Saturday, July 27, 2013

130728 Peter, Going into Samaria

Jesus had commanded Peter, along with the other disciples, to go into all the world with the good news. They were to begin in Jerusalem, because that's where they were, and that's where it all began. Then they were to go throughout Judea and Samaria and to the ends of the earth. It soon became obvious that the apostles were not leaving Jerusalem on their own. Step-by-step God increased the pressure on them until finally they were driven into hiding for a time. While the apostles were hiding the church was scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria. One of those who was scattered was Philip who was very successful in reaching people for Jesus. This concerned the apostles at Jerusalem.
Let's read that account beginning in…
Acts 8:14 Now when the apostles at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent to them Peter and John, 15 who came down and prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit, 16 for he had not yet fallen on any of them, but they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. 17 Then they laid their hands on them and they received the Holy Spirit. 18 Now when Simon saw that the Spirit was given through the laying on of the apostles' hands, he offered them money, 19 saying, “Give me this power also, so that anyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit.” 20 But Peter said to him, “May your silver perish with you, because you thought you could obtain the gift of God with money! 21 You have neither part nor lot in this matter, for your heart is not right before God. 22 Repent, therefore, of this wickedness of yours, and pray to the Lord that, if possible, the intent of your heart may be forgiven you. 23 For I see that you are in the gall of bitterness and in the bond of iniquity.” 24 And Simon answered, “Pray for me to the Lord, that nothing of what you have said may come upon me.” 25 Now when they had testified and spoken the word of the Lord, they returned to Jerusalem, preaching the gospel to many villages of the Samaritans.
Do you remember Samaria? Once Jesus took the disciples there on his way from Judea to Galilee. After sending his disciples away for food, Jesus was waiting at Jacob's well so that he could meet a woman who needed him very much. You can read the full account in John chapter 4.
The Samaritans were, and still are, a people group who recognize only the first five books of the Bible and worship God at a temple on a mountain near a village called Sychar. During that visit, Jesus not only led the woman at the well to faith in him as Messiah but also, led many Samaritans to a like faith.
Now, two or three years later, the Samaritans (perhaps some of the very same ones) would hear the gospel and respond in faith. You see…
When the church was scattered Philip went to Samaria.
Philip, along with Stephen and five other men, was chosen by the early church to lead in feeding the poor. They were men filled with the Holy Spirit and faith. As Philip taught the people…
Signs of God's approval accompanied his teaching. Let's look at Luke's account. Acts 8:4 Now those who were scattered went about preaching the word. 5 Philip went down to the city of Samaria and proclaimed to them the Christ. 6 And the crowds with one accord paid attention to what was being said by Philip when they heard him and saw the signs that he did. 7 For unclean spirits, crying out with a loud voice, came out of many who had them, and many who were paralyzed or lame were healed.
It could very well be that some of those in Sychar were in the city of Samaria when Philip arrived. They would have remembered the visit of Jesus to the region. So far as we know, Jesus did not perform any miracles on his visit to Samaria. When Philip came to preach he proclaimed Christ and miraculous signs confirmed his preaching.
The Samaritans were familiar with magic because they had Simon the magician living among them. Because of his magic he was considered a great man of God. Yet, quite obviously, Simon did not even know God.
That would soon change as…
Many Samaritans came to faith. Again, let's return to the account in Acts 8:9 But there was a man named Simon, who had previously practiced magic in the city and amazed the people of Samaria, saying that he himself was somebody great. 10 They all paid attention to him, from the least to the greatest, saying, “This man is the power of God that is called Great.” 11 And they paid attention to him because for a long time he had amazed them with his magic. 12 But when they believed Philip as he preached good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women.
Samaria was a field that was "white unto harvest" and only needed laborers to gather it in. Like all spiritually hungry people they were open to anything that they thought God was in. So the local magician had a large following of spiritually hungry people. When Philip came on the scene everything changed for them. They heard, and recognized, the truth driven home by the Holy Spirit who convicts and converts sinners.
The Samaritans not only believed but they acted on their belief! They heard the good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ. As a result of that, they were baptized, both men and women.
Not only did the people believe but…
Simon the magician also believed. Listen to this! Acts 8:13 Even Simon himself believed, and after being baptized he continued with Philip. And seeing signs and great miracles performed, he was amazed.
The man who had amazed others was now amazed! Not only did he believe but he also was baptized. After his baptism Simon stayed with Philip trying to understand how all of this worked. After all, he understood his magic but he certainly couldn't understand what Philip was doing.
The normal response to salvation is baptism. When the grace of God moves in an individual's life and they place their faith in the Lord Jesus Christ then they desire to be obedient and they submit themselves for baptism.
This sermon series is about Peter but, in this sermon, until now I have only talked about Philip and the Samaritans. Now, that is about to change. You see…
Peter and John followed. Apparently Peter and John spent a lot of time together in the early days of the church. They, along with the other apostles, were the pastors of the Jerusalem church — The Mother Church!
The mother church in Jerusalem was concerned. Later we'll see how this plays out when Paul and Barnabas brought back to Antioch a report of the Gentiles coming to salvation. This caused an immediate conflict in the Jewish church. Let's look ahead to Acts 15:1 But some men came down from Judea and were teaching the brothers, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.” 2 And after Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and debate with them, Paul and Barnabas and some of the others were appointed to go up to Jerusalem to the apostles and the elders about this question.
Up until the last generation or two church councils were convened to solve problems within an individual church. That helped keep the churches on the right track. I'm sorry to say that, at least among Baptist churches, there is very little submission to outside authority. So, if a church gets out of line in teaching or practice it is up to the local members to pull it back into line.
It was extremely important, in the days of the beginnings, for the churches to be on the right track. When conflict arose, the more mature churches could send a delegation to resolve any problems.
The apostles in Jerusalem, upon hearing of the gospel going out in Samaria, immediately decided to make sure these new churches were founded on the truth. So…
They chose their best to investigate. At least ten times, in the Gospels and the book of Acts, Peter and John were named together and in that order. It was Peter and John, along with John's brother James, who were allowed into the room when Jesus brought Jairus' daughter back to life. Peter and John, again with James, were allowed to be on the mountaintop when Jesus was transfigured and met with Moses and Elijah. On Easter morning, after hearing the report of the women, it was Peter and John who ran to the tomb. They were among those who held the Christian community together between the ascension and Pentecost. It was Peter and John, on their way to the temple to pray, who commanded the man who was lame from his birth to rise and walk. For that kindness they were arrested and became the first of Jesus' disciples to be arrested from the Gospel's sake.
Now they were called upon to check out the church of Samaria.
They prayed for the Samaritans. When they arrived and began to hear the testimonies of the people discovered that the Holy Spirit had not come upon them! This was a serious problem. The apostles' understanding of salvation was fairly clear. On the day of Pentecost, Peter had said, "Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit." The Samaritans had repented and been baptized and yet showed no evidence of the gift of the Holy Spirit. There is no evidence in the text that Philip had a deficient understanding of the gospel. Certainly, he believed that these people had received Christ just as the people of Jerusalem had! Otherwise he would not have baptized them!
So, what's up? Up until this time everyone in the church was Jewish. Either they were born Jews or they were converted to Judaism. There were no Gentiles in the church! Certainly there were no Samaritans in the church. The Samaritans were a mixed race who were looked down upon by the Jews as the lowest of the Gentiles. It was very important that God establish the Samaritan churches on an equal footing with the churches of Jerusalem and Judea.
The church in Samaria was established.
God had withheld the Holy Spirit. The presence of the Holy Spirit is evidence of salvation. Not some particular gift of the spirit such as tongues, or prophecy, but a manifestation of the Holy Spirit's presence was important to salvation. Jews and Gentiles would be brought together into one body. All races and all social classes would be equally represented. See what Paul wrote to the Corinthians.
1 Corinthians 12:13 For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit.
Just as the apostles and disciples of Jesus had to wait in Jerusalem until power from on high came upon them to confirm their salvation and energize them for ministry, just so the Samaritans also needed an outpouring of the spirit to prove their equality in the body of Christ.
With the power came confusion. Look at what happened! Acts 8:18 Now when Simon saw that the Spirit was given through the laying on of the apostles' hands, he offered them money, 19 saying, “Give me this power also, so that anyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit.”
Simon, as a new convert, had a lot to learn. No doubt in his previous work some magic had been empowered, or at least approved of, by Satan himself. Now the devil moved in to divide the church — or destroy it! Simon saw the apostles praying for the new converts and laying hands on them and as a result the Samaritans received the Holy Spirit.
Wow, that's what he wanted! Not just to have the Holy Spirit himself but to be able to lay on hands and impart the Spirit to others. Following his past experience and practice he simply offered to pay the disciples for this spiritual gift.
Now that the devil has played his hand God could use his servant, Peter, to deal with this in a manner that would be redemptive and not destructive. So…
Peter dealt with it. Let's read on Acts 8:20 But Peter said to him, “May your silver perish with you, because you thought you could obtain the gift of God with money! 21 You have neither part nor lot in this matter, for your heart is not right before God. 22 Repent, therefore, of this wickedness of yours, and pray to the Lord that, if possible, the intent of your heart may be forgiven you. 23 For I see that you are in the gall of bitterness and in the bond of iniquity.” 24 And Simon answered, “Pray for me to the Lord, that nothing of what you have said may come upon me.”
First, Peter strongly rebuked Simon. In the strongest possible language Peter rejected the idea that money would have any impact on the ability to receive a spiritual gift. Peter could see into his soul and be able to say that Simon had no part in what they were doing. Peter could see that Simon's heart was not right with God. That being said, Peter did not reject Simon as a person. What he did say to Simon was that he should repent of this wickedness and pray to the Lord that the intentions of his heart may be forgiven.
Peter could see what Simon successfully hid from others. He could see that Simon had a bitter spirit. In Hebrews we are told to see to it that no root of bitterness spring up and cause trouble. When that happens many people are defiled. Simon was possessed by bitterness and bound by iniquity.
There is some evidence that Simon did repent. At least, he asked Peter to pray for him that he would be delivered. He didn't say the formula, "that I be delivered from bitterness and iniquity,” but what he did say was that nothing Peter had said should come upon him. There is hope that we may see Simon at the throne in heaven. Our God is a God of compassion and grace.
Remember, if we confess our sins he is faithful and just to forgive our sins and cleanse us of all unrighteousness. It is by grace through faith that we are saved. No one is ever saved by works of righteousness because all unrighteousness is like filthy rags to God.
It must've been hard for Peter to go to Samaria to minister. We will look later at how hard it was for this proud Jew to associate with Samaritans and other Gentiles. I thank God that he was willing! We must also be willing to go wherever God commands.
The book of Acts is a book of history, not theology. It's important to remember that fact while reading the book. We are told what happened but are not always told why it happened. Jesus had commanded the apostles to wait in Jerusalem until power came upon them. They did and it did! This showed the approval of God on the establishment of the church. Now it was time for the expansion of the church into Samaria. It was important for that church to be recognized as equal to the church in Jerusalem. Therefore, we have the "Samaritan Pentecost"to prove the validity of their faith. The Spirit of God convicts people of sin, righteousness and judgment. That Holy Spirit brings people into the body of Christ. Have you answered his call? If not, today is the day of salvation!

All scripture quotes are from:The Holy Bible : English standard version. 2001. Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Peter, Obeying God and Not Man 130721

A new era had begun and now it was necessary for God to separate the church of Jesus Christ from the nation of Israel. Peter and John had been arrested for a kindness done to a man who had been crippled all his life. They were brought before the Council and ordered to no longer speak or teach in the name of Jesus. The believers, facing that threat, prayed for boldness. Satan failed in this attack on the church and soon created a jealous division in the church. Peter confronted that issue and God intervened to establish the authority of his church. Many signs and wonders became a regular part of the ministry of the church to show that God's approval was upon these people. Now we find the apostles under arrest because of jealousy on the part of the Sadducees. However, an angel of the Lord freed them and told them to go into the temple and preach the words of this Life. So the high priest ordered them to be brought back in. Let's read the next part of the story in…
Acts 5:27-32, And when they had brought them, they set them before the council. And the high priest questioned them, 28 saying, “We strictly charged you not to teach in this name, yet here you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching, and you intend to bring this man's blood upon us.” 29 But Peter and the apostles answered, “We must obey God rather than men. 30 The God of our fathers raised Jesus, whom you killed by hanging him on a tree. 31 God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. 32 And we are witnesses to these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him.”
Do I sense a tone of amazement on the part of high priest? "We strictly charged you not to teach in this name". Undoubtedly he expected his orders to be carried out and was amazed that they had not been. Obviously, he wanted the Romans to be counted responsible for the death of Jesus. A number of times throughout history the debate has been raised as to who killed Jesus. In this case the high priest wanted to distance the Council from responsibility. The truth is, according to the prophecy of Isaiah, God the Father killed Jesus. In harmony with the Father, Jesus had said that his life was in his own hands. He would lay it down and he would take it up again at the right time.
Peter would not let them off that easy. He pointed out that God raised Jesus from the dead after they had killed him on the cross. The Romans were simply the tool of the ruling Council. God had highly exalted him and granted, through Jesus, repentance and forgiveness of sin. And then Peter said that the apostles were witnesses of this truth and had no other choice than to speak the truth about Jesus. Every believer has that responsibility and privilege. Someone has said that this is the ministry of the ungifted disciple — telling the truth about Jesus. It doesn't require a lot of complicated Bible knowledge nor extensive training in witnessing. It only requires knowing Jesus and being willing to tell the truth about him. Peter had heard the words of Jesus as he ascended into heaven. Those final words are often called “The Great Commission” and…
The Great Commission had been clear. Remember? Acts 1:8, But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.
The apostles had heard these words more than once during the ministry of Jesus and especially at the end of his life. It was necessary that one be an eyewitness of the resurrection when selecting an apostle to replace Judas. Without doubt…
The apostles were to be witnesses. Toward the end of his gospel Luke recorded the following words. Luke 24:45-49, Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, 46 and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, 47 and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses of these things. 49 And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.”
The eyewitness accounts of the first apostles, and of Paul, became the foundation of the Christian church. Everywhere they went they told about Jesus' death, burial and resurrection. Without the resurrection there is no gospel — no "good news" to build our lives upon. Jesus was very clear that the message was to go out…
Beginning in Jerusalem and going to the end of the earth. Without question Jesus intended that the gospel begin in Jerusalem. And by the way, the gospel will end in Jerusalem as well. Many years after the account in the Book of Acts, John would see that magnificent vision on the Isle of Patmos that we call The Revelation. In chapter 21 he saw the New Jerusalem coming down out of heaven. An eternal home for those who have received God's grace through faith. Heaven and earth will be linked together in Jerusalem. A magnificent new Jerusalem.
Before Jesus ascended he said, "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations…"
But they stood gazing into heaven. Angels came as part of the glorious event of the ascension of Jesus into heaven. Listen while I read, Acts 1:10-11, And while they were gazing into heaven as he went, behold, two men stood by them in white robes, 11 and said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”
I have often reflected on this scene. Picture the disciples, jaws dropped, bated breath, eyes bugged out in utter silence. Then they become aware of two "men" standing by them in white robes. Once again the angels cannot understand these humans. You see, the angels are accustomed to obeying without question when they receive an order from the God of heaven, the Creator of the universe. Now they were looking at these humans who had just been told to "go" and instead were just standing there gazing into heaven at the place where Jesus had been a few moments before. To clarify the situation the angels assured them that Jesus would return the same way he left. Yet, as time went by…
They were still in Jerusalem and being persecuted.
They may have had many reasons for staying. Jerusalem was where they had seen the triumphal entry of Jesus. Jerusalem was where Jesus was tried and executed. Jerusalem was comfortable to them. Jerusalem is where the Holy Spirit had come upon them. Jerusalem was where their friends were and where they were comfortable.
Apparently they had no plan of action to "go into all the world". Today, we have lots of "plans of action and outreach" but we still fail to go. In fact, much of our worship can be compared to the attitude of the disciples that day. Gazing into heaven where we saw Jesus last. Jesus had said that we should lift up our eyes and look on the fields because they're already white for harvest. Then he said we are to pray to the Lord of the harvest that he would send laborers into the fields.
In the days of Isaiah God had asked, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” Then I (Isaiah) said, “Here am I! Send me.” I believe God is still asking the question, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” Where are those who will say, “Here am I! Send me.”? The apostles stood there gazing into heaven but…
Nonetheless, they had been commanded. We live, most of the time, as if God's commands were simply suggestions for how to live a more spiritual life. Folks, that's just not the case! We live under the Ruler of the universe and we should be willing to be more obedient. We need to go into the highways and hedges and compel them to come in. Why "compel"? Because, for most of them, they are amazed that God even notices them much less wants them to come in.
The plan for the apostles and other disciples was simply "as you go" make disciples of all nations. They didn't need a map or a set of demographics to know where to go. They could just "go" and, when they had opportunity to speak, the Spirit would speak through them. Does this mean that we are all to go to foreign countries to witness for Jesus? Of course not! It does mean that some are to go to foreign countries but, for most of us, it means we are to go to our native land and our own people.
At the same time, the world has come to us. Right here in rural Delaware County, New York, we are surrounded by people who were born in other countries. Mexicans, Cubans, Italians, Germans, Chinese and many more nationalities are represented in the region. As we come in contact with them we are to be prepared to tell them about the hope we have of eternal life.
Even though Jesus had told them to go to all the world they tarried in Jerusalem long after the time they should've started moving out. I believe, as a result of this…
God allowed persecution in order to move them. A little later in the story we find persecution to be effective at enforcing the "go" order. Stephen, one of the seven chosen to minister to the needs of the body, a man that had been powerfully witnessing to the grace of God in Jesus Christ, had become the first martyr of the church. And then, well, let's let the Scriptures speak. Acts 8:1, And Saul approved of his execution. And there arose on that day a great persecution against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles.
This "Saul" mentioned here would later become the Apostle Paul who would actually write most of the New Testament. But at this point in time he was growing into one of the strongest opponents of Christianity. He led a great persecution of the church. This persecution was so great that the apostles went into hiding and the members of the church were scattered abroad. Finally, the plan was put into effect by the enemies of the gospel! The believers were to go into all the world and when they didn't God sent them by the use of enemy force.
Remember, God causes all things to work together for good to those that love him to those who are called according to his purpose. "All things" means any and every thing even, perhaps especially, those things we can see no good in.
The church was being persecuted. People were actually going to trial and execution for their faith. The persecution served a purpose. Those who were scattered abroad went about preaching the gospel. Those who were scattered were not the apostles they were the common people. Everywhere they went, just as the apostles before the Council did,…
They had to testify to the truth.
God raised Jesus to life. The truth they had to tell was not about a good man who had become their teacher. The truth they had to tell is not about a prophet. If Jesus was just a good man he was clearly not what he said he was and what the Bible says he was. Jesus was, in the words of C. S. Lewis, either a liar, a lunatic or he is Lord!
The truth they had to tell was about the Christ, The Son of the Living God, who had walked on earth as a man, who had no sin of his own, who was crucified for the sins of the world and then was raised back to life. That was the essence of their preaching. Let me show you two examples. One by the early apostles and the second by Paul. Acts 4:33, And with great power the apostles were giving their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. & Acts 17:18, Some of the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers also conversed with him (Paul). And some said, “What does this babbler wish to say?” Others said, “He seems to be a preacher of foreign divinities”—because he was preaching Jesus and the resurrection.
The most common theme in all New Testament preaching is the resurrection of Jesus Christ. And following his resurrection…
God exalted him at his right hand. The "right hand" of God is a place of power and the source of salvation. Of the many examples I choose Psalm 98:1, Oh sing to the LORD a new song, for he has done marvelous things! His right hand and his holy arm have worked salvation for him.
Peter could say to the Council that God exalted Jesus at his right hand as Leader and Savior. He may have been thinking of the words of the psalmist when he made that statement.
There are many names, or titles, given to Jesus throughout Scripture. I won't even attempt to list them for you. I will share with you lyrics written by Bill Gaither.
There's Something about That Name
Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, There's just something about that name, 
Master, Savior, Jesus, Like the fragrance after the rain,
Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, Let all heaven and earth proclaim,
Kings and kingdoms shall all pass away
But there's something about that name.
Peter followed Jesus for most of three years and was there when he was tried and crucified. Peter was one of the first to come to the empty tomb to become a witness of the resurrection. Peter struggled to understand the things that happened and what he had learned about this Jesus. Peter understood that not only had Jesus been raised from the dead but that Jesus had been exalted to the right hand of God. From that position Jesus grants salvation to all who come by grace through faith.
Through this Jesus…
God gave repentance and forgiveness of sins. I know that Peter said, "to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins." The great commission had been to go to all the world not, go to all Israel. Jesus has been exalted to the right hand of power to give repentance to all He chooses not just to Israel. Part of what Peter struggled with was his Jewish identity and within the next couple of messages we will see how God finally set him free (almost) from his national prejudice. 
Peter confronted the Council, not just with the fact that they crucified Jesus, but with the fact that repentance was offered to them along with salvation. They refused it. Even after listening to the counsel of an important teacher named Gamaliel the Council called the apostles back in and had them beaten and again ordered them not to preach the good news of Jesus Christ. They clearly rejected the grace of God that is the source of salvation. Later, Paul would write to the Ephesian church these words, Ephesians 2:8-10, For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. 
It's the grace of God that brings salvation through faith. That faith is the gift of God. It's not by works of righteousness that we have done. Why all of our righteousness is like filthy rags to God. Nothing we do can ever earn salvation. Only the work of God in Christ on the cross can pay for our sins. Only the power of the resurrection can give us new life in Christ.
Peter, and the other apostles, would have to get on with the process of sharing the gospel with all the world. They were to begin at Jerusalem and then go out into Judea, Samaria and the end of the earth. Somehow they seem to have gotten stuck in Jerusalem but God will soon take care that.
The Book of Acts is a history book not a theology book. Yet there are many truths we can draw from it that help us to understand what happened in the beginning of the church and, many times, what's happening in our age as well. The Great Commission is still in effect. We need to go to all the world with the gospel. Knowing the truth makes us responsible for sharing the truth. We need to remember the words of Peter, "… in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect," (1 Peter 3:15)

All scripture quotes are from:The Holy Bible : English standard version. 2001. Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Peter, Guardian of the Flock 130714

The church was growing by leaps and bounds. In those early days of the church, following Pentecost, there were thousands of new believers centered on Jerusalem. We do not have any early record of those who had come from afar to Jerusalem and were present when Peter preached on the day of Pentecost and were saved. Many of them left town and returned to their homes. If you remember, many countries were represented on the day of Pentecost. Those from out of town who came to faith took this faith with them when they returned to their homes. There were: Parthians and Medes and Elamites and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabians. Obviously, many of them were not there as these events unfolded.
The church, beginning in the upper room, began to grow spiritually and in numbers. On the day of Pentecost some three thousand were saved. Soon, there are five thousand men in the church and it continued to grow! Opposition came from outside the church has Satan looked for an opportunity to undermine the church from the inside. The generous heart of Joseph, who was called Barnabas, gave Satan his opportunity. He planted the seeds of jealousy in the heart of a man named Ananias. Listen while I read…
Acts 5:1-11, But a man named Ananias, with his wife Sapphira, sold a piece of property, 2 and with his wife's knowledge he kept back for himself some of the proceeds and brought only a part of it and laid it at the apostles' feet. 3 But Peter said, “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back for yourself part of the proceeds of the land? 4 While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not at your disposal? Why is it that you have contrived this deed in your heart? You have not lied to men but to God.” 5 When Ananias heard these words, he fell down and breathed his last. And great fear came upon all who heard of it. 6 The young men rose and wrapped him up and carried him out and buried him. 7 After an interval of about three hours his wife came in, not knowing what had happened. 8 And Peter said to her, “Tell me whether you sold the land for so much.” And she said, “Yes, for so much.” 9 But Peter said to her, “How is it that you have agreed together to test the Spirit of the Lord? Behold, the feet of those who have buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out.” 10 Immediately she fell down at his feet and breathed her last. When the young men came in they found her dead, and they carried her out and buried her beside her husband. 11 And great fear came upon the whole church and upon all who heard of these things.
Interestingly enough I don't find a lot of sermon's preached on this text. It's a difficult one because jealousy and deception led to the death of two people. The Bible doesn't say directly that God killed them but all the evidence points to that of being the cause of their death. There was…
Jealousy in the Church. And, jealousy leads to division. Ananias…
Upon seeing Barnabas' generosity. Listen to Luke's account, Acts 4:34-37, There was not a needy person among them, for as many as were owners of lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold 35 and laid at the apostles' feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need. 36 Thus Joseph, who was also called by the apostles Barnabas (which means son of encouragement), a Levite, a native of Cyprus, 37 sold a field that belonged to him and brought the money and laid it at the apostles' feet.
During the Clinton years Congress made an attempt to carry out welfare reform. During the debates it was often said that the churches should be the agencies of welfare. I was asked by someone, who was not a church member, if the churches could take care of all the poor. Immediately I said, "Yes, on one condition, everyone in the community must be a part of the church and contribute a minimum of a tithe, that would be 10%, of their income." He thought about it a minute and nodded his head saying, "I'm sure you're right." Of course, neither of those conditions exist in our world today. Only a small percentage of the population are involved in churches and a small percentage of those who do actually give a tithe of their income.
I remember a story coming out of the time of the depression. That would be the early 1930s. A man had gotten a job but could barely support his family much less give a tithe to the church. Or, at least, that's the way it seemed to him. He went to his pastor and said that he could not afford to tithe. This pastor was a wise man and asked him to remember that the Bible says, "The tithe is the Lord's" and, we are to bring the whole tithe into the storehouse and prove God and see if he will not pour out a blessing that there will not be room enough to hold it. Well, the man decided he would give his tithe first and then pay his bills. It was hard at first. But as time went by he learned to manage his money better and God began to bless him at work. Soon he was promoted in his job and given a substantial raise. Then a little later he went into business for himself. God blessed his business and it became very profitable. Soon a tithe of his income was actually more than all of his income was when he started giving to the church. He went back to his pastor and asked if he could withdraw his commitment to tithe. Pastor said let me pray about it. He bowed his head and said, "Dear Lord you have blessed this man with so much money he can no longer afford to tithe. So I ask you to reduce his income to a point where he can afford to tithe." The man immediately said, "No, don't do that! I get your point." I believe very strongly that every Christian should give a minimum of 10% of their gross income to the church where they belong. I believe God will reward that in many ways. I also believe the failure to do so will leave a person weak spiritually and financially.
Well, Joseph sold some land and gave the money to the church. A lot of people apparently were aware of this and spoke highly of Joseph so much so that they began to call him, "Son of Encouragement" or, "Barnabas". As the word spread jealousy been to move in and…
Ananias sold some land. Not the home he lived in just "some land". I imagine from the rest of the story that it probably wasn't very useful to him. His wife's name was Sapphira and she was a party to his scheme. I don't know when they decided to hold back part of the sale price. Perhaps it was part of the plan all along. But most likely the decision to hold back part of the sale price occurred when they looked at the money. They counted it and held it in their hands and under the influence of Satan they made a decision.
He and his wife lied to the Holy Spirit. It is a grievous thing to lie to God's Holy Spirit. Remember, he is always looking on. Look at what Paul wrote in , Ephesians 4:30, And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Notice that it does not say, "And do not anger the Holy Spirit of God," instead it says, "do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God." Grieve is a love word. You can anger anyone but you can only grieve someone who loves you. God is often grieved at his people. Sin brings grief to God and failure to God's people. After all, how can God bless someone who does not honor him with their life? I am not saying that a person loses their salvation by grieving the Holy Spirit. If that were so there would be no grief on God's part. Instead, grieving the Holy Spirit leads to many kinds of problems. For example, in the church at Corinth the Lord's Supper was being taken in an unworthy manner and many of them were weak and ill, and some died! (1 Corinthians 11:30) Ananias and Sapphira agreed to lie to God's Holy Spirit. They may have thought they were only lying to Peter! But Peter was God's chosen representative and knew immediately what they had done.
This was not something they did on their own. They had an accomplice.
Satan filled their hearts. This concept is used another time in the Bible. Satan entered into the heart of Judas when he betrayed Jesus. This was not a simple matter of holding back a little money. It was a matter of dividing the church by allowing sin in the camp of believers.
Some have said the early church used some sort of communism, or collectivism. Nothing could be further from the truth. Peter makes that very clear.
The property was theirs to keep. Look at what Peter said to them in, Acts 5:4, While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not at your disposal? Why is it that you have contrived this deed in your heart? You have not lied to man but to God.”
They were under no obligation at all to sell all that they had to give it to the church. It was their property it was theirs to keep, or to sell, as they might choose. They were not obliged in any way to sell it. And when they did…
The money was theirs to keep. Their sin was not in holding back the money! Their sin was lying to God and they did that when they lied to Peter. Wait! Do I mean to say that Peter is God? Of course not! However, Peter was God's representative in the situation. In the very beginning, before they were scattered, Peter was the lead pastor in the church in Jerusalem. As such, he represented God to the people.
Now why would someone lie to God?
Their hearts were open to Satan. Perhaps Peter was remembering this instance when he wrote in his first letter, Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. 9 Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world. 1 Peter 5:8-9
Well, in the case of Ananias and Sapphira, Satan was looking for more than "someone" to devour! He was looking to devour the entire church by causing division and deceitfulness.
Now we need to remember that Satan can only operate within the permissive will of God. And when Satan raised his head…
God intervened. God knows all things and responds to save his people, and in this case to save his church.
Just as he did in the wilderness. Listen while I read the account, Number 16:1-3, Now Korah the son of Izhar, son of Kohath, son of Levi, and Dathan and Abiram the sons of Eliab, and On the son of Peleth, sons of Reuben, took men. 2 And they rose up before Moses, with a number of the people of Israel, 250 chiefs of the congregation, chosen from the assembly, well-known men. 3 They assembled themselves together against Moses and against Aaron and said to them, “You have gone too far! For all in the congregation are holy, every one of them, and the LORD is among them. Why then do you exalt yourselves above the assembly of the LORD?” See how jealousy came in at the beginning of the establishment of the church in the wilderness? Moses was chosen by God. He had a relationship with God that was closer than any other except possibly for Abraham. When Moses spent time with God he glowed so that he put a veil over his face. At one point God threatened to destroy the people of Israel and make a great nation of the descendents of Moses. Not many men would refuse that offer but Moses did! He said it would dishonor the name of God to not take the Israelites into the promise land. Korah and his friends, jealous of Moses and Aaron, claimed their right to lead the people of Israel. As evidence of who God had chosen Moses told the people to withdraw from the vicinity of Korah and his friends. Moses then told them that if these men died a natural death God did not speak through him. The people withdrew and…
Verses 31-35, And as soon as he had finished speaking all these words, the ground under them split apart. 32 And the earth opened its mouth and swallowed them up, with their households and all the people who belonged to Korah and all their goods. 33 So they and all that belonged to them went down alive into Sheol, and the earth closed over them, and they perished from the midst of the assembly. 34 And all Israel who were around them fled at their cry, for they said, “Lest the earth swallow us up!” 35 And fire came out from the LORD and consumed the 250 men offering the incense. Many hundred years later the writer of Hebrews would make this statement, "It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God." God does not destroy everyone who rebels against him immediately but sometimes he does.
This came about because of sin! Korah and his friends sinned against God in their rebellion against Moses. Ananias and Sapphira sinned against God in their jealousy and in lying to God's Holy Spirit represented by the Apostle Peter.
We are very conscious of the fact that all have sinned and come short of the glory of God. We also know that the wages of sin is death. But usually it is not visited as quickly as in these two cases.
Sin came into the heart in Eden. Remember the old account, Genesis 3:1-7, Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” 2 And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, 3 but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’” 4 But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. 5 For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” 6 So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate. 7 Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths.
Adam and Eve were the subordinate rulers of the Earth. Everything had been given to them! We do not know how long Adam lived without a helpmate, nor do we know how long Adam and Eve were together before this incident. We only know that sin came into the world and in the human heart when they rebelled against God.
And death through sin. Listen while I read, Romans 5:12-16, Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned— 13 for sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law. 14 Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come. 15 But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if many died through one man's trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many. 16 And the free gift is not like the result of that one man's sin. For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brought justification.
The deaths of Korah and his friends as well as Ananias and Sapphira were very dramatic illustrations of the consequences of sin.
We need not spend a lot of time thinking on those things. We need to remember that we have all sinned and that the wages of sin is death. We need to remember that we have an adversary, Satan! And we need to remember that Satan desires to destroy the churches throughout the world but knowing that he can't do that he will simply do all that he can to weaken the church.
When God established the church in the wilderness, after the Exodus from Egypt, Satan set out to destroy its unity. Satan raised up people to oppose Moses as God's chosen leader. In a different way, when God established the church in Jerusalem, Satan set out to destroy the fellowship through jealousy. Every church has its problems. Many times problems in the church are stimulated by Satan. He uses jealousy and every other human weakness. We need to remember the words of James 4:7 Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. If we submit ourselves to God we will be able to resist the devil. A few submitted yourself to God? Today is the day of salvation submit yourself to God through Jesus Christ our Lord.

All scripture quotes are from:The Holy Bible : English standard version. 2001. Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Peter, Defender of the Faith 130707

Peter, seeing the crowd gathering around, and being guided by the Holy Spirit, immediately took the opportunity to tell the truth about Jesus Christ! First, he told them that the God of their fathers had healed the man they saw before them. Then, he reminded them that God had sent the Author of Life, Jesus, and they had rejected him and condemned him to death. After that, he recognized their lack of knowledge and called them to repent by turning away from their sins and turning to the Lord Jesus Christ. His goal that day was that they ALL may be turned from their wickedness. Well, not all of them believed but the number of men who believed that day came to about five thousand!
Now let's look at our text…
Acts 4:5-12, On the next day their rulers and elders and scribes gathered together in Jerusalem, 6 with Annas the high priest and Caiaphas and John and Alexander, and all who were of the high-priestly family. 7 And when they had set them in the midst, they inquired, “By what power or by what name did you do this?” 8 Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, “Rulers of the people and elders, 9 if we are being examined today concerning a good deed done to a crippled man, by what means this man has been healed, 10 let it be known to all of you and to all the people of Israel that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead—by him this man is standing before you well. 11 This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone. 12 And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”
Peter and John had been arrested as a result of the healing of the crippled man at the Beautiful Gate. They really had been arrested because thousands of people were coming to faith in Jesus Christ as result of the healing. The rulers of the Jews could not tolerate that any more than the modern Muslim mullahs can tolerate conversions in the lands they rule.
The crime. Was…
Predicted by Jesus. Listen to what he said, Matthew 10:17-22, Beware of men, for they will deliver you over to courts and flog you in their synagogues, 18 and you will be dragged before governors and kings for my sake, to bear witness before them and the Gentiles. 19 When they deliver you over, do not be anxious how you are to speak or what you are to say, for what you are to say will be given to you in that hour. 20 For it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you. 21 Brother will deliver brother over to death, and the father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death, 22 and you will be hated by all for my name's sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved.
Many of the things that Jesus taught them were not understood at the time, nor remembered well, until they became experience. At least three times he had told them that he would be handed over to sinful men and be beaten, crucified and raised again. They didn't believe it until they saw it! Now they were being confronted by another prophecy of Jesus'. They would be delivered to the court and beaten. They would be dragged before governors and Kings. Brother would turn against brother and parents against children. Children would actually rise against the parents to have them put to death! Several times Jesus gave them a similar warning. Now, they were seeing it happen! The day had started out with two men on their way to a prayer meeting at the temple. As they went along they came to a man begging at the gate who had been lame all his life and he was more than forty years old. What better thing could they do than to give this man a healthy body by the power of Jesus? However, their reward was to be arrested, kept overnight in jail, and then brought before the high Council for trial. Well…
These would be repeat offenders. Again and again they would face the court for similar crimes. In fact, only a short time later all the available apostles would be arrested. Listen while I read, Acts 5:17-21a, But the high priest rose up, and all who were with him (that is, the party of the Sadducees), and filled with jealousy 18 they arrested the apostles and put them in the public prison. 19 But during the night an angel of the Lord opened the prison doors and brought them out, and said, 20 “Go and stand in the temple and speak to the people all the words of this Life.” 21 And when they heard this, they entered the temple at daybreak and began to teach.
One of the results of their arrest at the Beautiful Gate was their report to the whole group of Apostles. The report included the warning to not speak, or teach, any longer in the name of Jesus. That warning was not just to Peter and John it was to all the Apostles. They had been praying for Peter and John to be released and, when they were, they prayed for boldness to proclaim the very gospel they were forbidden to proclaim!
As we look at the life of Peter we will look in more detail at some of these future arrests. Such persecution did not end in the days of the Apostles. In fact…
Persecution continues today.
Most Christians are vaguely aware of some kind of persecution in the Islamic countries. But the persecution is much more than that. In Burma there is severe persecution. In Indonesia there is similar persecution with rioting in the streets over the construction of a new church building. Chinese churches are having their land taken away from them. In Egypt, Christians are being persecuted and churches are being burned and their wealth stolen. In Pakistan Christians are arrested and murdered for their faith. During the Civil War in Syria Christians are often targeted and their monasteries and churches burned. In Macedonia the Archbishop has been sentenced to three years in prison because of his attempts to reunite his church with the Serbian Orthodox Church. Radical Buddhists continue to persecute Christians in Sri Lanka. In the Central African Republic Christians are being attacked for their faith. Those are all taken from the last two or three day's news. The Vatican has announced that more than one hundred thousand Christians each year — around the world — die for their faith. The persecution of the church began with the Apostles and continues to this day.
Peter and John faced…
The court that tried Jesus. Listen while I read about Jesus' trial. Luke 22:66-71, When day came, the assembly of the elders of the people gathered together, both chief priests and scribes. And they led him away to their council, and they said, 67 “If you are the Christ, tell us.” But he said to them, “If I tell you, you will not believe, 68 and if I ask you, you will not answer. 69 But from now on the Son of Man shall be seated at the right hand of the power of God.” 70 So they all said, “Are you the Son of God, then?” And he said to them, “You say that I am.” 71 Then they said, “What further testimony do we need? We have heard it ourselves from his own lips.”
All that court wanted to do was to find some kind of charge they could bring against Jesus. Jesus understood that and supplied the charge for them. He had said that he came into the world for the purpose of laying down his life for the salvation of his people. He was perfectly prepared to face the enemy and take the sins of the whole world on himself. He died for all those who would come to faith in him.
The court that sentenced Jesus was perfectly willing to come after his followers in an effort to end the faith. Little did they know that they were wasting their time. Some two hundred years later Tertullian would say that the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church. Tyrants throughout the centuries have learned that the more you kill them the more there are of those who believe in Jesus Christ.
Of those on that court…
Some came to faith. Listen to John's account of the burial of Jesus and look at who was there! John 19:38-42, After these things Joseph of Arimathea, who was a disciple of Jesus, but secretly for fear of the Jews, asked Pilate that he might take away the body of Jesus, and Pilate gave him permission. So he came and took away his body. 39 Nicodemus also, who earlier had come to Jesus by night, came bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about seventy-five pounds in weight. 40 So they took the body of Jesus and bound it in linen cloths with the spices, as is the burial custom of the Jews. 41 Now in the place where he was crucified there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb in which no one had yet been laid. 42 So because of the Jewish day of Preparation, since the tomb was close at hand, they laid Jesus there.
We know that Nicodemus was a ruler of the Jews and, as such, would have been a member of the Council. When they began to plan to arrest Jesus it was Nicodemus who questioned them, "Does our law judge a man without first giving him a hearing and learning what he does?” Thus showing that he was very sympathetic to Jesus even then. By the time of Jesus crucifixion, obviously, Nicodemus had become a follower. Joseph was likely a man of influence even if he was not a member of the Council. This court was being changed even as they conducted these trials. They were fearful of Jesus during his ministry and they were…
Now fearful of these followers of Jesus. Look at Luke's account as it continues beyond our text. Acts 4:13-17, Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated, common men, they were astonished. And they recognized that they had been with Jesus. 14 But seeing the man who was healed standing beside them, they had nothing to say in opposition. 15 But when they had commanded them to leave the council, they conferred with one another, 16 saying, “What shall we do with these men? For that a notable sign has been performed through them is evident to all the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and we cannot deny it. 17 But in order that it may spread no further among the people, let us warn them to speak no more to anyone in this name.”
The council was afraid to push too hard against the Apostles. It's not so much that they feared them but they feared an uprising among the people. It was obvious to everyone, including the council members, that a notable miracle had been performed and could not be easily explained. They were afraid of the Apostles' words! They could see from Peter's defense that they were up against something more powerful than they had expected. Let's look at…
The defense. First, Peter redefined the crime and then he gave a bold response. The council could not understand that the disciples had no choice rather than to tell the truth and part of that truth telling would be to…
Redefine the crime. Listen to what we read at the beginning of the sermon. Acts 4:8-9, Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, “Rulers of the people and elders, 9 if we are being examined today concerning a good deed done to a crippled man, by what means this man has been healed,
Remember that Jesus had promised that they would be given the words to say when they needed them? Yes, he had told them that they would be brought into court and they did not have to plan their defense. Jesus told them that the Spirit of the Father would tell them what to do in that very hour.
Though we're not told directly, the charge must've been preaching and teaching in the name of Jesus because that's what they were told not to do anymore. Peter did not accept that charge because it wasn't the real one. He saw that the real "crime" was a good deed done to a crippled man. The real charge was how the healing had been done, or, where the power came from to do it. So he was able to…
Give a bold response. After being instructed to no longer speak in this name listen to what they said, Acts 4:19, But Peter and John answered them, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge,
Peter put the ball back in their court. Rather than give them a direct answer, and perhaps to avoid offending them any further, he asked them to judge whether it is right to listen to them rather than to God. What would God think of the Apostles if they listened to the Council rather than to God? The obvious answer is that God would be very displeased.
We have a responsibility to obey government whenever possible. We have a responsibility to even submit to evil governments as long as it does not violate our faith. One of the reasons for the American Revolution was the existence of the state churches such as the Episcopal Church in Virginia and the persecution of the independent churches such as the Baptists. In our new secular age that bit of information will likely be left out of the history books! We live in a constitutional republic that promises more freedom than it gives. Recently, at a so-called "gay pride" event in Seattle, Washington, two street preachers, exercising their constitutional right to free speech, were attacked by some in the the crowd. I understand that one of the goals of the event was to encourage tolerance of a lifestyle the Bible condemns. Obviously, there was no tolerance of the Christian viewpoint.
I don't know how quickly this kind of thing will spread across the country but I do know there will come a time when Christians will have to take a stand…
Because there is no other choice. Peter and John recognized that they had to stand up and be counted. Listen to their own words, Acts 4:20, for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard.”
A popular term fifty years ago was the "Silent Majority" meaning that most people favored a conservative position but did not speak up. I am pretty sure it was true then and I know it is true now.
Jesus said, "So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven, but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven."
Jesus also gave the same Apostles the great commission to go into all the world and make disciples, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that he had taught them. Then he said he would be with them always even to the end of the age. Wow! That includes us!
Jesus had predicted that his followers would be treated the same as he would be. Persecution has often been the evidence of a person being Christian. The apostles committed the "crime" of testifying to the power of Jesus name, again and again. The court that tried them was the same one that tried Jesus. Some of those judges, or Sanhedrin, came to faith in Christ during his life and others would follow in the years ahead. One thing that is obvious — they were afraid of the witness of Jesus' followers. All Peter had to do was redefine the crime to what it really was, healing a crippled man, and then give a bold response. You see, they had no other choice. And the truth is we have no other choice either. We cannot but speak what we have seen and heard. We need to always be prepared to give anyone who asks a reason for the hope that is in us.

All scripture quotes are from:The Holy Bible : English standard version. 2001. Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.