Wednesday, March 10, 2010


Acts 10-12

In Acts 10, a centurion at Caesarea named Cornelius had a vision, which told him to send men to Joppa and bring back a man named Simon and called Peter. He sent two of his servants and a devout soldier to do so. At the time when they were approaching the city, Peter went up on the roof to pray. As he did so, he became hungry, and while the meal was being prepared "he fell into a trance." In a vision, he saw "something like a large sheet being let down to earth by its four corners," containing all manner of animals, and a voice told him to "kill and eat." Peter replied, "I have never eaten anything impure or unclean," but the voice told him that he should not "call anything impure that God has made clean." This happened three times "and immediately the sheet was taken back to heaven." The men sent by Cornelius arrived while Peter was contemplating this vision, and the spirit told him that they were there, and that he should go with them. The next day, he went with them to Caeserea, and when he entered the house, Cornelious fell at his feet. Peter told him to rise, "I am only a man myself." He then asked why he was sent for, and Cornelius told him about his vision. Peter preached the gospel to them and many received the Holy Spirit, even the gentiles, which surprised the Jews. Peter ordered them all baptized and they asked him to stay for a few days.

Peter was challenged, in Acts 11, by other "circumcised believers" for having gone into the house of Gentiles and eating with them. He explained the vision that he had seen, and reminded them of what Jesus had said - "John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit." And he told them that he realized, "if God gave them the same gift as he gave us, who believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I to think that I could oppose God?" To this, "they had no further objections."

Those disciples who had left Jerusalem, "scattered by the persecution in connection with Stephen," traveled to places as widespread as Phoenicia and Cyprus and Antioch, preaching to Jews only. Some of the men from Cyprus and Cyrene, however, when to Antioch "and began to speak to Greeks also," and many believed and "turned to the LORD." When the church in Jerusalem heard this, they sent Barnabas, who "saw the evidence of the grace of God" and encouraged them, before going to Tarsus looking for Saul. He found him and took him to Antioch, and they taught there for a year. "The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch." And a prophet named Agabus who went from Jerusalem to Antioch predicted a famine (which "happened during the reign of Claudius") and the disciples provided help for those in Judea, "sending their gift to the elders by Barnabas and Saul."

Chapter 12 tells about the persecution under King Herod in which James, the brother of John, was killed and Peter was seized. He put him in prison, guarded by four squads of soldiers, intending to try him publically after the Passover. The night before he was to be tried, an angel of the Lord appeared and a light shone in the cell. He woke Peter and struck his chains off, and led him out of the prison. He went to the house of "Mary the mother of John, also called Mark" and knocked. They were astonished to see him, and described to them how the Lord had brought him out of prison. The next morning, Herod had his guards executed for having let him escape. "Then Herod went from Judea to Caesarea and stayed there a while," where the people of Tyre and Sidon, who had been quarreling with him, sought an audience. He sat on his throne, in his royal robes, and delivered a public address, and the people shouted "this is the voice of a god, not of a man." When Herod "did not give praise to God" he "was eaten by worms and died."

"When Barnabas and Saul had finished their mission, they returned from Jerusalem," taking John Mark with them.

Thoughts, questions, issues

  • Peter was present when Jesus said, "What goes into a man's mouth does not make him 'unclean,' but what comes out of his mouth, that is what makes him 'unclean.'" (Mt 15:11) He heard the resurrected Christ give him, and the rest of the apostles, the great commission - "go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you." (Mt 28:19-20) Yet he is still faithfully following the dietary laws, and the laws of ritualistic cleanliness. It takes a vision from the Lord in order to move him out of Jewish circles and in to contact with Gentiles.
  • On a similar note, it occurs to me that Saul, as much as he was the key evangelist out into the world in the first generation, helped spread the Gospel even more than we normally give him credit for. The overt evangelism we all know. A significant portion of the New Testament is Paul-centric, consisting of either the stories of his deeds in Acts, or the records of his words in the epistles. But even before he began actively proseletyzing, his actions had the effect of spreading the Gospel.

    In Acts 11:19, we are told that "those who had been scattered by the persecution in connection with Stephen traveled as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus and Antioch." Saul, of course, was a key and zealous part of the persecution. "All except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria" as "Saul began to destroy the church." (Acts 8:1-3)

    It was this persecution that moved the Gospel for the first time beyond Jerusalem. And moved the Gospel beyond the Jewish community.

    The resurrected Jesus gave his apostles the great commission. They were to "go and make disciples of all nations." Yet they were unable to see beyond the borders of their own world. Certainly Jerusalem was a mission field, and certainly many there were ready for the Gospel. But not everyone ready was in Jerusalem, and the disciples were so caught in their own habits, living in the streets and houses and temple courts that they new, that they never took the Gospel "on the road." They knew the mission, but were unable to see themselves carrying it out into the world. It took a persecution to push them out of their comfort zone. They took the Gospel with them wherever they went, but until the pressure was put on them to move, they never went anywhere.

    So Saul was fighting the church and spreading it at the same time. He was fighting God's word but simultaneously doing God's work.
  • And that, in essence, is the whole story of the book of Acts. How the small, desperate group of disciples were transformed by the resurrection appearances and the Holy Spirit into a movement that moved out of historical geography into the whole world (as it was then known), growing by leaps and bounds until the followers were numbered in the tens or hundreds of thousands, and preaching at the center of the greatest empire on the earth.

Psalms 33

A psalm of praise, a song of singing and joy. A psalm of wonderment at the strength and goodness of GOd.

Psalm 33

1 Sing joyfully to the LORD, you righteous;
it is fitting for the upright to praise him.

2 Praise the LORD with the harp;
make music to him on the ten-stringed lyre.

3 Sing to him a new song;
play skillfully, and shout for joy.

4 For the word of the LORD is right and true;
he is faithful in all he does.

5 The LORD loves righteousness and justice;
the earth is full of his unfailing love.

6 By the word of the LORD were the heavens made,
their starry host by the breath of his mouth.

7 He gathers the waters of the sea into jars;
he puts the deep into storehouses.

8 Let all the earth fear the LORD;
let all the people of the world revere him.

9 For he spoke, and it came to be;
he commanded, and it stood firm.

10 The LORD foils the plans of the nations;
he thwarts the purposes of the peoples.

11 But the plans of the LORD stand firm forever,
the purposes of his heart through all generations.

12 Blessed is the nation whose God is the LORD,
the people he chose for his inheritance.

13 From heaven the LORD looks down
and sees all mankind;

14 from his dwelling place he watches
all who live on earth-

15 he who forms the hearts of all,
who considers everything they do.

16 No king is saved by the size of his army;
no warrior escapes by his great strength.

17 A horse is a vain hope for deliverance;
despite all its great strength it cannot save.

18 But the eyes of the LORD are on those who fear him,
on those whose hope is in his unfailing love,

19 to deliver them from death
and keep them alive in famine.

20 We wait in hope for the LORD;
he is our help and our shield.

21 In him our hearts rejoice,
for we trust in his holy name.

22 May your unfailing love rest upon us, O LORD,
even as we put our hope in you.

No comments:

Post a Comment