with the captain of the temple guard.
As then, so it has been down through church history. Opposition to those who preach the gospel and who uphold God’s Word often comes from the religious establishment, whose power and privileges are threatened. In countries where the Roman Catholic Church or the Orthodox Church are strong, they are the source of most opposition to the gospel. In our country, theological liberals, who deny the resurrection, are often our main opponents. But, Spirit-filled witnesses are bold to obey God rather than the religious establishment, even if it means persecution. If we want to be confident witnesses, we must daily be filled with God’s Spirit.
Sunday – January 5, 2020
“Now when they heard this, they were pierced to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brethren, what shall we do?” 38 Peter said to them, “Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”
The number one fear that people have is the fear of speaking in public. It ranks ahead of the fear of death! The fear of speaking in public would increase if a person knew that he would be speaking to a hostile audience. And, you have no time to prepare your message. The opportunity presents itself and you’re on—without any notes! This was the situation facing Peter on the Day of Pentecost. The sound of the rushing wind from heaven had drawn a large crowd, which then heard all the apostles speaking of the great deeds of God in the many different native languages of the crowd. This perplexed them as they asked, “What does this mean?” (2:12).
Peter will now take his stand, along with the rest of the apostles, and give them the explanation of Pentecost, its meaning, and its implications. Peter did not hesitate to tell his audience what Pentecost did mean. He quickly turned their attention to the prophecy of Joel. Peter was claiming what these Jews had witnessed was the outpouring of the Spirit. But there was much more to it than that. The question was not so much the source of this phenomenon, but the meaning of it. In the context of Joel’s prophecy, the outpouring of the Holy Spirit was a sign which was to precede the coming “day of the Lord”. The “day of the Lord” was not only the day when the kingdom of God would be established on the earth and God’s promised blessings would be poured out on His people, Israel. It was to begin with judgment.
Peter did not know how soon these judgments would take place (since Joel does not indicate such). He was not claiming that they had been fulfilled on the Day of Pentecost; rather, he is saying that these things would precede “the great and glorious day of the Lord.” Since the prophecy had begun to be fulfilled, as evidenced by the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, it is reasonable to assume that the rest will come to pass in due time. Peter’s point is that the outpouring of the Spirit predicted by Joel has happened. The Messianic age has begun.
There is a coming day of judgment for us, one way or the other. That day of judgment may come before our death or it may come after, but there is a day of judgment (Hebrews 9:27). To the threat of eternal judgment is God’s offer of salvation, to all who will “call upon the name of the Lord.” By admitting your sin, and by trusting in Jesus of Nazareth as God’s Messiah and your Savior, you will be forgiven, receive the gift of the Holy Spirit, and look forward to the coming kingdom of God and all of its blessings. Have you, in simple faith, done this? I pray that if you have not, you will, even now.
Sunday – December 29, 2019
“When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly there came from heaven a noise like a violent rushing wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting.”
God purposed to send His Spirit to the church during the Feast of Pentecost because this Old Testament feast foreshadowed Pentecost. Paul calls attention to this relationship between Old Testament institutions and New Testament realities in Hebrews 10:1 “For the law possesses a shadow of the good things to come but not the reality itself, and is therefore completely unable, by the same sacrifices offered continually, year after year, to perfect those who come to worship.”
The Feast of Pentecost (or, more commonly in Old Testament terms, the “Feast of Weeks”) was to be celebrated 50 days after the offering of the first fruits. In this way, we can see that Pentecost followed Passover, but was actually 50 days after the offering of first fruits. It occurs in the third month of the Jewish calendar, which would be during the months of May or June on our calendar.
Like the Feast of Unleavened Bread, the offering of Israel’s first fruits followed shortly after the observance of the Passover meal. The presentation of the first fruits always occurred on the day after Sabbath, or Sunday. Sunday after Passover was also the day our Lord Jesus rose from the dead, the first fruits from the dead (1 Corinthians 15:20). Fifty days later, Israel celebrated the Feast of Pentecost. This was the end of the barley season (the Old Covenant?) and the beginning of the wheat harvest (the New Covenant?). It was the time when God identified Himself with the church, the time when He endowed the saints with power so that they could carry out the Great Commission. It was the time when God came to indwell His saints in a way that was more intimate than any saint had ever experienced it. It was the time, thanks to the atoning sacrifice of Jesus on the cross, when God could now indwell those who were not yet free from sin and its corrupting influences. God dwells among and in His people, sinful though they will be, because of the atoning sacrifice of the Lord Jesus.
What does Pentecost mean to us? The story of Pentecost in Acts 2 tells us how our Lord is now present with His church – through the Holy Spirit, whom He has sent. Pentecost assures us that God is present with His people, even though we are not yet sinless. We are forgiven sinners, who will one day be freed from the suffering and groaning that is the result of sin (Romans 8:18-25). But through the atoning work of Christ and the abiding of the Spirit, God is with us in a way that no Old Testament saint ever knew. He is with us, not only to teach, comfort, and guide us, but also to empower us to carry out the Great Commission. What news could be better than this?
Sunday – December 15, 2019
“‘When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest. Leave them for the poor and the alien. I am the Lord your God.’“
As we saw last week, the Holy Spirit was active before Pentecost. In the Old Testament, we saw the Holy Spirit of God striving against sin (Genesis 6:3), enduing men of faith with skill (Exodus 28:3; 31:2-5; 35:21-35), empowering them for service (Judges 3:10, 34; I Samuel 10:6), and causing some to speak God’s message as prophets (Numbers 24:2; II Samuel 23:2; II Chronicles 20:14). But none of the old testament saints knew Him as the disciples came to know Him at Pentecost. The Pentecostal Person is no less God than is God the Father, and in the Old Testament was even more active than God the Son.
Pentecost was a divinely planned event; not an afterthought with God. The coming of the Holy Spirit was as much a part of the redemptive plan as was the incarnation, death, resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. Pentecost was in the Old Testament in type and in prophecy. Pentecost was a solemn festival of the Jews. There was a series of seven of those annual feasts which, like the whole of Israel’s divinely appointed ritual, were “a shadow of good things to come” (Hebrews 10:1).
These feasts are set forth in order in Leviticus 23. The first of the feasts was the Passover (v. 4- 5). This was the feast of redemption, reflecting upon Israel’s deliverance from her bondage in Egypt. The next was the Feast of Unleavened Bread (v. 6-8). It was closely associated with the Passover and lasted seven days. The third was the feast of Firstfruits (v. 9-14). There was no set date for this event since it came, of necessity, when the grain was ripe and ready for harvest. The fourth of the solemn feasts is called the feast of Weeks, or Pentecost (v. 15-21). The joyous season of the grain harvest lasted seven weeks, and on the day of the seventh sabbath, “fifty days” to be exact, the feast of Pentecost was celebrated. Now we begin to see more clearly the deeper significance of Israel’s solemn feasts. The Greek word for “Pentecost” means fiftieth, and it was celebrated the fiftieth day from the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. It was “the day of Pentecost” (Acts 2:1) when Jew and Gentile were made fellow heirs and of the same body by the Holy Spirit.
There is no record in the Bible of Israel observing the feast of Weeks until we read of Pentecost in Acts 2. The grace of God in Jesus Christ was to reach out beyond the limits of Israel, and Pentecost marked the beginning of the fulfillment of the divine plan, the Gospel into all the world. We should bow in humble gratitude and praise to God when we realize that the birthday of the Church was in preparation through every stage of human history.
Sunday – November 24, 2019
“So they proposed two men: Joseph called Barsabbas (also known as Justus) and Matthias. Then they prayed, “Lord, you know everyone’s heart. Show us which of these two you have chosen to take over this apostolic ministry, which Judas left to go where he belongs.” Then they cast lots, and the lot fell to Matthias; so he was added to the eleven apostles.”
As I approach the study of the first chapter of Acts, one question overshadows all others, and it is this: Just whose name would be on the foundation in place of Judas? Who was the twelfth apostle? In the twenty-first chapter of the Book of Revelation we read these words: The wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them were the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb (Revelation 21:14). Is the name “Matthias” the name which we will find on the twelfth foundation stone? Some would say, “Yes”; others, an emphatic “No!”
Only one chapter is devoted to pre-Pentecost matters, this tells us something. Of all that could have been said that fits into this category, Luke chose to take up the greatest part of the chapter with an account of the selection of the twelfth apostle. The mystery is that as important as this incident seems to be, Matthias is never specifically mentioned again. The rest of the Book of Acts, and the Epistles as well, virtually ignore Matthias. Why then is the selection of Matthias given such editorial priority? While we are preoccupied with this question, Luke does not seem to have been so troubled by the issue, never choosing to pronounce on the “rightness” or “wrongness” of this action.
The feeling that we must pronounce on the “rightness” or “wrongness” of this selection of Matthias reveals a serious fallacy in our thinking. What real difference does it make whether the apostles were “right” or “wrong”? We seem to think it makes a great deal of difference. But does it? Do we believe the plans and purposes of God collapse when men fail to do the “right” thing? Do we really believe God’s purposes are achieved only when we do the “right” thing? If the Book of Acts underscores any truth, it is that of the sovereignty of God, who works all things in accordance with His will, whether or not men believe or obey. Much of what the Spirit of God accomplished in the Book of Acts was in spite of men.
God can just as easily use the “wrath of man” to accomplish His will as He can the obedience of man. The Gentiles will hear the gospel, and many will come to faith on account of the Jews. Not because of their faith and obedience, mind you, but ultimately because of their stubborn unbelief. As Paul will clearly teach in Romans 9-11, and as Luke will clearly demonstrate in the Book of Acts, it was the rejection of Messiah by Israel that made the preaching of Christ to the Gentiles possible. God was not obliged to use Matthias just because the one-hundred and twenty “rightly” chose him, any more than He would have been prevented from using him if they had “wrongly” selected him. The selection of Matthias is a key to the message of the entire work, the message that God was sovereignly at work, through His Spirit, to accomplish His will in ways in which men would never have conceived and which they would not believe even if they were told.