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Acts 2:14-24, “Don’t Miss the Main Event!” 

Sports fans love the feeling of being there: a packed arena, the lights flashing, the smoke machine pouring out, and over the speakers comes “Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome to the main event! Let’s get ready to rumblllleeee!” Beforehand, there may have been games and music and t-shirts and food, but none of that is why anyone bought a ticket. They were there for the game / the main event, and it isn’t something that they were about to miss!

Most churches don’t have the false hype that comes with professional sports (and shouldn’t!), but there is something that the two have in common: a main event. For them, the main event is the game; for us, the main event is the gospel. Just like a sports fan doesn’t want to focus on the pre-game show and miss the main event, neither should we focus on the extra stuff and miss the gospel.

What does any of that have to do with Peter’s sermon at Pentecost? Peter’s sermon didn’t come out of nowhere. There was much that led up to that moment, much of which took place that morning.

For review, after Jesus’ resurrection from the dead, He spent forty days providing many convincing proofs of His real, physical life. He spent time with the disciples teaching them, and left them with a final command prior to His ascension into heaven: they were to return to Jerusalem and wait for God the Holy Spirit who would come upon them, empowering them to be witnesses of Jesus to all the world.

The disciples obeyed, returning to Jerusalem, continually seeking the Lord in unified prayer. The eleven remaining apostles had their numbers restored to twelve with the addition of Matthias, and they continued to wait. Ten days was all it took. In conjunction with the Jewish festival remembering God’s gift of the Law (Torah), God gave a new gift to His people: Himself, via the baptism of the Holy Spirit. Audible and visible signs of God’s glory rested on the Christians as they were empowered in a new way. The Spirit filled them to the point of overflow, and the disciples began to speak in languages they had never known.

This was the sign used by God to grab the attention of the many diverse Jews who had come to Jerusalem from all over the Roman empire in order to celebrate Pentecost. They heard the Christians praising God in their own native dialects – something which ought to have been impossible for them to do. Unsure what to make of it, some openly asked what was happening, while others scoffed – mocking the Christians as if they were drunk.

Of course, they were not. An explanation was on the way, and Peter was just the man to give it. Simply the fact that Peter was the one to provide the first open-air preaching of the Church Age is itself amazing, and a demonstration of what the power of God the Holy Spirit does to a person. Fifty-three days earlier, Peter had crumbled under the questioning of a servant girl and others, afraid to be associated with Jesus. Between Jesus’ resurrection from the dead and the empowerment of God the Holy Spirit, Peter was now radically different! He could stand in front of representative Israel on the streets of Jerusalem and openly proclaim Christ. Amazing!

Time forbids a recounting of all of Peter’s message, but he does two things in the first half of it: (1) he explains the sign, and (2) he proclaims Jesus. The sign is what got people’s attention, so the sign needed to be addressed. But the sign wasn’t the main event; Jesus was. Peter knew he had the perfect opportunity to preach Jesus, and that’s what he did.

People still get this mixed up today. The topic of tongues and other supernatural signs & gifts of the Spirit, can be incredibly divisive among Christians, but it doesn’t need to be. When all the attention is put on the signs, then it’s put on the wrong place. That’s the pre-game; not the main event. Don’t miss the main event…the main event is Jesus!

Acts 2:14–24

  • Explaining the sign (14-21)

14 But Peter, standing up with the eleven, raised his voice and said to them, “Men of Judea and all who dwell in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and heed my words. 15 For these are not drunk, as you suppose, since it is only the third hour of the day.

  1. Try to imagine the turbulence of the scene. From later in the text (2:41), we learn that literally thousands of Jews were on hand. Presumably the house in which the disciples met was close to the temple grounds (perhaps even next to one of the entrances), and the commotion from the house of Christians gathered a lot of attention. When the Holy Spirit came upon them, there was the sound of a violent wind on the inside, and then all of a sudden there was this eruption of languages. If all 120 Christians in Jerusalem were gathered together, and if all were praising God at the same time, that would have made quite a bit of noise & attracted a huge crowd. The Jews were gazing up at them – some perplexed, some scoffing – and that’s when Peter raises his voice above the rest. Someone had to provide an explanation, and it might as well be the one to whom Jesus pointed to as the little “rock,” saying that Jesus Himself would build His church upon the great foundation stone of the gospel (Mt 16:18). This isn’t Peter putting himself above the apostles; he’s simply speaking for the apostles. Notice that he was “standing up with the eleven.” They were unified in heart and mind. Peter simply gave them his voice as a representative of them all.
  2. As he spoke (Luke recording him using the polite language of the day, asking for the attention of the crowd), the very first thing he did was answer the scoffing. First things first: the charge of drunkenness needed to be addressed. Why would anyone pay attention to the translated praise of the Christians, if they were all drunk off their gourds? The answer? They weren’t. It was only 9:00am, “the third hour of the day.” Although the time of day doesn’t stop some from drinking, culturally speaking, it wasn’t done. No one drank that early in the morning (apart from outright alcoholics), and there simply wasn’t time to get that sloshed.
  3. So if they weren’t drunk, what was it? That’s what Peter explains from the Scriptures…

16 But this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel: 17 ‘And it shall come to pass in the last days, says God, That I will pour out of My Spirit on all flesh; Your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, Your young men shall see visions, Your old men shall dream dreams.

  1. Quotes Joel 2:28-32 (mostly from LXX, with minor variations). Contextually, there is an emphasis throughout Joel on the Day of the Lord. The prophet had written to his nation after a devastating locust swarm, using it as a picture of the devastation that would come in the future during the Day of the Lord. Because Joel is undated, scholars widely differ over when the book was written, perhaps being either during the years of the divided kingdom, or even after the Babylonian exile. Either way, there were dark days ahead for the Jews, and the elders of Israel needed to examine their own hearts in preparation for seeing their God. — That said, even though Joel preached God’s wrath, he also proclaimed God’s mercy. God desired His people to repent & turn back to Him. Joel 2:12–13, “(12) “Now, therefore,” says the LORD, “Turn to Me with all your heart, With fasting, with weeping, and with mourning.” (13) So rend your heart, and not your garments; Return to the LORD your God, For He is gracious and merciful, Slow to anger, and of great kindness; And He relents from doing harm.” If God’s people (the nation of Israel) would simply turn around, forsaking their evil ways in sincere humility, they would know the compassion of their God.
    1. The principle is no different today! How does someone escape the certain judgment of God? Humility, repentance, and simple faith in Jesus!
  2. How does that all apply to Peter’s preaching to Jerusalem on Pentecost? Easy: the verses Peter quotes don’t come out of a vacuum. God had promised to restore to Israel “the years that the swarming locust has eaten,” (Joel 2:25) – God promised to be gracious to His people. Though the dark days of the Great Tribulation were certain to come, God lovingly promised to receive all who turned to Him in true faith. It is in light of God’s goodness that God promised His Spirit. When the people turned to Him as their Lord & God, they would experience His presence among them as He empowered them with the Holy Spirit. The bottom line for Peter? This day was prophesied! The Scriptures foretold a day in which God the Holy Spirit would come upon all His people, and the Spirit-baptized Christians were proof that God’s promise was true.
  3. How could they know? All they needed to do was listen. The various tongues/dialects spoken by the Christians as they praised God was proof of Joel’s prophecy coming true. The ancient prophet had written that the outpouring of the Spirit would be accompanied by supernatural signs, experienced by the people: prophecy, visions, and dreams. Keep in mind that Joel wasn’t writing a comprehensive list of all the gifts of the Spirit (Paul provides two other lists in Romans 12 & 1 Corinthians 12); Joel simply gives a sampling of what would take place. The overall idea is that of a total blessing upon God’s people. Be it men or women, young or old, no one who truly turned to the Lord in repentant faith would be excluded from the blessing of the Holy Spirit. He would be poured “on all” The idea continues in the next verse…

18 And on My menservants and on My maidservants I will pour out My Spirit in those days; And they shall prophesy.

  1. Not only would God the Holy Spirit be given irrespective of gender and age, but also of social status. Even male and female slaves (Hebrew could even imply concubines) would receive the baptism. God’s gift of His Spirit was promised to come to all, without limit. Culturally speaking, this was something never before experienced by the Hebrews. In the past, the Holy Spirit would come upon prophets for a time & He would come upon kings for a time. He was never seen coming upon all for a time. In fact, at one point when Joshua thought that too many elders among Israel were prophesying, he thought that Moses ought to rebuke them. In response, Moses said, “Oh, that all the LORD’s people were prophets and that the LORD would put His Spirit upon them!” (Num 11:29) What Moses desired – what Joel foretold – Peter proclaimed fulfilled on the day of Pentecost.
    1. God’s gift of the Holy Spirit is given to all believers…no one is left out! We do not always walk in the fullness and power of the Spirit (sadly but easily demonstrated any time we engage in sin), but as born-again believers we all have full access to God the Holy Spirit, and we are always indwelt by the Holy Spirit, forever sealed by Him as belonging to Jesus. Despite the claims of well-meaning teachers who sometimes claim that certain believers don’t have the Holy Spirit, that simply isn’t true. A person cannot be a believer in Jesus unless he/she has been given the Holy Spirit. Christianity is not a caste/class system in which certain “lucky” believers have the Spirit while others do not. God promised His Spirit to all, and He gives His Spirit to all.
    2. Again, don’t confuse that with the idea that we never need to ask to be filled with the Spirit. We do, just as the original disciples were repeatedly filled with the Spirit. The empowerment of the Spirit is different than His presence, but just as freely available to all who believe in Jesus.
  2. As for Peter, he repeats the act of prophecy as a sign of the Holy Spirit, but what he says at this point is not in the Hebrew text nor the LXX. This was something he was personally led by the Spirit to preach to the Jews in Jerusalem that day as a confirmation of how this Scripture was fulfilled. From our perspective, we need to be careful reading too much into this, as if Peter was saying that spoken tongues were spoken prophecy. The New Testament is clear in other places that prophecy is a different gift than that of tongues – Paul goes into great detail of writing how prophecy is a better spiritual gift than that of tongues (1 Cor 14), showing that they are separate and distinct gifts. But that’s not Peter’s point. Peter is giving Biblical justification of a verbal gift/sign. Tongues are unknown in the Old Testament, and what the Jews of Jerusalem heard was very different. But they were familiar with prophecy, and that was one of the many supernatural signs that Joel said would come with the gift of the Spirit. Thus the tongues heard by the crowd could be thought of as the fulfillment of Joel.
  3. That said, the emphasis of the original Hebrew text is not the prophecy or other signs; it is the outpouring of the Spirit of God. That is the promise that opens and closes the two original verses. Through Joel, God said, “I will pour out My Spirit,” doubly promising His Spirit to His people. It would not be the spiritual gifts that was most amazing to the Jews; it was the gift of God the Spirit Himself.
    1. This is where too many Christians get it wrong today. Instead of seeking God & His glory, they’re seeking signs and wonders. They want the side-effects rather than the true Gift. If we want to be used by God, then we ought to seek God first, foremost, and always. Whatever He desires to do past that point is up to Him, but if our priorities are in line, then it won’t really matter to us if He gives visible recognizable gifts or not. As long as God is glorified & Jesus is exalted, everything else pales in comparison!
  4. For all that did come true out of these signs, Joel prophesied other things that did not happen on Pentecost, and haven’t happened yet…

19 I will show wonders in heaven above And signs in the earth beneath: Blood and fire and vapor of smoke. 20 The sun shall be turned into darkness, And the moon into blood, Before the coming of the great and awesome day of the LORD.

  1. Signs would be seen, not only among the people (prophecy, visions, dreams, etc.) but also among creation. There would be signs on the earth and signs above the earth. Interpretations of what these signs actually are varies wildly depending on the bias of the theologian who’s asked. Some believe it’s all spiritual & symbolic, completely dismissing the text. Some believe that it was fulfilled on the days of Jesus’ crucifixion all the way through to Pentecost, as there was unnatural darkness at the cross & tongues like fire on the disciples. Even so, it seems to be a large stretch, and doesn’t address all aspects mentioned by Joel. It’s far better to simply take the prophecy for what it is: actual events that will be unmistakable when they are fulfilled. In fact, the book of Revelation show these exact things taking place during the Great Tribulation. Among other signs fulfilled, John writes: Revelation 6:12–13, “(12) I looked when He opened the sixth seal, and behold, there was a great earthquake; and the sun became black as sackcloth of hair, and the moon became like blood. (13) And the stars of heaven fell to the earth, as a fig tree drops its late figs when it is shaken by a mighty wind.” It is at this moment that the men and women of the earth try to hide themselves in caves, fully realizing that the great day of the wrath of the Lamb of God has come (Rev 6:16-17). What John wrote in Revelation, Joel wrote in his prophecy as well.
  2. Question: What does it mean that there were signs yet unfulfilled, even while Peter said that this section of Scripture was fulfilled? Was Peter wrong? Not at all. Part of the Scripture was indeed fulfilled – the part that applied to that day. But Peter also quotes a part to be fulfilled in the future. This is something quite common in the prophetic writings, sometimes described as the “mountain peaks of prophecy.” … Two Scriptures might be included back-to-back in the text, but their fulfillments are separated by centuries. Such is the case here. The outpouring of the Spirit was fulfilled; the signs & wonders in heavens were not.
  3. But that doesn’t mean that the signs in the heaven were irrelevant. All of the signs prophesied by Joel had a purpose: to prepare people to see God for judgment. When did he say that these things would take place? “Before the coming of the great and awesome day of the LORD.” It’s as if Joel (and Peter) was saying: “Get ready! If you’ve seen this much, understand what’s still on the way!” The tongues heard by the people wasn’t just simply a curiosity to be observed, or a nice thing to think about later; it was meant to grab their attention right then & there, because judgment was at hand! If they recognized the Lord’s word being fulfilled, then that meant they had better do something to respond to it, and soon!
  4. And they could! That was the good news…

21 And it shall come to pass That whoever calls on the name of the LORD Shall be saved.’

  1. For as much as Joel proclaimed the Day of the Lord as a day of judgment, he didn’t leave the people without hope. They could still turn in repentance toward God – they could be the ones who received the outpouring of God’s Spirit – they could be those who experienced His gracious salvation. There was still time to turn to their God in humility and faith. All they needed to do was call upon His name.
  2. This is where Peter was leading all along. This was their invitation to be saved! The people of Jerusalem were to recognize the signs currently around them on Pentecost – they could see these things taking place with their own eyes, and hear the proof of it by their own ears. As they did, it was a wake-up call: the Day of the Lord was at hand! But it wasn’t too late. They heard the tongues, but they didn’t yet see the signs of blood, fire, and smoke. They had evidence of the outpouring of the Spirit, but they didn’t have the sun turning to darkness or the moon turning to blood. There was still time! They could be saved, but they needed to be saved now. They needed to call upon the name of the Lord.
  3. How could they do that? That’s the perfect bridge to talking about Jesus…
  • Preaching Jesus (22-24)

22 “Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a Man attested by God to you by miracles, wonders, and signs which God did through Him in your midst, as you yourselves also know—

  1. If the people of Israel could recognize the sign among the Christians in front of them, then surely they could recognize the greater signs done by Jesus. They had seen Jesus – they knew Jesus. The majority of Jesus’ three years’ of ministry may have been done in Galilee, but He spent quite a bit of time in Jerusalem (as shown in the gospel of John). He had gone throughout Judea, and even sent His disciples on two short-term mission trips all over the country. The Jewish people knew They were well-acquainted with Him. Jews travelled long distances to see and to hear Him, and thousands even attempted at one point to force Him to be their king (Jn 6:15). For Peter to speak openly about Jesus was not for Peter to introduce Him to a Jerusalem crowd who never heard about Him. No one among the Jews was ignorant of Jesus.
  2. Especially in Jerusalem! Remember the timeframe: Pentecost was exactly 50 days after Passover. Less than two months had passed since Jesus’ cross and resurrection. Although Jerusalem was filled with travelling pilgrims (for the two feasts), many were repeat travelers, and many others were residents of the city. They had been there – they had witnessed the confrontations between Jesus and the rulers of Jerusalem. They knew about Lazarus from nearby Bethany, and the blind men from nearby Jericho. Of course, this doesn’t even get into Jesus’ broader reputation of miracles. He had raised the dead, healed the lame, cleansed the lepers, cast out demons, and created bread and fish from nothing. They knew Him – they saw the signs – they were well aware of God’s testimony concerning Jesus. There had been abundant clear-cut evidence all along that Jesus had been chosen and anointed by God as His prophet (and more, as Peter will later point out)…the people of Israel had seen it all.
  3. They also knew what they did in response to all of it: they killed Him…

23 Him, being delivered by the determined purpose and foreknowledge of God, you have taken by lawless hands, have crucified, and put to death;

  1. Two aspects to Jesus’ death. First, it was God’s will. Jesus died, yes, but everything about Jesus’ death was due to “the determined purpose and foreknowledge of God.” Everything ranging from Jesus’ betrayal by a friend, to the act of crucifixion, to the soldiers gambling for His clothes, to His burial in a rich man’s tomb, and much more – all of it was prophesied in the Scriptures. The tiniest details of Jesus’ suffering and death was foretold by God in the Bible. God knew what would happen to His Son, and it was God’s “determined purpose” that it would happen. It was God’s will. Isaiah 53:10, “(10) Yet it pleased the LORD to bruise Him; He has put Him to grief. When You make His soul an offering for sin, He shall see His seed, He shall prolong His days, And the pleasure of the LORD shall prosper in His hand.” It was not chance circumstances that sent Jesus to the cross – it was not mob chaos; it was the predetermined sovereign will of God, planned from before the foundations of the world.
  2. Second, it was man’s fault. Both Jew and Gentile were responsible for the death of Jesus. They had seen His work and testimony concerning Him, rejected it, and killed Him in one of more horrendous ways imaginable. Scholars differ about Peter’s reference to “lawless hands,” whether he pointed to Jew or Gentile – in the end, it was both. Peter was talking to Jews that day (being that it was a Jewish feast in the Jewish capitol), but there were doubtless Romans who were present, just as there were every single day during the many years of Roman occupation. In any case, both were responsible. The Jews may not have raised the hammer & pounded the spikes through Jesus’ wrists and feet, but they were the ones who handed Jesus over to the Romans for it to be done. It was an official execution, done at the behest of the highest authorities of both Jerusalem Jews and Romans, but there was nothing legal about it. As Peter pointed out, the act was done “by lawless hands,” as they cruelly fastened Jesus to the cross and killed Him.
  3. Question: If it was God’s will, how could it be man’s fault? If God planned the many aspects of Jesus death (not only foreseeing it in the future, but specifically planning the details and predetermining that it would happen at all), how can the Jews and Gentiles be held responsible for acting it out with their “lawless hands”? Answer: free will. God’s sovereign plan does not exempt us from our own freely chosen decisions. We are not puppets held on a cosmic string, having no choice of our own. When we sin, it is because we have chosen to do so. Does God know what that sin is? Has God planned for that sin in His overall plan for the world? In some shape & fashion, yes, as seen here with His plan for Jesus. Is God responsible for our sin? Absolutely not. When trying to wrap our limited minds around God’s eternal plans, we are bound to come up with some tough questions from time-to-time, but there is one thing that is certain: God never forces anyone to sin. We gladly choose it on our own. God ordains that our sin come about through our “voluntary choices,” (Grudem) – IOW, God is so sovereign, that He even plans for our free-will.
    1. This tells us that we can’t blame God for our mistakes. We cannot blame Him for our sin. What we’ve done, we’ve done – it’s our fault. Acknowledging and confessing that fact is one of the first steps we take towards seeking God’s forgiveness.
  4. As for Peter, his point was that Jew and Gentile ignored the testimony God gave concerning Jesus – Jew and Gentile were responsible for the death of Jesus. But Jesus’ death was not the end…

24 whom God raised up, having loosed the pains of death, because it was not possible that He should be held by it.

  1. There was a death, but there was also a resurrection! God raised up Jesus, and Peter (and all of the disciples) were witnesses of this fact. Jesus was truly put to death, being buried in a tomb – but He didn’t stay there. The people of Jerusalem had witnessed Jesus hanging from His cross, and they knew the Romans had certified Him as dead when the centurion thrust a spear into Jesus’ side. They were also aware that His body had been taken & buried, and it was likely a scandal that someone among the Sanhedrin council had actually donated his own tomb for Jesus’ burial. But the people of Jerusalem knew something else: they knew that Jesus did not stay in that tomb. Less than two months ago, Jesus had risen from the dead, and reports and rumors had been flying around town ever since. (This later becomes a critical factor in Peter’s sermon.)
  2. What took place at the resurrection? Peter describes it as a kind of birth. The word Luke quotes Peter using for “pains,” refers to birth-pains/labor-pains. It was as if Jesus’ grave was a womb, and the three days of death was the time of labor. As of Sunday morning, Jesus received a new birth into new life. How so? It was impossible for Him to be held any longer! The Lord Jesus cannot be restrained by death – death has dominion over the wicked, being the penalty for sin, and Jesus is not wicked! Jesus is the innocent, righteous Son of God, and death has neither claim to Him nor power over Him. Jesus willingly entered death, and He willfully exited it! As the old hymn states: “Death cannot keep its prey, Jesus my Savior; he tore the bars away, Jesus my Lord! Up from the grave he arose; with a mighty triumph o’er his foes; he arose a victor from the dark domain, and he lives forever, with his saints to reign. He arose! He arose! Hallelujah! Christ arose!” (Robert Lowry)
  3. How is all of this possible? Because Jesus is God Himself. Death has no power over Jesus because Jesus is the Author of life. How can death hold back He who speaks life into existence? It ought to be no wonder that Jesus arose, because Jesus is God. Thus, Jesus’ resurrection is undeniable proof of Jesus’ deity, and Jesus’ deity is proof that He is the Messiah (something which Peter will go on to preach).
    1. If death has no power over Jesus, what does this mean for those who have faith in Jesus? Death has no power over us, either. Apart from the rapture, all Christians will die. We will experience the same physical death as every other human that has ever lived on this planet. But Christians have an assurance given to no other: death will not be our end. We too, will rise to new physical life, which is one reason we can look to eternity with such great hope! 1 Corinthians 15:55–57, “(55) “O Death, where is your sting? O Hades, where is your victory?” (56) The sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the law. (57) But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
    2. Is this your hope? Can you look death in the eye, knowing that you will see victory over it through Jesus? Do you have the complete 100% assurance that death has no more sting for you? You can!
  4. Notice the work of God the Father in all of this: God attested to Jesus – God planned for Jesus’ suffering and death – God raised Jesus from the dead. It was God’s work for God’s Son, in order to provide for God’s people…to God alone be the glory!

Conclusion:

We’ve got to end there, but Peter was just getting started. The Jews in the streets of Jerusalem were attracted by the spoken tongues, but the tongues weren’t the main thing; Jesus was. The supernatural spiritual gifts needed to be explained – and they were, being the evidence of the prophesied outpouring of God the Holy Spirit among His people in the last days – but the gifts of the Spirit weren’t the main event; the gospel was. The gifts simply provided the opportunity for Peter to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ, and that’s what he did.

And it all fits together. Think about it: if the outpouring of the Holy Spirit was evidence of the Jews being in the last days prior to God’s judgment, and if God invited all to humbly call upon His name in repentance and be saved, then how could the Jews call upon His name? It was one thing for them to pray; it was another thing for them to pray rightly. God had shown them how to call upon Him, and through Whom they needed to call. God had made His will plainly obvious among them when He sent them Jesus of Nazareth, whom they killed. That was an act that could not be ignored, and must be answered. Thankfully it could, all because of Jesus’ resurrection.

Put it together: how could the Jews of Jerusalem call upon the name of the Lord to be saved? By calling on the name of Jesus, the One victorious over death. How can anyone call upon the Lord to he saved? By calling on the name of Jesus!

Don’t miss this! This is the main event – this is what was happening on the Day of Pentecost. Pentecost wasn’t about various signs and wonders; it was about the sign of Jesus’ resurrection! Pentecost was simply the day the Christians were fully empowered to go and testify of Him. They weren’t seeking the gifts; they were seeking the Giver, and they were seeking Him for a purpose: in order to give Him glory and to be faithful witnesses of Him.

There are many well-meaning Christians who get this wrong. They seek gift after gift, always looking for new experiences, when the Bible never once tells us to do that. Even when Paul commands the Corinthians to desire the best gifts (1 Cor 12:31, 14:1), it is to be done for the glory of God; not for the sake of the individual. The Holy Spirit doesn’t call attention to Himself; He points to Jesus (Jn 15:26, “He will testify of Me”). His gifts ought to be used in the same way.

Christian: we want to be filled with God the Holy Spirit, and used by the Spirit…but let us want to be used for His purpose, His glory, and His gospel! Let us, like Peter, proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ with power – boldly telling others how Jesus was sent by God as the sacrifice for our sins, and raised from the dead as a testimony of His forgiveness. May we never lose sight of what is most important in our calling: the Lord Jesus Himself!

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Like Father, Like Son

Posted: May 17, 2018 in Genesis, Uncategorized

Genesis 25-26, “Like Father, Like Son”

Children often imitate their parents, particularly sons with their fathers. As is often said, “Like father, like son.” That includes the good, the bad, and the ugly. It can be cute – it can be funny – and perhaps downright scary! 馃檪 Physical looks and habits aren’t the only things imitated; sometimes it is attitude and action.

Family habits and traits are seen among our Biblical heroes, too. Children pick up both the good and bad from their parents, and we need look no further than Abraham and Isaac for an example. Just as Abraham (though being the father of faith) had to learn through his mistakes what it meant to walk by faith, so did Isaac. And Isaac virtually made the same mistakes along the way!

Because so many previous events in Abraham’s life come to a conclusion, we need to back up a bit to get the full context. After 25 years of waiting, God fulfilled His promise to Abraham & Sarah by granting the birth of Isaac. His birth around jealousy in Abraham’s older son Ishmael, and because Ishmael was not the son of the covenant, he was made to leave (although God promised to bless him for Abraham’s sake). As Isaac grew, Abraham was called upon by God to offer his son as a sacrifice, and Abraham was willing to do so, having complete faith in God. Abraham’s obedience confirmed the covenant given him by the Lord, looking forward to the day when his descendants would be more numerous than the sand or stars. Time passes, Sarah dies and Abraham purchases land for her burial, and afterwards provides for his son’s future by arranging his marriage. A servant is sent to Abraham’s family in Padan Aram, and Rebekah returns to eventually become Isaac’s bride.

What happens next? The narrative of Genesis transitions to the next generation. Abraham’s life comes to a close, while the accounts of Isaac’s family begin. Although they are the Patriarchs, they are by no means perfect, and a lot of mistakes are made along the way…just as Abraham had made before them. Like father, like son.

As for us, the mistakes of our forefathers is written down for us. Hopefully, we can learn from them without having to make the same mistakes for ourselves. Have a simple trust in God, and walk by faith!

Genesis 25

  • Abraham’s end (25:1-11)

1 Abraham again took a wife, and her name was Keturah.

  1. Scholars disagree as to when Abraham took Keturah as a wife, whether it was after Sarah’s death, or sometime before. The most natural reading of the text is that it was after, although the text does not precisely say. Interestingly, the Chronicler describes Keturah as a “concubine,” rather than a “wife,” (1 Chr 1:32), though the term is clear here in Genesis 25. Perhaps Keturah was a chief concubine out of several (vs. 6), or perhaps she had a similar status as Hagar.
  2. What happened to Keturah past this point, we do not know. This is her only mention, apart from the genealogical list in 1 Chronicles. What we do know is that she bore Abraham many sons (and probably daughters, although daughters are not typically included in genealogical lists).

2 And she bore him Zimran, Jokshan, Medan, Midian, Ishbak, and Shuah. 3 Jokshan begot Sheba and Dedan. And the sons of Dedan were Asshurim, Letushim, and Leummim. 4 And the sons of Midian were Ephah, Epher, Hanoch, Abidah, and Eldaah. All these were the children of Keturah.

  1. Six sons were born directly to Abraham through Keturah, and they proceeded to bear children and tribes of their own, being associated with several regions throughout the Sinai peninsula. Considering the many descendants from the line of Hagar (Ishmael), Sarah (Isaac), and Keturah (the six), Abraham truly was a father of many nations!
  2. These were children of Abraham, but there was still only one son to whom belonged the covenant blessing and inheritance. 

5 And Abraham gave all that he had to Isaac. 6 But Abraham gave gifts to the sons of the concubines which Abraham had; and while he was still living he sent them eastward, away from Isaac his son, to the country of the east.

  1. It is not that Abraham did not love his other children or provide for them. To the contrary – he “gave gifts” to them out of his abundant wealth, ensuring that they were well provided-for. But they could not be allowed to complete for the covenant blessing, including the inheritance of the Promised Land. Just as Ishmael had to leave for the good of Isaac, so did the sons of Keturah.
  2. Be careful not to judge this through 21st century eyes. The culture was far different. Sons did not hesitate to murder one another in order to gain an inheritance. Competition between siblings could be quite cruel. Abraham’s act was not only one done in submission and trust of God as the covenant-provider, but also one of mercy and protection towards all his children. He stopped a problem before it had a chance to start.

7 This is the sum of the years of Abraham’s life which he lived: one hundred and seventy-five years. 8 Then Abraham breathed his last and died in a good old age, an old man and full of years, and was gathered to his people.

  1. Abraham lived to be 175 years old. He had been given 75 years with Isaac, enough not only to see his own son grow into adulthood, but also enough to see the birth and growth of his grandchildren (Isaac was 60 years old at the birth of his sons – 25:26). Such is the mercy and grace of God! 

9 And his sons Isaac and Ishmael buried him in the cave of Machpelah, which is before Mamre, in the field of Ephron the son of Zohar the Hittite, 10 the field which Abraham purchased from the sons of Heth. There Abraham was buried, and Sarah his wife.

  1. Although Ishmael had departed long ago, he returned to Canaan for his father’s burial. He and Isaac stood side by side as they paid their father their final respects. (Interestingly, no mention is made of any of the sons of Keturah. Perhaps they were unable to receive communication. Perhaps they were simply unmentioned in the text.)
  2. Abraham buried alongside his wife Sarah in the cave he had personally purchased. Only after his death did he finally enjoy any of the real estate that actually belonged to him. All his life, he lived as a pilgrim, looking forward in faith to the promises God made him. (Not unlike us. This world is not our home – we look forward to our inheritance!)

11 And it came to pass, after the death of Abraham, that God blessed his son Isaac. And Isaac dwelt at Beer Lahai Roi.

  1. With the death of Abraham, the covenant passed to Isaac, i.e. the blessing. This will be expressly stated to Isaac later.
  2. Although his parents were buried in Mamre, Isaac returned to the place he had earlier dwelt in the south (the Negev). This was the town in which he had met Rebekah and made a home with her.
  • Ishmael’s generations (25:12-18)

12 Now this is the genealogy of Ishmael, Abraham’s son, whom Hagar the Egyptian, Sarah’s maidservant, bore to Abraham.

  1. This is basically a summary and the end of the Biblical account of Ishmael. Many other men in the Bible have the name Ishmael, but apart from some references to his family, this is it regarding Abraham’s son. He was indeed blessed of God; he simply was not the son of the covenant. 

13 And these were the names of the sons of Ishmael, by their names, according to their generations: The firstborn of Ishmael, Nebajoth; then Kedar, Adbeel, Mibsam, 14 Mishma, Dumah, Massa, 15 Hadar, Tema, Jetur, Naphish, and Kedemah. 16 These were the sons of Ishmael and these were their names, by their towns and their settlements, twelve princes according to their nations.

  1. Twelve sons were begotten of Ishmael, each becoming princes & tribal leaders in their own right. Just as God promised to Hagar (16:10, 21:18), Ishmael became a great nation.

17 These were the years of the life of Ishmael: one hundred and thirty-seven years; and he breathed his last and died, and was gathered to his people. 18 (They dwelt from Havilah as far as Shur, which is east of Egypt as you go toward Assyria.) He died in the presence of all his brethren.

  1. 137 years of age is not nearly as old as his father, but it was still a very long life! His narrative concludes with his home being far beyond the land promised to Isaac, and him being surrounded by his family in death. Ishmael had a difficult start to his life, but things certainly turned around for him. God blessed him and provided for him in many ways. Whether or not Ishmael ever recognized the hand of God is a question that cannot be answered. (Sadly, his descendants long turned from the worship of the true God, as Ishmael is viewed as a patriarch to the Islamic faith.)
  • Isaac’s generations (25:19-34)

19 This is the genealogy of Isaac, Abraham’s son. Abraham begot Isaac. 20 Isaac was forty years old when he took Rebekah as wife, the daughter of Bethuel the Syrian of Padan Aram, the sister of Laban the Syrian.

  1. This is the next major transition in the book. Technically, Genesis had transitioned again with Ishmael, showing his “genealogy” (toledoth), the same as Isaac. But Ishmael’s account was simply enough to mention his children and move on. Isaac’s account is longer, though it is the briefest of the patriarchs. It begins with a recap of his marriage to Rebekah. His mother Sarah had died when he was 37, and sometime afterward Abraham had sent to his family for Isaac’s bride. However long that process took, Isaac was 40 at his wedding, his father being 140 at the time.
  2. From here through the end of Chapter 26, the author will show numerous parallels between the lives of Abraham and Isaac, the first being in regards to he and his wife’s struggle to have children.

21 Now Isaac pleaded with the LORD for his wife, because she was barren; and the LORD granted his plea, and Rebekah his wife conceived.

  1. Like Sarah in the previous generation, Rebekah also struggled with barrenness. For Sarah, her struggle was directly linked to the covenant promise of God. God had promised a massive number of descendants to Abraham, but the longer it took for Sarah to get pregnant, the more impossible God’s promise seemed. When Sarah was finally pregnant at age 90, there was no doubt this child was a miracle of God. But that was Sarah. What about Rebekah? It was the same thing. Rebekah would not have to wait nearly as long, but her dependency upon God was just as apparent. This too, would not be the natural-course of events, but a gift of grace provided by the Lord Almighty. This too, was God’s supernatural answer to His covenant promises. If Isaac was going to have descendants of his own, he needed God to provide them. (Which He did!)
  2. Note Isaac’s own part in this. His opportunity for children rested solely in the decision of God, but Isaac didn’t simply wait passively. He prayed. “Isaac pleaded with the LORD for his wife.” Isaac actively interceded for Rebekah, praying that God would move upon her and grant children. (Prayer is active ministry! Prayer is work.)

22 But the children struggled together within her; and she said, “If all is well, why am I like this?” So she went to inquire of the LORD. 23 And the LORD said to her: “Two nations are in your womb, Two peoples shall be separated from your body; One people shall be stronger than the other, And the older shall serve the younger.”

  1. That the children “struggled” is an understatement. The verb is more violent than that. They “smashed” together in the womb, no doubt causing far more discomfort than normal for a mother of twins. Going to the Lord in prayer (or through a prophet of some sort), she learned the answer: “two nations” were there. (No wonder she hurt!)
    1. What was prophecy for Rebekah became history for us. Edom and Israel were constantly at odds, and Edom even became symbolic through the written prophets of Israel/Judah’s enemies as a whole. Edom was always opposed to God’s people, just as Esau would always be opposed to Jacob.
  2. God’s will for Jacob was clear from the very beginning. For all of the manipulations that would follow in the years to come, God knew from the outset what His plan was, and which twin out of the two would receive the covenant.
    1. This is the sovereign election/choice of God. Romans 9:10–12, “(10) And not only this, but when Rebecca also had conceived by one man, even by our father Isaac (11) (for the children not yet being born, nor having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works but of Him who calls), (12) it was said to her, “The older shall serve the younger.”” Contextually in Romans, Paul is explaining God’s sovereign choice of Israel to be His people through the ages. They had done nothing to deserve His favor, but He chose to give it anyway. God is simply a merciful God.
    2. The same principle applies to our salvation. How is it that we are saved? God chose to show us mercy. Did we do anything to deserve it? Absolutely not, but God gave it anyway. He chose to send Jesus for us – He chose to extend to us His invitation – He chose to save us in spite of ourselves, even while incorporating our free response to His grace. There is nothing about our salvation for which we can claim credit – it is all the grace of God. (Which is available to all!)

24 So when her days were fulfilled for her to give birth, indeed there were twins in her womb. 25 And the first came out red. He was like a hairy garment all over; so they called his name Esau. 26 Afterward his brother came out, and his hand took hold of Esau’s heel; so his name was called Jacob. Isaac was sixty years old when she bore them.

  1. Not only were the babies fighting it out in Rebekah’s womb, the struggle continued down her birth canal. Although separated by mere seconds, one baby was first to push through, being a red-haired child & the other baby was grabbing at his heel. They were named appropriately, and their names fit them well for the rest of their lives.
  2. Interesting wordplay with the boys’ names (not uncommon in the Bible). Expositor’s Bible Commentary (John Sailhamer): “Esau” (注值砖指讉讜 [士膿艣膩w]) was “red” (讗址讚职诪讜止谞执讬 [示a岣弇ônî], which is a play on 讗直讚讜止诐 [示e岣ôm, “Edom”; cf. v.30; 36:1]), and his body was “hairy” (砖值讉注指专 [艣膿士膩r]), a play on his name 士膿艣膩w, “Jacob” (讬址注植拽止讘 [ya士aq艒岣嘳) grasped the “heel” (注植拽值讘 [士aq膿岣嘳) of Esau.”

27 So the boys grew. And Esau was a skillful hunter, a man of the field; but Jacob was a mild man, dwelling in tents. 28 And Isaac loved Esau because he ate of his game, but Rebekah loved Jacob.

  1. As might be expected, the boys had different personalities and different strengths. Sadly, this became the cause of parental favoritism between the two. (Never good!)
  2. Interestingly, the difference between them becomes ironically reversed in the account that follows. Here, Esau is described as a hunter, while Jacob was quiet (mild / peaceable / righteous). Yet what happens is that the hunter becomes the hunted, and the peaceable man becomes a source of strife.

29 Now Jacob cooked a stew; and Esau came in from the field, and he was weary. 30 And Esau said to Jacob, “Please feed me with that same red stew, for I am weary.” Therefore his name was called Edom.

  1. The “red stew” was a stew of lentils, which surely smelled delicious to a man hungry from labors in the field of his father (or from a long day of unproductive hunting). Authentic Texas chili was originally called a “bowl of red,” and it was probably as appetizing to Texans as the original “bowl of red” was to Esau. It ended up being part of his downfall, and another reason of his appropriate nickname.

31 But Jacob said, “Sell me your birthright as of this day.” 32 And Esau said, “Look, I am about to die; so what is this birthright to me?” 33 Then Jacob said, “Swear to me as of this day.” So he swore to him, and sold his birthright to Jacob. 34 And Jacob gave Esau bread and stew of lentils; then he ate and drank, arose, and went his way. Thus Esau despised his birthright.

  1. Although this sounds sneaky, it wasn’t. Obviously Jacob took advantage of a weakened Esau, but Jacob was straightforward with his offer. No deception was involved. If Esau wanted some of Jacob’s stew, then Esau would need to surrender his birthright. To any reasonable person, they would have laughed at the absurd offer and walked away. After all, it was just one meal, and doubtless there were other servants of Isaac who could have found Esau something to eat. He wouldn’t have starved to death on the floor of Jacob’s tent. Yet Esau was prone to the dramatic, and exaggerated his hunger to the point of utter desperation. It seemed he didn’t even hesitate on the matter, and he sold his birthright as quickly as he gulped down his meal. Perhaps Esau thought he would weasel his way out of the deal with his father – probably he wasn’t thinking at all, but rather just living according to his base desires of the moment.
  2. The result was that “Esau despised his birthright.” He saw no value in what had been available to him in God. – Do we value our birthright? Do we understand what it is we have received in Christ? Hebrews 12:14–16, “(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; (16) lest there be any fornicator or profane person like Esau, who for one morsel of food sold his birthright.” As born-again Christians, we dare not take our birthright for granted!

Genesis 26

  • Isaac and the Philistines (26:1-33). Isaac’s deception (1-11)

1 There was a famine in the land, besides the first famine that was in the days of Abraham. And Isaac went to Abimelech king of the Philistines, in Gerar.

  1. Famine = danger, and a natural reason to move to other areas. Famines were not totally uncommon in Canaan, although Isaac had more than enough reason not to fear them.
  2. Already, there is a link here to the history of Abraham, and there is a distinct parallel to the account in Genesis 20. 
  3. FYI: “Abimelech” is probably a title, rather than a proper name. Also, the term “Philistines” simply described the region; not the ethnic people. “Philistines” would have made sense to the Hebrews of Moses’ day as he compiled/wrote the book of Genesis, but that group of people would not arrive on the coast of Canaan until after the time of the Patriarchs.

2 Then the LORD appeared to him and said: “Do not go down to Egypt; live in the land of which I shall tell you. 3 Dwell in this land, and I will be with you and bless you; for to you and your descendants I give all these lands, and I will perform the oath which I swore to Abraham your father. 4 And I will make your descendants multiply as the stars of heaven; I will give to your descendants all these lands; and in your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed; 5 because Abraham obeyed My voice and kept My charge, My commandments, My statutes, and My laws.”

  1. As much as Isaac mirrors the actions of his father, God puts a limit on him as to how far he could go. Isaac could go to the city of Gerar, but he was not allowed to go south towards the land of Egypt. Isaac is unique among the Patriarchs as being one who never once left the Promised Land, always staying in the land of his inheritance. Even among the Philistines, he was still in land that God had promised to him and to his descendants. Isaac may be engaging in a struggle of faith, but God put limits on how far he would go.
  2. God knew the struggle in Isaac’s heart, which was why God reemphasized the covenant with him. God promised him life, provision, blessing, children, land, and even the Messianic promise. Everything God had promised to Abraham, God also promised to Isaac. Though the father had died, the word of God had not. God’s blessing continued, because God never fails!
  3. Why – why did God promise such a thing? Because of Isaac’s father. Abraham had been obedient, demonstrated beyond doubt when he laid Isaac on the altar. In fact, that may be one reason God said so much of Abraham’s obedience. No doubt Isaac would have remembered his father binding his hands and feet, and lying on that stone altar with a knife raised high above him. He would have remembered his father’s faith in God’s provision, trusting that God would raise Isaac from the dead, if need be. He would have remembered how God miraculously intervened and provided His own sacrifice in Isaac’s place. Or, at least, this is what Isaac should have If he had, he may not have made the decisions that he did!
  4. BTW – Was Abraham’s obedience important? Without question! God reiterated His covenant promise to Isaac “because Abraham obeyed.” Did Abraham’s faith earn the covenant of God? Absolutely not. The covenant was promised back in Genesis 12, long before Isaac ever existed. It was believed upon (anew) in Genesis 15, again before Isaac was born. Abraham’s faith was in God; it was demonstrated through his obedience. Yes, his obedience was important, in that his original faith was important. Because Abraham obeyed the commandments of God, it showed that his true faith was in the person and promises of God.
    1. That slight difference makes all the difference in the world when it comes to salvation. People either believe they earn heaven, or that they’re given heaven. Those who think they earn it, never do; those who rely on Jesus to give it to them are the only ones assured of going.
  5. Again, Isaac should have remembered the faith (and the previous mistakes) of his father. Instead, he continued to push forward with his own plans…

6 So Isaac dwelt in Gerar. 7 And the men of the place asked about his wife. And he said, “She is my sister”; for he was afraid to say, “She is my wife,” because he thought, “lest the men of the place kill me for Rebekah, because she is beautiful to behold.”

  1. This was exactly the mistake of Abraham. Isaac told the same lie to the same people of the same city as his father had done 90 years earlier. In fact, Isaac went one step further. Whereas Abraham could legitimately say that Sarah was his sister (being that she was a half-sister); Rebekah was truly Isaac’s cousin and not a sister at all. This was a bald-faced lie, told out of fear for his life. He had married a beautiful woman, but did not trust the Lord God to protect him, despite God’s specific promise to do so.

8 Now it came to pass, when he had been there a long time, that Abimelech king of the Philistines looked through a window, and saw, and there was Isaac, showing endearment to Rebekah his wife. 9 Then Abimelech called Isaac and said, “Quite obviously she is your wife; so how could you say, ‘She is my sister’?” Isaac said to him, “Because I said, ‘Lest I die on account of her.’ ”

  1. How long Isaac lived in Gerar is not said. Apparently his residence was not far from the Philistine king, because Isaac believed he could let down his guard with Rebekah, and they were close enough to Abimelech’s home that the king could see plainly that these were not brother & sister, but husband and wife.
  2. Regarding “showing endearment,” or “laughing” (ESV) or “caressing” (NASB), NET Bible: “The Hebrew word 诪职爪址讞值拽 (métsakheq), from the root 爪指讞址拽 (tsakhaq, “laugh”), forms a sound play with the name “Isaac” right before it. Here it depicts an action, probably caressing or fondling, that indicated immediately that Rebekah was Isaac’s wife, not his sister. Isaac’s deception made a mockery of God’s covenantal promise. Ignoring God’s promise to protect and bless him, Isaac lied to protect himself and acted in bad faith to the men of Gerar.” It’s also related to the word used of Ishmael when he mocked the baby Isaac long ago. Just as Ishmael had mocked the covenant promises of God, so did Isaac…and he was the recipient of those covenant promises!
    1. What should Isaac have done? Trusted the Lord!
  3. The bottom line? Abimelech quickly discovered the truth, and confronted Isaac. Thankfully, he had not attempted to take Rebekah for his own wife, as had the earlier Abimelech with Sarah, during Abraham’s deception.

10 And Abimelech said, “What is this you have done to us? One of the people might soon have lain with your wife, and you would have brought guilt on us.” 11 So Abimelech charged all his people, saying, “He who touches this man or his wife shall surely be put to death.”

  1. The king was rightly offended, understanding the guilt of sin far better than did Isaac at this point.
  2. In the end, Isaac and Rebekah received legal protection by an order of the king, but Isaac also greatly damaged his witness as a man of God.
  3. Thankfully, that witness would not be forever lost, as God Himself set about to restoring it. 12…
  • Isaac’s departure (12-25)

12 Then Isaac sowed in that land, and reaped in the same year a hundredfold; and the LORD blessed him. 13 The man began to prosper, and continued prospering until he became very prosperous; 14 for he had possessions of flocks and possessions of herds and a great number of servants. So the Philistines envied him.

  1. That’s a lot of prosperity! The original Hebrew is filled with superlative after superlative. God made the man Isaac greater and greater and greater – the blessings kept pouring in.
  2. Question: Why did God bless Isaac so much? Answer: God is gracious! God is merciful! God promised to bless Isaac, and that was exactly what He did.
    1. FYI: This isn’t an endorsement of the prosperity gospel; it is a demonstration of how God showed a difference between Isaac and the Philistines. Only one lived in a relationship with God – only one was a recipient of God’s covenant promises. This isn’t a roadmap of how we can get rich; it’s a picture of God’s undeserved grace.
  3. The problem for the Philistines is that they didn’t view God’s blessing as a reason to learn why Isaac was blessed; they simply became jealous. Envy leads to strife; strife leads to separation…

15 Now the Philistines had stopped up all the wells which his father’s servants had dug in the days of Abraham his father, and they had filled them with earth. 16 And Abimelech said to Isaac, “Go away from us, for you are much mightier than we.”

  1. Basically, the Philistines forced him out. If Isaac had so many herds to water, then the Philistines took steps to ensure he wouldn’t be able to water them where he was. They “stopped up all the wells” to which he had a familial claim, and told him to get out.
  2. Ironically, Isaac’s original deception of Abimelech was due to his fear of the Philistines & his lack of trust in the Lord. Now with God’s blessing, it is the Philistines who fear Isaac as they understood his wealth and might.

17 Then Isaac departed from there and pitched his tent in the Valley of Gerar, and dwelt there. 18 And Isaac dug again the wells of water which they had dug in the days of Abraham his father, for the Philistines had stopped them up after the death of Abraham. He called them by the names which his father had called them. 19 Also Isaac’s servants dug in the valley, and found a well of running water there. 20 But the herdsmen of Gerar quarreled with Isaac’s herdsmen, saying, “The water is ours.” So he called the name of the well Esek, because they quarreled with him. 21 Then they dug another well, and they quarreled over that one also. So he called its name Sitnah.

  1. Isaac retraced the footsteps of his father, revisiting old wells, finding success with each one. Yet the Philistines followed close behind, claiming each one for themselves. They didn’t want Isaac anywhere near them, so they kept pushing him out further & further.
  2. Why didn’t Isaac stand and fight? After all, they feared his strength. Scripture doesn’t say – perhaps Isaac simply wanted to live in peace. What is apparent is how God used the selfishness and fear of the Philistines to push Isaac back to where he ought to have been. If the famine was over, there was no reason for Isaac not to be back in the center of the Promised Land, away from the Philistine Gentiles. Yet Isaac seemingly became comfortable; it took a little discomfort to get him moving again.

22 And he moved from there and dug another well, and they did not quarrel over it. So he called its name Rehoboth, because he said, “For now the LORD has made room for us, and we shall be fruitful in the land.”

  1. Finally, Isaac ended up in a spot which the Philistines did not dispute. This was where God had wanted him all along, and Isaac recognized the sovereign hand of God.

23 Then he went up from there to Beersheba. 24 And the LORD appeared to him the same night and said, “I am the God of your father Abraham; do not fear, for I am with you. I will bless you and multiply your descendants for My servant Abraham’s sake.” 25 So he built an altar there and called on the name of the LORD, and he pitched his tent there; and there Isaac’s servants dug a well.

  1. Back where he needed to be, God reiterated the covenant once more. Isaac may have temporarily forgotten God’s promise to him, but God hadn’t. God is faithful, despite us! (What grace!)
  2. No longer did Isaac need to “fear” – he was right where God wanted him to be, both geographically and spiritually.
  3. Isaac’s response to the word of God: worship! Perhaps for the first time, Isaac didn’t build a well; he built an altar. He ensured that his heart was dedicated to the God who had been so merciful to him. (What is your response to God’s promises?)
  • Isaac’s covenant with the king (26-33)

26 Then Abimelech came to him from Gerar with Ahuzzath, one of his friends, and Phichol the commander of his army. 27 And Isaac said to them, “Why have you come to me, since you hate me and have sent me away from you?”

  1. After all the trouble, Isaac is understandably suspicious!

28 But they said, “We have certainly seen that the LORD is with you. So we said, ‘Let there now be an oath between us, between you and us; and let us make a covenant with you, 29 that you will do us no harm, since we have not touched you, and since we have done nothing to you but good and have sent you away in peace. You are now the blessed of the LORD.’ ”

  1. Notice the change. Earlier, the Philistines envied Isaac, and pushed him out due to fear. This time, they are perhaps still envious, but instead of fearing the hand of God upon Isaac, now they see it for what it is. Isaac’s testimony as a righteous man had been restored, and the Philistines now wanted a bit of what Isaac had.
    1. Live in such a way that others can see Jesus in you!

30 So he made them a feast, and they ate and drank. 31 Then they arose early in the morning and swore an oath with one another; and Isaac sent them away, and they departed from him in peace.

  1. After all of the previous conflict, why would Isaac agree to such a covenant? Because it was the right thing to do. Romans 12:17–19, “(17) Repay no one evil for evil. Have regard for good things in the sight of all men. (18) If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men. (19) Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord.” Why punish the Philistines when Isaac could have peace with them? If God saw fit to do it, God would see it done. It’s no different with us…

32 It came to pass the same day that Isaac’s servants came and told him about the well which they had dug, and said to him, “We have found water.” 33 So he called it Shebah. Therefore the name of the city is Beersheba to this day.

  1. This was actually the second naming of the city. Back when the covenant of peace was made between Abraham and the first Abimelech and Phicol, they also had a well in the same area, calling it Beersheba. (One more parallel between Isaac and his father…this time, in a good way!) 

This is the most detail the Bible gives us about Isaac. Most of the rest of his days will be spent in the background between Esau and Jacob. Chapter 26 actually ends with a bit of transition to the next event, featuring his sons.

  • Esau’s Canaanite wives (12:34-35)

34 When Esau was forty years old, he took as wives Judith the daughter of Beeri the Hittite, and Basemath the daughter of Elon the Hittite. 35 And they were a grief of mind to Isaac and Rebekah.

  1. Esau was the same age as his father when Isaac was married, but instead of marrying a woman to help maintain the purity of the covenant, Esau continues to show disregard for the covenant altogether. He took wives from the Canaanites around him, to the disappointment of both of his parents. This later serves as an excuse for Rebekah to send away Jacob when his life is endangered (due to her own foolish scheming).

Conclusion:

Like father, like son. In many ways, Isaac followed in the footsteps of his father Abraham. With his mistakes, but (thankfully) also with his faith. It took Isaac a while, but eventually his trust was in the sovereign God who keeps His covenant promises.

God does keep His promises! We see it in the many sons & nations born of Abraham – we see it in the mighty nation that came from Ishmael – we see it in the provision & blessing that God gave to Isaac. God keeps His promises, no matter what.

God keeps His promises, even in spite of us! Isaac had heard the word of God, and what did he do? He immediately trusted in his own plans, endangering everyone around him. Even so, God was patient with him, sovereignly using even the difficulties in Isaac’s life to bring him back to the place he needed to be.

How much better it is to simply trust God the first time! Trust Him – don’t overcomplicate things… Trust His word – trust His sovereignty – trust His plan.

Empowered to Reap

Posted: May 13, 2018 in Acts, Uncategorized

Acts 2:1-13, “Empowered to Reap”

Birthdays are exciting days! Not just birthday celebrations (which are often a lot of fun), but the actual day of birth. Sometimes they are stressful, sometimes painful, sometimes even frightening – but they are always exciting. Mothers know this better than anyone. (Which is appropriate on a Mother’s Day Sunday!) Although the previous 9 months are often filled with anxiety and discomfort, and the process of labor can be truly painful – all of it vanishes when the mom holds her newborn infant in her arms, and the baby’s cry is the most beautiful sound in the world.

All things have a birthday of sorts. After all, everything has a moment when it first comes into existence, even the church. Just like local church congregations can point back to a day of founding (for us, Thanksgiving Sunday 2004), so can the universal church of the Lord Jesus Christ. THE Church was born on Pentecost, exactly 50 days after Jesus was risen from the dead. And that day was exciting, indeed!

Keep the timeframe in mind: again, this was a mere 50 days after Jesus rose from the dead. Not yet three full months had passed since Jesus’ glorious arrival in Jerusalem, His public debates with the Jewish authorities, His secret arrest and trials by the same, and His awful torturous execution by the Romans. The whole city had come together for the feast of Passover, with the population swelling from Jews who travelled far & wide to be there, and among them all, no one was ignorant of the events surrounding Jesus of Nazareth. They were neither ignorant of His death, nor ignorant of His resurrection (as Peter will point out to them later in Chapter 2).

Once Jesus rose from the dead, He spent the next 40 days proving His real, physical life, and teaching His disciples how the Scriptures had foretold it (among other things). Basically, He was preparing them to be witnesses of His resurrection to all the world. In fact, that was His last command to them prior to His ascension. After all this teaching, they were to go back to Jerusalem and wait. Wait for what? The baptism of the Holy Spirit: Acts 1:8, “But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” By this point, the disciples had everything they needed in order to testify of Jesus – all expect one major component: power. At the time, the disciples had knowledge; they needed ability. They needed the God-given strength in order to do a God-given task.

So the disciples went back and waited. They didn’t have to wait long…only 10 days. During the time, they continually prayed, trusting God to lead them. God did, as He directed the unified group of disciples to replace the apostolic office abandoned by Judas Iscariot. Matthias took his place among the apostles, and they went back to waiting.

With the 12 apostles restored and the larger group of disciples in ongoing unified prayer, things were ready for the next step. There was another feast of Israel on the near horizon, and God would use it to give birth to Jesus’ church. This is the moment the Christians were to be baptized by the Holy Spirit, and they would now be empowered to go out and reap a harvest of souls.

Fair warning: we’re going to tackle some controversial subjects in these Scriptures. At first glance, you might wonder why verses 1-13 need to be handled on their own, when Peter starts preaching in verse 14, and doesn’t even get to the gospel until verse 22. It’s because what takes place at the beginning is confusing for many. The baptism of the Holy Spirit and first use of the gift of tongues in the Bible has led to a lot of debate, and we need to take a few moments on that before we can move on. After all, we need to understand what happened (Spirit baptism & tongues), if we are to understand why it happened (the gospel).

In it all, we see this: If we want to do God’s work, we need to do it God’s way, by God’s power. And there’s good news for all Christians: we can do God’s work – in fact, we are invited & commanded to be a part of it. Be filled with the Spirit, and be empowered!

Acts 2:1–13

  • Baptism of the Spirit (2:1-4)

1 When the Day of Pentecost had fully come, they were all with one accord in one place.

  1. Before we get too far, we need a bit of background on Pentecost, as other than it being the day when the church was baptized with the Holy Spirit, Christians typically do not know too much about it. If you do a search for the word “Pentecost” in the Old Testament, you won’t find it, as it’s a Greek word. The Hebrew feast is actually known as the Feast of Weeks, sometimes referred to as Shavuot. It is one of the three major feasts of Israel, when all of the nation was commanded to assemble before the Lord and worship Him. Leviticus 23:15–16, “(15) ‘And you shall count for yourselves from the day after the Sabbath, from the day that you brought the sheaf of the wave offering: seven Sabbaths shall be completed. (16) Count fifty days to the day after the seventh Sabbath; then you shall offer a new grain offering to the LORD.” The “fifty days” is where the Greek name of the feast originated: 5 = “pente”; 50 = “pentekonta.” Thus to the Hellenistic (Greek-speaking) Jews of the day, Shavuot/Feast of Weeks became known as Pentecost, as it was 50 days post-Passover (the 7th Sabbath).
  2. Question: How exactly does a harvest festival relate to the coming of the Holy Spirit upon the church? After all, if Jesus being crucified on Passover is the fulfillment of Jesus being the Passover lamb, and His resurrection is the fulfillment of Firstfruits because Jesus is the firstfruits of those risen from the dead, then how is the Feast of Weeks/Shavuot/Pentecost fulfilled here? Technically, there is a harvest that takes place this day, as we’ll see later in Chapter 2 when 3000 people are saved after Peter preaches the gospel. That sort of harvest (and many others like it) would have been absolutely impossible without the power imparted by the Holy Spirit. But more than that is the rabbinical tradition with Pentecost that associated it with the original reception of the law upon Mt. Sinai. Remember that although the Hebrews wandered in the wilderness for 40 years, they didn’t need to wait nearly that long after leaving Egypt in order to receive the Law (Torah) from God. Exodus 19:1–2, “(1) In the third month after the children of Israel had gone out of the land of Egypt, on the same day, they came to the Wilderness of Sinai. (2) For they had departed from Rephidim, had come to the Wilderness of Sinai, and camped in the wilderness. So Israel camped there before the mountain.” To count 50 days after the original Passover, that would place Israel at Mt. Sinai sometime “in the third month.” Because of this, the rabbis believed that the Feast of Weeks was not only celebratory of the harvest, but also the reception of the Mosaic law. From the Babylonian Talmud regarding Shavuot, “it is the day on which the Torah was given and there is a mitzva to demonstrate one’s joy on that day,” (Pesachim 68b). So put it all together… 50 days after a substitutionary death that purchased freedom for the Hebrews, they had a birthday as a nation when they received the Law of God. Fast forward in history, and 50 days after the substitutionary death of Christ that purchased freedom for those who believe, His disciples had a birthday as the Church when they received the Spirit of God. Just as fire, smoke, and sound descended upon Mt. Sinai when the Hebrews received the Law, so did something like fire and wind descend upon the disciples when they received the Holy Spirit. Truly, Pentecost is the fulfillment of all of what was celebrated on Shavuot/the Feast of Weeks!
    1. FYI: There is a fulfillment of every feast of Israel within Jesus’ work among His Church. The festivals in the first half of the calendar year are fulfilled in Jesus’ 1st coming (His death, burial, resurrection, and gift of the Holy Spirit); the feasts in the 2nd half of the year are fulfilled in conjunction with His 2nd coming (rapture, tribulation, Millennial Kingdom).
  3. This is a lot of background information with which to begin, but it helps set the expectations. The disciples had been told by Jesus to wait in Jerusalem, and He had ascended 40 days after His resurrection. Although they wouldn’t have known for certain, they were likely very expectant of something big happening on Pentecost. They had gathered for unified prayer on a regular basis, but it comes as no surprise that they were all gathered together again in one place on the day of Pentecost for more prayer. This wasn’t a day to be out in the temple or elsewhere in the streets; this was potentially a day of great things from the Lord. (And it was!)

2 And suddenly there came a sound from heaven, as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting.

  1. The first thing that came was a “” Note, it wasn’t a hurricane force wind, but a sound, as if it was “a rushing mighty wind.” Luke describes it as violent and forcible, propelled throughout the house. A tornado did not blow through the gathering room, but it sure sounded like it!
  2. The sound was appropriate for the occasion, because the Holy Spirit was often likened to the wind. (I.e. Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus – Jn 3) In both Greek and Hebrew, the common words for wind/breath/spirit are all the same (though a slightly modified version is used here). This sound was the first indication something big was happening, but it wasn’t the only thing.

3 Then there appeared to them divided tongues, as of fire, and one sat upon each of them.

  1. First there was an audible supernatural sign, now there was a visible one. As with the sound of the wind, this wasn’t actual fire, but something that looked to be like fire. “Divided tongues,” or individual divided flames appeared in the midst of the disciples and each person there received a flame for him/herself.
  2. Just like wind was often a picture of the Holy Spirit, so was fire often a picture of God’s presence and glory. God is a consuming fire (Dt 4:24, Heb 12:29), and the angelic creatures that surround His throne are called “Seraphim,” or “burning ones,” (Isa 6:2). Put these two ideas together, and we get the common picture of God’s glory in smoke & fire among His people. His presence descended on Mt. Sinai in smoke & fire. God’s presence led His people through the wilderness via cloud by day and pillar of fire by night. And perhaps most interesting in relation to Pentecost, what was seen when the original tabernacle and temple were dedicated? God’s presence was seen with fire and smoke! With the tabernacle, the fire of God fell from heaven and consumed the offerings on the altar (Lev 9:24); with the temple, the priests were not able even to minister because the cloud of God’s glory filled the house (1 Kng 8:11). Who are we as the Church? We are the temple of the Holy Spirit, both corporately and individually (1 Cor 3:16, 6:19). We are filled with the presence and person of God in much the same way as the original structures!
  3. Who was it that was filled? “Each of them.” None among those gathered was left out; all received. If this was the baptism of the Holy Spirit (which it was, as it evident by the next verse), then note that no one missed being baptized. If they were there (presumably all being believers in the Resurrected Lord Jesus), they were baptized. This simple fact becomes highly controversial today, because the question then becomes: if it happened like this for the original disciples, is this what we ought to expect as present-day disciples. First things first: this was a unique point in Church history. Just like there was only one crucifixion, one resurrection, and one ascension, there was only one Pentecost. Although audible tongues are repeated throughout the New Testament, visible tongues of fire are not. This was a unique event that happened to the initial disciples on this one day. Thus, some change is expected. How much change is the question. People ask: should all Christians expect to receive the Holy Spirit? Do all Christians receive the Holy Spirit at the same time? What’s involved with this baptism of the Holy Spirit? Please note that good scholars come to different conclusions. We come to the best conclusions possible, and hold our convictions with charity. That said, there are a few things on the issue that are absolutely clear:
    1. All Christians have the Holy Spirit. There is more than one ministry of the Holy Spirit in the life of a believer, one of them (perhaps the most important) is that of His indwelling & sealing. This is what take place the moment someone is “born-again.” Jesus that “unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God,” (Jn 3:5) Without this spiritual birth, no one is saved, and this spiritual birth is what takes place when we believe upon Jesus as the only begotten Son of God given for our sin. The moment we trusted in Jesus, we were (according to Paul) “sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is the guarantee of our inheritance,” (Eph 1:13-14). This takes place with all believers, and without which, we cannot be a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ.
    2. All Christians are commanded to be filled with the Holy Spirit. Initially, we see that the disciples were automatically filled with the Holy Spirit at the moment of their baptism, but there are other instances in the Book of Acts when the disciples are filled again. (Acts 4:8, 4:31, etc.) Paul even writes of it as a command: Ephesians 5:18, “And do not be drunk with wine, in which is dissipation; but be filled with the Spirit,” If the filling is automatic, why would Christians be commanded to receive it? 
    3. The point? These are two different aspects of the ministry of the Holy Spirit. There is a moment in which He makes us born-again Christians (the indwelling), and there is a series of times in which He empowers us as Jesus’ witnesses (the filling). Even for the original disciples, this initial work of the Spirit’s indwelling was shown as a separate, distinct act from the Spirit’s baptism. Prior to Jesus’ ascension, He breathed upon the disciples, telling them to receive the Holy Spirit (Jn 20:22). Why would He say & do that, yet still tell them to wait in Jerusalem for the Holy Spirit, if the Spirit wasn’t truly given? This is a different (yet crucial!) work.
    4. So which is it that takes place in Acts 2? The filling. Again, they had already received the indwelling of the Spirit before Jesus ascended to heaven. This was their empowerment, or rather, the moment of their first The baptism happened once; the filling would take place time & time again. – As for us, when does baptism take place? Again, good scholars disagree. The bottom line is whenever you believe you were first baptized with the Holy Spirit, there is no question that you still need His power today! If you’ve never asked for the power of the Holy Spirit, you need to ask – whether you receive it for the 1st time (knowingly) or the 1000th time.
  4. BTW – Notice again how the symbolic fire is described: “divided tongues.” This is the first of two types of tongues in Acts 2, both which use exactly the same word (γλ峥σσα). In one case, the tongue was visible; in another, it was audible. The visible tongues set up the way for the audible tongues to follow.

4 And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.

  1. To this point, all the action had been outside the disciples. The sound had filled the room, and the tongues of fire had appeared and sat upon the Christians. But now things changed, as the disciples “were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak.” What had been external became internal – what had been passively done to them, they now actively participated. At this point, they were now baptized with the Holy Spirit, filled with His power (being the initial filling they ever received), and there was an amazing response that took place. The disciples each spoke in languages they had previously never known, all under the direction and empowerment of God the Holy Spirit.
  2. This brings us to our 2nd major controversy. Several issues are at work: (1) Who/What is the Holy Spirit? (2) What are spoken tongues? (3) Who speaks in tongues & how are they spoken?
    1. Who is the Holy Spirit? This first question is properly a who; not a what. Although we often refer to the Spirit in the 3rd person, the Spirit is a “He” not an “it.” The Holy Spirit is not the energy of God, nor the force generated by God, nor a mere characteristic or attribute of God. The Holy Spirit is God, the 3rd Person of the Trinity (Father, Son, Holy Spirit). To be filled with the Spirit is to be filled with the very person of God Himself. The Spirit speaks, moves, has emotions, has a will, interacts with others, and more. He is the Spirit, and He is the One who empowers Christians to be witnesses of Christ Jesus.
    2. What are spoken tongues? Simply put, they are languages. The word itself can be used for either the physical organ in our mouths, or languages spoken by others. The type of language is not implied at all by the word; only the fact that it is indeed some kind of language. Contextually in New Testament, these are languages that are otherwise unknown to the speaker. That brings us to the 3rd question…
    3. Who speaks in tongues / How are tongues spoken? Acts 2:4 tells us specifically: “as the Spirit gave them utterance.” The only way that true supernatural tongues are possible is via a supernatural move of God the Holy Spirit. On Pentecost, this was not something the disciples generated for themselves or were somehow trained to do. They were miraculously empowered and directed by God the Holy Spirit to speak in such a way.
  3. All of this seems rather straightforward. Miraculous, yes, but straightforward. Why then, is there so much controversy on the subject? I suggest three main causes: (1) denial of the gift, (2) abuse of the gift, (3) misunderstanding of the gift.
    1. First, there are those who deny that the gift of tongues exists for the church today. They say that this was a sign gift used for the Church’s launch, but soon passed from history with the death of the original apostolic generation. Many good, Bible-believing, Jesus-loving, Spirit-indwelt teachers hold this position, but the weight of the Scripture is against them. The single place in the Bible that speaks of the gift of tongues ceasing also speaks of knowledge vanishing (1 Cor 13:8). If one went, the other would be expected to go too. The context of that verse is speaking of heaven and the end of the age; not the end of the original apostles in the 2nd Additionally, in the very next chapter, Paul expressly commands the church not to forbid the speaking of tongues (1 Cor 14:39). If anything, the record of the New Testament is not the vanishing of the gift, but the regulation of it. The Scripture exhorts us to use it properly. That takes us to the next point…
    2. There are many who abuse the gift. They believe that the gift of tongues is the primary evidence of a person’s salvation, and the result is that people invent the use of them when the Holy Spirit hasn’t given them. In some churches, new Christians are even “trained” to speak in tongues through the practice of babbling and ecstatic speaking, something never once commanded nor demonstrated in Scripture. In the New Testament, Christians either spoke in tongues, or they didn’t – no training was required. As a result of this unbiblical practice, many well-meaning Christians believe to have spoken in tongues, when they have not – or are unable to recognize the true gift of tongues when it is actually used. Once again, the teaching of the Bible is against this abuse. Paul makes it clear that there are many varieties of gifts given by the Spirit, and not all people speak in tongues (1 Cor 12:30). In fact, tongues is not even the best of all gifts, as it is not used to edify others (1 Cor 14:5).
    3. At the core of all this is a misunderstanding of the gift. As is clear from the next several verses in Chapter 2 (which provides the one example in all the Bible of any form of interpretation of tongues), the purpose of tongues is to praise God; not to preach to men. On one hand, some believe tongues can only be used to preach the gospel to people of a foreign language – but that simply is not the Biblical record. On the other hand, some believe tongues are used to pray over one another in the church, declaring the prophecies of God – but that isn’t the Biblical record either. Biblically, tongues are one of several gifts of the Holy Spirit, but the only one used exclusively for the personal praise of God. Tongues might be used to get someone’s attention, but it is only the proclamation of the gospel in an understood language that will bring someone to salvation. That’s why Paul to write: 1 Corinthians 14:18–19, “(18) I thank my God I speak with tongues more than you all; (19) yet in the church I would rather speak five words with my understanding, that I may teach others also, than ten thousand words in a tongue.” Five words in the church could minister to a fellow Christian – five words in the street could preach the gospel; 10,000 words in an unknown language might be a wonderful worship experience, but no more.
  4. This all becomes clear in the next several verses as this first-ever use of the gift of tongues is overheard by others in Jerusalem. It got their attention, and it set the stage for the gospel to be preached.
  • Tongues with the crowd (2:5-13)

5 And there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men, from every nation under heaven. 6 And when this sound occurred, the multitude came together, and were confused, because everyone heard them speak in his own language.

  1. The disciples of Jesus were in a house when the Holy Spirit came upon them, but apparently the house wasn’t far removed from a larger crowd. From the later description of 3000 people responding to the gospel preached by Peter, it would seem that the house was likely near the temple, where such a large gathering of Jewish pilgrims would be. For Luke to write that the men had come “from every nation under heaven” is simply for him to say that they had come from all over the Roman empire. When the Jews were first taken into Babylonian captivity, they were scattered all over the known world, and only a relatively small number returned to Israel in order to rebuild their nation. By the time of the Romans, there were pockets of Jews everywhere – which made it natural for the later missionary journeys of Paul, as he would start preaching to the Jews before he went to the Gentiles.
  2. In any case, when the Holy Spirit fell on the believers, they started speaking in tongues & they apparently didn’t remain indoors while they did it. This wasn’t a quiet inside prayer meeting; this was loud enough in order to attract attention. Of course, if the sound of the wind was as loud as the text implies, that may have been enough to first catch some ears, but the sound of the voices was what really did it. The amazing thing was that all of these Jews from so many different nations from around the world all heard their own native tongue being spoken.

7 Then they were all amazed and marveled, saying to one another, “Look, are not all these who speak Galileans? 8 And how is it that we hear, each in our own language in which we were born?

  1. To be a Galilean was to have a distinct accent. It’s one of the reasons that Peter was so easily identified by the crowd outside the house of Caiaphas while Jesus was on trial. When the disciples started speaking, their accent probably gave them away, and it was quickly evident that these were not normally the sorts of people that spoke the various languages that they heard. Understandably, the people in the crowd were “amazed and marveled.” They weren’t sure what was happening, but they knew something special was going on. Although it’s possible that a handful of people might have known a few languages (Aramaic, Greek, and Latin, perhaps), it was highly unlikely that too many people would have been fluent in the languages that were spoken. 
  2. BTW – Elsewhere in the New Testament, when the gift of tongues is taught, so is the gift of interpretation. In the particular case of Pentecost (and only in the case of Pentecost in the Book of Acts; nowhere else when tongues are displayed), the tongues that were spoken had no need of a supernatural interpretation, because the people who were present were able to interpret it for themselves. Interestingly, the word translated “language” is δι维λεκτος (~ dialect). These were languages that were then known & used throughout the Roman empire. A summary of the various languages follows…

9 Parthians and Medes and Elamites, those dwelling in Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya adjoining Cyrene, visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, 11 Cretans and Arabs—we hear them speaking in our own tongues the wonderful works of God.”

  1. Although many have tried to determine some sort of pattern and meaning to the list, the basic idea is clear: name the representative country, and it was spoken. If there was a Jew present from a region of the Roman empire, than among the 120 disciples of Jesus, there was some person who was praising God in that language. No region was left out – this was a comprehensive sweep of the empire, thus a symbolic sweep of the world and a wonderful reversal/restoration of what went wrong at the ancient Tower of Babel. There, God confused the languages to confound the rebellion of men; in Jerusalem, God gave the languages to help them hear of His glories.
  2. The most important part isn’t the various countries and languages; it’s the content of what the people heard in their languages: “the wonderful works of God.” Remember that this is the one example in the entire New Testament that any kind of interpretation/translation is provided of any example of the spiritual gift of tongues. What were the disciples doing? Praising God. They weren’t preaching the gospel, nor were they exhorting one another – they were giving God the glory for the things He has done. In the Hebrew mindset, praise is public – it is something that is proclaimed. There’s a reason why the psalms of praise read the way they do. These were not things that could (or should) be kept locked up in the hearts of the faithful; they were meant to be declared. Psalm 145:4–7, “(4) One generation shall praise Your works to another, And shall declare Your mighty acts. (5) I will meditate on the glorious splendor of Your majesty, And on Your wondrous works. (6) Men shall speak of the might of Your awesome acts, And I will declare Your greatness. (7) They shall utter the memory of Your great goodness, And shall sing of Your righteousness.” This is the sort of praise that was familiar to the Jews, and doubtless, this was the sort of praise proclaimed by the Pentecost Christians. What exactly it was they said was not recorded, but the heart of what they said was: their declaration of the wonderful works of God.
    1. This is affirmed in Paul’s corrections that he gives to the Corinthian church regarding their abuse and/or confusion with the spiritual gifts (particularly tongues): 1 Corinthians 14:1–4, “(1) Pursue love, and desire spiritual gifts, but especially that you may prophesy. (2) For he who speaks in a tongue does not speak to men but to God, for no one understands him; however, in the spirit he speaks mysteries. (3) But he who prophesies speaks edification and exhortation and comfort to men. (4) He who speaks in a tongue edifies himself, but he who prophesies edifies the church.” To whom is a prophecy spoken? To whom are tongues spoken? God. This gives us a fantastic clue as to when a real Spirit-given tongue is practiced: when it is done in praise to God, giving Him glory, honoring the Son. A supposed tongue that is interpreted as a message to men is not a tongue at all, nor is a bunch of speech that simply calls attention to itself (and the speaker).
  3. As for the Jews during Pentecost, their attention was put directly upon the Lord God, and that caused them to search for an explanation.

12 So they were all amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “Whatever could this mean?” 13 Others mocking said, “They are full of new wine.”

  1. All heard the disciples praising God; several refused to follow them into praise. Some thought the disciples were crazy (1 Cor 14:23), or more to the case, drunk. It was a festival, after all – perhaps these men and women had broke open the booze. They were accused of being “full of new wine,” or the super-sweet wine that was still in the process of fermenting. (γλε峥κος ~ glucose) The truth was exactly the opposite. Like Paul wrote to the Ephesians, these disciples were not filled with wine, but with the Holy Spirit! (Eph 5:18)
  2. Question: What made them mock? Why did the scoffers scoff? The same reason anyone does today: it’s easier to mock Christians than to accept a miracle of Christ. If the skeptics among the Jews recognized a true work of God taking place, then it would mean they would have to respond to that work. Keep in mind that miracles are never done for show or simple entertainment (though they are often treated that way); they are done to authenticate the message of God. That’s exactly what takes place here, and where Peter will pick up with the first evangelistic sermon of the Church Age.

Conclusion:

50 days after Jesus’ resurrection from the grave, His disciples were baptized with God the Holy Spirit. The first made the Church possible (via forgiveness of sin); the second gave the Church birth and power (via the filling of the presence of God). It was an amazing day, and it was only the beginning! Peter was about to launch into the first revival message ever preached, and it would have incredible results. On that festival day celebrating the harvest and the Law of God, the Church was empowered to reap a wonderful harvest as they were filled and baptized with the Spirit of God.

In retrospect, it’s sad that such a joyful day in church history has become such a point of controversy among Christians. It’s not that anyone doubts the facts of what took place that day; it’s that they disagree about how it applies to this day.

Can the day of Pentecost be repeated? No. That was a unique day in history, just like Jesus’ one crucifixion and one resurrection. It can be celebrated and remembered (May 20, 2018!), but we should not expect the sound of wind and visible tongues of fire. We can expect the Spirit’s presence and His power. We can expect to be filled with the Spirit and His gifts. Not all Christians have the same gifts, but all Christians have some gift. Whatever gift you have, it is to be used for the glory of God.

The operative word here is “used.” The gift of tongues that day, however incredible, isn’t the main point. That wasn’t even what the disciples were waiting for. The disciples had been waiting for the Holy Spirit, and they were used by the Holy Spirit. It was the Spirit who filled them, and the Spirit who gave them utterance. It was the Spirit of God who used them for the glory of God. That is something that every Christian should desire! Whatever someone happens to believe about the various Biblical gifts, to be used by God’s Spirit for God’s glory is wonderful!

That’s something that God desires for all of us. We can be a part of the work of God, but only when we are empowered by Him and directed by Him. Too much of the controversies surrounding these things today exist (1) because people are focusing on gifts, rather than the Giver, (2) people try to force these things for themselves rather than being directed by God, and sometimes sadly (3) people are seeking their own glory rather than the Lord’s. 

Let us, as Bible-believing Christians, be done with that! There is far too much work to do for us to be caught up in such a mess. As Jesus said, the harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. How can we be workers? When we are empowered by the Holy Spirit. And yes, this is what God desires for you.

Christian, when was the last time you asked to be filled with the Holy Spirit? Have you even ever thought to ask?

Finding a Bride

Posted: May 10, 2018 in Genesis, Uncategorized

Genesis 24, “Finding a Bride”

Proverbs 18:22 says, “He who finds a wife finds a good thing, And obtains favor from the Lord.” Every husband can attest (or should be able to attest, in an ideal scenario) that one of the best blessings they every received from the Lord was their wife. For some, this was an easier task than others. Some people marry their high-school sweetheart that they have known most of their lives – some meet in random scenarios and immediately hit it off. Others have to work hard, and search far and wide for the right person God has intended for them. It’s not always easy, but when it’s right, it’s worth it!

For Isaac and Rebekah, they had a bit of both. On one hand, Isaac had to search (or rather, have someone sent to search) far distances for a bride, traveling to ancient homelands hundreds of miles away, hoping to meet exactly the right family out of all of the families that were there. It wasn’t too unlike searching for a needle in a haystack. On the other hand, Isaac’s servant was led directly by the Lord God. If anyone could pick out a needle from a haystack, it is the Lord! He knew exactly the right bride for Isaac, and could (and did) lead the servant directly to her doorstep. When the provision is of the Lord, it’s no problem at all.

That is one of the main lessons seen throughout Chapter 24: the provision of God is given not only the father (Abraham), but to the son (Isaac). Just as the covenant blessing would soon pass from father to son, so would God’s covenant provision. Isaac was prophesied to grow into a great nation that would eventually lead to the Messiah, and that meant he required the right bride from the right bloodline, and Almighty God would see it done.

God’s provision was most recently seen in Genesis 22, when Abraham’s faith was tested by God in one of the most extreme ways possible: Isaac (the son for whom he waited 25 years) had to be given back to the Lord in sacrifice. Yet Abraham had faith in God’s goodness, God’s promise, and God’s power, knowing that God could & would raise Isaac from the dead, if need be. Isaac had been promised, and had been given…and God would give him again if that’s what it took for God’s word to be true. Abraham raised his knife, but God stopped the sacrifice, providing His own substitute (and foreshadowing the day when Jesus would become the substitute for all mankind, as the only begotten Son of God). In response, God reiterated all of the covenant blessings He had earlier promised to Abraham.

Time passed, and Abraham’s wife Sarah died, prompting Abraham to purchase the only piece of land he ever owned in Canaan: a burial plot/cave. Despite the greediness of the previous landowner, Abraham conducted himself with honor, trusting the Lord to provide for his every need…and God always did.

With Sarah buried, and his inheritance guaranteed to Isaac apart from any competitive claims from Ishmael (having been expelled), only one thing remained. Abraham wanted to find a wife for his beloved son. This wasn’t simply Abraham’s desire; it was to be God’s provision. Just as God was Jehovah Jireh (Yahweh Yireh) for Abraham, so He would be for Isaac. God would provide his every need, ensuring he received the covenant promises – even if that meant finding a needle in a haystack for Isaac’s wife.

We can trust God’s provision – we can trust His care for us! We know God leads us, so we want to be faithful in following.

Genesis 24

  • The servant’s oath (1-9)

1 Now Abraham was old, well advanced in age; and the LORD had blessed Abraham in all things.

  1. Although some scholars believe Abraham was 140 at this point, the text doesn’t actually say. He was 137 at the time of Sarah’s death, so it is reasonable to believe that some time had passed. Either way, he truly was “well advanced in age.” By this point, he was making final preparations for himself and for his family.
  2. And had God blessed him? Yes – immensely! God had given him a home, an inheritance, a promise, and a son. And that’s not even to mention the wealth, livestock, and good health the Lord gave to him. Abraham was not perfect, but he certainly had a blessed life!

2 So Abraham said to the oldest servant of his house, who ruled over all that he had, “Please, put your hand under my thigh, 3 and I will make you swear by the LORD, the God of heaven and the God of the earth, that you will not take a wife for my son from the daughters of the Canaanites, among whom I dwell; 4 but you shall go to my country and to my family, and take a wife for my son Isaac.”

  1. Who was the servant? Technically, we don’t know. Some scholars are convinced it was Eliezer of Damascus (Genesis 15:2), but that is under the assumption that Eliezer is still alive by this point. Just because Abraham lived a very long life doesn’t mean that everyone in his household did. Additionally, it seems strange that a servant who was named earlier would be left nameless here. In the end, it doesn’t matter. This was an elderly trusted servant of Abraham, and he was faithful to Abraham and to Abraham’s God. That’s the important part.
  2. By this point, Isaac was anywhere from 37-40 years old. He was no longer a young boy who needed caring for – why would Isaac not be personally sent to find his own bride from Abraham’s family? Perhaps there were several reasons, but the most obvious was this: Abraham loved his son! As is seen in the text, Abraham firmly believed that Isaac was meant by God to remain in the land of promise, and Isaac would be unable to do so if he went all the way back to Abraham’s family in order to find himself a wife. In the culture of the day, marriages were often arranged, so it was not unusual at all for a father to find a bride for his son. Obviously Abraham was too old to personally travel, so he called for his trusted servant to do it for him.
    1. Interestingly this changes in the following generation. Later, Jacob would personally make this same trip to find wife, but the circumstances were drastically different. His travel was not due to love, but fear. Jacob had to flee for his life, and it brought on a lot of heartache that might have otherwise been avoided.
  3. From Abraham’s perspective, the need at hand was that Isaac not marry any of the women of the Canaanites. These were women who worshipped foreign gods, and that would pose a constant danger to his son, especially in terms of the covenant blessing. Any time the Hebrews married the Gentiles around them, it was a snare to them, and Abraham would guard his son from that. 

5 And the servant said to him, “Perhaps the woman will not be willing to follow me to this land. Must I take your son back to the land from which you came?”

  1. Reasonable question! What would happen if the potential bride refused to be a bride?

6 But Abraham said to him, “Beware that you do not take my son back there. 7 The LORD God of heaven, who took me from my father’s house and from the land of my family, and who spoke to me and swore to me, saying, ‘To your descendants I give this land,’ He will send His angel before you, and you shall take a wife for my son from there.

  1. Abraham’s answer? It wouldn’t happen. He had faith that God would not allow failure. YHWH would “send His angel” to lead and guide the servant. Just like God had led Abraham out of Ur & away from Padan Aram to come to Canaan, so would God lead Abraham’s servant in the opposite direction. Not only would God lead the servant to the right city and right family, but God would lead the servant to a willing woman. Abraham had faith that this trip would end in total success.
  2. Was this simply good hopes & well-wishing? Was Abraham simply engaging in the power of positive thinking? Not at all. Abraham had faith in the goodness and grace of God. God promised Abraham a son, and God delivered. God promised Abraham a land, and God delivered. Now God promised Abraham a nation, and Abraham had no doubt that God would deliver this as well. That required a pure wife, someone unmixed from the current nations surrounding Abraham. After all, if Isaac married a Canaanite, then his descendants would have been thought of as Canaanites – there wouldn’t be the birth of a separate distinct nation at all. This is yet another miracle God would have to provide, but Abraham knew that God would provide it. God had proven Himself faithful too many other times for Him to fail now!
    1. God will always see His promises fulfilled! There is no word of His that He will not bring to fruition. Of that you can be sure!

8 And if the woman is not willing to follow you, then you will be released from this oath; only do not take my son back there.” 9 So the servant put his hand under the thigh of Abraham his master, and swore to him concerning this matter.

  1. Did Abraham’s faith waver? This is not a just-in-case “if;” this is a it-won’t-happen-but-I’ll-say-it-anyway “if.” Abraham’s faith is not in the persuasive power of the servant; it was in the promise and power of God. The servant would not be blamed if God failed to deliver…but God wouldn’t fail. Abraham was certain of it. (This is faith!)
  2. FYI: The practice of putting a hand “under the thigh” when making an oath was a way of strengthening the importance. According to some, it was a sign of swearing to the future generations of one’s own faithfulness. If the servant failed to be obedient, then the future generations of Abraham still within his body would rise up to punish the servant. The bottom line is that this wasn’t a pie-crust promise; this was a solemn oath made with the utmost sincerity.
  • The servant’s test (10-28)

10 Then the servant took ten of his master’s camels and departed, for all his master’s goods were in his hand. And he arose and went to Mesopotamia, to the city of Nahor.

  1. If it sounds like the servant took a lot of supplies, he did – and it was necessary. From Hebron to Haran was a distance of 520 miles, which would take an estimated 21 days via camel. The servant had the potential of being gone nearly two months in total.
  2. Eventually he arrived (all the travel time is left unnarrated as it was unimportant), and he immediately set to his task. 

11 And he made his camels kneel down outside the city by a well of water at evening time, the time when women go out to draw water. 12 Then he said, “O LORD God of my master Abraham, please give me success this day, and show kindness to my master Abraham. 13 Behold, here I stand by the well of water, and the daughters of the men of the city are coming out to draw water. 14 Now let it be that the young woman to whom I say, ‘Please let down your pitcher that I may drink,’ and she says, ‘Drink, and I will also give your camels a drink’—let her be the one You have appointed for Your servant Isaac. And by this I will know that You have shown kindness to my master.”

  1. The servant had a wise plan. He arrived during the time when women would most naturally be at the well. If he was searching for a woman, that was one of his best opportunities and locations within the city.
    1. Wisdom and faith go hand-in-hand. These aren’t mutually exclusive.
  2. The servant spoke a faithful prayer. On his own, he understood he didn’t have a chance in the world of just “happening” to run across Abraham’s family. Ultimately, his trust was in God’s “kindness” or God’s “loyal love” to Abraham.
    1. What is the source for any of our blessing? Only the grace and kindness of God!
  3. The servant had a test of provision. Although we are not to put the Lord our God to the test (Dt 6:16, Mt 4:7), what the servant did here was necessary. This wasn’t his temptation of the Lord; it was his trust in the Lord. He understood that his success was 100% dependent upon God’s work, and he needed some way in which to know that God was leading & working, so he came up with this. If the young woman watered not only himself, but his camels, then that would be the sign.
    1. Again, we don’t test God with signs today, but that’s because God has already given us a sign: Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. We can’t get a better demonstration of His power and provision for us than that!

15 And it happened, before he had finished speaking, that behold, Rebekah, who was born to Bethuel, son of Milcah, the wife of Nahor, Abraham’s brother, came out with her pitcher on her shoulder. 16 Now the young woman was very beautiful to behold, a virgin; no man had known her. And she went down to the well, filled her pitcher, and came up.

  1. This was a quick answer to the servant’s prayer! He hadn’t “finished speaking” his prayer to God in his heart before a young woman came to the well. And this wasn’t any young woman; it was exactly the right young woman! She was the perfect match, although the servant did not know it at the time. Before the servant was finished praying, God was already in the process of answering his prayer. In fact, before the servant had ever started praying, God had already set things in motion, causing Rebekah to start walking to the well at the exact moment that Abraham’s servant would arrive and be ready to look for her.
  2. Question: Should the servant still have prayed? Absolutely! God already knew the prayer that would be prayed, and He already provided the answer to it before he prayed it.
    1. What prayers is God ready to answer, of which you haven’t yet prayed? What ways is God prepared to show Himself faithful, of which you haven’t yet trusted Him? Step out in faith! You might just be surprised at what God will do.

17 And the servant ran to meet her and said, “Please let me drink a little water from your pitcher.” 18 So she said, “Drink, my lord.” Then she quickly let her pitcher down to her hand, and gave him a drink.

  1. So far, so good. Now what would happen? To this point, it was all basic kindness. The first part of the test wasn’t really a big deal. The second part was the real test…

19 And when she had finished giving him a drink, she said, “I will draw water for your camels also, until they have finished drinking.” 20 Then she quickly emptied her pitcher into the trough, ran back to the well to draw water, and drew for all his camels.

  1. This was the answer he was waiting for! She offered water not only to him, but all his camels. Remember, he had brought ten camels for his journey, and she faithfully watered each of them with the single pitcher she brought with her. This was hard-work, yet Rebekah did it willingly without complaint. It demonstrated not only her work-ethic, but also her servant’s heart.

21 And the man, wondering at her, remained silent so as to know whether the LORD had made his journey prosperous or not.

  1. Considering how the test seems to have been fully answered, why did the servant wonder? Because even in all of this, he still didn’t know Rebekah’s identity. To this point, he hadn’t asked her name or her family. Abraham’s charge was that the servant go to Abraham’s family in Haran; not simply any family in Haran. The truly difficult tests had been performed, but there would yet be only one way to know for sure if God had led him to this point. That’s when he generously paid Rebekah for her services in watering the camels, and then sprung the big question on her. 

22 So it was, when the camels had finished drinking, that the man took a golden nose ring weighing half a shekel, and two bracelets for her wrists weighing ten shekels of gold, 23 and said, “Whose daughter are you? Tell me, please, is there room in your father’s house for us to lodge?” 24 So she said to him, “I am the daughter of Bethuel, Milcah’s son, whom she bore to Nahor.” 25 Moreover she said to him, “We have both straw and feed enough, and room to lodge.”

  1. Success! This was exactly the answer he for which he hoped. Out of all the people he could have met upon entering the town – of all the days he arrived – out of all of the chances in the world, it was obvious this wasn’t “chance” at all! God led him to exactly the right woman, the great-niece of his master Abraham. And not only did she confirm her genealogy, but she also confirmed her family’s hospitality. Everything that the servant needed of the Lord God was laid graciously at his feet.
    1. The providence of God is incredible! Never doubt it – always trust in it!
  2. The servant’s response: what else, but worship!

26 Then the man bowed down his head and worshiped the LORD. 27 And he said, “Blessed be the LORD God of my master Abraham, who has not forsaken His mercy and His truth toward my master. As for me, being on the way, the LORD led me to the house of my master’s brethren.”

  1. Earlier, it was unclear whether or not the servant truly worshipped the Lord, or if he simply prayed to the God of his master, Abraham. Here, there’s no question. He worshiped YHWH! His response to the answered prayers and direct leading of God was for him to bow & prostrate himself before the God of heaven and earth in worship. He knew the Lord, and He knew the Lord had been faithful. God had not abandoned/forsaken His loyal love towards Abraham – God’s covenant promises to Abraham proved to be true, even when Abraham was over 500 miles away! God’s word was always true, because God is a faithful God! Centuries later, Moses would say this to Abraham’s descendants: Deuteronomy 7:9, “Therefore know that the LORD your God, He is God, the faithful God who keeps covenant and mercy for a thousand generations with those who love Him and keep His commandments;” God is the faithful God! He was faithful to Abraham – He was faithful to Israel – and He will be faithful to us!
    1. God keeps His word simply because of who He is. He can do no different, as He will never contradict Himself. He is faithful! Do you trust Him? Do you trust the promises of Jesus? Do you trust His character & His person & His mercies? He will not forsake them, thus He will not forsake you.

28 So the young woman ran and told her mother’s household these things.

  1. There’s no mention of any response of Rebekah back to the servant. No doubt, this was more than a bit surprising. She probably was so taken aback that she wasn’t sure what to do!
  • The servant’s tale & request (29-53)

29 Now Rebekah had a brother whose name was Laban, and Laban ran out to the man by the well. 30 So it came to pass, when he saw the nose ring, and the bracelets on his sister’s wrists, and when he heard the words of his sister Rebekah, saying, “Thus the man spoke to me,” that he went to the man. And there he stood by the camels at the well. 31 And he said, “Come in, O blessed of the LORD! Why do you stand outside? For I have prepared the house, and a place for the camels.”

  1. This is the reader’s introduction to Laban, who becomes more prominent in the account of Jacob. Here, he is shown with apparent hospitality, potentially even knowing the Lord God of Abraham (YHWH). Later, it becomes obvious he is a schemer & conniver. At the very least, he demonstrates the cultural hospitality at the time, inviting the servant to come and stay with his family, which he did.

32 Then the man came to the house. And he unloaded the camels, and provided straw and feed for the camels, and water to wash his feet and the feet of the men who were with him. 33 Food was set before him to eat, but he said, “I will not eat until I have told about my errand.” And he said, “Speak on.”

  1. The servant takes a few minutes to do what’s necessary, but he doesn’t let anything delay him from his mission. Even if the camels needed to eat, he himself could wait. The servant had demonstrated himself to be obedient this far, and after the demonstration to him by the Lord earlier that day, no doubt the servant was bursting at the seams ready to see what would happen next.

34 So he said, “I am Abraham’s servant. 35 The LORD has blessed my master greatly, and he has become great; and He has given him flocks and herds, silver and gold, male and female servants, and camels and donkeys. 36 And Sarah my master’s wife bore a son to my master when she was old; and to him he has given all that he has.

  1. Before he gets to the important part of his story, he has to first tell them about God’s blessing of Abraham. Keep in mind that there wasn’t much information that travelled back and forth between people at the time. They may have wondered how Abram’s name was changed to Abraham, and even been amazed that Abraham was still alive, considering that he was actually the uncle of Bethuel and great-uncle of Laban. Additionally, the servant speaks of God’s blessing upon Abraham. He was amazingly wealthy by the standards of the day, viewed as a prince by those around him. This would have been impressive, to be sure.
  2. The background stated, the servant goes on to recount the tale of his journey, repeating much of what has already been written for the reader…

37 Now my master made me swear, saying, ‘You shall not take a wife for my son from the daughters of the Canaanites, in whose land I dwell; 38 but you shall go to my father’s house and to my family, and take a wife for my son.’ 39 And I said to my master, ‘Perhaps the woman will not follow me.’ 40 But he said to me, ‘The LORD, before whom I walk, will send His angel with you and prosper your way; and you shall take a wife for my son from my family and from my father’s house. 41 You will be clear from this oath when you arrive among my family; for if they will not give her to you, then you will be released from my oath.’ 42 “And this day I came to the well and said, ‘O LORD God of my master Abraham, if You will now prosper the way in which I go, 43 behold, I stand by the well of water; and it shall come to pass that when the virgin comes out to draw water, and I say to her, “Please give me a little water from your pitcher to drink,” 44 and she says to me, “Drink, and I will draw for your camels also,”—let her be the woman whom the LORD has appointed for my master’s son.’ 45 “But before I had finished speaking in my heart, there was Rebekah, coming out with her pitcher on her shoulder; and she went down to the well and drew water. And I said to her, ‘Please let me drink.’ 46 And she made haste and let her pitcher down from her shoulder, and said, ‘Drink, and I will give your camels a drink also.’ So I drank, and she gave the camels a drink also. 47 Then I asked her, and said, ‘Whose daughter are you?’ And she said, ‘The daughter of Bethuel, Nahor’s son, whom Milcah bore to him.’ So I put the nose ring on her nose and the bracelets on her wrists. 48 And I bowed my head and worshiped the LORD, and blessed the LORD God of my master Abraham, who had led me in the way of truth to take the daughter of my master’s brother for his son.

  1. Few new details are given to the reader, mostly minor, such as the servant being the one to actually put the nose ring into Rebekah’s nose.
  2. In the telling, notice his emphasis on the work of the Lord God. Abraham’s faith in YHWH was known (40) – the servant’s dependence upon YHWH was seen (42, 44) – the work of YHWH was acknowledged through the servant’s worship of Him (48). For all the action that took place among the servant & Rebekah, the Actor who received the most attention and credit was the Lord God Himself.
  3. What is the servant doing? Sharing his testimony. He said where he had come from, how God had led him, the work of God for him, and his response to God in praise. That’s exactly what we do when we share our faith in Christ… And likewise, the emphasis in our testimonies needs to be upon the Lord Jesus; not us. We are witnesses of Him; not ourselves…
  4. The servant even gave an invitation. 

49 Now if you will deal kindly and truly with my master, tell me. And if not, tell me, that I may turn to the right hand or to the left.”

  1. The servant had already responded to the work of the Lord; now it was their turn. This was the moment of truth, and it was time for a decision. Would they acknowledge God, or not? (There comes a time for all of us, when a decision needs to be made!)

50 Then Laban and Bethuel answered and said, “The thing comes from the LORD; we cannot speak to you either bad or good. 51 Here is Rebekah before you; take her and go, and let her be your master’s son’s wife, as the LORD has spoken.” 52 And it came to pass, when Abraham’s servant heard their words, that he worshiped the LORD, bowing himself to the earth.

  1. Be careful not to get the wrong idea from verse 50. It’s not that Laban and Bethuel are apathetic, unwilling to take a stand on the matter; they readily acknowledged that this circumstance came “from the LORD.” The idea is that whatever opinion they might have had regarding the actions of the servant were irrelevant. If God ordained it, who were they to come against it? The will of God would prosper, regardless of their approval.
    1. BTW – interestingly, it seems that Bethuel, Rebekah’s father, was still alive, even though most of the decisions are voiced by Laban. It could be that Bethuel had become feeble to the point of handing off the day-to-day family responsibilities to his oldest son.
  2. In the end, Laban and Bethuel gave their permission for Rebekah to leave, thereby answering all of the prayers of the servant. Once again, he worshipped the Lord, properly giving God the glory for the things that had been done. Laban and Bethuel might be thanked, but it was only God who was to be praised. Ultimately, He was the one responsible. 

53 Then the servant brought out jewelry of silver, jewelry of gold, and clothing, and gave them to Rebekah. He also gave precious things to her brother and to her mother.

  1. Culturally, this was probably the equivalent to the dowry payment. Gifts were given to Rebekah, as an advance taste of what she would receive in the home of Isaac. Other gifts of wealth were given to her family (headed by “her brother”), both as a sign of goodwill, and insurance against future potential problems.
  • The servant’s departure (54-61)

54 And he and the men who were with him ate and drank and stayed all night. Then they arose in the morning, and he said, “Send me away to my master.” 55 But her brother and her mother said, “Let the young woman stay with us a few days, at least ten; after that she may go.” 56 And he said to them, “Do not hinder me, since the LORD has prospered my way; send me away so that I may go to my master.”

  1. Just as the servant had wanted to immediately state his request prior to even eating dinner, the servant did not waste time the next morning. A late night did not hinder his early departure, and he was soon ready to make his 21+ day journey back to Canaan.
  2. This time, there was a bit of a problem. Laban and his (and Rebekah’s) mother objected, asking for more time. And they didn’t just ask a little…they asked for a minimum of ten days. They were willing to stretch out the servant’s journey by nearly another two weeks. Question: why? The text doesn’t say, but it’s possible that they were seeking more gifts of wealth from the servant as a type of bribe. He was the proverbial “cash cow,” and they probably didn’t want him leaving so quickly.
  3. The servant wasn’t fooled at all. This wasn’t sentimentality on the part of the family; this was purposeful hindrance. Everyone had already acknowledged that the Lord God was at work, there should have been no problem in immediate obedience. Any delay at this point was purposeful rebellion, and the servant would have no part in it.

57 So they said, “We will call the young woman and ask her personally.” 58 Then they called Rebekah and said to her, “Will you go with this man?” And she said, “I will go.”

  1. The family was probably counting on Rebekah to fear the future and refuse to go. If so, they were disappointed! From the text, there is no indication that Rebekah hesitated in the slightest. When given the chance, she was willing to leave.
  2. At this point, we start to see Rebekah’s own faith. Think about it: the only thing she knew of this servant was from her encounter with him the previous day. She had only his word upon which to rely, and she was about to leave the only home she had ever known to go with him to a land hundreds of miles away, with no possibility of ever seeing her family again. She had barely 12-18 hours to know the servant and consider the matter, and yet she’s willing to go. Were not the Lord dramatically and obviously involved, this would be the height of foolishness! As it was, it was sheer faith. God was involved, and there could be no doubt. It was a miracle that had led the servant directly to Rebekah, and she understood this in her heart. Her only possible response was immediate obedience.
    1. That’s the way it ought to be with us! When God’s word is clear (as it is in the Bible), our response ought to be evident.
  3. With Rebekah’s commitment, Laban had no other choice. They let her go with their blessing…

59 So they sent away Rebekah their sister and her nurse, and Abraham’s servant and his men. 60 And they blessed Rebekah and said to her: “Our sister, may you become The mother of thousands of ten thousands; And may your descendants possess The gates of those who hate them.”

  1. Although they had no way of knowing, their blessing was truly prophetic. There’s no indication that Abraham’s servant told them of the many aspects of God’s covenant with him, yet this was all part of God’s plan for Abraham’s descendants. Rebekah truly would become a mother of nations, and they would experience the victory and blessing of God!

61 Then Rebekah and her maids arose, and they rode on the camels and followed the man. So the servant took Rebekah and departed.

  1. Off they went. How many maids went with Rebekah, we don’t know. 
  • The servant’s success (62-67)

62 Now Isaac came from the way of Beer Lahai Roi, for he dwelt in the South. 63 And Isaac went out to meditate in the field in the evening; and he lifted his eyes and looked, and there, the camels were coming.

  1. Fast-forward 21+ days, and the provision of God is still at work. The servant went past Hebron further to the south where Isaac dwelt, and who does he happen to encounter at the moment of his arrival? 
  2. Interestingly, Isaac was in the region of Beer Lahai Roi, the same location visited by Hagar when she was originally pregnant with Ishmael. At the time, she had run away from Sarai, and God coaxed her back, graciously demonstrating that He saw her. “Beer Lahai Roi” translates to “The well of the Living One who sees me.” God had seen Hagar, and God saw Isaac. Even here, Isaac lifted his own eyes and saw the provision of God before him. And he wasn’t the only one…

64 Then Rebekah lifted her eyes, and when she saw Isaac she dismounted from her camel; 65 for she had said to the servant, “Who is this man walking in the field to meet us?” The servant said, “It is my master.” So she took a veil and covered herself.

  1. Just as Isaac had seen Rebekah in the distance, so did she see her future husband. At this point, she did what was culturally appropriate at the time & veiled herself, as she would remain until the day of their marriage.

66 And the servant told Isaac all the things that he had done. 67 Then Isaac brought her into his mother Sarah’s tent; and he took Rebekah and she became his wife, and he loved her. So Isaac was comforted after his mother’s death.

  1. Isaac is told the news, and eventually the two are wed.

Conclusion:

Genesis 24 is the longest narrative account in the book, but how wonderful it is! Through this long narration, we repeatedly see the gracious provision of God. He had a loyal covenantal love for Abraham and Isaac, and His kindness to them would not be forsaken. God would lead a servant through deserts and into strange cities to exactly the right person out of any number of people, if that was what it took for God’s promises to be honored. No obstacle was too great, no journey too difficult. When God was leading, He could find a needle in a haystack – He could even bring forth the needle before the seeker knew where to look!

Our God still provides! Our God is still faithful! He does not forsake His promises or His people. What He has said, He will do – and He has proven this through what He has already done. We have no greater proof of the love of God than the cross and resurrection of Christ. In Jesus, He has already shown Himself to be abundantly faithful.

So believe Him – worship Him – obey Him – tell others about Him! Follow the example of Abraham’s servant, ourselves being servants of the Most High God!

Another Apostle

Posted: May 6, 2018 in Acts, Uncategorized

Acts 1:12-26, “Another Apostle”

Fans and alumni of Texas A&M University are more than familiar with the concept of the 12th Man. Aggies know the history of E. King Gill, who stood on the sidelines, dressed out & ready to play, as the small A&M football team in 1922 battled with multiple injuries – only to pull an outstanding upset and victory. But Gill had remained ready to go at a moment’s notice, vigilant with purpose. In the years that followed, the entire student body became the proverbial “12th Man,” all them now, ready to play if the need arose.

With the deepest respect to our Aggie friends, the original 12th Man was not found in 1922 with the football team of A&M, but around 33AD among the disciples of Jesus. It was then that a man was found to fill the vacancy left by a traitor (Judas Iscariot), and it was the first time after the ascension of Jesus that the church saw how God led them and would continue to lead them. Jesus had physically departed, but He had not left them alone. As He had said to them in Galilee, with His Great Commission, He would be with them always, “even to the end of the age.”

Of course, those were the events that had led up to this moment. Just barely a month earlier (40+ days), Jesus had been rejected by the Jewish nation, brutally crucified by the Roman Gentiles, and buried in a rich man’s tomb. Three days later He rose, and in the weeks that followed, Jesus had provided abundant proofs that He was alive. He physically appeared to many, ate food in the presence of witnesses, continued to teach the Scriptures to His disciples, and more. In the end, Jesus commanded the disciples two things for the immediate time: to wait & to witness. They were to wait in Jerusalem for the baptism of the Holy Spirit, Who (being the 3rd Person of the Godhead) would empower them to be Jesus’ witnesses to the world. They would testify of the Risen Lord Jesus in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. With this final command, Jesus demonstrated one more miracle: His physical ascension straight up into the clouds (a visible manifestation of the glory of God). Staring into the sky, lost in wonder, the disciples were spurred back into the present by two angels who told them although Jesus had gone up miraculously, He would return in the same way. (We weren’t there to see Jesus rise, but we will be with Him at His return…and it will be glorious!)

So what now? Now the disciples needed to be obedient to the first part of their command: they needed to wait. But something else needed to happen before they could be used by God to preach the gospel to the nation of Israel: they needed their numbers restored. When Jesus originally chose 12 men to be His apostles, He hadn’t chosen a random figure; this was a number with a purpose. Just as there are 12 tribes of Israel, there were 12 apostles – men meant to provide leadership to the church and to sit in judgment over the 12 Hebrew tribes. On the night of the Last Supper (ironically after Jesus had just provided an incredible demonstration of His own humility), the disciples broke out into an argument about who would be greatest in the kingdom. Chastising them, Jesus instructed all of them to be humble, but also told them of the glories to come: Luke 22:28–30, “(28) But you are those who have continued with Me in My trials. (29) And I bestow upon you a kingdom, just as My Father bestowed one upon Me, (30) that you may eat and drink at My table in My kingdom, and sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel.” God has a purpose for 12 apostles, so 12 were needed.

Peter, James, John, and the others knew this, but now they faced a problem: there were only 11. What to do? Answer: pray, and trust God to provide for His church. And He did! Jesus always provides for His church, because it is (we are) His church. He is the One to build it, and we can trust that He is the One to keep it. 

Acts 1:12–26

  • The apostles pray (12-14)

12 Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a Sabbath day’s journey.

  1. Jesus’ ascent into the clouds of glory had been just outside Jerusalem on the Mount of Olives, which was not only the place of His ascension, but will also be the place of His return. It is extremely close to the city, being what Luke described as a “Sabbath day’s journey.” This was a common measurement used by the rabbis to describe the acceptable maximum distance that could be travelled by a Jew on a Sabbath day without it falling into the category of “work.” Long hikes can be labor-intensive, and that was to be guarded against on the day of rest. Over time, the rabbis came up with a distance of 2000 cubits (estimates range from one-half to two-thirds a mile), which was the estimated distance that someone from the furthest end of the Hebrews camping in the wilderness would need to travel in order to arrive at the Tabernacle for worship.
  2. Last week, we observed that the Book of Acts can be thought of as a sequel (or part 2) of Luke’s gospel, picking up the account of Jesus’ works among His church where the gospel account left off. With that in mind, there might appear to be a bit of contradiction with the end of the previous book. According to Luke 24:50, it would seem that Jesus had ascended from Bethany, which is slightly further away from Jerusalem & more than a Sabbath’s day journey, being a little less than 2 miles away. Upon closer inspection, there is no contradiction at all. Luke 24:50 says that Jesus “led them out as far as Bethany,” being an approximation of distance, and on the way to Bethany, as the Mount of Olives plainly is. Considering that Luke is the author of both accounts, it would be highly unlikely for him to so easily contradict himself, and he doesn’t do it here or anywhere else. (Always give the Bible the benefit of the doubt! A little research usually clears up any potential problem.)

13 And when they had entered, they went up into the upper room where they were staying: Peter, James, John, and Andrew; Philip and Thomas; Bartholomew and Matthew; James the son of Alphaeus and Simon the Zealot; and Judas the son of James.

  1. This is the same list of apostles as seen in the gospel accounts, with the obvious exception of Judas Iscariot now lacking. “Simon the Zealot” is known elsewhere as “Simon the Canaanite,” and “Judas the son of James” is the same as Thaddaeus/Labbaeus. The various lists generally demonstrate a different order of names (although Peter is always first), but it doesn’t usually mean much. Sometimes brothers were listed together – other times not. Peter, James, John, and Andrew were part of Jesus’ inner-circle of friends, but all were equally apostles with one another, being specifically chosen by Jesus to testify of Him and His teaching to the world.
  2. The 11 were in “the upper room,” potentially the same upper room in which they had celebrated the Passover last supper with Jesus (Lk 22:12). Yet they weren’t alone.

14 These all continued with one accord in prayer and supplication, with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with His brothers.

  1. Who else was there? At the very least, the “women” who had followed Jesus throughout His crucifixion, burial, and resurrection (Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome – Mk 16:1), as well as Jesus’ earthly family: His mother Mary, and “His brothers” (James, Joses, Judas/Jude, and Simon – Mk 6:3).
  2. The inclusion of Jesus’ brothers (half-brothers, technically) is very significant. During Jesus’ ministry, they didn’t believe Him – in fact, they seemed to mock Him. John 7:2–5, “(2) Now the Jews’ Feast of Tabernacles was at hand. (3) His brothers therefore said to Him, “Depart from here and go into Judea, that Your disciples also may see the works that You are doing. (4) For no one does anything in secret while he himself seeks to be known openly. If You do these things, show Yourself to the world.” (5) For even His brothers did not believe in Him.” No other mention of His brothers is made in the gospels, apart from one time when they and their mother attempt to pull Jesus away from one of His earlier teachings, regarding the unpardonable sin (Mk 3:31-35). Although Mary seemed to have believed the word of God regarding Jesus, her other children did not. Why would they? You might respect your older siblings, but it’s highly doubtful you would believe any of their claims to deity! … By the time of Jesus’ crucifixion, there’s no account that any of His brothers believed, yet all of a sudden they are in the upper room with the other apostles and they had come to faith. What happened? The resurrection! Remember that there were many infallible proofs that Jesus had risen from the dead (Acts 1:3). One of these proofs was a personal appearance by Jesus to His brother James (1 Cor 15:7). Once they were convinced that Jesus was truly alive, they had all the proof they needed that their Brother’s claim was true.
  3. So that’s who was gathered. What were they all doing? They were united in prayer. That the gathered group of disciples would be praying, seeking the will of God is not surprising. What makes this prayer different than much prayer among the church today is the fact that (1) it was continual, (2) it was done in “one accord.” Luke uses the word 峤μοθυμαδ蠈ν (homothumadon), and it is an important descriptor in the Book of Acts, being almost entirely exclusive to Acts (apart from one use by Paul in Romans 15:6). As a compound word (“homos,” same + “thumos,” anger/passion) it speaks of unanimity. One dictionary describes it as the “inner unity of a group faced by a common duty or danger,” (NIDNTT). When soldiers are in the heat of battle, they are trained to come together as a group. There’s no thought to other hobbies or pet-projects; their singular focus is to stay alive and defeat their enemy. That’s 峤μοθυμαδ蠈ν. That’s how the original group of disciples prayed.
    1. What does the church still need today? 峤μοθυμαδ蠈ν. We need unity, especially in terms of prayer! How often do we come together with our own individual agendas? How often do we seek to show others how “spiritual” we are? It’s no wonder that the prayers of the church sometimes seem powerless; we often pray selfishly for our own ends, rather than united humbly seeking the will of God.
  • The apostles’ lack (15-20)

15 And in those days Peter stood up in the midst of the disciples (altogether the number of names was about a hundred and twenty), and said,

  1. 19 individuals were mentioned between the apostles, the women, and Jesus’ family (enough to make a small upper room crowded all by itself!). Even so, they weren’t alone. All totaled, there were 120 people who believed (“disciples”) in Jerusalem. Keep in mind that this doesn’t mean there were only 120 Christians, period. Paul wrote that there was one time when the Resurrected Jesus appeared to over 500 people at once (1 Cor 15:6). It’s possible that post-resurrection appearance was in Galilee, as Jesus had given instructions to the apostles to meet Him there. If so, that would explain the difference between the numbers. The Galileans would have remained at home, while the others (plus the 11 apostles, Jesus’ family, etc.,) returned to Jerusalem.
  2. Among the 120, Peter stood up, taking the lead among the group. Peter was a leader among the church, but he wasn’t the leader among the church at Jerusalem. That role seems to have been filled by James, the brother of Jesus (Acts 15). That said, Peter did have an important role among the church, and the Book of Acts is going to follow his ministry through Chapter 12 (or so).

16 “Men and brethren, this Scripture had to be fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit spoke before by the mouth of David concerning Judas, who became a guide to those who arrested Jesus; 17 for he was numbered with us and obtained a part in this ministry.”

  1. Jesus’ betrayal by Judas Iscariot was prophesied. It was written in the Scripture, and the “Scripture had to be fulfilled.” It was necessary. How so? It was necessary on two levels: (1) Prophetic Scriptures have to be fulfilled, if they are to be valid Scripture. The Scriptures foretold Jesus’ betrayal, and Jesus Himself prophesied of Judas’ betrayal on several occasions. (Lk 9:44, 22:21) If Jesus is a prophet to be believed, then every prophecy He stated must come true. False prophecies = false prophets, and Jesus is no false prophet! (2) Without a betrayal, there is no arrest by the Jews. Without an arrest, there is no cross. Without a cross, there is no salvation. Judas’ betrayal of Jesus was an essential part of the plan of God for our salvation. Although the betrayal was an awful sin & crime against God, freely chosen by the will of Judas Iscariot, it was absolutely necessary that Judas chose to do so. Without it, we would not be saved. (Such is the sovereignty of God, that His plan is fulfilled even in our sinful free choices!)
  2. That said, just because Judas Iscariot betrayed Jesus didn’t mean that Judas Iscariot did not have a valid ministry. He too, had been chosen by Jesus, and was a full-fledged apostle. As Peter said, “he was numbered with us and obtained a part in this ministry.” Judas had been named by Jesus at the same time Jesus named everyone else among the 12. Out of all the people who followed Jesus from place to place, Jesus specifically & purposefully chose Judas Iscariot to be one of His named apostles, all the while knowing what Judas would do to Him. For three years, Judas listened to every message, witnessed every miracle, and even preached the good news of the gospel during the various short-term mission trips when Jesus sent out the apostles. In all likelihood, Judas even performed miracles in the name of Jesus, as all of the disciples rejoiced that they were able to cast out demons in His name, etc. (Lk 10:17) By no means was Judas Iscariot a lesser apostle; he was a true apostle, even if he was a false convert. That’s what Peter notices as a problem. Previously, they had 12 true, valid apostles. Now they lack one. This is what needed to be addressed.
  3. As an aside…don’t miss how Peter describes the process of the inspiration of Scripture. “The Holy Spirit spoke…by the mouth of David.” The words of the Bible are the words of God the Holy Spirit, but the Holy Spirit was not the One to write them down. The Spirit spoke, using other men to speak under His direction. When Paul later writes to Timothy about all Scripture being inspired by God (2 Tim 3:16), the word “inspired” literally is “God-breathed.” God the Spirit breathed it out into the authors, who wrote according to their own personalities and styles, but wrote precisely the words intended by God for them to write. Peter put it another way in one of his own letters: 2 Peter 1:20–21, “(20) knowing this first, that no prophecy of Scripture is of any private interpretation, (21) for prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit.” When we read the words of the Bible, we read the words of God. (Value it as such!)
  4. Peter is about to reference the Scripture that David wrote, being inspired by the Spirit, but before he does, Luke provides a bit of follow-up information about Judas.

18 (Now this man purchased a field with the wages of iniquity; and falling headlong, he burst open in the middle and all his entrails gushed out. 19 And it became known to all those dwelling in Jerusalem; so that field is called in their own language, Akel Dama, that is, Field of Blood.)

  1. Gory, but true. Judas went to a terrible fate, and even his body ended up bloody and defiled. Some have noticed some differences between Luke’s account here & Matthew’s account where he writes how Judas threw the thirty coins of silver back into the temple & went out to hang himself (Mt 27:3-8). These are differences, but not discrepancies. Each gospel writer simply points out different details. Judas did throw back the coins, but the priests were not allowed to receive the money back into the temple treasury because it was blood money. Instead they bought a field belonging to a potter, with the people eventually calling it the “Field of Blood,” (Mt 27:7-8). Thus Luke could write that Judas “purchased” it, albeit indirectly. Apparently, that was the field in which he chose to hang himself, and his unburied body rotted in the sun.
  2. The most tragic aspect about this isn’t the gory end, but the fact that the person who most needed the forgiveness of Jesus apparently never received it. This was a man who died in utter despair, and the guilt from his heinous sin consumed him. 

20 “For it is written in the Book of Psalms: ‘Let his dwelling place be desolate, And let no one live in it’; and, ‘Let another take his office.’

  1. Peter references two psalms: Psalm 69:24–25, “(24) Pour out Your indignation upon them, And let Your wrathful anger take hold of them. (25) Let their dwelling place be desolate; Let no one live in their tents.”Psalm 109:7–9, “(7) When he is judged, let him be found guilty, And let his prayer become sin. (8) Let his days be few, And let another take his office. (9) Let his children be fatherless, And his wife a widow.” Both are royal imprecatory psalms, meaning that they are psalms of David written as prayers to God against his enemies. They aren’t exactly models for us today – we are to pray for those who persecute us, but we’re to pray God’s mercy upon them that they might come to faith in Christ. But David’s imprecatory prayers were honest, and we’re always to pray honestly to God. More than that, David’s prayers were prophetic, looking forward to the betrayal of the Messiah, and the justice of the wrath of God being poured out on the wicked traitor. Although at first glance, the portions quoted by Peter might seem to contradict (let his place be desolate vs. let him be replaced), the psalms actually speak of exactly the same thing: the judgment of God upon the wicked. Bottom line: Judas was forever condemned, which required that his apostolic office be replaced.
  2. Yet how does one go about choosing an apostle, when originally it was Jesus who chose all of them? That’s what Peter goes on to suggest. 
  • The apostles restored (21-26)

21 “Therefore, of these men who have accompanied us all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, 22 beginning from the baptism of John to that day when He was taken up from us, one of these must become a witness with us of His resurrection.”

  1. The apostles had a very important qualification: among other things, they had each been present during all of Jesus’ earthly ministry. Although there was a larger group of disciples that had followed Jesus from place to place, not all had been with Jesus during the entire three years of ministry. How much of the ministry had they witnessed? The entire thing. The apostles had been there from baptism to ascension (from A-Z). Thus, anyone else chosen as a replacement for Judas Iscariot would be required to have done the same thing. They had to have witnessed the same miracles, heard the same testimony of God the Father regarding His Son (baptism), listened to the same teachings, etc. Anyone among the apostolic group had to be able to testify about Jesus in the same way as any of the others. As might be expected, that would have considerably narrowed the list of possibilities.
    1. FYI: This is why Paul (or Barnabas, or anyone else) cannot be viewed as the same sort of apostle as the 12. It is also why Paul could not have been chosen as a replacement for Judas Iscariot. Paul had not been present during Jesus’ earthly ministry. He was an eyewitness of Jesus’ resurrection, and had received personal instruction from Jesus as had the other 12 apostles – but he could not fit the qualifications required for this specific apostolic office.
  2. Question: If this potential person was present with Jesus and the others the whole time, he would already be a witness of Jesus’ resurrection. Why then, does Peter say that this person “must become a witness with us of His resurrection”? Remember that Peter is speaking of an apostolic office. This man would have been present among the apostles, but (to this point) he had not been named by Jesus as one of His apostles. That’s why Peter speaks in terms that it hasn’t yet happened. This person would “become a witness,” and it was necessary that he become a formal witness. In a sense, it was like ordination. When someone is ordained to ministry, it isn’t the church all of a sudden imparting to a man a pastoral gift; it is the church recognizing the pastoral call and gifting upon the man. It’s a public recognition of what God has already done. This was what needed to happen among the apostles.
    1. Keep in mind that the word “apostle” basically refers to someone who is sent-out. An apostle is a messenger / an ambassador. In a sense, all of the 120 in the room with Peter were ambassadors of Jesus. They had all been commissioned by Christ to go preach the gospel to the world. But they weren’t all part of the 12. The 12 apostles were part of an official, limited office of the church. This is no different today. We are all witnesses; but we aren’t that kind of witness. We too, have an apostolic ministry in the fact that we have been sent out by Jesus – but we do not carry with us the apostolic authority as did the 12 who laid the foundation for the church, with Jesus being the chief cornerstone (Eph 2:20).
  3. Implicit in this, by the way, is the fact that an apostle of Jesus had to be a witness of Jesus’ resurrection. Not only was the man to have been there from baptism-to-ascension, but he could not “become a witness” of Jesus’ resurrection, if he had not already been an eyewitness of the resurrection. That was a non-negotiable qualification for the apostolic ministry.
    1. In fact, it’s a non-negotiable for Christianity in general. Obviously we do not have the experience of laying our physical eyes upon the physical person of Jesus (Him being ascended into heaven), but we cannot be witnesses of Jesus without being witnesses of His resurrection. One is dependent upon the other. Those who do not believe that Jesus is literally risen from the dead have no claim to the label of “Christian,” despite whatever their church membership might be. If you do not firmly believe and know that the Lord Jesus is truly alive, then you are not a Christian, period. We are not made “Christian” through church memberships, seminary degrees, charitable giving, good behavior, or anything else. We are Christians because we believe in the Risen Christ. We know the Risen Christ. We have interacted with the Risen Christ when we asked Him to forgive us our sins and make us the children of God. If we have not done that, then we cannot be witnesses of His resurrection, and we cannot be His witnesses at all.
  4. Among the 120, there were surely several from which they could choose. Having spent time in unified prayer being led by God, they were able to come up with a short-list of two names, but they rightly understood that this was a decision they could not make themselves. Just as Jesus had chosen the original 12, God would have to choose Judas’ replacement. 

23 And they proposed two: Joseph called Barsabas, who was surnamed Justus, and Matthias. 24 And they prayed and said, “You, O Lord, who know the hearts of all, show which of these two You have chosen 25 to take part in this ministry and apostleship from which Judas by transgression fell, that he might go to his own place.”

  1. How did they pray? First, they trusted in the all-knowing God. As Peter said, God is the one “who knows the hearts of all.” The word used by Luke is interesting, because it is literally “heart-knower,” and is absent from the secular literature. It’s possible that Luke invented it, and it was picked up by other Christian writers. If the heart is the seat of our emotions, often being interchangeable with “mind” or “soul,” then Luke is using a word that basically says that God knows us best. God knows our motives, emotions, thoughts, ideas, hopes, inner-most beings – He knows our hearts. God knows the things about us that are unknown to all, even sometimes being unknown to ourselves.
    1. There are days we cannot trust ourselves. We experience a roller-coaster of emotions, and go through things when we don’t know which way is up. How should we pray? To our God, the heart-knower. God knows what is in our hearts, and we can pray to Him when we have no clue how to pray. In fact, that’s one of the gifts that God gives to His children. We may not know how to pray for ourselves, but God does. Romans 8:26, “Likewise the Spirit also helps in our weaknesses. For we do not know what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered.” We pray to God the Father through the name and work of the Lord Jesus, being empowered and led by the Holy Spirit…and in the process, God the Holy Spirit is Himself praying for us the whole time, ensuring that we are praying according to the Father’s will.
    2. Not only is it an amazing gift that God is our heart-knower, but it might also be a sobering thought. We are not able to pull a fast-one on God. We might be able to put on a public face and lie to everyone else, but it is impossible to lie to God without Him knowing it. Contextually, Peter and the others prayed that God would guard them from another false convert. Judas Iscariot had been named & numbered by Jesus, but although Jesus knew his heart, none of the other apostles did. They were trusting God to choose someone whose heart was pure, and that was something only God Himself could know. He knows it about us, too. He knows when we’re being sincere & when we’re pretending religion. He knows our hearts. 
  2. Second, they prayed to the God who already had a plan in motion. God’s choice had already been made: “You have chosen.” Again, the actions and prayers of the apostles here were simply to publicly acknowledge and confirm the thing already done by God (like ordination). The replacement for Judas was already named in the mind of the Lord – what the apostles were praying was that God would reveal His mind to them.
  3. Third, the apostles prayed to God knowing that this was limited. Judas had fallen, and gone to not only physical but eternal destruction. But outside of Judas Iscariot, no other apostle was replaced. Obviously, at this time there was no need – but it’s interesting to note that when James the brother of John dies during the persecution of Herod (Acts 12:2), no similar attempt is made to replace him. Judas had left a vacancy in his office, but once it was filled, it was forever filled. Remember that Jesus had said that the apostles would sit on thrones in heaven, judging the tribes of Israel. These men have a future responsibility in the Millennial Kingdom, and it’s not something that can be passed to anyone else today.
    1. This tells us that there is no such thing as apostolic successors. There is no papal lineage. The only authority passed by the apostles from generation to generation is that of the Scriptures and the gospel itself. Any other claim to apostolic authority died with the 12 in the first century.

26 And they cast their lots, and the lot fell on Matthias. And he was numbered with the eleven apostles.

  1. Joseph Barsabas Justus may have had the longer name, but Matthias was the Lord’s choice. Lots were thrown (like dice, along the lines of Yahtzee), and his was the name that won the throw. Matthias joined the ranks of the apostles, being “numbered with the eleven,” not having any kind of “lesser” place among them.
    1. Aside from this one mention, we know nothing about Matthias. His name is absent from Scripture, and only legend exists of his potential ministry in Jerusalem and stoning to death by the Jews. But his relative anonymity doesn’t mean he was less valuable. The fact is that we don’t know much about the majority of Jesus’ apostles, at least according to Scripture. A person doesn’t have to be famous, in order to have been used by God!
  2. Regarding the lots, was this dumb luck? No – it was the Lord’s choice. And it had precedence in the Bible. The original priests were commanded to carry the mysterious Urim and Thummim (Exo 28:30). What these were exactly is unsaid in Scripture, but they seem to have functioned somewhat like dice. On a yes/no question, the priest would pray and the Lord could direct him to grab either one or the other in order to determine the Lord’s answer.
    1. Are we supposed to do this today? No…no command in the New Testament is ever given us to cast lots in making decisions. Likewise, we’re also not commanded to choose replacement apostles! This was a unique time in the history of the church, and things were about to drastically change with the baptism of the Holy Spirit. Today, we pray for wisdom, pray for the leading of the Holy Spirit, and make the best choices possible as led by God. When we lack wisdom, we have the full invitation to pray to God for it, and He will grant it in abundance. He will give it liberally, and without reproach (Jas 1:5).

Conclusion:

In all of this, please do not miss the timing. When did this take place? In-between the ascension of Jesus, and the baptism of the Holy Spirit. During that short interval of time (10 days), had God left the church alone? Not in the slightest. Even here, God will still leading His people, guiding them, ensuring that they were prepared for the things they would face, fully prepared for the future.

Our God never leaves us alone! He never forsakes us, never abandons us. As the church of Jesus Christ, He gives us everything we need to serve Him, and to witness of Jesus to the world. There is not a thing that we lack in the Lord our God.

Do you trust God to guide you? Even during times that it seems as if He is not present, He is. Do you trust Him in those times, too? He will never abandon His church. He never has; He never will.

There’s one unmentioned aspect of all this. Matthias may have been chosen as the 12th apostle, but Joseph Barsabas Justus was ready to go. He was fully prepared in his heart to be used by God for the apostolic ministry, standing ready as the proverbial “12th Man.” How about you? Are you ready to go at a moment’s notice? If God were to commission you for a ministry right now, would you be ready to go? Or is there sin in your life that needs to be confessed – unfinished business that might hold you back? 

Faith and Family

Posted: May 3, 2018 in Genesis, Uncategorized

Genesis 22-23, “Faith and Family”

Some moments are simply iconic. Mention the name Neil Armstrong or Buzz Aldrin, and you think about the first men on the moon, and the words, “One small step for man; one giant leap for mankind.” Mention the name Hiroshima, and images of terrible mushroom clouds rush our minds. Mention the names Abraham and Isaac, and most likely the events of Genesis 22 are what come to mind, as Abraham lays his long-awaited son upon an altar for sacrifice.

Thankfully, there is more to the story than that! Abraham does not lay his son on the sacrificial altar unto death; God intervenes in a miraculous way. But what Abraham does is amazing, in terms of faith. Abraham showed his faith in God to be total, trusting God’s promises to the fullest extent, even in terms of his own family. In the process, Abraham’s faith becomes our example, as we trust God not only for future hope in eternity to come, but we trust Him with our whole lives right here & right now. We trust Him with everything – He is our ultimate Provider.

The story of Abraham laying his son Isaac on the altar is dramatic by itself, but the drama heightens even more, when we remember the context. For 25 years, Abraham waited for God’s promise of a son to be fulfilled. He truly believed God, but as with anyone, Abraham’s faith had its highs and lows. At one point, he and his wife Sarah tried to manipulate their way into God’s promise by having Abraham father a child through a different woman (Hagar, to Ishmael). Yet that was not God’s plan, and the shortcuts and manipulations of humans were rejected. At two other times, Abraham almost invalidated the promise of God altogether when he feared for his life, and lied about Sarah’s identify as his wife – resulting in her being taken in marriage by foreign kings. Yet again, God intervened, preserving both Sarah’s purity and His promise to give Abraham and Sarah a son.

At long last, the son arrived, to the joy of his parents, and Abraham’s obedience to the covenant by having him circumcised. Sadly, the boy was soon mocked by his older half-brother, and Ishmael (along with his mother) were forced to be ejected from the camp of Abraham. Once more demonstrating His goodness, God promised to provide for Ishmael simply because he was Abraham’s son – and Ishmael would be blessed almost exactly as Abraham his father was blessed (with the exceptions of the Messianic line and physical inheritance of the land).

At this point in the text, Abraham is walking with God in faith, his son is being raised in the knowledge and provision of God, and the only thing Abraham now awaits is growing old(er) perhaps holding out hope to see his son married with children of his own. Yet there’s one more test of faith that awaits him – one that would stretch him to his limits. Abraham had seen the fruit of God’s promises, but did that fruit now invalidate his faith? In other words, did Abraham’s faith in God evaporate once Isaac was born? It’s one thing to believe for something in the future, but it’s another thing to continue believing once the promise is fulfilled. Was God now “out of sight, out of mind,” for Abraham, or was there something deeper to his faith? He would soon find out.

What kind of faith do we have? Is it for something short-term – is it for some physical blessing? Or, is our faith truly in God, trusting Him for who He is beyond any physical promise He can offer? Trust Jesus for who He is, for He is good!

Genesis 22

  • Abraham and Isaac (22:1-19)

1 Now it came to pass after these things that God tested Abraham, and said to him, “Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.”

  1. Although it cannot be said that God tempts anyone with evil, the Bible does show times when God tests His people, and we’re told from the outset that is what happens here with Abraham. Although Abraham didn’t know it, this was a deliberate test from God – an exercise meant to prove and strengthen the faith of Abraham. By this point, Abraham’s faith was already strong – no doubt, it would be much stronger by the week’s end!

2 Then He said, “Take now your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you.”

  1. Before we get to the command, some of the details stand out. First, how many sons did Abraham have? How many did God describe? One: “your son, your only.” Ishmael is intentionally left out by God, not even included as a son of Abraham. This wasn’t cruelty; it was reality. When it came to the children God promised, God had given only one. Ishmael was not the son of the covenant; Isaac was. This is less of a commentary on Ishmael as it was on Abraham’s & Sarah’s previous slipup of faith. (Remember that God specifically promised to provide for Ishmael, Gen 21:18. Mercy to him was assured.)
    1. FYI, Islam (by & large) teaches the mirror opposite of Genesis 22. In their tradition, it was Ishmael that Abraham was supposed to sacrifice on the altar, and that Isaac was not yet born. It’s one more example of how Satan attempts to co-opt and corrupt the truth of God.
  2. Secondly, notice how the command to go to Moriah mirrors the original command to travel to the land of Canaan. It too, was a land that God would show to Abraham (Gen 12:1-2). Already, God is hinting to Abraham that he would have to walk by faith, and simply trust God. There was more to all of this than what met the eye, but Abraham would have to trust in God’s character.
  3. As to the command itself, it was awful: Abraham was commanded by God to sacrifice his son. He was supposed to go to one of the mountains of Moriah (the area of Jerusalem), bind his son, slit his throat, and allow his body to be totally consumed in a sacrifice of worship. Unthinkable – horrendous! Child sacrifice is rightly condemned throughout the Scriptures; how could God command it here? Remember that this was a test. God had no intent for Isaac to be slain, but Abraham’s faith needed to be proven through trial. God had all things under control, and His character remained good & unwavering…even if Abraham didn’t have all of the facts in front of him.
  4. Objection: “Yeah, sure, but that’s Abraham.” Do not underestimate how difficult this was – don’t write it off as Abraham understanding some kind of light-hearted theological symbolism. He fully understood that God was telling him to put his long-awaited son to death. God knew exactly how hard this would be – this was the son “whom you love,” the younger son truly beloved by Abraham, and the one who would inherit all of Abraham’s wealth and covenant blessings. Isaac was the living proof of God’s faithfulness to him, and now he was commanded to put him to death. This was just as hard on Abraham as it would have been on any person throughout history. There were no shortcuts to this command.
    1. It’s doubtful you’ll ever be placed in a situation as remotely as hard as Abraham – but it is highly probable that at some point you’ll be faced with a choice of trusting God despite the circumstances you see in front of you. Will you trust God when it seems He cannot be trusted? Those who do, have faith that shines like gold!
    2. Know this, our God is trustworthy! We know Him by knowing Jesus, and we know that Jesus is good, merciful, holy, just, righteous, perfect, loving, compassionate, etc. When we’re in a situation we don’t understand, we fall back upon what we do At the end of the day, if you know Jesus, then you know all you need to know.

3 So Abraham rose early in the morning and saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him, and Isaac his son; and he split the wood for the burnt offering, and arose and went to the place of which God had told him.

  1. Most of us, if faced with the situation Abraham faced, would drag our feet the next day, the next week, month, etc. We would procrastinate and put things off as long as possible. Not Abraham. Abraham did not delay. He did not argue. He just obeyed. If the narration at this point seems wooden and perfunctory, we can understand. This was not joyous obedience on the part of Abraham; he had to force himself to act according to God’s command. In this alone, Abraham demonstrated faith!
    1. Sometimes faith is simply moving forward. We cannot see what lies too far ahead, but we know what God has right in front of us, so we do that. We don’t put it off – we don’t use prayer as a pious excuse not to get started – we simply do what God has given us to do. Even if it’s only taking a few steps at a time, it’s something. It’s trusting God with at least that.
  2. It took some time to travel from Beersheba to Moriah. Three days’ worth, as a matter of fact. 

4 Then on the third day Abraham lifted his eyes and saw the place afar off. 5 And Abraham said to his young men, “Stay here with the donkey; the lad and I will go yonder and worship, and we will come back to you.”

  1. Once in the land of Moriah, Abraham saw the dreaded mountain, and gave notice to his servants to stay behind. That said, it’s evident Abraham had hope beyond his dread. Notice the “” Abraham had faith that both of them would return. Both he and “the lad” would leave, and both he and the lad would “come back.” Abraham might not have been able to describe how it would happen, but he knew it would happen.
  2. The New Testament actually gives us a bit of insight into Abraham’s thinking. Surely Abraham was hoping that God might some miraculously intervene, and that slaying his son would not come to pass. But even if not, Abraham still had faith in God. Even if Isaac lay dead and burned on the altar, Abraham still had faith in a God able to work miracles. Hebrews 11:17–19, “(17) By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises offered up his only begotten son, (18) of whom it was said, “In Isaac your seed shall be called,” (19) concluding that God was able to raise him up, even from the dead, from which he also received him in a figurative sense.” IOW, Abraham had faith in the resurrection! He knew that the God who had given life to Sarah’s barren womb – the God who gave life to his young son – this same God could give it all over again, if need be. God could be trusted with the life of Isaac because God is Himself the author and giver of life.
    1. Why do we have faith in Jesus? Because of His resurrection! The Author of life willingly gave up His life, and then He powerfully took up His life again when He rose from the grave. If He can do that, what is impossible for Him? Nothing! Jesus’ resurrected life proves the truth behind His every promise, and demonstrates that He has power to give life to all who trust Him.

6 So Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering and laid it on Isaac his son; and he took the fire in his hand, and a knife, and the two of them went together. 7 But Isaac spoke to Abraham his father and said, “My father!” And he said, “Here I am, my son.” Then he said, “Look, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?”

  1. Isaac asked a good question! He saw all the supplies, and he saw the place of destination. What he didn’t see was a sacrificial lamb.
  2. Did he have any idea as to what was going on? It’s impossible to say. In the end, he simply trusted his father to do what was best.

8 And Abraham said, “My son, God will provide for Himself the lamb for a burnt offering.” So the two of them went together.

  1. Amen: God provides! Abraham was certainly sketchy on the details, but he had faith that God would provide in some He even knew that God would provide “the lamb for the burnt offering.” While it’s possible that Abraham referred to his son Isaac as the figurative-lamb, it seems more likely that Abraham knew that this act of sacrifice would not end with the forever death of Isaac. Again, Abraham had faith that God would raise Isaac from the dead, if need be – and if there was still a sacrifice to take place, God would provide the literal lamb in order to have it done. Either way, God would provide the sacrifice for Himself.
    1. That is exactly what He did through Jesus Christ!

9 Then they came to the place of which God had told him. And Abraham built an altar there and placed the wood in order; and he bound Isaac his son and laid him on the altar, upon the wood. 10 And Abraham stretched out his hand and took the knife to slay his son.

  1. Notice the faith of Abraham and of Isaac. Despite his youth, he gave no resistance to his 100+ year old father. Sometimes we get the idea that Isaac was a tiny boy, barely older than a toddler at the time of this testing. In all likelihood, he was much older. The same word used to describe him as “the lad” in verse 5 was also used to describe Ishmael, when God heard his prayers (21:17-18). At that time, Ishmael was around 16 years old, so here, Isaac could have easily have been a teenager. No doubt he had strength enough to fight his father, if need be…but he didn’t. He trusted his father, and showed a similar trust in the Lord God as did Abraham.
  2. This was the moment of truth. Once Isaac was tightly bound, unable to move, Abraham took the same knife with which he had slain so many other sacrificial lambs, raised it high in the air, and prepared to kill his beloved son. Tensions and fear are high – Abraham surely trembled at the act, but he was prepared to obey. Seconds seem like years, and then Abraham acts…and is miraculously stopped by the Angel of the Lord!

11 But the Angel of the LORD called to him from heaven and said, “Abraham, Abraham!” So he said, “Here I am.” 12 And He said, “Do not lay your hand on the lad, or do anything to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from Me.”

  1. Can you imagine a more welcome sound than that of the Angel of the Lord at that moment? Normally, a call from the Pre-incarnate Jesus Christ would strike terror into the hearts of men and women, but not this time. This time, the repeated urgent call to Abraham was probably the most joyous sound Abraham had heard in his entire life!
  2. The Angel stopped Abraham from action, calling out his name emphatically, commanding him neither to kill Isaac nor “do anything to him.” There was to be no misinterpretation of the command, no thought as to “maybe I’m just not killing him in the right way.” The Angel of the Lord stopped this act of sacrifice in its tracks, and it wasn’t to proceed any further.
  3. Why? Because the Angel knew the truth of Abraham’s faith. “Now I know that you fear God.” Did God already know what was in Abraham’s heart? Surely He did. But now Abraham knew it, too. The reverent fear of the Lord that Abraham had undoubtedly claimed for himself was made known, and all questions were answered. God had set out to test Abraham, and Abraham passed with flying colors!
    1. Question: Does God test our faith? Sometimes we might be a bit too quick to blame our circumstances upon God imagining it to be a “test.” But other time, who knows? It may just be one. God certainly has the right to test our faith. As the One who molds us and shapes us into the image of Christ, He proves us in trials like the strength of swords is proven and tested through flame. We come out stronger on the other side, because of the testing of the Lord. What He sees fit to do, He does. Our job isn’t so much to question whether every individual situation is a test; our job is simply to trust Jesus is all of it!
  4. Note: The Angel of the Lord IS the Lord God Himself. “You have not withheld your son, your only son, from Me.” On this more dire of all days in the life of Abraham and Isaac, God did not delegate this communication to any other angel; God personally showed up.
  5. Looking back thousands of years later from the perspective of New Testament Christianity, we see that what Abraham was willing to do, God actually did. Abraham had not withheld his son from God; God did not withhold His Son (His only Son) from us.

13 Then Abraham lifted his eyes and looked, and there behind him was a ram caught in a thicket by its horns. So Abraham went and took the ram, and offered it up for a burnt offering instead of his son. 14 And Abraham called the name of the place, The-LORD-Will-Provide; as it is said to this day, “In the Mount of the LORD it shall be provided.”

  1. Just as Abraham predicted, God provided the needed animal sacrifice. Whether Abraham was temporarily blinded to the ram in the thicket, or if he simply didn’t see the animal while his thoughts were consumed on his obedience, the Angel of the Lord (Jesus) pointed out the ram already available to be used as a sacrifice. God had provided the lamb, just as Abraham had told Isaac that He would.
  2. God provided…He always will! He is Jehovah-Jireh, Yahweh Yireh ~ YHWH provides / YHWH is seen. The unaltered form of the root word (专指讗指讛) means “to see/expect,” but in the particular verb stem used here, the word can mean “to appear / be presented.” The Lord God sees the need, and provides accordingly, ultimately presenting Himself as the solution.
    1. God always provides…always. Question: Does this mean that we can kick back, relax, and wait for God to bring us our daily bread & feed us hand-to-mouth? That is a misunderstanding of God’s character and an abuse of His grace. What it does mean is that God sees our needs, and provides according to His will. Yes, there are times in which we trust Him for our physical provision, and it is right to pray to Him as our provider. But that can’t be where it ends. If that’s the extent of our trust in God, then we don’t really trust Him at all. Ultimately, this applies to our spiritual provision. We’re trusting HIM for providing HIMSELF to us in the person of Jesus Christ.
  3. God wasn’t done providing for Abraham and Isaac. The ram of sacrifice took care only of that one instance & their immediate need for worship. But God had a far longer reaching provision in mind. Verse 15…

15 Then the Angel of the LORD called to Abraham a second time out of heaven, 16 and said: “By Myself I have sworn, says the LORD, because you have done this thing, and have not withheld your son, your only son—17 blessing I will bless you, and multiplying I will multiply your descendants as the stars of the heaven and as the sand which is on the seashore; and your descendants shall possess the gate of their enemies. 18 In your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed, because you have obeyed My voice.”

  1. Abraham’s obedience led to affirmation of God’s covenant. There would be blessing, multiplying, and a Messianic blessing to the world. All because Abraham obeyed, not withholding his son.
  2. Question: Does this mean that Abraham was blessed by God because of his work? God had already promised to bless Abraham in this way. Genesis 12:1-3 – Genesis 13:14-17 – Genesis 15:4-5 – Genesis 17:4-8 – Genesis 18:18…each one of these instances affirmed God’s work and promise towards Abraham. Over & over again, God had promised to act, just as He did again here. God’s work was (and is) one-sided.
  3. So why the emphasis on Abraham’s obedience? Abraham’s obedience showed the quality of his faith. Abraham believed God, and God accounted it to him for righteousness (Gen 15:6), but Abraham’s belief wasn’t merely ritualistic or based in words alone. The quality of his belief was demonstrated in the works stemming from his belief. … James 2:21–24, “(21) Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered Isaac his son on the altar? (22) Do you see that faith was working together with his works, and by works faith was made perfect? (23) And the Scripture was fulfilled which says, “Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.” And he was called the friend of God. (24) You see then that a man is justified by works, and not by faith only.”
    1. Keep in mind that James does not invalidate Paul. Romans 4:1–3, “(1) What then shall we say that Abraham our father has found according to the flesh? (2) For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. (3) For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.”” These are not contradictory statements; they are opposite sides of the same coin. Abraham was justified by God through faith, and the reality of his justification was demonstrated by his works.
    2. In the end, God blessed Abraham based on His one-sided grace. Abraham’s faith was in God, and God was his only hope. That showed itself true through his obedience, and God rejoiced and blessed Abraham even more. The point? Grace is always one-sided. But those who truly receive grace show a response. A “faith” that never responds to grace isn’t faith at all.

19 So Abraham returned to his young men, and they rose and went together to Beersheba; and Abraham dwelt at Beersheba.

  1. The conclusion of the event is a bit of a footnote, but it’s also a validate of Abraham’s faith. Earlier, he had confidently predicted that both he and his son would return to the men, and they did. Even this note of their travel is a testimony to the grace of God!
  • Abraham’s relatives (22:20-24)

20 Now it came to pass after these things that it was told Abraham, saying, “Indeed Milcah also has borne children to your brother Nahor:

  1. Who was Nahor? Obviously, Abraham’s brother – last mentioned in Genesis 11. Terah was the father of Abram, Nahor, and Haran back in Ur of the Chaldeans (Babylon), and Haran (the father of Lot) died there. The remaining family had originally set out with Abram when he first left the land, stopping in the town of Haran where Terah died. Apparently, Nahor remained in the general area (the land of Padan Aram), where he raised his family. 

21 Huz his firstborn, Buz his brother, Kemuel the father of Aram, 22 Chesed, Hazo, Pildash, Jidlaph, and Bethuel.” 23 And Bethuel begot Rebekah. These eight Milcah bore to Nahor, Abraham’s brother. 24 His concubine, whose name was Reumah, also bore Tebah, Gaham, Thahash, and Maachah.

  1. This is the only mention of the majority of these individuals. The text is here to set up the events of Chapter 24, in which a bride is found for Isaac. Abraham’s brother Nahor gave birth to Bethuel, and Bethuel fathered Rebekah. Thus Isaac would eventually marry his 2nd cousin (not unusual according to their culture and times).
  2. Is this just family trivia? Not really – it is an acknowledgement of the covenant blessing of God. The promises God made to Abraham did not end in Isaac; more descendants were required to come. The idea that Isaac would have access to a bride who was not a part of the Canaanite people meant that the covenant blessings of God had a chance to continue. Remember that out of all of the genealogies in the Bible, the one that is followed through to the end is that of Jesus. The Bible is completely consistent in showing His pure lineage back through David, through Abraham, and ultimately to Adam.

Genesis 23

  • Abraham’s grief and gravesite (21:1-20)

1 Sarah lived one hundred and twenty-seven years; these were the years of the life of Sarah. 2 So Sarah died in Kirjath Arba (that is, Hebron) in the land of Canaan, and Abraham came to mourn for Sarah and to weep for her.

  1. 127 years old is a grand old age to have reached, and yet another sign of God’s kindnesses towards Abraham and Sarah. Sarah was 90 years old when she became the mother to Isaac, but she did not immediately pass away after childbirth; she had 37 years to enjoy her son.
  2. Even so, death still came. Death reigned among men from Adam onward, and Abraham’s own lineage was no exception.

3 Then Abraham stood up from before his dead, and spoke to the sons of Heth, saying, 4 “I am a foreigner and a visitor among you. Give me property for a burial place among you, that I may bury my dead out of my sight.”

  1. By this point, Abraham was 137 years old. He first received his call from God at age 75, which means he had spent over 60 years in & around the land of Canaan. Yet even after six decades, he still considered himself to be “a foreigner and a visitor.” Although his wealth was immense, having massive herds and many servants, Abraham still did not yet own any land for himself. His familial ties were still back in Ur, and even though God promised him this land as his inheritance, that inheritance had not yet been fully received (and wouldn’t be for 400+ years to come).
    1. In a sense, Abraham demonstrates what it’s like to be in, but not of this world.
  2. Even though Abraham trusted God for a future inheritance, with the death of Sarah, he had an immediate need for real estate. No doubt Abraham had witnessed the death of servants over the years, and their graves were likely scattered throughout Canaan. But with Sarah, Abraham required something that was set apart – a place where he could lay his beloved bride to rest, and a place where he could one day join her when it came time for him to die. Thus he went to the local landowners to ask permission to purchase land.

5 And the sons of Heth answered Abraham, saying to him, 6 “Hear us, my lord: You are a mighty prince among us; bury your dead in the choicest of our burial places. None of us will withhold from you his burial place, that you may bury your dead.”

  1. Abraham was well-respected by all, seen as a “mighty prince” in the eyes of the community elders. Abraham was by no means perfect, but he lived his life above reproach, and the testimony of his life was evident to all. (A great example for us!)
  2. Question: Were the men offering to give/donate land to Abraham? Not really. They were simply saying that no piece of real estate would be “off limits.” Whatever tract of land Abraham requested, they would be willing to negotiate a price.

7 Then Abraham stood up and bowed himself to the people of the land, the sons of Heth. 8 And he spoke with them, saying, “If it is your wish that I bury my dead out of my sight, hear me, and meet with Ephron the son of Zohar for me, 9 that he may give me the cave of Machpelah which he has, which is at the end of his field. Let him give it to me at the full price, as property for a burial place among you.”

  1. Abraham had a place in mind: “the cave of Machpelah,” which belonged to “Ephron the son of Zohar.” Obviously, Abraham had done his research. He didn’t go in unprepared.
  2. Additionally, Abraham requested to purchase it at the full price. He wasn’t asking any special favors, and he didn’t want any question to remain regarding ownership. This was to be a full, legal transaction. (Doing things the right way!)

10 Now Ephron dwelt among the sons of Heth; and Ephron the Hittite answered Abraham in the presence of the sons of Heth, all who entered at the gate of his city, saying, 11 “No, my lord, hear me: I give you the field and the cave that is in it; I give it to you in the presence of the sons of my people. I give it to you. Bury your dead!”

  1. Ephron purports to donate the land to Abraham. No doubt, these were the cultural niceties, and the ritualistic song-and-dance that accompanied purchases between noblemen.

12 Then Abraham bowed himself down before the people of the land; 13 and he spoke to Ephron in the hearing of the people of the land, saying, “If you will give it, please hear me. I will give you money for the field; take it from me and I will bury my dead there.”

  1. Abraham insisted on the purchase, and insisted that it be done publicly and in the proper order. If it was a gift, then perhaps Ephron could later come back with a claim on the land. Abraham wanted the cave free & clear. No doubts as to ownership could remain.

14 And Ephron answered Abraham, saying to him, 15 “My lord, listen to me; the land is worth four hundred shekels of silver. What is that between you and me? So bury your dead.” 16 And Abraham listened to Ephron; and Abraham weighed out the silver for Ephron which he had named in the hearing of the sons of Heth, four hundred shekels of silver, currency of the merchants.

  1. In all likelihood, the land wasn’t worth anywhere close to 400 shekels of silver; this was simply the first round of negotiation. This was the ancient near eastern equivalent of haggling. Yet to Ephron’s surprise, Abraham didn’t haggle at all. He didn’t debate the price or try to argue it down; he simply paid it as it was listed.
  2. Why? This way, there was no question that it was his. Abraham didn’t just purchase the land; he more than purchased it! He was willing to take a loss if it meant that he could have the land with his integrity, and that is what he did. He was more concerned about the validity of the deal, rather than saving a few bucks along the way.

17 So the field of Ephron which was in Machpelah, which was before Mamre, the field and the cave which was in it, and all the trees that were in the field, which were within all the surrounding borders, were deeded 18 to Abraham as a possession in the presence of the sons of Heth, before all who went in at the gate of his city.

  1. Description of the property
  2. Over time, this has become the 2nd holiest site in all Judaism. 

19 And after this, Abraham buried Sarah his wife in the cave of the field of Machpelah, before Mamre (that is, Hebron) in the land of Canaan. 20 So the field and the cave that is in it were deeded to Abraham by the sons of Heth as property for a burial place.

  1. This was the first and only property ever truly owned by Abraham in Canaan. But it was just a small down-payment on what was soon to come!

Conclusion:

God provided for Abraham’s family in many ways: He gave Abraham a physical resting place for his wife, and He gave Abraham the possibility for a future pure bride for his son. These were both small aspects of God’s greater covenant promises of a land, a nation, and a Messiah. But even greater than these things was how God provided for Abraham a sacrifice. God saw that Abraham was willing to even offer his only son in worship to God, and in so doing, God saw a heart that reflected His own. God would not hold back from offering His only begotten Son for the sins of the world, including the sins of Abraham. The first sacrifice God provided for Abraham was the ram in the thicket; the ultimate sacrifice He provided was the Lord Jesus Christ.

Trust Jesus, our Provider! Yes, we trust Him for the daily mundane things of the world (food, water, daily bread), but we also trust Him for who He is. Too many people (even born-again Christians) express their faith in Christ for what they believe Jesus will give them. They look for their next blessing, claiming all the promises of God for their physical hands (and bank accounts) right here & right now. That is shortchanging both ourselves & God. What God desires to see in us is not only trust for the present-day physical needs of this life, but a trust in Him for simply who He is. We are to rejoice in God because He IS God, and we can know and believe that He is always good and always good to His word. We can trust Him when we see His fulfilled promises, and we can trust Him when we don’t yet see how His promises can be fulfilled. We simply trust Him, period. That’s what God desires from us, and in that He rejoices!

Empowered Witnesses

Posted: April 29, 2018 in Acts, Uncategorized

Acts 1:1-11, “Empowered Witnesses”

Although some people are naturally nervous, three situations tend to make everyone nervous more than other times. (1) Public speaking – in fact, some people fear public speaking more than death! (2) Medical visits and procedures, be it dental cleanings or major surgeries. (3) Legal issues, and any interaction we have with the government or with certain kinds of attorneys. Settling legal issues is inherently stressful, and it often puts lawyers and witnesses on opposite sides of one another.

As stressful as they can be, legal documents are often necessary, even beneficial. Some of them can even benefit the Church…the Book of Acts is one such document.

Although there’s more to it than that, it seems that one of the primary purposes of the Book of Acts was to provide a legal apology (defense ~apologetics) for the apostle Paul as he awaited trial in Rome, as well as a legal apology/defense for the Christian Church as a whole. The Church was barely 30 years old when Luke wrote his second book, and already persecution was spreading throughout the Roman Empire. It had begun at the hands of the Jews and local pagan idolaters, but would soon spread to the Roman government itself…which may have been what Luke attempted to head off before it got worse. What was Rome supposed to think of this new religion and its apostles? What did this faith teach? Should Christians be considered as threats? Luke answers these questions (and more) by recording a legal history of the Church’s beginning. He provides written evidence, based off the original eyewitnesses of Christianity, making it possible for the Roman officials to read it for themselves.

In the process, Luke preaches the gospel of Christ, being himself an eyewitness to the things of the Church and the glories of Jesus Christ building the Church through the work of the Holy Spirit. As Luke does it, he teaches us to do the same.

The author of the Book of Acts is, of course, Luke. Technically, the book is anonymous as Luke never once identifies himself by name, but tradition, writing style, the stated connection with the gospel book, and other internal clues make it certain that Luke is the author. He was a physician & sometimes-travelling companion of Paul, who met Paul during his 2nd missionary journey around the time that Paul received his famous Macedonian call. (Acts 16:9) It seems likely that they met in Troas, as that is when the narrative in the Book of Acts changes from the 3rd person (he/them) to the 1st person (me/us).

Like most Biblical books, the date of writing is debated, though it seems likely that Acts was authored between 61-63AD, no later. Although liberal theologians attempt to date Acts somewhere around 80AD, it seems totally implausible, given the circumstances. In 64AD, Rome suffered a horrendous fire, and Nero blamed the Christians. As a result of this blame, Peter and Paul were both arrested and executed by Nero’s government somewhere around 65-67AD, yet there is zero mention of any of these events in Acts. Considering the amount of detail Luke gave to the persecutions suffered by Peter and Paul, it is inconceivable that he wouldn’t have mentioned these things, if they had happened. Instead, the book of Acts concludes with Paul’s initial arrival in Rome (and a brief summary of a 2-year stay under house-arrest). IOW, Luke ends with Paul’s thriving ministry rather than a death sentence hanging over his head. From Paul’s later letters, it seems that he was initially released from this house arrest, being able to continue his ministry until after the fire of Rome. Once again, Luke is silent on any further missionary travel from Paul, which surely would have been included if Luke wrote after the fact. All of the evidence points to an early date.

As to the writing, the book itself is a sequel to Luke’s namesake gospel. Both works are addressed/dedicated to the unknown “Theophilus,” and Luke specifically references his other work in 1:1 (as we’ll see). This book truly is a “Part 2,” with Part 1 being the presentation of the gospel, and Part 2 being the gospel in action. In Part 1, Jesus laid the foundation for His Church; in Part 2, Jesus guided His Church as God the Holy Spirit gave birth to it and empowered it.

With that in mind, where did Part 1 leave off? With the victory of Jesus’ resurrection! After three years of miraculous ministry, Jesus had been finally rejected by Jew and Gentile, delivered to a torturous death via crucifixion, and finally had His lifeless body buried in a tomb, being witnessed by many. Three days later, Jesus rose from the dead, with His very real physical resurrection being attested by multiple eyewitnesses no later than that same Sunday evening. As Luke’s gospel concluded, Luke summarized the days that followed, showing how Jesus gave the disciples understanding of the Scriptures concerning Himself, and commanded them to wait in Jerusalem for the Holy Spirit. Finally, Jesus ascended into heaven, with the disciples going forth in joy.

What’s next? Luke picks up right where he left off, backtracking just a bit to review some of the details of those final days and provide a bit more information, which sets up the future ministry soon to come. As might be expected, anyone’s last words carry much weight and importance – and when they are the parting words of the Lord Jesus to His apostles, His words are weighty indeed! The earthly days of Jesus may have ended, but the days of His work through Church were just beginning. The Christians had a job to do, and a commission to fulfill, and they needed the power of God to do it. They were going to be witnesses of Jesus unto the world, and it would only be possible through the power of the Holy Spirit.

Our job has not changed, nor has the source of our power. Be a witness – and be empowered by the Spirit to be an effective one!

Acts 1:1–11

  • Jesus’ continuing ministry (1-3)

1 The former account I made, O Theophilus, of all that Jesus began both to do and teach,

  1. Right off the bat, there is a specific reference to an earlier book, obviously the Gospel of Luke. Again, both books are dedicated to “Theophilus,” with the Gospel reference using an honorific: “most excellent Theophilus.” (Luke 1:3) Because the name is a compound word in Greek meaning “Lover of God,” some have thought this to be a generic name addressing any lover of God who might read the book. In actuality, the word is a quite common name from the time of the Roman Empire, and the honorific indicates that Theophilus was a man of some importance – perhaps a Roman dignitary, or even someone who financed Luke’s writing of the book. In the end, Theophilus is unknown apart from these two mentions from Luke, but we can be glad he existed…without him, we might not have nearly a third of our New Testament! (27%)
  2. The tie to the previous book is importance, because although that book had concluded, the work of God had not. Notice how Luke described the ministry of Jesus: He only “began.” Jesus did much and taught much during His three years leading up to the cross and resurrection, but Jesus’ ministry isn’t over! His earthly ministry was only the beginning. The traditional title to the Book of Acts is technically, “The Acts of the Apostles,” and some Bible teachers have suggested that it ought to be called, “The Acts of the Holy Spirit,” but in a very real sense, it ought to be called, “More Acts of Jesus, and Act of the Holy Spirit as He Empowered the Apostles to Act.” (But that gets rather lengthy! 馃槉 ) Although the Holy Spirit has a prominent role in the Book of Acts, by no means is Jesus done acting. His work of the substitutionary atonement (the sacrifice on the cross) is done, demonstrated by His declaration “It is finished!” – but His work among the Church continues. Jesus taught the disciples leading up to His ascension – Jesus worked with His Father in sending the Holy Spirit – Jesus stood at the right hand of God when Stephen was being martyred – and Jesus personally appeared to Saul/Paul at his conversion, and spoke to Ananias as to how to minister to Saul after he was converted.
    1. Even then, Jesus’ work isn’t yet complete. The Lord Jesus still works among His church today! None of us would be here, if it were not for the active work of the living Lord Jesus. No one would be saved if Jesus were not still active and working. Praise God that at the time of Luke, Jesus had only begun to work! May He continue to be glorified through His wondrous work around the world!

2 until the day in which He was taken up, after He through the Holy Spirit had given commandments to the apostles whom He had chosen, 3 to whom He also presented Himself alive after His suffering by many infallible proofs, being seen by them during forty days and speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God.

  1. Summary/recap of the last chapter of Luke’s gospel. The discovery of the empty tomb on Sunday morning was the climax of Jesus’ ministry, but (again) it was not the end. It wasn’t even the end of Jesus’ earthly ministry. Luke wrote of Jesus’ Sunday afternoon walk to Emmaus with two disciples, His Sunday evening appearance to the whole group of disciples, and an overview of His teaching up to the ascension, but there was much more. What Luke wrote initially (and here) was just a small portion of everything that took place. There were 40 active days of ministry. As the apostle John wrote in his gospel, there simply aren’t enough books and papers to contain it all! (Jn 21:29)
  2. During those 40 days, Jesus repeatedly “presented Himself alive” through all kinds of “infallible proofs.” Again, Luke provided a handful of instances, but there were many more. What kind of proofs are “infallible proofs”? This is actually one word in the Greek, and it is the only time it is used in the New Testament. It speaks of something convincing & decisive – something that is unmistakable. When used in secular Greek for logical arguments, it is a “compelling sign.” (NIDNTT) Bottom line: it’s something so true, it’s in-your-face true. The resurrection of Jesus Christ is not something that can be easily dismissed or explained away. One disciple might have a hallucination – another might be delirious from desire or grief – a few disciples might engage in a conspiracy from a single appearance; the reality of what happened was drastically different. Jesus appeared so many times to so many people, engaging in so many things, that there simply isn’t any getting around it. Jesus IS alive, and He proved it to literally hundreds of people for well over a month!
    1. Because it’s true, it demands a response. We need to choose to believe!
  3. Once again, Luke summarizes those forty days of ministry, but he records two important commands from Jesus as He prepared to leave His disciples. 
  • Jesus’ commands to wait & to witness (4-8)

4 And being assembled together with them, He commanded them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the Promise of the Father, “which,” He said, “you have heard from Me; 5 for John truly baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.”

  1. Command #1: don’t depart; wait. The natural tendency for the disciples would have been for them to leave Jerusalem. The vast majority of the eleven remaining apostles were Galilean, so surely they would have wanted to return home. Apparently, they had already made at least one trip to Galilee after the Passover Resurrection (Mt 28:16), only to journey back to Jerusalem for Jesus’ ascension. All of this was done at Jesus’ command, so they were happy to do it, but they were still all visitors in Jerusalem – it wasn’t their home. Besides, they were too excited to stand still! How could they stay in one place? (Who wouldn’t be excited? Jesus is risen from the dead!) But Jesus gave them a very specific command: wait.
  2. To be more exact, the word translated “wait” is actually “wait for.” This is more than just a “hanging out” remaining; this is an expectant waiting for someone or something else. We might ask the question: Wait for what? Or better phrased, wait for Whom? Jesus told them: The Holy Spirit, who is the “Promise of the Father.” On the night of Jesus’ arrest, He repeatedly taught the disciples how the Holy Spirit would soon be sent to them.
    1. John 14:16–17, “(16) And I will pray the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may abide with you forever—(17) the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him; but you know Him, for He dwells with you and will be in you.”
    2. John 14:26, “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all things that I said to you.”
    3. John 15:26, “But when the Helper comes, whom I shall send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father, He will testify of Me.”
    4. John 16:7, “Nevertheless I tell you the truth. It is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I depart, I will send Him to you.”
    5. Get the picture? Over & over again, Jesus promised the third person of the Triune God would be sent to the disciples. Although Jesus was leaving them, He would not leave them orphans. They would not be left alone. The Spirit was promised by God the Father and by God the Son, and God does not break His word!
  3. Not only would the Holy Spirit come to them, He would come in a miraculous way. The Spirit would soon baptize them, akin to John’s baptism by water. John the Baptist himself had spoken of this ministry of the Spirit long ago, before Jesus’ earthly ministry had even begun. To the Jews, John had contrasted his own ministry of water baptism with the Messiah who would soon come after him, saying that this One would “baptize [them] with the Holy Spirit and with fire.” (Lk 3:16) No doubt there is an implied reference to judgment (the holy purifying fire of God), but the fire of God isn’t all Later, on the day of Pentecost, tongues of fire would be seen above the heads of the disciples as they were baptized with the Holy Spirit, and the fire of God within them would soon turn the world upside-down!
    1. Jesus’ point was that this baptism was something special, and something needed. He will explain the reason for it in verse 8.
  4. How soon would this baptism come? Very soon! At the time, Jesus told the disciples, “not many days,” but if this was spoken on the 40th day after His resurrection, then this baptism was only 10 days away. The disciples didn’t have long to wait! Barely a week and a half later, the Holy Spirit would come upon them in powerful miraculous ways. We can only imagine how the anticipation must have risen in the hearts of the apostles. After all, Jesus’ resurrection was incredible enough – imagine what would come next! 
  5. This kind of move of God the Holy Spirit obviously got their attention. Surely something big would be happening – and it was, though it wasn’t what they expected. Their minds were on something physical.

6 Therefore, when they had come together, they asked Him, saying, “Lord, will You at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?”

  1. Notice that the disciples expected a literal Although there is much within Jesus’ teaching that indicates a spiritual kingdom of God in which we now live and participate, it is evident that Jesus’ kingdom teaching was not only of a spiritual kingdom. The disciples who had heard every single teaching ever given by Jesus (far more than what is recorded in the Bible), had every expectation of the arrival of a literal physical kingdom on planet earth. And with good reason! The Old Testament is full of prophecies of a restored kingdom of Israel, one that would stretch over the entire earth. God told David that his future Messianic Son would have a the throne of His kingdom established forever (2 Sam 7:13) – God spoke to Isaiah of how the nations of the world would one day flow to the mountain of the Lord and how He would judge between them (Isa 2:2-4) – Zechariah wrote of how the nations of the world would come “to worship the King, the Lord of Hosts, and to keep the Feast of Tabernacles,” (Zech 14:16), a very specific reference to a physical kingdom & festival. To detail every prophecy of a future physical kingdom of Israel would literally take days, as it is a constant focus of the Old Testament prophets. For modern theologians to simply dismiss it all as spiritual symbolic language is to willfully blind themselves to the written word of God.
  2. All that to say, the disciples understood the prophecies of the Old Testament, and they understood the kingdom teaching of Jesus. Certainly there is a dual aspect to the kingdom: a now & not-yet, in which we live as kingdom citizens now while awaiting the future literal fulfillment of that kingdom. The disciples understood this, and asked if this was the time for this literal fulfillment/restoration. It was a correct expectation; it was incorrect timing & incorrect focus, as Jesus goes on to point out to them. 

7 And He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons which the Father has put in His own authority.

  1. Incorrect timing. The timing was up to God the Father; not them. The timing of the kingdom wasn’t their responsibility; it belonged to God. Not even the Son knew the exact timing of the Kingdom during His earthly ministry. Speaking of the moment of His return in glory, Jesus told the disciples: Mark 13:32–33, “(32) “But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. (33) Take heed, watch and pray; for you do not know when the time is.” Although it might seem strange that some information might be hidden from the knowledge of the 2nd person of the Godhead, apparently that was exactly the case, at least while Jesus was on earth (which He still was in Acts 1, prior to His ascension). The timing of the moment of His return (and thus the institution of the earthly Millennial Kingdom) was not yet revealed to Him. As Jesus said, these things belonged to the Father – they were “in His own authority.” If God the Son didn’t know, then there was no way the disciples of the Son would know!
    1. How often Christians still forget this today! How many times do believers need to be fooled by date-setters before we remember that Christians aren’t supposed to be setting dates for Jesus’ return? Those “times and seasons” are not revealed to us – they aren’t for us to know. If we were able to figure out the precise day of Jesus’ return, no doubt we would postpone everything we could until that day… We aren’t to be lazy servants; we’re to watch at all times for our Lord Jesus!
    2. Question: Didn’t Jesus specifically tell people to watch for seasons? Yes – Mark records it just a few verses earlier: Mark 13:28–29, “(28) “Now learn this parable from the fig tree: When its branch has already become tender, and puts forth leaves, you know that summer is near. (29) So you also, when you see these things happening, know that it is near—at the doors!” If Christians are supposed to watch for the Lord’s return as a gardener watches for the changes in trees, how is that reconciled with what Jesus told the disciples in Acts 1:7? Answer: There’s a difference between watching for Jesus in readiness & attempting to pinpoint dates, hours, and minutes. Yes, we are to be aware of fulfilled prophecy, and be ever-expectant regarding our Lord’s soon return; No, we are not to obsess about pinpointing every single news headline to a countdown clock & calendar. Leave to the Lord what belongs to the Lord; we’ve got other things to do. 
  2. Not only was it incorrect timing; it was an incorrect focus. The Lord Jesus had a different job for the apostles and for all of His disciples. They were to be witnesses.

8 But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”

  1. The command to wait for the baptism of the Holy Spirit accompanied a second command of Jesus: to “be witnesses” of Jesus. Technically, the grammar shows this to be a future tense, rather than an imperative (command), but the end result is the same. This was what the disciples would be doing for Jesus. They weren’t to be date-setters; they were to be witnesses.
  2. What is a witness? A martyr. Quite literally, that is the word in the Greek. Depending on the manuscript, Jesus tells them they would be “My martyrs,” or “martyrs to Me,” the meaning basically being the same. Keep in mind that “martyr” for us has come to mean something different than what it meant to the original disciples at the time. For us, a martyr is someone who has been killed for their faith in Christ. Originally, it spoke of a witness – someone who testifies. That said, there are many people willing to get on a witness stand and lie; there aren’t too many who are willing to die for their testimony. That is the kind of witness the disciples were called to be, and that’s exactly what most (if not all) of the endured.
    1. That’s still the kind of witness disciples of Christ are supposed to be. All over the world, Christians put their lives on the line for their faith in Jesus. They are willing to sacrifice everything, if it means that Jesus is glorified. That sort of martyrdom isn’t the exception; it’s the norm. Technically, we are the exception. We live in a culture that is by & large free of persecution, which many times causes us to get lazy in our faith & witness. (Beware!)
  3. What is needed to be a witness? “Power.” Much has been made of this word “power,” (δ蠉ναμις ~ dynamic), but the bottom line is that it speaks of ability/capability. People need strength to be able to function, and “δ蠉ναμις” power speaks of that strength. The word is used of anything ranging from mundane circumstances to supernatural miracles. The focus in the verse isn’t so much the power itself, but the source of that power & result of that power. “Power” by itself isn’t the end-goal for the Christian (despite what many of the word/faith TV preacher might say!). “Power” is simply the ability to do In this case, it is the ability to be a witness-martyr for Jesus. That sort of ability isn’t naturally gained; it has to be given.
  4. How would the apostles receive that power? When the Holy Spirit came upon them. This takes us back to the baptism spoken of by Jesus in verse 5. To be “baptized” is to be “immersed.” In John’s case, it was to be immersed in water; in this case, it is to be immersed in the Holy Spirit. Just like water comes upon our flesh in baptism, literally surrounding our physical body, so would the Holy Spirit come upon the disciples in His work of baptism. This was something new, which the disciples had never experienced in the past – and this was the work for which they were to wait in Jerusalem.
    1. Question: Was the Holy Spirit unknown prior to this point? Absolutely not. God the Holy Spirit is spoken of from the very first page of Scripture. Genesis 1:2 says how the “Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters,” at the point of creation. The Holy Spirit was said to come upon various prophets in the past, enabling them to prophesy, anointing men as kings, etc. What made this different was the nature of the Spirit’s work. In the past, these works had been temporary; with this new baptism, the work was permanent. Once baptized by the Spirit, the apostles remained baptized by the Spirit, always having access to the power of God.
    2. That said, this doesn’t mean that Christians only need an initial work of the Holy Spirit, never to interact with Him again. The book of Acts will show the apostles being repeatedly filled with the Spirit. Paul writes to the Ephesians of the command to be continually filled with the Spirit (Eph 5:18). Evidently, there is a work of the Spirit’s baptism, and an ongoing repeatable work of filling. Both provide the born-again believer with power; one is simply the first out of many.
    3. The baptism of the Holy Spirit is something that’s often debated among Christians, whether it’s something for which we need to ask & wait, or something that happens automatically at the moment of our salvation. At a certain point, the debate is rather pointless. Whenever you believe the Holy Spirit first came upon you, there’s zero question over our ongoing need for Him & His power in our lives. All Christians need to be filled and empowered by the Spirit. When was the last time you asked? How dependent upon Him are you?
  5. Again, “power” by itself wasn’t the end goal. The Spirit would empower them for a purpose. As witnesses, they were to go out to all the world. They would start where they were (“in Jerusalem”), proceeding outward (“in all Judea, and Samaria, and to the end of the earth”). The gospel mission would begin in the same city where Jesus rose from the dead, the city which was the focus of the Jewish nation. From there, it would go to the rest of the nation as a whole, in fulfillment of the promises of God. But the gospel would not stop with the Jews – the good news was good for the whole world, so it needed to spread to the whole world. The gospel would even go to their half-Hebrew neighboring enemies (the Samaritans), and even spread to the pagan Gentiles in every corner of the globe. Jesus gave these disciples a world-wide mission…not bad for a ragtag group of Galilean fishermen!
    1. This mission has not changed for us. The gospel still starts where we are & proceeds out to all the world…
    2. FYI: This single statement provides a marvelous outline of the book of Acts as whole:
      1. The mission to Jerusalem, Acts 1-7.
      2. The mission to Judea & Samaria, Acts 8-12.
  • The mission to the ends of the earth, Acts 13-28.
  1. What Jesus said was necessary for the original disciples is still necessary for disciples today! We are no less in need of the power of the Holy Spirit, if we are to be effective witnesses to Christ! Notice I said “effective.” There’s a reason Jesus told the disciples to wait for the work of God the Holy Spirit. The disciples had all of the knowledge they required to be witnesses of Jesus. They knew the facts of His person, His work, and His resurrection. They could have gone door-to-door in Jerusalem with everything they already possessed. But they still weren’t fully prepared. They required power. A car rolling off the assembly line is fully ready to go, it still won’t go very far without a full tank of gas. Likewise, a Christian can have all kinds of knowledge and theological understanding of the gospel, but without the power of God, he/she won’t get very far. Christians might still be witnesses, but not necessarily effective ones. After all, not every Christian always walk in the power of the Holy Spirit all day every day. We sometimes go off into sin, acting according to our flesh, and as Paul wrote to the Galatians, “the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish.” (Gal 5:17) Christians who walk according to the flesh rather than according to the Spirit fall into all kinds of sin. It doesn’t mean they’re no longer Christian; it does mean they aren’t effective witnesses for the gospel. On the contrary – they are still publicly identified with Jesus, which makes them bad witnesses for Jesus. … We will be witnesses, so let us be good witnesses! For that, we need to be led by the Holy Spirit of God, fully endued and filled with His power!
  • Jesus’ cloud & 2nd coming (9-11)

9 Now when He had spoken these things, while they watched, He was taken up, and a cloud received Him out of their sight.

  1. Can you imagine the sight? One minute the disciples were speaking with Jesus – the next Jesus is literally rising from the ground! We have to go to movies to watch someone “fly,” or see illusionists give the appearance of floating in mid-air; the disciples saw the real deal from Jesus. His body started going up (no wings, no jetpack, no wires), and kept going up & up until He disappeared into “a cloud.
  2. BTW, it wasn’t likely just any “cloud,” as if Jesus simply ascended into a nice cumulus formation that happened to be overhead in the sky. Most likely, this was the cloud of God’s glory. When Jesus was transfigured, a cloud had come upon the disciples with Him, and from the midst of it they heard the voice of God (Lk 9:34-35). When the presence of God descended upon Mt. Sinai, He came in the form of a thick cloud (Exo 19:9). When the glory of God first entered the temple, it was in the form of a cloud that was so thick that the priests were unable to continue ministering there because God’s glory so filled the place (1 Kg 8:10-11). Thus when Jesus went up into a cloud, He went up into the glory of God – which is exactly how He will return: in clouds & great glory! (Mt 24:30)

10 And while they looked steadfastly toward heaven as He went up, behold, two men stood by them in white apparel, 11 who also said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand gazing up into heaven? This same Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will so come in like manner as you saw Him go into heaven.”

  1. Although the two men are not technically described as angels, Luke used the same description of the men at Jesus’ empty tomb (Lk 24:4), and it was later evident that these men were indeed angels (Lk 24:23). Two angels were present at Jesus’ site of resurrection, and two angels were present at His site of ascension. (Whether they were the same angels would be an interesting bit of trivia!) They ask a question of the disciples, but it seems to have an obvious answer. “Why are you looking up?” Jesus just physically flew into the sky, disappearing into a visible manifestation of the glory of God. How would they not stare? Of course they were staring into the sky! We would have done the same thing.
  2. Even so, the question was still a good one. Apparently, the disciples were continually gazing into the sky, straining their eyes to see Jesus. The Lord Jesus had already given them something to do: they were to go back to Jerusalem and wait prayerfully for the Spirit. As long as they were looking up, they weren’t being obedient.
    1. Do we wait expectantly for Jesus’ return? Yes! But we don’t only We’ve been given a command by our King, and we’re to be busy!
  3. The good news for the apostles (and us!) was that Jesus would indeed return to them, and it would be in the same way as He went up. Jesus ascended in glory, and He will return in glory. He went up physically, and He will return physically. “This same Jesus” will return. There’s no doubt of His return, but there’s also no doubt of His person. Our Jesus never changes. His location has changed – our abilities and understanding have changed – but the nature of our Lord Jesus has not. Jesus is still the same Jesus who walked and talked with the apostles. He still the same Jesus who multiplied bread and fish for thousands. He’s the same Jesus who showed compassion on the lepers, the lame, and the outcasts. He’s the same Jesus who died for our sins and the cross & rose from the grave. The only difference now is that He reigns in heaven, while one day He will reign on earth. We wait for Him, and we look for Him, but we don’t have to stare off into the skies wondering if He’s going to be any different; we can confidently witness of Him today because the Jesus we know is the Jesus who will return.

Conclusion:

With the opening of the Book of Acts, Jesus is shown ever-victorious over death as He lives, breathes, speaks to the disciples, and ascends to the Father. He was decisively proven to be alive, and there is no question of His sure future return. In the meantime, He did not leave His disciples alone. Jesus may be bodily in heaven, but He promised the Holy Spirit, Who baptizes the Church with the fire of God, and empowers the Church for the mission given us by our Lord Jesus.

The mission: witness – testify – be a living martyr of the Lord Jesus! We will be witnesses, so be empowered witnesses! Be effective witnesses for Jesus, taking the good news of His salvation into all the world. To attempt it in our own strength is foolishness – a sure recipe for failure, as we’ll no doubt walk according to our flesh. But we are not left helpless – we have been given a Helper, God the Holy Spirit Himself. Be empowered!

Some Christians feel as if they live a lifestyle of failure. They desire to do right – they want to glorify God with their lives – but they walk in defeat time & time again. They feel powerless…and they’re right. When we are not ever-reliant & filled with the Holy Spirit, we are powerless! Among other things, He came to endue us with power, so be filled with Him!

But don’t seek power alone; seek His power for His purpose. Primarily: evangelism. There is a world that needs to know of Jesus, and we are the ones to tell them through our witness. So go! Start where you are, and go out from there.