14 January 2017

Stone 38 - Acts

The book of Acts details the movement of Jesus' message from Jerusalem to the rest of the world. It is the beginning of the church. The book is sometimes called the Acts of the Apostles but more accurately it is an account of the Acts of Jesus through the Holy Spirit. Let's take a look at what goes on.

We begin Acts with Jesus telling the apostles not to leave Jerusalem (Acts 1:4), but to wait for the baptism of the Holy Spirit. After this they would become witnesses not just locally but to the ends of the Earth (Acts 1:8).

Shortly after Jesus ascended came the day of Pentecost which actually comes from the Greek word pentekostos which simply means '50'. I am no scholar but I guess I could roughly estimate the time in this fashion to see where they get it...

  • Jesus dies on the cross
  • 3 days later He is risen
  • 40 days Jesus spent with them (Acts 1:3)
  • *7 days later Holy Spirit comes (Acts 1:5) *not many days from now
That would be 50 days. If you have spent some time in the Bible, you might notice that the number seven seems to be a favorite. Notice also that seven weeks would be 49 days.
**Anyway- as a side note, I am OK with this layman's description of where the word Pentecost came to be used for this beginning of the church.

So the Holy Spirit comes on the people and they began speaking in different languages (Acts 2:4). Peter then preaches to many of the people who had come to Jerusalem for the celebration of Passover (Acts 2:14). As a result, about 3,000 people accepted and were baptized (Acts 2:41).

Not only did the apostles witness to the people but they also performed some miraculous things through the Holy Spirit and in the name of Jesus. Chapter Three gives the account of the healing of a lame man who would sit at the gates and beg for money. I love what Peter says to the man.

I have neither silver nor gold, but what I have I give to you: In the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene, get up and walk!" (Acts 3:6)
More valuable than silver or gold. Jesus.

Peter and John later addressed the crowd that gathered and gave credit to Jesus for the man's healing. The guard came and arrested them (Acts 4:1-2) for proclaiming in the person of Jesus the resurrection of the dead.

Since the beginning of the church, people have been trying to silence the name of Jesus. Consider some of the reasons for this...
In this case, the Sanhedrin acknowledge the healed man and that the people did as well meaning that they could not deny this event, (but seems to me that they would if they could), so they decided to threaten them not to preach in the name of Jesus (Acts 4:16-17).  The religious leaders of that time felt threatened by Jesus and they did not like having their authority in question. Does this not also apply today...? Is it not the "authority" of our own hearts and to some extent as well, the government that we struggle with? We have this urge to "do what we want" and to not have a superior moral authority trying to deny us the cravings of our flesh.

Ananias and Sapphira sold some property and lied about the amount they got for it so that they could keep some of it for themselves. They both immediately died right there on the steps of the Colonnade for what they had done (Acts 5:3-11).

**Imagine the fear indicated in verse eleven... like, whoa! better not screw this up! God is not playing games here, this is for real! Don't lie to God, you fool! What were you thinking? It had to have been a wake up call for many who witnessed the event. Not so much a fear to run away but to recognize the truth. More preaching and healing took place at the Colonnade and many more were added to the church.

They were arrested again and placed in jail to be brought before the Sanhedrin. An angel released them in the middle of the night and ordered them to go and preach (Acts 5:19-20). They were reported and then brought peacefully to the Sanhedrin who were like, "Hey, didn't we tell you not to preach in the name of Jesus...!?" (Acts 5:28).

The Sanhedrin wanted to kill them but they were encouraged not to so simply beat them and told them again not to speak in the name of Jesus but it didn't work (Acts 5:40-42).

Enter Stephen
Stephen is also preaching in the name of Jesus and encounters a rather belligerent group of men who when they were unable to defy the logic and truth being spoken through Stephen decided to bear false witness against Stephen before the Sanhedrin (Acts 6:11-14).

When asked if the accusations were true, Stephen gives them some history of Israel, citing the scriptures they followed, but when Stephen convicts them in 7:51-53, they get extremely angry and drag him to the streets and stone him to death. Apparently the truth hurts.

We are also introduced to Saul here (Acts 7:58), who agrees with killing Stephen (Acts 8:1).

**I find it amazing although I am not surprised... 8:3 talks about Saul going from house to house and dragging people off to prison... that people are imprisoned simply because they believed differently. Then I compare that to our culture today... perhaps we do not always go so far as to imprison people but the court system does impose some pretty hefty financial penalties for those who may believe differently. If not that, perhaps a debilitating social stigma.

**One need only go so far as the comments section of a YouTube video or Facebook post to see this same level of hatred played out over differing views. Instead of taking a rational look at the ideas or views, the comments quickly break down into nasty attacks on the opposing person's character in a way that attempts to convey the notion that "if you don't believe the way I do then you must be wrong" - only in a much more destructive way. Acts 13:45 illustrates that this was what people did 2000 years ago as well.

So after Stephen's death, the people scatter - and the message of Jesus spreads.

Back to Saul
Remember Saul, who we met just a moment ago? He was a big-time persecutor of Christians and witnessed the stoning of Stephen. He is still on the rampage trying to imprison others who believed in Jesus (Acts 9:1-2).

Jesus has another plan. He confronts Saul personally, and when asked "Who are you, Lord" by Saul, responds with "I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting." (Acts 9:5).

**Whoa! What a moment for Saul. Imagine. That which you vehemently deny to the point of imprisoning those who don't deny it - personally speaks to you. Wake up call. How do you continue to deny Him after such an encounter?

So Saul, in short order, gets baptized and begins to proclaim Jesus as the Messiah. What a turn around! Naturally, folks were skeptical of this conversion (Acts 9:21). It did not take long before they tried to kill him too (Acts 9:23). The guy they all looked to for doing this work was now the guy they wanted to kill too. Sigh.

Some time later Peter has a dream about a sheet full of animals (Acts 10:11-12). A voice calls out to Peter to get up, kill and eat. The voice also calls out that what God has made clean we must not call common. Hey, that is good news for all the bacon lovers out there.

It was a two-fold message as it also related to the Gentiles. Jews did not associate with them as they were viewed as unclean. God, however, meant for the work of Jesus on the cross to cover them as well. Peter was to accept and spread the gospel to the Gentiles as well.

We are now slowly transitioning over to Paul and much of his adventures. We see the spread of the good news beginning to spread across the landscape and while there are many who are coming to know Jesus as the Messiah, there are still many who oppose the teaching.

Paul actually spends a great deal of this time in prison. (Looks like the persecutor was persecuted himself quite heavily - the irony). Nonetheless, this time allowed Paul to write up those letters that are now a part of the New Testament.

Take a peek at these great videos that give an overview of the book of Acts by our friends over at the Bible Project...

Until next time...

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