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Power to Preach

Posted: July 22, 2018 in Acts, Uncategorized

Acts 5:12-21a, “Power to Preach”

There are many things where the right tool, or the right power, makes all the difference. That includes the Christian life. It is sadly common to see born-again Christians struggling to walk in obedience to God, and in joy with Jesus, simply because they’re trying to do all things in their own power. When they share the gospel, they sweat as they try to remember all of the strategies of their preferred program – when they face temptation, they fail over and over as they try to go by their gut. It doesn’t have to be this way! God has promised power to His people, and He personally gives it when He repeatedly fills us as God the Holy Spirit. God’s power makes God’s work possible. And that lets us rejoice, as He uses us for His glory in the process!

But that power comes for a purpose. God doesn’t empower us simply to make us “powerful,” yet that’s the idea held by many. The false teachers of the Word-Faith movement make the power of God something to be grabbed & sought after, simply for personal blessing. There are camps and conferences designed to teach anyone (from children on up) how to perform “signs & wonders,” so that they can supposedly perform miracles-on-demand. The emphasis is always on the miracles & the power, but rarely (if ever) on Jesus.

But that is always the primary purpose of miracles! It’s not to promote us as a people; it’s to promote the Person of Jesus. It’s to preach His gospel – to be used as one of many tools for evangelism and the glory of God. And that was the record of the early church led by the apostles. Back up for context…

Although the church was new, persecution began early for the apostles. After healing a man lame from birth while in Solomon’s Portico in the temple, Peter & John were preaching the gospel & promptly arrested by order of the high priest. Though the Sanhedrin tried them the next day, the Jewish leaders had no grounds for conviction, so they ordered the apostles not to teach in the name of Jesus. To this, Peter & John immediately refused, knowing they needed to listen to God, rather than men. Once released, the apostles and the whole church prayed for boldness, and for God to reveal Himself through signs & wonders.

That prayer was immediately answered, not only through the physical shaking of the room, but mostly through the filling of the Holy Spirit. And true to the prayer, God the Spirit did empower them with boldness to preach the gospel of Jesus and to live out the love of Jesus. He also answered the prayer for signs & wonders…though one of the signs wasn’t necessarily one they expected: the immediate supernatural judgment of a married couple who lied to God. This act of divine judgment served to authenticate the work of God among His church, and there would be more signs to come.

The focus for the rest of the chapter will be upon the apostles’ trial and verdict – but what about the acts that led up to that point? The apostles get in trouble for disobeying a direct order from the Sanhedrin. How exactly did they disobey? What they did & how they did it speaks loudly about which group was really in rebellion. The Sanhedrin may have given an order, but God was the One who gave the apostles power and a message. If the apostles had attempted to act on their own, they would have failed on multiple levels. Instead, God empowered them to preach the gospel of Jesus. All the apostles did was follow through on what God gave them, all to God’s glory.

Beloved, the message of the gospel cannot be stopped, but it also cannot be rightly proclaimed without God’s power and plan. Do it His way, in His power!

Acts 5:12–21a

  • Many signs and wonders (12-16)

12 And through the hands of the apostles many signs and wonders were done among the people. And they were all with one accord in Solomon’s Porch.

  1. As at other times, Luke gives a broad summary / overview of what was happening in the church at the time. One major sign of judgment had just taken place within the church, but God was granting all kinds of “signs and wonders” by the church, but outside of the church. Basically, this was what might be called “power evangelism” taking place at the temple. [PIC] The Bible is full of this sort of power evangelism, ranging from the plagues sent among the Egyptians in the Old Testament, to much of the three-year ministry of Jesus in the New Testament. Although miraculous signs (apart from the cross and resurrection) were never the full focus of Jesus’ ministry, they were part & parcel with it. People came to Him not only to hear Him teach, but to experience miracles – primarily healings. The things Jesus did were carried over by the things the apostles did, showing a continuity of ministry. It gave an extra credence to the gospel that was preached, because people not only heard of the work of Jesus, but they also saw His work with their own eyes.
    1. The mistake often made today is a search for miracles, for the sake of miracles. They want experiences, instead of experiencing Jesus. For Jesus & the apostles, the miracles were a tool – something that was used to open an opportunity to preach the word of God & the message of forgiveness in Christ. Miracles were means to an end; not the end itself. When we lose focus on that, then we lose focus on Jesus, and the miracle might do more harm than good.
    2. Think about it: How many people have you seen pray for miracles in the hospital, while never giving a second thought to Jesus on the outside? Or how many jailhouse conversions are reversed as soon as an inmate is released? It’s not uncommon for people to have a short-term faith for a short-term cause, but in those cases they aren’t seeking to have Jesus as their Lord so much as they’re seeking a solution to their problem. They don’t understand that their lack of Jesus is their ultimate problem! That’s why when their prayer is answered, they go back to life-as-usual. That doesn’t solve anything; it just makes a more comfortable ride on the road to hell. What we need are more than short-term miracles; we need supernatural transformation…and that only comes through Jesus!
  2. Who did the miracles? The apostles. Interestingly, Luke makes the specific note that all of this came “through the hands of the apostles.” It’s not that other Christians were not equipped with spiritual power and gifts. Quite the contrary! The book of Acts will later name Christian prophets who were not among the twelve, and much of the book is dedicated to the ministry of Paul who certainly was not one of the twelve (though a different kind of apostle). All Christians receive some spiritual gift(s) as the Holy Spirit distributes to each one individually (1 Cor 12:11). The reason for the apostolic emphasis at this point is the gospel emphasis. Remember that the church was still brand-new in this phase, so people were still making the connection between Jesus and His followers. The twelve apostles were the known followers of Christ, having the most public ministry with Him before (and now after) Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection. With these signs and wonders done through the apostles, the rest of Jerusalem would pay greater attention to the words of the apostles, giving authority to the gospel.
  3. The apostles may have worked the miracles, but the entire church was active. Once again, Luke points out how they were “all with one accord.” As seen in Acts 4:32, they all had one heart and one soul – they were all singularly driven by the mission given them by the Lord Jesus (the Great Commission). Imagine for a moment being there. Every morning, you walk to the temple, hoping to get a seat in the shade near Solomon’s Porch as you listen to Peter, John, Andrew, or one of the other apostles tell you what it was Jesus told them during their years together. As you listen, others join, and soon a crowd has gathered with people having true sicknesses and other needs. The apostles see the need, grant the healing in the name of Jesus, rejoice in praise of God, and go right back to teaching the gospel. Every day, there was something new – every day there were more opportunities to see the Living God at work as you learn more & more of His Son & His promises. What excitement that would have been! How natural it would be to bring your friends & family to join you, as you tell them what you had learned of Jesus from the apostles.
    1. That’s not too much different than what it still can be today! We do not often see the sign & wonders, but do we not still see the Living God at work? Do we not hear His word when we gather together? Do we not worship in spirit & truth? Have we not personally experienced His forgiveness & grace? It ought to be just as natural to us to invite our friends & family! How could we not want them to experience the same thing?
    2. And beyond the issue of evangelism, don’t lose sight of the excitement and privilege of living as the church today! It can be easy to look back, almost with envy, thinking that they did everything right & we do everything wrong. That is simply not the case. Are we perfect? By no means…but what a privilege it is to live as a Christian in the 21st century! We are entering an era in our own nation where it’s no longer easy to hide under the label of “Christian,” without truly being a Christian…thus we are entering a time of much needed purification as a church. We live at a time when any single individual can have a literal worldwide witness simply by going online…wonderful for evangelism. We have the completed written word of God at our fingertips (in multiple translations), and nearly 2000 years of theological thought…enriching us all as disciples. We see long-forgotten prophecies being fulfilled in the nation of Israel, and among the church…helping us know that Jesus’ return is at hand. This is not a time to regret, by any means! Thank God for allowing you to live as a Christian today, and ask for grace to be the best Christian you can be!
  4. What was the response of the Jews to the church at the time? Luke’s phrasing seems a bit confusing…

13 Yet none of the rest dared join them, but the people esteemed them highly.

  1. Contradiction? No; just awkward wording. There are two different groups apart from the church described: receptive Jews (“the people”) & resistant Jews (“the rest”). Based on the signs & wonders being performed on a near-daily basis, with the judgment of Ananias & Sapphira to death most prominent among them, there were many Jews who feared joining the church. The church wasn’t a group they took lightly, and even though great things were happening through them, many of the people of Jerusalem well understood that they had no business being a false-believer among them. If Ananias & Sapphira were struck dead for lying to God the Holy Spirit about a financial gift; how much more for someone who lied about being a disciple!
    1. This sort of fear is actually fairly healthy! Would that more people today would fear to present themselves as Christians, when they know they are not. It’s one thing to be personally deceived about one’s own conversion; it’s another thing to simply show up among the church and lie about it. There’s more than one way to be a false convert. Some might have their faith in the wrong thing (such as a decision card or prayer, rather than Jesus); others are little different than Judas. A healthy fear of the Lord keeps Judases out of the church!
  2. As for the other Jews in the crowd (the people), they were far more receptive to the message of the church. They “esteemed them highly;” they enlarged /exalted / magnified them. It’s not that the Jews were giving the church a large ego, but that they were praising God for His work through them. God was truly seen among the Christians, and the crowds in Jerusalem couldn’t help but take notice. That inevitably led to salvations.

14 And believers were increasingly added to the Lord, multitudes of both men and women, 15 so that they brought the sick out into the streets and laid them on beds and couches, that at least the shadow of Peter passing by might fall on some of them.

  1. People were constantly getting saved. So much so, that numbers were no longer recorded. A minimum of 5000 people had already put their faith in the Lord Jesus, and now vast “multitudes of both men and women” were continually believing the gospel and being added to the numbers of the church, thus being “added to the Lord.” How wonderful! How pure. Remember that this had nothing to do with so-called “church growth” programs, membership drives, or anything of the like. Christians didn’t engage in evangelism to simply bring people through the doors and make the church bigger…there wasn’t a church building where they could be brought! At this point, the church was meeting in homes & in the courtyard of the Jerusalem temple. They didn’t even have the thought of a permanent facility. No, at this point the evangelism was truly pure: they just wanted people to know Jesus. And they did! Scores of people came to faith in Christ, as they could all see Jesus working among the church.
    1. How wonderful it would be to see multitudes added to the Lord…even to see only one! To see people saved & discipled – that is the Great Commission in action! That’s what it is we want to do, here at Calvary Chapel. May God help us like He helped the early church – may He equip us to preach the good news of Jesus with power, so that our community sees Him in action!
    2. How might we play a part in this? How might you play a part? It’s one thing to pray for the gospel to go out in our city; it’s another for you to be part of the answer to that prayer and take it to them. In Jerusalem, the word about Jesus got around…the same thing can happen here in Tyler!
  2. People were constantly getting healed. With the signs & wonders being done on so regular a basis, it was only natural that people began to expect the miracles, rather than be surprised by them. They’d bring out their loved ones who were ill, and simply wait for healing. Incredibly, it seems that God healed so much, that people believed that even the shadow of Peter could heal them!
  3. At this point, some of us might raise our eyebrows, and rightly so. How much of this was faith & how much was superstition? It’s impossible to say. On one hand, there is no doubt that God did amazing miracles through mysterious means throughout the Bible. Even Jesus had an event when a woman touched the hem of His garment, and she experienced a healing. AT Robertson notes, “God honors even superstitious faith if it is real faith in Him.” Perhaps this was the case in Jerusalem. If healing truly was granted at Peter’s shadow, it was no doubt because people had faith that God would grant the healing through that means; not because the shadow of Peter was magical.
    1. Even so, it emphasizes the importance of knowing who/what we trust – especially in terms of our salvation. Our hope is not in a talisman or special incantation…which is exactly how some treat rosaries, priestly blessings, or even the evangelical “sinner’s prayer.” Those things are just things – those words are just words. They cannot save, because they have no power to save. Salvation is found only in Jesus Christ, crucified for our sin & risen from the grave. God grants it out of His mercies and grace to those who receive Jesus as Lord. Our trust is not in any thing; it is in a single Person, the Lord Jesus.

16 Also a multitude gathered from the surrounding cities to Jerusalem, bringing sick people and those who were tormented by unclean spirits, and they were all healed.

  1. Notice the locations mentioned by Luke: the news of what God was doing through the apostles spread beyond This is the first time in the book of Acts since Pentecost that anyone from outside of Jerusalem has been mentioned. To this point, the entire ministry of the church has taken place in Jerusalem, but things will soon change as persecution increases and the Christians multiply beyond the city. Don’t misunderstand – it was right for the church to have its beginnings in Jerusalem…Jesus told them to do exactly that (Acts 1:4,8). But now that the church had begun, it was almost time for the church to spread. Having people come in from “the surrounding cities” helped to lay the groundwork for that to happen.
  2. No matter where the people originated, all were healed. No disease nor demon was too difficult to be healed. The same power demonstrated months earlier by Jesus was now demonstrated by His apostles within the church. Again – there was a continuity of ministry, giving credence to the gospel. God empowered His church just like He empowered His Son, and people paid attention as the result.
    1. Question: Do we have the promise of automatic healing of every disease today? Technically, the early church did not have the “promise” of 100% healing – it was just an extra measure of the grace of God as the gospel was being preached. What we do have is the certainty that God is stronger than every disease and demon. There is no challenge we face that is too hard for Jesus. He is stronger than anything we face, and we can take all things to Him in prayer.
    2. Ultimately, we can know that all diseases will be healed for the believer in Christ, but that is something we experience in eternal life. The Bible tells us that in heaven, there will be no more sorrow, crying, or death (Rev 21:5), because all of these things are done away for the believer. But that’s the believer. For the person without Jesus, their unhealed disease leads to an eternity without Jesus…which is the worst thing imaginable.

So signs & wonders are being performed, people are seeing the work of God & hearing the word of God, people are getting saved by the multitudes as they come to faith in Christ…wonderful! But it would certainly attract a bit of attention, particularly with it taking place in such a public place like Solomon’s Porch at the temple. The last time that some apostles of Jesus were doing the same thing in the same place, they got arrested. It was no different this time.

  • One particular sign (17-21) / Response to the apostles

17 Then the high priest rose up, and all those who were with him (which is the sect of the Sadducees), and they were filled with indignation, 18 and laid their hands on the apostles and put them in the common prison.

  1. All the Jewish leadership opposed the apostles, but there is an emphasis from Luke on the high priest & the Sadducees. Because they opposed the supernatural in general & the resurrection in particular, they would have been specifically opposed to the miracles and the message of Jesus’ resurrection. Although Luke doesn’t explicitly record the teachings of the apostles at that time, there’s no doubt their teachings were drenched with the message of Jesus’ cross and resurrection. That’s what they had preached repeatedly in the past, and there’s no reason to assume that they would have changed. It was impossible for them to preach the gospel without it!
  2. The priests and Sadducees had addressed this earlier (or so they thought), and they were incensed at having to do it all over again. To be “filled with indignation” is to be filled with jealousy or zeal. They had reason to be jealous: the apostles were gaining converts to Christ on their home turf! It’s not as if they were off in Galilee somewhere preaching on a hillside; they were in the front courtyard of the temple grounds. When Jews came for prayer or sacrifice, they would have passed right by the group of Christians, not being able to keep from witnessing what God was doing among them. Thus the apostles were gaining credibility as teachers of God, and they were teaching a message the high priest didn’t like! After all, it was the high priest and the rest of the Sanhedrin who had delivered Jesus over to Pilate for execution, so every time the apostles taught the gospel, it was another hit at the credibility of the Jewish leadership. They were the ones who rejected the Messiah who later rose from the dead. That wasn’t a message the priests wanted the people to hear!
    1. It didn’t make it any less true! Sometimes the truth hurts, but if the truth leads us to Jesus, than it needs to be said.
  3. All of this led to the 2nd instance of official persecution. This time it wasn’t only Peter & John, but all of the apostles who were arrested & put in jail for the night. As before, the idea was to hold the apostles overnight while the entire assembly of the Sanhedrin gathered the next day for the trial. (The plans would soon be changed!)
    1. Notice that persecution was getting worse; not better. The church was being faithful to what God had given them to do, and every indication is that the apostles were totally obedient to the leading of God. That being the case, where’s their blessing? Where’s the ease & the prosperity? It wasn’t at all like many modern Christians believe it ought to be. We think that if we do things right, God blesses us; if we do things wrong, God punishes us. It sounds okay, until we start putting things like persecution into the mix, or remember the account of Job. We need to rethink what it is to be “blessed” by God. God’s blessing does not necessarily equal things like perfect health, ease of life, financial prosperity, etc. When those things come, we can certainly thank God for them, just as we thank God for any of His gifts; but those things aren’t necessarily His “blessings.” God’s blessing is God’s favor upon us – it is His presence with us – it is His forgiveness towards us – it is His grace showered upon us. God’s blessing is the fact that we who were once His enemies are now His friends & His children. God’s blessing is the salvation of Jesus and the sealing of the Holy Spirit. Those things are blessings! With those things, everything else becomes circumstantial. Circumstances can do what circumstances do, but if God is with us, everything else is minor league! Philippians 4:12–13, “(12) I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. (13) I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”  Whether Paul suffered or rejoiced, Paul was always blessed because Paul was always in Jesus. So are we!
    2. What is it that is causing your suffering today? Know this, as a Christian, you are still (and always) blessed! Maybe you’ve suffered persecution, like the apostles – maybe you’re enduring the hand of discipline from God due to previous sin – maybe you’re struggling with an illness simply because you’re human. You are still blessed because Jesus is still with you. He never leaves you, nor forsakes you. The work of Jesus on your behalf has made it possible for you to be born of the Holy Spirit and be made a child of the Creator God. Praise God for your blessing!

19 But at night an angel of the Lord opened the prison doors and brought them out, and said, 20 “Go, stand in the temple and speak to the people all the words of this life.”

  1. Prison is no problem for God! He sent a heavenly jailbreak. There they were, in a general holding cell – we don’t know the time of night or whether any of the twelve were asleep. If they were, they didn’t stay sleepy for long! God sent an angel to open the jailhouse door and to bring them all out into freedom.
  2. Note this was “an angel of the Lord,” and not “the Angel of the Lord.” Technically, neither the Greek nor OT Hebrew makes a distinction with the definite article, as does English, but we can say without question that this particular angel was not the Being we know as the Angel of the Lord, who was the pre-incarnate Jesus. Never again will the Lord Jesus appear as an angel, because His incarnation is permanent. Once God the Son put on flesh to dwell among us, He kept His flesh. Certainly His glorified appearance is vastly different than what He looked like during His 33 years in Galilee & Judea – we need look no further than the 1st chapter of Revelation for proof. But even in Revelation, the Lord Jesus is still the Lord Jesus. He is still an incarnate Man, though fully God. His identity as Jesus never changes.
    1. What does this mean for us? It means that the love of Jesus for us is so great that He made a permanent change on our behalf. He identified Himself with humans – not just for 33 years, but for eternity.
  3. Whoever this unnamed angel was, he gave the apostles a two-fold command: (1) Go, (2) speak. (1) The “go” is self-evident. They couldn’t stay were they were. What good would it have done anyone to be released from prison, only to stay put in the street right outside the front gate? Of course, the implication is greater than just random “going.” They weren’t go just anywhere; they were to go back. (2) They were to “” They were to get back to the temple, stand right in the open (you know, right where they had been arrested!), and “speak to the people all the words of this life.” Basically: “Get back there, and open your mouths. Use your freedom for the purpose God gave it to you, and tell people about Jesus!”
  4. Make no mistake: “The words of this life” = the gospel. The apostles weren’t commissioned by the angel to go back to the temple and ramble about their political opinions, or to give pithy thoughts about the meaning of life. They were to speak all of the words of this life, this Christian life, this eternal abundant life. They were to speak all the words of Jesus who is the way, the truth, and the life (Jn 14:6). They were to speak everything – not hold back on anything. This wasn’t the time to quiet down; it was the time to act in the boldness for which they had earlier prayed. It was time to preach the full gospel about the Lord & Savior Jesus Christ!
    1. That command was given to the twelve, but it applies to all the church. Go, stand your ground and preach the word – preach the gospel! Understand, this was the very reason God had done all of the earlier signs & wonders – they had been tools from which the gospel could be proclaimed. Likewise with this new miracle experienced by the apostles. They weren’t freed from jail so they could go back to Galilee – God didn’t send an angel for them to go back to their fishing business. The power of God came with a purpose, and that purpose was to preach the gospel. That was the mission of the apostles, and that is the mission of the church today. God doesn’t give us buildings so that we can be comfortable as a country club – He doesn’t give us our finances so we can have as many parties as possible. He gives us these resources in order that we might proclaim Jesus. He gives us radio programs and YouTube videos not to promote a pastor or a ministry, but to promote the Lord Jesus alone.
    2. That’s just as true for us as individual Christians, as it is for us as a congregation. Why does God give us what we have? In order for Him to be glorified through it – in order for Jesus to be known through it. God has a purpose for you & for me, and it is to make Jesus known!
  5. What did the apostles do in response to the angel? They obeyed!

21a And when they heard that, they entered the temple early in the morning and taught.

  1. No hesitation. They went right back to the same place where they had been arrested the day before, and kept doing the same things that caused them to get arrested in the first place. Did they fear what might happen to them? If they did, Luke doesn’t record it. But in the end, it didn’t matter what the Sanhedrin would say or do to them – they were commanded to preach the gospel, and they had been given the opportunity to preach the gospel…so that’s what they did.
  2. How many opportunities do we miss, simply because we fear what might happen? What might happen also might not happen, and in the end, it doesn’t really matter if it does happen as long as we’re doing what Jesus has told us to do! Remember Daniel’s friends, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah (Shadrach, Meshach, Abed-Nego) – when they faced the fiery furnace of Nebuchadnezzar for refusing to bow to his golden image, they had no hesitation in their response: Daniel 3:17–18, “(17) If that is the case, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and He will deliver us from your hand, O king. (18) But if not, let it be known to you, O king, that we do not serve your gods, nor will we worship the gold image which you have set up.”” Faced with the potential choice of life or death, they willingly chose death as long as it meant they would remain faithful to God. It’s doubtful any of us will face that same life/death choice for Jesus (though it’s a very real situation for Christians around the world!), but we cannot let ourselves be governed by fears of what might happen if we speak up for Jesus. Just speak up for Jesus! Let Jesus guide you through the rest. He will empower you for whatever it is you face.

Conclusion:

We’ve got to stop there. It’s only part-one of a longer story, but it’s important all by itself. The apostles will soon appear in court again, and made to give an answer as to why they disobeyed the direct command of the Sanhedrin – but we don’t want to miss the act of the supposed-disobedience itself. The apostles worked signs & wonders – they were themselves the recipients of signs and wonders – all of it empowered by God for a single purpose: to preach the gospel.

We need the power of God! Without it, we’ve got nothing for the Christian life. No boldness, no strength, no power to fight temptation – nothing. If the apostles had try do the things they did in their own strength, they would have appeared totally foolish. There would be no healings – there would be no mass conversions. It’s doubtful they would even have had the courage to stand in the middle of the temple & preach the gospel at all! It was the power of God that made all this possible.

But we don’t need power for power’s sake; God empowers us for a purpose: proclaiming Jesus. God no more allowed the apostles to perform signs & wonders for their own egos, than He did release them from jail for their own comfort. God had a singular purpose in all of this: that Jesus would be known! The gospel was to be preached, but it was only possible to preach it effectively through His power.

If we think of it like a path or a road, then we can veer off in either direction: (1) we could not avail ourselves of the power of God, or (2) we could try to use the power of God for our own benefit. Both are error!

  • To try to live as a Christian without the power God makes available to us in the Holy Spirit is as foolish as trying to live as forgiven without the grace of Jesus. It doesn’t even make sense! Born-again believers are wholly dependent on the power of God – it is the very way that Jesus gives us what we need in the moment.
  • At the same time, to try to use the power of God for our own comforts and benefits is the height of selfishness. Newsflash: this life isn’t about us! Does God want to give us an abundant life in which we can rejoice in Jesus? Absolutely – no question! But that doesn’t mean He wants to make us comfortable. A Christian experiences the most joy when he/she is being used by God. When we are in the hands of our Maker and Master, being used by Him for His glory – that is the best feeling in the entire world!

Put it together, and we are walk in the power of God, being used for the purposes of God. In that is true joy!

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Sin v. Sovereignty

Posted: July 19, 2018 in Genesis, Uncategorized

Genesis 37-38, “Sin v. Sovereignty”

If you follow the news, you know that President Trump has recently nominated Judge Brett Kavanaugh to fill a vacancy on the Supreme Court. And just like every other time a Supreme Court nomination rolls around, the headlines are full with all kinds of questions of how the judge would rule on certain cases. Everyone seems to become an overnight legal expert, rattling off case names such as Roe v. Wade (which decided abortion), Obergefell v. Hodges (which decided homosexual marriage), National Federation of Independent Business v. Sebelius (sometimes referred to as Sebelius, which decided the mandate for health insurance), and more. Whether the commentator knows anything about the subject, or not, is another issue – usually the goal is just to rattle off the name.

Of course, many struggles (perhaps most struggles) take place outside the legal arena, and they could be labeled in much the same way. One is mankind’s sin versus the sovereignty of God. By definition, sin is an act of rebellion against God, so the question is often asked: Can God’s will be thwarted? When men and women are successful in sin, are they also successful in throwing off the plans of God? Does God ever lose control – does God ever have to improvise? The Biblical answer to these questions is a resounding no. Men and women do indeed sin (often, and to terrible extents), but our sin does not dismiss or deny the plans of God. What God wills to be done, will be done. He is always sovereign, no matter what.

This is on display within the family of Jacob (Israel). There is terrible sin that takes place among the brothers, some of which is intentionally committed to circumvent God’s revealed will. None of it, however, defeats God’s plans…quite the opposite! The sinful works of these men are the very things God uses to bring about His perfect plan, ultimately bringing forth Jesus as our Savior. Sin cannot stop the Savior – when it comes to Sin v. Sovereignty, God’s sovereignty wins every time!

Contextually, Jacob and his family are back in the Promised Land, having settled in Canaan. Jacob had placed his faith in God, was renamed Israel, and was reconciled with his twin-brother Esau. Even so, things were far from perfect, and Jacob’s lack of leadership among his own family led to a terrible tragedy resulting in the rape of his daughter and the massacre of the local townspeople by his sons. Resentment towards him was bubbling up within his sons – something that would continue for many years. Even with his imperfections, Jacob renewed his commitment to God, and God reaffirmed Israel’s new name & the covenant promises that God would fulfill through Israel’s family. Life went on for Jacob and the rest, experiencing the bittersweet birth of the 12th son Benjamin, along with the death of the beloved wife Rachel, and the betrayal by Jacob’s firstborn Reuben when Reuben committed incest with his father’s concubine.

Put it all together, and there is a family committed to the Lord as God, but by no means walking in faithfulness with the Lord as God. In other words, the family of Israel was like a lot of families in the modern church! As Genesis continues, no much changes along these lines. The sons of Israel still deceive and betray, even considering the act of murder among their own. Yet this is still the family chosen by God to bring a blessing to the entire world by bringing forth the Messiah. Men sin & cause much suffering, but God’s grace & sovereignty is stronger. Sin cannot stop the Savior…sin is why we need the Savior!

Genesis 37 – Joseph v. his brothers

  • Joseph’s dreams (1-11)

1 Now Jacob dwelt in the land where his father was a stranger, in the land of Canaan. 2 This is the history of Jacob. …

  1. The chapter begins with a bit of contrast to the previous one. Chapter 36 had been the genealogy (toledoth, תֹּלְד֣וֹת) of Esau; Chapter 37 is the genealogy/history of Jacob (same word, תֹּלְד֣וֹת). Whereas Esau settled in Mount Seir & the surrounding area, Jacob settled in Canaan which was the land of the covenant promise. Just as had the previous generations who inherited Abraham’s covenant, Jacob dwelt in the same land.
  2. What makes this interesting is that what follows isn’t so much the “history of Jacob,” but the history of Jacob’s sons – particularly Joseph (with a minor emphasis on Judah). Even so, that is the history of Jacob, because it follows his family line. Remember that there is only one family tree that the Bible follows all the way through: that of the Lord Jesus. That emphasis is seen throughout the book of Genesis as it not only shows the ‘beginnings’ of various nations and things, but particularly the beginning of the nation of Israel & the Messianic line.

… Joseph, being seventeen years old, was feeding the flock with his brothers. And the lad was with the sons of Bilhah and the sons of Zilpah, his father’s wives; and Joseph brought a bad report of them to his father.

  1. At “seventeen years old,” Joseph was more than a typical adolescent as we might imagine today; he was a young man. To this day, Jewish families celebrate their sons’ entry into manhood with a Bar Mitzvah on their 13th birthday, and this was even more true in ancient times as it is today. Even so, as a young man, one would imagine Joseph being on the low rung of the ladder, not having seniority. He acted to the contrary, and “brought a bad report” of his brothers to their father. This wasn’t “tattling,” so much as it was whistleblowing. Depending on the context, the word could be used of defamation or a report that exposes the evil of another. Most likely, it was the latter. The sons of Leah had already demonstrated a tendency towards violence (seen in their act of revenge for their sister); now it was the sons of the other two concubines who had committed some sort of wrong in the fields, and Joseph became the bearer of bad news to his father. It was probably the right thing to do, even if it came with consequences to himself.
  2. Of course, it only confirmed what the other brothers already knew: Joseph was the golden child…

3 Now Israel loved Joseph more than all his children, because he was the son of his old age. Also he made him a tunic of many colors. 4 But when his brothers saw that their father loved him more than all his brothers, they hated him and could not speak peaceably to him.

  1. Interestingly, Joseph is described as the “son of [Jacob’s] old age,” rather than Benjamin. Benjamin isn’t specifically mentioned at all throughout the passage, with only one possible oblique reference. It’s possible he was not yet born, these events being written as a flashback to an earlier time. If Benjamin was born, then Joseph had Jacob’s favor as the firstborn of his favorite wife, and his own birth coming after a very long wait.
  2. Either way, it’s clear Joseph was the favorite. Jacob/Israel personally knew the problems that came with favoritism – he and his own twin brother struggled over the same issue with their parents. Even so, Jacob ignored his past and committed the same mistakes with his own family. Not only was Jacob’s love for Joseph apparent in unspoken ways, but Jacob made it blatantly obvious with this “tunic of many colors.” Scholars differ on how best to translate the phrase. The existing Hebrew text actually implies a long-coat, such like a tunic reaching far to the ends of Joseph’s hands & feet. The ancient translations (LXX & others) are the versions that speak of a many-colored coat (the famous “Technicolor Dreamcoat”). Whatever it was, it was a piece of clothing that stood out from the rest. It wasn’t the tunic of a laboring shepherd, but of a foreman. Jacob set Joseph apart from his brothers by appointing his youngest son (or at least, youngest son of working age) as the boss.
  3. It’s no wonder his brothers hated him! The text implies that they were “overwhelmed with anger,” unable to say a kind word to him. Not only did their father show immense favoritism towards Joseph, but this favoritism was thrown in their faces every single day when Joseph walked into the room wearing his tunic.
    1. None of this excuses the brothers’ actions towards Joseph, but it does give us insight to them. Family favoritism always causes problems, and it ought to be avoided at all costs. Not that Jacob is 100% to blame…the grudges among the brothers began early, and were left unaddressed. It was bound to erupt at some point, and when it did, it was awful.
    2. Both the favoritism and the grudges were unspoken family problems. Everyone knew about it, but no one was willing to talk about them or deal with them. These things don’t just “go away.” It may be difficult to confront deep-seeded family issues, but it needs to be done. Problems left to rot only get worse. – That’s just as true in church families, as anywhere else. That’s exactly why Jesus gave us ways to deal with them through church discipline & forgiveness. We just have to be willing to engage.

5 Now Joseph had a dream, and he told it to his brothers; and they hated him even more. 6 So he said to them, “Please hear this dream which I have dreamed: 7 There we were, binding sheaves in the field. Then behold, my sheaf arose and also stood upright; and indeed your sheaves stood all around and bowed down to my sheaf.”

  1. Joseph’s life would be marked by a ministry of dreams: two of his own at the start of his journey – two of others that he interpreted while in prison – and two of Pharaoh, which propelled Joseph to prominence. His 1st dream: sheaves. “Sheaves” are bundles of wheat, perhaps indicating a prophecy on two levels. Not only did it show Joseph having a superiority recognized by his brothers as they bowed to him, but the context of the dream is wheat/food. The day his brothers bowed would be the day they came asking for grain during a famine.

8 And his brothers said to him, “Shall you indeed reign over us? Or shall you indeed have dominion over us?” So they hated him even more for his dreams and for his words.

  1. Of course the dream made the relationship between the brothers worse. Joseph’s superiority was now divinely established, or at least according to his claims about this dream (which seemed to be questioned by the brothers). If this was of God, there was nothing the brothers could do about it…or was there? This set their minds racing for anything they might be able to do down the road to change the future. They now expressed open hatred toward Joseph, possibly shielding it from their father, but most likely not bothering to do so.
  2. Tellingly (and sadly), it seems Jacob did nothing about it. Just like when troubles erupted over the crime against Tamar, Jacob remained out-of-touch and absent as a family leader. If he had intervened, who knows what would have been the outcome?

9 Then he dreamed still another dream and told it to his brothers, and said, “Look, I have dreamed another dream. And this time, the sun, the moon, and the eleven stars bowed down to me.” 10 So he told it to his father and his brothers; and his father rebuked him and said to him, “What is this dream that you have dreamed? Shall your mother and I and your brothers indeed come to bow down to the earth before you?”

  1. Joseph’s 2nd dream: stars. Basically, it was the same as the previous dream, but intensified, as his siblings and his parents bowed. It was as if the whole solar system bowed to Joseph’s superiority. For anyone else, this might indicate a massively overinflated ego; as it was, it was just Joseph trying to figure out these images given him by God. His youth left him without the wisdom to keep some of the details to himself, and it earned a rebuke not from his brothers this time, but his own father.
  2. Question: who’s the mother & 11 stars/brothers? If Benjamin was born, Jacob’s mother no longer lived. If Benjamin wasn’t born, then are the 11 stars only brothers, or his 10 brothers and 1 sister? The text doesn’t make it clear. It’s possible that with Rachel dead, Jacob referred to Leah as the “mother” of the clan – it’s possible that Rachel appeared in the dream to bow, and Jacob interpreted it as such. Don’t miss the forest for the trees…the important aspect is that all of Joseph’s family bowed to Joseph, and that much was plainly understood.

11 And his brothers envied him, but his father kept the matter in mind.

  1. No one liked the meaning, but notice that Jacob did not dismiss it out of hand. He probably remembered how God had also appeared to him in earlier visions, and how he (as the younger son of twins) was divinely given the position of favor. If God had done it with Jacob, surely God could do it with Joseph. This was something he “filed” back in the memory of his mind, no doubt holding for a later time.
  2. One wonders what Jacob thought about all of this after he assumed his son was dead. Surely God cannot be wrong, so something must have happened – either in the way Joseph related the dream, or in the way they all interpreted the dream, or something else altogether. For the 20 years of Joseph’s absence, there was probably an unsettled question hanging in Jacob’s mind every time he thought about this.
    1. For the record, God is never wrong! If God’s promises are clear, God’s promises are trustworthy. When there’s a problem, it’s with us; never with God!
  • Joseph betrayed and sold (12-36)

12 Then his brothers went to feed their father’s flock in Shechem. 13 And Israel said to Joseph, “Are not your brothers feeding the flock in Shechem? Come, I will send you to them.” So he said to him, “Here I am.” 14 Then he said to him, “Please go and see if it is well with your brothers and well with the flocks, and bring back word to me.” So he sent him out of the Valley of Hebron, and he went to Shechem.

  1. Notice that even though Joseph was of age to work, he wasn’t laboring in the fields with his brothers. Instead, he was sent to supervise them and bring back a report. Jacob had known Joseph to faithfully report on his brothers in the past, so he sent the young man to go do the same thing all over again. These would turn out to be the last words he spoke to Joseph for 20 years! 

15 Now a certain man found him, and there he was, wandering in the field. And the man asked him, saying, “What are you seeking?” 16 So he said, “I am seeking my brothers. Please tell me where they are feeding their flocks.” 17 And the man said, “They have departed from here, for I heard them say, ‘Let us go to Dothan.’ ” So Joseph went after his brothers and found them in Dothan.

  1. The brothers were not where Joseph (or Jacob) expected them to be. Instead, they were about 15 miles north/northwest of Shechem.

18 Now when they saw him afar off, even before he came near them, they conspired against him to kill him. 19 Then they said to one another, “Look, this dreamer is coming! 20 Come therefore, let us now kill him and cast him into some pit; and we shall say, ‘Some wild beast has devoured him.’ We shall see what will become of his dreams!”

  1. Notice when they began plotting: “when they saw him afar off.” They wanted to kill him even before they knew his purpose. They hated their younger brother so much that they didn’t even give him the benefit of the doubt. They treated him as an enemy on sight…true hatred!
  2. Remember, not only did they hate Joseph for being the favored son; they hated the dreams given him by God. By conspiring to kill him, they were ultimately trying to defeat God’s plans.
    1. Question: What happens when we fight against God? We lose. God’s plans can never be defeated, no matter how hard we struggle against them. As if we can outsmart the all-knowing, ever-present God. He knows the end from the beginning – He has designed our bodies from the atomic level upward – He knows our pasts, presents, and futures. How exactly are we supposed to outwit the God who has infinite knowledge? It can’t be done. Don’t fight God’s will; surrender to it! When we surrender to God’s will, we surrender to Jesus – when we surrender to Jesus, we find we have a friend, a Savior, and a King who loves us more than we can imagine. 

21 But Reuben heard it, and he delivered him out of their hands, and said, “Let us not kill him.” 22 And Reuben said to them, “Shed no blood, but cast him into this pit which is in the wilderness, and do not lay a hand on him”—that he might deliver him out of their hands, and bring him back to his father.

  1. Reuben tried to be merciful, and (for once!) acted like the firstborn he was. He took leadership among his brothers, and arranged it so that Joseph would be placed in a safe place, away from the other brothers’ anger & violence. Would it have been better if Reuben openly opposed & rebuked the brothers? Certainly…but it might have backfired, with both of them getting killed. Reuben seemed to go about this as safely and wisely as possible.
  2. Some speculate that Reuben thought this was an act that might get him back into his father’s good graces, after the Reuben’s sexual encounter with Bilhah. The text does not give too many clues whether this was the case. Either way, it doesn’t take away from Reuben’s attempt at mercy.

23 So it came to pass, when Joseph had come to his brothers, that they stripped Joseph of his tunic, the tunic of many colors that was on him. 24 Then they took him and cast him into a pit. And the pit was empty; there was no water in it. 25 And they sat down to eat a meal. …

  1. The cruelty of the rest of the brothers was on full display. They took away the sign of his father’s love, roughly threw him into a dry cistern/pit normally used to collect water, and then sat down to eat lunch. No doubt their younger brother was crying for mercy and help, and they didn’t care in the slightest. They weren’t even bothered by his pleading, not having their appetites affected. Such was their callousness.
  2. Beware resentment! Unforgiveness among the brothers led to resentment, which led to violence. When we don’t address these issues at their roots, they turn into far worse things. Hebrews 12:14–15, “(14) Pursue peace with all people, and holiness, without which no one will see the Lord: (15) looking carefully lest anyone fall short of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up cause trouble, and by this many become defiled;” The brothers pursued vengeance; they should have pursued peace. Seek peace! In doing so, you’ll seek after the heart of Christ. Matthew 5:9, “Blessed are the peacemakers, For they shall be called sons of God.”

… Then they lifted their eyes and looked, and there was a company of Ishmaelites, coming from Gilead with their camels, bearing spices, balm, and myrrh, on their way to carry them down to Egypt. 26 So Judah said to his brothers, “What profit is there if we kill our brother and conceal his blood? 27 Come and let us sell him to the Ishmaelites, and let not our hand be upon him, for he is our brother and our flesh.” And his brothers listened.

  1. Apparently Reuben had left by this point, perhaps to wait out his brothers & entice them to leave so that he could rescue Joseph. He wouldn’t get the chance. Rich nomads came along (far-distant relatives, being Ishmaelites), and Judah saw an opportunity to make some quick cash.
  2. Judah claimed this was an act of mercy; it wasn’t! It was betrayal fueled by greed, no matter what he decided to call it! If we’re creative, we can always find some sort of justification for our sin. But it’s like putting lipstick on a pig…what it is, doesn’t change.

28 Then Midianite traders passed by; so the brothers pulled Joseph up and lifted him out of the pit, and sold him to the Ishmaelites for twenty shekels of silver. And they took Joseph to Egypt.

  1. Scholars disagree on the value of the amount paid for Joseph, ranging from a pitiful sum to a large profit. Most think it was a little less than the average price paid for a slave at the time. The saddest part isn’t the price, but that it took place at all! These was their flesh & blood, after all. 

29 Then Reuben returned to the pit, and indeed Joseph was not in the pit; and he tore his clothes. 30 And he returned to his brothers and said, “The lad is no more; and I, where shall I go?”

  1. Reuben was genuinely grieved. He wasn’t present when the sale took place, and the loss of his brother truly shocked him. He tore his own clothes in grief, realizing that even his best plan wasn’t enough to save his younger brother.
  2. Yet even Reuben’s grief had a limit. His conscience did not bother him enough to tell the truth.

31 So they took Joseph’s tunic, killed a kid of the goats, and dipped the tunic in the blood. 32 Then they sent the tunic of many colors, and they brought it to their father and said, “We have found this. Do you know whether it is your son’s tunic or not?” 33 And he recognized it and said, “It is my son’s tunic. A wild beast has devoured him. Without doubt Joseph is torn to pieces.”

  1. The brothers brought the bloody tunic to Jacob, and posed the stupid question of whether or not the coat’s was Joseph’s. Of course it was Joseph’s – everyone knew it was, because such a big deal was made of Jacob giving it to him. Imagine the brothers feigning eyes of innocence, pretending concern. This was a sad manipulation of their father, who assumed the worst without asking any questions. He saw the blood, knew Joseph would not willingly part with the tunic, and he proclaimed his son to be dead.
  2. There’s no small amount of irony in this. Years earlier, Jacob deceived his own father with his brother’s clothing & a dead goat. All of it now came back around to him. (We reap what we sow!)

34 Then Jacob tore his clothes, put sackcloth on his waist, and mourned for his son many days. 35 And all his sons and all his daughters arose to comfort him; but he refused to be comforted, and he said, “For I shall go down into the grave to my son in mourning.” Thus his father wept for him.

  1. Jacob was completely brokenhearted, understandably so. The “comfort” offered by his other children was empty. How could it be otherwise? They were responsible for their father’s loss. Any comfort they now offered was deceptive.

36 Now the Midianites had sold him in Egypt to Potiphar, an officer of Pharaoh and captain of the guard.

  1. A bit of a coda to set up the next chapter in Joseph’s life.
  2. Most importantly: this is God’s provision & His plan at work! Of all of the people in Egypt to whom Joseph could have been sold, he was sold to Potiphar. Technically, the Midianites didn’t even have to sell Joseph in Egypt at all! He could have remained their slave, or been sold to any other people along the way. Instead, Joseph went to one specific house in one specific nation, and that would pave the way for his later act of deliverance for all of the family of Israel. The sale of Joseph as a slave to Potiphar is nothing less than the sovereign work of God!
    1. Question: Can God turn our sin to His good? Absolutely! God does not excuse our sin, but He can redeem it. …

Genesis 38 – Judah v. Tamar

  • Judah’s sons (1-11)

1 It came to pass at that time that Judah departed from his brothers, and visited a certain Adullamite whose name was Hirah. 2 And Judah saw there a daughter of a certain Canaanite whose name was Shua, and he married her and went in to her.

  1. Notice the timeframe. Judah left his brothers soon after their sin against Joseph. Perhaps he was guilt-stricken after the sin?
  2. Whatever his reason for leaving, Judah’s actions didn’t necessarily improved. He moves away from his family, lives among the Canaanites, and marries a Canaanite.

3 So she conceived and bore a son, and he called his name Er. 4 She conceived again and bore a son, and she called his name Onan. 5 And she conceived yet again and bore a son, and called his name Shelah. He was at Chezib when she bore him.

  1. Three sons were born. Er = “rouse,” Onan = “vigorous,” Shelah = “quiet/ease.” Whether these names were prophetic or simply preferred to Judah is unsaid. The point isn’t so much the meaning of the names, but the fact that Judah is living among the Canaanites, raising a family of Canaanites. He has removed himself from the covenant protections of his family, and this is going to bring bad results.

6 Then Judah took a wife for Er his firstborn, and her name was Tamar. 7 But Er, Judah’s firstborn, was wicked in the sight of the LORD, and the LORD killed him.

  1. What the sin of Er was, is unknown. What is known is that it brought immediate punishment. Judah might have removed himself from the worship of YHWH, but YHWH did not allow Himself to be removed. “The LORD killed” Er for this sin, whatever it was. As seen with Ananias & Sapphira (Acts 5), there is sin that leads to death.

8 And Judah said to Onan, “Go in to your brother’s wife and marry her, and raise up an heir to your brother.” 9 But Onan knew that the heir would not be his; and it came to pass, when he went in to his brother’s wife, that he emitted on the ground, lest he should give an heir to his brother. 10 And the thing which he did displeased the LORD; therefore He killed him also.

  1. Although the law of Moses was not yet written, the custom of levirate marriage was common. This duty was commanded by Judah to Onan, and Onan obeyed…half-heartedly. He didn’t mind having a woman to bed, but he refused to give an heir to his dead brother. As a result, the Lord “killed him also.
  2. By this point, YHWH has killed two of Judah’s sons. The text doesn’t shy away from this at all. It’s not that God “allowed” them to die, or “removed” His hand of protection from them; He killed Question: Is this still the God, of whom the Bible says that “God is love” (1 Jn 4:8)? Yes! But His love is only one of His attributes. The Bible says that God is love, but it also says that God is holy (Ps 99:9). In fact, this is one of the things that God explicitly says about Himself: Leviticus 11:44–45, “(44) For I am the LORD your God. You shall therefore consecrate yourselves, and you shall be holy; for I am holy. Neither shall you defile yourselves with any creeping thing that creeps on the earth. (45) For I am the LORD who brings you up out of the land of Egypt, to be your God. You shall therefore be holy, for I am holy.” Judah and his family may not have been acting as God’s people, but they were God’s people. And what God made clear through Moses was still God’s heart to Jacob & all his children. They were to be holy, because God Himself is holy. And God guards His holiness & His holy reputation. Thus sin is not tolerated, and will be judged.
    1. That doesn’t mean that God will strike us dead at the first sign of our own sin. We live through faith in Christ, whose death at the cross is all-sufficient for our sins. The price has been paid, hallelujah! It does mean that God will not hesitate to discipline us when we sin. His holiness does not end simply because we are saved by the blood of Jesus. God’s character never changes, and He will do what needs to be done in our lives to bring us to a place of humble repentance.

11 Then Judah said to Tamar his daughter-in-law, “Remain a widow in your father’s house till my son Shelah is grown.” For he said, “Lest he also die like his brothers.” And Tamar went and dwelt in her father’s house.

  1. Outwardly, Judah promised what was culturally righteous: a 2nd levirate marriage, to be fulfilled when Shelah became of age. Inwardly, Judah had no intention of fulfilling his vow. He already lost two sons, and he feared losing his third.
  2. Sadly, this says as much about Judah’s fatherhood as it does his sons’ sins. He’s so convinced that his third son will act in a similar fashion & die, but why is that? Because Judah apparently had not raised his children with a righteous fear of the Lord. He neglected his primary spiritual duty, and his children suffered the consequences (even while bearing their own responsibilities).
  • Tamar’s pregnancy (12-30)

12 Now in the process of time the daughter of Shua, Judah’s wife, died; and Judah was comforted, and went up to his sheepshearers at Timnah, he and his friend Hirah the Adullamite. 13 And it was told Tamar, saying, “Look, your father-in-law is going up to Timnah to shear his sheep.” 14 So she took off her widow’s garments, covered herself with a veil and wrapped herself, and sat in an open place which was on the way to Timnah; for she saw that Shelah was grown, and she was not given to him as a wife.

  1. With Tamar living at her father’s house, she was out-of-sight, out-of-mind for Judah. His third son grew to marrying age, and Judah did nothing. He even left town for a bit, and forgot all about Tamar. By this point, Tamar had seen the writing on the wall, and decided to take matters into her own hand.
  2. What she did was no small matter! Knowing that Shelah would never be given to her, she decided to dress as a cultic prostitute and wait to be propositioned by her father-in-law. Ultimately, it will prove successful, but she took a massive risk in doing so. (1) Even though she covered her face with a veil, it was possible she could have been recognized and discovered. (2) She had no guarantee of pregnancy. She had one opportunity to get pregnant by her Judah, and if that didn’t work, she’d have no hope. (3) She had no guarantee that she wouldn’t be struck dead herself. Granted, she was owed a child according to the levirate custom, but her own deception and incestuous act was no less sin than that of her father-in-law. – All of this to say that although Tamar is a victim of sin, she was by no means perfect. There is a whole host of sin that takes place through this entire series of events, and no one is innocent.
    1. What was her only hope? The same as ours: the mercy & grace of God!

15 When Judah saw her, he thought she was a harlot, because she had covered her face. 16 Then he turned to her by the way, and said, “Please let me come in to you”; for he did not know that she was his daughter-in-law. …

  1. Judah took the bait, and propositioned the woman along the road. In the process, he demonstrates more of his own sin. Although he was newly widowed, he still had no right to engage a prostitute, particularly one associated with cultic pagan practices (as the context implies). Not only was Judah engaging in sins of the flesh, but also sins of the heart.

… So she said, “What will you give me, that you may come in to me?” 17 And he said, “I will send a young goat from the flock.” So she said, “Will you give me a pledge till you send it?” 18 Then he said, “What pledge shall I give you?” So she said, “Your signet and cord, and your staff that is in your hand.” Then he gave them to her, and went in to her, and she conceived by him. 19 So she arose and went away, and laid aside her veil and put on the garments of her widowhood.

  1. Typical negotiation. Ultimately, Tamar acquired important identifying objects of Judah. It’d be like asking for his driver’s license and Social Security cards. These were things he would not be able to deny as belonging to him, and willingly lent to her.
  2. Note Tamar did not remain in that place. She wasn’t permanently changing habits; this was a one-time only event. She removed her disguise and no doubt waited nervously for the day she discovered she was pregnant, and the eventual day when everyone discovered she was pregnant. She was well aware this was a possible death sentence for her, and no doubt the following days & weeks were painful waiting.

20 And Judah sent the young goat by the hand of his friend the Adullamite, to receive his pledge from the woman’s hand, but he did not find her. 21 Then he asked the men of that place, saying, “Where is the harlot who was openly by the roadside?” And they said, “There was no harlot in this place.” 22 So he returned to Judah and said, “I cannot find her. Also, the men of the place said there was no harlot in this place.” 23 Then Judah said, “Let her take them for herself, lest we be shamed; for I sent this young goat and you have not found her.”

  1. It’s no wonder no one knew who she was or where she had gone. She had never been there before, and would not be there again. Tamar presented herself to Judah & Judah alone.
  2. Like it or not, Judah was already shamed!

24 And it came to pass, about three months after, that Judah was told, saying, “Tamar your daughter-in-law has played the harlot; furthermore she is with child by harlotry.” So Judah said, “Bring her out and let her be burned!”

  1. Talk about overkill! He had the right to demand the death penalty, but burning was reserved for the very worst of crimes. As it was, Judah was a hypocrite, which probably added to his desire for violence. He didn’t do any investigation, having asked no questions – he just wanted her dead. In his mind, he likely held her responsible for the death of his two sons, and this was his twisted way of getting vengeance. But there was a twist coming that he didn’t see…

25 When she was brought out, she sent to her father-in-law, saying, “By the man to whom these belong, I am with child.” And she said, “Please determine whose these are—the signet and cord, and staff.” 26 So Judah acknowledged them and said, “She has been more righteous than I, because I did not give her to Shelah my son.” And he never knew her again.

  1. She produced her proof, and Judah had no way to argue against it.
  2. Although the text it’s subtle, notice the change in heart for Judah. Immediately he humbled himself and realized his own sin & lack of righteousness. Tamar’s own act wasn’t righteous, but in comparison with an Israelite who knew differently, it was far better than what he had done. This seems to have been a turning point for Judah, and the next time we see him, his attitude is completely different.
  3. As for Tamar, she lived & she gained her children. Even so, she still had ongoing consequences for the rest of her life. Surely Judah cared for her as a member of his house, but she never again had a husband. She lived in the house of Judah, but she lived alone. (Sin always has consequences.)

27 Now it came to pass, at the time for giving birth, that behold, twins were in her womb. 28 And so it was, when she was giving birth, that the one put out his hand; and the midwife took a scarlet thread and bound it on his hand, saying, “This one came out first.” 29 Then it happened, as he drew back his hand, that his brother came out unexpectedly; and she said, “How did you break through? This breach be upon you!” Therefore his name was called Perez. 30 Afterward his brother came out who had the scarlet thread on his hand. And his name was called Zerah.

  1. Interestingly, as has been seen so many times before, there is a reversal of birthright where the older is supplanted by the younger. There is a close parallel between this birth-story & that of Esau & Jacob (Gen 25:24-26). Esau came out first, but Jacob was close behind, catching hold of his heel. In this case, Zerah originally was to be first born, but somehow he was pulled back in the womb and Perez came out in his place. Perez “breached” the order, which was the reason for his name. It demonstrates God’s sovereignty over their births.
  2. Why does this matter? Why is any of this included in our Bibles? Because Judah’s lineage is a very important lineage! Matthew 1:1–6a, “(1) The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the Son of David, the Son of Abraham: (2) Abraham begot Isaac, Isaac begot Jacob, and Jacob begot Judah and his brothers. (3) Judah begot Perez and Zerah by Tamar, Perez begot Hezron, and Hezron begot Ram. (4) Ram begot Amminadab, Amminadab begot Nahshon, and Nahshon begot Salmon. (5) Salmon begot Boaz by Rahab, Boaz begot Obed by Ruth, Obed begot Jesse, (6a) and Jesse begot David the king.” Even with all the deception and controversy, this is all part of the ancestry of Jesus. Tamar may have been initially treated with contempt by her father-in-law, but she had a Heavenly Father who loved her and included her as the great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great grandmother of David…and a direct ancestor of the Lord Jesus!

Conclusion:

Two branches of Jacob’s family tree with two examples of severe sin. Yet when that sin comes face-to-face with the sovereignty of God, God wins hands-down! Joseph, though sold into slavery by his brothers who sought to save their own pride, was saved by God & directed by God to exactly the place God needed him to be. On the opposite end, Judah was the committer of sin: reneging on his fatherly commitments, indulging in sins of the flesh, engaging in hypocrisy that almost led to terrible violence – yet even in all of that, he could not overcome the will of God. God used even the terrible sin of Judah with Tamar to lead directly to Christ. God’s sovereignty always overcomes the sin of man!

And what glorious news this is for us! Not only from the perspective of the invitation to have our own sins forgiven by Jesus (which is wonderful!), but from the perspective of born-again Christians who routinely screw up on our own. There is no mistake you make that is too difficult for God to work for His glory. God’s sovereignty overcomes all sin – even yours & mine.

What rest there is in that fact – what comfort! God can (and will) work these things out for His glory, and He has always had a plan to do so. Romans 8:28, “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.” This isn’t a blank check for us to go and commit sin, but it is truly good news for when we’ve fallen! All tragedies (even self-caused) can be used by God for His glory. That’s something in which we can rest.

Right and Wrong Giving

Posted: July 16, 2018 in Acts, Uncategorized

Acts 4:32-5:11, “Right and Wrong Giving”

Why do we give? When it comes to Christianity and financial giving, there is no lack of examples, both positive and negative. One the one hand, there is the widow in the temple commended by Jesus when she gave all she had, though it added up to mere pennies. On the other hand, there were the Pharisees who gave loudly and proudly for everyone to see. Turn on so-called “Christian” television, and there is an abundance of the latter sort of example. Men & women like Benny Hinn, Creflo Dollar, Joel Osteen, Paula White, Joyce Meyer, and many more, have manipulated multitudes of people to giving them millions of dollars, all in the name of “receiving a blessing.” In their false theology, the preacher is the blessed anointed one, so if you give to the blessed, you’ll share in his/her blessing. If you plant your financial seed in faith, it will grow into a harvest of wealth & prosperity. That’s why these preachers don’t blink an eye when requesting donations for their latest private jet, or think twice about wearing the most expensive clothes, etc. To them, signs of wealth are signs of God’s favor. In that point of view, someone might as well as try to be as rich & opulent as possible.

It’s all anti-biblical. Although in all of the shouting of the prosperity preachers they might occasionally quote a Bible verse correctly, their foundation is irreparably faulty. And that brings us back to the original question: Why do we give? For them, they give in order to get. If they can’t get anything out of it, there’s no reason to give. To quote an older movie, it’s the Jerry Maguire school of giving: “Show me the money!” It is based in pride & selfishness, and therefore anti-biblical. Real Christian giving is different. Authentic Christian giving isn’t done from selfishness, but selflessness. Biblical Christian giving isn’t done to receive a blessing, but to be a blessing. We give because of Jesus, out of thanks to Jesus, for the glory of Jesus, leaving the results to Jesus. Will we receive a benefit in some way? Perhaps – maybe in this life or in the life to come. Maybe it’s simply the joy of knowing we’ve pleased our Heavenly Father. All in all, He is the reason we given; not “me.”

All of that brings us to a contrast in giving seen in Acts 4-5. On one hand, we see giving done right – on the other, it’s giving done wrong. One is done from a pure heart to the glory of God; the other is done from sin, and receives the judgment of God.

Back up for context. At this point, the church in Jerusalem was still fairly new. Time was passing, but it was still only a few weeks-months after Jesus’ crucifixion & resurrection. We’ve got to keep that fact in mind in these early chapters, because it is so foreign to us. We’ve always lived with Jesus’ resurrection as ancient history. Even when we read the letters of Paul, we read them with the perspective that we’re reading history based on Paul’s retelling of history. But in these early chapters, they lived it. Jesus wasn’t some older figure from years back; He was still headline news – the crucifixion and resurrection were current events. If there was ever a moment in time when the people of God expected to see God act in miraculous supernatural ways, this was it!

And because it was new, the church was still experiencing all kinds of new things. They were taking their baby-steps, so to speak. They were empowered by God the Holy Spirit, and directed by Him to devote themselves to doctrine, fellowship, worship (breaking of bread), and prayers. Some, like Peter & John, were even led by the Holy Spirit to pronounce Jesus’ healing upon a lame man in the temple, which led to the apostles’ 1st experience with official persecution. Being filled anew by the Holy Spirit, Peter & John were able to respond in boldness to the tribunal against them, and though they were commanded not to speak again of the name of Jesus, they vowed to continue doing so. They took their vow to the Lord in prayer, asking His help, and He immediately answered them – filling all the church once more with the Spirit, who empowered them to continue preaching the gospel as boldly as they ever had.

These might have been baby-steps, but they certainly were BIG steps! And things don’t stop at this point. Overall, the church continues to live as the church, trying to find the best way to live out the love of Jesus, in the unity brought to them by God the Holy Spirit. But not everyone was unified. There were/are always exceptions to the rule, and it’s shown in another church “first”: the first instance of judgment. 

As with too many other sins, it takes place over the issue of money, which means it really takes place over the issues of the heart: pride & selfishness. What the church needed was purity & humility…the same thing we need today. Give God your humble, pure worship!

Acts 4:32–5:11

  • Giving rightly / Unity of the church (4:32-37)

32 Now the multitude of those who believed were of one heart and one soul; neither did anyone say that any of the things he possessed was his own, but they had all things in common.

  1. After providing the narrative of the 1st instance of persecution against the apostles, Luke takes a break in his writing to give another mid-point summary, such as he did in Acts 2:42-47. How was the church doing overall? How did they respond to the threats of the Jewish Sanhedrin? Apparently, the church didn’t miss a beat! The threats of the council, though surely frightening, did not divide them; their resolve & unity in the Spirit was only strengthened. Although Luke doesn’t use the term, he gives a good description of “one accord.” The church was “of one heart and one soul.” IOW, they were of one singular purpose. They wanted the same, they desired the same – they had prayed to be strengthened by the Holy Spirit with boldness, and that gave them common cause not only in the proclamation of the gospel, but in everything else as a church body.
    1. It’s no wonder that Jesus prayed that the church would be unified (Jn 17:21). A church with a common purpose can accomplish much! A church that is truly united around the gospel of Jesus Christ is able to put everything else into perspective. Think about the things over which so many churches divide: gossip, finances, music style, program preferences, personal offense & refusal to reconcile. How many of those things fall by the wayside or get resolved when God’s people get refocused on the gospel and the Great Commission? Debates about church finances become centered on: “How best does this expense help the gospel?” – disagreements between people find reconciliation when we think about what Jesus did for us in dying for us, so we extend forgiveness towards them in order that we might be able to proclaim God’s forgiveness to others – other things like gossip and personal preferences are exposed as the petty things they are in light of the importance of our mission. People need a purpose around which to unite, and Jesus has given us one: the Great Commission!
  2. Common hearts led to common possessions. The people were one, so it followed that all their stuff was one. They shared everything as there was need. It was a practical demonstration of the love of Christ, and an outworking of their faith that God would provide. Sometimes God’s provision is miraculous; other times it is through the hands & feet of His people. When the early church saw a need, they simply filled it – no questions asked. Everything they had all ultimately belonged to the Lord Jesus anyway…why hesitate to give it to another one of His disciples who might be in need?
    1. As to the extent of their common “ownership” of all things, keep in mind this was a specific church congregation at a specific point of time. There is no indication among the rest of the New Testament that this was the norm across all of the rest of Christianity. What Luke describes with the common ownership is commended, but not comman The heart behind their commonality is to be repeated: everything we have does belong to the Lord Jesus, and what He says to give, we give. “Stuff” can be held lightly & given low priority in our lives, because it’s just that: stuff. Souls are vastly more important. But considering that this practice is nowhere taught to other churches (and wasn’t continued by the Jerusalem church), it is not a practice to be forced on modern churches today. (When it’s of God, it won’t be “forced,” anyway!)

33 And with great power the apostles gave witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And great grace was upon them all.

  1. In addition to common purpose & common possessions, the church had a common witness (proclamation). The apostles had a singular confession of Jesus’ resurrection. They did not & would not cease preaching the name of Jesus. This was the very thing they were commanded not to speak, yet they continued (just as they said they would & prayed to God for help that they would). As they did, they concentrated specifically on Jesus’ resurrection. Why? Because that gave the ultimate proof of everything else. Everything the church was empowered to do was because there was a living Jesus who empowered them to do it through God the Holy Spirit. Every time the apostles (or any Christian) spoke of the forgiveness available through Jesus Christ, they could do so saying, “Remember how you crucified Jesus of Nazareth a couple of months ago? He rose from the dead, and I’m a witness of His resurrection!” The resurrection was not optional to the gospel of Jesus for the early church; it is part & parcel with it.
    1. It still is! The good news (gospel) is The gospel isn’t a presentation method, be it the Romans Road, the 4 Laws, the Way of the Master, Evangelism Explosion, etc. Those are presentation methods to get us to the gospel (sometimes very effective methods!), but the gospel itself is Jesus. But we cannot proclaim Jesus without proclaiming His death and resurrection. To proclaim Jesus, we have to proclaim Him for who He is, and He is none other than God the Son come unto us who died as on the cross for our sins & rose from the dead. We cannot slice out parts of His work and still proclaim the full gospel.
  2. How did the church give their witness of the gospel? “With great power.” This is more of the answer from the prayer they had prayed in Acts 4:29-30. Remember that they had prayed for boldness, but they also prayed for signs & wonders. Some specific examples of those signs will be given later in Chapter 5, but Luke summarizes it here, showing that God backed up the gospel proclamation with God-given power. The Holy Spirit gave great authentication to the message that was preached.
  3. What did they experience when they did these things? “Great grace.” Luke doesn’t say they had it easy, nor does he say that they were inundated with financial wealth & prosperity. In fact, Luke doesn’t describe at all what this great grace (literally “mega” grace) looked like. But there wasn’t any doubt God gave it. The church was faithful to God’s call and God’s message, and they experienced God’s great grace. They were truly blessed beyond measure! And notice it was not just for the apostles; it was “upon them all.” One might think God’s grace/favor was only for those who preached or performed miracles or had some other form of public ministry. At this point, the believers now numbered in the thousands, so it’s doubtful that every single Christian had a public platform, but they were still all blessed with God’s great grace. Why? Because every ministry is important, public or not.
  4. Note the terminology in vs. 33 of “the Lord Jesus.” More & more through the book of Acts, the title “Lord” will become associated with Jesus. The disciples had referred to Him as the Lord Jesus in Acts 1:21, and specifically said that God had made Jesus “both Lord and Christ” on Pentecost (Acts 2:36), but most of the other usage of “Lord” had referred to God the Father. The reason this matters is that it emphasizes what the early church believed about the deity of Jesus. It was one thing for Jews to affirm that the Christ/Messiah would be a descendant of David who would reign on the throne in Jerusalem; it was another thing to affirm that this son of David was God Himself. This was always the teaching of Scripture – it was just tough for people to understand how it could be reconciled together. (Up until Jesus personally and perfectly demonstrated how it would be done!) But the deity of Jesus was not something that the church eventually grew to believe…it was something they always believed.

34 Nor was there anyone among them who lacked; for all who were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the proceeds of the things that were sold, 35 and laid them at the apostles’ feet; and they distributed to each as anyone had need.

  1. Luke already wrote of how the common purpose of the church led to sharing common possessions – this was one of the ways it worked out. The possessions shared by the Christians wasn’t just smaller things like coats and food…it even stretched to real estate. People were willing to sell off the larger items they owned, and freely donate the proceeds to the church, if it meant that the poor among them might survive.
    1. Again, remember that this was a specific time & place. This was done from a purity of heart & motive, but ultimately, it didn’t work. The book of Acts does not close before it shows Paul receiving financial offerings for the poor in Jerusalem (Acts 11:29, Rom 15:25-26). Eventually the possessions of the people ran out, and there was no more to sell off & distribute. The heart of the people to give is what to emulate; not necessarily the exact method.
  2. Please notice what this does not teach: communism. This is freewill giving; not mandated forfeiture. Nobody (including Ananias, as we’ll later see) was forced to sell of anything or give anything. They did this as a freewill offering unto God, gladly as an outward expression of their worship. Giving that is forced is not “giving” at all; it’s theft.

36 And Joses, who was also named Barnabas by the apostles (which is translated Son of Encouragement), a Levite of the country of Cyprus, 37 having land, sold it, and brought the money and laid it at the apostles’ feet.

  1. A prime example of the right kind of giving? Luke gives the reader a brief introduction, as he becomes an extremely important figure later in the book of Acts. His given name was Joseph, but acquired a nickname that stuck, as he was truly a “Son of Encouragement.” He was the type of guy you wanted to be around when you needed a friend. He was one of the first to believe that Paul’s conversion to Christianity was sincere, and took the time to initially mentor him and bring him to the apostles. He was related to John Mark, and believed the best of John Mark even when he failed, restoring him to the place that even Paul recognized how valuable he was in the ministry. Barnabas is also one of the few men outside of the 12 who was recognized as an apostle (Acts 14:14).
  2. Barnabas’ gift was pure, and done in humility of heart. Like others in the church who had done so, he sold his land, “and brought the money and laid it at the apostles’ feet.” The expression isn’t necessarily literal, as if Barnabas was bowing before Peter, John, Andrew, and the others, and setting a bag of gold/silver at their toes – although the disciples could have been sitting in elevated chairs in their role as teachers & the offerings placed on the chair steps (commentaries disagree with each other). The main idea is one of humility. The gift was given, with no strings attached. Barnabas didn’t ask for special favors; he just wanted to be generous unto God.
    1. This is always God’s intention for us in our giving. 2 Corinthians 9:6–8, “(6) But this I say: He who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. (7) So let each one give as he purposes in his heart, not grudgingly or of necessity; for God loves a cheerful giver. (8) And God is able to make all grace abound toward you, that you, always having all sufficiency in all things, may have an abundance for every good work.” That’s simple giving – pure-hearted giving. Whatever it is you purpose to give, just give that, and give it cheerfully. There’s no manipulation from the outside, nor is there any further planning as to what you might get as a result. It’s just generous giving unto the Lord – giving unto Him as He gave unto you.
  3. Question: Considering that everyone knew of Barnabas’ gift was widely known (if it wasn’t at the time, it sure became known when Luke wrote it in Acts!), did he violate the instruction of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount? Matthew 6:1–4, “(1) “Take heed that you do not do your charitable deeds before men, to be seen by them. Otherwise you have no reward from your Father in heaven. (2) Therefore, when you do a charitable deed, do not sound a trumpet before you as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory from men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. (3) But when you do a charitable deed, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, (4) that your charitable deed may be in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will Himself reward you openly.” Not necessarily. Luke reported on Barnabas’ gift, but that doesn’t mean that Barnabas trumpeted himself when he gave it. From all we know of Barnabas, it seems more likely that he sold the land and brought it to the apostles privately, but news of the gift soon got around. And it makes sense that it would. If the financial donation was large enough, then the rest of the church would naturally wonder where their extra abundance of money came from. Some gifts are tough to keep truly anonymous.
    1. As for us, we want to be as careful as possible to follow Jesus’ instructions on giving. We don’t need to pat ourselves on the back – we don’t need a special phone-call from the pastor – we don’t need an exclusive invitation that is normally reserved for “special donors” – we don’t need a nameplate on a pew or title on a room in the building. All we need is to give a gift to our Heavenly Father as we worship Him. We give generously & humbly, out of a sincere heart of worship and thankfulness. We aren’t giving for us; we’re giving for Jesus.

Luke has shown us how the church did it right; now he gives the opposite perspective. Not everyone had the heart of Barnabas, or even the heart of the majority of the church. There were others who looked out only for themselves…

  • Giving wrongly / Lies of the proud (5:1-11)

5:1 But a certain man named Ananias, with Sapphira his wife, sold a possession. 2 And he kept back part of the proceeds, his wife also being aware of it, and brought a certain part and laid it at the apostles’ feet.

  1. It doesn’t sound so bad, until we get to the phrase “his wife also being aware of it.” At this point, we know it is a plot/conspiracy. They were also landowners, willing to sell their possession and donate the proceeds to the church. But instead of donating the full amount, they wanted to keep some for themselves, but they claimed that they donated all. Husband and wife agreed together on their story, getting their lie set up in advance.
  2. This is arrogance in giving – this is giving done for show. Perhaps inspired by Barnabas or others like him, Ananias & Sapphira wanted to be known for their generosity as well. They wanted the reputation of generosity without the heart of generosity. Keep in mind that any donation was welcome, and would have been received with joy. If Ananias and Sapphira were just looking to give a smaller amount, that was no problem. The problem was how they desired to be seen. This was pride, selfishness, and arrogance.
    1. We can go through the motions of giving, just like we can go through the motions of worship. (Which makes since, because giving is a form of worship.) Without sincerity, it’s meaningless.

3 But Peter said, “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and keep back part of the price of the land for yourself? 4 While it remained, was it not your own? And after it was sold, was it not in your own control? Why have you conceived this thing in your heart? You have not lied to men but to God.”

  1. Peter wasn’t fooled at all. He immediately confronts Ananias on the gift, calling him out for his deception to the church & ultimately his lie to the Holy Spirit. How did Peter know what happened? It was a secret conspiracy known only by Ananias and his wife. Did the apostles send out investigators to double-check every real-estate transaction? Of course not. They didn’t have the resources, time, or desire to do anything like that. The only way Peter could have known was through divine revelation. The Holy Spirit gave Peter the knowledge of Ananias’ sin. This is a demonstration of the word of knowledge. 1 Corinthians 12:7–8, “(7) But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to each one for the profit of all: (8) for to one is given the word of wisdom through the Spirit, to another the word of knowledge through the same Spirit,” The word of wisdom is having exactly the right word at the right time, ourselves having no possible way of being able to think of it in the moment. The word of knowledge is having facts we otherwise wouldn’t know, apart from the revelation of the Holy Spirit. (There are many gifts of the Holy Spirit, though only a few get the majority of the attention.) Although Luke does not specify it in his writing, there’s no doubt Peter had been given the word of knowledge by God the Holy Spirit. God the Spirit wanted this exposed for what it was, and Peter had the faith to follow through.
  2. Keep in mind: Ananias did not have to give the full amount. He didn’t have to give any amount! The money was his, to do what he wanted with it. Peter made this perfectly clear. There had been no manipulation on the part of the apostles, nor any pressure on the part of the church to keep up with the Jones’. There wasn’t any special status of “super-Christian” given to those who gave more. Ananias and Sapphira could have used the money for whatever they wanted – even if not a cent of it went to the church. The decision for the couple to lie about this “gift” rested with them & them alone.
  3. The problem was one of the heart. Specifically, it was Ananias’ Satanically-filled heart. The same word used for the “filling” of the Holy Spirit is used here, regarding how Satan filled Ananias’ heart to lie to the Holy Spirit. Peter doesn’t come out and say that Ananias was a false convert – in fact, the circumstances imply the opposite. Ananias was among the believers of the early church, which was growing but still small enough that Peter knew him by name (unless the Holy Spirit revealed that to him as well). The text doesn’t say whether or not Ananias and Sapphira were true or false converts, so we cannot be definitive either way. What we do know is that their hearts were filled with the things of Satan rather than the things of God. Even if their souls were sealed by the Holy Spirit, their desires were that of the devil.
    1. Can born-again Christians be possessed by Satan? Absolutely not. Can Christians be influenced by Satan? Can Christians allow their own hearts to be filled with worldly sinful desires, and end up falling into the traps of Satan? Sadly, all too often. Paul wrote that we are slaves to the things/people that we present ourselves to obey, be it of sin leading to death or obedience leading to righteousness (Rom 6:16). We’ve been freed by Jesus to live in the freedom given us by the Spirit that we might serve God – but many Christians don’t live in that freedom. Instead, they give themselves back over to slavery and the stuff offered by the world and Satan.
    2. Beware! What’s in your heart? It’s going to be filled with something. Let it be filled with the things of God!
  4. Don’t miss Peter’s important theology: the Holy Spirit is Ananias lied to the Holy Spirit (vs 3), and thus lied to God (vs 4). The Holy Spirit isn’t a force or inanimate object; He is a Person, for only a Person can be lied to. As God, He cannot be deceived, but He can be despised. Sadly, that was the sin of Ananias.

5 Then Ananias, hearing these words, fell down and breathed his last. So great fear came upon all those who heard these things. 6 And the young men arose and wrapped him up, carried him out, and buried him.

  1. With Peter’s confrontation came immediate judgment. It wasn’t Peter who judged, but the Lord God. Ananias had lied to the Holy Spirit, and the Spirit struck him dead. It sounds so harsh to our ears – so dramatic – so unlike the Lord. What about the love of God? What about the numerous opportunities He gives us to confess our sins and repent? So often, we rely on those times! (Perhaps too much so! If we didn’t think we’d get a chance to repent, we might find ourselves sinning far less!) Ananias got nothing. He lied one time, and was struck dead, with the young men of the church having to bury his body out back. But it nags at us…was this right of God, and was it fair?
    1. Yes it was right, and yes it was fair. Whatever God does is right, by definition. He is the source of righteousness, so there is nothing He does that is not right. Fairness doesn’t necessarily come into play, but even so, it was. There was an action, and then a reaction…that’s fair. Too often, we think of “fairness” the wrong way. We want to compare fairness between sins and sinners, but when do we ever think of what is fair to God? If we truly want “fair,” then what we’re really asking for is justice. God gave it. Ananias sinned, and there was an immediate just response. This was a sin that led unto death (1 Jn 5:16), and it was done.
  2. As to not getting a chance to repent, sometimes we don’t get the chance. One bout of drunk driving can end up in a grave, be it by a Christian or unbeliever. One instance of infidelity can lead to divorce, or even contract a deadly disease. It’s not that Christians cannot fall into these kinds of sins, or that we somehow lose our salvation when we do, but let’s be honest: sometimes we simply do not get an opportunity to repent.
  3. And with some of those times, it is so an example can be made. God did it among the nation of Israel, when the nation was fairly new, just taking its baby-steps into the Promised Land. [Achan & Ai; Joshua 7] Now God did it again among the baby church. An example was made of Ananias, demonstrating the fact that God is holy. He does not abide by sin. He was, is, and always will be holy – that is part of His essential character. The fact that God is love does not erase or negate the fact that God is holy. Those two characteristics perfectly coexist in the God of the Bible.
  4. Does this mean that what happened with Ananias could happen to us? It hasn’t…but it doesn’t mean it can’t. After all, it happened within the church only a few hours later…

7 Now it was about three hours later when his wife came in, not knowing what had happened. 8 And Peter answered her, “Tell me whether you sold the land for so much?” She said, “Yes, for so much.”

  1. Peter already knew what happened – he did not need another gift of the word of knowledge this time. But he gave a gift to Sapphira, even though she didn’t know it. He gave her the opportunity to come clean and repent.
  2. She didn’t take it. Instead, she proved she was in the conspiracy.

9 Then Peter said to her, “How is it that you have agreed together to test the Spirit of the Lord? Look, the feet of those who have buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out.” 10 Then immediately she fell down at his feet and breathed her last. And the young men came in and found her dead, and carrying her out, buried her by her husband.

  1. So foolish! God will not be tested! Again, the nation of Israel learned this the hard way during their wilderness wanderings, and the New Testament Church needed to learn the same lesson.
  2. There was another immediate judgment, and another immediate burial.

11 So great fear came upon all the church and upon all who heard these things.

  1. Classic Biblical understatement…you bet “great fear came upon all the church”! Can you imagine what raced through the mind of the next person who brought a financial offering to the apostles?
  2. And it wasn’t just the church. The news of this spread quickly, and fear came “upon all who heard these things.” IOW, the holiness of God and zeal for purity among His church was known among the non-believers as well. The judgment of Ananias and Sapphira was a witness to the wrath of God, and thus the truth of the gospel. Objection: How does a husband and wife falling dead by the judgment of God prove the gospel?! Answer: Because it demonstrated God’s living activity among His church. It showed what God approved & what He disapproved. He disapproved of the deceptive, satanically-inspired pretense of worship through financial gifts. He approved of the message preached by the rest. Why would God judge one & not the other? If the message of the apostles had been false, then surely they would have dropped dead; not someone who lied about his donation. But the apostles lived, while Ananias & Sapphira died. Their judgment proved the gospel true, and it caused the rest to fear.
    1. Oh, that the rest of our city would so see the work of God among us that they wouldn’t help but recognize the truth of the gospel!

Conclusion:

Two gifts, from two very different kinds of people. There was the pure-hearted, those who shared a common purpose and love for one another – who continually testified of the one gospel of Jesus Christ. They simply desired to love God & love each other, so their gifts were pure and humble. Then, there was the sad example of the opposite: a couple who desired self-glorification rather than the glory of God, who went through the motions of worship – and ultimately faced the immediate judgment of God.

Between the two, the choice ought to be obvious. We want our gifts to be pure-hearted – we want our love to be true – we want our worship to be sincere – and we want our witness to be faithful. Faithful not only to the truth of the gospel of Jesus, but to be faithful to the character of Jesus. Jesus didn’t lie, so we don’t lie. Jesus didn’t exalt Himself, so we don’t exalt ourselves. Instead Jesus loved God & love others, and thus, so do we. We do it the best we can with the resources we have, being obedient to God the Holy Spirit as He leads.

There’s a bigger issue at work in all of this. The example given by Luke was financial giving, but root of it all was the hearts of those who gave. Some were submitted to the Lord; others were not. Some openly lied to Him.

We can lie about much more than our finances. Don’t lie to God! Be honest & submitted to Him.

Being Bold

Posted: July 8, 2018 in Acts, Uncategorized

Acts 4:13-31, “Being Bold”

How do you define “bold”? It can be thought of as confidence & courageousness, or something that makes an impact. In print, “bold” typeface is a darker font, making it stand out from the rest. In person, someone who is bold is willing to stand out from the crowd, take calculated risks, and acts confidently, perhaps in spite of the opposition around him/her.

Boldness is often thought of as being the opposite of timidity, with “timidity” being fearful or weak. Between the two terms, which more accurately describes modern Christians? Hint: it isn’t often the more courageous option. Christians are often thought of as timid, and some Christians even believe they are supposed to be timid, because Jesus was meek & He said that the meek would inherit the earth (Mt 5:5). What is forgotten, however, is that “meek” is not “weak.” To be meek is not to be timid or fearful; Godly meekness is a humility of strength – it is strength under control. Ungodly meekness can turn into timid fear; godly meekness is quiet strength. It is the choice not to fight in retaliation, when one could easily fight.

All of that to say this: Christians can be both meek and bold. After all, Jesus was. Jesus was incredibly meek & gentle as He interacted with people, restraining His infinite power in the face of hatred. At the same time, He was also bold. Jesus never backed down from the truth of God’s word, and He never hesitated to confront religious hypocrisy where it was found – even (and especially) among the highest levels of Jewish leadership.

What Jesus did, so also did His apostles. Peter and John were meek when they needed to be meek, and bold when they needed to be bold. So should we all. The problem is that we are often lopsided. The humility & meekness we get; the boldness, not so much. There is a need for Christians to be bold, and our text demonstrates exactly how it can be done. The early church molded godly boldness at every turn, and we need to learn from their example.

Our text picks up as Part 3 to a larger series of events over the course of two days. The church was still in its infancy, recently receiving the baptism of the Holy Spirit (which itself was only 50 days removed from Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection). As the fledgling church continued to grow by the hand of God, the men & women of the church continued to live their lives as they always had: as Jews – but now as Jews who believed that Jesus is the Messiah. As such, they continued to pray at the Jerusalem temple (in addition to all of the prayer & worship taking place within their homes). One day when entering the temple grounds for prayer, Peter & John healed a man who had been paralyzed from birth.

That healing, done in the name of Jesus & to the glory of Jesus, gave Peter & John the opportunity to preach the gospel of Jesus, and that was exactly what they did. As they boldly presented Jesus as the Christ (Messiah) of God crucified for our sins & raised from the dead (all according to prophecy), they were arrested by the temple police by orders of the priests. These priests, along with the rest of the Sanhedrin, put Peter & John on trial the next day, demanding an answer as to how the miracle took place. Peter told the Jewish rulers the same thing he told the Jewish crowd: it was by the name of the Risen Jesus that the lame man had been healed, and it is only by the name (the person) of the Risen Jesus that anyone can (and must) be saved.

At this point, the trial is still ongoing. Peter has given his testimony regarding the miracle, and now it was time for the Sanhedrin to return their judgment. What would they say? What could they say? And what would the apostles & the other believers do in response?

Their boldness in the gospel had led them to this point, and their boldness would only continue and grow. God had given them strength thus far – they could pray with confidence that He would keep doing so.

Christian, be bold! God gives us the strength to be bold for Jesus, so be bold – even in asking for more boldness!

Acts 4:13–31

  • Judgment of the Sanhedrin (13-22)

13 Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated and untrained men, they marveled. And they realized that they had been with Jesus.

  1. Because the word for “boldness” is used so often in this passage (it contains 3 out of the 5 uses of the word in the entire book of Acts), it’s worth examining a bit. It can refer to an outspokenness or plainness (such as clarity of speech), or it can refer to confidence & courage, which is surely the context here. Peter & John had been fearless in their response to the Sanhedrin, unafraid to teach these religious scholars of the fulfillment of prophecy, to convict these moral leaders of their open sin against God, and to exhort these self-righteous men of their own need to be saved. Peter & John were fearless indeed! The original Greek word (παρρησία) is derived from the words for “all,” “speech,” and “say,” and could be thought of as “freedom to say all,” (NIDNTT). No doubt, Peter & John had left nothing unsaid, and they entertained no limits on saying the things they did.
  2. Of course, this fearlessness did not originate in their trial. They expressed boldness when the Holy Spirit gave them the faith to tell a lame man to stand to his feet, declaring that Jesus had healed him. They demonstrated more boldness by preaching the gospel to a crowd of Jews at the temple. And yes, they had shown even more boldness when answering the Sanhedrin at their trial. Boldness had been all over them!
    1. Boldness leads to boldness, just like fear leads to fear. Once you start, it becomes easier and easier to take the next step. The first time you say “no” to the Lord, you might have your conscience struck, but it becomes progressively easier each time (and your heart becomes progressively harder in the process). If we always tell ourselves that our witnessing will be useless, then it ought to come as no surprise when we hesitate to do it. And we hesitate again & again until it becomes a habit. But the opposite is true, too! The first time we step out in faith & say “yes,” we might be nervous, but it becomes easier & easier the more we do it. Far better for courageous faith to become a habit than timid fear. Boldness leads to boldness!
  3. Regarding the trial of Peter & John, the members of the Sanhedrin “marveled” when they witnessed the apostles’ courage. Why? Because they “perceived that they were uneducated and untrained men,” or as the NIV puts it, they were “unschooled, ordinary men.” It was not that Peter & John were illiterate – to the contrary, they could easily read & write, demonstrated through their written contributions to the New Testament. The KJV translation of “unlearned and ignorant men,” conveys exactly the wrong meaning in today’s modern culture than it did in the 1600’s. If anything, one of the reasons the Sanhedrin marveled the way they did was because of the Scriptural knowledge displayed by Peter & John; not a lack of it. Peter & John could be bold in their response not only because they were filled with the Spirit (4:8), but because they had such a good command of the Scriptures. Surely this was also a work of the Spirit in their lives, but it was nonetheless true. What made it so amazing was that it was totally unexpected. These were fishermen from Galilee; not rabbis of Jerusalem. Peter & John had no formal religious training, no ancient equivalent of seminary degrees. Yet they had confidence to go toe-to-toe with the premier theological institution of the nation of Judea. How? Answer: the Sanhedrin “realized that they had been with Jesus.” Jesus made all the difference! Better than any seminary, rabbinical school, or Bible college, was a three-year apprenticeship with Jesus. Being with Jesus is the best training imaginable!
    1. It still is. We do not get the opportunity to follow Jesus during His historical three-year ministry, but we do get the opportunity to be with Jesus. Every day we can be with Jesus in prayer – every day we can be with Jesus in His word – every day we can spend time with Him & learn from Him. And there is no substitute! Other forms of training are good & edifying. One of the gifts God has given to the church are teachers (Eph 4:11), and we ought to learn from them. Yet even the best teacher is no substitute for Jesus. It doesn’t matter how many letters someone has after their name if he/she doesn’t know Jesus. His training is not only the best, but it is foundational to any other training we might receive.
  4. As for the Sanhedrin, this was one more piece of evidence proving Peter’s testimony true. After all, how else would these uneducated men be able to know the Bible as well as they did? How else could they answer with such confidence in the face of their accusers? Some of the man on the Sanhedrin had seen Peter & John before, especially on the night of Jesus’ arrest. It was at the home of Caiaphas that Peter’s fears took hold of him, and he vehemently denied even knowing Jesus. Now he stood in trial, openly proclaiming his faith with brave confidence. Such a transformation is impossible by natural means. Something super-natural must have happened. It did: Jesus rose from the dead, and Peter was filled with God the Holy Spirit!
    1. Don’t neglect the importance of being with Jesus! We can claim our Christianity till we’re blue in the face, but if we have no vibrant, evident relationship with Jesus, who will believe it? And why should they? If they see no evidence of Jesus among us, they don’t have any reason to think that Jesus is truly alive & able to transform anyone. Yet when we spend time with Jesus, His presence in our lives becomes undeniable – Jesus Himself becomes tangible. When we are with Jesus, it shows others that they can be with Jesus.
    2. How many times have you tried sharing Christ with someone & felt like you were coming up against a brick wall? Many things could be the reason why – but one potential reason is something totally under our control: whether or not people see Jesus within us. When Moses spent time with God on Mt. Sinai, his face came back glowing (literally! Exo 34:29). When the apostles spent time with Jesus, the proof was plain to those who witnessed. It’s no different with us. When we spend time with Jesus, people will see it & know it. It’s not something that can be faked – it’s either real, or it’s not. Make it real!
    3. How long has it been since you spent simple time with Jesus? Why? Even five minutes in undistracted prayer is enough to get started. Or two minutes – any time that is solely dedicated to the Lord Jesus is good time. You don’t need to put false legalistic goals upon yourself, but get started with something. You’ll see the benefits before anyone else (which isn’t a bad thing), but others will see it, too.
  5. So at this point, the priests, rulers, and scribes are marveling at the two apostles, yet they all still have to come up with some sort of response. If they can’t attack the men, maybe they can attack the miracle…

14 And seeing the man who had been healed standing with them, they could say nothing against it.

  1. How can you deny a miracle when the proof is literally standing before your eyes? Everyone knew this man had been lame, yet now he was whole. No slight of hand had been done – no claim of healing some internal unseen disease. The man had gone from laying on the ground to leaping in the air, all instantaneously in response to this declaration of Jesus’ healing from Peter & John. The miracle could not be argued – there was irrefutable proof. Now what? Time to call a time-out! 

15 But when they had commanded them to go aside out of the council, they conferred among themselves, 16 saying, “What shall we do to these men? For, indeed, that a notable miracle has been done through them is evident to all who dwell in Jerusalem, and we cannot deny it. 17 But so that it spreads no further among the people, let us severely threaten them, that from now on they speak to no man in this name.”

  1. No doubt, a private conference was needed! After all, it seemed like all their options were closed. They could not keep the apostles imprisoned, for they hadn’t broken any laws. They couldn’t dismiss the apostles as ignorant or crazy, because they were clearly competent – surprisingly so. Nor could they deny the miracle. Not only had they personally seen the proof, but so had the people in Jerusalem. They would risk a riot if they declared the miracle false, for it plainly was not. What to do?
  2. Notice one option that never came up for consideration: faith. They could have believed the testimony of Peter & John, repented from their sin of sending Jesus to the cross, place their own faith in Him & have been saved. The option of repentance was just as open to them as it was to anyone else in Jerusalem – they just didn’t take it. How sad! How tragic! They knew the truth and still they refused to repent. It’s bad enough not to hear the gospel, and worse not to believe it – but to hear the truth, be confronted with evidence of the truth, know it as the truth and still turn away…that’s tragic on a whole different level! Imagine what will ring through the minds of such men & women throughout eternity! To forever remember you had the opportunity, knowledge, and reason to believe, yet still turned away…the extent of such regret cannot be put into words!
    1. Don’t let that be you! If you know the truth of the gospel of Jesus, respond to it. Believe! No one who has truly known Jesus has ever regretted putting his/her faith in Him, but many have gone to their graves without Him with much regret.
  3. Instead of trusting Jesus by faith, the Sanhedrin turned to threats. Refusing to be won to Christ, they turned to warnings. The apostles had not broken any laws (yet), so the priests & others decided to make some laws, so to speak. Obviously they did not have the authority of Rome, but Rome gave the Sanhedrin a lot of room to govern the Jews in the way that they saw fit. By warning the disciples now, they set a precedent for anything that might happen later. When the council commanded the apostles to keep quiet about Jesus, that carried the weight of government authority. Since that was the only option left to the Sanhedrin, that’s what they did. Not even able to bring themselves to utter the name of Jesus, they forbade the disciples from speaking in His name.

18 So they called them and commanded them not to speak at all nor teach in the name of Jesus. 19 But Peter and John answered and said to them, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you more than to God, you judge. 20 For we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard.”

  1. Although Luke (as the writer) does not tell us a timeframe, there is no indication of any hesitation whatsoever from Peter & John. Faced with a command from the highest authorities in their own community (i.e., apart from Rome), they immediately knew that their previous orders outranked the Sanhedrin. They didn’t have to pray about it, think through a plan, or anything of the like. There was no question and no hesitation that they would follow the command of God. Jesus had personally commissioned them to make disciples of all the nations, and He was crystal clear as to how the apostles would be His witnesses to Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. Their orders had come from the Messiah, the King of Israel & King of the world. Their orders had come from none other than God the Son Himself. No restriction or gag-order from a human court could override the commands of Jesus!
  2. Question: Doesn’t the Bible tell us to obey the authorities over us? Yes – several times. (Mt 22:21, 1 Pet 2:13-14, Rom 13:1-2) But that is all under the assumption that the commands of the government do not conflict with the commands of God. Thus, even with pagan ungodly governments, Christians are still to obey & submit to the authorities. We still pay our taxes, we still obey the laws of our communities, we still abide by government regulations – be they fair or not, we obey. Paul could hardly have lived in a land more opposed to God than what he did in the Roman Empire, but he still obeyed. When Peter & Paul & others disobeyed the laws of the land was when those laws conflicted with the gospel. At that point, a higher-ranking authority rules: the word of God. Thought it is sin to willfully disobey the government, it is a greater sin to willfully disobey God.
    1. We’ve seen this play out in modern terms within our own nation. When faced with a choice between participating in a homosexual wedding ceremony, or taking a stand on the Biblical view of marriage, several Christian bakers have put their livelihoods and reputations on the line. Around the world, we see this true to far greater degree. Every day, Christians in Muslim-majority nations with Sharia law break the local laws when they tell people about Jesus, or when facilitate conversion out of Islam – and they often put their lives at risk for doing so. But what other choice is there? Between obeying God or men, God wins every time.
    2. No one knows the future, but this choice is a situation for which we must be prepared. If you were called to choose between God or men, which would you choose? And why? Choose Jesus! For all He has already done for you – for all that He has promised you – for simply the sake of the truth, choose Christ!
  3. Peter & John chose Christ, and they knew the reason why. They couldn’t help but speak of the things they had witnessed with Jesus. How could they pretend that the past three years never existed? They had seen lame men walk, lepers healed, demons cast out. They had seen bread & fish multiply, men walk on water, and people raised to life from the dead. They had heard the truth of God straight from the mouth of God, and they had experienced the love of God first-hand. And most importantly, there was the cross & empty tomb! They knew Jesus had died as a sacrifice for their (and our) sins, and they knew that Jesus was alive, being resurrected from the dead. Those are not things that are easily dismissed! Those are not things that can be casually ignored! Like the prophets of old, the gospel would burn in the hearts of the apostles, they would not be able to restrain themselves even if they desired to do so.
    1. Does the gospel burn in us the same way? Why not? Why should we have any less fervor than Peter or John to tell others of the things we know of Jesus? Have we experienced less? 

21 So when they had further threatened them, they let them go, finding no way of punishing them, because of the people, since they all glorified God for what had been done. 22 For the man was over forty years old on whom this miracle of healing had been performed.

  1. At a certain point, the Sanhedrin had to throw in the towel. They had warned the two apostles, threatened them as much as they could, but the religious leaders simply did not have an option of punishing them. It was no problem to hold Peter & John overnight in jail in order to convene a hearing, but since that was now accomplished, nothing else could be done. Again, no law had been broken, and at this point, the apostles had the support of the people. Peter & John were not the only witnesses to the miracle on the previous day – there had been a large crowd at the temple, and everyone knew what had happened. The man who had been healed had been a regular fixture at the temple for decades. He was born lame, and was over 40 years old. That was not something that could be easily explained away.
  2. That said, don’t get the idea that everything was over. The Sanhedrin knew they couldn’t do anything now; the future was a different story. One reason the threats were so severe was to make it clear that future disobedience was law-breaking. They knew this would not be the last they heard from the apostles, and they were ready.
  3. The apostles knew it too, which was why they knew they needed divine assistance and prayed…
  • Prayer of the Church (23-31)

23 And being let go, they went to their own companions and reported all that the chief priests and elders had said to them. 24 So when they heard that, they raised their voice to God with one accord and said: “Lord, You are God, who made heaven and earth and the sea, and all that is in them,

  1. It had been quite a couple of days for Peter, John, and all the church in Jerusalem. Surely the rest of the church knew of the miracle in the temple gate – it had been the talk of the town. No doubt they also knew that Peter & John had been arrested – it was a very public action. What they didn’t know was what happened next. They probably hadn’t had any communication at all, and the Christians were likely anxious to hear the details. After all, the last time one of their number had been arrested and tried by the Sanhedrin, it was Jesus, and that led to the cross! This time, Peter & John were released (good news!), but the church needed to know what they knew, and needed to know what to expect in the future: persecution (bad news!). The apostles related the anti-gospel commands of the Sanhedrin, and it was clear that the message of salvation through Jesus as the Messiah was not welcome in Jerusalem.
  2. What did they do about it? Worry – fret – plan an escape – talk about going underground? They prayed. Faced with the threats of the legal authorities, the very first thing they did was pray. ‘Objection: Why didn’t they do something proactive?’ Answer: prayer is proactive! They very best action the church could have taken at this time was the action they did take. Prayer is not procrastination, at least, not when prayer is honest. True prayer is not putting off some more reasonable action. Prayer is action of the best sort, as we seek the face of God, desire His will be done, and submit our own plans to His. Prayer out not to be an ‘after-the-fact’ ritual; it is foundational to anything we do as Christians. How else are we to know the mind of God? How else do we understand the Scriptures? How else are we to appropriate His promises? It all happens through prayer – sincere prayer. If we treat prayer as an afterthought, it ought to be no surprise that we have difficulties seeing how God answers. As we’ve said before, it’s as if we expect our prayers to matter more to God than to us. But when we treat prayer with forethought, finding ourselves dependent upon prayer, we will find that God’s answers often become crystal clear.
  3. How did the church pray? “With one accord.” They prayed with one heart and one purpose to the one God they all worshipped. Prayer offered from a divided people is prayer not often answered. Why? Because division is a symptom of bigger problems. Jesus prayed that the church would be unified to the same extent as the Trinity (Jn 17:21). When there is internal conflict, God wants that to be resolved before moving to other things.
  4. What did they pray? Depending on how one counts, there are seven basic planks to this short prayer. First, they prayed to God as the sovereign Creator. God is the one “who made heaven and earth and the sea, and all that is in them.” God is the “Lord” or Master of all these things. The word choice is interesting, because it isn’t the usual word for Lord (κύριος – used in vs. 29, but not in vs. 24); this refers to a Master with authority (δεσπότης ~ “despot”). Considering that the apostles came from a hearing in which they were threatened by local rulers, the church called upon the God who rules all. There is none more powerful than God, none with more authority than Him. The kings of the earth might come against us, but we serve the King of all kings!

25 who by the mouth of Your servant David have said: ‘Why did the nations rage, And the people plot vain things? 26 The kings of the earth took their stand, And the rulers were gathered together Against the LORD and against His Christ.’

  1. Quoting from Psalm 2:1-2, which they affirm was written under divine inspiration by David, the church secondly prays to God the all-knowing, ever-opposed King. God has the right to rule, being the Creator, but His creation has consistently opposed Him. Not that this was ever a surprise to God – He knows the hearts of even His enemies. Nations can rage & people can form conspiracies, but God knows them all.

27 “For truly against Your holy Servant Jesus, whom You anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles and the people of Israel, were gathered together 28 to do whatever Your hand and Your purpose determined before to be done.

  1. Third, the church saw the fulfillment of Psalm 2 in Jesus. David wrote how the kings, rulers, nations, and peoples would be united in their opposition “against the Lord and against His Christ,” and that exactly what happened with Jesus. God “anointed” Jesus as His “holy Servant,” the word for “anointed” being basically equivalent to “Christ.” Messiah = Anointed one = Christ. And all the people were truly against Him. Herod & Pontius Pilate were two of the kings of the earth – the Gentiles were the nations – the people of Israel were obvious – all of them opposed to Jesus. Those they often hated each other, their hatred of Jesus brought them together. It united them in the past, and it was uniting them in the present. That’s why the Sanhedrin was so opposed to the gospel. The gospel is They would always be opposed to Jesus as the Christ!
  2. Fourth, the church saw that the fulfillment of Psalm 2 was due to God’s purpose & sovereignty. Be careful not to get the wrong idea: simply because the kings, rulers, etc., were predetermined to oppose Jesus does not absolve them of their responsibility in opposing Jesus. Everyone, from Herod & Pilate to you & me, is responsible for our own choice regarding sin & our response to it. Herod, Pilate, the priests, etc., all made their choices regarding Jesus & their bore their guilt because of it. Even so, God in His sovereignty “determined before” that it was to be done. The Bible never shows God’s sovereignty as a contradiction to man’s freewill. It always upholds them both, and does so again here.
  3. Why should it matter that all these things were in the will of God? Because it affirms that God is always in control! Though life may seem to descend into chaos from our perspective, there is no such thing as chaos from God’s perspective. He sees all, knows all, and every thing that takes place in this universe has to pass through His hands. Every trial is overseen by God – every challenge has been filtered through God…even things like persecution. As awful as persecution is & as sinful as it is for those committing it, even persecution is something that is under the sovereignty of God. God knew what would happen to His Son, and He knows what would (and still does) happen to His church. What we endure, He allows – and that is something that ought to offer great comfort. Think of it: if God has allowed it, then God can be glorified through it. If God has allowed it, then God is available in it. If these things took place outside the reach & plans of God, then we could have no hope in the midst of them. Where would be our certainty? What promises could we affirm? We would know nothing & have nothing. Worse than that, it would mean God isn’t all-powerful, and that He could be outsmarted or out-maneuvered in some way. Perish the thought! Our God is all-powerful, and nothing takes place which is beyond His counsel or reach!
  4. So put it all together: God is the creator, the all-knowing king, the writer of accurate prophecy, and the all-powerful sovereign ruler that sees His will accomplished. Now that’s a God in whom we have confidence to pray!

29 Now, Lord, look on their threats, and grant to Your servants that with all boldness they may speak Your word, 30 by stretching out Your hand to heal, and that signs and wonders may be done through the name of Your holy Servant Jesus.”

  1. Fifth in the prayer, and first among the requests is for “” Remember that to this point, the apostles had already demonstrated much boldness. Surely this was something they already had. Why pray for it? Because more was needed! Courage to be bold might come once, but that doesn’t mean that we’ll act courageously a second time. The church wanted consistency in their courage. They wanted to be bold every time the need arose. They understood the danger of resting on their laurels, always looking back in nostalgia. I.e., “Wasn’t that time great? We were so bold – we could really feel God moving!” As great as those memories are, the danger is that they remain memories. Boldness isn’t needed only once, but time & time again!
    1. How might we as a church have fallen into the quicksand of nostalgia? Have we fallen into reminiscing rather than acting? We need current boldness!
  2. Boldness to do what? The church had a specific purpose for this God-given boldness: “they may speak Your word.” To be sure, we need boldness in all kinds of things: boldness in worship, that we give God more than the wimpy-whiny worship so often played on radio – boldness in love, that we would truly see beyond ourselves in order to be the hands & feet of Jesus – boldness in faith, that we would have the courage to step out in things that seem impossible, just to see what Jesus will do. All of these things are great & necessary, but in this situation, they weren’t of first importance. What the church needed at this time was boldness to speak – boldness to preach, proclaim, expound, and to declare the gospel of Jesus Christ. This was the one thing they were commanded by the Sanhedrin not to do, so they needed a divine gift of supernatural boldness to keep doing it.
    1. So do we! More & more these days, we hear that we have freedom of religion in terms of freedom of worship. What they mean is that we have freedom to worship as we see fit within the walls of a church building, but it needs to remain there. Don’t bring it into the public square, were someone else might hear & get offended. No thanks! Not only is that not at all what is guaranteed to American citizens in the 1st Amendment, it is not at all what we are commanded to do in the Great Commission (which has infinitely more importance!). We do need to take the gospel into the public square, among friends, family, coworkers, and total strangers. And for that, we need boldness
  3. Sixth, not only did they pray for boldness, but they prayed for miracles. This latest series of events had begun with a miraculous healing, so the church prayed for more. They asked God for healings, and for whatever “signs and wonders” He decided to give. These things provided amazing proof for the truth of their message, as friends & enemies alike could not argue against the evidence of God’s power right in front of them.
    1. Question: Do we still pray for miracles today? Absolutely! Why wouldn’t we? Every time we pray for the sick, we pray for healing, which is a miracle. Every time we pray for God’s intervention, we are pray for what is by definition a supernatural act. So yes, pray for miracles! But don’t pray for a miracle just for a miracle’s sake. The church prayed for “signs & wonders” – a sign points to something: in this case, the hand of God. At the heart of the church’s prayer was that God would make Himself known. Basically, they prayed, “Give us boldness & reveal Yourself.” That’s still a perfect prayer for the church!
  4. Seventh (and last), it was all to be done “through the name of Your holy Servant Jesus.” As God made Himself known, He would make Jesus known. The church did not ask for boldness in order that Peter, John, and others would become famous preachers. They had no thought or desire to elevate themselves as a church. All of the fame belonged to Jesus. When miracles were granted, it wasn’t to gain a reputation for the apostles as healers; it was to glorify and spread the reputation of Jesus.
    1. Lift up the name of Jesus! Do what you do in the name of Jesus! Love in His name, preach in His name, serve in His name, give in His name – whatever it is you do for the Lord, do it in the name of the Lord. Give Him the glory, for it is not to be shared!

31 And when they had prayed, the place where they were assembled together was shaken; and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and they spoke the word of God with boldness.

  1. What was the result of this unified prayer for boldness in order to lift up the name of Jesus? There was an immediate answer. Some people wonder what kinds of prayers are those most desired by God – this was obviously one! Imagine pouring out your heart to God in prayer and receiving an immediate response in the form of a miniature earthquake. It might help you pray more often!
  2. The shaking of the building was visible, but there was another answer of better value: “they were all filled with the Holy Spirit.” What had happened on Pentecost for the entire church – what had happened for Peter & John as they answered the Sanhedrin – now came upon the entire church once again. And for good reason: the church had prayed for boldness to preach, and that boldness comes only from the power of the Holy Spirit. This is one of the primary purposes of the empowerment of the Spirit. When Jesus spoke to His disciples, He made it clear that the Spirit would come upon them first, and it was only after that when they would be ready witnesses (Acts 1:8). They were first empowered at their initial baptism, but they were repeatedly empowered with each additional filling. This time, they had not specifically prayed for the Spirit, but for boldness. But the prayer for boldness was answered through the filling of the Spirit. With one came the other.
  3. What was proof of their empowerment? Their bold proclamation of the gospel. They asked for boldness, and God gave it. The proof was in the pudding…or perhaps we should say that the proof was in the preaching. Interestingly, we’re not told exactly how the church knew that God had filled them anew with the Spirit, empowering them with boldness to preach. Certainly the shaking of the room was a clue, but it could have been only an acknowledgement from God that He heard them, and the answer would come later. How did the Christians know they had boldness to speak the word of God? They had to open their mouths and speak. They had to leave the confines and comforts of their room & go into the streets, stepping out in faith. If they never walked outside, they would never know if they had boldness.
    1. This is where too many Christians and churches fail. We pray for boldness, perhaps even using the same words as the church in Acts 4. We’ll be fervent, asking God for bold courage…but that’s where it ends. We don’t take the next step of taking it outside. We don’t open our mouths to see if God actually answered our prayer. Don’t stop short! Don’t let a prayer for boldness end in prayer. Go out and see if God answers. Hint: He will!

Conclusion:

What a day it was for the church! Boldness on the part of Peter & John had led to a miracle, but it also led to their arrest. Boldness in front of the Sanhedrin left the priests & elders amazed, but not speechless. Yet faced with threats of future persecution, neither Peter nor John backed down. They responded boldly yet again, staking their future on the word of God. Neither did the church shrink back after the two were released – it led to a prayer for more boldness, which was immediately put into action as they all boldly preached the gospel of Jesus.

Oh, that we would be a church that did likewise! That we would spend so much time with Jesus, that boldness for Him would become second nature. That we would be so filled with the Spirit, that the good news of His salvation would bubble out our lips, no matter what we did.

Beloved, this isn’t wishful thinking – this is true possibility! If it happened with the early church, it can happen with this church! We can be those who spend such quality time with Jesus, that it’s obvious to others. We can be those who pray for boldness, and then actually act upon it. Nothing stops it, except ourselves.

If we want to see revival in our culture, then we need to have boldness in the church. And it starts with us. Be bold!

No Other Name

Posted: July 1, 2018 in Acts, Uncategorized

Acts 4:1-12, “No Other Name”

In the famous line from Romeo and Juliet, Juliet questions why Romeo’s family name matters, saying, “What’s in a name? that which we call a rose By any other name would smell as sweet;” (Romeo & Juliet, Act II, Scene II). With all due respect to William Shakespeare, sometimes names do matter, and they matter much. Having the wrong name on your boarding pass means you don’t get on your flight – knowing the right people (and thus the right name) can sometimes get you into special areas. Few people, for instance, have access to the residential wing at the White House, but if your last name happens to be “Trump,” you can walk right in.

Names matter in the Church, too. Not from an aspect of so-called celebrity pastors or wealthy-donors, but names matter for basic access. With faith in the right name, we have access to Almighty God; without that name, we don’t. No amount of money can purchase our way to heaven – no number of good deeds can work our way in – not even true sincerity in the faith of our choice matters. We need to know a certain name (meaning a certain Person), and without Him, we have nothing.

That name is Jesus. Specifically, it is Jesus of Nazareth, declared to be Christ the Lord through His resurrection after the cross. Hearkening back to Shakespeare, the language/translation in which we know the name doesn’t matter (be it “Jesus,” “Iesous,” “Yeshua,” “Yesu,” etc.), but the reality of the specific person does. To know Jesus is to know God – to know Jesus in faith is the only way to spend eternity with God. There simply is no other way. Jesus alone saves. We must have faith in His name.

This is the bold statement made by Peter to the priests. He knew the truth, and he wasn’t about to back down – no matter who it was that was questioning him.

Back up a bit: The Church had just begun. It was still in its infancy being only a few months removed from Jesus’ resurrection, and a few short weeks from the Holy Spirit’s baptism. 3000 people had been saved on the day of Pentecost, but due to God’s work among the fledgling church, people were getting saved on a daily basis. The believers in Jerusalem had quite an impact on the city around them, and the work & love of Jesus among them could not be denied.

It was during those days that Peter and John healed a paralyzed man who was begging alms at the temple. The man was simply doing what he had always done, and so were Peter & John. They had gone to the temple only to pray, but they were led by the Spirit to extend the grace of Jesus to this man, and he was led to respond.

The temple crowd quickly took notice, and Peter quickly took advantage of the opportunity to preach the gospel. It wasn’t Peter or John who had the power to make the lame man walk; it was Jesus. The same Jesus the Jews had rejected mere months earlier was risen from the dead in fulfillment of prophecy, and He offered not only healing to the man from his paralysis, but healing to all the people from their sin & iniquities. Every one of them could be saved!

Ideally, Peter and John would have been able to continue preaching at this point, perhaps extending an invitation while a choir sang “Just As I Am.” 😊 They didn’t get the chance. Peter’s message was interrupted by his arrest, and soon he and John would face their first courtroom trial as Christians. How would Peter answer? What would he say? He’d say the same thing to the Sanhedrin as he said to the temple crowd: Jesus saves, and He is the only one who can. Believe on the name of Jesus!

Acts 4:1–12

  • The apostles arrested (1-4)

1 Now as they spoke to the people, the priests, the captain of the temple, and the Sadducees came upon them, 2 being greatly disturbed that they taught the people and preached in Jesus the resurrection from the dead.

  1. Although Luke recorded only the words of Peter in Acts 3, it was both Peter and John that “spoke to the people” (3rd person plural pronoun, “they”). Luke likely provided only a summary of Peter’s main message, and it would have originally gone on much long – as would be necessary if the captain of the temple guard was to arrest Peter and John while they were still teaching. Keep in mind that (as with the four gospels) the book of Acts does not serve so much as an exhaustive courtroom transcript as it does a God-given summary of the events & teachings of the early church & apostles. And even here, two apostles in particular: Peter & Paul. In the first several chapters as the gospel is taken to Jerusalem, Judea, and Samaria, the primary actor is Peter. Once the gospel starts to go to the ends of the earth, the spotlight shifts to Paul. As a historian & writer, Luke probably spent the majority of his research time with the two of them, so his writing is based on their perspectives. Certainly neither John nor the other apostles were silent during these events; we just don’t have their words.
    1. That said, remember that the words we do have are words given by inspiration of God the Holy Spirit. They may be summaries of what was said, but they are divine The words we have are still the very words of God.
  2. The bottom line is that Peter & John were engaged in active ministry when they were arrested. The miracle granted by God did not guarantee them an easy time. The large audience available to them to preach the gospel at the temple did not guarantee that they would always have access to this audience. Peter & John were doing exactly what they needed to do to exactly the right people at exactly the right time – yet the apostles still faced persecution and trial.
    1. For some, they would assume that the arrival of the temple police meant that their opportunity had closed. For some, the arrival of any challenge would signify that God wasn’t in this, and they needed to do something else. Unless God makes it easy, then He isn’t providing for, or “blessing” the ministry. Newsflash: God rarely makes it easy! In fact, the arrival of hardship is very often one indication we’re doing things right. After all, the devil doesn’t have much reason to attack people who pose no threat. Sometimes he does, simply to keep them enslaved to lies, but other times he leaves them alone because they’re already lost & remaining lost. It is the active born-again obedient Christian that poses a threat to the devil, and that is the person who will most often come under attack.
    2. Besides, who is to say that the challenge faced is truly an “attack”? God is sovereign, and He uses even the fears of others for His glory. The fear of the Sadducees was the very thing that gave Peter and John a platform to speak to them of the gospel. What the Sadducees likely viewed as an assertion of their authority was them being used as tools in the hands of God. As for us, we need to trust God! Trust that He knows what He’s doing, and trust that He is always in control.
    3. BTW, If you never face challenges in your ministry/service to the Lord, you might want to ask why not. Of course we don’t seek out trouble, but for those who regularly share the gospel and actively serve Jesus, trouble is not often far behind. Jesus warned His disciples that the world would hate them, so that shouldn’t be a surprise. Even so, they could have hope, because Jesus is stronger. John 16:33, “These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.” Trust Christ!
  3. Luke also tells us who came & the reason they came. It was a combination of “the priests, the captain of the temple, and the Sadducees.” Actually, they were all Sadducees – some simply had specific titles. The priesthood was comprised of the Sadducee class, as was the captain of the temple guard. In fact, the captain was second in authority in the temple only to the chief priest. Being invested with so much authority at the temple, he needed to come from the same theological background and party. The fact they were Sadducees explains why they had problems with Peter & John. The two apostles “preached in Jesus the resurrection of the dead.” As a whole, the Sadducees did not believe in the resurrection (or angels, or demons, or even some of the books of the Hebrew Bible). So they had a situation where unauthorized teachers were preaching unauthorized doctrine. It’s no wonder they shut it down.
  4. Interestingly, Luke did not record this specific resurrection-teaching from Peter and John. Peter did preach that Jesus is risen from the dead (Acts 3:15, 26), but nothing is written in Peter’s message of how Jesus’ resurrection relates to our resurrection. Yet apparently Peter & John did preach this, and for good reason – it’s true! As Paul later wrote to the Corinthians, Jesus is the firstfruits of those risen from the dead (1 Cor 15:20). His resurrection proves the hope of our resurrection, which is the fullness of our hope in Christ. Our resurrection is part & parcel with our eternal life and the culmination of all things leading into eternity. After all, how do we have eternal life, apart from resurrected life? They go hand-in-hand. The guaranteed proof we have of any of the promises we have in God is the resurrection of Jesus. It ought to be no wonder that Peter & John taught it to the crowd – it is essential to Christianity itself!
    1. Do you have hope in the future resurrection? Do you have total confidence that you will be included with the saints when Jesus calls us home? If not, you can. If you are not absolutely certain, then you can be certain today. Trust Christ!

3 And they laid hands on them, and put them in custody until the next day, for it was already evening.

  1. Luke already told us that the original healing took place sometime around 3pm (the ninth hour, Acts 3:1). Apparently, the apostles had been able to preach and teach for quite some time before they were arrested. Even if they had been arrested relatively early (say around 4:30-5:00), there still was not time to gather the entire Sanhedrin council in order for a legal hearing to take place. Evening/night trials were illegal (although this was ignored in Jesus’ case). A proper official hearing had to wait until morning.
  2. That meant Peter and John spent the night in jail (or some form of custody). It was likely the first time they had been arrested – it wouldn’t be the last! Again, for the many TV preachers who claim that prosperity is a sign of God’s blessing, God’s word puts the lie to their false teaching. Peter and John were smack-dab in the middle of God’s will for them, and it’s unlikely that they felt very prosperous as they spent the night in their cell.
    1. Even so, don’t get the idea that Peter & John felt sad or troubled about all of this. Of course they had no idea what the morning would hold, but they had been arrested for the most glorious of reasons: they were witnesses of their Lord Jesus! Luke doesn’t write anything about that first night, but when they were released after a subsequent jailing, the apostles rejoiced “that they were counted worthy to suffer shame” for Jesus’ name (Acts 5:41). As Peter later wrote in his first epistle: 1 Peter 4:12–13, “(12) Beloved, do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you; (13) but rejoice to the extent that you partake of Christ’s sufferings, that when His glory is revealed, you may also be glad with exceeding joy.” It’s one thing to suffer for the consequences of sin. If our criminal actions land us in jail, we deserve the results. Yet if we suffer because of our faith in Christ, rejoice! Why? If nothing else, because enough evidence exists to others that they know you are a Christian!
  3. From the Sanhedrin’s perspective, they had addressed their “problem.” Those trouble-making teachers were arrested, so that would be the end of it. Right? Wrong!

4 However, many of those who heard the word believed; and the number of the men came to be about five thousand.

  1. Like rocks thrown into a pond, the gospel preached and demonstrated by the two apostles had a massive ripple effect. Even after they were taken away, the word that was preached to them rung in their ears & resonated in their hearts. “Many” believed & were saved! How many was “many”? We don’t know the exact amount from this one moment. Overall, the church was up 2000 from Pentecost. Probably, it was not all in this one day, as God was daily adding to the church (2:47). This is the grand total over the course of time to this point. Even so, there’s no doubt a great many of this new total was saved that very day.
    1. What hope this ought to give us! Sometimes it can be easy to get discouraged as we share the gospel. After all, we have no guarantee that anyone will respond in the moment, and sometimes it can seem like no one ever gets saved, no matter how often we tell people about Jesus. But some will! Maybe they come a few at a time – maybe they come all at once. Either way, they will come…in God’s time, according to God’s will. We do not determine who responds when – we can only be faithful in sharing the message of Jesus. Peter & John had no idea what the response to their message might have been, but it didn’t stop them from sharing it. Neither should it for us!
  2. So Peter and John are in jail overnight – their first time in a cell, awaiting for the next morning. What would happen? They soon found out!
  • The apostles’ answer (5-12)

5 And it came to pass, on the next day, that their rulers, elders, and scribes, 6 as well as Annas the high priest, Caiaphas, John, and Alexander, and as many as were of the family of the high priest, were gathered together at Jerusalem.

  1. Notice that with the day, there was much more than only the Sadducees gathered for the trial/hearing. The mention of the “scribes,” along with the “rulers and elders,” meant that Pharisees were present as well. Although the priests and ruling caste was comprised of mostly Sadducees, the scribes were mainly of the Pharisee party. In that culture, a “scribe” wasn’t simply a human printer/Xerox machine; he was an expert in the law of Moses and traditions of the rabbis. If two disciples of Jesus were to be judged for what they taught, the priests could hardly do any better than to ensure they had several scribes present to be able to judge the teaching as Biblical (or not). Of course, scribes were regularly included within the Sanhedrin for this purpose, and the basic idea is that the whole group was present. They had a necessary quorum for a hearing, and they could proceed.
  2. Notice also some of the names that are mentioned, mostly those of “Annas the high priest,” and his family. From the gospels, we know that Caiaphas was actually high priest that particular year, but Annas was the patriarch of the family. He had also been high priest, and although he no longer served in the role, he maintained the title. (Much like retired presidents, governors, generals, etc., are still referred to by their previous title.) What makes this so interesting in this case is that many of these were the same people who delivered Jesus over to Pilate. They were the ones who set up Jesus for an illegal kangaroo court where they railroaded Him with false charges. They were central to Jesus’ execution, as they were the ones who specifically sought it out. They wanted Jesus dead, and they were willing to lie & cheat in order to see it done. We can only imagine what went ringing through their heads when they heard by what name Peter & John had done this miracle!

7 And when they had set them in the midst, they asked, “By what power or by what name have you done this?”

  1. Straightforward question. They were basically asking how the miracle was done. What power? What name? Different terms for the same idea: upon what authority had the miracle been done. Peter & John had been clear to the crowds that it wasn’t them who had any power to heal the lame, and as the Sanhedrin looked at them, the elite rulers probably realized quickly that these two men didn’t have a lot of authority inherent in themselves. Who had empowered them? Who authorized them for this work?
  2. There isn’t much here for which we can commend the Sanhedrin, but this much is good. They saw Peter & John & realized there was something else going on – something far more powerful. They recognized the supernatural hand of God, even if they weren’t yet willing to admit that God not only blessed the act, but was personally behind it. This is what we ought to want for us: that when people see us, they don’t see us; they see Jesus. Even if they don’t know it’s Jesus – even if they aren’t yet ready to give Him glory as God, how wonderful it is that they still see evidence of Him in our lives, to the point that we are transparent! 

8 Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, …

  1. Stop right there – notice the singular qualifying factor upon Peter before a single word of his is mentioned. Peter was “filled with the Holy Spirit.” To be “filled,” is just that: filled. Like a pitcher might be full of water, Peter was full of the 3rd Person of the Trinity, God the Holy Spirit. Keep in mind that “filled” is not “possessed.” When we think of evil demonic possession, we think of a person trapped – enslaved and fully controlled by a demon that has taken over the man or woman’s body and mental faculties. When Jesus spoke to the legion of demons, He did so because the demons had completely taken over the body and mouth of the man it/they possessed. That is not the way it works with the filling of the Holy Spirit. When God the Holy Spirit fills a person, that person retains full control of his/her mind and body. There is no enslavement of any kind – quite the contrary: it is an empowered freedom impossible to be experienced apart from the move of God. In this case, Peter was free to respond to the Jewish Sanhedrin the way he needed to respond, and that freedom was made possible by the power given him by the Holy Spirit. When the Old Testament prophets spoke, being temporarily filled with the Spirit, they had control over their bodies & minds – they were simply free to speak forth the words of God. Likewise here & elsewhere in the New Testament. To be filled with the Holy Spirit is to be empowered by the Holy Spirit – and if there’s one thing we know we need, it is the power of God. What a gift it is to be able to be filled with the Holy Spirit!
  2. This wasn’t the first time Peter was filled with the Spirit. On the day of Pentecost, when all the church was being baptized with the Holy Spirit, the Bible is clear that “they were all filled with the Holy Spirit,” (Acts 2:4). If Peter was filled again here in 4:8, was he rebaptized? The baptism of the Spirit happens once – as Paul wrote to the Ephesians, there is “one Lord, one faith, one baptism,” (Eph 4:5). There is a new birth given by the Holy Spirit (Jn 3:5), there is a single baptism given by the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:8, Eph 4:5), but there are multiple fillings given by the Holy Spirit…exactly what is seen here with Peter. Peter had already been born again, having had Jesus breathe the Spirit upon him. Peter had already been spiritually baptized at Pentecost, at which point he received his first filling. And now, God the Holy Spirit filled him once again for the task at hand, granting him all the power (and more!) that was required.
    1. Keep in mind this isn’t just something observed among the apostles of the early church, being unique to them with no application to the rest of us as believers. What Peter and the others experienced in multiple fillings of the Spirit is something that is commanded to the rest of us. Ephesians 5:18, “And do not be drunk with wine, in which is dissipation; but be filled with the Spirit,” Grammatically speaking, Paul refers to this filling as an ongoing command – we might translate it “be continually filled with the Spirit.” God’s power is something we are to receive on a regular basis.
    2. Why? Because there’s never a moment we don’t need it! When you look back on your failures as a born-again Christian, how many of those times were due to you trying to walk in your own power? Probably 100%! The Spirit-filled life is not optional for Christians; it’s essential! Paul exhorted the Galatians to “walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh,” (Gal 5:16). There is only one way to walk in the Spirit: be filled with the Spirit!
    3. How is a Christian filled with the Spirit? Simple: ask to be filled! How does a Christian receive anything from God? Through faith. Our salvation is given to us by grace through faith. Our prayers are answered by God’s grace, and we understand it through faith. The promises of God listed for us in the Bible are appropriated by faith. Why would it be any different with God the Holy Spirit’s offer to continually fill us? Ask! Ask in faith, and receive. We have not, because we ask not – so ask! As Jesus said, fathers know how to give good gifts to their children, so how much more does the Heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him? (Lk 11:13) We don’t have to throw fits – we don’t have to go through special routines – we don’t have to get special people to anoint us with oil in special places…all of that stuff is the work of men. What we need is the work of God. Ask in faith, and trust that God gives in faith. God is good to His word!
  3. All of this is how Peter was able to answer. What did he actually say? The text goes on…

… said to them, “Rulers of the people and elders of Israel: 9 If we this day are judged for a good deed done to a helpless man, by what means he has been made well,

  1. Gotta love how Peter reworded the charge. The high priest basically asked him, “What gave you the right to do this?” Peter turned it around, saying that it was right to do what they did! He asserted his & John’s innocence. This was a “good deed done to a helpless man,” and they were on trial?! How could Peter & John be judged for something like that?! On a non-miraculous level, it would be like an EMT brought before a judge and made to answer for his use of CPR to save a person’s life. “Who gave you the right to blow in that guy’s mouth?! — Umm, he’s alive, right? This was a good thing!”
  2. All in all, this was a pretext, and Peter knew it. Just like the healing of the lame man gave he & John the opportunity to preach Jesus, it gave the Sanhedrin the opportunity to question them about their doctrine of Jesus. So Peter responds, and he responds boldly! 

10 let it be known to you all, and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead, by Him this man stands here before you whole.

  1. To a straightforward question, Peter gave a straightforward answer. It was “by the name of Jesus Christ” that the man was healed. Note that Peter doesn’t hesitate in his answer. He doesn’t equivocate, water it down, or try to ‘ease’ into the subject. Right from the start (and as clear as a bell!) Peter said it was by the authority of Jesus Christ this man was healed. Peter was bold!
    1. Don’t miss the fact that Peter was ready to respond. Of course, Peter and John knew what was coming. Even if they had been initially shocked by their arrest (which is unlikely), they had all night to think and pray. Now that the time had come, Peter was ready with a clear answer. We should all be ready, and Peter would be the first one to say so! 1 Peter 3:15, “But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear;” Peter knew from personal experience how important it was to be ready to speak of Jesus Christ – but that’s something that applies to more than just apostles of the Lord. All of us ought to be ready at all times to tell someone else of Jesus. Not in an obnoxious way – we can be both bold and respectful at the same time. But we can only be bold when we are ready. (And how are we ready? When we are filled with the Spirit!)
    2. Keep in mind this doesn’t mean that we have to be walking encyclopedias, ready to give an answer for every possible objection to Christianity. Although this is a great verse to use in support of apologetics (knowing why we believe what we believe, and being able to explain it to others), that isn’t the primary context of Peter’s statement in his letter. Originally, it was to do exactly what Peter & John did here in Acts 4: when questioned about why we act the way we do, be ready & able to point someone to Jesus. It isn’t apologetics so much as evangelism. It’s like if you give loose change on the ground back to the person who dropped it – they ask, “Why did you do that?” You can tell them, “Because of Jesus.” Be ready to answer!
  2. In Peter’s case, he was ready, and he was bold. It was “Jesus Christ of Nazareth” who had done the work…and that needed little extra explanation (although Peter gave it to them anyway). The Sanhedrin ought to have known exactly who Jesus was: it was the Man of Nazareth that they crucified just a couple of months earlier! It was the same Man whom Annas and Caiaphas pressured Pilate to have illegally crucified. Again, imagine what would have shot through their brains the moment they heard this news! “That Jesus?! How could it be?! He has that much power, and I demanded that He be sent to the cross?!” Sobering, indeed! The Sanhedrin bore much guilt regarding Jesus, and despite their best efforts to do so, they hadn’t stopped Jesus at all. He became more powerful, and was able to empower His own disciples to keep doing the same thing He Himself had always done. In the process, Peter also answers the charge of teaching the resurrection. The resurrection is true because Jesus has current power to heal. Dead men don’t do anything; living men have power and authority. Jesus has authority to heal, deliver, and save.
  3. Put it all together, and Peter gave the Sanhedrin the gospel. He identifies Jesus, declares Him crucified & resurrected, and even points out their own need to be saved through their sin against Him. It didn’t take long – it was less than a few seconds and a single sentence, but it was enough to tell the Sanhedrin all they needed to know.
    1. We have a tendency make witnessing complicated. The various methods we have to share the gospel are wonderful, but sometimes we can get so caught up on the methods that we forget to actually share the message. Christians can get overwhelmed by the strategies – remembering to share ‘this’ opening, and ‘that’ transition, asking the ‘right’ questions, remembering the ‘right’ answers – all of that gets rather stressful and it can simply shut us down. It doesn’t need to be that way. If you have shared Jesus, the cross, and the resurrection, you have shared the gospel. The “gospel” is simply “good news” about Jesus. Just give them Jesus – He will do the rest!
  4. Peter not only gave the gospel, and pointed out the guilt of the rulers & elders of Israel concerning Jesus. He also told them that they ought not to be surprised. Their rejection of Jesus and His subsequent glorification was prophesied!

11 This is the ‘stone which was rejected by you builders, which has become the chief cornerstone.’

  1. Peter quotes a familiar psalm to the Sanhedrin: Psalm 118:22–24, “(22) The stone which the builders rejected Has become the chief cornerstone. (23) This was the LORD’s doing; It is marvelous in our eyes. (24) This is the day the LORD has made; We will rejoice and be glad in it.” The whole psalm is a call to praise for the nation of Israel, sung from the perspective of someone who experienced the deliverance of the Lord God. God had become the salvation (the yeshua) of the writer, and this was marvelous. The way in which God delivered the writer was through this Messianic prophecy: a rejected stone was made by God to be the choice & chief cornerstone. The stone despised by the builders was actually the most important stone in the entire building – it was the foundation cornerstone upon which the whole structure rested.
  2. How did Peter know this was Messianic prophecy? (1) Because he was filled with the Holy Spirit, empowered for this moment of witnessing. (2) This exact line was quoted by Jesus directly to the Jewish rulers, in the parable of the wicked vinedressers. … Matthew 21:42–45, “(42) Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the Scriptures: ‘The stone which the builders rejected Has become the chief cornerstone. This was the LORD’s doing, And it is marvelous in our eyes’? (43) “Therefore I say to you, the kingdom of God will be taken from you and given to a nation bearing the fruits of it. (44) And whoever falls on this stone will be broken; but on whomever it falls, it will grind him to powder.” (45) Now when the chief priests and Pharisees heard His parables, they perceived that He was speaking of them.” Some of the same people in the room with Peter that morning would have heard the same words from Jesus, remembering how they burned with anger against Him ready to kill Him in that moment, if it weren’t for the crowds of people at the time (Mt 21:46). This time, they would have realized how Jesus’ words had been totally fulfilled. They had rejected Jesus, and God did make Him the chief cornerstone. How else would He be declared to be risen from the dead? How else would He be able to make a lame man walk? If the prophecy hadn’t spoken of Jesus of Nazareth, then these things would have been impossible to do in His name. If Jesus was a false prophet, wrongly appropriating Scripture to Himself, then Almighty God would have let Jesus’ words fall to the ground & be exposed as a false prophet. Instead, Jesus was proven true again & again & again. What Jesus said originally was true – what Peter now spoke was true – it was all true.
  3. If Jesus is the chief cornerstone, what does that make Him? The foundation of all of the promises of God & the only One who can save.

12 Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”

  1. If there was one thing that ought to have been clear at this point, it was that the priests, elders, and other rulers of Israel needed to be saved! All people have rejected Jesus in the past – all of us have rebelled against God – all bear the guilt of being the reason Jesus went to the cross; few men actually participated in the specific act of doing so. These men did. The priests, elders, and rulers of Israel might have thought themselves ‘more holy’ than the fishermen standing in front of them, or the formerly paralyzed man who begged alms at the temple gate, but the reality was that they were terribly lost & in dire need of salvation. The psalm quoted by Peter goes on to cry out “Save now, I pray,” (Hosanna, Ps 118:25) – and that was exactly what these men needed to plead for themselves.
  2. It’s not just them – it’s all of us. Salvation is necessary. Peter says “we must be saved,” and that’s not merely a turn-of-phrase – the “must” is a tiny, but specific verb in the Greek speaking of necessity. The members of the Sanhedrin (and all of us) were destined for the judgment of God (despite whatever religious background they had), and they must be saved from it. They had sent Jesus to the cross, and Jesus was glorified in His resurrection. What hope did they have apart from God’s gracious salvation? Likewise, we must be saved! On our own, we are hopelessly lost, destined to face the wrathful judgment of God. The only hope we have is His gracious salvation. Unless He reaches out to us, like a lifeguard rescuing drowning men & women, we have no hope. 
  3. How are we saved? In the name of Jesus. The same name by which Peter had the authority to give life to lifeless legs in the paralyzed man is the same name that gives eternal life to lost souls. The name of Jesus brings life – the name of Jesus brings salvation – that is the name given unto us that we might find rest and deliverance in the Lord God. Remember it isn’t Jesus’ name as in the syllables of the right word spoken in the right language; it is Jesus’ name as in His person. When Peter says that salvation is in the name of Jesus, he’s saying that salvation is in the person of Jesus. Those who look for assurance of salvation in the right words that they say are going to be sadly (and profoundly) disappointed. No one is saved based off the number of times they say “Jesus,” or pray certain prayers. That’s not faith in the person of Christ; that’s faith in magic words & incantations. We must have faith in the person behind the name, which is Jesus Christ Himself.
  4. And we must have faith in no other, because Jesus alone saves! Peter again disclaims any credit for himself, putting all of the focus upon Jesus (where it should be!). There is no salvation in religious ritual – no faith in holy prophets or rabbis of old. Neither is there salvation in any other religion or supposed-saint. Mohammed cannot save, nor Buddha, nor Vishnu, nor Mary, nor the Pope, nor anyone but Jesus. Only Jesus saves! Jesus said it Himself: John 14:6, “Jesus said to him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.” ‘One way’ means ‘one way.’ There is no wiggle room here for special exceptions. Either we have faith in Jesus to be saved, or we are not saved at all. 

Conclusion:

Peter couldn’t have been clearer if he tried. When arrested for doing a good deed, he gave the answer of how he & John were able to do what they did: it wasn’t them, it was Jesus. Jesus, being alive, has the power to save – and Jesus, being the Messiah, is the only one who can saved. All people must be saved, and Jesus alone saves.

Question: Did anyone among the Sanhedrin get saved? We don’t know. Luke doesn’t write of it, and Scripture doesn’t tell us at this time. Quite a few people who had heard Peter’s & John’s earlier teaching believed upon Jesus and were saved – but we don’t know anything about the Sanhedrin members themselves. If not, how tragic! They heard the gospel as clearly as it could be stated – they were convicted of their own sin in sending Jesus to the cross – they were convinced of the necessity of being saved, and told how Jesus offered even them their only hope. To know all of that & still turn away is nothing less than tragic. Words fail to describe the loss.

The men of the Sanhedrin might have missed their opportunity. Be careful that you don’t miss yours! If you know that Jesus alone saves, and that you need to be saved, then what are you waiting for?

Family Issues

Posted: June 28, 2018 in Genesis, Uncategorized

Genesis 34-36, “Family Issues”

Families can be like roller-coaster rides: one moment you’re riding high with them, and the next you’re in a freefall. They can be the greatest comfort this side of heaven, or they can anger you so much you never want to see them again. 

The family lineage descended from Adam had its own issues, as has been seen through every generation. The first brothers invented homicide – one of Noah’s sons took joy in humiliating him – Abraham’s first two sons were from two different women, arousing quite a bit of jealousy – Isaac showed favoritism among his own sons which split the family apart. Jacob had his share of issues as well, beginning with his wedding night onward! In Chapters 34-35, some more family issues come to light (some good, some bad), while Chapter 36 closes the Genesis account on Jacob’s twin brother Esau. What is it they all have in common? Apart from God, they all get into trouble! When we do things on our own, we struggle (and usually fail); when we follow the Lord, that’s the only way we do things pleasing to Him.

A lot of previous storylines come to a close in this section, so a bit of review is in order. Jacob and Esau had been estranged for twenty years. Jacob had tricked his way into receiving the covenant blessing (which God had previously declared would be his, anyway), and due to Esau’s anger & hunger for revenge, Jacob was sent far away to Padam Aram in Syria. There, he married the daughters of his uncle Laban (though not entirely by choice), and between them & their two maidservants, Jacob eventually left Syria with 4 wives, 11 sons, and a daughter named Dinah. He had much trouble with his uncle, but he grew in his trust of God, finally to have it blossom into full worship the night before he was to see his brother Esau. Jacob had feared Esau’s wrath, and though he did all he could through human effort to make things right, Jacob’s sole hope was in the mercies of God – and in a vision, Jacob grabbed hold of God & would not let go until God blessed him.

In response to this act of surrendered faith, God renamed Jacob “Israel,” (strength of God / God perseveres), and gave His blessing to him. Jacob/Israel and Esau were reconciled, and although Esau wanted Jacob to return to Mount Seir with him, each went their separate ways. 

What happens after that? Jacob may have surrendered himself to the Lord, but he didn’t live perfectly in the ways of the Lord. Like all of us, Jacob had his failings – and in what is described, he profoundly failed with his children. Thankfully, that didn’t stop him from worshipping God, and though his family would continue to struggle, Jacob stepped into the shoes of being the spiritual leader of his home. As for Esau, nothing is known of his faith, but it is known that God kept His promises regarding Esau. He grew into a great nation, and this book which is dedicated to the origins of Israel even shows the origins of Edom.

All of it is family. It isn’t perfect, but perfect isn’t expected. All we can do, even in our imperfect families, is follow Jesus. Follow Him!

Genesis 34 – Jacob’s Daughter

  • Dinah violated (1-4)

1 Now Dinah the daughter of Leah, whom she had borne to Jacob, went out to see the daughters of the land. 2 And when Shechem the son of Hamor the Hivite, prince of the country, saw her, he took her and lay with her, and violated her.

  1. Horrible. Although surely rape had surely happened in the past, this is the first time it is recorded in Scripture. No family is exempt from tragedy, even the family of Israel.
  2. There is a bit of question as to whether this was rape, or a case of pre-marital sex. Either one would be seen as a terrible sin & violation, although only one involved truly criminal intent. The word used in Genesis could be translated “humble, afflict, oppress, humiliate.” It is never used in a good sense, almost always being tragic. Although the following circumstances make this unusual for a rape, that was most likely exactly what it was. Attempts to place some responsibility on Dinah (her being in a place she shouldn’t have been) are wrong. Shechem bears 100% responsibility for his actions – he alone is to blame.
    1. Sexual assault is rampant, and should be quickly condemned and reported. Too many stories exist of too many Christian institutions that try to “handle” reports of sexual assault internally, and it ought never be done. God has granted the government the ministry of the sword for the specific purpose of exacting justice (Rom 13:4). The Church (or Seminary, as the case may be) has no business in ministries not appointed to it by the Lord.

3 His soul was strongly attracted to Dinah the daughter of Jacob, and he loved the young woman and spoke kindly to the young woman. 4 So Shechem spoke to his father Hamor, saying, “Get me this young woman as a wife.”

  1. He wronged her, but somehow he loved her. For as much as Shechem committed a crime, the text shows him doing his best to do the right thing afterward.
  2. Culturally speaking, this was the best-case scenario of a truly bad situation. A raped woman had virtually zero chance of marriage after the crime against her, thus no chance for children, no hope for her old age, etc. At least with Shechem, he desired to take her as a wife. There’s no indication of what she thought of the proposal, but culturally speaking, that was rarely considered anyway. (It doesn’t make it right or recommended; it just was what it was.)
  • Negotiations (5-12)

5 And Jacob heard that he had defiled Dinah his daughter. Now his sons were with his livestock in the field; so Jacob held his peace until they came.

  1. Jacob took his time to react…not necessarily a bad thing. It is good not to be ruled by one’s emotions, and to carefully consider a response to even things that are emergencies. But there needs to be some The troubling part was that Jacob didn’t seem to react at all. To say that “Jacob held his peace,” is literally to say that “he was silent.” His daughter (perhaps his only daughter) was raped, and he said nothing. In fact, he takes a back-seat to the entire matter – something which doesn’t speak in his favor.
    1. Leadership (including family leadership) requires leading. At some point, action needs to be taken – especially those who are charged with a family’s protection & provision. God has given that responsibility to husbands/fathers, and Jacob failed miserably on this count.

6 Then Hamor the father of Shechem went out to Jacob to speak with him. 7 And the sons of Jacob came in from the field when they heard it; and the men were grieved and very angry, because he had done a disgraceful thing in Israel by lying with Jacob’s daughter, a thing which ought not to be done.

  1. The brothers were exceedingly angry, and their anger was understandable. After all, this would have been bad enough to happen to any woman, but this was their sister. And not only that, their father had been silent. What would happen? Anything? No doubt, it was infuriating – just as any occasion in which it seems that injustice isn’t answered.
  2. What had happened was totally unjust: “a thing which ought not to be done.” Some things ought not even be in existence. Rape, child molestation, and other similar crimes are examples.
    1. The good news is that there will be justice in all of these things. God will see to it!
  3. FYI: This is the first instance in the Bible when “Israel” is used to describe a nation/land, rather than an individual.

8 But Hamor spoke with them, saying, “The soul of my son Shechem longs for your daughter. Please give her to him as a wife. 9 And make marriages with us; give your daughters to us, and take our daughters to yourselves. 10 So you shall dwell with us, and the land shall be before you. Dwell and trade in it, and acquire possessions for yourselves in it.”

  1. Again, one of the unusual aspects about this crime was that Shechem really seemed to care for Dinah. His “soul” longed for her. (נֶ֫פֶשׁ) There is a sincerity implied. People can put on faces & try to say the “right” words, but you can’t fake what’s on the inside. Apparently, he truly longed for this woman he wronged.
    1. It doesn’t make it right; the ends never justify the means.
  2. Hamor begins the process of negotiating for the life of his son. Truly, he should have been killed for his crime, but Hamor attempted to make some form of restitution. That’s why he proposes the intermarriages. Shechem had wrongfully taken a daughter of Israel; the sons of Israel were invited to take the daughters of the city.
  3. That wasn’t all Hamor attempted to do! He also looked to expand his own people, being a ruler of them (Shechem was a prince, vs. 2). He wasn’t simply trying to negotiate justice; he was negotiating trade and commerce. To Jacob’s family, he suggested that they would be able to “acquire possessions” for themselves; in reality, he had a much more selfish motive in mind (which will later be apparent).

11 Then Shechem said to her father and her brothers, “Let me find favor in your eyes, and whatever you say to me I will give. 12 Ask me ever so much dowry and gift, and I will give according to what you say to me; but give me the young woman as a wife.”

  1. Was this a sincere offer from Shechem? He seems to have been willing to do anything, pay any price in order to acquire Dinah as a wife.
  • Deceit (13-24)

13 But the sons of Jacob answered Shechem and Hamor his father, and spoke deceitfully, because he had defiled Dinah their sister.

  1. Before we go any further, notice who gave an answer to Shechem & Hamor: “the sons of Jacob.” Where was Jacob? His silence continued far too long! He disengaged himself from the entire process, thus he had only himself to blame for the results. If he had taken the point of leadership (as he should have), who knows what would have happened?
  2. Notice also that Jacob’s sons had no intention of seeking justice or reconciliation. They “spoke deceitfully,” purposefully lying in order to seek revenge. Whether they learned this from their father or their great-uncle Laban is uncertain, but it was certainly a sad family tradition. They had a plan for their own brand of vigilante justice.
  3. How exactly did they lie? They brought their religious faith into the equation.

14 And they said to them, “We cannot do this thing, to give our sister to one who is uncircumcised, for that would be a reproach to us. 15 But on this condition we will consent to you: If you will become as we are, if every male of you is circumcised, 16 then we will give our daughters to you, and we will take your daughters to us; and we will dwell with you, and we will become one people. 17 But if you will not heed us and be circumcised, then we will take our daughter and be gone.”

  1. The issue was circumcision, but what did it mean for a Hebrew to be circumcised? It was the sign of their covenant with God. It was the outward sign of their commitment to the Lord as their God, and their trust in Him. When the sons of Jacob proposed circumcision to Hamor, they were basically inviting them to become Hebrews. They used the covenant sign of conversion for their deceit.
    1. Imagine using the promise of salvation in order to exact revenge. That’s the basic equivalent. The sons of Jacob used the holy things of God for their own purposes, and they entered into sin themselves.
  2. They also proposed unity as a people, which was another problem. This was a direct violation of God’s covenant commitment to grow them into a nation. The reason Jacob had 11 sons was because he went away from Canaan in order to find a wife and family. His family was supposed to remain separate & pure, as they trusted God for their growth. So not only were they abusing the covenant sign of God, they were proposing an abandonment of the promises of God.
    1. Of course, this was all deceit – something not intended to come to pass. Even so, it was wrong. No one (with the exception of Dinah) is without sin in this situation.

18 And their words pleased Hamor and Shechem, Hamor’s son. 19 So the young man did not delay to do the thing, because he delighted in Jacob’s daughter. He was more honorable than all the household of his father.

  1. The plans of the sons sounded wonderful to Hamor & Shechem. Shechem didn’t even hesitate at the prospect of circumcision.
  2. The note on verse 19 is interesting: “He was more honorable than all the household of his father.” How can this be said about an admitted rapist? What Shechem did was evil, but that act was not his defining characteristic. Truth be told, we’re all Some acts of evil are more public than others, and some people sit in prison because of what they’ve done – others of us live as free men and women. Shechem did something terrible, no matter what culture & age in which it was committed – but according to the culture of the day, he tried to make things right, and apparently he truly loved (“delighted in”) Dinah. There is a whole lot of wrong in the situation, but Shechem cannot be caricatured as a single-sided villain.
    1. Aren’t you glad God sees you for more than your sin? Aren’t you glad God extended you His grace in spite of your sin? We are just as deserving of God’s eternal death sentence as anyone sitting on death row; we just know the grace of Jesus. What we’ve experienced, we ought to extend.
  3. Hamor & Shechem took the proposal back to their city. 

20 And Hamor and Shechem his son came to the gate of their city, and spoke with the men of their city, saying: 21 “These men are at peace with us. Therefore let them dwell in the land and trade in it. For indeed the land is large enough for them. Let us take their daughters to us as wives, and let us give them our daughters. 22 Only on this condition will the men consent to dwell with us, to be one people: if every male among us is circumcised as they are circumcised. 23 Will not their livestock, their property, and every animal of theirs be ours? Only let us consent to them, and they will dwell with us.” 24 And all who went out of the gate of his city heeded Hamor and Shechem his son; every male was circumcised, all who went out of the gate of his city.

  1. As Hamor presented it (Shechem is listed along with him, but it seems that the words were primarily Hamor’s), it all sounded like a winning scenario.
  2. Ultimately, Hamor believed that it was his people who would reap the benefits. They might all experience the pain of circumcision now, but it would be Jacob’s family that was assimilated into Hamor’s people; not the other way around. Thus Hamor’s people would receive Jacob’s wealth & all that went with it.
    1. Consider for a moment what would have happened if the sons of Jacob had been sincere in their offer, and had actually joined with Hamor & the city? The nation of Israel would never have existed! The Messianic line would have been broken!
    2. This is what happens when we do things outside of the will of God. We inevitably make bad situations worse!
  3. The people of the city agreed with Hamor’s proposal, and the men followed in circumcision. Note: They were circumcised; not converted. Circumcision was the outward sign of the covenant, but a true Israelite is circumcised in the heart in addition to the flesh (Dt 10:16, Rom 2:29). The men of the city engaged in religious ritual; not true religion.
    1. Ritual does not equal relationship. Sacraments do not equal salvation. We need what is real; not the mere symbols of the reality.
  • Vengeance (25-31)

25 Now it came to pass on the third day, when they were in pain, that two of the sons of Jacob, Simeon and Levi, Dinah’s brothers, each took his sword and came boldly upon the city and killed all the males. 26 And they killed Hamor and Shechem his son with the edge of the sword, and took Dinah from Shechem’s house, and went out.

  1. Simeon and Levi attacked the men at their weakest. They totally slaughtered the men.
  2. For all that could be said about this, this was not justice.

27 The sons of Jacob came upon the slain, and plundered the city, because their sister had been defiled. 28 They took their sheep, their oxen, and their donkeys, what was in the city and what was in the field, 29 and all their wealth. All their little ones and their wives they took captive; and they plundered even all that was in the houses.

  1. If Simeon and Levi shed the most blood, the rest of the sons of Jacob (or at least, the sons of Leah, the brothers of Dinah) came back and plundered the rest of the city.
  2. This was the converse of verse 23. Originally, Hamor and the men of the city believed that they would gain everything that belonged to Israel; as it turned out, the sons of Israel plundered the city.

30 Then Jacob said to Simeon and Levi, “You have troubled me by making me obnoxious among the inhabitants of the land, among the Canaanites and the Perizzites; and since I am few in number, they will gather themselves together against me and kill me. I shall be destroyed, my household and I.” 31 But they said, “Should he treat our sister like a harlot?”

  1. Finally, after all of the bloodshed, Jacob speaks. Too little, too late! Beyond that, he spoke about the wrong thing: self-preservation. That’s not to say that his fears weren’t legitimate. War was indeed possible, as the surrounding cities could gather themselves to fight the household of Jacob. Granted, he had many servants in addition to his sons, but it’s doubtful that he commanded an army.
  2. The problem was that Jacob was concerned for himself. He may have now been worried about his household being destroyed, but he hadn’t done anything in Dinah’s defense when she was violated. It was only when he was personally endangered that he said anything. He should have spoken up for his daughter. (As a dad of a girl, I cannot understand this!)
    1. Again, Jacob may have had faith at this point, but he was far from perfect!
  3. Simeon & Levi justified their actions, saying that their sister had been treated like a prostitute (implying that Jacob had known, and done nothing about it). They had a righteous cause, but a wrong action.

Genesis 35 – Jacob’s faith and family

  • Rededication at Bethel (1-15)

1 Then God said to Jacob, “Arise, go up to Bethel and dwell there; and make an altar there to God, who appeared to you when you fled from the face of Esau your brother.”

  1. For all the trouble that seemed to brewing where he was, God moved Jacob away (at least, temporarily). Where was he to go? Bethel – back to the foundations. [Genesis 28:10-22] This was where Jacob made his initial vow to the Lord, and God reminded him of it – this was to be its culmination. Jacob needs some reminders, and God ensures he will get them!

2 And Jacob said to his household and to all who were with him, “Put away the foreign gods that are among you, purify yourselves, and change your garments. 3 Then let us arise and go up to Bethel; and I will make an altar there to God, who answered me in the day of my distress and has been with me in the way which I have gone.” 4 So they gave Jacob all the foreign gods which were in their hands, and the earrings which were in their ears; and Jacob hid them under the terebinth tree which was by Shechem.

  1. The household of Jacob had “foreign gods”! Literally, they had “Foreign Elohim.” The one household in all the world that ought to have been totally dedicated to the true God had idols in their midst. Some had initially been carried out from Padan Aram, others may have been part of the plunder of Shechem. Where it all originated, we don’t know – but it shouldn’t have been there in the first place!
    1. There are times we might want to do some self-examination. How much of the world have we allowed to come into our Christianity? How much do we find us relying on ourselves, rather than Jesus – or depending on legalism rather than grace? Paganism can come from more than one source, and it can sometimes be subtle.
  2. Paganism may have been in his house, but Jacob himself was committed to the Living God. He knew that God “answered” him, and continually answered him, always being with him. God had been faithful, even when Jacob was not. Jacob had been the recipient of much grace – and would receive much more! (As do/have we!)
  3. Jacob finally took leadership of his home, and purified his family away from the pagan influences. It may have seemed like a small step, but it made a big difference. Burying the earrings and idols was like putting them in the grave, killing off the stuff of the world in order to follow God. Jacob obviously could not force his family to have faith, but he could certainly set an example for them.

5 And they journeyed, and the terror of God was upon the cities that were all around them, and they did not pursue the sons of Jacob.

  1. Remember that Jacob feared war in 34:30; here it shows how God protected the family. A supernatural “terror of God” fell upon the various surrounding cities. They hadn’t feared Simeon & Levi, but they certainly feared the omnipotent God!

6 So Jacob came to Luz (that is, Bethel), which is in the land of Canaan, he and all the people who were with him. 7 And he built an altar there and called the place El Bethel, because there God appeared to him when he fled from the face of his brother.

  1. All of this ought to seem very familiar, as Jacob is retracing some previous steps. “El Bethel” = “God of the House of God.” This is where he had first heard from God, having a vision from God. In the past, he had erected a pillar; now he built an altar. It truly became a house of worship.
  2. Why did Jacob name the altar? Jacob remembered his beginnings: “because there God appeared to him.” — Remember your beginnings in the faith! Remember how you first met Jesus, and followed Him as Lord. Remember your “first love.” (Rev 2:4)

8 Now Deborah, Rebekah’s nurse, died, and she was buried below Bethel under the terebinth tree. So the name of it was called Allon Bachuth.

  1. Interesting side note. This is the first mention of Rebekah’s nurse, and we are not given any reason why she would have been traveling with Jacob’s family. She must have been with him for quite some time, considering there’s no indication that Jacob had seen his parents after arriving back in the land. Before Jacob went to Padan Aram, his mother had told him that she would send for him when Esau calmed from his anger (Gen 27:45). Perhaps Deborah had been sent at that time, and remained with Jacob ever since. (Surely she was quite aged by this point!)
  2. Allon Bachuth” = Terebinth/Oak of Weeping.

9 Then God appeared to Jacob again, when he came from Padan Aram, and blessed him. 10 And God said to him, “Your name is Jacob; your name shall not be called Jacob anymore, but Israel shall be your name.” So He called his name Israel.

  1. It was back in Peniel/Penuel that God changed Jacob’s name to Israel. Here, God confirms the change. This time there was no vision of wrestling, no crisis to be averted – it was just God and Jacob. The change that God declared upon Jacob had never been meant to be temporary; it was a complete and total change of identity. (Same with us in Christ!)

11 Also God said to him: “I am God Almighty. Be fruitful and multiply; a nation and a company of nations shall proceed from you, and kings shall come from your body. 12 The land which I gave Abraham and Isaac I give to you; and to your descendants after you I give this land.”

  1. God Almighty” = El Shaddai (אֵ֤ל שַׁדַּי֙). This is only the 2nd time the title has been used, the first being Genesis 17:1, when God appeared to Abraham at 99 years of age, commanding him to walk before God and be blameless. Most people are familiar with the title from the popular song, but don’t have much of an idea of what it means. Scholars are actually uncertain as to the definition. It is a common title God uses for Himself, and perhaps linked to the idea of mountains. The translation of “God Almighty” comes due to the Latin Vulgate (omnipotēns), which was their best guess of how to refer to the strength that is implied. The point is that it does seem to refer to strength – the immovable might of the Creator God. God can do what He says He can do.
  2. For Jacob, this is especially important in terms of the covenant. God reiterates to Jacob that the covenant land and blessing is officially passed to him. The promise of a land, a people, and a Messiah are now Jacob’s to expect.
    1. For us, it is especially important in terms of our covenant of salvation!

13 Then God went up from him in the place where He talked with him. 14 So Jacob set up a pillar in the place where He talked with him, a pillar of stone; and he poured a drink offering on it, and he poured oil on it. 15 And Jacob called the name of the place where God spoke with him, Bethel.

  1. This is the 2nd pillar at Bethel, and the 2nd naming of Luz as Bethel. It is a total rededication of Jacob, based on his renewed calling from God. (There come moments when rededication is necessary.)
  • Rachel’s death (16-20)

16 Then they journeyed from Bethel. And when there was but a little distance to go to Ephrath, Rachel labored in childbirth, and she had hard labor. 17 Now it came to pass, when she was in hard labor, that the midwife said to her, “Do not fear; you will have this son also.”

  1. Although Rachel had longed for many children, over the years she had only borne one: Joseph. Finally she was pregnant again, but it cost her life.
  2. Do not fear” – not an exhortation that she would live, but a comfort that her son would live.

18 And so it was, as her soul was departing (for she died), that she called his name Ben-Oni; but his father called him Benjamin.

  1. Terribly sad circumstances for the birth, but her son was to be a son of joy. Rachel originally named him for her death (“son of my sorrow”); Jacob overruled and named him as a blessing (“son of my right hand”).

19 So Rachel died and was buried on the way to Ephrath (that is, Bethlehem). 20 And Jacob set a pillar on her grave, which is the pillar of Rachel’s grave to this day.

  1. Interestingly, Rachel was not buried in the family tomb at Mamre. Apparently Jacob had been on his way there, but Rachel died too soon. She was buried near Bethlehem – a site that was apparently still known to the Hebrews of Samuel’s day. (1 Sam 10:2)
  • Reuben’s betrayal (21-22)

21 Then Israel journeyed and pitched his tent beyond the tower of Eder. 22 And it happened, when Israel dwelt in that land, that Reuben went and lay with Bilhah his father’s concubine; and Israel heard about it. …

  1. This was a terrible betrayal by Jacob’s firstborn. Not only was it incestuous, it was likely a preemptive move by Reuben to establish himself as the leader of the clan. Reuben was the firstborn of Jacob and Leah, and with Rachel dead, Reuben made a move to defile (so to speak) the maid of Rachel, leaving the line of Leah as pure.
  2. Although Genesis says nothing of Jacob’s (Israel’s) response, he clearly remembered the act, citing it as the reason Reuben lost his birthright (Gen 49:4). Interestingly, the right of the firstborn was denied to the 3 eldest sons of Israel: Reuben, Simeon, and Levi (Reuben for his betrayal, and Simeon & Levi for their vengeance), which made none other than Judah next in line. From which tribe did Jesus arise? Judah.
  • Summary of sons (23-26)

… Now the sons of Jacob were twelve: 23 the sons of Leah were Reuben, Jacob’s firstborn, and Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, and Zebulun; 24 the sons of Rachel were Joseph and Benjamin; 25 the sons of Bilhah, Rachel’s maidservant, were Dan and Naphtali; 26 and the sons of Zilpah, Leah’s maidservant, were Gad and Asher. These were the sons of Jacob who were born to him in Padan Aram.

  1. Strictly speaking, only 11 of the 12 sons were born in Padan Aram; this is simply a summary of the 12 patriarchs.
  • Isaac’s death (27-29)

27 Then Jacob came to his father Isaac at Mamre, or Kirjath Arba (that is, Hebron), where Abraham and Isaac had dwelt. 28 Now the days of Isaac were one hundred and eighty years. 29 So Isaac breathed his last and died, and was gathered to his people, being old and full of days. And his sons Esau and Jacob buried him.

  1. Amazingly, Isaac had survived this entire time. Rebekah seems to have died long before, but Isaac lived to the grand old age of 180. Isaac’s death brought Esau & Jacob back together, perhaps for the last time. They seem to have maintained the peace between them, even as they lived far apart.

Genesis 36 – Origin of the Edomites

Due to the length of the passage, and the repetition of many of the names, we will cover only the highlights. Keep in mind, it’s not that the names are unimportant. Surely to the people who knew them, they were very important – they were family! Each individual was a man or woman made in the image of God, and God loved them as His own creation. Yet as they relate to the nation of Israel, and the history leading to the Messiah, the names have far less importance to modern readers today. The remainder of the chapter shows the rise of Esau’s family to prominence among the people of Mount Seir, and why eventually the entire people group became known as the Edomites. Esau’s children married into prominent families among Seir, and themselves became the majority of the chiefs of Mount Seir. Because they were able to hold onto their authority throughout their generations, the region became Edom.

Question: Why does the Bible include any of this? Simple: They were family. Like Genesis did with the family of Ishmael (Gen 25:12-18), it does with the family of Esau. These were relatives of the Israelites, just as much descended from Abraham as was Isaac and Jacob. Like any family tree, Genesis follows out those bloodlines a bit to show the later generations of Israelites what happened.

Additionally, the Edomites had a lot of interaction with the Israelites through the centuries. In Moses’ day, God forbade the Hebrews from fighting the Edomites, even though Edom had denied passage to the Hebrews after they left Egypt (Dt 2:5, Num 20:14-21). They were kin, so they were to be left alone. Things didn’t stay that way for long, and Saul fought against Edom during his reign (1 Sam 14:47), whereas David actually conquered them, making them his servants (2 Sam 7:14). Eventually, Edom would throw off the rule of Judah, and they even cheered the conquest of the Jews by Babylon…something for which they would incur the everlasting wrath of God.

Even so, it all began somewhere, and Genesis (this book of beginnings) details it here.

Some of the highlights:

1 Now this is the genealogy of Esau, who is Edom.

  1. This is emphasized throughout the chapter, some form of it being repeated at least 4 times in Chapter 36. To the reader, there was to be no doubt of the kinship relation between the two countries.

6 Then Esau took his wives, his sons, his daughters, and all the persons of his household, his cattle and all his animals, and all his goods which he had gained in the land of Canaan, and went to a country away from the presence of his brother Jacob. 7 For their possessions were too great for them to dwell together, and the land where they were strangers could not support them because of their livestock.

  1. Like Lot & Abraham, the land was not large enough to support both the households of Esau and Jacob. Esau had moved away prior to Jacob’s return (Gen 33:16), and the fact that he did indicates that Esau had submitted to the reality of Jacob receiving the covenant blessing. The land promised to Isaac rightly belonged to Jacob; not Esau, and over the course of 20 years, Esau had come to grips with this and moved someplace else that he could call home.
  2. There is not much in the Biblical text that speaks of Esau’s faith (if any), but there is at least some submission to God in this.

12 Now Timna was the concubine of Eliphaz, Esau’s son, and she bore Amalek to Eliphaz.

  1. Although it is uncertain that this Amalek is the Amalek that later became a nation and a threat to Israel, this is the first mention of the name in the Bible. It would not be unlikely that this distant relative of Israel became jealous of God’s blessing on Israel, and sought to take things for their own nation.

24 These were the sons of Zibeon: both Ajah and Anah. This was the Anah who found the water in the wilderness as he pastured the donkeys of his father Zibeon.

  1. Among all the listings of names, there is this unusual account of finding water in the wilderness. It must have been a famous event at the time, for it to be included in the annals of Scripture. Water in the wilderness is a rare occurrence, which was one of God’s miraculous provisions for Israel as they wandered for 40 years.

31 Now these were the kings who reigned in the land of Edom before any king reigned over the children of Israel:

  1. Although Moses was the writer/compiler of Genesis, already there was a view towards a future kingdom, as was even proclaimed by God in Genesis 35:11. Kings were to come from the line of Jacob, specifically one king: King Jesus!
  2. That said, the kingdom of Edom was established before the kingdom of Israel. Even so, the kingdom of Israel would last longer. Edom has long since passed away, and we already taste the kingdom of Jesus…soon to come in all its glorious fulness!

43 … Esau was the father of the Edomites.

  1. The chapter wraps up as it began, focusing on Esau as the patriarch of the Edomites. This was his family & history. Even as eventual enemies of Israel, they found their origin in the God of Israel. Likewise, they found their judgment in the God of Israel, as God cleared that no survivor of theirs would remain (Obad 18).
  2. Whether they admit it or not, all people find their origin in the Lord, and all people will face the Lord for judgment. The only question is if we will face His judgment as His enemies or as His children.

Conclusion:

Much happened within the family of Jacob! There was terrible tragedy & silence in the face of it – there was vengeance, paganism, and betrayal. But there was also renewal and rededication. In the midst of all that Jacob did wrong, God’s plans and promises for him never changed. God still called him Israel, and God still gave him the promise of Messiah Jesus. All Jacob needed to do was to trust Him, and follow Him (something with which his brother & descendants struggled).

There aren’t many guarantees in life, but we can guarantee this: we’re going to screw up. There will be times we drop the ball, and other times we purposefully do what is obviously wrong. When that happens, don’t give up. Don’t think that because you failed once (or twice, or however many times) that you are always a failure & that God has given up on you. He hasn’t! Don’t you give up on God!

Those aren’t the times to run away from the grace of Jesus; those are the times to cling even harder to Him than ever. Remind yourself of His promises – remind yourself of your beginnings with Him – rededicate yourself to His service, if need be, but don’t give up! Admit your sin, ask His forgiveness, and then walk forward in grace. 1 John 1:9, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

Peter’s Portico Preaching

Posted: June 24, 2018 in Acts, Uncategorized

Acts 3:11-26, “Peter’s Portico Preaching”

Tongue twisters can be fun: Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers – How many pickled peppers did Peter Piper pick? One peck. Or, for those who remember commercials of the 70’s-80’s: Picky people pick Peter Pan peanut butter, it’s the peanut butter picky people pick. Based off today’s Scripture, we might come up with our own: Peter preached promises of the Prince of Peace to people in the portico – praise God!

Tongue twister or not, the preaching performed by Peter was powerful. Given a platform from a miraculous healing, Peter used it to tell of Jesus. Jesus is the One who heals, because Jesus alone has the power to save. The people needed to believe!

Remember that only a few short months had passed since Jesus’ resurrection, and mere weeks from the arrival of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost. Already, the church had made an impact upon the people of Jerusalem. 3000 came to faith when Peter preached his first sermon, and after that, people were getting saved on a daily basis. The fact of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead was indisputable, and the change He wrought in the lives of those who believed was tangible. They truly loved like Jesus loved, and rest of the city took notice!

Along the way, the apostles continued doing the normal things they had always done, including visiting the temple on a daily basis to pray. On their latest trip, Peter & John were led by the Holy Spirit to grant healing to a paralyzed man whose whole life had been spent in poverty & disability, begging alms from his countrymen. As Peter & John acted in faith, the man responded in faith and was totally and immediately healed. It was a very public healing, and the man’s praises opened up an opportunity for Peter and John to preach the gospel. And that was exactly what they did.

Peter gave an explanation for the healing, telling the crowd that it was not he or John who had any power, but the Risen Jesus, who is to credit for the miracle. He then exhorted them to repent and put their faith in Jesus, so that they too, could experience His supernatural power. For the crowd, their healing would not be from paralysis of the body, but of the soul – Jesus could grant them spiritual wholeness and everlasting life.

Where can forgiveness from sin and reconciliation with God be found? In Jesus. Turn to Him and believe!

Acts 3:11–26

  • Explaining the healing (11-16)

11 Now as the lame man who was healed held on to Peter and John, all the people ran together to them in the porch which is called Solomon’s, greatly amazed.

  1. The lame man “held” to Peter & John for good reason: he was profoundly grateful! He knew that it was God who healed him through faith in Christ (as heard in his praises), but he still had much gratitude for the two apostles who stepped out in faith to share Jesus with him. He would hold on to his new family in the faith & never let go!
  2. Another reason to hold on to Peter and John was the response of the crowd. They “ran together” to see the cause for all the commotion and healing. Perhaps the newly-walking man was in danger of getting knocked down. (He had already spent enough time injured!) Whatever the case, the people were “greatly amazed” at the event. They were bowled over, being utterly astonished. And again, for good reason. This man had been paralyzed all his life. They knew this was no trick or illusion. A real miracle had been done before their very eyes, and they needed to know what happened.
    1. BTW – The same thing can happen with us with the people around us. If they truly see how we have been transformed by Jesus, they will be astounded, needing to know what happened. May God help us remain yielded to Christ, continually transformed by His grace, so that others might see Jesus!

12 So when Peter saw it, he responded to the people: “Men of Israel, why do you marvel at this? Or why look so intently at us, as though by our own power or godliness we had made this man walk?

  1. Peter saw the opportunity and grabbed it! The miracle had opened a door for him to share the gospel – in fact, it was likely the reason the miracle was granted in the first place. It wasn’t time for Peter to call attention to himself; it was time to call attention to Jesus!
  2. The question Peter asked seems obvious, but it was necessary. “Why do you marvel at this? … Why look so intently at us?” They marveled because it was a miracle! They looked at Peter and John because they had performed it. What else would the crowd be doing? 😊 Even so, it was a necessary set of questions, as Peter was about to show. Peter & John hadn’t done anything. They were simply obedient to the leading of the Holy Spirit. They were mere tools in the hand of a Mighty God. They eyes of the Jerusalem crowd didn’t need to be on these men; they needed to be on the Messiah. That was the point Peter was about to emphasize.
    1. Yet that is exactly the point left out by so many supposed faith-healers. For them, the focus is on the guy in the spotlight on stage, and Jesus’ name is the tool to be used in the process. In the Bible, Jesus is never secondary to His miracles. If the supposed instances of modern miracles don’t directly point to Christ and His gospel, they aren’t of Him at all.
  3. So if it wasn’t Peter or John who did anything, who was it? Verse 13-15…

13 The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the God of our fathers, glorified His Servant Jesus, whom you delivered up and denied in the presence of Pilate, when he was determined to let Him go. 14 But you denied the Holy One and the Just, and asked for a murderer to be granted to you, 15 and killed the Prince of life, whom God raised from the dead, of which we are witnesses.

  1. This recitation of the gospel is similar to what Peter previously preached at Pentecost. In fact, some of the same men who heard it originally likely heard it again this time. All of the basics are here – we’ll address it a little at a time.
  2. First, this was the work of the God of Israel. Peter & John were not preaching a different god or a different gospel. They were not proclaiming something that was foreign to the Jews, such as a cult or an altogether different religion. What they proclaimed was what had always been proclaimed in Israel: the work & person of “the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob,” the God of all the patriarchs and forefathers of the Hebrew nation. In fact (as Peter will later point out), this is something that all of the Hebrews should have expected, because Jesus had been prophesied throughout all the patriarchs & the prophets. He is the natural end result of their Hebrew faith.
  3. Second, the summarizing work of God is how He “glorified His Servant Jesus.” Much of what Peter goes on to say describes what happened in this glorification, but right off the bat we’re told that Jesus was made victorious by God & that Jesus is the chosen Servant of God. Remember to whom Peter is speaking: for all that Jesus endured at the hands of the Jews (many of these Jews), none of that was the end. God (the God of Israel) had a marvelous future for Jesus, and that meant He was to be glorified, which included His resurrection from the dead. As to who Jesus is, the crowd already knew His earthly ministry and origin (Jesus of Nazareth) – what Peter said this time was that Jesus is God’s “Servant.” The word used for “servant” is interesting on two levels: (1) It is the same root word as the word used in the ancient Greek version of Isaiah 52:13 (LXX) which speaks of the Suffering Servant of the Lord, being a direct prophecy of the Messiah who would be wounded for our transgressions and bruised for our iniquities (Isa 53:3). (2) Depending on the context, the word translated “servant” could also be translated “child.” Put it together, Peter (and Luke) described Jesus in such a way that He is not only the Servant Messiah prophesied in the Scriptures, but also the Son of God.
  4. Third, although God glorified Jesus, the Jews disowned Him. They “delivered up and denied” Him. Although Pilate had no judicial evidence worthy of execution, the Jewish mob in Jerusalem demanded Jesus be crucified. They preferred a “murderer” (Barabbas) to their Messiah. They wanted a killer more than the Christ. Jesus was obviously “Holy” and “Just” – He was pure and righteous in every sense of the words, with no fault ever found in Him. Yet the people still rejected Jesus, killing off “the Prince of Life.” The One through whom all life comes – the One in whom all life consists – this One was sent to the cross at the insistence of the Jerusalem Jews.
    1. BTW – We hold no less guilt! True, we did not chant “Crucify! Crucify!” with the mob, but that’s simply because we weren’t there. We have all rejected Jesus in our own ways prior to receiving Him as Lord. Unless you responded to the gospel the very first time you heard it, you are guilty of rejecting Jesus! – And even then, we still rejected Jesus when we rebelled against God as our Maker (which is why we need Jesus in the first place). If we have sinned against God (which we have), we have denied Jesus Christ, for Jesus is God!
    2. The point? Whatever your background, you have done the same thing as the Jews to whom Peter spoke. You are guilty of the same sins & in need of the same salvation. (And Jesus offers to save!)
  5. Fourth, although Jesus was disowned and rejected, He was raised from the dead. Never once does Peter deny the cross – all the people knew it, as it was public knowledge & recent events. Yet the cross was not defeat for Jesus – it was the battleground for His greatest victory! Jesus died on the cross, but God raised Him from the dead (glorifying Him). This too, was proven, for His resurrection had “witnesses,” Peter and John being two of many (up to 120 in Jerusalem). Jesus’ resurrection was just as much a matter of public record as had been His crucifixion. More than enough witnesses were available to establish it as fact – something which the crowds knew very well.
    1. Notice that it isn’t until the resurrection is proclaimed that the gospel is fully explained. In some churches, the message of Jesus stops at the cross, and He is forever portrayed as dead. That isn’t the gospel. A dead Jesus isn’t good news; a resurrected Jesus is! Without question, Jesus had to die, and without His sacrificial death on our behalf, we have no answer for our sins as we face the judgment of God. But it is only through Jesus’ resurrection that His death becomes effective for salvation. Without the cross we have no sacrifice, but without the resurrection we have no hope.
    2. Don’t forget the resurrection! When you share Jesus with people, be sure to tell them the complete gospel: that God sent Jesus to die for our sins, but that today Jesus is alive. Jesus is risen from the dead, and that is why He has the power to save!

16 And His name, through faith in His name, has made this man strong, whom you see and know. Yes, the faith which comes through Him has given him this perfect soundness in the presence of you all.

  1. All of that brought Peter back to his starting place. It wasn’t the power of Peter & John that did anything for the lame man; it was the power of God seen through faith in the name of Jesus Christ.
  2. Specifically, it was the “name” of Jesus, which Peter mentions more than once. Was Peter saying that Jesus’ name carried some sort of supernatural power & that it could be invoked like a magic word? No – although that is how many people treat His name. They think that if they just say the name of Jesus, that will be enough to force God to give them what they want in prayer. Even if they don’t admit it consciously, that is the subconscious thought behind repeating Jesus’ name over & over. As if the more they say “Jesus,” “Lord Jesus,” “Father God,” or whatever, those repetitions make their prayers more spiritual, and God will surely answer. Not so! Using Jesus’ name (or any name for God) as filler do not make our prayers spiritual – it fills them with vain repetition. Using Jesus’ name as a talisman does not make prayer effective – it makes it pagan. It is trust in our words, rather than a trust in God.
  3. So what did Peter mean by emphasizing Jesus’ name? In the culture, the name represented the person. The name stood in place of a person’s character, authority, and ability. Faith in the name of Jesus is faith in Jesus. It isn’t faith in a few verbal syllables; it is active faith in God the Savior. Faith in Jesus made the lame man strong – faith in Jesus made the paralyzed man whole. A lifetime of paralysis was no challenge for Christ. It didn’t matter what obstacle stood in the way, Jesus was (is) stronger. And faith in Him (His name) was all it took to connect the man to Jesus’ strength. So no, there was no reason to stare at Peter & John – it was Jesus who deserved 100% of the credit.
  4. Take all of this to a more practical level. What does this mean for today? The same thing it meant then: strength and wholeness comes through Jesus, the Servant of God proven to be the Victorious Son of God. We must have faith in His name to be made whole. This gift comes from no other. – But that begs the question: strength and wholeness from what? In the case of Acts 3, a lame man was physically healed. Is this same physical healing promised to all? In one sense, we will all be physically healed in heaven, and that is just as much a work of God through Jesus as any other kind of healing. But no – the Bible does not guarantee immediate physical healing to every Christian believer. Even among the crowd that day, there were surely sick people listening to Peter. There is no record in the text of all eyesight problems resolving, of diseases being cured, of injuries being healed, etc. As far as we know, the only physical healing that took place was that of the lame man – yet Peter still pointed the crowd to Jesus as the Messiah-healer. Why? (1) Because He is. Healing was a regular part of Jesus’ ministry on earth. It only makes sense that Jesus still heals, even while in heaven. (2) There is a greater healing that Jesus offers. Each of us is afflicted with the disease of sin. Each of us is lame, unable to go to God in purity and holiness. From that, we need deliverance – we need wholeness – and Jesus grants it! Through faith in His name, we are made strong!

So that was the explanation for the healing. The exhortation came next…

  • Exhorting the people (17-26)

17 “Yet now, brethren, I know that you did it in ignorance, as did also your rulers. 18 But those things which God foretold by the mouth of all His prophets, that the Christ would suffer, He has thus fulfilled.

  1. For Peter to say that the Jews acted in ignorance (literally, “without knowledge”) was not to absolve them from guilt; it was just a fact. Although they had been given plenty of evidence to believe in Jesus as Messiah, they did not Thus, all of their disapproval was done in ignorance. If they had believed, yet still disowned Jesus, that would be sinful on an entirely different level! In this case, sin is still sin – they still had a responsibility to believe and obey; they just didn’t. It was done in ignorance because of their unbelief.
  2. That said, their ignorance did not change the truth. Just like ignorance of the law is not a valid excuse in court to dismiss a ticket or fine, ignorance of Jesus’ identity as Messiah was not an excuse for how they treated Him. Not only did they ignore the abundant evidence of His identity, they demanded the state-sponsored death of the Someone who was obviously innocent. As Peter just reminded them, they preferred Barabbas (a murderer) over Jesus (the Holy & Righteous One).
  3. And all of this was expected! All of this rejection by the Jewish people & Jewish rulers was “foretold” by God through “His prophets.” The Scriptures speak clearly of the suffering of Christ, and all of these things had been “fulfilled.” Time forbids a thorough examination of all the prophecies of Jesus’ rejection, suffering, and death, but the Bible is full of them. Psalm 22 and Isaiah 53 provide some of the famous examples, but there are many more. Whether the Messiah’s rejection is vividly portrayed in the rejection of Joseph by his brothers, or in the betrayal of David by Absalom and Ahithophel – or whether the prophecies are more direct, such as the rejection of the Shepherd for 30 pieces of silver (Zech 11:7-14) or the declaration that Messiah would be cut off 62 prophetic weeks after the command to restore Jerusalem (Dan 9:25-26) – Scripture is replete with examples showing Israel’s rejection of their Messiah. God knew what the response would be to Jesus, and He had it written through the prophets.
  4. Question: If God knew the response of Israel (even foreordaining it in accordance with His allowance of freewill), can Israel still be held responsible for their rejection of Jesus? After all, was it really their fault? Yes and yes. God’s foretelling and foreordaining is not God’s forcing. The Lord God is sovereign, but He did not force His people to sin. Although we sometimes have difficulties explaining it, there is no Biblical contradiction between God’s sovereignty and Man’s responsibility. What He declares will happen and ensures does happen, still happens with the willing choice of men & women. And that includes Israel’s response to Jesus. They chose to reject Jesus, so they bore the guilt of their choice.
    1. It is just as true of the state of our salvation. We cannot speak of these things from the perspective of God, but we know what we experience from the perspective of men & women. No one forced you to sin, nor me. No one held a gun to my head, telling me how to act. The things I did wrongfully, I chose to do…just like you. Likewise, when I heard the gospel, I chose to respond. I had been given the opportunities several times in the past, but I refused. Finally, I responded – willingly giving myself over to Jesus, asking Him to be the Lord of my life. Each of us has a different testimony, but all of us have something in common: there came a point when we chose to surrender. Whatever had led us to that point & how it relates to the sovereign will & foreknowledge of God is something we cannot fully answer this side of eternity (partially, yes; fully, no) – but in the end, we were/are responsible for our own choices.
    2. Because of the previous choices made by the Jews that led them to this point, they now had another choice to make: repentance.

19 Repent therefore and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, so that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, 20 and that He may send Jesus Christ, who was preached to you before, 21 whom heaven must receive until the times of restoration of all things, which God has spoken by the mouth of all His holy prophets since the world began.

  1. Much is said in these few verses…break it down. There is a command, followed by three results.
  2. Command: “Repent therefore and be converted.” Two verbs, each talking somewhat about the same thing: change. The Jews (us too) could not remain the way they were – something needed to change, and that “something” was a “someone”: themselves! They needed to change their way of thinking & change their way of acting. The word used for “repent” speaks of a change of mind, while “be converted” speaks of a change of direction. They needed to turn around, mentally & physically. The bottom line was that they were to stop in their tracks. Their previous thoughts about Jesus had led them to one place; now they needed to go someplace new. Think about it: Peter had just showed them the sheer power of Jesus – it was through faith in His name that a man paralyzed from birth was made able to walk. And that was the Jesus they rejected and disowned. That was the Jesus they delivered over to torturous execution at the hands of Gentiles. Their previous thinking & actions had led them to a truly dangerous place! They were squarely in the sight of the wrath of God. Something had to change, and it had better change quick!
    1. It’s no different with us. How is anyone saved? Through repentance and conversion in the name & person of Jesus Christ. We have to change our thinking about sin (seeing it as truly sinful & harmful), change our thinking about Jesus (seeing Him as the Holy Son of God crucified for our sins & risen from the grave), and be converted by changing our direction (away from our sinful desires, turning to Jesus alone as Lord). Repent & be converted – it is the only way to be saved!
    2. Result #1: remission / forgiveness. “That your sins may be blotted out.” The idea of blotting is that of erasing. At the time, people didn’t have delete or backspace keys. They didn’t even have those big pink erasers that parents buy every year for school supplies & never see again. 😊 For written documents to be changed, the ink had to be blotted up as much as possible – rubbed out, or even scraped off the vellum, depending on the material. That is what God does for those who repent & put their faith in Jesus Christ. He blots out / rubs out our sin. He erases it, removing the criminal judgments against us. What was once court-ordered (heavenly speaking) is no more – it has been erased. The debt has been cancelled, the fine has been paid – so our sins are now erased from the evidence of history.
      1. Sometimes we sing, “Jesus paid it all” – what a glorious truth! Consider for a moment what it is Jesus has erased from your history…how much He paid on your behalf. Joy unfathomable! The fact that Jesus has blotted out your sins ought to rock the very core of your being, forever changing your life & actions & praise!
    3. Result #2: relief / rest. “So that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord.” What happens when your sin is erased? Sweet relief! Refreshing rest! No longer do you struggle with the consequences of poor choices – no longer do you expect to receive the wrath of God & tremble at the thought. Now there is relief, peace, and rest. Instead of stressing that you are not ‘good enough,’ and will never be ‘good enough,’ now you rest in grace. Jesus is good enough, and our rest is in Him. – More than that, for the people of Israel, this implies the Messianic Age, the renewed Kingdom of David. The peace and prosperity promised to come during the Millennial Kingdom will make the days of Solomon look like a mere warm-up! And the best part? This relief comes from the presence of the Lord Himself. To be in the presence of Jesus – there is no better place to be! This is the guarantee to all who repent & convert.
    4. Result #3: return & restoration. “That He may send Jesus Christ.” What is implied in Peter’s description of rest is explicit in this description of restoration. At this point, Peter was speaking directly to the nation of Israel (remember they were his primary audience). When we, as Gentiles put our faith in Jesus, we have the promise of Jesus’ return, but only in future tense. Yes, He will come & rapture us home, and it could be at any moment, though we do not know when that will be. When the nation of Israel comes to faith, however, Jesus’ 2nd Coming is at the door! At that point, the fullness of the Gentiles will have come to faith (Rom 11:25), and the focus of God’s people will once again be upon Israel as they await the return of their Messianic King. – What else happens at that time? Restoration of the Davidic Kingdom – restoration of God’s relationship to His people – and eventually, restoration of Creation to its original order. The return of Jesus leads to a restoration of all things!
      1. And we get to take part! We are not the nation of Israel, but we are certainly part of the kingdom. We will see (from heaven) the Jews come to faith – we will see Jesus’ grand return & His conquest of Antichrist – we will see the days of His kingdom & the glories of His eternal reign. All the things written by the prophets will be fulfilled, and we will have front-row seats! We, who had no claim in Christ, will be included in all things by Him. What an extra measure of grace!

What were some of the things written by the prophets? That’s how Peter starts to wrap it up…

22 For Moses truly said to the fathers, ‘The LORD your God will raise up for you a Prophet like me from your brethren. Him you shall hear in all things, whatever He says to you. 23 And it shall be that every soul who will not hear that Prophet shall be utterly destroyed from among the people.’

  1. Peter quotes Deuteronomy 18, showing one of the expectations for the Messiah: He would be like Moses. Moses prophesied a future prophet who would not only speak the words of God to the people, but lead the nation with God’s authority. In the past, people ignored the commands of Moses at their own peril. In the few examples of those who rebelled against Moses, God gave supernatural acts of judgment. The earth swallowed up Korah (Numbers 16), and Miriam became temporary leprous (Numbers 12). A similar warning was given for this future prophet. Whoever did not hear (heed) His words would die.
  2. This is exactly the case with Jesus. He was sent because of God’s great love for us, and God’s sincere desire is for us to be saved and to spend eternity with Him in heaven. But those who don’t listen to Jesus in faith will die. Those who persist in rejecting Him will, in the end, be rejected by Him. For the Jews listening to Peter, they had already rejected Jesus once – they dare not do it again!
    1. How often have you rejected Jesus? How many more opportunities might you receive?

24 Yes, and all the prophets, from Samuel and those who follow, as many as have spoken, have also foretold these days.

  1. Moses wasn’t the only prophet who wrote of Jesus. In some way, all of them did. The entirety of the Old Testament, from Genesis forward, is a testimony to the Messiah. It speaks of His 1st Coming, His national rejection, His substitutionary death, His victorious resurrection, His glorious return, and more. All of it is written, and all of it finds fulfillment in Jesus.
  2. Even the days in which Peter spoke and lived were foretold in the Scripture, for it was part of the Messianic blessing. That went to the core of their Hebrew identity.

25 You are sons of the prophets, and of the covenant which God made with our fathers, saying to Abraham, ‘And in your seed all the families of the earth shall be blessed.’

  1. This is part of the original Abrahamic Covenant in Genesis 12. There was always a promise of Messiah – He was to be the blessing arising from Abraham who would eventually bless the entire world. The seed of Abraham (being promised to the Jews) was also the seed of the woman (promised to Adam & Eve, Gen 3:15) – the best blessing of all being the reversal of the curse from humanity’s fall in the Garden of Eden.
  2. The point? All of history and humanity had led to Jesus! Everything the Jews had been told to expect – all of what Israel had safeguarded in the Scriptures – all of it spoke of Jesus, and the offer of God’s salvation was staring them in the face. What would they do with it?

26 To you first, God, having raised up His Servant Jesus, sent Him to bless you, in turning away every one of you from your iniquities.”

  1. The blessing of Jesus would soon go out to all the world, to all the families of the earth – but it was first sent to the Jews. This was the good news that Peter was telling them at the time. They were all witnesses to the initial phases of God’s glorious gospel plan. Jesus had lived, died, and been resurrected among the Jews, and it was to the Jews of Jerusalem that the gospel was first preached. What a blessing! All of them had the opportunity to believe upon Jesus as Messiah – the One who is the promise of Moses, the promise of Abraham, and the Savior of the world.
  2. But better than a general offer for mankind, was the individual chance for each one of their own lives. These people would have their own evils forgiven – they could have their own lives transformed, just as much as the paralyzed man whose healing had started it all. All they needed to do was believe. Us, too.

Conclusion:

Peter spoke to the Jews in the Jerusalem temple, but nothing has changed for us – at least, not regarding what really matters. Sure, we are Gentiles of the 21st century western culture; not Jerusalem Jews of the 1st century. We did not immediately witness a miraculous healing, nor do we have the recent memories of Jesus’ crucifixion & resurrection fresh in our minds. But these things did happen, and Jesus is the same today as He was then. His identity and power as the Son of God is the same. His offer to save and forgive anyone who has faith in His name is the same.

Do you have faith? Do you believe? Repent & be converted! Today, like the Jews of Jerusalem, you have the opportunity to have your sin blotted out – you can turn away from your iniquities to the love & grace of Jesus, and experience sweet times of refreshing in His presence. You can know Him as Savior today, and be guaranteed to know Him as Lord & Savior for all time. That offer started with the Jews, but it has gone out to all the world, and is offered to you, right now, today. How will you respond?

For some of us, we already responded in faith. There was a point that we knew we needed to surrender our lives to Jesus, and we did so – with gratefulness and joy! But maybe along the way your gratefulness has lost a bit of its fervor. Sure, you know that you’re forgiven, but you’ve lost a bit of the wonder of it all. Look again to what you have in Jesus! The One whom you rejected – the One against whom you sinned tremendously – that Jesus has loved you & saved you. That Jesus has given you life, and made you whole in the sight of Almighty God. That Jesus has given you current blessing and a future eternity. That Jesus has made you completely transformed. Rejoice! Be amazed – be overjoyed! Let your love for Jesus be rekindled, and so renewed at the blessing you have in Him that it overflows as a witness for all to see. May God help us be so amazed at our Jesus, that others around us cannot help but see Him as well!