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Monday, 31 March 2014

A new creation. Acts 9:1-22


As we observed last time Saul has been converted and Ananias sent to him by the Lord in order to assist a new Christian. In a very short space of time Saul has been and will be learning many things about God and His forgiveness. He will also learn much about the church and the love believers have for each other.
 

Last time we considered the truth that even whilst Saul was dead in his sins Christ died for him. Today we will consider how Saul’s conversion affected him and learn from his experience what it means to be a Christian. Sometime after his conversion Saul became known by his Greek name Paul. Much later he wrote in his letter to the church in Corinth “if anyone is in Christ (is a Christian,) he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” (2 Corinthians 5:17) In this Paul says that conversion is much more than merely accepting Jesus and living a life that may or may not please God because Jesus has saved us. Paul tells us that a real and lasting change is made when a person is converted. There is no better example of this than the account of his own conversion and so this morning we will make some simple observations as to how Saul was changed and from these observations challenge and encourage each other as Christians to learn lessons in order that we might live our lives acceptably before God.
 

Being a new creation means that we:
 

  • We will recognise the Lordship of Christ.
In verse 5 we are told that Saul at first did not recognise who the Lord was when he was called by Him from heaven. Once Saul found it to be the Lord Jesus Christ then he had no difficulty in obeying Jesus’ instruction to go on to Damascus. Just moments before this Saul would have thought it inconceivable that he might be directed by Jesus of Nazareth whom he believed to be odious to true Judaism. But now he humbly and immediately responded to and obeyed the command that Jesus gave to him. This is certainly more than a change of allegiance it is a complete change of direction for Saul. Jesus was already leading Saul where He wanted him to go and Saul willingly obeyed. A mark of the true believer is that he obeys God at His word.


  • We will pray.
In verse 11 Luke tells us that the evidence given by God to Ananias that Saul was now a believer was that he was now praying; in some ways that might at first consideration seem to be a little odd. We know a lot about Saul’s pre-converted life, he was a strict Pharisee. The Pharisees sought to be as godly as was possible and were known for their life of prayer and obedience to Jewish rules, therefore it might seem to be unhelpful evidence but yet Ananias takes it as seriously.
 

Why is that?
 
The reason why Ananias was encouraged to go by this is that clearly God declared that Saul now prayed. There is a great difference between saying your prayers and actually praying. Formerly Saul said his prayers to God who he thought that he knew, but this episode in his life proves that Saul’s belief in God fell short of being acceptable. His prayers however good that they might have sounded did not really find their way into God’s hearing but now that has changed: Paul was praying and God was listening.
 

True prayer is proof of those that are a new creation, the old sinful state is gone and now the righteousness of Christ has come and even our prayers are heard and accepted by God.
We will learn that discipleship is costly.
 

In verse 15 God has informed Ananias that Saul had a special calling and that God would be instructing Saul of the personal cost that he would pay for following Jesus. Salvation comes free of charge as a gift of grace from God but to follow Jesus is a costly affair. In verse 16 Saul was told in no uncertain words what that cost would be for him. We know from the reading of Acts and Paul’s letters that he would have many delights and difficulties simply because he was a Christian. Saul did not enter into his Christian life with his head in the clouds and wearing rose coloured glasses, the Lord told him how difficult it would be for him to live a life glorifying to God.
 

Sadly much of our gospel preaching and witnessing ignores the truth that the Christian life is not a comfortable road. John Bunyan knew that full well when from a prison cell he wrote his Pilgrim’s progress which illustrates graphically the difficulties that Christian has whilst on his way to the celestial city or as we would say heaven.
Life for the Christian is glorious but it is not a bed of roses as some would have us believe but even though Paul had experienced the most difficult of situations he loved life whilst he had it. He recognised that to die was gain but whilst alive fellowship and the service of his saviour, the church and the gospel was all important.
 

Do we really live in such a way today?
Discipleship is costly but it is worth it!
 

We are filled with the Holy Spirit.
 

In verse 17 we are told that Ananias came to Saul with a two-fold ministry. Firstly he was to bring back Saul’s sight. The result of this was immediate and also obvious. There was no trickery here; the cataracts were on the floor to prove it. Saul no longer groped in the dark, now he could see perfectly well. A great miracle had taken place but that miracle pales into insignificance when we consider the effect of Ananias’ other ministry.
 

Ananias was also used of God to impart the Holy Spirit into Saul’s life. At this point we have to be very careful in what we say. We are considering an historical account that has been inspired by the Holy Spirit of God but there are many who take this incident far beyond the purpose found here. God was working uniquely through Ananias in the life of Saul, Saul was learning the lesson that Christians are used by God in very special ways to benefit the church and also that God works His wonders in many and diverse ways for individuals. This is not a passage that teaches us that in some way believers can at will impart the Holy Spirit upon others. God’s infilling of the Holy Spirit is His unique work in which at times He chooses to use Christians. Every conversion is unique and different but all who are converted are filled with the Holy Spirit. This is not a separate experience but is the seal of regeneration or salvation for all believers. Without the indwelling of the Holy Spirit a person is simply unconverted!
 

The great miracle here is often overlooked by controversial doctrines; let us consider what was happening to Saul: the stony heart that was once full of arrogance and pride has been replaced with a new heart of flesh that beats in tune with God has now become the dwelling place of God’s Holy Spirit. God cannot dwell where sin reigns but yet He dwells not only in the heart of Saul but also in the hearts of all who are a new creation. Christians a miracle has taken place in your heart and God has made it to be His dwelling place in you. This had a great impact upon Saul, he was never the same again, for him to live was Christ from that time on; in fellowship with his God in the power of the Holy Spirit. We are no different but do we live in the full knowledge that God is with us at all times?
 

We must be obedient to God’s word.
 

Verse 18 tells us that Saul was baptized. This was a big thing for him, Peter had earlier said under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit that all are to repent and be baptised in order to be saved. That is God’s Holy command and Saul was obedient to it! This it seems was very soon after his conversion and so his Christian life began in obedience to the word of God. Just as good gold has a hallmark which authenticates the item so it is with Christians. The hallmark of a good Christian is obedience to the word and commands of God. Saul lived a life in obedience to God and his word do we live such lives? In his pre-converted days Saul opposed Christ and His church  but post-conversion he loved and protected the church because he now was a new creation. Sadly many Christians are today living their lives contrary to God’s word and commands. Baptism is the first command to obey, are you baptized? But there are many other commands we are called to obey! But are we obedient to them?
 

We must belong to the Church.
 

In verse 19(b) we are told that Saul spent several days with the church and we know that he went from Damascus to Jerusalem where he joined the church and then later as an elder of the church at Antioch (which means he was committed to them) he was sent from there to take the gospel to the Gentiles. Paul belonged to the church! It has been said (Matthew Henry) that: “those who take God for their God take his people for their people.” That is demonstrated by Ruth’s confession to her mother-in-law Naomi when she said “your God will be my God and your people will be my people!”  (Ruth 1:16)
God and His people come as a unity, they are inseparable!
 

Christians you cannot belong to God and not belong to His people! It is a lie of the devil that you do not need to go to church. It is true that going to church does not make you a Christian but as a Christian you MUST be in fellowship with and also belong to the church. You have been adopted by God into His family and so have we, therefore you belong to us and we in Christ belong to you.
 

Saul was introduced to the church by Ananias and he spent time with them and found in them friendliness and excellency! He now loved them and they loved him. They were enriched by him and he by them. That is how it is with all believers but if you take a back seat then we are impoverished and if I do the same then you are equally impoverished. We have a duty of care towards all of God’s people by being a real and vital part of them in both worship and service.
 

We must serve both God and His church.
 

In verse 20 we are told that Saul began to preach in the synagogue. He had all of the knowledge he needed beforehand and so as soon as he knew Christ to be the Messiah he was automatically equipped to declare the gospel and prove that Jesus is Lord. (vs. 22) We must again be cautious at this point, there are not many (if any) today with the knowledge that Saul of Tarsus had in order that they might preach accurately and as quickly as he did. We must be cautious with new converts; we must train them before releasing them for gospel work! Saul served the Lord through his gospel preaching, but he also served the church by his teaching and pastoral care. We are all called to be both servants of the Lord and of the church.
 

The more Saul preached the stronger he became, there is nothing like gospel work to strengthen a believer’s faith! Saul baffled his hearers with his new found faith and theology!  They were beginning to see that Saul of Tarsus was now a new creation, the old enemy of the gospel was gone and the new Apostle had come!

CONCLUSION:
 

Each one of us as Christians are a new creation; but are you?
 

Do you recognise Jesus as your Lord and Saviour?
 

Do you pray to God knowing that He is listening and is pleased with you?
 

Are you living knowing the cost of discipleship? Do you carry your cross for Jesus!
 

Are you filled with the Holy Spirit, if not then you are not converted.
 

Are you obedient to the word and command of God? Are you baptised?
 

Do you belong to the church?
 

Are you a servant of both the Lord and His church?
 

If you are failing at some or all of these then you are either a deficient Christian or as we 
better know it a backslider or you are not yet converted. If you are not converted you must plead with God to work in your life. I would love to spend time with you if you need help.
 

If however you are a backslider then it is imperative that you come back to the One who has made you to be a new creation.


Sunday, 30 March 2014

A Demonstration of God’s Love. Acts 9:1-22 & Romans 5:8


“God demonstrates His own love for us in this: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us!”
 
Found within this verse are 2 very powerful themes:
 

  • A demonstration of love.
  • A desperate condition.
A demonstration of love:
 

Notice that Paul does not say that God makes a demonstration as to what love is. This is not merely a way of showing how we should love each other. There is nothing human in this demonstration at all. The love demonstrated is God’s own love. This is divine love which by it from the very heart of God whose very nature is perfect love. It is from God to man, it is without any hint of selfishness. It is generous and lavish love from the heart of God who alone is perfectly holy. When we consider the truth about ourselves then we wonder at the very fact that God should even have a concern for us let alone that He might love us. 

Remember that to Him our sin is so odious that there is nothing about us that is attractive yet alone deserving of His love. But we do praise our God that He is not like us His love is an expression of His very character and despite who we are God loves mankind.
 

This begs the question “what is God’s love like?” Paul tells us that He demonstrates His love to us. We have just come through the season of Christmas where we have both demonstrated our love and have been recipients of a demonstration of love. We have given special gifts to and received gifts from those that we love. Our gifts are a demonstration of love towards those that we love. We would never dream of giving a bottle of poison but we might give a bottle of nice wine to those that we love: we give good things as a demonstration of our love to them. The bible teaches us that we are made in the image of God; our giving to others is an evidence of His character in us.
 

So what is God’s demonstration of love?
 
This is the most powerful demonstration ever made: Christ died! For us to fully appreciate the enormity of what this means we need to re-consider who Christ is.
 

Jesus Christ is:
  • God’s anointed One.
  • He is God’s own Son.
  • He is the One by whom the whole universe has been made.
  • He has always been and always will be in full fellowship within the Godhead.
  • He is God Himself and He is our Saviour (more of that later) and it is by His death that God demonstrated the fullness of His love for us. We all love Christmas and the reminder that Jesus became a man and of course this is a demonstration of God’s love but the fullness of His love is not clearly seen until Good Friday. The demonstration is completed when Jesus uttered the words “It is finished” and He gave up His Spirit and breathed His last. This is the ultimate demonstration of God’s love towards us.
The ultimate price paid by God simply because He loves mankind. Many might liken His love to the soldier that dies for His country but that falls far short of the reality. It might be likened to the man who dies protecting his wife but again it does not even reach the enormity of God’s love demonstrated in Christ Jesus. You see that the death of a hero is co-incidental. It just happens, the hero does not plan even for a moment that the outcome of his life might be to rescue people from their difficulties and when he does die it is because he believes in the cause and the worthiness of the recipients. It is entirely different for our God.

The demonstration of His love is:
 

Planned from before the world was created. It was decided upon in the courts of heaven with all of the events being organised by God. There is no element of surprise it is all carried out according to His plan and purpose.
 

The recipients are totally undeserving and completely hopeless. The very fact that the recipients of God’s love are hopeless and undeserving brings us to the other point of the verse.
Mankind is in a:
 

Desperate Condition.
 

Paul tells us that Christ died at a certain point in our experience. In Romans 5:6 he has already said that it was while we were powerless to do anything about our condition (sin) that god died for us in our ungodliness. It was whilst we were impotent in our ungodliness and unable to help ourselves that Christ died.
 

Today of course is the first day of 2012. Last night was the last of 2011 and I believe the most sentimental night of the year. At the stroke of midnight people hugged and kissed each other and raised a glass or two to their health and well-being. They made vows to be different, to be better and more loving towards each other! The looked back at the old year and through the words of Auld Lang Syne have vowed everlasting friendship to all. But have you listened to the news this morning? There are many of those same people now languishing in police cells for violence towards those whom they avowed their undying love. There will be today many violent break-downs of relationships and yet last night it was so different. The resolutions made to eat & drink less to be more thoughtful towards others etc. are already broken.
 

You see we are powerless to really change. The selfishness that is our character will not go, this is the great theme of the bible. Man is selfish (the bible word is sin) and he cannot do anything to change. He is powerless. It is this selfishness that is a problem to God. It is odious and he cannot be in its presence but yet it is whilst we are like this that he demonstrates his love towards all mankind. God has shown mankind His intentions towards them in the death of Jesus His Son. In Romans 5:10-11 Paul tells us that it is by the death of Jesus Christ that Christians are reconciled to God. In other words there is a way out of the impasse; we do not have to remain in our sinful, state. Something can be done about it but as Paul says we are powerless to do anything for ourselves. You see it is all accomplished upon the cross, the deed was completed when Jesus breathed is last, it was truly finished.
Paul teaches these great truths but how does he know it to be true? He knows it is true by experience and that experience is recorded in the passage before us in Acts 9
 

In verses 1-2 we can see Saul’s desperate condition. It was whilst he was breathing out murderous threats towards the church.
 

In verses 3-4 we see that in his helpless state, whilst he had no thought for Christ Jesus that God called to him. He had no thought or desire towards Christ and His church, Saul was totally depraved before God, he was bankrupt in his ability to be saved but yet God called him by His own grace.
 

In verse 5 we see the true ignorance of Saul. When he heard the voice of the Lord, Saul who had prided himself in his knowledge of God did not know Him at all. He was totally ignorant as to who God is. He was also completely surprised at the voice of God being that of Jesus of Nazareth whom he had been persecuting. This just proves that great knowledge of the bible and faith are not enough for reconciliation with God. If you are depending upon your attendance at church or your attention to Christian things then you are falling far short of reconciliation with God just as Saul of Tarsus was! You are also ignorant towards God.
 

In verses 5-6 we can see that Saul was convicted of his state before God. His pride was broken; he could no longer boast supreme faith and relationship with God. At the voice of the Lord Saul was a broken man!
 

In verses 7-9 we see Saul’s inability to do anything about his condition. He could hear but he could not see. He needed help to get to his destination. He could not even eat or drink he was so desperate about his condition! He was disabled but God was taking control of his life. It is a bit like when somebody remotely takes control of your computer, the cursor flashes across the screen pages pop up and the computer is being repaired by one with more knowledge than you have. Without their control they can do nothing to repair the damage. God needs to be completely in control of your life for Him to make the changes necessary and that is exactly what was happening to Saul of Tarsus. You see that whilst he was still powerless Christ died for Saul of Tarsus and he called Him and made him into the man that God wanted him to be!
 

There is one more important issue:
 

In verses 10-17 we find that the church was involved. Saul needed to belong to the church and the church needed to have Saul amongst them! How does that happen especially when the new convert is the church’s avowed enemy? Ananias was called by God to go to Saul; he went after questioning God about his safety and fond Saul to be a broken but saved man, no longer an enemy of the gospel but a brother in the faith. He found Saul to have a new vision of Jesus; he also learned something of the saving power of Jesus Christ. If God can save the likes of Saul of Tarsus then it is possible for Him to save anybody! The church also had to learn that they must accept all who are converted. Saul was to become the great Apostle Paul, the champion of the church and the gospel but first he must be accepted by God’s people. Ananias was instrumental in the church’s accepting of Paul.
 

We will consider the rules of acceptance next time but for today we need to remember that it was whilst all of us were still sinners that Christ died for us and that our salvation is under His sovereign control. It is Him that died, Him that calls and Him that saves us and all of that by His grace leaving us nothing to boast about. When He does that in anybody’s life then they immediately become a new creation. The old life of sin is gone the new life of righteousness in Christ alone has begun. All such people need the protection, nurture and love of the church and we must bring them in as soon as they are converted.

Are you really saved? Acts 8:9-25:


Last time we saw that Philip, one of the seven due to the persecution of Christians in Jerusalem had to move to Samaria. He had an effective ministry amongst the Samaritans which was authenticated by miraculous signs and wonders. The whole scene is somewhat confusing in that up until now the gospel had been preached to and had affected mostly Jewish listeners. Now it was being preached in Samaria to a people who had turned their backs on orthodox Jewish faith and who were considered by the Jews to be heretics of the worst kind. The confusion is made more difficult by the entrance of Simon the sorcerer.

Simon’s credentials:

The fact that Luke tells us that he was the sorcerer tells us much about this man. He was a pagan. A follower of the occult, involved in magic arts and divination but there is more. Look at his nick name, he was known also as the “Great Power!” This was the name by which the expected Messiah would be known, what Simon declared about himself was that he was God’s Messiah! Luke records that he was also known by the people as the divine power. This man by his own estimation and that of many others was divine. He was god on earth; that tells us much about him and helps us to understand what is happening in the passage. The people have been used to seeing him about his business, amazing them with his ability and no doubt his preaching. The people were under his spell and consequently bound by the god whom he served. The devil is the one who claims to be the great power. Simon is also portraying what the devil promised to Adam and Eve in Eden. Satan told them that if they followed his directives rather than God’s then they would become like God or a great power! Simon had fallen foul of devilish influence; he was leading people to hell rather than heaven. We would do well to keep this in mind when we see and hear of people who are caught up with devilish practices, they always point people to hell!

There is something else that is helpful in this passage for us; we do not find Philip treating Simon differently in any way and neither do Peter and James later on. They are not fazed by the man’s reputation. The gospel far supersedes any power that man or the devil might aspire to! Many Christians today feel the need for spiritual jiggery pokery when it comes to dealing with people who are under the influence of the devil. It is right to be cautious but always to remember that “He that is within us is greater than He that is in the world!” The devil is no match to God, the gospel is the power of God for the salvation of all who will believe and that includes the Simon types! Philip simply proclaimed gospel truth and Simon was affected. The way that he was affected we will deal with in a moment or two but before then we need to remember that whenever the gospel is preached there are many unknown quantities in the congregation and so we must preach the word faithfully without fear or favour whatever we might think of our audience. We offer the gospel simply and faithfully to all, whether rich or poor, old or young, good or bad or even dignitaries or tramps. Whoever they are they deserve the gospel to be preached honestly and fairly!

Simon’s faith:

These really are amazing times, we are quite jealous that the gospel does not seem to be so effective here in Wales. Many had believed in Philip’s preached word and had been baptized. Simon was one of them, but these were confusing times. It was the beginning of the spread of the gospel. Jesus had told His disciples to spread out from Jerusalem into Samaria where Philip was at this time and then to continue into the whole world. The confusion came when Samaritans and Gentiles started to be converted! Samaritans are interested in the truth but is it really a work of God? That was the problem for the church in Jerusalem. They had heard the reports and needed to check out whether this is real or bogus. Peter and John are therefore commissioned by the Apostles to go and check it out.

When they arrive they discover that Simon and many others did believe in the gospel. They had also been baptized as a sign to show that they had changed their allegiance to Christ but there was something sadly missing. Their faith was in the truth of the gospel but it had never been applied to any of them by the Holy Spirit of God. They were simply faithful believers but not yet disciples. Peter and John recognise the confusion and so deal with the difficulty. It is at this point that we have to be very careful. This is not a passage for us to build a doctrine upon, these were confusing times and the confusion is being dealt with. God by His Spirit is at work powerfully through Peter and John. He had given them the authority and the faith to lay hands on these believing people in order that God through them might work powerfully in true saving grace. We cannot be truly saved until God the Holy Spirit makes our hearts His home!  Many on that day experienced God’s grace but clearly Simon did not!
So what of Simon’s faith? The evidence shows that he had no saving faith at all. It is true to say that he was fascinated by the gospel and enjoyed the association which he had with it by following Philip to observe his ability to work miracles. Simon also thought that he could pay for the gift that Peter and John had to impart the Holy Spirit! The “great power” was being somewhat upstaged and so to be at the centre of attention he needed to be able to do just as these men were doing in the hope of eventually upstaging them and once again becoming “king-pin!” Simon’s faith was in himself alone. He was therefore merely a religious man that now believed in Jesus. He may have said the equivalent of the sinner’s prayer, he would have testified to faith in Jesus when he was baptized. He had been baptized as a declaration that he now followed Jesus but he was in reality unconverted! You may consider me to be rather harsh in saying this but bear with me for a few moments and I will show you why I believe that to be the case. Before then we need to consider Simon’s faith and apply it to our situation.

There was a new church being born, people in Samaria were being converted, they were committing themselves to Christ and to the gospel and ultimately to each other as the church. They were becoming one in heart and mind just as the believers in Jerusalem had become. They were trusting God for their salvation and then there is this “all important Simon!” He is different, instead of being under authority he wants to be the authority. There are people just like that in the church, they are involved, probably have been baptized, have a great testimony. But they are unconverted, they are interested in Jesus for their own purposes, they might even have great theology and great bible knowledge. They may orthodox and appear to be model Christians but they are trusting in their own ability rather than on Christ. If you are one of them beware:

Because there is a strong warning from Peter to such people:

Peter’s warning:

Look again at verses 18-23. Let me read them from J.B. Phillips’ paraphrase of the passage:
“When Simon saw how the Spirit was given through the apostles’ laying their hands upon the people he offered them money with the words, “give me this power too, so that if I were to put my hands on anyone he could receive the Holy Spirit.” Today we might be tempted to treat such a thing lightly and with indifference. We often bury our heads in the sand rather than confront error. Peter was not like that, he was horrified at what Simon was saying. Peter recognised that Simon was in mortal danger and he was not afraid to tell him as it really is. Our English translations do not fully reveal what Peter actually said to Simon. They all simply say that Peter says may your money perish with you. That does not have the full impact unless we link it to John 3:16 where it says that God gave His Son in order that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but will have everlasting life. The problem is that the word perish has lost its full power because we use the same word for a feeling of cold and a slow deterioration of goods. J.B. Phillips says this: “But Peter said to him, “to hell with you and your money!” In the footnote he also adds “These words are exactly what the Greek means. It is a pity that their real meaning is obscured by modern slang usage!” These truly are strong words that many today would take offence at but equally many would also in Simon’s day. Simon himself seemed to have taken it well but we will soon discover the effect that it really had. Before then, there is a lot more that Peter boldly declared. Listen to J.B. Phillips again: “To hell with you and your money! How dare you think you could buy the gift of God! You have no share or place in this ministry, for your heart is not honest before God. All you can do is repent of this wickedness of yours and pray earnestly to God that the evil intention of your heart may be forgiven. For I can see inside you, and I see a bitter man with jealousy and bound with his own sin!”  Peter did not fall for Simon’s false profession or his apparent zeal to be with God’s people. He was not interested in his money to buy power but he was free with the truth. He did not shy away from telling it as it was. Gospel witness requires straight talk, to treat Simon with kid gloves at that stage would have left him in self-security and also it would have given the church the impression that wrong thinking is OK-ish! Peter simply told Simon “unless you repent you will go to hell and that is where the money you offer deserves to be also.” The church does not need the money of unrepentant people who think that by plying the church with finance then they gain gifts from God. God hates such an approach and so should the church. If you are trusting in what you give whether it be money, time or effort to the cause of the gospel then with Peter the church must say “to hell with your efforts along with you because you are also full of evil intent.” We must also say along with Peter there is hope; you must repent of such thinking. Call on the mercy of God for the forgiveness of your sin and you will be saved. 

 So what was Simon’s response to Peter’s plea?

Simon’s response:

Verse 24 says it all: “please pray to the Lord for me that none of these things that you have spoken about may not come upon me.” Did he not listen to Peter? Peter said to him “you must repent!” I am sure that Peter and the church prayed for Simon but the prayers of the saints never saved anyone; it is the personal prayer of repentance by an unrepentant sinner that brings salvation to the person. Simon wanted it to be done for him and whilst he continued in that frame of mind he continued living in unforgiven sin he would ultimately walk through life and into hell. Peter was not his priest; he could not intercede on behalf of Simon! We have a Great High Priest in heaven who intercedes on behalf of repentant sinners. He has made the offering which is acceptable to God and by which relationship is made possible! Peter never was and never will be God’s vicar on earth. That is our Jesus!
Peter’s strong words it appears were like water off a duck’s back, they had no effect at all on Simon; but what about you? The church has many strong words for you; will you take notice and do as Christ commands? Will you repent and believe on the Lord Jesus Christ in order that you might be saved.

Interestingly after Peter had spoken with Simon he and John left it at that. They left Simon to consider what had been said and they went on their way. Christians we would do well to take notice, at this point it has all been said. We do not need to have classes or debates we simply leave the work to God’s Holy Spirit, He is far more convincing than our little arguments can ever be. Our command is to declare the gospel and to trust god to give the increase. Let us not meddle in the work of the Holy Spirit.

Paying close attention. Acts 8:1(b)-8



Last time we saw that Stephen had a message for the Sanhedrin who in turn paid close attention to every word that he spoke. From their point of view it was in order that they might discover words of error and then to try him for heresy. That required their full attention but we also discovered that God had a much higher purpose. The word preached by Stephen would accomplish exactly what God had intended that it should. We therefore concluded that the Sanhedrin heard and rejected the word, Stephen preached the word and was martyred because of the gospel and Saul was being irresistibly drawn by God to Himself!
 
That is the power and effect of good clear gospel presentation.
 
We will not be too surprised to find that the gospel continued to have a great effect and that people from all walks of life were paying special attention to what might happen next. I remember a number of years ago being part of a church where there was great blessing especially from the preached word. As a church we were looking forward to Sundays because we knew that God would speak to us and challenge us greatly. I remember reading the passage in advance and trying to pre-empt what emphasis the preacher would bring to us. When Sunday came it was as if the whole congregation held onto every word and savoured the content. When God is at work then people cannot help but to pay attention, even if at times their motives are wrong.
 
From the passage that we have read we see that there were 2 ways in which special attention was afforded to the church:
 
  • The authorities paid special attention to the church.
  • Onlookers paid special attention to Philip.

The authorities paid special attention to the church:
 

We are reminded that Saul was present at the murder of Stephen; it seems to be that he was both in charge and fully in approval of proceedings. He meant ill towards the church and seemed to be winning the day. Stephen had died, the enemy of the church seemed to have gained the upper hand and so they used their authority to deal yet another blow to the church. Luke simply records that great persecution broke out against the church at Jerusalem and that this caused all but the apostles to be scattered far and wide throughout Judea and Samaria. Whilst all of this was happening Godly men were paying special attention to the memory of Stephen. They firstly buried him and they also mourned for him. Stephen’s death did not simply pass by as just another event in the growth of the church; it was not something that was simply to be expected. The church had lost a great man who served them with wisdom, care and compassion.  The church had lost one of its best and most respected leaders. Therefore they paid special attention to do the right thing even though they were under the cosh at the time.
 

On this occasion it seems that the Apostles were not the centre of attention. It was the members of the church that were under attack. The authorities had not been able to demoralise the church by attacking the leaders alone. They had dealt a severe blow by killing Stephen and straight away they deal a body blow. They hit the body of the church in order to take the wind out of them. They persecute them greatly! We can only imagine what that might mean. For a people who could mercilessly stone an innocent man to death anything is possible. We do not need to be fanciful but we do know how a totally depraved crowd could quickly sink to the depths of evil!
 

Example:
 

Derren Brown programme where the audience were allowed to make decisions for a victim. They had 2 choices to make for each of a series of situations the man would find himself in. One choice was to do the man good and the other was to do him harm. The audience were all wearing masks to make themselves of equal standing and anonymous. The first choice was really nothing but a bit of fun, a trick or a treat. The majority went for the trick and so the man suffered some indignity. The events worsened and by the end almost all were in favour of the man being harmed until it showed the man in trying to escape being knocked down by a car and possibly having died. The object was to prove that man will always, as a pack seeks to do harm to innocent victims. It worked perfectly!
 

In a similar way the authorities persecuted the church, seeking to do them harm but Saul began to pay extra special attention to the church. He went about his business of destroying the church, banging on doors and dragging out believers, he did not care about gender both men and women were imprisoned by Saul. The church was being paid special attention and it was not pleasant.
 

Wherever God blesses the church there will always be opposition. We recently passed by Tintern abbey and wondered at the magnificence of the building and how that so many years ago they were able to build such lasting structures. But of course Tintern Abbey is derelict now because it had been destroyed by Oliver Cromwell. Many see this as pure vandalism and a blot in our history but we need to have a true perspective of events at the time. The people who were in charge of such places were just like the authorities that we are considering; they were severely persecuting the believers. They were destroying the true church and Cromwell was fighting against their persecutions. He destroyed their buildings in order to stop their destroying God’s people. I know which I prefer to be preserved.
When the church receives special attention from the authorities then generally difficulties are just around the corner.
 

The result was that the church was scattered throughout Judea and Samaria. The aim of the authorities was that the ever growing church be displaced and made impotent?
Onlookers paid special attention to Philip:
 

Philip is another of the men along with Stephen who had been chosen by the church to care for the widows. Now he is the subject of special attention, this time from the crowd. We remember the command of the Lord Jesus to the church: His disciples are to go out into the entire world and preach the gospel, beginning in Jerusalem and from there to go into all of Judea and then Samaria and then to the whole world. It is amazing to think that all of Jerusalem so quickly had heard the gospel and that now the authorities that are causing the church to fulfill the commands of the Lord, they are actually assisting the spread of the gospel rather than preventing it! Persecution is aiding the spread of the gospel because rather than making the believers afraid to preach, it empowered them to preach the Good News wherever they were. Luke chooses Philip as an example as to what was generally happening. Philip had gone to a city in Samaria where the Spirit of God worked mightily through him. We are rightly cautious as to how we portray what happened in this un-named city because so much is made of the miraculous today. We will return to this next time but it is right to say that what happened in Samaria at that time was a one off event that brought the gospel to Samaritans and many were converted and filled with the Spirit of God. God authenticated this new work of His Spirit by signs and wonders. The crowd paid close attention to Philip and evil spirits and sicknesses were dealt with. That unsurprisingly brought great joy to the city. It is how this came about that is of vital importance for us today, the crowd saw the miracles and were enthralled but we must notice that the miracles came after the preaching of Christ! Philip proclaimed Christ and God blessed the people. Verse 12 tells us that many believed and were converted.
 
If we pre-empt next week’s passage a little we find that a number of Samaritan’s believed when Philip preached and then they committed themselves to the faith. Many were baptized in obedience to the word of God. These were not just a set of numbers recorded in some church growth survey; they were real people with real issues that had been affected by the preaching of the gospel. The miraculous signs, healings etc. were an integral part of the events of that day but we must always recognise that they were secondary next to the greater miracle of people being saved by God’s good grace. Many today look for the secondary’s and are not too interested in the primary function of gospel witness which is the salvation of repentant sinners. I would like to add that the reason we do not see the signs and wonders as the early church did on this occasion is simply that we are now in very different times. As I have said before and as is clear from the passage before us; the signs were present to prove that this truly was a work of God’s grace in a time of great confusion. The gospel was going beyond the borders of Israel. The great question in the mind of the Jews was “is this allowable by God’s perspective?” God’s purpose was always to extend the borders of grace and so He proved to the people that this was His work. We are under no such confusion, we know that the gospel is for all people of all nations and so we do not need authentication but we desperately need the application of the preached word into hearts and lives. Our prayer should be the blessing of salvation in lives rather than the healing of a body that will die one day and if its owner is never converted will go to hell.
 
In a way we are like the early church each week, we are scattered all across our area with the gospel of grace in our hearts but it needs to be on our lips because it is by the preaching of the gospel that our contacts will be saved if God so pleases. How can they be saved unless they hear? The challenge for us today is to be like Philip and all of the scattered believers and to take Jesus to those who we are in contact with. Then perhaps there might be some who pay close attention to what we say and bring great joy into the church.

Saturday, 29 March 2014

The 3 R’s of Scripture: Acts 1:1-8



Jesus Taken Up Into Heaven


In my former book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach until the day he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles he had chosen. After his suffering, he presented himself to them and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God. On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave them this command: “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.” Then they gathered around him and asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?”

He said to them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”





It is somewhat ironic that when speaking of school the 3 R’s are of prime importance: Reading, Writing and Arithmetic. There is of course only one R in evidence. I suppose that one of the lessons that all children love to learn is that teacher is not always right. This morning I would like to consider the 3 R’s of scripture as we begin your studies in Acts of the Apostles. I am marginally better than our educators in that 2 out of 3 of my R’s are genuine. We will consider the Reader, the Writer and the Revealer.



The Reader



I am not letting you into any secret by first announcing who the write is. We are I am sure well enough acquainted with scripture to know that the writer is Dr Luke, more about him in a few minutes. He has already written to this man Theophilus when he wrote his account of the life of Jesus. 


Who is Theophilus?


When Luke refers to him in his gospel he calls him the “most excellent Theophilus.” Here in Acts it is simply Theophilus. Some people with more time on their hands that they probably know what to do with it have suggested all sorts of things about Theophilus and this change of address by Luke, such as their deepening friendship and so Luke is now more familiar with him. I cannot see what use such thinking is. It certainly does not help in our understanding of the passage. Others have suggested that he might not even be a real person but that the Gospel and Acts are written to all “lovers of God” which is what his name means. Again it might be good for clever guys to consider such things but how much does it help our purposes? If you are interested in such things you can easily follow the discussions through the commentaries.


I believe that there is great licence to consider what his name means. Names are often important in scripture and this is certainly the case with this man Theophilus. Luke is writing to a “Lover of God.” This sets the scene for the rest of the book! It is fair to say that this was written primarily to one man who loved God but it is for all who are from that day on Lovers of God! This account is for Christians. When that is taken into account then what follows is so much easier to understand.  Dr Luke does not have to justify the person of Jesus, the work of the Holy Spirit or the credentials and the authority of the church. As we go through our studies I am sure that we will often discover the reality of this point. Luke makes many assumptions that his reader(s) was and is a believer in Jesus as Lord. I would also make the argument that this is true of all of the scriptures and that confusion and error comes from the fact that people who are not really “lovers of God” are reading a love letter meant for somebody else. That in no way excludes them from reading the scripture but it will require God’s special friends to help them in their understanding of the content.


Having made that point we need to consider the content of what Luke writes. He has already told Theophilus about the life of Jesus Christ up until His ascension and the promise of the coming Holy Spirit. Vs 1-2.


He is now about to tell Theophilus about the Acts of the Holy Spirit of God in the building of the church as promised by the Lord Jesus. Luke will tell of the way in which God used ordinary men to build the church through their powerful preaching, teaching and witness. In verse 8 he says that the disciples had to learn that it was not for them to know the times and dates of the completion of God’s work in this world but to witness to His saving grace that is available until that time. This is not a book for speculation but a history of real events that took place. It is to a man who loved God and belonged to His people. It is about how Christ continues to build His church even though He is no longer present with His people in human form.


I do have to take this opportunity to ask you if you are a true reader of this book or are you an interested party that does not yet fully understand what God is saying through it? In other words are you a Christian? 

If you are not sure then my advice is simple, the bible principle is that you should seek God in order to find Him. Jesus Christ is the way to the Father, He is the truth and He is the true life. No one can approach God but by Him. We can only ener into the presence of Holinaes if we are holy ourselves. Due to sin that is impossible for all people. All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. Jesus Christ is the Holy One of God who by grace will forgive sin for all who repent. That is bible truth and so I recommend reading the bible, praying for God's good gift of salvation through personal repentance. That is God's work ask and it shall be given, seek and you will find, knock and the door os salvation will be opened for you. If you are concerned why not find a good evangelical church and speak to the Pastor he will do all that he can to help. If you are finding difficulty why not leave a message on this site and I will do all that I can to assist. May God bless you.







The Writer



Luke was not an eye witness of the life of Jesus but he did carefully research the life of Jesus in his Gospel. In Acts he is recording the inception of the church, up to chapter 16:9 he records in the third person; clearly he has researched the history of the church up until that time. From Acts 16:10 he changes to the personal pronoun, Luke is clearly a part of the recorded proceedings from that time on. Luke was a doctor (Colossians 4:14); a fellow worker of Paul (Philemon 24) and faithful to the end for Paul. In 2 Timothy 4:11 Paul writes shortly before his death “only Luke is with me.” He was an accurate historian who records clearly and without spin or commentary the events that happened.


Luke’s motivation for writing is that Theophilus might know the certainty of what he had been taught of Jesus Christ (Luke 1:4) Clearly from the passage before us his purpose for writing Acts is to show Theophilus that the events that are being witnessed are the continuing work of God in the power of His Holy Spirit. It was therefore imperative that he recorded the events accurately. The great thing for us as believers is that we can rely on what is written firstly because Luke was absolutely committed to accuracy and secondly as we will consider in a few moments that his experience, research and writings were inspired by God’s Holy Spirit.


Luke was the human messenger or teacher of the events; it was his responsibility to be clear, concise and accurate. He achieved that goal impeccably!


There is a great lesson for us in this, especially to those who preach and teach. Luke only recorded the events as they happened! We live in a society where the actual event seems to be drowned out by media comment and public opinion. If we consider our news bulletins, they begin with fact (we hear the whole of the news in 1 minute) and they continue with commentary and opinion for the next 29 minutes. There is no room for that sort of speculation in the presentation of gospel truth. Somebody a long time ago taught me to largely discount what the preacher / teacher had to say when he started saying “I believe the passage says this that, or the other!” It is not “what we think” that is important but what really happened!


Gospel preaching and teaching is all about the truth; “the whole truth and nothing but the truth!”


 Our responsibility is to be clear and accurate as we declare gospel truth.



The Revealer



Any researcher will tell you that trying to find the absolute truth is almost impossible. How can we then say that Luke attained what is impossible for most? One of the great things about the scripture is that it is written by men just like us. It has all of the hallmarks of their own unique personality but it is more than just their work. Paul tells us in 2 Timothy 3:16 that it has a Divine influence. He actually tells us that it is the very breath of God. The writer is inspired by Him to write the whole truth and nothing but the truth. This very fact makes it wholly reliable. It is the Holy Spirit that inspires and reminds His people to be able to record the events accurately. And so when Luke was about his research, the Holy Spirit reminded Luke’s subjects of the facts. He aided Luke to record them accurately and then to write them clearly. The result is seen before us; a perfect history of the church.


We have already considered Luke’s purpose of writing but what is the purpose of the Holy Spirit? I suppose that there is one slight difference, Luke could only see his readership as being Theophilus but God’s Spirit intended it to be read by all “lovers of God” until the Lord Jesus returns in glory. That is why verses 7&8 are so important. Luke has reminded Theophilus of the end of Jesus’ life on earth. He is about to put more flesh on the gospel by telling Theophilus how Jesus ascended into heaven! But before that he tells him how Jesus had been seen by many. He had instructed His disciples to await the gift of God’s promised Holy Spirit. He records the disciples desire to know more than is for them to know. They wanted to know about the end times but God had another task for them! They were not to be speculators but witnesses until the unknown time comes. That day will clearly come; it is in God’s knowing until that time God reveals that His disciples have a task. That task is for us to be like Luke, clear and thorough exponents of the truth aided by the gift of the Holy Spirit! Luke could never tell how far reaching his writing would be But God fully intended it to be the vital part of our scripture.


How would I sum up the book of Acts?

  1. It is not the Acts of the Apostles but the works of the Holy Spirit.
  2. It is all about how the church came into being.
  3. It always keeps Jesus and His people in the fore.
  4. It is accurate and clear.
  5. It is history par excellence!


Did God really flood the earth? Genesis 6:1-7:7



The fact that the flood took place is taken for granted by Moses (the writer of Genesis). Isaiah also speaks of it in chapter 54:9, as does the New Testament. See Hebrews 11:7; 1 Peter 3:20; 2 Peter 2:5 & 3:6. Jesus’ words are also recorded in Matthew’s gospel 24:37-39 & Luke 17:26-29. As far as scripture is concerned the flood happened without a doubt. But we live in the 21st century where we are encouraged to question everything. The bible is not beyond our scrutiny and many have chosen to believe that it is merely a book of myths and ideals. We have great science and scientists who readily speak contrary to the bible. So can we believe that God really flooded the whole earth?

We also have historical and other accounts handed down over the generations, many of which speak of a time of catastrophic flooding upon the land. We need to remember that the time we are looking at is very early in the history of mankind. If we count back to Adam we are in the region of 1650 years from creation. Therefore when God’s word speaks of the wickedness of man on the earth; had mankind spread from Eden across the whole globe or was he still in a more confined area of the planet. This being the case the question might be; does the record mean that the whole globe or just the part that was occupied by human life was flooded? This argument has been raging now for decades and I believe is somewhat of a red herring that fuels the fire of the skeptics! We can say that there is much traditional and archaeological evidence that points to the flood being widespread but there is a more important point to make than to prove the extent of the flood. It is clear from scripture that the flood involved all of humanity, with only 8 people being saved from its devastating effect.
This causes man to ask the question; “how can a God of love allow such a thing to happen?” The flood of Noah’s day will help us to understand why it happened and why God acted in such a way. We will also discover if God will do such a thing again. Another question that is often asked is “where is God in all of this?” The answer to that question is plain to see; He is in the very midst of it all. What we can observe from this account is something of how God feels when such an act of His judgement is taking place.
 

To help us learn from this event we will look at:

1. The state of mankind.
2. The heart of Noah.
3. The justice of God.
4. The salvation of God.

The state of mankind:

Genesis 6:1-6 tells us some things that are difficult to understand. It speaks of the sons of God marrying the daughters of men. There have been many varying suggestions as to what this might mean. Many are fanciful (you can read of them in some of the commentaries) but I suppose that the interpretation that I am most comfortable with is: the sons of men being those of professing faith over previous generations inter-marrying with those who are anti-faith producing a confused and perverse people such as described in our reading, these in turn were considered to be the heroes of their day. These things are recorded not for us to worry about as much as to inform us that something was desperately wrong with mankind by the time that Noah lived. It is this that God saw and would do something about.
God sees everything; there is nothing that escapes His gaze! The people were desperately wicked, so much so that verse 12 suggests to us that the whole of creation was corrupted by the wickedness of man.
 

We observed last we week in the account of Cain killing Abel how quickly that man had become “totally depraved” in just one generation! We are reminded again; God has revealed that man is sinful to the core. We think that the world is a bad place to be at times but it is no worse than in those early days. A question that we might have is “can it be as bad today?” Jesus tells us in Matthew 24 that in the last days before His return it will be just as it was in the days of Noah so I guess that the days before the flood were days just like we live in today. People are just as ungodly and are doing the same things but God has promised not to act as He did then. He will never flood the earth again! He has another plan of which we will learn of as we consider the rest of the account.

The heart of Noah:

Genesis 6:8-9
 

All was not lost we know that Noah was a good man; Moses tells us that he was righteous. For those who concern themselves with numbers; Methuselah probably died the year of the flood. So there were those who; against all of the odds remained faithful, but they were in the minority! They stood for truth against the tide of public opinion.
 

It is the heart of Noah that is important; he was righteous and so was worthy of God’s salvation. I am glad that God is omniscient (He is all-knowing) and omnipresent (everywhere & seeing everything). He does not make rash judgements based on partial facts but upon the reality of the situation. He judged Noah to be righteous and so therefore saved him from the judgement to come. There is more recorded in the New Testament regarding Noah. Peter tells us that he was a preacher of righteousness (2Peter 2:5) and Hebrews 11:5 tells us that Noah was a man of faith who condemned the world through the building of the ark.
Noah clearly had a heart for God therefore he was treated differently at the time of judgement. We learn a vital principle here; God does not treat those who love Him in the same way as He does those who disregard Him because He is also omnipotent (all-powerful) which means He is powerful to judge rightly. He is all-powerful to save the righteous and equally all-powerful to condemn the wicked!

The justice of God:

Genesis 6:5 & 13
 

Because God is omniscient He not only sees and discerns the good heart of Noah but He is also concerned about the hearts of all people. He therefore observes and monitors the lives of everybody. He sees it exactly as it is and so because He is fully good He makes an assessment and judgement upon all of mankind just as each individual deserves. What God saw at that time had a profound affect upon Him. The above verses tell us that His heart was grieved and full of pain. For those who criticize God and His judgements they need to read such a passage that reveals not what man thinks what God is like but displays the pain and sorrow of the Divine Heart of God. Because God is good in every way He judges the situation rightly. One of the greatest criticisms in modern Britain is that there is poor justice in our law courts. The penalty in many peoples thinking does not fit the crime. Most believe that for some crimes judgement is too harsh and for others far too lenient. It is difficult for man to make a right judgement. But for God there is only one judgement: Salvation for the righteous & punishment for the wicked! The extent of punishment for the wicked is always up to the judge. God being the Righteous Judge makes His judgement not only fair but it is always right and just!
 

Just as Noah had a choice to live righteously so did the whole of the population but they chose an ungodly life and they paid God’s penalty. It is exactly the same for us today. The choice is ours, “as for me I will serve the Lord,” what will you do?
The salvation of God:

Sometimes God’s plans are a mystery to us. They might even seem somewhat bizarre or even irrelevant at the time. I am sure that Noah would have wondered what was in God’s mind as he was told to make a massive boat. It was going to rain; some experts tell us that rain and flood was not known before. I am not sure about that but Noah made the ark because he trusted completely in God’s word. For the many years that it took (because he did it alone) to make the ark Noah was doing two other things.
 
Firstly he was preaching righteousness as Peter tells us in the New Testament. We can imagine the passion that he would plead with the people. They were in a precarious situation, Noah knew of God’s plan which meant certain death for all outside of the ark. Noah’s extended family, his friends and his neighbours were all under judgement and all they could do was to mock “funny old Noah” and his ridiculous boat!
 
Secondly Noah was displaying God’s judgement by the building of the ark. There was ultimately only safety available for those on the inside. It would be no good to those who would appreciate the craftsmanship of the ark or its design. They had to enter into the ark in order to be saved from God’s final judgement.
 
But the people rejected God’s offer of salvation through Noah’s preaching and witness of obedience. We can imagine the kinds of comments; “we would rather take our chances with our friends than associate with Noah and his God.” The people were living life to the full just as they wanted. Jesus tells us in Luke 17:26-27 that they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage. In other words they were blindly getting on with life in the face of God’s judgement upon them and they did not care. UNTIL the flood came and then Noah and his family had to hear their cries for help and rescue but they were in the floodwaters and lost forever.
 
Man has never changed; he is still the same today. He is under the judging eye of God who again has supplied an Ark of Salvation. This Ark to them is equally unbelievable and even funny in their estimation because it is the cross of Jesus. All who will believe in Him will be saved but all outside of faith will perish! As in the days of Noah people are blindly getting on with life ignoring such a great salvation and walking into God’s judgement because they do not care for His gracious offer of escape!
 
As we have learned from this passage God is grieved by man’s sinfulness, He is not quick to judge but He offers a way of escape but ultimately there will be a judgement made. He will save those who trust in Him and will punish everybody else. (Noah took that seriously and preached righteousness and pleaded with the people. Christians are we doing as Noah did????) The bible tells us that “precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints” He is pleased in the death of His people because at last they are with Him eternally. The opposite is not true of God that He is pleased with the death of the wicked! We learn from this passage that the heart of God grieves and is in pain over the rejection of the wicked. The New Testament tells us that he does not desire that any should perish but that they should be saved. This is why He is patient and will not judge the world with a flood as before. 

Ultimately He will judge all of mankind not with a happy face but with a broken heart. Every person who dies with their sins unforgiven breaks the heart of God. Will He be pleased with you or broken hearted at having to reject you from His presence?