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The Great Escape

Posted: November 18, 2018 in Acts, Uncategorized

Acts 12:1-24, “The Great Escape”

The Great Escape.” It is one of the greatest World War II movies ever made, although not a single battle in either Europe on the Pacific is shown. Ultimately, it is about a prison break from a POW camp, loosely based on a true story. Other movies have depicted escapes from prison (The Shawshank Redemption, for example), but there’s something special about a jailbreak that is actually true (or at least as true as 1963 Hollywood would allow it to be at the time!).

Yet there are far greater escapes in history – some of which are included in the pages of the Bible! These accounts are not only 100% true, but they’re also 100% independent of men. They didn’t need the combination of careful planning and “good luck”; they needed only the Lord God. When God plans an escape, it’s always successful & it is always “great.” His rescues are awesome!

One of these rescues is recorded in Acts 12, as Luke’s account of Peter basically comes to a close. Peter will be seen again in Chapter 15, but for the most part, Luke is transitioning to the life & ministry of Paul (Saul). Before he does, he wraps a bow on Peter’s ministry in Judea, showing God’s hand of blessing and protection on him, just as God was blessing and protecting His church-at-large.

When we had last seen Peter, he was shown on a mini-mission trip of his own, traveling throughout Judea, visiting churches, working miracles, and teaching the word of God. Eventually, he arrived in the seaport town of Joppa, where he received a miraculous vision foreshadowing what God was about to do by giving the gospel to the Gentiles & bring people who were previously “unclean” into the church, having cleansed them by the grace of Jesus. This all came to fruition when Peter met with the Roman centurion Cornelius in Caesarea, shared the gospel with him, and saw & heard the visible & audible evidence of Cornelius’ baptism with the Holy Spirit. Peter & the others with him baptized Cornelius & the other Romans who had placed their faith in Christ…an act he soon had to defend to the Jewish Christians back in Jerusalem.

At that point, Luke turned his attention to a different church congregation & city: Antioch of Syria. This soon became a thriving church with all kinds of people serving in all kinds of ways, including Barnabas and Saul. It was in Antioch that the two men starting ministering together, as they co-pastored the rapidly growing church.

With Antioch established, Luke turns again to Peter, giving the first conclusion to his ministry. It wasn’t that Peter stopped serving Jesus…far from the case! Rather, Luke simply stopped writing about it, being led by the Holy Spirit to record the ministry of Saul/Paul. As for Peter, God was still using him in powerful ways! God had a plan for Peter, and no man (no matter how powerful) would be able to stand in God’s way. God cannot be stopped, nor can His gospel be silenced. What God wants done, will be done, because He is the One to build His church & not even the gates of Hell can get in the way!

It doesn’t mean things will always be easy; it means that God is always in control. Persecution is real, but so is God’s power to deliver. So also is God’s judgment, which all men & women must face – even those who don’t believe in God and persecute the people of God.

This ought to give us hope! We so often get discouraged at obstacles and persecutions, but these things are no problem for Jesus. God is in control, and His grace gets us through all things. God rescues, and God wins!

Acts 12:1–24

  • Herod’s persecution of the church (1-4). Persecution is real. Do you expect it?

1 Now about that time Herod the king stretched out his hand to harass some from the church. 2 Then he killed James the brother of John with the sword.

  1. About what time? Remember that Acts 11 ended with the church at Antioch receiving a prophecy that the world surrounding Jerusalem was about to be hit with a massive famine during the reign of Claudius Caesar, so they collected a financial offering and sent it to Jerusalem by the hands of Barnabas and Saul (Acts 11:27-30). The famine likely hit around 45-46AD, with the collection being sent sooner (as a result of predictive prophecy), which made this time around 44AD. Historically, this fits perfectly with the life & death of “Herod the king.
  2. This particular Herod was Herod Agrippa I, the grandson of Herod the Great & nephew of Herod Antipas. The 1st Herod was the driving force behind the renovation of the Jerusalem temple, and the monster who ordered the death of all of the toddlers in Bethlehem out of fear of the newborn Christ. Herod Antipas was the one who beheaded John the Baptist & taunted the Lord Jesus during His pre-crucifixion trial. Antipas lost his power when Agrippa I accused him of conspiracy against the Caesar, and Agrippa was later given the throne (and expanded rule) in 41AD. Unlike his uncles (of which Antipas was only one), Agrippa was granted authority by Caesar to rule over the full extent of his grandfather’s kingdom, rather than just one of the four pieces into which it had been split. Agrippa was a keen politician with an ego to match, and he used it to his full advantage (and his downfall!).
  3. One of the acts taken by Agrippa was his persecution of church leadership, something that allowed him to curry favor with the Jewish leadership. Although we don’t know all of the Christians he harassed, we know of at least one he put to death: “James the brother of John.” This James was one of the original 12 apostles of Jesus (and one of the inner three), the brother of the beloved John, both of whom were sons of Zebedee (a fisherman) who were later nicknamed “the sons of thunder” by Jesus. James wasn’t the only Christian persecuted unto death (that was Stephen), but he was the first apostle to die a martyr. He wouldn’t be the last. Although Scripture does not record it, historical tradition tells us that all twelve (except John) were killed for their faith, and even John survived an attempt to have him killed.
  4. Question: If God was about to deliver Peter (and Luke spent much time describing it), why didn’t God deliver James? God could have delivered/rescued each of the men; at the time He chose to rescue one. Why? We don’t know, apart from one thing: God had continued earthly plans for Peter. It wasn’t that God loved Peter more or that God blessed Peter more; it was simply because in the overall plan of God, it was time for James to go home to Jesus while Jesus still had more for Peter to do on earth. Both men were blessed, because both were in the will of God. After all, to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord (2 Cor 5:8) – physical death for a Christian is a blessing because we are with Jesus! It is sad for those we leave behind, but it is glorious for the born-again believer because that person is now in the forever presence of our Lord & Savior.

3 And because he saw that it pleased the Jews, he proceeded further to seize Peter also. Now it was during the Days of Unleavened Bread. 4 So when he had arrested him, he put him in prison, and delivered him to four squads of soldiers to keep him, intending to bring him before the people after Passover.

  1. The reaction of the Jewish leadership to James’ execution encouraged Herod Agrippa to continue the pattern with Peter. History shows that Agrippa attempted to actively win the favor of the Jewish people in many ways, and the persecution of the Christian leadership was one of them. Thus, Peter was arrested, and placed under heavy guard. Each of the “four squads of soldiers” had four men (“squads” = τετράδιον ~ tetrad ~ four). Two men were constantly by his side, and two stood at the door, with the changing of the guard taking place every several hours. Why such much security? Apparently Peter’s reputation was well-known by Agrippa, and he wasn’t taking any chances with him.
    1. Remember this wasn’t the first time Peter had been arrested in Jerusalem, and it wasn’t even the first time he would experience a supernatural escape. Acts 5 describes a time when all kinds of miracles were taking place in Jerusalem through the ministry of the apostles, to the point where the high priest & Sanhedrin had them all arrested & put in prison. The night they were arrested, an angel appeared in the prison, opened the doors, and told the apostles to go back to the temple to keep preaching the gospel (the very place where they were arrested)…and they did (Acts 5:17-21).
    2. What makes it funny is that if indeed Herod Agrippa had known this history, he believed that 16 soldiers would have better success guarding Peter than simply the normal prison guard. If God sent an angel to rescue Peter (and others), then it didn’t matter how many guards were present! A single angel can kill an army of thousands overnight (2 Kings 18); a dozen-plus soldiers don’t stand a chance!
  2. When did it all take place? Passover, with the Feast of Unleavened Bread following. Because it was uncommon to conduct executions during the actual holiday (something ignored when it came to Jesus), Agrippa’s intent was to hold off on Peter’s execution until the weeklong festival was over. What does this tell us? Agrippa’s desire to execute Peter was purely political. Theology had nothing to do with it. Whatever Agrippa’s motivation, the hardship was real. James was killed, Christians were persecuted, and Peter was imprisoned. 
  3. Was this the wonderful plan that God had for their lives? Yes! Faith in Christ doesn’t guarantee anyone an easy life. Not once does the Bible claim that Christians instantly have all of their problems solved, that we will never again experience a sickness, or that we’ll all be rich and wearing $1000 suits. That may be a worldly definition of “wonderful,” but it isn’t real – it’s all superficial. After all, who cares how much money you have in your bank account if you aren’t forgiven by God? God’s wonderful plan is for us to be made His children, to be forever reconciled to Him through Jesus. That’s wonderful! As for persecution, persecution is to be expected. This is something we’ve seen several times in the book of Acts, and it’s going to be repeated many times again. When Christians are persecuted for their faith, it doesn’t mean that they’ve done something wrong; it means that they’ve done something right. Paul later wrote to Timothy: 2 Timothy 3:12, “Yes, and all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution.” It doesn’t mean that persecution is to be sought out, and it doesn’t mean that every time a Christian is arrested is because he/she is being persecuted. (Sometimes Christians break the law, or get others angry at us because we’re being boneheads!) But true persecution is a reality, and one that ought to be expected. What should be our reaction to these things? Joy! Matthew 5:11–12, “(11) “Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. (12) Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” It’s not that we pretend suffering is anything less than suffering; it’s that we know we’ve been faithful to our Jesus!

So James was dead, Peter was in prison, and Herod Agrippa believed he had the upper hand. The Christian leadership in Jerusalem were going to be crushed one-by-one, which the Jewish leadership hoped would strangle out the local church & perhaps the church all over Judea. Not so fast! God had other plans in mind…

  • Peter’s miraculous escape (5-19). Deliverance is real. Do you believe it?
    • Angelic rescue (5-11)

5 Peter was therefore kept in prison, but constant prayer was offered to God for him by the church. 6 And when Herod was about to bring him out, that night Peter was sleeping, bound with two chains between two soldiers; and the guards before the door were keeping the prison.

  1. When Luke wrote of “constant prayer,” he wrote of urgent, consistent prayer that was “offered to God” on Peter’s behalf. The church knew well what was at stake. Time was of the essence! The days of the feast were almost over & Herod was potentially going to execute Peter the next day. What else would the church do other than pray?
    1. Did this mean things were hopeless? Absolutely not! Prayer was not being treated as a last-resort by the Jerusalem Christians; it was used as their primary tool. God had not called them to mobilize a stealth-escape party – they weren’t going to storm the Fortress of Antonia by night. Physical strategies were useless, because this was a spiritual battle. Physically speaking, the untrained men & women of the church faced the might of the Roman-trained army of Herod Agrippa. Spiritually speaking, the miniscule Agrippa faced the Almighty God. The battle was spiritual, and it was to be waged through spiritual means – primarily, prayer.
    2. We so often underestimate the value and effectiveness of prayer! Prayer is how we fight the battle – prayer is how we stand firm in our faith. Don’t misunderstand: prayer does not somehow give any strength to God; God does not need our prayers in order to accomplish His work. He is fully sufficient and effective on His own. Prayer is what we need to keep ourselves focused on Him! Besides that, God chooses to respond to prayer. It’s not that He needs it; it that He desires it. There are some things we don’t have because we haven’t prayed for them (“you do not have because you do not ask,” Jas 4:2). Jesus specifically instructed people to ask in believing prayer, in order that we might receive (Mt 7:8, 21:22). The problem is we don’t ask! We relegate prayer to the back, thinking that it’s what we do when all else fails. It is what we do because everything else does fail. For the born-again Christian, prayer is the most effective strategy we can possibly employ!
  2. All of this is seen at work in Peter’s situation. Herod Agrippa had Peter his plan; God had His own. The people of the church were praying, and God was working. Peter was completely guarded, chained to two men (one for each hand?), with guards at the door, iron gates locked, deep in the heart of the Fortress of Antonia. This was maximum security just prior to Peter’s execution. What was Peter doing? What else? Why stay up all night stressing about the situation? Peter understood the Lord was in control. Jesus had told Peter that he would grow old prior to his execution (Jn 21:18-19), and Peter didn’t consider himself old yet. But even if Peter believed he’d die the next day, he still had his assurance of eternity with Jesus. Why worry when we have Christ? Everything else pales in comparison!

7 Now behold, an angel of the Lord stood by him, and a light shone in the prison; and he struck Peter on the side and raised him up, saying, “Arise quickly!” And his chains fell off his hands. 8 Then the angel said to him, “Gird yourself and tie on your sandals”; and so he did. And he said to him, “Put on your garment and follow me.” 9 So he went out and followed him, and did not know that what was done by the angel was real, but thought he was seeing a vision.

  1. The description is almost humorous. Peter was so soundly asleep that not even the appearance of a heavenly angel woke him up. The angel had to basically kick him in the side to get him to stir. (Sounds like some people I’ve roomed with!) The angel didn’t need to pick the locks or find the keys to Peter’s handcuffs as the chains simply “fell off.” (So much for security!) Peter’s standing there, free…but not moving. He’s just enjoying the time, thinking “he was seeing a vision.” The angel has to prompt Peter through every single step. “OK Peter, get up, tie on your belt, put on your shoes, put on your cloak, get moving.” (Almost sounds like a parent trying to get the kids out the door for school!) All the while, Peter simply followed step-by-step.
  2. Among everything going on, not once did the four guards stir. If nothing else, it was a miracle that no one else was awakened! So much for security! Doubtless, this was part of God’s plan as well. It would have been illegal for the guards to fall asleep, yet apparently not only one, but all four of them had passed out. If their eyes were indeed open, they were supernaturally blinded and deafened to what was going on.

10 When they were past the first and the second guard posts, they came to the iron gate that leads to the city, which opened to them of its own accord; and they went out and went down one street, and immediately the angel departed from him. 11 And when Peter had come to himself, he said, “Now I know for certain that the Lord has sent His angel, and has delivered me from the hand of Herod and from all the expectation of the Jewish people.”

  1. Not only had Peter’s chains fell off by themselves, the iron gate swung open all its own as well. The angel walked Peter down the all, out the door, through the courtyard, into the street, led Peter to safety, then vanished. The entire time, Peter was basically clueless as to what was happening to him. That being said, give Peter some credit. The fact that Peter didn’t know what was going on isn’t unusual, given his ecstatic vision from Acts 10. When he sat on the rooftop in Joppa, God gave him the vision of a sheet lowered from heaven full of unclean animals he was told to eat. None of that had happened in reality; Peter didn’t really have a reason to believe this was any different. With his earlier angelic escape from Acts 5, all the other apostles were with him as witnesses; here, he was by himself.
  2. Once Peter came to his senses, he had no doubt of what happened. This was the Lord’s work, and God had “delivered” him. God sent His angel to rescue Peter from an impossible situation, and Peter was truly rescued.
    1. God delivers! This is proven over & over again throughout the Bible. God rescued Abraham and Isaac from the foolish lies about their wives’ identities. God rescued Joseph from the Egyptian prison. God rescued the Hebrews from Egyptian slavery. God rescued David from the hand of Saul. God rescued Daniel from the mouths of the lions. God rescued the Jews from Babylonian captivity. Be it large or small, our God rescues! He can deliver anyone from anything at any time. He is a rescuer!
    2. And we need rescuing! Among everything else that happens in our lives, we need rescuing from ourselves. Our sins left us in a place where we had far more than chains on each hand, locked in dirty prison cell; it left us square in the sights of the wrath of God. Peter didn’t deserve the execution Herod wanted to give him, but we have each earned our own. Yet Jesus rescues us! He delivers us from death & brings us into life & relationship with God!
    3. That’s the spiritual side of things, but can God rescue us from other stuff, too? Yes! We have the promise of eternal heaven, but it isn’t as if God abandons us in the here & now. The key is to trust God’s plan. Sometimes He delivers us from trials; other times He delivers us through Peter was delivered from the sword (though it came later in life); James was delivered through it. We don’t always know God’s short-term plans for us, but we can trust Him. Pray fervently, pray constantly, and trust God to do what He deems best.
  3. With Peter out of prison, what next? Now people have to be told that their prayers had been answered. The problem was whether they’d believe it!
  • Peter at the door (12-17)

12 So, when he had considered this, he came to the house of Mary, the mother of John whose surname was Mark, where many were gathered together praying.

  1. We’re introduced to John Mark, a relative of Barnabas who would soon accompany him & Saul on their first mission trip. Mark also had a terrific relationship with Peter, and solid historical tradition holds him to be the one who recorded Peter’s preaching in the Gospel of Mark. Potentially, John Mark was present in the Garden of Gethsemane with Jesus, portrayed as the young man who panicked at Jesus’ arrest & left his garment behind (Mk 14:51-52). At this point, it was his mother that was more prominent within the church, and she apparently hosted Christians at her home who were among those praying all night for Peter.
  2. God was answering their prayers! Too bad they didn’t expect Him to do so…

13 And as Peter knocked at the door of the gate, a girl named Rhoda came to answer. 14 When she recognized Peter’s voice, because of her gladness she did not open the gate, but ran in and announced that Peter stood before the gate. 15 But they said to her, “You are beside yourself!” Yet she kept insisting that it was so. So they said, “It is his angel.”

  1. The event with young Rhoda is rather funny, but understandable. With everyone else praying, she went to answer the door, “recognized Peter’s voice” from other times she had met him, and was so excited that she ran to report the news without unlocking the gate. Excitement will do that to anyone – kudos to Rhoda for her joy & faith!
  2. What is less understandable is the reaction of the others! They accused her of being out of her mind. μαίνομαι (~mania/maniac) = to be mad/insane. They basically accused her of being a lunatic, imagining things at the door.
  3. And it got worse. When she insisted, they explained it away with poor theology. It wasn’t so much that they believed Peter’s “ghost” was at the gate (which definitely would have been impossible – as when Christians are absent from the body, we are present with the Lord); they seemed to imagine that Peter’s so-called guardian angel was knocking on the door in his place. (1) An angel wouldn’t need to knock, nor can locked doors stop one! (2) Scripture doesn’t teach of guardian angels. Angels can (and are) sent by God to watch over us as ministering spirits (Heb 1:14), but the Bible never says that we have specific angels assigned to us. Although it may be a common belief among Christians, it doesn’t make it a correct belief. We need to ensure that our beliefs are based solely on the written word of God found in the Scripture.
  4. The bottom line for these particular Christians was that they simply found it impossible to believe that Peter might actually be standing at the door. They may have been praying for Peter’s release, but they didn’t believe that God would do the work. — Why is it so difficult to believe God works miracles? Why is it so hard to believe that God answers prayers? Christians might go through the motions of prayer because we know we’re supposed to pray, but we don’t believe God answers them. Why wouldn’t He? Is not our God alive? Is He not Almighty? Does He not love us? The Scripture is filled with examples of God answering prayer. Has He changed? Heaven forbid! God is the same yesterday, today, and forever. He is just as capable of answering prayers today as He was in the 1st century!
    1. One of the problems of having so little faith in prayer is that we lose confidence on any After all, if we don’t believe God truly responds to prayer, how do we know God answered our prayer for forgiveness and salvation? What confidence do we have in God at all? God answers prayer! Ask, seek, find! Luke 11:11–13, “(11) If a son asks for bread from any father among you, will he give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will he give him a serpent instead of a fish? (12) Or if he asks for an egg, will he offer him a scorpion? (13) If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him!” Believe that God answers prayer, because He does! (And the best prayer to be asked and answered is to be forgiven of our sins through Jesus Christ!)
  5. What was the result of their unbelief? Not only did the Christians inside miss out on the joy of knowing what God had done, poor Peter is left outside knocking at the door hoping that he doesn’t get discovered by some wandering guard!

16 Now Peter continued knocking; and when they opened the door and saw him, they were astonished. 17 But motioning to them with his hand to keep silent, he declared to them how the Lord had brought him out of the prison. And he said, “Go, tell these things to James and to the brethren.” And he departed and went to another place.

  1. Peter’s persistence was the only thing that brought the people to the door, and they discovered that Rhoda had been right all along. This time, they were the ones beside themselves! “Astonished” = out of one’s senses, in a state of confusion. Peter didn’t have time to wait for them to get a grip. He told them the news, commanded them to pass it on to James & the other Christians in town (remember there were several thousand in Jerusalem – they couldn’t all be praying at Mary’s house!), and then got out of Jerusalem quickly. Just as Saul had to flee Damascus & Jerusalem, so did Peter. Peter had been rescued by the Lord, but he didn’t take his rescue for granted. He didn’t stay in Jerusalem waiting to be re-arrested. If God had commanded him to stay, he would have stayed (as he did in Acts 5). As it was, God had other plans for Peter, and Peter had the wisdom to keep moving.
  2. BTW – Don’t get confused on the “James” in verse 17. James, the brother of John & the son of Zebedee had been killed by Herod Agrippa I; James the half-brother of Jesus was still alive and an essential leader in the Jerusalem church.
  3. Don’t miss the key bit of Peter’s story: “the Lord had brought him out of the prison.” God had worked! The Lord Jesus rescued him! — Jesus rescues us! Again, we might not be rescued from all our hardships, trials, and persecutions – that’s not what Scripture promises. James the brother of John was not delivered from his execution, nor was Stephen from his stoning. But did they still belong to Jesus? Were they still rescued? Yes. In the things that really mattered, yes, they were certainly rescued! They were delivered from the judgment of their sin – they were rescued from eternal death – they were rescued from slavery to temptations and sinful desires, from being the men they used to be without Christ. They were rescued in the most important ways possible!
    1. It’s all about perspective. We have a tendency of seeing only what’s right in front of us, and unless God delivers us out of that situation, we think God has let us down. “I asked for healing, but God didn’t give it… I asked for a new job, but God didn’t bring it…” But that misses the bigger picture. To a toddler, the world is tiny. All he/she knows is what mommy or daddy brings: food, toys, blankets. But the world is a much bigger place! The toddler never sees what mommy and daddy have to do to ensure there’s food on the table, or a bed in which to take a nap. Beloved, life is far bigger than the things we can see! Life isn’t about the clothes we wear, the food we eat, or even 70-80-90 years put together; life is about eternity. We need a bigger perspective, and when we have it, we see how Jesus truly does rescue us in every way!
  • Aftermath (18-19)

18 Then, as soon as it was day, there was no small stir among the soldiers about what had become of Peter. 19 But when Herod had searched for him and not found him, he examined the guards and commanded that they should be put to death. And he went down from Judea to Caesarea, and stayed there.

  1. We can easily imagine the reaction of the soldiers the next day…particularly the ones to whom Peter had been chained! They had quite the surprise in the morning, and no doubt it was all-hands-on-deck to try to find Peter. The search came up fruitless, and they were doomed. Herod wasn’t happy, and the soldiers were executed in Peter’s place.
  2. So what happened to Herod Agrippa afterwards?
  • Herod’s death (20-24). Judgment is real. Are you ready for it?

20 Now Herod had been very angry with the people of Tyre and Sidon; but they came to him with one accord, and having made Blastus the king’s personal aide their friend, they asked for peace, because their country was supplied with food by the king’s country.

  1. As to what happened to make Herod “angry with the people of Tyre and Sidon,” we do not know. Although Herod Agrippa had a large kingdom, Tyre & Sidon (along with most of Phoenicia, ~ modern Lebanon) was outside his borders. Whatever had happened, he was intensely angry with them, and the people wanted a political reconciliation with the king. They needed to be in the good graces of Herod Agrippa if they were going to be financially prosperous (and eat!), so they allied themselves with the personal assistant of Agrippa, getting Blastus him to put in a good word for them.

21 So on a set day Herod, arrayed in royal apparel, sat on his throne and gave an oration to them. 22 And the people kept shouting, “The voice of a god and not of a man!” 23 Then immediately an angel of the Lord struck him, because he did not give glory to God. And he was eaten by worms and died.

  1. The Jewish historian Josephus notes the grandeur of Herod’s clothing, as having a robe made of silver (silver thread or plating?). As it caught the light of the sun, he had a radiant appearance, which combined with his impressive speech caused the people to go overboard in their flattery. No doubt, they were ready to shower him with praises no matter what he said (considering they were trying to get on his good side), but they cranked up the volume to 11 on their praise. They shouted that he spoke with “the voice of a god,” and kept shouting it over & over again. Whether they actually believed that he was divine was irrelevant; Herod ate it up. The people called him a god, and he was happy to receive the compliment. He basked in the glory of the people, doing nothing to “give glory to God.” Back in Chapter 10, Peter was quick to deflect the potential worship of Cornelius & the others, telling them to stand for he was only a man (Acts 10:26). Not so with Herod Agrippa. If people wanted to call him a god & worship him, it was no problem from his perspective.
  2. That was the straw that broke the camel’s back. He had already earned his judgment from God; this was the final act that confirmed it. Josephus backs up the account. Antiquities343-348 – Herod received the compliment, and saw an owl which he considered to be a bad omen. “A severe pain also arose in his belly, and began in a most violent manner,” (Ant 19.346). Five days later, he was dead. An angel of God immediately struck Herod in the moment, and the worms in his belly consumed him over the next week.
  3. There is no escaping the judgment of God! Herod Agrippa was a rich man, but his wealth did not buy him eternity. Agrippa was politically powerful, but he not powerful enough. It didn’t matter how friendly Agrippa may have been with the Roman Caesar when he was an enemy of Almighty God. Herod Agrippa led a life of wickedness, he had persecuted the church, ordered the murder of James (and others) and finally adopted the full pride of Satan as he stole the glory of God for himself. At that moment, there was no time to repent; his time was up.
    1. Scripture is clear: we will be judged. Hebrews 9:27, “And as it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment,” Every man/woman dies, and every person stands before the judgment seat of God. There comes a moment of reckoning for each and every human being, during which every single sin ever committed must be answered. Herod Agrippa had no answer; what’s yours? We can either face the judgment of God naked, with our sins fully exposed to the all-seeing eyes of God, or we can face it clothed in the righteous of Jesus Christ & be welcomed into eternity as His children. The invitation is wide & open to all, but the window of opportunity is limited. 

24 But the word of God grew and multiplied.

  1. Herod Agrippa was judged, but the church was blessed. Neither Herod nor the Jewish leadership could stop the gospel! The persecution had been intended to slow down or shut down the church; the opposite happened. Herod was killed while the church grew, and the gospel continued to spread to more & more areas. (A little taste of what was to come with Barnabas and Saul). The word of God can never be stopped!


Things had looked bleak for the church in Jerusalem: James was dead, persecution was spreading, Peter was in prison, and Herod Agrippa kept growing in his power. Yet that was all on the surface. God had His own plan in motion, and sovereignly turned everything on its head! He rescued Peter from prison, answered the prayers of the church, and judged its persecutor in His holy wrath. God protected His church, and His gospel could not be stopped!

God still protects His church! Not even the gates of hell can prevail against what it is Jesus has built (and continues building)! Persecution may be real (and should be expected), but it does not stop the gospel. The good news of Jesus continues, no matter how violently and vehemently the world opposes it. God still answers prayers of rescue – sometimes through physical deliverance; always through spiritual eternal deliverance. God still judges the wicked – all men will give account to God, and He knows exactly who has brought harm to His people. What God did among Peter and the Jerusalem church, God still does today…God has not changed!

What is it that you believe is too difficult for God to do? What obstacle in your life do you think is too hard for God to overcome? God is sovereign over all things. If not the full power of the empire of ancient Rome can stop His work (or Persia, or Babylon, or Egypt, etc.) what else can do it? We need to trust the sovereign power of God, as well as the sovereign plan of God. We don’t always know why He allows the things He allows, but we can be sure that His purposes will not be thwarted in the end. In the grand scheme of things, God wins. Say it again: God wins.


Song for the Savior

Posted: November 15, 2018 in Exodus, Uncategorized

Exodus 15, “Song for the Savior”

How wonderful it is to sing! There are certain emotions captured by music that cannot be expressed in other ways. Even reading the lyrics to songs falls short of those same words expressed through singing. Sometimes it’s full-throated excitement – other times, it’s soft tenderness – whatever song is in one’s heart, to sing it is to give voice to the emotion behind it. And it’s not dependent on skill – even those of us without formal training in voice know the joys of singing (even if it’s only in the shower!).

Many examples could be pulled from the radio or everyday life, but surely the best examples of song are found in the Bible. Be it songs of praise or laments of mourning, the Biblical writers knew the power of music. So much so, that we have at least three full songbooks in the Bible itself: Psalms, Song of Solomon, and Lamentations. Yet we don’t have to wait until the days of David to find a song in Scripture; the very first (recorded) song in the Bible is found in Exodus 15, written by none other than Moses himself.

Although we cannot know the tune until we get to heaven, we can rejoice with Israel as they celebrated their freedom from slavery, and God’s total victory over Pharaoh & the Egyptian army. And a celebration it was! It had taken 400 years to get to this point, what God had done was nothing less than miraculous.

The Hebrew people had basically given up hope by the time of Moses’ arrival. First, they had been forced into slavery, only later to experience mass persecution with the murder of Hebrew newborn boys. It was in the midst of all of this that God gave Moses, who (after his own experiences as both Egyptian royalty and a Hebrew fugitive) came with the power and message of God commanding Pharaoh to let the people go. From this came nine supernatural plagues, each growing in intensity & demonstrating a difference between the Egyptians and Israel. Egypt was being systematically dismantled and defeated by YHWH God (the I AM, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob), though Pharaoh stubbornly hardened his heart against the Lord. Finally, God personally passed through the land in the 10th plague, passing over the homes covered with the blood of faith-filled sacrifice, and killing the firstborn in all of the other homes in the land. At this point, Pharaoh acknowledged his defeat & released the Hebrews.

That was a banner day among the children of Israel – something to be remembered for all time…but it wasn’t over. After the Hebrews left, Pharaoh soon regretted his decision and gathered his army in hot pursuit. At the edge of some branch of what was known as the Red Sea (Yam Suph), Israel found themselves trapped: the waters before them & Egypt behind them. That’s when God acted in His power once again, parting the waters. The Hebrews walked across on dry land while the Egyptians were drowned as the walls of water collapsed upon them. If God had purchased the Hebrews’ freedom the night of Passover, that freedom was confirmed at the Red Sea. His people were truly delivered!

So what now? Now it was time for celebration – it was time for song! The enemies of Israel had been soundly defeated, and their years of slavery were over. Moses and the rest could (and did) sing their praises to God for His deliverance.

Yet there was more to it. Israel not only needed deliverance from Egypt; they needed deliverance from themselves! Their tendency towards unbelief is seen immediately after God’s greatest victory over their enemies, and it foreshadows many more times of faithlessness to come. Even so, God was gracious, providing for them everything they needed to trust Him & rest in His deliverance. When they heard God and obeyed Him, they could praise Him for salvation.

It is little different with us. Likewise, we need deliverance from the slavery of sin and we also need to be saved from ourselves and our own tendencies towards unbelief & faithlessness. What can we do? Rest in the work of our Deliverer! Jesus is our Mighty Savior, and when we hear Him & heed Him, it frees us to give Him our praise!

Exodus 15

  • Moses’ song (1-19) – Sing to the Lord!

1 Then Moses and the children of Israel sang this song to the LORD, and spoke, saying: “I will sing to the LORD, For He has triumphed gloriously! The horse and its rider He has thrown into the sea!

  1. We’re not told how much time elapsed between the Red Sea and Moses’ song, though surely it took some time to compose and teach to the nation of Israel. Even it wasn’t immediate, it was entirely appropriate. They had just been totally & finally delivered from Egyptian slavery, and the right response to God’s deliverance is praise! Objection: “What about all of the dead soldiers, chariot horses, and firstborn children in Egypt? What happened was massive death – how could that be praiseworthy?” Death isn’t praiseworthy; victory is. We need to be careful not to look at this through 21st century eyes. In 1440BC, life was much different – warfare was much different. When enemy armies attacked, they attacked with the full intent of destroying every living thing in their ways. The Hebrew women & children were in just as much danger of death as the Hebrew men were, if the Egyptians had reached them on the seabed floor. What God did was simply act as the single Warrior on Israel’s behalf, and what He did was more than enough. Not one of the 2 million+ people among the party of Israel died at the Red Sea – a truly amazing accomplishment when one considers the human odds they faced. So yes, God was worthy of praise! All those who lived had much reason to praise God! YHWH (I AM) had demonstrated His amazing power, overthrowing the enemy by tossing them into the sea. The most powerful of military weaponry at the time (Egyptian chariots) were no match for Almighty God; He is infinitely more powerful than any enemy we face.
    1. He still is! There is nothing we can endure that our God cannot take us through. There is no trial from which He cannot save – there is no sin He cannot forgive. Whatever it is to which we have been enslaved, our God can overcome! Horses & riders are thrown into the sea – addictions are destroyed – guilt is washed away – fits of rage melt into nothingness. How so? By the power of our God!
    2. So yes, we sing praises! There is a reason our worship services begin with song. Music is not the only way to worship God, but it is a wonderful way to worship Him. It is effective & powerful, and prepares our hearts to hear His word and to dwell on Him more richly. We sing praises to our Deliverer in order that we can know more of His deliverance.
  2. How did Moses begin? He sang of the exaltation of the Lord: “He has triumphed gloriously.” The Hebrew construction actually repeats the same word for “triumph/exaltation” (inf abs, גָּאָה) as a way of adding intended emphasis. Moses basically declared that God had “risen-risen” – He rose to vast new heights. YHWH is lifted high – He has risen up in triumph!
    1. When we praise God, we exalt His name. We lift up His reputation, for God is already lifted on high. We cannot add to His glory, but we add to the chorus that sings of it!

2 The LORD is my strength and song, And He has become my salvation; He is my God, and I will praise Him; My father’s God, and I will exalt Him.

  1. Who is YHWH? Many things!
    1. My strength”: Our might is found in Him. Any power available to us over the enemy is power that is given us by God. We have no hope apart from Jesus, but through Jesus and the Holy Spirit we have all the power we could ever need!
    2. My “song”: God is our praise, and our reason for singing. He is our joy, our grand desire. He is our Creator, so our hearts are complete when we are reconciled to Him through Jesus, giving glory to His name. There is a reason worship endures forever in heaven: in Jesus, we always have reason to sing!
    3. My salvation”: This is literally who Jesus is, as this is His name. יְשׁוּעָה = Joshua = Jesus. When we receive Jesus as our Lord & Savior, we receive the salvation of God that is inherent in Him. Jesus is our hope of glory, for Jesus saves!
    4. My God”: There is none else we worship apart from the Creator God, YHWH / I AM of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. No job can take His place, no person (parent, friend, spouse, child), no hobby or passion. He alone is our God and we serve no one else but Him.
    5. My father’s God”: For Israel, this hearkened back to the patriarchs as they remembered they served the God of Abraham, and were included in the promises that God made to Abraham. They had relationship with God because of the covenant & relationship their forefathers had with God. For us, this tells us we serve the God of the Bible. You may be the first born-again Christian in your family tree, but if you are a believer in Jesus Christ, then you are a child of Abraham (Gal 3:7). You have been brought into the inheritance of Jesus, becoming His joint-heir (Rom 8:17). You are set apart from the rest of the world because of the God you serve.
  2. Notice the use of 1st person singular: “my” (4x). Because Moses taught this song to Israel, we might expect the 1st person plural “we,” but that’s not what is written. Why? Perhaps to emphasize the need for personal praise. Corporate (group) praise is important, but it is meaningless without a personal relationship with Almighty God. Yes, the Hebrews were to worship God together as a nation, and He served as their King, but they still needed personal individual faith in Him.
    1. So do we! It’s good to worship in & around the church, but it isn’t enough to worship only because of the church. You aren’t even part of the church without personal individual faith in Christ Jesus.

3 The LORD is a man of war; The LORD is His name.

  1. YHWH is a warrior! This was seen powerfully during Passover and the Red Sea (which will be described again in a moment). God rose up as a warrior on behalf of His people, and vanquished the enemy. Objection: Isn’t God a God of love & peace? Yes, but that doesn’t mean He is not also a “man of war.” God is indeed love (1 Jn 4:8), and Paul repeatedly describes God as the “God of peace” (Rom 15:33, 16:20, Phil 4:9, etc.) – but that is not mutually exclusive from God waging war on His enemies. The Bible often shows God going to war (sometimes against His own people! e., the Babylonian conquest & captivity), and when He does, He does so in an overwhelming fashion. But that does not mean He does not love nor grant peace. God is all of these things, for this is what He must be. Sin requires an answer of wrath and judgment, while God still gives grace to the humble and those brokenhearted over their sin.
    1. Sometimes people get a false idea of God, as if there is a God of the Old Testament & a God of the New Testament. They can’t see how God can both express His wrath and pour out His love. Yet the Bible shows God loving His people in the Old Testament (treating Abraham & Moses as friends, graciously & repeatedly appealing to His rebellious people to repent, etc.), and it also shows God pouring out His wrath in the New Testament (the book of Revelation). These attributes of God do not cancel out one another. Just like we can love our family & desire judgment on our enemies, so does God – to the infinite degree!
    2. This is good news! To what extent will God judge sin? To the utmost! To what degree will God defeat the devil? Infinite, throughout eternity! We want God to judge sin; we just don’t want God to judge sin in us. Thankfully, He has delivered us from that through Jesus!

4 Pharaoh’s chariots and his army He has cast into the sea; His chosen captains also are drowned in the Red Sea. 5 The depths have covered them; They sank to the bottom like a stone.

  1. Repeated mention of the Red Sea. It will be described in various ways throughout the song. … Figurative descriptions of literal event. The Egyptians were not literal stones, but they were literally drowned. Be careful not to write off every description of the Red Sea as mere symbolism. If there’s one thing certain about the Bible’s description of God’s victory over the Egyptians, it is that they were drowned between two walls of water that miraculously stood upright. The language describing it may often be poetic (though not always!), but the event it repeatedly referred to as historical and literal.
  2. Some events are cornerstone, foundational events. For the Hebrews, it was the Red Sea, which is why it is repeated so often through this song & in future songs in the Bible. For us, it is the cross. That is when life changed, where our relationship with our Creator God and our eternal futures were forever altered. It’s no wonder we sing of it so often!
    1. Individually for us, it was the moment we received Jesus as Savior and Lord. Do you remember the time? Even if you don’t remember the exact calendar date, think back to the time, and relive it in your mind. Remember that joy of your first taste of forgiveness – the time when you knew beyond doubt that Jesus is alive & He is God, your God. And then praise God! 

6 “Your right hand, O LORD, has become glorious in power; Your right hand, O LORD, has dashed the enemy in pieces. 7 And in the greatness of Your excellence You have overthrown those who rose against You; You sent forth Your wrath; It consumed them like stubble. 8 And with the blast of Your nostrils The waters were gathered together; The floods stood upright like a heap; The depths congealed in the heart of the sea.

  1. The song continues on in these themes of praising God’s character & power. That God is “glorious” = majestic, noble. Of His “excellence,” it speaks of exaltation & majesty. If earlier, Moses described God as the Warrior, he now describes God as the Noble King. Of course, kings of the day were warriors, as they personally led their armies to battle. At the Red Sea, YHWH the King led His army away from battle (as He led Israel through the sea), but He Himself still went to war and won it in a singular moment. God’s power & wrath is overwhelming! All He needed to do was breathe, and the waters served as His weapon of mass destruction.
  2. Once again, the Red Sea is described. The waters “congealed” as if they were a wall. Many ways of describing the same miraculous event.

9 The enemy said, ‘I will pursue, I will overtake, I will divide the spoil; My desire shall be satisfied on them. I will draw my sword, My hand shall destroy them.’ 10 You blew with Your wind, The sea covered them; They sank like lead in the mighty waters.

  1. This was the doomed plan of Pharaoh (14:23). After everything he and the Egyptians endured during the 9 plagues + Passover, Pharaoh actually believed he could win! How foolish, yet how typical! This is what happens when people consciously reject God. They lie to themselves despite the evidence, and they pay a terrible price.
  2. Ultimately, Pharaoh was destroyed by the “wind” of God, as the waters gathered up with the great wind & crashed down upon the Egyptian army. Interestingly, this could also be translated as the “spirit” of God. (רוּחַ) Exodus 14:21 describes a “strong east wind” that blew all night as the waters stood on end, but there’s no doubt the Lord was in the wind all night. It was not the wind nor the waters that defeated Pharaoh; it was Almighty God!

11 “Who is like You, O LORD, among the gods? Who is like You, glorious in holiness, Fearful in praises, doing wonders?

  1. Who is like YHWH, worthy to be feared? Who can do the glorious wonders God does? He alone!
    1. What is your response to these things? What is your response to Him? Praise Him – worship Him – sing Him your songs of deliverance!
  2. Question: are there any other gods, but God? Then why does Moses sing of them? It’s an acknowledgment of the cultural idea. People do worship other gods, but it doesn’t mean that those other gods exist. Some people worship demons posing as gods, and others worship things or people that they have elevated to the position of gods. Even so, there is only one God, and He alone is to be praised.

12 You stretched out Your right hand; The earth swallowed them. 13 You in Your mercy have led forth The people whom You have redeemed; You have guided them in Your strength To Your holy habitation.

  1. This is all about the work of God. God’s people were saved by God’s right hand of power. God’s mercy (חֶ֫סֶד) given to God’s redeemed. Whereas the power of God’s wrath was shown against the Egyptians, the power of God’s love was shown towards Israel. Both are infinite in scope as ultimate deliverance was provided away from sin as God brought His beloved people closer to Himself.
    1. Likewise with the cross! There we see the infinite power of God: total judgment upon sin & total grace towards the redeemed believer.
  2. Where is God’s “holy habitation”? Wherever God is! Part of the mercy of God included Him leading His people with His personal presence as He dwelt among them.
    1. Possibly a prophetic word anticipating the future temple…
  3. This kind of display of power is impossible to keep quiet…and indeed, it should be shouted from the rooftops. (Which is part of the reason for the song!) But it would also spread to other nations, and they would have their own reaction to the wondrous works of God. Verse 14…

14 “The people will hear and be afraid; Sorrow will take hold of the inhabitants of Philistia. 15 Then the chiefs of Edom will be dismayed; The mighty men of Moab, Trembling will take hold of them; All the inhabitants of Canaan will melt away.

  1. The Gentiles would be in anguish and terror at the news of what God did to Egypt. People who had dwelt in their own lands for centuries would soon fear what God would do to them. After all, if God destroyed the superpower of Egypt without breaking a sweat, how much more would He do to the people of Canaan?
  2. How badly were they terrified? Even 40 years later, after a generation of Hebrews had died in the wilderness, the people of Canaan still feared what God would do to them at Jericho. (Josh 2:10) Sadly, the Gentiles had a greater fear & respect of the power of God than did the Hebrews!

16 Fear and dread will fall on them; By the greatness of Your arm They will be as still as a stone, Till Your people pass over, O LORD, Till the people pass over Whom You have purchased.

  1. The Canaanites feared God’s people among them, like Egypt feared God’s angel passing through their land.
  2. Reminder that the people were “purchased” – they were bought with a price.

17 You will bring them in and plant them In the mountain of Your inheritance, In the place, O LORD, which You have made For Your own dwelling, The sanctuary, O LORD, which Your hands have established.

  1. Looking forward to the promised possession. Moses trusted the promises of God, knowing that God would grant Israel their homeland. This was the inheritance promised to Abraham, and Moses had no doubt that God would grant it. 
  2. Not only was there a deliverance from slavery, but there was a deliverance to a home. The salvation promised and provided by God was total! So is ours. Too often we tend to think of salvation as simply forgiveness from our sins of the past. If that were all there was to it, it would be enough & we could still give God our everlasting praise. But it’s not…there is so much more! We were delivered from sin & death, and we are delivered to a relationship with God Almighty through Christ Jesus. We are forgiven of the past, but we also have blessing in the present & promised life in future eternity. We know God in the now and we live in relationship with Him through Jesus, being empowered by His Spirit. That is total deliverance!

18 “The LORD shall reign forever and ever.”

  1. Amen! YHWH is always king! For how long will Jesus reign? Forever & ever & ever…just like Handel’s “Hallelujah” chorus declares!

19 For the horses of Pharaoh went with his chariots and his horsemen into the sea, and the LORD brought back the waters of the sea upon them. But the children of Israel went on dry land in the midst of the sea.

  1. Summary / recap.
  • Miriam’s song (20-21) – Sing to the Lord some more!

20 Then Miriam the prophetess, the sister of Aaron, took the timbrel in her hand; and all the women went out after her with timbrels and with dances. 21 And Miriam answered them: “Sing to the LORD, For He has triumphed gloriously! The horse and its rider He has thrown into the sea!”

  1. Remember Miriam’s background: she was the one who followed Moses in his floating cradle as God took him down the river to the house of Pharaoh’s daughter. Miriam was the one who suggested that the baby receive a Hebrew nursemaid, and who went to go fetch her mother. This is the first we’ve heard of her since Moses’ infancy, but she played an essential role in his life & in the deliverance of Israel. If it hadn’t been for Miriam, the rest of the nation might never have heard of Moses or Aaron. 
  2. Considering that Moses was 80 years old by this point, Miriam was potentially 90. What was this 90-year old woman doing? Singing & dancing her praise! She took up an ancient tambourine (timbrel = hand drum with pieces of metal for ringing) and began leading worship and a dance for the Israelite women. She sang the song her youngest brother taught the nation, using the first few lines as a refrain.
  3. In the New Testament, we don’t see dance used in worship, but in the two most famous Old Testament instances (Miriam & David), it was done to express wholehearted worship. Obviously we are to worship God decently & in order, but we are to worship Him with everything we have. The greatest commandment is to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, and strength. Many times that includes song…sometimes, it might even include a dance!

What a song! What a time of amazing national praise! The Egyptians had been defeated, and Israel had seen the power of God firsthand. God had delivered them from centuries of slavery, and more than that, God was with them in the present (the pillar of cloud/fire), and God was personally leading them to a future (the promised land). All of that should have inspired solid faith & even more praise. Yet that wasn’t exactly the case…

  • Marah’s testing (22-27) – Submit to the Lord!

22 So Moses brought Israel from the Red Sea; then they went out into the Wilderness of Shur. And they went three days in the wilderness and found no water.

  1. Don’t miss the “three days” of travel. How long did Moses originally ask of Pharaoh for the children of Israel to travel? Three days. (Exo 5:3) The nation travelled through the wilderness for the time they expected to travel, and they arrived at the place they (probably) expected to arrive. But that’s when their expectations fell. It was supposed to be a place of worship, but it was a place devoid of water. Remember that the Hebrews hadn’t had time to do much packing, but had to leave Egypt in haste. No doubt they had carried some water with them on the road, but they would need to replenish their supplies along the way. Now they went to where God had told them to go (He was personally leading them, remember), and they ended up at a place without water. To the Hebrews, something wasn’t adding up!
  2. The little water they found, was no good…

23 Now when they came to Marah, they could not drink the waters of Marah, for they were bitter. Therefore the name of it was called Marah. 24 And the people complained against Moses, saying, “What shall we drink?”

  1. There is a repeated play on words re: “bitter.” Marah (מָרָה) = “bitter,” and the description of the water’s bitterness was “bitters” (מָרִ֖ים). e., “They came to Bitter and they could not drink the waters of Bitter, for they were bitter, therefore the name of it was called Bitter.” 
  2. As bad as this was, what was worse was the attitude of the people. They were as bitter as the water! Upset at what they found, they complained/murmured against Moses. Of course, it wasn’t Moses’ fault; they had all followed the presence of the Lord. In reality, when the people complained against Moses, they complained against God.
    1. Consider for a moment what happened: God had just gotten done with 9 supernatural plagues against Egypt, the 10th plague of Passover, and the parting of the Red Sea. The people had just memorized and sung a song of incredible praise to God for all of His works of power. They even had the visible presence of God right in front of them…and they still As if God hadn’t known what it was they would face, or God was somehow unable to provide for them in their distress. How quickly they forgot, and how lacking was their faith!
    2. Before we point the finger, we need to look to ourselves, for we do the same thing. How much more has God provided for us than for the Hebrews? We have something far better than freedom from Egyptian slavery; we have freedom from sin & death because of Jesus Christ! Better than the visible presence of God in front of us is the spiritual presence of God within us! (We are the temple of the Holy Spirit.) Yet what is it we so often do at our first sign of difficulty? We start murmuring and complaining against God. “Why did You do this to me? Why did You let me get to this point? Why didn’t You warn me? What am I going to do?” (As if we did anything to get us to a place of blessing at all!) Christian, stop complaining & start trusting! Stop walking in unbelief & start walking in faith. If God led you to this point, then God will get you through. He knows what it is you face, and He knows what it is you will yet face. Trust that He knows what He’s doing!
  3. Moses had a far better reaction. Though the Hebrews complained against him, Moses took his complaint to the Lord and asked for help…

25 So he cried out to the LORD, and the LORD showed him a tree. When he cast it into the waters, the waters were made sweet. …

  1. God had a solution! There was a tree provided by the Lord, and that was all that was required to make the waters “sweet” (drinkable/potable). Note: the tree was always there; it just had to be shown to Moses by the Lord. When the children of Israel arrived in that place, God had His provision waiting for them…they simply needed to ask Him what it was and trust Him to provide it.
  2. Interestingly, the word for “showed” (יָרָה) is related to the word for “law” (torah; תּוֹרָה). The law of God is what shows us God’s will and instruction for our lives. That may have been on Moses’ mind as he wrote about the follow-up to the tree…

… There He made a statute and an ordinance for them, and there He tested them, 26 and said, “If you diligently heed the voice of the LORD your God and do what is right in His sight, give ear to His commandments and keep all His statutes, I will put none of the diseases on you which I have brought on the Egyptians. For I am the LORD who heals you.”

  1. Although the word “torah” is not used, a law was certainly given that day. The waters of Marah were a learning opportunity for God’s people, and that was where God “tested” them. It was a proving ground. Again, they had just come from a demonstration of God’s obvious deliverance. They had trusted God then; would they trust Him now? The Hebrews had heeded God’s word in regards to Passover, and followed His instructions when it came time to go forward through the Red Sea. How would they respond in the future? Would they continue to listen, or would they fall back into unbelief?
  2. The issue is still one of deliverance/salvation. Originally, the Hebrews needed deliverance from Egypt; now they needed deliverance from themselves. Slavery was the obvious enemy; their own tendency to unbelief and complaint was more subtle. Yet that was what they would face far more often! The Israelites needed just as much grace from God on this point as they did on the first one.
  3. This was the purpose of the statute: deliverance. How would they be saved from themselves? By heeding the word of God. Notice this was a conditional law. The condition: obey God; the result: live in safety. If the Hebrews paid attention to God & did what He commanded them, then they would be free from the various plagues on the Egyptians. Don’t misunderstand – this wasn’t a specific threat of bloody water, lice, boils, frogs, etc.; it was a warning of judgment. All of the plagues sent against Egypt were God’s judgments against Egypt due to their continued rebellion against Him. That was the warning for Israel. If they grumbled & complained against God (i.e., if they hardened their hearts against God and walked in unbelief and rebellion), then they would likewise face the judgment and discipline of God. (Which they did, historically speaking!) How would they be delivered from judgment? By walking in faith. They would need to hear God’s word, and heed it.
    1. Could it be done? Not without God’s power and grace! God’s standard is perfection, and we fall short of perfection every single day. The Hebrews would fall short time & time again…which is one of the reasons they would later receive the various laws of sacrifice, so that they could look forward in faith to the one all-sufficient sacrifice that would be made by Jesus.
    2. Where do we find deliverance from our own tendencies to sin? In Christ! There is comfort in His word, guidance in His instruction, and grace in His love & forgiveness. But there’s only one way to experience it: walking in faith. Without Christians clinging to Christ, how does anyone receive forgiveness and cleansing? Without holding fast to His promises, how do we receive comfort? We’ve got to hold to the word of God by faith, heeding it for what it says…and we need the grace of God to do even that!

27 Then they came to Elim, where there were twelve wells of water and seventy palm trees; so they camped there by the waters.

  1. Earlier, the people had doubted God and failed. God had a plan all along regarding their provision; they just needed to trust Him to take them to it.


Praise God for His deliverance! Praise God for His provision! We need freedom from sin, and we need deliverance from our own bodies of death with our own sinful tendencies…and God gives it! Christ Jesus is our grand deliverer, and He does for us what we could never do on our own: grant us freedom. The power He demonstrated at the cross & resurrection forever proves His victory over our greatest enemies (sin & death), but it also shows us what is available to us on a daily basis.

Sometimes that’s the harder battle, is it not? When God passed through Egypt in the Passover, the people had a firm command to trust God and rest in His work. When God parted the Red Sea, it no doubt amazed the people & caused them to fear, but it was also obvious that they were to walk through it & experience God’s deliverance from their enemies. It was when Egypt was gone & they were in the wilderness that Israel struggled. It was then that they slipped so easily into doubt and unbelief. It was a sneakier enemy, but one just as dangerous.

Jesus delivers us not only from the obvious enemies of sin & death, but from the sneakier, subtler enemy of our own fleshly temptations. Trust Him! Hear His word, heed it in obedience, and rest in His provision and grace. And when you do, sing! Sing out His praise, because He is worthy to receive it! He is the warrior – the conquering King – and He is our God, our Salvation. Praise Him!

Availability at Antioch

Posted: November 11, 2018 in Acts, Uncategorized

Acts 11:19-30, “Availability at Antioch”

Some people get all the attention. They’re the ones that the cameras focus on, capturing every move, while other people seem to be left in the background. Try looking at newspaper photos from city events…some people are always in view of the camera & the rest of us get cut off. It happens a lot in families, and siblings often get jealous. TV shows often make fun of it. In the 70’s, the middle Brady sister Janet complained about “Marsha, Marsha, Marsha!” and in the 2000’s, the older brother Robert bemoaned the fact that “Everybody loves Raymond.” Some people are the stars, while the rest of us seem like the supporting cast.

That’s not only the case with people; the same thing happens with places. What is Tyler in comparison with Dallas? What is Dallas in comparison with Washington DC? One is always going to fade into the background of the other. Likewise with the cities and churches of antiquity. When we think of important, influential cities for the gospel of Christ, most likely we first think of Jerusalem. Where else, other than the city of the cross and resurrection? It’s a logical place to begin! Although Jerusalem was indeed the starting point for the church, as time went on, it did not remain the city of most influence. What took its place? Not Rome – Rome didn’t become the center for Christian leadership for several more centuries to come; it was Antioch. Antioch of Syria became the home base for Paul, Barnabas, and Silas, and would launch gospel missionary efforts all over the Roman empire. Most of what we have in our New Testaments (the writings of Paul and Luke) are a direct result of the ministry of Antioch – a city often seen in a supporting role, rather than in a position of leadership.

What happened to bring the church in this city to this point? That’s what Luke narrates at the end of Acts 11. The introduction to world missions begins in Acts 13, but the church at Antioch establishes its foundation in Acts 11. What happened? The same thing that happens in any local church: the Lord Jesus built His church, using people who make themselves available to Him. All kinds of Christians are used by the Lord in Antioch – far more than just the ones whose names we know. People made themselves available to preach and to serve (to share the gospel, and to share their love), and Jesus used all of that to build His church.

Because Luke begins this section with a scene change, we need to review a bit of the overall context. For the past several chapters, Luke has recorded the move of the gospel beyond Jerusalem into Judea, Samaria, and to the Gentiles. Back before Saul had become a Christian, he persecuted the church, and although it was terrible, one of the good things that came out of it was the spread of the news of Jesus. All of a sudden, Samaritans were coming to faith in Christ, and apostles such as Peter were leaving the confines of Jerusalem to minister to Christians all around the region. Peter’s ministry was followed for a bit as he performed miracles throughout the countryside, taught in local churches, and eventually preached the gospel in the home of a Roman centurion. That caused no small amount of controversy back in Jerusalem, but eventually everyone recognized the work of the Holy Spirit, and they rejoiced as they saw God glorified in Jesus’ continued building of His church.

So what now? This is a bit of a transitional point in the book of Acts. The missionary journeys of Paul and Barnabas are about to begin, but some groundwork needs to be laid before Luke jumps to it. We have to see how Paul (Saul) and Barnabas join together in ministry, and who it was that sent them out (their local church). Luke will soon wrap a bow on Peter’s ministry (Chapter 12), and then start the next major section of the book, but he lays the groundwork here at the end of Chapter 11. This shows the beginnings of the church at Antioch: a vibrant church that did powerful ministry, seeing scores of people saved by the grace of God.

Who did God use to do all of this? Normal people – everyday people – people who would have normally faded into the background (or who were actively placed into the background). God doesn’t need famous people to do His work; God uses everyday Christians for His glory…people just like you & me. The only thing God needs from us is our humble hearts and availability. Make yourself available, and you might be amazed at how Jesus uses you!

Acts 11:19–30

  • Growth at Antioch (19-26) – Availability to preach.

19 Now those who were scattered after the persecution that arose over Stephen traveled as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus, and Antioch, preaching the word to no one but the Jews only.

  1. Luke backs up to the events of Acts 8:1. Without mentioning him by name, Luke refers to the persecution led by Saul, prior to Saul’s conversion to Christ. At the time, Luke wrote that all except the apostles (referring most likely to Hellenistic Jewish believers) were “scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria,” (8:1) – definitely outside the borders of Jerusalem, but still relatively close by. Apparently they did not all stay close for long, and some kept moving far beyond the Jewish homeland.
  2. Where did they go? Anywhere & everywhere. Phoenicia is the region of Tyre & Sidon (modern day Lebanon) – Cyprus is an island off the coast of Syria – Antioch was a major city in Syria. What Luke describes in Chapter 11 is somewhat the opposite of Chapter 2. On the day of Pentecost, there were Jews that traveled into Jerusalem from all corners of the Roman Empire; after the martyrdom of Stephen, that was where many of the Jerusalem Christians went.
  3. Yet it was not in vain. What did these Christians do along the way? Preach the word! They told others of the message of Jesus as the Messiah, the Son of God crucified for our sin & risen from the grave, offering life and forgiveness to everyone who believes upon Him. Don’t get the idea that these were ordained “professional” preachers; they weren’t. Although the NKJV translates according to the context of sharing the gospel, literally the phrase could be translated “speaking the message/word.” This isn’t the normal word for “preach/proclaim;” it refers to simple talking & speaking. IOW, they had Jesus-conversations. These people were on the move, and as they went their way, they encountered people. And as they spoke, they simply spoke about Jesus in casual conversation. Important conversation, but casual.
    1. Sharing the gospel doesn’t have to be standing on a street corner preaching in the open air. That can be good, but it isn’t for everyone. Sharing the gospel doesn’t have to be done from a pulpit. Again, it’s good – but not everyone has that opportunity or calling. But all of us have conversations with other people…make them Jesus-conversations! Simply use the opportunities you’re given, to speak of Christ. When people tell you their struggles, tell them of the God who comes alongside His children. When they speak of their Friday nights, tell them of your Sunday mornings. It doesn’t need to be “preachy,” and it should never be done with a “holier-than-thou” attitude, but conversations can be turned to Christ when we simply look for the opportunities to do so. (So look!)
  4. Who were these people having these conversations? That’s the beautiful part: we don’t know! No names are given – they were just the Jewish believers that were forced to leave Jerusalem. They had to leave their home & the place of the Jewish temple, but they did not leave behind their God. They took their faith with them, and shared it wherever they went. They were faithful to speak of Jesus on the road, because Jesus was on the road with them. Christ was not limited to Jerusalem; He is ever-present with His people, His Spirit being within us. If Jesus is with us, why wouldn’t we share Him with others? If you and a friend ran across someone else you knew, surely you’d introduce your friend. Why wouldn’t we do the same with Jesus? — Bottom line, these were normal, everyday Christians. They didn’t need a title nor a formal ministry position to speak of Jesus. That’s just what Christians do. These people made themselves available to Jesus, to speak of Jesus…and Jesus gave them opportunities in abundance.
  5. Initially, the ministry was to the Jews only, but that was soon to change. Not only was the Holy Spirit moving among Philip and Peter to preach the gospel to Gentiles, but the Spirit was moving upon other Christians to expand their own gospel ministries beyond their cultural Jewish circles. (Probably indicating a concurrent chronology with Chapters 8-11.)

20 But some of them were men from Cyprus and Cyrene, who, when they had come to Antioch, spoke to the Hellenists, preaching the Lord Jesus.

  1. At some point, things started to change. Other Christians showed up from areas as diverse as Cyprus & Cyrene, and converged on Antioch. It makes quite a bit of sense that they did, considering that Antioch of Syria was the third largest city in the Roman Empire (next to Rome and Alexandria of Egypt). Antioch had a massive Jewish presence in the city, which had (until recently) enjoyed a lot of freedom and prosperity among their Gentile neighbors. Although things had gotten a bit tougher under the then-current city government, it was still a logical place for Christians to go. After all, if you want to preach the Jewish Messiah, you’ll go to the cities where there are people expecting the Messiah. Antioch fit the bill.
  2. To whom did these evangelists from Cyprus & Cyrene speak? That question isn’t quite as easy to answer. The Greek word used by Luke was somewhat rare, and is perhaps best thought of as referring to people who spoke Greek (per Metzger). Yet were these Greek-speaking Jews, or Greek-speaking Gentiles? Scholars debate this with no real agreement, which is reflected in the varying English translations. NKJV, ESV, HCSB = “Hellenists” (i.e. Greek speaking Jews); NASB, NIV = “Greeks” (i.e. Gentiles). The question hinges on whether Luke is continuing his thought from verse 19 that the gospel was preached to Jews-only, or if he is providing a contrast saying that these new people preached to Gentiles. The debate isn’t easily solved…but the debate isn’t really the main point. Luke’s emphasis isn’t ethnicity; it’s the preaching of the gospel and conversion of the lost. The argument over Gentiles receiving the gospel has already been made in the previous chapters. At this point, the issue returns to the fact that the gospel simply needs to be preached!
  3. This time, Luke writes of the more standard form of preaching: evangelism, or the proclamation of the good news of “the Lord Jesus.” How exactly it was done isn’t said, but there’s no doubt that it was intentional. These “men from Cyprus and Cyrene” went to the Hellenists in Antioch with the specific purpose of proclaiming Jesus as Lord. Jesus is Christ the King (the Messiah), a message readily understood by those from a Jewish background – but the fact that He is Christ also means that He is the only Lord God, something that would make more sense to those from a more Grecian culture. Even today in our own culture, most people think that the word “Christ” is a name; not a title. But when we proclaim Jesus as the Lord God crucified for sin & risen from the dead, that sets our message apart from all the other religions in the world. Jesus is the One who has authority over heaven & earth – He is the One with the power to forgive sins – He is the One with the power to give new life…He is Lord!
    1. Do we preach the Lord Jesus? If these unnamed men from Cyprus and Cyrene did it, so can we! Like the others who came from Jerusalem, they weren’t named nor commissioned by a church; they simply followed the Great Commission of Jesus, which was given to us all. Preach Him – proclaim Him!
    2. Keep in mind, it doesn’t have to be complicated. In verse 19, the scattered Jewish Christians spoke the word to their neighbors, taking the various informal opportunities given them by the Lord to explain the good news of Jesus. In verse 20, the preaching seems to be more formal, and Jesus is actively proclaimed as Lord. Either way works! Either way is preaching the gospel, and is glorifying to God. The issue isn’t so much how it is done; it is whether it is done at all!

21 And the hand of the Lord was with them, and a great number believed and turned to the Lord.

  1. When Jesus was preached, Jesus was present. Christ is always present with His church – He has promised never to leave nor forsake us. Along with the Great Commission, He told His disciples that He would be with them, even to the end of the age (Mt 28:20). There’s no doubt of the personal presence of God with born-again believers in Jesus, because we ourselves are the temple of the Holy Spirit. That said, what’s mentioned here is a description of blessing. The Christians who were spreading the gospel (however they did it) did not do it alone. They did not do it in their own power; “the hand of the Lord was with them.” God empowered His people for the task. They made themselves available to Jesus to be used by Him, and He used them by His hand for His glory.
    1. How comforting it ought to be for the Christian, knowing that Christ is with us when we preach Him! We sometimes get so caught up on the methods of evangelism that we paralyze ourselves from the act of evangelism. “Which way is the best? What if I don’t remember it all? What if I get lost? Maybe I’ll mess it up so bad that someone will run away from Jesus!” In fear of messing it up, we decide it’s better not to do it at all. Not so! Remember what Jesus needs: not your skill, but your openness. Not your ability, but your availability. Jesus did not leave the original Christians for them to fend for themselves in ministry; His hand was with them. The Holy Spirit empowered them, and gave them exactly what was needed for the task. He does no less with us!
    2. Do an experiment with yourself: step out in faith, and see what happens. Ask God for opportunities to share Jesus, pray in anticipation of those times, and actively read the Scripture in preparation. Not in terms of crash-study as if you’re preparing for midterms; just be in the word, letting God speak to you. When those opportunities for evangelism come (and they will), just step out in faith and speak. Jesus will not let you down! God the Holy Spirit will equip you for the task, guaranteed!
  2. When Jesus was preached, Jesus was believed. This does not happen every time, but it does happen many times. In Antioch, it happened a lot – “a great number believed and turned to the Lord.” How many, we don’t know. If it was just one or a handful, it would have been enough reason for angels to rejoice – but it was many. A strong Christian presence was quickly established in Antioch as people put their faith in the Lord Jesus, believing upon Him for who He is & what He did at the cross, and turning to Him in their hearts & in their actions. They committed their lives to Jesus as Lord as they purposefully changed their direction and turned to follow Christ. 

22 Then news of these things came to the ears of the church in Jerusalem, and they sent out Barnabas to go as far as Antioch.

  1. So many people turned to the Lord in faith, that news of it spread south to Jerusalem. The church there responded the same way they did when they heard of the Samaritans coming to Christ: they sent someone to investigate and to help. Back in Chapter 8, Peter and John were sent to Samaria to help Philip with baptisms and discipleship; in this case it was Barnabas. He undertook the 300 mile journey north – no small task! (~15 days by foot)
  2. Who was Barnabas? Luke has twice introduced us to him. When the church was brand-new in Acts 4, he was shown donating the proceeds from a real-estate sale, laying the money at the apostles’ feet as an encouragement to the church. His birth name was Joses/Joseph, but what he did (and who he was) made such an impact that he was nicknamed “Barnabas,” by the apostles because he was a “son of encouragement.” (Acts 4:36-37) Interestingly, Luke mentions at that time that Barnabas was “a Levite from the country of Cyrus” – one of the areas that was currently making an impact on the city of Antioch. The next time we see Barnabas was years later after the converted-Saul came to Jerusalem in an attempt to join the disciples in the city. Sadly (yet understandably) no one believed him…no one, except Barnabas (Acts 9:27). Barnabas gave him a chance, was convinced by Saul’s testimony, and took him to meet the apostles. When it came time to send someone from Jerusalem to Antioch to see what had happened & how they could help, who better to send then the man who had already been such an encouragement to the Jerusalem Christians?
  3. So Barnabas went to Antioch to help the work. (He was available to the Lord, and willing to go!) What did he find? Verse 23…

23 When he came and had seen the grace of God, he was glad, and encouraged them all that with purpose of heart they should continue with the Lord. 24 For he was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith. And a great many people were added to the Lord.

  1. Wonderful news! Barnabas saw the evidence of true faith: “the grace of God.” Luke obviously provides an overall summary of the things Barnabas saw, but what he saw was more than enough. He (and the others in Jerusalem) had heard the stories of many numbers of people believing upon the Lord Jesus in Antioch, and it was all true. The grace of God was evident in the people around him, and he was convinced they were born-again.
    1. What is the hallmark of someone who has been saved? It is the grace of God, the love of Christ, the work of the Holy Spirit within him/her. Whatever it is you want to call it, there is some visible evidence of God’s transforming presence within that person’s life. There is something that happens to that person that can only happen by the gift of God’s kindness and mercy (His grace), and they show themselves to have been truly forgiven through faith in Jesus.
    2. Does everyone change in the same way at the same time? No…but everyone changes in some How could we not? When we put our faith in Jesus, trusting Him with all we are (our whole being), God the Holy Spirit gives us a new birth & actually takes up residence within us. Somehow, in some way, the Spirit dwells within us & His divine Person is present in us. How can we not change? There is going to be something in our lives that evidences the grace of God! Again, everyone is different, and not everyone changes the same habits in the same way. Different people fall under different convictions at different times. Sanctification (the act of being made holy) is a process. Justification (being made righteous in the sight of God) happens in an instant; sanctification happens over time. Although we are immediately set apart by God for God’s glory, it takes time for our habits to change. But they do change. (Take heart!)
  2. When Barnabas saw the change in the lives of the people (the evidence of the grace of God), what did he do? Two things. First, he rejoiced! “He was glad” when he learned that the stories of conversion were true. Every time a person puts his/her faith in Christ is a reason for joy, and Barnabas had just come across a massive group of people who had done it. Surely for this man who had spent so much time in Jerusalem among a relatively large church, it was wonderful to see the same thing happen elsewhere! Secondly, he ministered to them. He “encouraged them,” making himself available to God to engage in ministry wherever he was. This time, the need was discipleship, so that’s what Barnabas did. Just like his nickname suggests, he came alongside these new believers and encouraged them to “continue with the Lord.” They had started their walk with Jesus; now they needed to keep at it. Once they made the decision to follow Christ, they were to determine in their hearts (set their resolve) to keep following Him. Barnabas encouraged them to purposeful perseverance.
    1. All of us need the same encouragement at some point! It is a joyous day when a person puts his/her faith in Jesus…how wonderful a moment it is! But once he/she walks out of the church building (or wherever) to go back home, he/she immediately walks into trial. All of a sudden, the devil now sees the person as a threat, and starts attacking their newfound faith. “What did you just do? Do you really believe that? What will your friends say? You don’t really need to surrender everything, do you? What if it’s not real?” The spiritual bullets start flying, as the enemy tries to either completely pick someone off from Christ (Mt 13:19, taking away what was sown in his heart), or at least trying to get the person to bury his/her faith to a point where it is ineffective. A world full of closet-Christians is (to the enemy) almost as useful as a world without Christians. So what if a person prayed a prayer of commitment and conversion, if the person doesn’t actually walk with Christ? The day-to-day reality is effectively the same as if he hadn’t prayed at all.
    2. What do we need? Grace-given resolve, and the power of the Holy Spirit! We need to be encouraged to continue walking with Jesus, persevering with Him – not by pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps, but making ourselves totally reliant on His grace and His power. That’s what Barnabas encouraged the Antioch church to do, and that’s what we need as well. Christian: purpose in your heart to keep following Jesus! It’s not about a one-time commitment; our commitment is lifelong. It isn’t about a singular prayer and a one-time feeling; it is about total reliance upon the Lord Jesus even when (and especially when) times are tough. Pray for the faith to continue with Christ – He will give it!
  3. Why did Barnabas do all of this for the church in Antioch? Because that’s just who Barnabas was! Luke writes a wonderful tribute of the man when he describes him as “a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith.” This was a man who loved Jesus! This was a man who had been transformed by the grace of God, who had the kindness of Christ bubbling up in his heart, and who lived constantly dependent upon & filled with the Holy Spirit. He was a wonderful example of what it meant to walk by faith and give himself over to God in service.
    1. We need more Barnabases! We need men and women who are willing to come alongside other believers and encourage them to keep walking with Jesus (just like Barnabas did with Saul, and just like he did in Antioch). We need people filled with the joy and love of Christ, ever-empowered by God the Holy Spirit, available to be used by Him for whatever He desires. May God give us hearts like that of Barnabas!
  4. The result? Even more people came to Christ! Before Barnabas arrived, “a great number believed”; as a result of Barnabas’ ministry, “a great many people were added” as more people came to faith in Jesus as Lord. Crowds were coming to Christ in abundance, as ministry opportunity exploded.
    1. When Christians make themselves available to be used by the Lord, this is the natural result! When men and women are filled with the Spirit & led by Jesus, God moves among the people around them & people get saved. 
  5. As wonderful as it was, now the work had grown too much for even Barnabas with the local Antiochian leadership. They needed more help. Where to turn? Jerusalem was too far – but Tarsus was right around the corner, and who was in Tarsus, other than Saul.

25 Then Barnabas departed for Tarsus to seek Saul. 26 And when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch. So it was that for a whole year they assembled with the church and taught a great many people. And the disciples were first called Christians in Antioch.

  1. Saul had been originally raised in Tarsus, but it wasn’t his original intended city of ministry. After Barnabas presented him to the apostles in Jerusalem, Saul had spoken boldly in the name of Jesus, but soon came under death threats from the Hellenistic Jews who had once considered him their greatest ally (Acts 8:29). That’s when, for his own safety, the church sent him hundreds of miles away to Tarsus. Surely it wasn’t what Saul had wanted to do, and it was likely a surprise to his family back home. They had sent their son to Jerusalem to become a rabbi under the instruction of the famed Gamaliel, and although he quickly found success, it would have seemed as if he had thrown it all away. In reality, Saul had found much more…and he had his own ministry opportunities among his family, if nothing else!
  2. What had Saul been doing all that time? No one knows for certain, but it seems more than probable that Saul had been preaching the gospel. That’s what he had done in Damascus, and that’s what he had tried to do in Jerusalem before he was sent home – surely he did the same thing in Tarsus. If there’s one thing we know for certain, Saul wasn’t twiddling his thumbs! He may have been restricted from ministering in Jerusalem, but the gospel was something that burned in his bones. (“Woe is me if I do not preach the gospel!” 1 Cor 9:16) Whatever Saul had been doing, he was soon located by Barnabas (probably easily done…all he needed to do was follow the death threats from the Jews!), and the two of them returned to Antioch to help pastor the church that was there. For a year, they had a busy ministry of teaching and discipleship – a wonderful training ground for what they would soon do in missionary ministry around the Roman empire.
  3. Luke gives an interesting side-note regarding the believers in Antioch: it was there that disciples of Jesus were first called “Christians.” Today, we use the word all the time, but what does it actually mean? Technically, it could be translated as “Christ-partisan.” Just like followers of Herod were called “Herodians,” so were followers of Christ called “Christians.” They were part of the party that followed the teachings and Person of Jesus the Christ.
    1. In our hyper-political culture, how great it would be to be known not as a Republican-partisan nor a Democrat-partisan, but a Christ-partisan!

That was the establishment of the church at Antioch. All kinds of people had come to preach the gospel in all kinds of ways, and many numbers of people came to faith. Praise the Lord! What next? They didn’t just preach the gospel with their lips; they lived it out in their lives…

  • Compassion of Antioch (27-30) – Availability to serve.

27 And in these days prophets came from Jerusalem to Antioch. 28 Then one of them, named Agabus, stood up and showed by the Spirit that there was going to be a great famine throughout all the world, which also happened in the days of Claudius Caesar.

  1. Notice “prophets”; not “apostles.” Some want to limit prophetic ministry only to the Old Testament prophets & New Testament apostles, but that is clearly not the case. There were men and women throughout the book of Acts that had the gift of prophecy: unnamed men in Acts 11:27, the leadership of Antioch in Acts 13:1, Judas & Silas in Acts 15:32, the four daughters of Philip in Acts 21:9, and Agabus who is listed both here & in Acts 21:10. With the exception of Barnabas (and possibly Silas), none of the others could be considered apostles. They were just men & women serving in the gifts and roles given them by God the Holy Spirit.
  2. Although many times the prophetic ministry was used for exhortations from God to His people (sometimes called “forth-telling”), sometimes prophets did predict future events. Here, Agabus foretold a famine that was on the near horizon, “in the days of Claudius Caesar.” This helps quite a bit in dating this particular passage of Scripture, as history tells us of several famines during the reign of Claudius. This seems to have been a famine that affected Judea & the surrounding region somewhere in the range of 45-46AD.
    1. BTW – What would have happened if Agabus’ prophecy hadn’t come true? He would not have been a real prophet. Prophecy, when given by God, is always Whatever word is spoken in the name of God, it should (and can!) always be tested. If it foretells the future, it should be matched with the current events; if it speaks forth God’s encouragement or commands, it should line up with God’s revealed written word in content & context. God is never going to contradict Himself, nor will He ever lie. All prophecy ought to be judged (1 Cor 14:29) – be careful not to “receive” a word from God simply because someone claims to give it.
  3. The Holy Spirit had given a word to the church through prophecy. Surely it wasn’t for purposes of trivia…the Spirit wanted something done about it. And the people responded!

29 Then the disciples, each according to his ability, determined to send relief to the brethren dwelling in Judea.

  1. Christians were moved to help their “brethren” – their brother & sister Christians living in Judea. They saw the need of their fellow believers, and they knew that they could do something about it. That’s when they determined to send “relief” in the form of financial donations. Not all gave the same amount, nor was it necessary that they do so. As much as they could afford to give, they gave “each according to his ability.” It was simply a gift of love, intended for Christians whom they never met, but who needed help.
  2. Interestingly, the word for “relief” = service/ministry. This is the same root word from which we translate “deacon,” when it applies to a person. (διακονία) Contextually, this refers to service, or aid; for the Antiochian Christians, it was nothing less than ministry rendered unto the Lord Jesus. Remember who sent the gift: “The disciples” – the Christians – the average Joe’s & Josie’s living in Antioch. Put it together, and what is seen? All Christians are ministers! All Christians can serve in some way, using what the Lord has given them. Be it spiritual gifting, financial abundance, or physical ability, all Christians are able to serve the Lord, and all Christians should serve the Lord. Every man or woman in Christ is a minister of Christ!
    1. How are you serving? Have you made yourself available to serve? There is never a lack of need; just a lack of people.

30 This they also did, and sent it to the elders by the hands of Barnabas and Saul.

  1. Barnabas and Saul were entrusted with the responsibility, and they went back to Jerusalem. This was Saul’s first trip back to the city since being asked to leave in Acts 9:30 – 14 years prior (Gal 2:1). Apparently, the young Titus was among the Christians at Antioch, and he travelled with Barnabas and Saul – evidence that the gospel was spreading among the Greek Gentiles in the area (Gal 2:1-3). By this point, the encounter of Peter with Cornelius would have already taken place, and there was no controversy upon Titus’ arrival.


It was a wonderful ministry that was underway in Antioch! The church was exploding in growth, and the men and women there would end up making an impact on the whole world. How did it all begin? Through everyday Christians making themselves available to Jesus every day. Some had Jesus-conversations with others as they travelled along the road. Others intentionally proclaimed Jesus as they came to Antioch with missionary intent. Barnabas had come to investigate, and he rejoiced as he had the opportunity to disciple and encourage, and he soon needed help of his own, to which Saul fit the bill as they together taught the word of God. And everyone was available to help those in need, giving out of their hearts and abundance to fellow Christians who were suffering.

They were available to evangelize, available to serve…they were available to be used by Jesus for His glory. Are you available?

Sad to say, many Christians aren’t. They are saved, having placed their hope & faith in Jesus for eternal life…but they haven’t done anything with their faith. They sit & receive, but rarely (if ever) serve. It’s laziness, and it’s harmful. Think about it: when a person is a physical couch-potato, they eat & eat, never moving or exercising, and they eat themselves into an early grave. Don’t be a spiritual couch potato! We need to be well-fed through doctrine & worship, but we need to use what we’ve been given. We need our spiritual exercise…we need to serve.

Make yourself available to Christ. If you have believed upon Him as Lord, then purpose to continue following Him as Lord. Let Him direct & guide you – ask the Holy Spirit to fill you & empower you – make yourself available to be used by God for His glory. And He will use you! It may not be in the way you expect – it may not be “formal” ministry…but when it is of God, it will be wonderful! Many Christians don’t think they can be used of God, because they aren’t “official” ministers – they believe they aren’t important enough to the plan of God. Beloved, when you are in Christ, you are important to Him, and He will use you! Just ask Him & find out!

God’s Work; God’s Church

Posted: November 4, 2018 in Acts, Uncategorized

Acts 11:1-18, “God’s Work; God’s Church”

In our culture, it can be easier to say ‘no’ than to say ‘yes.’ We are a contentious people! The moment we’re told to do something, we buck-up & resist doing it…even if we thought it was a good idea in the first place. We love to debate, but more to the point, we love to be right. If it wasn’t already the tendency of our culture, it’s shot through the roof in the age of social media. People debate each other on Facebook & Twitter, usually with zero willingness to change their own minds, and even acknowledging they probably won’t change anyone else’s mind either. Why debate? To win the argument & have the last word. We want to be the ones in the ‘right,’ we want to be viewed as the subject authority.

The same mindset can creep into the church. At times, debate is absolutely necessary – such as when false doctrine needs to be addressed or dangerous practices require correction and rebuke. Other times, contention is absolutely wrong – such as when Christians virtually come to blows over non-essential issues. People will wave the red flag of “heresy,” over minor differences. Interestingly, the word for “heretic” originally did not refer to false teachers, but to the choices of people for different sects, and by extension, to people who caused divisions. Perhaps the person bringing the accusation of heresy is actually the heretic (the divisive one)! 

Peter faced a similar situation when news of his evangelistic meeting with Cornelius got back to Jerusalem. What should have been a celebration of joy over those who were lost being found by Jesus, wasn’t. Instead, it became a bone of contention & potential division as people back in Jerusalem questioned what Peter had allowed to happen in Caesarea with the Roman Gentiles. Of course Peter had not allowed anything; God had. It was God’s work & God’s church. Who was Peter to stand in the way of God? Who is anyone else to do the same?

Much of the context is spoken by Peter in the passage, but some review is necessary. Remember Peter had been travelling throughout Judea, working miracles (just like the Lord Jesus, as Peter followed in His footsteps), and visiting the various church congregations along the way. Eventually Peter ended up in the coastal city of Joppa, where he received a vision from God instructing him to receive as clean the things God had cleansed. Meanwhile, to the north in Caesarea, the Roman centurion Cornelius (a deeply devout man with a sincere, reverent fear of the One True God) had received an angelic visitor, instructing him to send for Peter. His servants went, found Peter according to the angel’s instructions, and all of them returned to Cornelius’ home. Peter preached the gospel, and barely got through the basics about Jesus when the Holy Spirit fell upon them, evidencing their salvation. Though in shock, Peter understood exactly what had happened, commanding the believing Gentiles to be baptized.

It was the first instance of a group of Gentiles coming to faith in Jesus…it wouldn’t be the last! What was unusual at the time would soon become the norm as the gospel spread throughout the Roman empire. The gospel of Jesus Christ may have first been proclaimed among the Jews about their Jewish Messiah, but Jesus was not given only for the Jews. Jesus was given for all the world, so that anyone might be saved!

This had always been the plan of God, and Jesus had made this clear from the very beginning of the church, following His resurrection from the dead. Matthew 28:19–20, “(19) Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, (20) teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Acts 1:8, “(8) But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” What do these things have in common? A worldwide commission! Jesus is the King of the Jews, but He is more than the King of the Jews; He is the King of the world. His disciples are to testify of Him to the entire world, so that anyone in the world might be saved. He was given for all

Beyond the scope of His salvation, is the scope of His authority. Who’s in charge of the church? Jesus. Irrespective on the form of local church government, be it a local pastor, a board of elders, a congregational vote, a bishop, etc., when a church is a true church of Jesus Christ, then Jesus is its head. Jesus is in charge; it is His church. He has the right to do what He wants with it.

What does any of that have to do with the division and contention seen by Peter when returning to Jerusalem? Everything! God had worked a marvelous miracle of grace in Caesarea, but back in Jerusalem, certain people among the church thought that they knew better. They were willing to rebuke Peter for what he did; in reality, they were rebuking God & rebelling against His authority. They didn’t need to spurn God’s work; they needed to submit to it!

It’s God’s church! So get with the program! See what Jesus is doing, and submit to Him.

Acts 11:1–18

  • Accusation (1-3). Skepticism at the work of God.

1 Now the apostles and brethren who were in Judea heard that the Gentiles had also received the word of God. 2 And when Peter came up to Jerusalem, those of the circumcision contended with him, 3 saying, “You went in to uncircumcised men and ate with them!”

  1. News spread quickly! The church had heard of Peter’s work among the Gentiles before Peter even got back to Jerusalem. That was no easy feat! If it was a 2-day journey to get from Joppa to Caesarea, it was surely longer to get from Caesarea back to Jerusalem. (Perhaps 4 days?) Chapter 10 ended by saying that Peter stayed a few days with Cornelius after the baptism, so perhaps the news went forward as Peter stayed behind. However fast the news went, the entire church in Jerusalem heard – both the “apostles and brethren” knew what happened. Interestingly, there’s no mention of the apostles among those who confronted Peter when he later arrived. It would seem they agreed with what Peter did.
  2. And why not? Just think of what happened: “The Gentiles had also received the word of God.” The word of God = the gospel. To say they received the word is to say they believed the word…they were saved! For the first time in the church’s short history, God directed an entire group of Gentiles to be saved. This should have been good news! The Christians back in Jerusalem should have rejoiced! Jesus said that angels rejoice when those who are lost are found, and any true born-again Christian ought to be overjoyed anytime someone else come to faith in Jesus. It is the greatest thing that can ever happen to a human being! At that point, we not only go from being lost to being found, but from being spiritually dead to being eternally alive. We go from being an enemy of God, to being made a child of God. That is amazing! Celebrations are to be had any time someone comes to faith!
  3. Yet this time, it wasn’t. The circumcised believers (Jewish Christians) had a bone to pick with Peter. To say that they “contended with him” is to say that they passed judgment on him – they took issue with what Peter had done. Interestingly, it wasn’t so much over the fact of evangelism; it was over food. “You…ate with them.” They objected to Peter’s fellowship with the Roman Gentiles. He had gone into Cornelius’ home (something which Peter said at the time was “unlawful,” in that it broke with Jewish custom – Acts 10:28), and he shared a meal with him. Culturally, eating with someone equated to fellowship with someone, and fellowship meant acceptance, perhaps as an equal. To the typical Jewish mind at the time, that was inconceivable with a Gentile. Mutual respect was possible, kindness was part of loving one’s neighbor, but true equality in communion & fellowship? It couldn’t be done.
    1. This seems to be the first hint at the future party of the Judaizers, a group of supposed Christians that later caused all kinds of problems for Paul, who claimed that people had to first become Jews before they could be saved. The smallest seed is seen here, which later grows into full size by Acts 15. Like a cancerous tumor, the legalism of a few metastasized into the legalism of man. (A little leaven, leavens the whole lump!)
  4. Question: What’s the big deal? If Peter sinned in the eyes of the Jewish circumcised Christians, fine, but why would they throw such a big fit about it? Because what Peter did as an apostle affected more than just himself. He was a representative of the church as a whole, and the rest of the Jews in Jerusalem (unbelieving Jews) would have heard the same news and come to the same judgment of Peter and all Christians. (Longenecker, EBC) “Peter had set aside Christianity’s Jewish features and thereby seriously endangered its relation with the nation.” IOW, Peter potentially opened the door for further persecution, with the Jews justifying it saying that Christianity was no longer based in Judaism. (Perhaps this is seen in Acts 12:3, when the Jews rejoiced at Herod’s execution of James.)
    1. Today we remember the persecuted church around the world, but we cannot forget that we ourselves might one day be part of the number. One day, Christians elsewhere might be praying for us, that we would stand strong to the gospel! We don’t seek out persecution, but we need not fear it. If holding fast to the gospel invites persecution, so be it. We must be true to Jesus & His word!
  5. BTW – The Christians who confronted Peter were in the wrong, but notice what they did not do: they didn’t treat Peter like the pope. They didn’t assume Peter was infallible, never able to do anything wrong. Even as a leader among the church, they didn’t treat Peter as if he was some kind of king. They (hopefully) confronted him in love and respect (Scripture doesn’t indicate their tone), but they treated Peter as if he was simply a Christian…because that was what he was.
  6. The problem here wasn’t the questioning of Peter; it was the questioning of God. Peter could (and should) have been corrected if he had done something wrong, but he hadn’t. God had taken him to that place, directed him to do what he did, and God is the one who chose to make His work so obvious to Peter that Peter had no other choice other than to command the Gentiles to be baptized. Yet what was the concern of the Jerusalem circumcision? That Peter went into a Gentile’s house? They were so concerned about their traditions and preferences that it undercut the entire work of God towards someone else’s salvation.
    1. Have you ever been skeptical at God’s work? Perhaps you looked at someone & without speaking with them, knew they couldn’t be saved. Who is impossible for God to reach with the gospel? No one! Who is so lost in sin that they cannot be saved by Christ? None! There are no limits as to what our God can do…don’t question Him! Should there be evidence of faith (fruit)? Of course, and where there is sin we should lovingly call it what it is and help a less mature brother or sister bear his/her burden and be restored in correction (Gal 6:1-2). But may we never place limits on the love and the grace of God! If He saved us, He can save anyone!

So this was the problem. Peter has come back to judgmental, critical people against something that was glorious. They had set forth their accusation; it was time for him to explain what had happened. If they were skeptical against the work of God, he needed to show them the work of God. Much of his explanation is a recap of the events of Acts 10, so there isn’t a need to revisit the details, but there are a few things that need to be seen along the way.

  • Explanation (4-17). Seeing the work of God.

4 But Peter explained it to them in order from the beginning, saying: 5 “I was in the city of Joppa praying; and in a trance I saw a vision, an object descending like a great sheet, let down from heaven by four corners; and it came to me. 6 When I observed it intently and considered, I saw four-footed animals of the earth, wild beasts, creeping things, and birds of the air. 7 And I heard a voice saying to me, ‘Rise, Peter; kill and eat.’ 8 But I said, ‘Not so, Lord! For nothing common or unclean has at any time entered my mouth.’ 9 But the voice answered me again from heaven, ‘What God has cleansed you must not call common.’ 10 Now this was done three times, and all were drawn up again into heaven.

  1. Reviewed Acts 10:9-16, Peter’s lunchtime vision. Remember that he had been staying the home of Simon the tanner, and around noon Peter went up to the flat rooftop to pray. There, he became hungry & fell into this ecstatic trance. It was as if Peter was outside his body experiencing these things. He saw this sheet full of non-kosher animals, and received a command from the Lord to slaughter them for food & to eat them. The act should have rendered him totally unclean (which is why Peter resisted), but Peter shouldn’t have refused. Why? God had declared it all to be clean.
  2. The lesson? He wasn’t supposed to question God’s work. It wasn’t up to Peter to deny what God said or did; Peter was supposed to receive it. What God gave was of God, and God is in charge. Servants don’t pass judgment on their Sovereign, and Jesus is the Sovereign King. God cleansed what Peter originally thought to be beyond cleansing, so Peter should have received it as being clean. (Which is good enough news regarding diet, but far better regarding people!)
  3. Notice verse 6: “When I observed it intently and considered.” When telling the story to the Jerusalem Christians, Peter made it clear that he carefully considered his actions. He looked at the sheet, and he knew exactly what was there…this was why he refused three times to eat. The point? This wasn’t a haphazard whim. Peter hadn’t lost sight of his Jewishness or decided to cast aside his heritage. He was being led of the Lord.
  4. Beyond God’s work in Peter’s vision was God’s work at the front door…

11 At that very moment, three men stood before the house where I was, having been sent to me from Caesarea. 12 Then the Spirit told me to go with them, doubting nothing. Moreover these six brethren accompanied me, and we entered the man’s house.

  1. Summary of 10:17-20. Peter was so lost in his vision on the roof that he neither saw the servants from Cornelius arrive at the house, nor heard them asking for him by name. The Holy Spirit had to speak to Peter, telling him what was happening & instructing him on what to do next.
  2. There’s one additional detail here that wasn’t in Chapter 10: “six brethren” went with Peter as witnesses. Earlier, the number wasn’t said, but Peter likely pointed straight to the group of men who had returned from Caesarea with him. He had a lot of backup in his testimony. Among the Hebrews, only 2-3 witnesses were required to establish an event as true. God saw fit to equip Peter with 3-times the amount! The church in Jerusalem did not have to rely upon the sole word of Peter as to what he did; they had six other people that could be questioned, and (in this case) verify everything he said was true.
  3. Notice it was the Spirit who told Peter to go, and likewise in verse 13, it was the angel who told Cornelius to call for Simon Peter by name. (Robertson) “Perhaps Peter is anxious to make it plain that he did not go of his own initiative into the house of Cornelius. He went under God’s orders.” This is one more demonstration of God’s ownership of His church. God chose to give the gospel to Gentiles. God chose to use Peter to preach the gospel to them. It was all God’s plan and God’s doing. Peter saw & recognized it at the time; he was trying to get the others to see it as well.

13 And he told us how he had seen an angel standing in his house, who said to him, ‘Send men to Joppa, and call for Simon whose surname is Peter, 14 who will tell you words by which you and all your household will be saved.’

  1. Summary of 10:30-33. Interestingly, Cornelius is never mentioned by name, nor his position as a Roman centurion. Surely that was already known, being part of the news that preceded Peter’s return to Jerusalem. Even so, Peter isn’t recorded as saying it. Perhaps he thought it would just remind the others of how scandalous the whole thing seemed. (Which wasn’t a scandal at all; it was wonderful!)
  2. Some new info here: in addition to giving Cornelius the name of Peter & address of where Peter was staying, the angel apparently told Cornelius a hint of Peter’s message. Peter would tell them “words by which you and all your household will be saved.” Question: Is anyone saved by words? Words are just words. Anyone can repeat the words of a prayer & have it mean nothing. Anyone can read the words on a gospel tract & remain unchanged. Words have no magic powers – they don’t do anything in & of themselves. (Which is one reason religious rituals have little meaning. Just because a priest spoke words over something doesn’t mean that God did anything.) The issue isn’t the words; it is the message behind the words. Words alone do not save, but when those words point us to Jesus, then Jesus saves!
    1. Don’t misunderstand. It’s not that words aren’t important; they are! God has given us His written word in the Bible, and God uses the spoken word of the gospel to bring people to faith in Christ. (Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God. Rom 10:17) But it is Jesus’ work at the cross & resurrection that saves us; not the words that describe His work. We lose sight of this when we start placing too much importance on stuff like the so-called “sinner’s prayer.” We think “I know little Johnny is saved, because he recited the prayer!” If Johnny is saved, it is because Johnny has real faith in Jesus & what Jesus did at the cross for him; it’s not because Johnny repeated the prayer spoken by a Sunday School teacher or pastor.
    2. The point? Don’t look only for words; look for what is behind the words. Look for Jesus!

15 And as I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell upon them, as upon us at the beginning. 16 Then I remembered the word of the Lord, how He said, ‘John indeed baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’

  1. Summary of 10:44-46. Peter hadn’t finished preaching when “the Holy Spirit fell upon them.” Peter had proclaimed the basics of the good news of Jesus, but that was it. There was no time for an invitation or an altar-call – Peter didn’t even have time to elaborate on what he already said. The Holy Spirit decided to fall, and He fell. He came upon the friends and family of Cornelius in a big way, baptizing them into their salvation in Christ, and empowering them to speak in tongues (languages unknown to them). If the work of God had been evident before (Cornelius’ angel, Peter’s vision, the Spirit’s spoken direction), surely it was evident now! The Spirit’s work was in plain sight.
  2. At that moment in Caesarea, Peter remembered two things. First, Peter remembered Pentecost. Back in Acts 2 (however long ago it was…the chronology is somewhat unclear), the Christians in Jerusalem experienced the exact same thing. They were gathered together in prayer, waiting for the gift of the Holy Spirit, exactly as Jesus had instructed them to do. That’s when little flames (tongues) of fire appeared on the heads of the believers, and all of them spoke the praises of God in languages (tongues) they had never known. The parallel between the Pentecost Jewish believers and the Caesarea Gentiles was undeniable. The Spirit had done the exact same thing with each of them – proof that Jesus had saved them.
  3. Second, Peter remembered Jesus’ teaching. Shortly before the experience at Pentecost, Jesus prepared them for what was going to happen. Acts 1:4–5, “(4) And being assembled together with them, He commanded them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the Promise of the Father, “which,” He said, “you have heard from Me; (5) for John truly baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.”” Just as John the Baptist had told the crowds that although he baptized with water, the Messiah would baptize with fire, so did Jesus tell the disciples that this new fiery spiritual baptism was about to arrive. And it did, on Pentecost.
  4. Question: If only two witnesses were needed in Jewish culture to prove an event true, how many witnesses did Peter have regarding the validity of what happened? Peter had the testimonies of God the Holy Spirit and the Lord Jesus Christ. When Peter saw what happened at the house of Cornelius, he didn’t need to speculate whether it was the work of God. He didn’t need to gather the six Christians for a committee meeting – he didn’t need to write out the pro’s & con’s – he didn’t need to roll the dice or guess; Peter knew because God made it obvious. God testified to what He did, and God’s testimony was enough!
  5. That was why Peter acted the way he did…

17 If therefore God gave them the same gift as He gave us when we believed on the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could withstand God?”

  1. The word “withstand” = prevent/hinder. It was the same word used of the Ethiopian eunuch with Philip when the Ethiopian came across water after hearing the gospel. “What hinders me from being baptized?” (Acts 8:36) What would prevent him – what would stand in the way? (Nothing!) Likewise here. God had directed Peter to this place, and God had done this magnificent work among Cornelius’ family that God had always said He would do. Who was Peter to stand in the way? Peter was just a man, but God is God! Peter did not presume himself to know better than God or to argue with Him. When God works among God’s church, God’s people aren’t supposed to argue; we’re supposed to follow.
    1. When was the last time you argued with God about His work? Notice the question is “when”; not “have you,”…we’ve all argued with God at some point! We all have times when we somehow come to the conclusion that the all-knowing, all-powerful God doesn’t see the full picture & that we (as limited created beings doomed to destruction, if not for the grace of God through Jesus) have a better idea. The word “presumptuous” doesn’t even capture it!
  2. For all the flack that people give Peter because of his tendency to rush ahead (ready, shoot, aim!), he ought to be commended! In this, he did the right thing. He may have originally been hesitant in his vision, but once directed by the Spirit to go to Caesarea, he went. He even went into the home of a Gentile, and faithfully preached the gospel. Then, once witnessing the obvious work of the Holy Spirit, Peter followed through with baptism, not being willing to stand in the way of God. Well done! Would that all of us be that obedient & that observant to the things of God! That said, just because Peter learned the lesson and did the right thing in Joppa and Caesarea, and strongly defended it in Jerusalem, doesn’t mean he always remembered it. Peter had his own time of second-guessing the things of God. Later, Paul wrote to the Galatians of an instance when Peter adopted a prejudice against the Gentile Christians while in Antioch, refusing to eat with them. Paul quickly recognized the danger & confronted Peter to his face (Gal 2:11-14). Here in Acts 10-11, Peter saw that the Lord showed no difference between Jew & Gentile in the gospel promise, and indeed, that was the main point of his Joppa vision. Even so, he later lost sight – he fell into old habits & allowed himself to bow to peer pressure when Jewish Christians from Jerusalem showed up in Antioch. Just because you learn a lesson once doesn’t mean you won’t have to learn it all over again. Just because you do the right thing once doesn’t mean that’s the only time you have to do it. When you see the work of God, stay in the work of God! Be careful you don’t fall back into presumption, where we start telling God what He can or cannot do.
  3. The main point in the lesson learned by Peter is simple: God makes no distinction among His people! How could Peter stand in the way of God, when God treated Jew & Gentile the same? They may have had different backgrounds, but they had exactly the same need: they were all sinners in need of salvation. Both Simon Peter the Jew and Cornelius the Gentile had rebelled against God & were due His judgment until Jesus died in their place, offering each of them the same gift of forgiveness. There is one God, one gospel, and one people resulting from it. Galatians 3:28, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” We are one in Christ Jesus! As long as we have faith in the Lord Jesus, there is no difference between us. (None that counts.) To Paul’s list in Galatians, we can add any other form of perceived status. God does not love pastors more than parishioners. Jesus did not make a greater sacrifice for celebrities than the average Joe. We are all of equal value in His sight, thus we should treat one another as equal value within the church!
    1. That includes your own background. You may have been convicted of felonies, yet in Christ you are no different from the guy who’s never had a traffic ticket. Or maybe you’re the one who’s never been in a day’s trouble, yet you require just as much salvation as the guy with a record a mile-long. We are all sinners in need of Jesus, and anyone who is saved has been saved by Jesus’ same sacrifice. Don’t make distinctions where God does not!
    2. Isn’t it wonderful to be one? Think of how divided our culture is today. Everything is political, and every time we turn around there is another battle to be fought. These days news cycles are measured in terms of hours, rather than weeks. Yet there is one place where those differences can be left behind: at the foot of the cross. Look around the room, and you’ll see people with vastly different backgrounds than you (different educations, different income, etc.), but in Jesus, those differences don’t matter. In Jesus, we are all sinners saved by grace!

The accusation was leveled against Peter with the people’s skepticism. Peter explained himself, showing what God had done with Cornelius. Now it was time for the people’s response…and it was good!

  • Acceptance (18). Submitting to the work of God.

18 When they heard these things they became silent; and they glorified God, saying, “Then God has also granted to the Gentiles repentance to life.”

  1. Objections were silenced & accusation turned to praise. What made the difference? They recognized the work of God in saving the Gentiles, and they submitted/surrendered to it. No longer did they presume to know better than God. Sure, God worked in a way they didn’t expect (although they should have expected it, considering Jesus told them what would happen), but it wasn’t up to them to question God; it was up to them to follow God. God had obviously worked, so God was to be glorified and praised. He had granted salvation to the Gentiles. He had taken the gospel to people who would have never have come to Jerusalem (who wouldn’t have been welcomed in Jerusalem!), and God saved them just like He saved anyone else. What response could there be, other than surrendered praise? Hallelujah!
    1. There is a wonderful freedom that comes with simple surrender to the Lord! We expect unbelievers to rebel against God, but we don’t always expect Christians to do it…yet we do. Often it’s when we slip into old habits of familiar sin, but sometimes it’s in the newer sin of resistance. Keep in mind we can sin in two ways: commission & omission – through the things we do & the things we don’t do. When we don’t follow Jesus in simple obedience & submission, it’s just as sinful as when we choose to do our sinful habits of the past. Choosing not to follow Jesus is the same as walking in another direction. The danger for the Jerusalem Christians was that they were originally choosing not to follow; thankfully they made another choice & found freedom to praise God.
    2. We can all make a different choice! The Gentiles in Caesarea weren’t the only ones who needed to repent; so did the Christians in Jerusalem who resisted the work of God. When they did, they found freedom. So can you! In what have you been skeptical against the Lord, fighting against His will, refusing to follow Christ? Change your mind, change your direction. Repent, and find freedom to glorify God! 
  2. Don’t miss how the church described the work of God: He “granted to the Gentiles repentance to life.” The Greek preposition for “to” is normally translated “into,” as in “repentance into” Different Bible versions try to get this idea across in different ways. NASB/ESV: “repentance that leads to life,”; NIV: “repentance unto life,”; HCSB: “repentance resulting in life.” There is a relationship between repentance & eternal life that cannot be separated. Repentance is not a work that earns eternal life, but repentance always accompanies & precedes eternal life. How can this be? Ephesians 2:8–9, “(8) For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, (9) not of works, lest anyone should boast.” It’s clear we’re saved by grace through faith & not by works. Is not faith simply belief? No! Belief is part of saving faith, but it is not all of saving faith. You can believe certain truths and facts without doing anything with those facts. I can believe that a parachute will drop me from falling to my death, but you’re not going to convince me to jump out of an airplane. In that case, belief in the effectiveness of a parachute does me nothing. The Bible tells us that when it comes to the truth of God & the person of Jesus, even the demons believe the fact, enough so that they shudder & tremble in fear (Jas 2:19), yet the demons are not saved. True saving faith is a combination of belief and repentance. It is our hearts, heads, and hands all working together. After all, how do we know when what we claim to believe is our real belief? It’s when our actions back it up – it’s when we put our money where our mouth is & put on the parachute. Repentance (a change of mind & action) is simply outward evidence of inward belief. Without the former, the latter doesn’t exist. This is why repentance leads to life.
  3. And it is a gift! Again, how can we know that true biblical repentance can never be thought of as a work of man? Because it is the gift of God. Look again at what the church recognized: “God has also granted to the Gentiles repentance into life.” God gave Cornelius & the other Gentiles their repentance, just like He gave us our saving faith. It is His free gift to all who respond to Jesus as Savior and Lord.
    1. How does someone receive the gift of God? Ask! Matthew 7:7–8, “(7) “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. (8) For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened.” God delights in giving the gift of repentance & faith unto salvation! All you need to do is ask.


When Peter showed up in Jerusalem, what should have been a celebration of joy quickly turned into a point of contention. People priding themselves on their traditions and background were skeptical at the work of God & became critical of the things Peter had done. Peter didn’t lose his cool – he simply explained himself, showing the others the obvious work of God, freely admitting how God had directed him & that he had no right to stand in the way. Thankfully, the people responded as they should have: accepting & submitting to the work of God among them. (And thus the celebration wasn’t denied; it was merely delayed.)

What was it that was really the issue? Authority. The Jerusalem Christians thought they knew better than Peter, when Peter hadn’t really made any of these decisions on his own. It was all the work of God. It was God’s work done within God’s church. God is the authority; we are simply to follow Him.

Christian: beware that you do not stand in the way of God – that you don’t second-guess the work of your Savior. If we call Jesus “Lord,” then we ought to surrender to Him the authority that is His. Jesus said that He will build His church (Mt 16:18), and we need to trust Him to do it the way He sees best. That means we stop questioning who can/can’t be saved. It means we stop thinking God can’t do something new or different. It means we stop thinking that we know the better way to accomplish the goal. No – we do it God’s way, because it’s God’s church. 

That’s true for us as individuals. We don’t second-guess Jesus when He gives us clear direction in His Scripture. Sometimes the Spirit might lead us as He led Peter, but most often He will speak to us through His word. We need to see it, and submit to it for what it is. That means when God says to forgive, we forgive. When God says we need to be generous, we’re generous; when we are to tell someone else about Jesus (even if we don’t think there is a snowball’s chance in Texas that the person can be saved), we tell them. Follow Jesus, because it is His church, and He knows what He’s doing!

Passover: Escaping Judgment

Posted: November 1, 2018 in Acts, Uncategorized

Exodus 11-12, “Passover: Escaping Judgment”

Passover: It is arguably the most important day in Hebrew history. This event, combined with the parting of the waters at the Red Sea, guaranteed freedom from Egyptian slavery, and demonstrated them to be a people chosen by, and dedicated unto the Lord God. But as important as the Red Sea was in the life of the nation of Israel, it was Passover when their redemption was purchased. That was the night that death passed over them – the night when God’s judgment was poured out on the land, and those covered by the blood of sacrifice were spared.

In other words, it was a perfect preview of the cross! The crucifixion of Jesus is to us, what Passover was to the ancient Hebrews. It was the pivotal event that changed us from a people enslaved to sin & death, to a people redeemed by, dedicated to, and given life by the Lord God. It was the event that made it possible for us to go from certain death to living fellowship with the Living God – the event in which we escaped judgment as judgment was poured out on our Substitute, Christ Jesus. (A gift of which anyone can partake!)

Yet the idea of a redeeming sacrifice didn’t arise out of thin air in Jerusalem of 33AD – the foundation for it had been laid long before…even in the Garden of Eden! At the first sin of mankind, God shed the blood of an animal in order to clothe Adam & Eve (Genesis 3:21), and the idea of sacrifice is seen throughout the pages of Genesis and the lives of the children of Abraham. Of course sacrifices continue throughout the whole of the Scripture until Christ, but there can be little doubt the climax of all Old Testament sacrifices is seen the night of the original Passover, when lambs were slain in order for the Hebrews to escape the judgment of God.

This was the latest judgment to befall Egypt, and it was the most terrible of them all. For over 400 years, the Hebrews had been in Egypt, first welcomed into the land, and later enslaved by them. God had raised up Moses as a deliverer for His people, and Moses (along with his brother Aaron) repeatedly appealed to Pharaoh to let the Hebrews go. Moses had delivered the word of the Lord (YHWH) to Pharaoh, but Pharaoh did not recognize the Lord, nor did Pharaoh want to. Instead, he hardened his heart against God, and the nation of Egypt bore the consequences of punishment. Nine terrible plagues had fallen across the land, each advancing in severity to the point that even Pharaoh’s own servants knew YHWH had defeated them. Yet Pharaoh stubbornly pushed on – sometimes pretending repentance, other times lying outright. Finally he demanded that Moses and Aaron leave his presence, never to see his face again.

That demand would prove to be true, for Moses would never again see Pharaoh to appeal for freedom; Moses would speak to Pharaoh simply to communicate God’s judgment. Something far worse than frogs, lice, fiery hail, or tangibly thick darkness was coming…the next plague was death itself. Mercy could be found from death, but only through the blood of sacrifice made in faith in the One True God. God offered redemption and refuge; people needed only to trust Him through faithful obedience.

Are you covered by the blood of Jesus’ sacrifice? Jesus is the Passover lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! In Him, we escape judgment. Take refuge!

Exodus 11

  • The plague announced (11:1-10). God warns.

1 And the LORD said to Moses, “I will bring one more plague on Pharaoh and on Egypt. Afterward he will let you go from here. When he lets you go, he will surely drive you out of here altogether.

  1. God hasn’t yet said what the plague will be, but already He made it clear it would be a decisive blow. The nine previous plagues had destroyed the land of Egypt, but this 10th final plague would destroy the families of Egypt. In this terrible war, Pharaoh would give an unconditional surrender. Not only will Pharaoh let the Hebrews go, he will want them to go. “He will surely drive you out…” The idea is emphatic: Pharaoh will force them to leave. Such is the extent of the man defeated by Almighty God.
    1. Remember, Pharaoh could have experienced mercy. At any time, he could have surrendered to the Lord, and heeded the word of Moses. Instead, he stubbornly hardened his heart, and God confirmed that hardening. All that befell Pharaoh was his own fault (much like the consequences that come to us when we refuse the word of God).

2 Speak now in the hearing of the people, and let every man ask from his neighbor and every woman from her neighbor, articles of silver and articles of gold.” 3 And the LORD gave the people favor in the sight of the Egyptians. Moreover the man Moses was very great in the land of Egypt, in the sight of Pharaoh’s servants and in the sight of the people.

  1. So much was the victory over Pharaoh assured that God commanded Moses to tell the people to ask for plunder before the plague hit. The Hebrews were to go to all their Egyptian neighbors and ask for valuable gifts now, because they wouldn’t have time to ask for them later.
  2. And the amazing thing is: they received it! Why? Because the Egyptian people feared Moses. “Moses was very great in the land of Egypt.” More to the point, they feared the God of Moses. They had seen what happened with Moses spoke, and they knew that the God Moses served was true to His word. If God said something would happen, it happened. When God brought plagues upon Egypt, they were devastating. At this point, it didn’t matter what the Hebrews asked from the Egyptians, they were willing to give it.
    1. We don’t want people to fear us, but we do want them to fear the God we serve. We want them to see Jesus through us, just like the Egyptians saw God through the life of Moses. The key is faithfulness! If we’re faithful like Moses was faithful, then people will see our good works and glorify our Father in heaven. (Mt 5:16)

4 Then Moses said, “Thus says the LORD: ‘About midnight I will go out into the midst of Egypt; 5 and all the firstborn in the land of Egypt shall die, from the firstborn of Pharaoh who sits on his throne, even to the firstborn of the female servant who is behind the handmill, and all the firstborn of the animals. 6 Then there shall be a great cry throughout all the land of Egypt, such as was not like it before, nor shall be like it again.

  1. Note: God would personally There is an emphatic pronoun in the Hebrew, and it could be translated “About midnight I Myself will go out…” This time, there would be no frogs, bugs, diseases, or anything else sent forth; it was God Himself going forth into the land. The Almighty I AM would visit Egypt in all of their sin and rebellion. Even if God said nothing else after that point, this alone ought to have been a terrifying thought! God is a consuming fire – He is totally holy, and none can stand in His presence. What would Egypt do, if God Himself showed up in Egypt? Who could survive? The fact that only the firstborn in each household died is a demonstration of tremendous mercy!
  2. Even so, there was still massive judgment! God made it clear that “all the firstborn in the land of Egypt shall die.” Neither social status nor riches protected anyone – even the animal livestock would be affected. Egypt’s livestock had already been decimated by the earlier plagues, and now another was coming. This would be a crippling blow to the nation, bringing them to their knees. If Pharaoh would not willingly humble himself, he would be humbled. God would personally see to it.
  3. It was a terrible judgment, bringing great sadness & mourning…yet it was necessary. The wages of sin is death, and Egypt had sinned in untold ways. God had repeatedly provided opportunity after opportunity for them to repent, yet Pharaoh never took it. Pharaoh’s pride brought his nation to the point that the judgment of God was inevitable and unrelenting.
    1. It’s little different with people today. God gives mercy after mercy, morning after morning for people to repent. The good news of Jesus is repeatedly told them, and they still refuse to repent. They’re told of how although their sin has earned the infinite judgment of God, Jesus took that judgment in their place when He died on the cross. In Jesus’ resurrection, He offers forgiveness and eternal life to anyone who believes – all we must do is surrender ourselves to Him in faith. Every day the message goes out, and every day some people refuse it. Eventually a person just runs out of days. At some point the judgment of God becomes inevitable. (Don’t waste your opportunity!)
  4. All that was coming to Egypt. What was coming to Israel? Something vastly different…

7 But against none of the children of Israel shall a dog move its tongue, against man or beast, that you may know that the LORD does make a difference between the Egyptians and Israel.’

  1. Israel would live. Why? God’s favor. He chose to “make a difference between the Egyptians and Israel” – God chose to give them grace. How He does so will be explained later in Chapter 12. Israel would be able to live in the grace of God, but they too needed to respond in faith.

8 And all these your servants shall come down to me and bow down to me, saying, ‘Get out, and all the people who follow you!’ After that I will go out.” Then he went out from Pharaoh in great anger.

  1. Some of this returns to the first verse. How bad will Pharaoh want Israel to go? He will order them to leave. All this time, Moses had been asking to go; now he wouldn’t go until Egypt told him to get out.
  2. Why was Moses so angry? Scripture doesn’t say, but it is easy to figure out. As necessary as this judgment was, it could have been avoided! Again, at any time, Pharaoh could have humbled himself in faith and repentance. How many lives would have been saved, if he had? God was surely the One to bring judgment on the land, but the fault was Pharaoh’s.
    1. God can never be blamed for His judgment. It is always holy & righteous. The fault is ours. Like a criminal in court, so we bear our own guilt.

9 But the LORD said to Moses, “Pharaoh will not heed you, so that My wonders may be multiplied in the land of Egypt.” 10 So Moses and Aaron did all these wonders before Pharaoh; and the LORD hardened Pharaoh’s heart, and he did not let the children of Israel go out of his land.

  1. Once again, Pharaoh’s heart was hardened. For the first time, it was done before the plague. It would take the terrible judgment and plague of God to break Pharaoh’s heart. 

Exodus 12

  • Passover instructed and explained (12:1-28). God protects / God redeems.

1 Now the LORD spoke to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt, saying, 2 “This month shall be your beginning of months; it shall be the first month of the year to you.

  1. God was promising a new start for the Hebrews, and that was to be celebrated in their calendar. They were given new life, so they ought to start a new year. Traditionally known as Abib. After the Babylonian captivity, it was known as Nisan. Bottom line: they would mark the very date God saved them – it was the pivotal point of their lives.
    1. Do you remember the date Jesus saved you? Do you remember the circumstances of your faith? Mark it down!

3 Speak to all the congregation of Israel, saying: ‘On the tenth of this month every man shall take for himself a lamb, according to the house of his father, a lamb for a household. 4 And if the household is too small for the lamb, let him and his neighbor next to his house take it according to the number of the persons; according to each man’s need you shall make your count for the lamb. 5 Your lamb shall be without blemish, a male of the first year. You may take it from the sheep or from the goats.

  1. One lamb per family, according to the number of people in the family. Neighbors were invited to gather together if the families happened to be too small. (An unlikely problem at the time, considering most households seemed to have anywhere from 5-8 sons listed in their genealogies – some more, some less.)
  2. More important than the number of people for the lamb was the quality of the animal itself. The lamb was to be pure, “without blemish.” This was not to be the leftover runt of the litter (so to speak) – it wasn’t the weak or injured lamb offered to God; it was the best. The lamb that would grow into the most valued of the flock was the lamb to be offered to God. Why? It wasn’t just a matter of Godly respect & reverence; it was a matter of substitution and prophecy. The lamb stood in the place of the family – it was the substitute for the impurities & blemishes of the people, so it could not have any blemishes of its own. More importantly, it pointed ultimately to Christ. 1 Peter 1:18–19, “(18) knowing that you were not redeemed with corruptible things, like silver or gold, from your aimless conduct received by tradition from your fathers, (19) but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot.” Jesus was perfect – no sin, no blemish, no spot of iniquity was found in Him. Though He was tempted in every way as we are, He was without sin (Heb 4:15). That enabled Jesus to be our perfect sacrifice (as well as our perfect High Priest), as He became our sin offering in our place. The Passover lamb of the Hebrews points to the Passover lamb of Christ! 

6 Now you shall keep it until the fourteenth day of the same month. Then the whole assembly of the congregation of Israel shall kill it at twilight. 7 And they shall take some of the blood and put it on the two doorposts and on the lintel of the houses where they eat it. 8 Then they shall eat the flesh on that night; roasted in fire, with unleavened bread and with bitter herbs they shall eat it. 9 Do not eat it raw, nor boiled at all with water, but roasted in fire—its head with its legs and its entrails. 10 You shall let none of it remain until morning, and what remains of it until morning you shall burn with fire. 11 And thus you shall eat it: with a belt on your waist, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand. So you shall eat it in haste. It is the LORD’s Passover.

  1. God gives some of the basic regulations: The lamb was to be set apart for 5 days, then sacrificed. The blood was to be set aside for a specific purpose. The meat was to be roasted in fire, which was the only sanctioned cooking method. All of the meat was to be consumed, and the meal was to be eaten in a state of readiness. – Some of this would be explained later (such as the blood on the doorposts); others were left simply as commands. Putting the lamb apart gave time for a thorough examination (much like Jesus was examined during His final week in Jerusalem). Killing the lamb at the same time (twilight) emphasized that this was one sacrifice for the whole nation (like Jesus was the singular sacrifice for all people for all time). Roasting the meat in fire was probably symbolic of the wrath of God (which Jesus satisfied on our behalf). The bitter herbs were to remind the Hebrews of the bitterness of their slavery (as all sin and slavery is bitter). Eating it in full and in a state of readiness emphasized the importance of the meal and the quick nature of their redemption & exodus (again, perhaps pointing to the full nature of the sacrifice of Jesus and our immediate surrender to Him).
  2. Why all the regulations? This wasn’t a regular meal; it belonged to the Lord. This was the Passover to/for YHWH; not Israel. This was His meal, His sacrifice, His provision. Israel didn’t set the rules; God did. They were invited by God to come to Him and partake of His grace, but they were to come on His terms; not their own.
    1. It’s no different with our salvation in Christ. Many people want the promises of heaven & eternal life; they just want to set their own terms for how they will go. It doesn’t work that way. Salvation is the free gift of God, but God gives it on His terms. We must go through faith in Jesus Christ, or we cannot go at all. (Jn 14:6)
  3. All of this preparation, sacrifice, and meal had a purpose. It’s what got them ready to escape the plague of judgment…

12 ‘For I will pass through the land of Egypt on that night, and will strike all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both man and beast; and against all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgment: I am the LORD. 13 Now the blood shall be a sign for you on the houses where you are. And when I see the blood, I will pass over you; and the plague shall not be on you to destroy you when I strike the land of Egypt.

  1. God was coming for “” He would smite/strike the “firstborn in the land of Egypt,” as well as all of the false Egyptian gods. The Lord would be shown as superior over all, and the conquering King. Again, Pharaoh had gone to war against YHWH, refusing to recognize YHWH as God. God would act decisively in return, forcing Pharaoh into submission.
    1. People often don’t like to think of the judgment of God…and for good reason: it’s terrifying! To imagine what the all-powerful Deity can do to a person is more frightening than anything Hollywood can imagine. As the Scriptures say, “it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” (Heb 10:31) Because we don’t want to imagine this, we prefer to think of God in terms of love & grace. And certainly God does exude grace, mercy, kindness, and love. Love is an essential attribute of God, so much so that the apostle John could write that “God is love.” (1 Jn 4:8) But God’s love does not exist to the extent that it eliminates God’s wrath. God is supremely holy, and His wrath abides on the wicked & rebellious. All sin will be judged, and God will not hesitate to bring it.
  2. But the Hebrews wouldn’t be judged. Why? They had a “sign”: the blood on the doorposts. The homes of the Hebrews were to be marked with the blood of the sacrificial lamb. If the Hebrews followed the command of God in faith, then they would be spared from judgment, because the lamb had already been judged.
    1. This is key to remember regarding Jesus! Sometimes we think that when God forgives our sin, that He just forgets about it & pretends it never existed. Not so! Our sin did exist; it’s just that because of Jesus it exists no longer. There was indeed judgment for every single born-again Christian; we just weren’t the ones judged…Jesus was. Without Jesus, we abide in God’s wrath; in Jesus, God’s wrath is satisfied.
  3. BTW – The sign wasn’t for location. God knew where His people lived, and in which houses they dwelt. The blood was a sign of their faith & God’s mercy and grace. The Hebrews could look at the blood on the doorpost and be reassured that the death they owed had already taken place via sacrifice. (What is it that we look to? The moment we repented & placed our faith in Jesus!)

14 ‘So this day shall be to you a memorial; and you shall keep it as a feast to the LORD throughout your generations. You shall keep it as a feast by an everlasting ordinance. 15 Seven days you shall eat unleavened bread. On the first day you shall remove leaven from your houses. For whoever eats leavened bread from the first day until the seventh day, that person shall be cut off from Israel.

  1. Instructions were given for the future memorial feast of Unleavened Bread. This wasn’t to be kept in the then-current day, as there wasn’t time. When God first announced this through Moses, the actual Passover itself was at hand. The Feast of Unleavened Bread wouldn’t be able to be celebrated until the Hebrews were free & at the base of Mount Sinai. (Which was assurance that freedom would soon come!)
  2. Note: Passover was to be perpetually remembered; not redone. There was only one Passover night (and only one cross of Christ Jesus!). For Israel, future lambs were sacrificed in remembrance, but never again was blood put on the doorposts. That happened once, because God only passed through once. Every other celebration of Passover was a memorial.
    1. We have a similar application to the Lord’s Supper. When we partake of the bread & the cup of Christ, Jesus is not re-sacrificed on our behalf – time does not roll back to the moment of the crucifixion. One sacrifice was made, and once was enough. Thus we remember Jesus’ sacrifice during communion – it is a memorial meal.

16 On the first day there shall be a holy convocation, and on the seventh day there shall be a holy convocation for you. No manner of work shall be done on them; but that which everyone must eat—that only may be prepared by you. 17 So you shall observe the Feast of Unleavened Bread, for on this same day I will have brought your armies out of the land of Egypt. Therefore you shall observe this day throughout your generations as an everlasting ordinance. 18 In the first month, on the fourteenth day of the month at evening, you shall eat unleavened bread, until the twenty-first day of the month at evening. 19 For seven days no leaven shall be found in your houses, since whoever eats what is leavened, that same person shall be cut off from the congregation of Israel, whether he is a stranger or a native of the land. 20 You shall eat nothing leavened; in all your dwellings you shall eat unleavened bread.’ ”

  1. Why no leaven? Leaven is often a picture of sin. Paul wrote twice how “a little leaven leavens the whole lump,” (1 Cor 5:6, Gal 5:9). It only takes a bit of yeast to work its way through an entire lump of dough, as the yeast feeds off the sugar in the flour and grows. Likewise, it only takes a bit of sin in someone’s life to grow and infect all kinds of areas we never thought possible. (Sin is contagious!) Thus, the leaven was to be purged from the Hebrew homes, symbolically purging their homes of sin.
  2. The point? God was calling Israel to do two things. First, remember! Passover wasn’t a night to be forgotten; it was to be remembered all their days. [Like 9/11, never forget!] For Israel, it wasn’t tragic; it was glorious! But it wasn’t to be taken for granted, either.
  3. Second: be pure! Israel was to set themselves apart for a time of intentional holiness. They had their “holy convocation” and their rituals for getting rid of leaven. All of it was meant to set themselves apart from everything else, and to be intentionally set aside for their worship of God. It was sanctification, played out in real time.

God has given the commands. Now it was time for Moses to exhort the people to obey what God had said…

21 Then Moses called for all the elders of Israel…

  1. Why the “elders”? There was no Aaronic priesthood yet. The elders did the work of the priests, and led their families/clans in their worship of God.

…and said to them, “Pick out and take lambs for yourselves according to your families, and kill the Passover lamb. 22 And you shall take a bunch of hyssop, dip it in the blood that is in the basin, and strike the lintel and the two doorposts with the blood that is in the basin. And none of you shall go out of the door of his house until morning. 23 For the LORD will pass through to strike the Egyptians; and when He sees the blood on the lintel and on the two doorposts, the LORD will pass over the door and not allow the destroyer to come into your houses to strike you.

  1. Again, the homes were symbolically covered in the blood of the lamb. It wasn’t that the whole amount of lamb’s blood needed to be poured all over the house, covering every nook & cranny; only the doorposts and lintel/mantle. It was a symbol, as the work of judgment was already completed in the sacrifice.
    1. BTW: There is a relationship between striking the doorpost with the blood and the plague of death. The words for “strike” in 12:22 and “plague” in 11:1 both come from the same Hebrew root/cognate. The idea is that the blood covers the home from the plague, because the plague of death has already been satisfied.
  2. Interestingly, YHWH personally passes through the land, but it is “the destroyer” (ruiner/spoiler) who brings death. Perhaps the Angel of YHWH; perhaps another angel. Either way, the destroyer works with the full authority of God.

24 And you shall observe this thing as an ordinance for you and your sons forever. 25 It will come to pass when you come to the land which the LORD will give you, just as He promised, that you shall keep this service. 26 And it shall be, when your children say to you, ‘What do you mean by this service?’ 27 that you shall say, ‘It is the Passover sacrifice of the LORD, who passed over the houses of the children of Israel in Egypt when He struck the Egyptians and delivered our households.’ ” …

  1. Again, they were commanded to remember. The practice is still done by modern Jews today, with the same question asked by the children.
  2. Notice where the Passover will be remembered in the future: in “the land which the LORD will give you, just as He promised.” The land was sure to come! The promise of God was being fulfilled, and Passover was the proof. (The promise of heaven will be fulfilled, and our proof? The cross and resurrection!)

… So the people bowed their heads and worshiped. 28 Then the children of Israel went away and did so; just as the LORD had commanded Moses and Aaron, so they did.

  1. Having listened to Moses, the people “worshiped.” An entirely appropriate response to the word of God! What exactly they did, we’re not told – but when they heard the words of Moses, they recognized them as the words of God & they responded rightly.
  2. The people also obeyed. Their response to God’s command wasn’t only devotional; it was practical. They acted out in faith the things God told them to do. Question: What would have happened if they didn’t? They would have fallen under the same judgment as the Egyptians! Only those whose homes were covered with the blood of sacrifice would be saved; anyone who didn’t obey would experience the death of the firstborn. If there had been a Hebrew that by this point still did not believe the words of God, they would have suffered the consequences. Being a Hebrew did not save them from judgment; only God’s mercy through the accepted sacrifice did.
    1. What happens to people who sit in church, but never receive of Jesus’ sacrifice? They receive the judgment of God! Just like everyone who openly rejects Jesus (like Pharaoh), the church-goers who silently reject Jesus experience the same judgment of God’s wrath for their sin.
  • Passover: plague (12:29-30). God judges

29 And it came to pass at midnight that the LORD struck all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, from the firstborn of Pharaoh who sat on his throne to the firstborn of the captive who was in the dungeon, and all the firstborn of livestock. 30 So Pharaoh rose in the night, he, all his servants, and all the Egyptians; and there was a great cry in Egypt, for there was not a house where there was not one dead.

  1. God did just as He said. He went through the land and the firstborn died. According to the warning, even the “the firstborn of livestock” died as well. Human or animal, none was exempt apart from being covered by the blood of sacrifice.
  2. Sadly, the warning given by Moses was ignored. Any one of those lives could have been saved if they had simply followed the instructions God gave Moses to tell Israel. (How many souls could be saved today if people simply heeded the warning?)
  • Passover: journey (12:31-42). God provides.

31 Then he called for Moses and Aaron by night, and said, “Rise, go out from among my people, both you and the children of Israel. And go, serve the LORD as you have said. 32 Also take your flocks and your herds, as you have said, and be gone; and bless me also.”

  1. Just as God predicted, Pharaoh commanded them to leave. It wasn’t merely that the Hebrews had freedom to leave if they wished; they were told to go. Pharaoh was plainly beaten – totally vanquished. He wanted nothing more with the people of YHWH (whose existence he no longer doubted). He just wanted the people gone.
  2. Interestingly, Pharaoh also asked for a blessing. It’s not that he suddenly came to faith; he just knew that he had no other option. Unless Moses left and blessed him, Pharaoh would continue suffering the wrath of God.

33 And the Egyptians urged the people, that they might send them out of the land in haste. For they said, “We shall all be dead.” 34 So the people took their dough before it was leavened, having their kneading bowls bound up in their clothes on their shoulders.

  1. The Egyptians agreed with Pharaoh…they wanted the Hebrews out of Egypt ASAP! This was the practical reason for the unleavened bread. If the Hebrews were to be able to eat along the road, they needed dough for baking; they just didn’t have time to allow the dough to rise, nor to knead it for quicker rising. All of their kitchen equipment had to be quickly packed.

35 Now the children of Israel had done according to the word of Moses, and they had asked from the Egyptians articles of silver, articles of gold, and clothing. 36 And the LORD had given the people favor in the sight of the Egyptians, so that they granted them what they requested. Thus they plundered the Egyptians.

  1. Hearkens back to what God had commanded the Hebrews to do in Chapter 11. They had already asked for the gold & silver & clothing, and apparently they had already received it & it was ready to go along with the Hebrews’ quick departure.
  2. How was it “plunder”? It was 430 years of back wages! (It was also advance provision for the future tabernacle of worship.)

37 Then the children of Israel journeyed from Rameses to Succoth, about six hundred thousand men on foot, besides children. 38 A mixed multitude went up with them also, and flocks and herds—a great deal of livestock. 39 And they baked unleavened cakes of the dough which they had brought out of Egypt; for it was not leavened, because they were driven out of Egypt and could not wait, nor had they prepared provisions for themselves.

  1. It was a massive group! 600 thousand men + women & children was likely around 2 million people. Add to that an untold multitude of Egyptians who went with them, and this was a huge crowd of people.
  2. These large numbers cause many to doubt the Biblical account, skeptical at the size of the Hebrew nation in comparison with other population groups at the time – not to mention the sheer difficulty of providing for 2 million people in the wilderness. (That’s a lot of food & water!) Thus some scholars hold to different explanations of the numerical figures: some claiming the numbers are intentionally inflated (as other cultures might egotistically try to write themselves better histories) – others theorizing that the translation of “thousand” is incorrect. As to the first, there’s no reason to assume that the number is inflated, as the Bible does not hesitate elsewhere to show the sin and weaknesses of its people. The Bible is (by far!) the most honest ancient text in existence! On the second point, although it is possible the Hebrew word is misunderstood/mistranslated, the same word is used elsewhere with very clear context that it refers to “thousand.” Better to believe the Bible for what it says – to believe the plain meaning of Scripture.
  3. Bottom line: it was a huge group that left Egypt in the Exodus, and it was a miracle not only that they left, but that they could survive in the wilderness after they left. Guess what? Our God is in the business of doing miracles! He had no problem providing for His people in the desert. He brought water from the rocks, and gave food in the form of manna on a daily basis. It was a miracle the 2 million Hebrews survived…which is just one more testimony to the power and grace of God!

40 Now the sojourn of the children of Israel who lived in Egypt was four hundred and thirty years. 41 And it came to pass at the end of the four hundred and thirty years—on that very same day—it came to pass that all the armies of the LORD went out from the land of Egypt. 42 It is a night of solemn observance to the LORD for bringing them out of the land of Egypt. This is that night of the LORD, a solemn observance for all the children of Israel throughout their generations.

  1. Summary of the Hebrew sojourn & slavery in Egypt.
  2. Again, there is the idea of remembrance. Never forget who you were, to what you were enslaved, and the freedom given you by God!
  • Passover memorial instructions (12:43-51). God invites.

43 And the LORD said to Moses and Aaron, “This is the ordinance of the Passover: No foreigner shall eat it. 44 But every man’s servant who is bought for money, when you have circumcised him, then he may eat it. 45 A sojourner and a hired servant shall not eat it.

  1. Memorial was only for those who trusted God’s covenant promise. Circumcision was the sign of the covenant, and thus only the circumcised of Israel could partake. What meaning would the Passover meal have for those who did not belong to God through His covenant promises?
  2. Again, there is a parallel to the Lord’s Supper. Communion is a memorial meal, and is only to be taken by people who can remember the sacrifice of Jesus for them. It’s for born-again believers only, those who are included in the covenant promises of God. 

46 In one house it shall be eaten; you shall not carry any of the flesh outside the house, nor shall you break one of its bones. 47 All the congregation of Israel shall keep it.

  1. Recalls the command given in 12:10. Even the future celebrations of Passover weren’t to be ordinary meals. Unlike Christmas or Thanksgiving, the meat wasn’t to be broken up and saved for later. Most importantly, it wasn’t to be ignored by anyone in Israel. All were partake, and they were to partake of all of it.
  2. No bones broken = Christ. (Jn 19:36)

48 And when a stranger dwells with you and wants to keep the Passover to the LORD, let all his males be circumcised, and then let him come near and keep it; and he shall be as a native of the land. For no uncircumcised person shall eat it. 49 One law shall be for the native-born and for the stranger who dwells among you.”

  1. Although only circumcised covenant people were allowed (and commanded) to eat of Passover, the invitation was open to anyone. All were welcome to convert and partake. The only people excluded were people who chose to be excluded – they chose to remain on the outside. 

50 Thus all the children of Israel did; as the LORD commanded Moses and Aaron, so they did. 51 And it came to pass, on that very same day, that the LORD brought the children of Israel out of the land of Egypt according to their armies.

  1. Final summary.
  2. Freedom for the armies of Israel! What armies?! When God was with them, these ragtag groups of former slaves became armies!


God did an amazing work in the lives of the Hebrews: redemption from slavery & escape from the judgment of death. Any one of them could have died along with the Egyptian firstborn, but God’s desire was for them to live. And there was just one way how they could do it: by being covered by the blood of sacrifice. Once covered, they were saved – and that was to be remembered the rest of their lives.

What the Passover lamb was for the Hebrews, Jesus is for us! He is our grand sacrifice, given by God on our behalf, under whose blood we can find covering & escape from the judgment of God. It’s not that we don’t deserve death (we do! So did the Hebrews!); it’s that death was already dealt out on our behalf. Jesus was our substitution, the Passover Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.

Christian, do you remember? It can be so easy to take Christ for granted… Never forget! Let the reality of Jesus’ sacrifice for you saturate your every day.

The Spirit and the Gospel

Posted: October 28, 2018 in Acts, Uncategorized

Acts 10:24-48, “The Spirit and the Gospel”

We’ve all been there before: you’re trying to watch TV and someone stands right in front of you blocking your view. The common response: “You make a better door than a window!” It may be a bit passive-aggressive, but it’s effective. Sometimes we can just get in the way.

Sometimes we can get in the way of things that are far more important! Worse than blocking someone’s view of the big game is blocking someone’s view of the gospel. It’s when we get between someone and Jesus. Sometimes this happens when our behavior is hypocritical to that of (what should be) a Christian. Other times it’s when we simply refuse to take the gospel to someone. In our view, that person is past hope, beyond the point of anyone to get saved, so we think, “Why bother?” – we’ve become a stumbling block between that person and Jesus even when we haven’t said a word. In fact, it’s our silence that is the stumbling block.

What we need to remember is that when it comes to the gospel, the Spirit does what He wants to do. He reveals Himself to all kinds of people we might never imagine. We ourselves are living proof! After all, to some people, we were the least likely to get saved! The Holy Spirit gave grace to us – He can certainly do it with others. 

Jesus made this point the night He had a lengthy conversation with Nicodemus the Pharisee: John 3:8, “The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear the sound of it, but cannot tell where it comes from and where it goes. So is everyone who is born of the Spirit.” Everyone must be born of the Spirit in order to see the kingdom of God, but no one can actually see the Spirit. We can witness His effect, but we cannot see Him Himself. Many times, the Spirit is working with unexpected people in unexpected ways.

The apostle Peter learned this first-hand with Cornelius! Although Jesus had made it abundantly clear that His gospel was to be preached to all people and every nationality, this idea had trouble sinking into the consciousness of the early Christians. The first believers (the 12 apostles and other disciples) were all Jewish, and the initial focus of their outreach was to their neighbors: other Jews. That was to be expected…but that wasn’t where it was to end. Cultural prejudices made it difficult for those believers to go beyond the Jewish community to Gentiles, and Peter was no exception. But a refusal to go was a stumbling block to the gospel. How would anyone hear the good news of Jesus if no one preached it to them? Peter (and all of the church) was about to learn a lesson about standing in the way of the Spirit. They made better doors than windows – they needed to get out of the way and let the Spirit work!

Don’t miss the importance of this event. How big was it? Luke virtually repeats it in the very next chapter as Peter explains to the church of Jerusalem what happened in Chapter 10 in Caesarea. And it should be a big deal: the gospel had officially gone to the Gentiles, with the proof of God’s blessing of it through the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the Christians around Jerusalem, Judea, and Samaria, the world had just gotten drastically bigger. This set the stage for the ministry of Paul, which is soon to come.

Before we look at what comes next, we need to remember what came before. The gospel had been spreading far outside the city walls of Jerusalem. The persecution spearheaded by Saul forced Christians to leave the city, and as they did, they took the good news of Jesus with them. The gospel of Jesus went places Jews normally didn’t go, like Samaria (which was witnessed by Philip, Peter, and John), and even to at least one God-fearing Gentile (the Ethiopian eunuch, who was witnessed to & baptized by Philip). All of this was the work of God, as He prepared the Christians to take the gospel even further. Luke illustrates this in the ministry of Peter, as Peter was visiting some of the congregations outside of Jerusalem, working miracles and teaching doctrine in the name of Jesus. In Chapter 9, Peter was in the coastal city of Joppa waiting upon the Lord, and the Lord certainly had plans for him!

In fact, the Lord had plans for more than just Peter. 35 miles away to the north, an angel was sent to Cornelius the Roman centurion, who was told to send for Peter – and soon to follow, the Lord prepared Peter to go, as Peter received a vision and word from the Holy Spirit. Basically, the Holy Spirit spoke to two very different people, and both were obedient to what the Spirit called them to do.

All of that was done to set the stage for the remainder of Chapter 10. Cornelius was convinced God told him to send for Peter, and Peter was convinced that God told him to go to Cornelius. What comes next? What else: the gospel! Peter had but one mission from the Lord Jesus (the same as ours): to make disciples of all the nations, being a witness unto Jesus through the power of the Holy Spirit. As Peter was faithful to the gospel mission, he saw the wonderful result: God the Holy Spirit moved & saved.

The move of the Spirit and the gospel go hand-in-hand. When the gospel goes forth, the Spirit is soon to follow. Beware that you don’t stand in the way! We want to be messengers of the gospel, and servants of the Spirit; not obstructions to either one. Listen to the Spirit & be used by Him. Share the gospel, and get out of the way!

Acts 10:24–48

  • The Spirit’s work of preparation (24-33). The Spirit prepares us.

24 And the following day they entered Caesarea. Now Cornelius was waiting for them, and had called together his relatives and close friends.

  1. When Luke writes “the following day,” he refers to a four day total wait for Cornelius. Cornelius had his angelic visitor in Caesarea & immediately sent his servants on a two-day journey to Joppa. They arrived around lunchtime the 2nd day, stayed the night with Peter & Simon the tanner, and started their return journey the following day (Acts 10:23). They would have spent one night on the road, and arrived back in Caesarea four days after they had begun.
  2. Somehow Cornelius received word of Peter’s arrival in Caesarea, and had gathered a group of friends & family. They were all anxious to hear what Peter had to say – what was so important that Cornelius received angelic instruction to send for Peter. They were all waiting with baited-breath to hear what he had to say.

25 As Peter was coming in, Cornelius met him and fell down at his feet and worshiped him. 26 But Peter lifted him up, saying, “Stand up; I myself am also a man.”

  1. Remember that Cornelius had a righteous fear of the Lord (Acts 10:2) – he wasn’t a habitual idolater. What happened was probably an overjoyed over-reaction. It wasn’t necessarily uncommon for Roman soldiers to fall at the feet of their king, and Cornelius could have been treating Peter in a similar fashion. Whatever was his motivation, the act was that of worship, and it was misplaced.
    1. BTW – This is the problem with the custom of veneration within the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches. Although their official doctrine claims that congregants are not actually worshipping the statues and icons of the saints of the past, their actions are plainly worship. The end result is the same, and there’s no telling how many people within the Catholic or Orthodox faiths cannot discern the difference between veneration and worship.
  2. Peter gave the right response! Cornelius had no need to bow in Peter’s presence. Peter wasn’t the pope, and he certainly wasn’t Christ. Peter was a man, just like everyone else, and he didn’t deserve (nor would he receive) any worship.
    1. We neither worship men nor angels; we worship God alone. Any of us can fall into the trap of unintentional idolatry. Even the apostle John absent-mindedly fell to the feet of angels when he was overwhelmed by his heavenly revelation (Rev 19:10). For us, we might give far too much credence to pastors, to celebrities, or to political figures – absent-mindedly worshipping them, even though we might not realize what we’re doing. We could even do the same thing with our Bibles. We should be grateful for the written word of God, obeying it for what it is – but we should never worship it. At the end of the day, it’s just a book. We worship the God of the book; not the book itself.

27 And as he talked with him, he went in and found many who had come together. 28 Then he said to them, “You know how unlawful it is for a Jewish man to keep company with or go to one of another nation. But God has shown me that I should not call any man common or unclean. 29 Therefore I came without objection as soon as I was sent for. I ask, then, for what reason have you sent for me?”

  1. It was an unusual situation for a Jew to address a group of Gentiles. It wasn’t necessarily unheard of. Jews did have some business dealings with Gentiles with trade & commerce, and certainly the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem worked with the Roman governors when needed. At the same time, it wasn’t the norm, and according to the Jewish tradition in the Talmud, it left Jews ritually unclean. When Peter said that it was “unlawful,” he wasn’t referring to a specific Scripture that forbade the practice; he simply referred to the common tradition. When news got back to Jerusalem of how Peter entered the house of a Roman, people might frown (and they did! – Acts 11:3), although according to the Bible it wasn’t a sin. 
  2. Peter was willing to put all of that aside. He came to Cornelius “without objection” – at least, once he got past the objections in his vision! Once given the opportunity to obey the leading of the Spirit, Peter obeyed fully and without hesitation. He didn’t necessarily know what was going to be involved, but he knew God had led him to this point. His presence was proof of God’s work in him and even among the Gentiles. God was cleansing people that Peter never considered could be cleansed. How it would happen, he wasn’t sure, but he was willing to watch God work.
    1. How willing are we? I wonder sometimes if we don’t get so set in the ways we do things, following our plans and our expectations, that we unwittingly shut ourselves off from the move of God. Don’t get the wrong idea: we aren’t to look for God to move in wild extra-biblical ways. When people start barking like dogs or “toking” on the Spirit, it is flatly unbiblical and blasphemous. But the Bible does show many ways the Spirit has worked in the past, and sometimes it seems like we’ve convinced ourselves that He’ll never work that way again. We’ve got our expectations for how God is “supposed” to work among His church, all the while forgetting that it is His He can do what He wants! If He wants to speak, He will speak – if He wants to heal, He will heal – and if He wants to move upon our heart to go share the gospel with someone who seems to be the polar opposite of us, then He can & He will do it. The only question is whether we’re willing to listen and to obey Him when He does it.
  3. BTW – The vision Peter received in Joppa involved food, but it wasn’t about food; it was about people. “But God has shown me that I should not call any man common or unclean.” The picture God used was that of a kosher/non-kosher diet, but the real issue is that Peter (like other Jews of the day) thought in terms of kosher/non-kosher people. Peter understood his need to be saved by Jesus, but he believed that his Jewishness gave him a leg-up on the rest of the world. Again, this wasn’t unique to Peter…this was commonly believed among all the Jews. John the Baptist even had to address it in his ministry: Luke 3:8, “Therefore bear fruits worthy of repentance, and do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I say to you that God is able to raise up children to Abraham from these stones.” What the Jews didn’t realize is that apart from the grace of God, they were all non-kosher, common, & unclean. Their birth heritage did nothing to make them righteous in the sight of God; they were blessed to have a covenant with God & the written word of God, but none of that saved them. The Jews, like the rest of the world, could only be saved by grace through faith.
    1. Who is common or unclean in your eyes? Who is it with whom you would refuse to sit, or refuse to share the gospel? Perhaps it’s racial prejudice or social prejudice or political prejudice – perhaps it’s a situation where you believe someone is just “too far gone.” Beloved, even that person was made in the image of God. Even that person is someone for whom Christ Jesus died. Beware that you do not call any man or woman “common or unclean.” The person whom you view today as unclean might tomorrow be your brother or sister in Christ!

30 So Cornelius said, “Four days ago I was fasting until this hour; and at the ninth hour I prayed in my house, and behold, a man stood before me in bright clothing, 31 and said, ‘Cornelius, your prayer has been heard, and your alms are remembered in the sight of God. 32 Send therefore to Joppa and call Simon here, whose surname is Peter. He is lodging in the house of Simon, a tanner, by the sea. When he comes, he will speak to you.’

  1. This is basically a summary of 10:1-6. Cornelius’ account would have confirmed everything his servants had spoken to Peter. 
  2. BTW – For clarity, Cornelius was not fasting for four days; he simply said that he was fasting four days ago, and that Peter arrived at Cornelius’ home about the same time Cornelius had been praying along with his fast. Apparently, Peter and the others showed up around 3pm, just when the angel had appeared to Cornelius days earlier.

33 So I sent to you immediately, and you have done well to come. Now therefore, we are all present before God, to hear all the things commanded you by God.”

  1. Note: Cornelius didn’t have a clue what Peter was going to say. The angel told him to send for Peter, but the angel never said why Peter was required. Cornelius had been obedient, but no doubt he was extremely curious as to Peter’s message. Four days had gone by, and he’s ready to hear what Peter had to say. 
  2. If any preacher of the gospel had ever received a “softball” opportunity, certainly Peter did with Cornelius! Not everyone is going to be as anxious as Cornelius to hear the gospel, but there will be some people who want to hear. Sometimes we psyche ourselves out, convincing ourselves that no one wants to hear, and that anytime we share Jesus we’re going to be rejected. Not so! The message of Jesus is good news, and there will be some who want to hear, and some who receive. How would it change your motivation to share the gospel if you expected people to respond well, rather than poorly? We’ll never talk someone into salvation, but we can often talk ourselves out of sharing the message of salvation. Change your expectations! We don’t know what God is doing in someone’s heart, but the time you share Jesus might be exactly the time they are prepared to hear of Him.

By this point, Peter probably knew exactly for what reason he had been sent! Can you imagine what went through his mind as he realized how God had prepared him for that moment? How exciting it must have been for him! To know you are being used as an instrument of the Lord God is wonderful, and Peter recognized it in the moment…and he took advantage of it for all he could!

  • Peter preaches the gospel (34-43). Disciples testify of Jesus.

34 Then Peter opened his mouth and said: “In truth I perceive that God shows no partiality. 35 But in every nation whoever fears Him and works righteousness is accepted by Him.

  1. When Peter said that “God shows no partiality,” he was saying that God has no favorites. Yes, the Jews were the chosen people being the physical descendants of Abraham, but the promises made by God to Abraham were far bigger than Abraham’s children. God’s promise to Abraham was an extension of God’s promises to Adam, and every person of every nation is a child of Adam! God certainly loves His children, but His desire is that all would be His children! His desire is that all would be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth (1 Tim 2:4).
  2. Among the world, who is it that is accepted by God? “Whoever fears Him and works righteousness.” Be careful not to take this out of context. By no means does Peter say that people can do righteous works and earn their way into heaven. The whole context of these remarks is Peter’s preaching of the gospel of Jesus Christ, which is a salvation by grace; not by works. Even within Peter’s single statement, the works of righteousness follows the fear of God, and the proper fear & worship of God can only come through the knowledge of Christ Jesus. To say that someone accepted by God is someone who fears God and works righteousness is to say that they have been born-again by faith in Jesus Christ and their lives (actions) have been transformed as a result. Peter doesn’t describe an easy-believism cheap claim of Christianity; he describes someone with true faith – a faith in Jesus that has altered every other aspect of a person’s life.
  3. How does that all come? Through the gospel, which Peter goes on to proclaim.

36 The word which God sent to the children of Israel, preaching peace through Jesus Christ—He is Lord of all—

  1. The word” = the gospel, the good news of Jesus. It is the message of Christ and His salvation, which Peter (and all Christians everywhere) are to proclaim through “” Some like to talk about silent-evangelism, one in which people see Jesus in our lives, but without the pressure of speaking words. As Francis of Assisi is often (wrongly) reported to have said, “Preach the gospel – use words, if necessary.” Words are necessary! Should others see Christ in our actions? Absolutely! But actions alone are not enough to share the truth of Jesus and His gospel. Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God (Rom 10:17). We preach the word! We cannot do otherwise!
  2. Jesus gives “peace.” We need peace with God, and Jesus grants it. He Himself is our peace, because He became the sin offering of God on our behalf. In our sin, we were enemies of God, but Jesus gave us peace. 
  3. Jesus is “Lord.” Not only is Jesus the sacrifice, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world; He is the Almighty King. He is God in the flesh, the Lord of all creation. Don’t miss that part. Of whom is Jesus the Lord? “Of all.” Peter gets it. Jesus is the anointed Messiah of God, and Lord not only of Israel, but of all the world. The King of the Jews is the King of all peoples and nations. He is the King of kings and Lord of lords, the Lord of all. This previews what Peter was currently witnessing: the salvation of Gentiles right along with the Jews. Peter may not have known exactly how the Spirit would soon fall, but he understood what the Spirit was doing the moment: showing Jesus to all who would receive Him by faith.
  4. Interestingly, what follows could be viewed as a summary of the book of Mark. Tradition holds that John Mark became a trusted disciple and ministry partner of Peter (much like Timothy’s relationship with Paul), and the narrative in the gospel of Mark is really a compilation of the preaching and memories of Peter. What Peter preached to Cornelius & his friends was perhaps a preview of what Peter would preach everywhere else he went.

37 that word you know, which was proclaimed throughout all Judea, and began from Galilee after the baptism which John preached: 38 how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power, who went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with Him.

  1. Jesus lived among men. For three years, beginning with His baptism by John, Jesus ministered in Judea & Galilee. He taught about the kingdom of God, proving His authority through the miracles He worked. No disease was too difficult for Him to cure, and no demon was too powerful for Him to cast out. The earthly ministry of Jesus may have been short, but more was compressed within those three years than for the entire lifetimes of evangelists to follow.
  2. What did the all of the miracles demonstrate? That Jesus was “anointed” with the Holy Spirit. As with the Hebrew language, the Greek word for “anointed” is related to the word for “Christ.” “Christ” (or “Messiah”) means “Anointed one.” Although the Romans to whom Peter preached may not have been actively expecting the Promised Anointed one of God (as were the Jews), Jesus’ identity as the Christ had to be proclaimed. Jesus is the one chosen by God. Jesus was chosen to bear the sin of the world – Jesus was chosen to rise from the dead – Jesus was chosen to intercede for mankind – Jesus is chosen to be King. Coming to faith in Jesus means believing Jesus is specifically chosen (anointed) by God to be Savior of the world (and thus, Savior for you).

39 And we are witnesses of all things which He did both in the land of the Jews and in Jerusalem, whom they killed by hanging on a tree. 40 Him God raised up on the third day, and showed Him openly, 41 not to all the people, but to witnesses chosen before by God, even to us who ate and drank with Him after He arose from the dead.

  1. Jesus was crucified. The Chosen/Anointed one of God was killed by men, hung upon a cross of wood, having been sentenced to death as a blasphemer and traitor. Though He died the death of a criminal, there was none more innocent than Jesus. When Jesus was nailed to that cross, He was totally without sin. But as He hung there, He became sin (our sin offering – 2 Cor 5:21), substituting Himself in our place. Jesus’ death satisfied the wrath of God on our behalf, for His death was the death we deserved.
  2. Jesus was “raised.” All men die, but no man gets up from the grave three days later…except Jesus. Jesus truly died upon that cross, with His death verified by none other than a Roman centurion (just like Cornelius). But His death was not final. For three days, Jesus lay in the grave without His heart beating, but on the third day blood once again pumped through His veins and Jesus rose to life! It is the ultimate proof that Jesus is Christ, the Son of God!
  3. Jesus was witnessed. Peter and the other apostles were witnesses of Jesus – not only of His three years of earthly ministry, but also of His physical resurrection. They could testify to the fact that Jesus was no apparition or vain imagination. They “ate and drank with Him” after the resurrection. Jesus was (and is!) alive. This was the news that Peter was sent to proclaim to Cornelius and the others.

42 And He commanded us to preach to the people, and to testify that it is He who was ordained by God to be Judge of the living and the dead. 43 To Him all the prophets witness that, through His name, whoever believes in Him will receive remission of sins.”

  1. Jesus is the “Judge.” Not only was Jesus anointed as Christ to be the sacrifice and Savior of the world, it also shows His ordination as the Judge of all humanity. There will come a day when every single man and woman will stand before Almighty God and give an account. In that day, we will see Jesus, and we will see Him either as our Savior and Advocate, or as the Judge who pronounces our eternal sentence. People may try to deny the judgment, but they cannot avoid it. All we can do is be ready! How? …
  2. Jesus gives forgiveness, the “remission of sins.” Our sin requires the judgment and condemnation of God, and there is not a thing we can do to make it right. We need to be ready for the judgment of God, but how can we? We cannot go back in time & undo all of the sins we committed, nor can we somehow go back into the womb and be born with a righteous nature. If we look to ourselves, we are hopeless in the day of judgment…but we don’t look to ourselves; we look to Christ! Jesus removes our sins & transgressions from us, remitting our sin, rolling it back, granting us total forgiveness. There is not a thing we have done that is beyond His ability to forgive, nor is there a person “too sinful” to receive His forgiveness. Peter says it clearly: “whoever believes in Him will receive remission of sins.” “Whoever” means “whoever!” 
  3. This is the good news of God – this is the gospel! This is the testimony of the prophets & all of the Scriptures, and this is the message that the apostles were commanded to preach. This is the message that we are commanded to preach! It is a message of Jesus, of His person & His work.
    1. The gospel is not a message of how to have a better life – it’s not about how to solve all of our problems. The gospel is the message of Jesus! Tell of Him, speak of Him, show Him to the people whom you meet. We don’t need to try to “sweeten the deal,” because Jesus is sweet enough! Tell people of Jesus, and then get out of the way.
    2. Before we go any further, you need to ask yourself if you believe – ask yourself if you have received Jesus as your Lord. Some people claim to be Christian, when what they really did was respond to an invitation of having a better life. Others never wanted Jesus because they didn’t want to have anything to do with the people who claimed that they did know Christ. Today, see Jesus for who He is! He is the chosen Son of God, anointed to be your sin sacrifice & your salvation from judgment. He offers your forgiveness; believe on Him today!
  • The Spirit falls on the Romans (44-48). The Spirit follows the gospel.

44 While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit fell upon all those who heard the word. 45 And those of the circumcision who believed were astonished, as many as came with Peter, because the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out on the Gentiles also. 46 For they heard them speak with tongues and magnify God. …

  1. Notice the concurrent action in verse 44: the Spirit fell “whilePeter was still speaking.” Peter was still preaching the gospel as the Holy Spirit fell upon the Romans with power. Peter had preached the main message of the gospel, but he hadn’t yet gotten to the invitation. He didn’t even get a chance to give an altar call! 😊 The Holy Spirit desired to use Peter in the preaching of the gospel, but the Holy Spirit wasn’t dependent on Peter’s preaching to save anyone. He didn’t need Peter to convince anyone of the need to be saved, to try to talk anyone into making a decision for Christ. The Holy Spirit didn’t need Peter to gin up some kind of emotional response to the gospel. The Spirit certainly didn’t need a choir, special lighting, or anything else of human making. He is fully capable of saving people on His own…and He does! When people respond to the gospel, it’s not because of the skill of the human preacher. It’s not because a Christian debated him/her into the truth, or because the mood was “just right” in the sanctuary. When people respond to the gospel, it’s because they respond to the work of the Holy Spirit in conjunction to the truth of Jesus. He does the work; not us. We are tools He uses in His work, but the work is His alone. John 16:8–11, “(8) And when He has come, He will convict the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment: (9) of sin, because they do not believe in Me; (10) of righteousness, because I go to My Father and you see Me no more; (11) of judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged.” The Spirit is the one who convicts; not us! He is the one who makes people aware of their need to be saved, and He is the one who saves them through the act of the new birth (Jn 3:6); not us. We don’t save anyone; God the Holy Spirit does.
    1. This ought to take a lot of the pressure off us! We take far too much responsibility to ourselves when we believe we’re the ones who do the work of convincing, convicting, and converting. We can’t do any of those things. All we can do is present the truth of Jesus, and then get out of the way so that people can see Jesus for themselves. The Holy Spirit is who does the rest. You aren’t a failure if you’ve present the gospel and someone didn’t receive Jesus; that alone is proof of your faithfulness to the Great Commission!
    2. It also ought to provide a lot of caution from us inserting too much of human methods in evangelism. It’s not about manipulating the “atmosphere” in a group, or having the right “pitch” with an individual. Salvation is the gift of God; not a sale to be closed.
  2. That the Spirit fell upon the Gentiles was obvious. His work left zero doubt, as the evidence among the Romans was the same that it had been among the Jews at Pentecost: the gift of tongues. “Those of the circumcision” (i.e. the Christian Jews who had come with Peter) were “astonished” (amazed, astounded, put out of their minds) that God would grant Gentiles the same gift as He granted the Jews, but that was exactly what He did. In Christ, there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free (Gal 3:28). They were all treated exactly the same by God, having heard the same gospel, partaking of the same grace, and receiving of the same gifts. Their salvation simply couldn’t be denied, because what happened with the Gentiles was exactly what had happened with the Jews. (This proof is especially important with Peter, as this was what caused him to exercise his apostolic authority and command them to be baptized.)
    1. Question #1: Does the Spirit always provide proof of His work? Yes! When a man or woman places his/her faith in Christ & is born of the Spirit, he/she cannot help but be transformed. After all, that is exactly what has happened! The Holy Spirit has given life to our spirit – we who were dead in our transgressions are now spiritually alive, and will remain alive for all eternity. We who were bound to sin as slaves are now set free to live as the children of God. We who once were not a people are now God’s people, even made into God’s own temple – indwelt by God the Holy Spirit. How could there not be proof? The evidence is seen in our faith & in our fruit. Not only does our doctrine change concerning Jesus, but so do our actions & attitudes. Paul writes of the fruit of the Spirit being “love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control,” (Gal 5:22-23). This is all evidence (proof) of the Spirit’s work within us as the children of God. Even human families often have visible evidence that they belong to one another: perhaps the same nose or similar set of eyes, or even some family phrases passed down from the parents. So too with the children of God – we carry the traits of our Heavenly Father, bearing His image through the work of the Holy Spirit within us. There is outward proof as we are conformed into the image of Christ (Rom 8:29).
    2. Question #2: Does the Spirit always provide the same proof (i.e. the gift of tongues)? Contrary to the teaching of certain groups and denominations, the primary evidence of the Holy Spirit is not the gift of tongues. In fact, Scripture is clear that not every born-again believer receives the gift of tongues. All believers receive at least some gift, but not all receive the same gifts. God the Holy Spirit is the one to distribute the gifts, and He does so as He wills (1 Cor 12:7-11). In this particular case, there was a specific reason for the Gentile Christians to receive the same gift as the Jewish Christians: it was proof they were saved in the same way by the same gospel. It wasn’t precedent that all Christians everywhere for all time only have proof of salvation & the baptism of the Spirit through the gift of tongues. For all the people who get saved in the book of Acts, there are only three instances where tongues are listed as evidence (Acts 2, 10, 19). If it was mandatory evidence, we would expect to see it far more often.
  3. Be careful not to miss the forest for the trees. Something amazing had just taken place: the gospel had been preached among the Gentiles (not just a single individual in an isolated circumstance like the Ethiopian eunuch, but a whole group), and people got radically saved! They believed, and the Holy Spirit fell upon them in such a way that the evidence was immediate and visible (and audible!). All of the Jewish Christians who witnessed it were amazed & likely had their jaws hanging open. What now? This was uncharted territory. What should they do? That’s when Peter spoke up…

… Then Peter answered, 47 “Can anyone forbid water, that these should not be baptized who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” 48 And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of the Lord. Then they asked him to stay a few days.

  1. Water baptism was only logical at this point! Once a person is saved, the person is to be baptized. Cornelius & the others didn’t need to go through circumcision, training in the synagogue, or any other conversion ritual in order become Jewish before being received as Christian. Their salvation had been accomplished being independent of the Jewish faith, so how could water baptism be forbidden? This was simply the next logical step. Cornelius didn’t need to enter a class before he got saved; the Spirit saved him, and now his salvation was to be made public in baptism. There would be plenty of time for instruction after baptism, but this was a time to celebrate what the Spirit had already done.
  2. Don’t miss this: Cornelius was saved prior to water baptism. We are baptized into the Spirit long before we are baptized into water. The act of baptism does not save anyone, nor is anyone unsaved until they receive their baptism. The idea that baptism is necessary for a person’s full salvation is referred to as “baptismal regeneration,” and is commonly taught by some groups & denominations. Scripture clearly declares it to be false. The thief hanging next to Jesus on the cross had no opportunity to be baptized prior to his death, yet Jesus told him, “Today you will be with Me in Paradise,” (Lk 23:43). And of course, Cornelius and the others with him were clearly saved before any of them were taken to water to be baptized. Baptism is important in a person’s faith, always meant to accompany a person’s salvation. When Jesus gave the Great Commission, He commanded us to “make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,” (Mt 28:19). Baptism goes with discipling; it is the proclamation that someone is a disciple. But…baptism never saves. To teach otherwise is to teach a works-based salvation; not a grace-based one.
  3. Question: What would have happened if water had been forbidden? A stumbling block would have been put in the way of the gospel. Human men would have usurped the place of God, stamping a “veto” on the work of the Spirit. It would have been as if they said, “No, the Spirit isn’t allowed to work in this way. We’ll be the judge of when He saves someone or not.” How dangerous it would have been…how arrogant! Yet isn’t that the case for many today? Some people are considered off-limits to the gospel, or they’re told they have to “get their life right” before Jesus will save them. “He’s too tattooed… She’s gay… They’re Muslim… All of that needs to change before they come to Jesus.” How else are they supposed to come to Jesus?! In essence, it’s telling people that they need to save themselves before they get saved. That’s not the gospel! That’s the harshest form of works-based religion; it has nothing to do with the good news of Jesus & the gospel of His grace. We dare not put stumbling blocks in the way of Jesus, nor assume we can veto the work of the Spirit. Our job isn’t to tell God whom He can save; our job is simply to be the messengers of the salvation He freely offers through Christ.


Be the messenger! Take people to Jesus, and then get out of the way (like a door; not a window with the shade pulled down). We want to clearly proclaim Jesus, and then stand back at watch the work of the Spirit. When we do, we can be sure of seeing great things!

That’s what happened with Peter. He was obedient to go to Caesarea to see Cornelius, just as Cornelius had been obedient to send for Peter from Joppa. Once there, Peter simply preached Jesus. Peter gave the gospel as he always did, to people who never had the opportunity to hear it. And once he did, the Spirit worked in a mighty way! And why wouldn’t He? The move of the Spirit and the gospel go hand-in-hand. When the gospel goes forth, the Spirit is soon to follow.

Christian: Our job is to send forth the gospel; it is the Spirit’s job to save. We do one, and we trust Him to do the other. We cannot save anyone apart from Him, nor do we dictate to Him whom to save. All we do is preach Jesus…so preach Him! Preach Him boldly & clearly, and trust God to work in His way exactly as He said He would.

Exodus 9-10, “The Danger of a Hardened Heart”

It’s been often said that the first rule to getting out of a hole is to stop digging. If you find yourself in trouble, stop doing what it is that caused you to get into trouble in the first place: turn the car in the opposite direction, stop spending money on wasteful things, stop engaging in harmful habits, etc. Just stop, and then figure out what comes next. 

The problem is, we don’t always want to stop. At a certain point, our pride kicks in and we think we can just push through. That might work on occasions (such as sudden pain during a race), but there are almost always consequences that follow (physical damage and prolonged healing time). Other times, it doesn’t work at all, and it can lead to dire results. (Ignore chest pain, and you might end up dead of a heart attack!)

Such was the case with Pharaoh. He got himself into a bad situation, a pretty deep hole – but instead of stopping what he was doing, he kept digging. At any moment he could have humbled himself and repented towards God; instead he doubled down on his sin and continued to lead himself and his nation to destruction.

Remember the context: After 400 years of slavery, God raised up Moses as a deliverer to lead the Hebrews out of Egypt, returning them to the homeland promised to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Despite having the word of God given to him, and miracles of God shown to him, the Pharaoh despised Moses and the Lord God. Pharaoh not only refused to recognize YHWH as God, but he also refused to allow the people of YHWH to leave Egypt.

That’s when the plagues began. First there was the water of the Nile river turning to blood (becoming blood no matter if it was in the river, or in buckets on land). Then there were frogs – so many that they infested the ovens and beds of the people. This was followed by a massive outbreak of lice/gnats, as if the sand of the desert had come to life – and followed again by swarms of nasty, biting flies (though only on the people of Egypt; the Hebrews were spared). As time went on, the severity of each of the plagues increased, and through each event, Pharaoh hardened his heart exactly as God said that he would (7:3).

Pharaoh’s hardened heart would continue to get him into trouble. God had been merciful with all of the many opportunities He gave to Pharaoh to repent, but Pharaoh simply refused to do it. Pharaoh’s heart was filled with pride, being convinced he could somehow outlast the infinite God. It can’t be done! Things would get far worse for Pharaoh before he finally learned his lesson.

Don’t be too proud to stop before God! The more you resist God, the harder your heart becomes, and the more you want to resist God…all the while piling up more judgment upon yourself. All it takes is one single lasting moment of repentant faith…but that comes through brokenness; not pride. Hardened hearts are proud hearts, and pride kills.

Exodus 9

  • Plague #5: Animals diseased (9:1-7)

1 Then the LORD said to Moses, “Go in to Pharaoh and tell him, ‘Thus says the LORD God of the Hebrews: “Let My people go, that they may serve Me. 2 For if you refuse to let them go, and still hold them, 3 behold, the hand of the LORD will be on your cattle in the field, on the horses, on the donkeys, on the camels, on the oxen, and on the sheep—a very severe pestilence.

  1. Starts with the same pattern as has been seen with the other plagues: God’s name, God’s command, and God’s warning.
  2. God’s name: YHWH Elohim of the Hebrews. Remember that the Egyptians worshipped a large pantheon of false gods, Pharaoh himself being considered divine. For Moses to give a message in the name of God, Moses needed to be very specific as to which God (who is the only God). He is “I AM, Creator God of heaven and earth, the God who chose the descendants of Abraham as His own people.” With that kind of name, there could be no mistake!
    1. In our own culture, it is becoming increasingly important that we are specific about the God we serve. The word “god” is used so generically that it can refer to any higher being of any person’s imagination (if not the person himself!). We too, can (and should) use how God has revealed Himself to us to identify Him to others. How did He reveal Himself to us? Through the person of Jesus Christ! Jesus is the image of God, the firstborn of all creation (Col 1:15) – He is the Word of God (Jn 1:1) – the one who has seen Jesus as seen the Father (Jn 14:9). When you witness, be specific regarding of Whom you witness!
  3. God’s command: “Let My people go, that they may serve Me.” From the very beginning words to Pharaoh, this is the repeated command: the Hebrews were to be released to serve & worship God. The Hebrews did not belong to Pharaoh; they belonged to YHWH. They were His people, and He had a purpose for them.
    1. Just as we are His people today, and He has a purpose for us: to make disciples of all the nations, and to declare the praises of God!
  4. God’s warning: “if you refuse…” Anytime that Moses announced a plague to Pharaoh (which wasn’t every time), God always gave Pharaoh the opportunity to obey. None of the plagues had to come – any one (or all!) of them could have been avoided if Pharaoh had heeded the command of God. He did not, so there were consequences. It was a classic if/then statement: “Free the people, but if not, face the judgment.” Sadly, Pharaoh consistently chose to face the judgment.
    1. So do far too many people today! They have the opportunity to repent; they just don’t take it. (Don’t miss your opportunity!)
  5. The actual plague: pestilence/disease upon the livestock animals. Some have suggested that it was an outbreak of anthrax due to all of the dead decaying frogs, lice, and swarms of flies. Speculation is rather futile, and it takes away from the obvious and purposeful supernatural aspect of the plague. The fact is that this plague was sent by God, upon the livestock, and the humans were unaffected. If this were a natural (though dangerous) epidemic, why weren’t the people infected – why did only the animals die? Natural explanations fall short. This was undoubtedly a work of God.
    1. BTW: Why the animals? Why should all of the livestock of Egypt die due to the sin of Pharaoh? This is just part of the cruelty of sin. Sin always has unintended consequences…always. There’s no such thing as a “victimless” sin. What one person does always ripples out to someone else. In this case, the innocent animals of Egypt bore the brunt of the punishment due to Pharaoh. Obviously, it was better that the livestock be diseased than the people, but they were still innocent victims of Pharaoh’s sin.

4 And the LORD will make a difference between the livestock of Israel and the livestock of Egypt. So nothing shall die of all that belongs to the children of Israel.” ’ ”

  1. As with the swarms of biting flies, there would be a distinction between the Hebrew & Egyptian livestock. This is not the case every time, but often God determined to show mercy to His people, while the fateful judgment fell upon Egypt. It would be one more factor declaring that the judgment was a supernatural work of God; not a simple (albeit devastating) natural disaster.
  2. Does God always shelter us from the judgment He pours out on the nations? Sometimes He does, but many times He does not. (Just ask born-again Christians living in persecuted lands today.) Even during the Great Tribulation although the church will be raptured away from the terrible judgments to come on the earth, there will still be men & women coming to faith during that time, and they will need to endure. Even so, does God “make a difference” between us and the rest of the world? Absolutely, yes! We are His children – we are indwelled by the Spirit – we are His ambassadors to the world. He always makes a distinction between us and the world!

5 Then the LORD appointed a set time, saying, “Tomorrow the LORD will do this thing in the land.” 6 So the LORD did this thing on the next day, and all the livestock of Egypt died; but of the livestock of the children of Israel, not one died.

  1. Note: Even in this proclamation of judgment, God gave Pharaoh a window of opportunity to repent. Pharaoh had the time from the announcement of Moses & Aaron until the next day to make a decision. “Tomorrow the LORD will do this thing.” At any time during those hours, Pharaoh could have humbled himself and come to his senses. Sadly, he didn’t do it. He wasted his opportunity to be saved. (Don’t waste yours!)
  2. Just as God warned, there was a massive death-toll of animals the next day. Some have criticized the statement that “all the livestock of Egypt died,” considering that animals are seen in Egypt during the later plagues. There are explanations for the other animals (as we’ll see); the bigger problem is why so many people are willing to water down the word of God at the first potential difficulty. When there is a question, always give the Bible the benefit of the doubt. What God inspired to be written is not going to be mistaken. It might be misinterpreted, misapplied, etc., but it will never be incorrect. God, being God, is fully capable of diseasing every livestock animal among the ancient Egyptians, while keeping the Hebrew livestock alive and healthy. Unless there is clear reason to believe otherwise, we should believe the Bible at its word.

7 Then Pharaoh sent, and indeed, not even one of the livestock of the Israelites was dead. But the heart of Pharaoh became hard, and he did not let the people go.

  1. Pharaoh hardened his heart. He had heard the warning, and he saw the results, and it meant nothing to him. Although God clearly worked in his midst, Pharaoh was unwilling to humble himself & instead continued to harden his heart, just as he had done many times before.
  2. What does it mean to have a hard heart? It is to have a “heavy” heart. Like a stone, the hard heart sinks in selfishness, stubbornness, and sin. The word used here is the same root that in other grammatical contexts & constructions is sometimes used for “chabod,” or the weighty honor & glory of God. What’s the difference between hard stubbornness and weighty honor? It’s whether one serves oneself or serves the Living God!
    1. Serve the Lord! Get your eyes off of yourself & onto the Risen Christ Jesus! Stop resisting the conviction of the Holy Spirit in your life – stop hardening your own heart. Make the choice to humble yourself & repent!
  • Plague #6: Boils (9:8-12)

8 So the LORD said to Moses and Aaron, “Take for yourselves handfuls of ashes from a furnace, and let Moses scatter it toward the heavens in the sight of Pharaoh. 9 And it will become fine dust in all the land of Egypt, and it will cause boils that break out in sores on man and beast throughout all the land of Egypt.”

  1. Notice there was no warning with this plague. This was the 3rd plague in the 2nd cycle, and every 3rd plague was a judgment. God simply gave instructions to Moses, and Moses acted in obedience.
  2. This particular judgment: boils. It may have been similar to what was experienced by Job in his suffering. Job 2:7–8, “(7) So Satan went out from the presence of the LORD, and struck Job with painful boils from the sole of his foot to the crown of his head. (8) And he took for himself a potsherd with which to scrape himself while he sat in the midst of the ashes.” Imagine being covered in burning blisters all over your body, like bad reactions from poison ivy that bubble up into large boils. It would have been awful for everyone who experienced it!
    1. FYI, there is also a potential parallel to the 1st bowl judgment of Revelation, the loathsome sores (Rev 16:2). What was seen and experienced in Egypt may one day be experienced again on a world-wide scale. 
  3. Note: They were to appear on “man and beast.” Question: if all of the Egyptian livestock died in the 5th plague, where did the animals come from in the 6th plague? There are varying explanations: (1) “All” the Egyptian livestock might refer to all in a certain geographic area in Egypt, or, more likely (2) The Egyptians acquired more livestock as replacements. Perhaps they purchased them from Cush/Ethiopia, or perhaps they simply took some of the Hebrew livestock for themselves. Considering that animal livestock is crucial for an agricultural economy to survive, it seems unlikely that they would have gone too long without finding some source of animals for themselves.
    1. The better question isn’t where the animals came from; it’s why the Egyptians didn’t sooner rise up to Pharaoh demanding his repentance towards God! Pharaoh may have been the absolute ruler in Egypt, worshipped as a god by his people, but every nation has a breaking point. The Egyptians waited an absurdly long time before trying to convince Pharaoh to repent.

10 Then they took ashes from the furnace and stood before Pharaoh, and Moses scattered them toward heaven. And they caused boils that break out in sores on man and beast. 11 And the magicians could not stand before Moses because of the boils, for the boils were on the magicians and on all the Egyptians.

  1. Why the ashes? God didn’t “need” ashes for the miracle; this was a symbol, and a step of faith for Moses. Some have speculated that the ashes came from one of the furnaces used to bake the bricks. If so, it would have been a powerful symbol of the abusive slavery of the Hebrews by the Egyptians being turned against them.
  2. Interestingly, no distinction between Hebrew and Egyptian is listed. Perhaps there is an implied distinction in verse 11 regarding the boils being on “the magicians and on all the Egyptians.” (No Hebrews mentioned.) That the magicians were affected was significant. Earlier, they seemed to duplicate (to a lesser extent) some of the effects of the plagues, although they were unable to remove them or offer any relief. Later, they were unable to duplicate anything, and were found ineffective. Now, they were harmed by the plague of God, coming under direct attack just like all the other Egyptians. Step by step, God revealed the Egyptian magicians to be utter frauds and they were totally defeated.
    1. False gods & false religions are just that: false!

12 But the LORD hardened the heart of Pharaoh; and he did not heed them, just as the LORD had spoken to Moses.

  1. For the first time in the series of the plagues, God hardened Pharaoh’s heart. Earlier, God said that this would be His work (Exo 7:3), but it took six of the nine primary plagues for it to happen. For five of the plagues, Pharaoh hardened his own heart; finally God is specifically spoken of doing the hardening.
  2. Does God have the right to harden? Yes, without question. (Rom 9:18-21) He is the Potter; we are the clay. He has the right to do whatever He wants with His creation. Is God unjust in His hardening? Absolutely not. Again, Pharaoh hardened his own heart five previous times (and does so again with the seventh plague). Pharaoh was responsible for his own sin & stubbornness.
    1. Although we sometimes have difficulty reconciling the sovereignty of God & the responsibility of man, the Bible has no such difficulty. We see those things as polar opposites; the Bible portrays them hand-in-hand. God cannot be blamed for our sin & lack of repentance. If someone chooses to reject Christ, he/she bears their own sin because it was his/her responsibility to repent.
    2. The point? Make the choice to repent! Stop blaming God (or Satan, or anyone else) for your bad choices – those are yours alone. The only thing stopping you from experiencing the mercy & grace of God is a refusal to repent. You’re digging your own hole…stop digging!
  • Plague #7: Hail & fire (9:13-35)

13 Then the LORD said to Moses, “Rise early in the morning and stand before Pharaoh, and say to him, ‘Thus says the LORD God of the Hebrews: “Let My people go, that they may serve Me, 14 for at this time I will send all My plagues to your very heart, and on your servants and on your people, that you may know that there is none like Me in all the earth.

  1. The next plague starts with the same pattern, but gives a harsher warning: “I will send all My plagues to your very heart.” The severity increases, and Pharaoh will be personally affected. The extent of which, he cannot yet imagine…the final 10th plague will take his own firstborn son. Again, God was giving Pharaoh repeated opportunities to repent – Pharaoh just wouldn’t do it.
  2. God also gives part of the purpose for the plagues: so that Pharaoh would recognize YHWH as God. Remember when Moses first approached Pharaoh with God’s demand for Hebrew freedom, and Pharaoh flatly turned him down. Exodus 5:2, “And Pharaoh said, “Who is the LORD, that I should obey His voice to let Israel go? I do not know the LORD, nor will I let Israel go.”” Then, Pharaoh did not recognize the Lord; now God declares that is precisely what the plagues would force Pharaoh to do. Each one of the plagues was an additional testimony of the reality of YHWH, God of the Hebrews.
  3. The purposes continue…

15 Now if I had stretched out My hand and struck you and your people with pestilence, then you would have been cut off from the earth. 16 But indeed for this purpose I have raised you up, that I may show My power in you, and that My name may be declared in all the earth. 17 As yet you exalt yourself against My people in that you will not let them go.

  1. The plagues were God’s mercy. God could have killed Pharaoh instantly, but He didn’t. He allowed Pharaoh to live through each and every one of these events, giving him opportunity after opportunity to repent.
  2. The plagues were God’s testimony. The whole world would see what God did in Egypt, and they would fear the God of the Hebrews. And it worked! Forty years later, when Joshua finally led the people into the Promised Land, the city of Jericho was terrified of the Hebrews, in part because of what the Lord did to the Egyptians at the Red Sea (Josh 2:10). There may not have been mass media in those days, but news of the miracles of God travelled fast!
  3. The plagues could have been temporary. The reason they continued was a direct result of Pharaoh’s pride. Pharaoh exalted himself rather than God. Not only did God use the plagues to witness to Pharaoh, but God used them to humble Pharaoh. Eventually that hardened heart would be broken, though it would take massive death and judgment before it happened.
    1. Clay can be reshaped in two ways: when it’s soft, it can be molded; after it’s fired & hardened, it must be broken. Keep your heart softened!

18 Behold, tomorrow about this time I will cause very heavy hail to rain down, such as has not been in Egypt since its founding until now. 19 Therefore send now and gather your livestock and all that you have in the field, for the hail shall come down on every man and every animal which is found in the field and is not brought home; and they shall die.” ’ ” 20 He who feared the word of the LORD among the servants of Pharaoh made his servants and his livestock flee to the houses. 21 But he who did not regard the word of the LORD left his servants and his livestock in the field.

  1. Strict warning of imminent death
  2. Everyone had the chance to believe, and respond.

22 Then the LORD said to Moses, “Stretch out your hand toward heaven, that there may be hail in all the land of Egypt—on man, on beast, and on every herb of the field, throughout the land of Egypt.” 23 And Moses stretched out his rod toward heaven; and the LORD sent thunder and hail, and fire darted to the ground. And the LORD rained hail on the land of Egypt. 24 So there was hail, and fire mingled with the hail, so very heavy that there was none like it in all the land of Egypt since it became a nation.

  1. Massive hail & fire rained down on Egypt.
  2. For all the various speculations of how some of the previous plagues could have come about through natural means, there is no natural explanation of this possible. Hail, perhaps…but not fire. Likewise, there’s no foundation to write off the “fire” as mere lightning that accompanied a violent storm (as both the NIV & HCSB translates it). There is a difference between the Hebrew words for “lightning,” (בָּרָק) and “fire,” (אֵשׁ) and it is the word for “fire” used here.
    1. Beware of those who try to write off the supernatural in the Scripture! Were it not for the supernatural interaction of Almighty God, none of us would be saved!
  3. Unique in Egypt. Unique in history. Not unique in the future! Revelation 8:7, “The first angel sounded: And hail and fire followed, mingled with blood, and they were thrown to the earth. And a third of the trees were burned up, and all green grass was burned up.” It will happen again, but on a scale heretofore unseen by the world!

25 And the hail struck throughout the whole land of Egypt, all that was in the field, both man and beast; and the hail struck every herb of the field and broke every tree of the field. 26 Only in the land of Goshen, where the children of Israel were, there was no hail.

  1. Again, massive death toll. Anyone (human or animal) in the open, died.
  2. Again, a distinction was made between the Hebrews and Egyptians.

27 And Pharaoh sent and called for Moses and Aaron, and said to them, “I have sinned this time. The LORD is righteous, and my people and I are wicked. 28 Entreat the LORD, that there may be no more mighty thundering and hail, for it is enough. I will let you go, and you shall stay no longer.”

  1. Pharaoh actually admitted some sin, but only some. “I have sinned this time.” What about all the other times?! His hard heart prevented him from seeing the full scope of his sins. He confessed God’s righteousness and begged for mercy, but he wasn’t surrendering himself into God’s hand. Thus, this wasn’t a change of heart for Pharaoh. Although it seemed that he humbled his heart, he didn’t. Even as he begged for mercy from God, Pharaoh lied (and Moses knew it).

29 So Moses said to him, “As soon as I have gone out of the city, I will spread out my hands to the LORD; the thunder will cease, and there will be no more hail, that you may know that the earth is the LORD’s. 30 But as for you and your servants, I know that you will not yet fear the LORD God.”

  1. Moses agreed to act, knowing that even the cessation of the hail was a witness to God.
  2. Even so, he knew the truth of Pharaoh’s heart, that Pharaoh was lying. Pharaoh did “not yet fear the LORD God.

31 Now the flax and the barley were struck, for the barley was in the head and the flax was in bud. 32 But the wheat and the spelt were not struck, for they are late crops.

  1. Spring crops destroyed; fall crops unaffected.

33 So Moses went out of the city from Pharaoh and spread out his hands to the LORD; then the thunder and the hail ceased, and the rain was not poured on the earth. 34 And when Pharaoh saw that the rain, the hail, and the thunder had ceased, he sinned yet more; and he hardened his heart, he and his servants. 35 So the heart of Pharaoh was hard; neither would he let the children of Israel go, as the LORD had spoken by Moses.

  1. True to his word, Moses acted in faith, and God’s power was evident in the relief from the plague.
  2. Sadly, it made no impact on Pharaoh. Once out of danger, “he hardened his heart” and changed his mind. And it wasn’t just Pharaoh. Even his servants hardened their hearts!
    1. Just like faith can be contagious, so can rebellion. Be mindful of the influence you have on others!

Exodus 10

  • Plague #8: Locusts (10:1-20)

1 Now the LORD said to Moses, “Go in to Pharaoh; for I have hardened his heart and the hearts of his servants, that I may show these signs of Mine before him, 2 and that you may tell in the hearing of your son and your son’s son the mighty things I have done in Egypt, and My signs which I have done among them, that you may know that I am the LORD.”

  1. Question: Who did the work of hardening Pharaoh’s heart: Pharaoh or the Lord God? Both! Here, God spoke of His own work – and it wasn’t just with Pharaoh, but with Pharaoh’s servants. They were in a similar position as their king, first hardening their heart and then God confirming their terrible choice.
  2. God also gave another reason for Pharaoh’s hardened heart and the plagues: as signs to Israel. In Exodus 9:14, God said the plagues were witnesses to Pharaoh – in 9:16, God said the plagues were witnesses to the world; in 10:2, God says that the plagues are witnesses to the Hebrews. The Hebrews needed to know the power of God – they needed to understand His holy justice & His might – they needed to know to what extent God would go to keep His promises. All of that can be seen in the plagues.
    1. Look around and see the work of God! How far will He go? To the cross & resurrection!

3 So Moses and Aaron came in to Pharaoh and said to him, “Thus says the LORD God of the Hebrews: ‘How long will you refuse to humble yourself before Me? …

  1. However Pharaoh’s heart was hardened, the ultimate issue was pride. He consistently refused to humble himself before God.

… Let My people go, that they may serve Me. 4 Or else, if you refuse to let My people go, behold, tomorrow I will bring locusts into your territory. 5 And they shall cover the face of the earth, so that no one will be able to see the earth; and they shall eat the residue of what is left, which remains to you from the hail, and they shall eat every tree which grows up for you out of the field. 6 They shall fill your houses, the houses of all your servants, and the houses of all the Egyptians—which neither your fathers nor your fathers’ fathers have seen, since the day that they were on the earth to this day.’ ” And he turned and went out from Pharaoh.

  1. This was Pharaoh’s last chance before the locusts came. Egypt’s agricultural economy was already devastated – this would be a knockout blow. The locusts would destroy anything remaining. How bad would it be? The locusts would be unavoidable and undeniable.
  2. There’s an interesting change/addition to this particular plague account: a little extra note at the end of verse 6 that Moses gave God’s warning, and left. The implication is that Moses didn’t stick around waiting for an answer. He already knew what Pharaoh’s response would be, so he left.
    1. Notice that didn’t stop Moses from delivering the message! Even though he knew Pharaoh’s heart was hard – even though he knew Pharaoh was a liar deserving of God’s judgment – Moses was still faithful, delivering the message from God exactly as God instructed him to do.

7 Then Pharaoh’s servants said to him, “How long shall this man be a snare to us? Let the men go, that they may serve the LORD their God. Do you not yet know that Egypt is destroyed?”

  1. Even the servants begged Pharaoh to relent! They saw what Pharaoh refused to see – what his hard heart had blinded it from. 
  2. And Pharaoh listened! At least partly, as he called for Moses and Aaron to return. 

8 So Moses and Aaron were brought again to Pharaoh, and he said to them, “Go, serve the LORD your God. Who are the ones that are going?” 9 And Moses said, “We will go with our young and our old; with our sons and our daughters, with our flocks and our herds we will go, for we must hold a feast to the LORD.” 10 Then he said to them, “The LORD had better be with you when I let you and your little ones go! Beware, for evil is ahead of you. 11 Not so! Go now, you who are men, and serve the LORD, for that is what you desired.” And they were driven out from Pharaoh’s presence.

  1. Although Moses’ request was reasonable, Pharaoh denied it, insulting Moses in the process. He questioned Moses’ manhood & ejected he & Aaron from the Egyptian court.
  2. This is the danger of pride! Pharaoh was so close to experiencing peace and relief from the plagues, but his pride wouldn’t allow him to admit defeat.

12 Then the LORD said to Moses, “Stretch out your hand over the land of Egypt for the locusts, that they may come upon the land of Egypt, and eat every herb of the land—all that the hail has left.” 13 So Moses stretched out his rod over the land of Egypt, and the LORD brought an east wind on the land all that day and all that night. When it was morning, the east wind brought the locusts. 14 And the locusts went up over all the land of Egypt and rested on all the territory of Egypt. They were very severe; previously there had been no such locusts as they, nor shall there be such after them. 15 For they covered the face of the whole earth, so that the land was darkened; and they ate every herb of the land and all the fruit of the trees which the hail had left. So there remained nothing green on the trees or on the plants of the field throughout all the land of Egypt.

  1. Pharaoh’s last encounter with Moses had sealed his judgment from God, and it came forth strong! A supernatural swarm of locusts totally destroyed the land. Nothing like this had ever happened before. The Egyptians had seen locust swarms in the past, but this was unnaturally thick.
  2. How bad was it? Verse 14 said that “They were very severe,” the word “severe” being the same word used earlier to refer to Pharaoh’s hard heart. It might be translated, “They were very heavy / very weighty.” What a response to Pharaoh! As hard has his heart was, so was the severity of the swarm of locusts upon his land!

16 Then Pharaoh called for Moses and Aaron in haste, and said, “I have sinned against the LORD your God and against you. 17 Now therefore, please forgive my sin only this once, and entreat the LORD your God, that He may take away from me this death only.”

  1. Was Pharaoh ready to admit defeat? His response was similar to that with the fiery hail. On the surface, he seems as if he’s ready to be humble, but upon a closer look, he wasn’t. Notice that Pharaoh was blinded to the extent of his sin. He wanted forgiveness “this once,” and to have “this death only” taken away – as if he had only sinned the one time.
  2. True confession is utter openness with God. It’s agreeing that our sin is truly sinful, separating us from Him in rebellion. It’s no excuses, no holds-barred, no conditions. If we’re not willing to do that, then we’re still holding onto pride. 

18 So he went out from Pharaoh and entreated the LORD.

  1. Notice how Moses was merciful every time Pharaoh asked. Moses was under no obligation to pray on Pharaoh’s behalf. He had been commissioned to speak for God; not Pharaoh. Yet he did it anyway. Moses was an intercessor to someone who didn’t deserve intercession.

19 And the LORD turned a very strong west wind, which took the locusts away and blew them into the Red Sea. There remained not one locust in all the territory of Egypt. 20 But the LORD hardened Pharaoh’s heart, and he did not let the children of Israel go.

  1. More hardening…this time it was the Lord God who did it to Pharaoh. Once again, God confirmed the choices Pharaoh made for himself already.
  • Plague #9: Darkness (10:21-29)

21 Then the LORD said to Moses, “Stretch out your hand toward heaven, that there may be darkness over the land of Egypt, darkness which may even be felt.” 22 So Moses stretched out his hand toward heaven, and there was thick darkness in all the land of Egypt three days. 23 They did not see one another; nor did anyone rise from his place for three days. But all the children of Israel had light in their dwellings.

  1. This was the final plague of the final cycle of plagues, thus it was a judgment plague given without warning. “This plague is comparable to the silence in heaven, just prior to the last and terrible plague (Rev 8:1),” (NET Bible).
  2. Darkness might not seem so bad. But consider the extent of the darkness. How bad must it have been, for the thick darkness to be “felt”? Have you ever been in a cavern when the lights are turned out & it become pitch-dark? It’s a scary thing when you can’t see your hand right in front of your face, and you know your eyes will not adjust. That’s a darkness you can feel – perhaps not physically, but viscerally. That was what came upon the land of Egypt (though not upon the land of Goshen). God gave palpable darkness to the Egyptians, while He gave light to the children of Israel.
  3. Ultimately, this was a direct hit on the most revered false god of Egypt: Ra, the sun god. This was the chief god in their pantheon, and he was shown to be powerless in the face of YHWH. God is the only God!

24 Then Pharaoh called to Moses and said, “Go, serve the LORD; only let your flocks and your herds be kept back. Let your little ones also go with you.” 25 But Moses said, “You must also give us sacrifices and burnt offerings, that we may sacrifice to the LORD our God. 26 Our livestock also shall go with us; not a hoof shall be left behind. For we must take some of them to serve the LORD our God, and even we do not know with what we must serve the LORD until we arrive there.”

  1. At first glance, it seems that Pharaoh is ready to admit defeat. He gave limited permission to Israel.
  2. Moses didn’t accept it. Why not? He knew better! He knew what God had commanded of him, and what to expect. He wasn’t about to settle for less.

27 But the LORD hardened Pharaoh’s heart, and he would not let them go. 28 Then Pharaoh said to him, “Get away from me! Take heed to yourself and see my face no more! For in the day you see my face you shall die!” 29 So Moses said, “You have spoken well. I will never see your face again.”

  1. God may have hardened Pharaoh’s heart, but Pharaoh’s anger was his own. Every word Pharaoh spoke, and every reaction he had was his own choice. He made some very poor choices along the way! (Just like us!)
  2. Sadly, Pharaoh was closing himself off from any opportunity to hear of God’s mercy & grace, cutting himself off from every opportunity to repent. He demanded Moses leave and never see his face – but Moses was the only one who could intercede to God on his behalf. Like the man or woman who turns away from Jesus (our only hope), so did Pharaoh turn away from Moses (his only hope). People need a Mediator between us & God, and there is only one Mediator offered to us today: Jesus! Don’t turn away from Him!


Hardened hearts are dangerous! Hearts become hard due to proud rebellion against God, and pride kills. It’s always been that way. Satan became proud, and desired to be in the place of God, only to be cast down out of heaven. Adam and Eve were tempted through their pride to know as much as God, only to fall from grace and be cast out of the Garden of Eden. Pride is not only the downfall of obviously sinful people like Pharaoh; it’s the downfall of all of us.

For Christians, it can be difficult to see how the pride of Pharaoh relates to us. It shouldn’t be! In the first place, at one point we were all like Pharaoh, exalting ourselves above God, rebelling against His every command. Though He graciously gave us many opportunities to repent, we didn’t. Instead, we dug in our heels against Him, and He had to bring us to the point of breaking or to some other point where He could no longer be denied. (Some of you might still be at that point today!) The good news is that once we did humble ourselves before Jesus, repenting of our sin & believing upon Him, that’s when He saved us by His grace. Thus, we can look on Pharaoh & thank God that He saved us out of that place!

At the same time, pride isn’t something that only affects the reprobate. Each one of us, even as born-again Christians, can sink into the quicksand of proud, hardened hearts. Yes, we initially repented & placed our faith in Christ, but we found other areas of our lives that we weren’t ready to surrender to God. We had things pop up along the way that we kept for our own, being unwilling to give to Jesus – being unwilling to obey what the Scripture tells us to do with them. We’ve nursed our grudges, neglected to serve others, made ourselves our priority, etc. By refusing to give those things over to the Lord, we’ve opened the door to hardened hearts. Beware! That won’t lead to ultimate judgment, but it will lead to God’s firm discipline. “God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble,” (Jas 4:6) That truth never changes, even for believers in Christ.