Tuesday, March 9, 2010


Acts 7-9

Acts 7 details Stephen's speech in front of the Sanhedrin. Challenged on charges of blasphemy, Stephen responds by preaching to them the history of the Jewish people, how GOD made the covenant with Abraham, how the patriarchs sold Joseph into slavery, how he later saved them during the famine, how Moses was born and grew and spoke to the LORD, how they were brought out of Egypt and how they had the tabernacle of the Testimony in the desert, how they brought it with them during the conquest, and kept it through the time of David until Solomon built the temple. Stephen then spoke to the Sanhedrin as a prophet, calling them a "stiff-necked people" and saying, "you always resist the Holy Spirit! Was there ever a prophet your fathers did not persecute?" They were angered, but Stephen, "full of the Holy Spirit," look up and told them that he could see heaven "and the son of Man standing at the right hand of GOD." They dragged him out of the city and stoned him. He prayed while this was happening, then cried out "Lord, do not hold this sin against them," then died. One of the witnesses was a young man named Saul.

Following the stoning of Stephen, in chapter eight a persecution broke out against the church, and Saul was one of the leaders, going house to house and dragging the church leaders to prison. Many of the leaders scattered out of Jerusalem, preaching wherever they went. Philip proclaimed Christ in Samaria and healed many. A man named Simon who had practiced sorcery there believed and was baptized, and followed Philip everywhere. When the news reached Jerusalem of the spread of the Gospel, Peter and John came to Samaria. The prayed that the Holy Spirit would come on the new believers, because they had so far "simply been baptized into the name of the Lord Jesus Christ." But Peter and John laid on hands and "they received the Holy Spirit." Simon the sorceror offered Peter and John money for the Holy Spirit, but Peter rebuked him "because you thought you could buy the gift of God with money...your heart is not right before God." After they had preached and testified in Samaria, Peter and John returned to Jerusalem. Philip, at the behest of an angel of the Lord, traveled south and met an important Ethiopian official in his chariot, reading the book of Isaiah. He did not understand it, and asked Philip to sit with him and explain. So Philip preached the Gospel, and, when they passes some water, the Ethiopian asked to be baptized, and Philip baptized him. "When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord suddenly took Philip away, and the eunuch did not see him again...Philip...appeared at Azotus and traveled about, preaching the gospel in all the towns until he reached Caesarea."

Acts nine tells of Saul's conversion. Saul continued to "breath out murderous threats against the Lord's disciples," persecuting the church wherever he found it. He asked the high priest for letters to the synagogue in Damascus that he might take any believers prisoner back to Jerusalem. On the road to Damascus, a "light from heaven flashed around him" and he heard a voice saying, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” When he asked who it was, the voice said, "I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting." He continued into the city and for three days, blind, he ate and drank nothing. The voice of the LORD called to a disciple in Damascus named Ananias and told him to go lay hands on Saul and restore his sight. Ananias was resistant because of all the harm that Saul had done, but the LORD said "this man is my chosen instrument to carry my name before the Gentiles and their kings and before the people of Israel." Ananias went, and laid on his hands, and "something like scales fell from Saul's eyes, and he could see again." He got up and was baptized.

Saul stayed for a time in Damascus, and preached in the synagogue that Jesus is the Son of God. The people wondered at his transformation but he "grew more and more powerful" and, many days later, inspired the Jews to kill him. But he learned of their plans and escaped by being lowered in a basket through an opening in the wall by his followers. In Jerusalem, the disciples feared that Saul's conversion was only a ploy to find them, but Barnabas took him to them. He stayed with them and moved about in Jerusalem, "speaking boldly in the name of the Lord." He debated with the Grecian Jews, "but they tried to kill him," so the apostles sent him off to Tarsus.

Peter visited the Christians in Lydda, and healed a paralytic named Aeneas. There was also a disciple named Tabitha (Dorcas in Greek) that became sick and died. The disciples heard that Peter was there and called him, and when he came, he was taken upstairs to the room where the body was. He sent everyone out of the room, then got down on his knees and prayed, then told her to get up. He then called the believers "and presented her to them alive."

Thoughts, questions, issues

  • Stephen's summary of the Pentateuch is excellent.
  • In Bruce Metzger's textual commentary on the Greek New Testament, he addressed the issue of Christ's statement (Lk 23:34) from the cross, "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing." It is actually not in the earliest manuscripts. The editors of the Greek New Testament left it in because
    the logion, though probably not part of the original Gospel of Luke, bears self-evident tokens of its dominical origin, and was retained...in its traditional place where it had been incorporated by unknown copyists early in the transmission of the Third Gospel.
    "Domionical origins" simply means that it originated with Christ. One of the "self-evident tokens of its dominical origin" is that it's a hard saying. It's easy to imagine a copyist taking it out - it's harder to imagine why one would stick it in if it were not authentic. But another reason is that Stephen said it during his martyrdom in Acts 7. This would have been an exceptionally presumptuous had Christ not said exactly the same thing from the cross.
  • I said yesterday that there was a danger in the apostolic healing stories to cause people to think of God as a resource to be used or manipulated as opposed to a creator to be worshipped. I was not thinking of Simon the Sorceror when I wrote that, but he exhibits exactly the kind of attitude that I was talking about.
  • I suspect that the story of Saul's conversion on the road to Damascus is the single best known story from the book of Acts, and that the single best-known line is, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?”

Psalms 32

The first half of this one contains very psalmist rhetoric. "Blessed is he whose transgressions are forgiven...blessed is the man...in whose spirit is no deceit." The second half reads, in places, like a section of proverbs. "Do not be like the horse or the mule, which have no understanding but must be controlled by bit and bridle or they will not come to you."

Psalm 32
Of David. A maskil.
1 Blessed is he
whose transgressions are forgiven,
whose sins are covered.

2 Blessed is the man
whose sin the LORD does not count against him
and in whose spirit is no deceit.

3 When I kept silent,
my bones wasted away
through my groaning all day long.

4 For day and night
your hand was heavy upon me;
my strength was sapped
as in the heat of summer.

5 Then I acknowledged my sin to you
and did not cover up my iniquity.
I said, "I will confess
my transgressions to the LORD "—
and you forgave
the guilt of my sin.

6 Therefore let everyone who is godly pray to you
while you may be found;
surely when the mighty waters rise,
they will not reach him.

7 You are my hiding place;
you will protect me from trouble
and surround me with songs of deliverance.

8 I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go;
I will counsel you and watch over you.

9 Do not be like the horse or the mule,
which have no understanding
but must be controlled by bit and bridle
or they will not come to you.

10 Many are the woes of the wicked,
but the LORD's unfailing love
surrounds the man who trusts in him.

11 Rejoice in the LORD and be glad, you righteous;
sing, all you who are upright in heart!

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