449.) Acts 14

January 20, 2011
"St. Paul healing the cripple at Lystra"  by Karel DuJardin, 1663 (Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam)

“St. Paul healing the cripple at Lystra” by Karel DuJardin, 1663 (Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam)

Acts 14 (New Living Translation)

Paul and Barnabas in Iconium

1 The same thing happened in Iconium. Paul and Barnabas went to the Jewish synagogue and preached with such power that a great number of both Jews and Greeks became believers. 2 Some of the Jews, however, spurned God’s message and poisoned the minds of the Gentiles against Paul and Barnabas. 3 But the apostles stayed there a long time, preaching boldly about the grace of the Lord. And the Lord proved their message was true by giving them power to do miraculous signs and wonders. 4 But the people of the town were divided in their opinion about them. Some sided with the Jews, and some with the apostles.

Paul and friends stay in a town as long as they can, to establish the believers and ground them strongly in their faith, for they all know that opposition will come.

5 Then a mob of Gentiles and Jews, along with their leaders, decided to attack and stone them. 6 When the apostles learned of it, they fled to the region of Lycaonia—to the towns of Lystra and Derbe and the surrounding area. 7 And there they preached the Good News.

Paul and Barnabas in Lystra and Derbe

8 While they were at Lystra, Paul and Barnabas came upon a man with crippled feet. He had been that way from birth, so he had never walked. He was sitting 9 and listening as Paul preached. Looking straight at him, Paul realized he had faith to be healed.

10 So Paul called to him in a loud voice, “Stand up!” And the man jumped to his feet and started walking.

11 When the crowd saw what Paul had done, they shouted in their local dialect, “These men are gods in human form!” 12 They decided that Barnabas was the Greek god Zeus and that Paul was Hermes, since he was the chief speaker.

The god Hermes was the messenger of the gods, so he would be the one talking.

14. Zeus and Hermes

Psalm 95:3 (English Standard Version)

For the LORD is a great God,
and a great King above all gods.

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13 Now the temple of Zeus was located just outside the town. So the priest of the temple and the crowd brought bulls and wreaths of flowers to the town gates, and they prepared to offer sacrifices to the apostles.

14 But when the apostles Barnabas and Paul heard what was happening, they tore their clothing in dismay and ran out among the people, shouting, 15 “Friends, why are you doing this? We are merely human beings—just like you! We have come to bring you the Good News that you should turn from these worthless things and turn to the living God, who made heaven and earth, the sea, and everything in them. 16 In the past he permitted all the nations to go their own ways, 17 but he never left them without evidence of himself and his goodness. For instance, he sends you rain and good crops and gives you food and joyful hearts.”

No soft sell here!  Paul calls their gods “worthless things” and urges them to turn to the “living God.”  And the rain and good crops and joy that they thought came from Zeus — all of it really comes from God!

18 But even with these words, Paul and Barnabas could scarcely restrain the people from sacrificing to them.

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In his book Metamorphoses, Ovid tells the tale of an old married couple, Baucis and Philemon, who were the only ones in their village to welcome the gods Zeus and Hermes when they came disguised as poor men.  This story was well-known in Paul’s day, especially since Paul was in the area where Ovid said this event had occurred.

Baucis and Philemon entertain the gods, by an unknown artist.

“Zeus and Hermes came disguised as ordinary peasants and began asking the people of the town for a place to sleep during that night.
“To a thousand houses did they go, asking for lodging and for rest.  A thousand houses did the bots fasten against them.” Finally they came to Baucis and Philemon’s rustic and simple cottage. Though the couple were poor, they showed more pity than their rich neighbors, where “all the doors bolted and no word of kindness given, so wicked were the people of that land.” After serving the two guests food and wine, which Ovid depicts with pleasure in the details, Baucis noticed that although she had refilled her guest’s beechwood cups many times, the wine pitcher was still full. Realizing that her guests were in fact gods, she and her husband “raised their hands in supplication and implored indulgence for their simple home and fare.” Philemon thought of catching and killing the goose that guarded their house and making it into a meal for the guests. But when Philemon went to catch the goose, it ran onto Zeus’s lap for safety. Zeus said that they did not need to slay the goose and that they should leave the town. Zeus said that he was going to destroy the town and all the people who had turned him away and not provided due hospitality. He said Baucis and Philemon should climb the mountain with him and not turn back until they reached the top.

“After climbing the mountain to the summit (“as far as an arrow could shoot in one pull”), Baucis and Philemon looked back on the town and saw that it had been destroyed by a flood. However, Zeus had turned Baucis and Philemon’s cottage into an ornate temple. The couple was also granted a wish; they chose to stay together forever and to be guardians of the temple. They also requested that when it came time for one of them to die, the other would die as well. Upon their death, they were changed into an intertwining pair of trees, one oak and one linden, standing in the deserted boggy terrain.”

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Baucis_and_Philemon

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19 Then some Jews arrived from Antioch and Iconium and won the crowds to their side.  They stoned Paul

How fickle the crowds are!  One minute they are calling Paul a god, the next, stoning him.

As for Paul — did he think of Stephen, and his own role in Stephen’s death?

and dragged him out of town, thinking he was dead. 20 But as the believers gathered around him, he got up and went back into the town.  The next day he left with Barnabas for Derbe.

Paul and Barnabas Return to Antioch of Syria

21 After preaching the Good News in Derbe and making many disciples, Paul and Barnabas returned to Lystra, Iconium, and Antioch of Pisidia, 22 where they strengthened the believers. They encouraged them to continue in the faith, reminding them that we must suffer many hardships to enter the Kingdom of God.

from This Day with the Master,
by Dennis F. Kinlaw

THE COURAGEOUS SPIRIT

One of the characteristics of the early church was courage.  The Twelve crept fearfully into the upper room to protect themselves from the authorities, but they came out on Pentecost boldly proclaiming the risen Christ to everyone they could reach.  Your knees may knock together for a time as you go out into ministry, but that’s all right.  Keep on going.  Do the thing Christ asks you to do, and he will fill you with his Spirit and therefore with courage.  The courage comes only when you act.

The first Christians became unstoppable.  The world had no categories to deal with people like these.  They did not fear prison, and they did not fear death.  The world had no weapons to use against them that could succeed (Isaiah 54:17).

On Paul’s first missionary journey the citizens of Lystra stoned him so badly that the Christians there believed him to be dead.  However, he was revived and continued on to preach in Derbe.  Then, instead of returning to safety, he went back to Lystra to check on the believers.  He was anxious to go back to where he had been stoned and beaten and encourage them by telling them what a marvelous thing it is to be a Christian.  He returned to Lystra to strengthen the believers and encourage them to continue in the faith.  Then he went on his way from Lystra, rejoicing.

Do we know anything about that kind of courage?  The same Spirit who was in Paul can be in you and me.

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23 Paul and Barnabas also appointed elders in every church. With prayer and fasting, they turned the elders over to the care of the Lord, in whom they had put their trust. 24 Then they traveled back through Pisidia to Pamphylia. 25 They preached the word in Perga, then went down to Attalia.

26 Finally, they returned by ship to Antioch of Syria, where their journey had begun. The believers there had entrusted them to the grace of God to do the work they had now completed. 27 Upon arriving in Antioch, they called the church together and reported everything God had done through them and how he had opened the door of faith to the Gentiles, too. 28 And they stayed there with the believers for a long time.

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Music:

“Lord, I Offer My Life to You”  by Don Moen.

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Holy Bible. New Living Translation copyright © 1996, 2004 by Tyndale Charitable Trust. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers.

Images courtesy of:
DuJardin.  http://www.wga.hu/art/d/dujardin/2healing.jpg
Zeus and Hermes.  http://www.alexanderstoddart.com/images/sideimage_contact.jpg
Baucis and Philemon entertaining.    http://2.bp.blogspot.com/_Oq8Hy5YMraw/SDIJn6S-5JI/AAAAAAAAATI/uZWo2u44Me4/s1600-h/Baucis-Philemon.jpg
the lion gets courage, from The Wizard of Oz. http://matchstic.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2009/11/courage.jpg


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448.) Acts 13

January 19, 2011

13. verse 2 with dove

Acts 13 (New Living Translation)

Barnabas and Saul Are Commissioned

1 Among the prophets and teachers of the church at Antioch of Syria were Barnabas, Simeon (called “the black man”), Lucius (from Cyrene), Manaen (the childhood companion of King Herod Antipas),

Quick, which Herod is this?  The one who ordered the killing of John the Baptist.  The one who mocked Jesus just before His crucifixion.

and Saul. 2 One day as these men were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Dedicate Barnabas and Saul for the special work to which I have called them.”

You can’t really say “yes” to God’s call on your life until you can say “no” to things that will keep you from that call.
–David Guzik

Ephesians 2:10 (Contemporary English Version)

God planned for us to do good things and to live as he has always wanted us to live. That’s why he sent Christ to make us what we are.

3 So after more fasting and prayer, the men laid their hands on them and sent them on their way.

Paul’s First Missionary Journey

Here we start part three of the book of Acts, as Paul and his friends take the gospel “to the ends of the earth.”

13. first mj good map

4 So Barnabas and Saul were sent out by the Holy Spirit. They went down to the seaport of Seleucia and then sailed for the island of Cyprus.

Barbabas grew up on the island of Cyprus; as long as he is traveling, he might as well drop in on the folks!

5 There, in the town of Salamis, they went to the Jewish synagogues and preached the word of God. John Mark went with them as their assistant.

This is the same Mark who will later write the Gospel of Mark.

6 Afterward they traveled from town to town across the entire island until finally they reached Paphos, where they met a Jewish sorcerer, a false prophet named Bar-Jesus. 7 He had attached himself to the governor, Sergius Paulus, who was an intelligent man. The governor invited Barnabas and Saul to visit him, for he wanted to hear the word of God. 8 But Elymas, the sorcerer (as his name means in Greek), interfered and urged the governor to pay no attention to what Barnabas and Saul said. He was trying to keep the governor from believing.

9 Saul, also known as Paul,

Saul’s father was a Roman citizen, and Saul received a quality Greek education.  So in Jewish circles he was Saul, and with others, he was Paul.  It is not unlikely that he went by both names all his life, depending on which group of people he was with.

was filled with the Holy Spirit, and he looked the sorcerer in the eye. 10 Then he said, “You son of the devil, full of every sort of deceit and fraud, and enemy of all that is good! Will you never stop perverting the true ways of the Lord? 11 Watch now, for the Lord has laid his hand of punishment upon you, and you will be struck blind. You will not see the sunlight for some time.” Instantly mist and darkness came over the man’s eyes, and he began groping around begging for someone to take his hand and lead him.

Surely Paul must be thinking of his own days of darkness, and hoping that Elymas would also find the light of God.

12 When the governor saw what had happened, he became a believer, for he was astonished at the teaching about the Lord.

Paul Preaches in Antioch of Pisidia

13 Paul and his companions then left Paphos by ship for Pamphylia, landing at the port town of Perga.

They leave the island of Cyprus and arrive at the mainland, what is now Turkey.

There John Mark left them and returned to Jerusalem. 14 But Paul and Barnabas traveled inland to Antioch of Pisidia.

The fact that John Mark abandoned them here will cause friction between Paul and Barnabas later.

On the Sabbath they went to the synagogue for the services. 15 After the usual readings from the books of Moses and the prophets, those in charge of the service sent them this message: “Brothers, if you have any word of encouragement for the people, come and give it.”

A synagogue service generally went like this:  Opening prayers were offered, then there was a reading from the Law(the first five books of the Old Testament).  Then, a reading from the Prophets. Then, if there was an educated person present, they were invited to speak on subjects related to the readings.

16 So Paul stood, lifted his hand to quiet them, and started speaking. “Men of Israel,” he said, “and you God-fearing Gentiles, listen to me.

Paul gives a brief overview of Jewish history which shows that God has a plan for Israel.

17 “The God of this nation of Israel chose our ancestors and made them multiply and grow strong during their stay in Egypt. Then with a powerful arm he led them out of their slavery. 18 He put up with them through forty years of wandering in the wilderness. 19 Then he destroyed seven nations in Canaan and gave their land to Israel as an inheritance. 20 All this took about 450 years.

“After that, God gave them judges to rule until the time of Samuel the prophet. 21 Then the people begged for a king, and God gave them Saul son of Kish, a man of the tribe of Benjamin, who reigned for forty years. 22 But God removed Saul and replaced him with David, a man about whom God said, ‘I have found David son of Jesse, a man after my own heart. He will do everything I want him to do.’

23 “And it is one of King David’s descendants, Jesus, who is God’s promised Savior of Israel! 24 Before he came, John the Baptist preached that all the people of Israel needed to repent of their sins and turn to God and be baptized. 25 As John was finishing his ministry he asked, ‘Do you think I am the Messiah? No, I am not! But he is coming soon—and I’m not even worthy to be his slave and untie the sandals on his feet.’

Paul goes on to say that some Israelites accepted Christ, but many did not.

26 “Brothers—you sons of Abraham, and also you God-fearing Gentiles—this message of salvation has been sent to us! 27 The people in Jerusalem and their leaders did not recognize Jesus as the one the prophets had spoken about. Instead, they condemned him, and in doing this they fulfilled the prophets’ words that are read every Sabbath. 28 They found no legal reason to execute him, but they asked Pilate to have him killed anyway.

29 “When they had done all that the prophecies said about him, they took him down from the cross and placed him in a tomb.

Now Paul gets to the best part of the story:  Jesus’ resurrection!

30 But God raised him from the dead! 31 And over a period of many days he appeared to those who had gone with him from Galilee to Jerusalem. They are now his witnesses to the people of Israel.

32 “And now we are here to bring you this Good News. The promise was made to our ancestors, 33 and God has now fulfilled it for us, their descendants, by raising Jesus. This is what the second psalm says about Jesus:

‘You are my Son.
Today I have become your Father.’

34 For God had promised to raise him from the dead, not leaving him to rot in the grave. He said, ‘I will give you the sacred blessings I promised to David.’ 35 Another psalm explains it more fully: ‘You will not allow your Holy One to rot in the grave.’36 This is not a reference to David, for after David had done the will of God in his own generation, he died and was buried with his ancestors, and his body decayed. 37 No, it was a reference to someone else—someone whom God raised and whose body did not decay.

38 “Brothers, listen! We are here to proclaim that through this man Jesus there is forgiveness for your sins. 39 Everyone who believes in him is declared right with God—something the law of Moses could never do. 40 Be careful! Don’t let the prophets’ words apply to you. For they said,

41 ‘Look, you mockers,
be amazed and die!
For I am doing something in your own day,
something you wouldn’t believe
even if someone told you about it.’”

Paul ends with a warning to believe that the promise God made long ago has come true in Jesus Christ!  As it says in Hebrews, “All of God’s promises are YES in Christ!”

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Music:

Matt Redman’s “Yes and Amen.”

Hear Your people saying yes,
Hear Your people saying yes to You.
Yes to anything you ask,
Yes to anything we´re called to do.

Hear your people say amen,
Hear Your people say amen to You.
Let Your kingdom come on earth,
Let it be just like we prayed to You.

Yes and amen to everything that´s in Your heart,
Yes and amen to everything that You have planned.
We live to see Your will be done,
And see Your perfect kingdom come on earth, on the earth.

Yes and amen, we´re taking up our cross for You,
Give us the strength to take these dreams and follow through.
We live to see Your will be done,
And see Your perfect kingdom come on earth, on the earth.

All the promises are yes,
All the promises are yes in You.
Every good and perfect gift,
Every blessing that we have was You.

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42 As Paul and Barnabas left the synagogue that day, the people begged them to speak about these things again the next week. 43 Many Jews and devout converts to Judaism followed Paul and Barnabas, and the two men urged them to continue to rely on the grace of God.

Paul Turns to the Gentiles

44 The following week almost the entire city turned out to hear them preach the word of the Lord. 45 But when some of the Jews saw the crowds, they were jealous; so they slandered Paul and argued against whatever he said.

46 Then Paul and Barnabas spoke out boldly and declared, “It was necessary that we first preach the word of God to you Jews. But since you have rejected it and judged yourselves unworthy of eternal life, we will offer it to the Gentiles. 47 For the Lord gave us this command when he said,

‘I have made you a light to the Gentiles,
to bring salvation to the farthest corners of the earth.’”

48 When the Gentiles heard this, they were very glad and thanked the Lord for his message; and all who were chosen for eternal life became believers. 49 So the Lord’s message spread throughout that region.


50 Then the Jews stirred up the influential religious women and the leaders of the city, and they incited a mob against Paul and Barnabas and ran them out of town. 51 So they shook the dust from their feet as a sign of rejection and went to the town of Iconium. 52 And the believers were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit.

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Click HERE to watch a quick overview of the route of Paul’s first missionary journey!

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Holy Bible. New Living Translation copyright © 1996, 2004 by Tyndale Charitable Trust. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers.

Images courtesy of:
Acts 13:2.  http://setup.finalweb.net/home/140000945/140000945/acts13_2.jpg
map of first missionary journey.  http://hutchwesleyan.org/web_images/first_journey_route.jpg
map with Turkey.    http://www.bible-history.com/maps/maps/map_paul1.jpg
a light to the Gentiles.    http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/51xwYP4kBnL._SL500_AA300_.jpg

447.) Acts 12

January 18, 2011

“The Liberation of st. Peter” by Hendrick van Steenwyck the Younger, 1619 (Windsor Castle, London)

Acts 12 (New Living Translation)

James Is Killed and Peter Is Imprisoned

1 About that time King Herod Agrippa

Herod the Great was ruler when Jesus was born (Matthew 2:1-16).  His grandson is this Herod, Herod Agrippa I.  And there is also Herod Antipas, who was there at Jesus trials (Luke 23:7-12).  Herod Antipas is an uncle to this man, Herod Agrippa I.  And later in Acts we will meet Herod Agrippa II, this man’s son.  Too many Herods!

began to persecute some believers in the church. 2 He had the apostle James (John’s brother) killed with a sword.

The Beheading of St. James — by Fra Filippo Lippi, 1455 (part of the Pistoia Sante Trinita Altarpiece in the National Gallery, London)

So James drank the cup . . .

Mark 10:35-40 (English Standard Version)

And James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came up to him and said to him, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.”

And he said to them, “What do you want me to do for you?”

And they said to him, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.”

Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?”

And they said to him, “We are able.”

And Jesus said to them, “The cup that I drink you will drink, and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized, but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared.”

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3 When Herod saw how much this pleased the Jewish people, he also arrested Peter. (This took place during the Passover celebration.) 4 Then he imprisoned him, placing him under the guard of four squads of four soldiers each. Herod intended to bring Peter out for public trial after the Passover. 5 But while Peter was in prison, the church prayed very earnestly for him.

Peter’s Miraculous Escape from Prison

“The Liberation of St. Peter from Prison.” Fresco, by Filippino Lippi 1471 (Brancacci Chapel, Florence, Italy)

6 The night before Peter was to be placed on trial, he was asleep, fastened with two chains between two soldiers. Others stood guard at the prison gate. 7 Suddenly, there was a bright light in the cell, and an angel of the Lord stood before Peter. The angel struck him on the side to awaken him and said, “Quick! Get up!” And the chains fell off his wrists. 8 Then the angel told him, “Get dressed and put on your sandals.” And he did. “Now put on your coat and follow me,” the angel ordered.

9 So Peter left the cell, following the angel. But all the time he thought it was a vision. He didn’t realize it was actually happening. 10 They passed the first and second guard posts and came to the iron gate leading to the city, and this opened for them all by itself. So they passed through and started walking down the street, and then the angel suddenly left him.

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Psalm 34:7 (New American Standard Bible)

The angel of the LORD encamps around those who fear Him,
And rescues them.

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11 Peter finally came to his senses. “It’s really true!” he said. “The Lord has sent his angel and saved me from Herod and from what the Jewish leaders had planned to do to me!”

12 When he realized this, he went to the home of Mary, the mother of John Mark, where many were gathered for prayer. 13 He knocked at the door in the gate, and a servant girl named Rhoda came to open it. 14 When she recognized Peter’s voice, she was so overjoyed that, instead of opening the door, she ran back inside and told everyone, “Peter is standing at the door!”

Don’t you just love Rhoda?!

15 “You’re out of your mind!” they said. When she insisted, they decided, “It must be his angel.”

16 Meanwhile, Peter continued knocking. When they finally opened the door and saw him, they were amazed.

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Music:

This song has many sweet recollections for me — a trip down memory lane!  “Let My Love Open the Door” by Pete Townshend, guitarist and songwriter for the English rock band The Who.  He has written that his song was intended as a message from God, although I can’t say that most people hear it that way!  (The song ends at 2:25.)

When people keep repeating
That you’ll never fall in love
When everybody keeps retreating
But you can’t seem to get enough
Let my love open the door
Let my love open the door
Let my love open the door
To your heart

When everything feels all over
When everybody seems unkind
I’ll give you a four-leaf clover
Take all the worry out of your mind
Let my love open the door
Let my love open the door
Let my love open the door
To your heart

I have the only key to your heart
I can stop you falling apart
Try today, you’ll find this way
Come on and give me a chance to say
Let my love open the door
It’s all I’m living for
Release yourself from misery
Only one thing’s gonna set you free
That’s my love
Let my love open the door
Let my love open the door

When tragedy befalls you
Don’t let them bring you down
Love can cure your problem
You’re so lucky I’m around
Let my love open the door
Let my love open the door
Let my love open the door
To your heart

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17 He motioned for them to quiet down and told them how the Lord had led him out of prison. “Tell James and the other brothers what happened,” he said. And then he went to another place.

Not the James who was just killed, obviously.  Perhaps James, the brother of Jesus?

18 At dawn there was a great commotion among the soldiers about what had happened to Peter. 19 Herod Agrippa ordered a thorough search for him. When he couldn’t be found, Herod interrogated the guards and sentenced them to death. Afterward Herod left Judea to stay in Caesarea for a while.

As was not untypical in ancient times, those responsible for a prisoner’s escape received the prisoner’s punishment.

The Death of Herod Agrippa

theater

According to Josephus, Herod Agrippa died here in the theater at Caesarea Maritima.  Photograph by Ferrell Jenkins.

20 Now Herod was very angry with the people of Tyre and Sidon. So they sent a delegation to make peace with him because their cities were dependent upon Herod’s country for food. The delegates won the support of Blastus, Herod’s personal assistant, 21 and an appointment with Herod was granted. When the day arrived, Herod put on his royal robes, sat on his throne, and made a speech to them. 22 The people gave him a great ovation, shouting, “It’s the voice of a god, not of a man!”

23 Instantly, an angel of the Lord struck Herod with a sickness, because he accepted the people’s worship instead of giving the glory to God. So he was consumed with worms and died.

 

The diademed head of Herod Agrippa I on this ancient coin from Judea.

The ancient Jewish historian Josephus described the death of Herod in gory detail (Antiquities, XIX.8.2).

“He put on a garment made wholly of silver, and of a contexture truly wonderful, and came into the theatre early in the morning; at which time the silver of his garment, being illuminated by the fresh reflection of the sun’s rays upon it, shone out after a surprising manner, and was so resplendent as to spread a horror over those that looked intently upon him; and presently his flatterers cried out, one from one place, and another from another (though not for his good), that he was a god . . . A severe pain also arose in his belly, and began in a most violent manner . . . when he had been quite worn out by the pain in his belly for five days, he departed this life.”

24 Meanwhile, the word of God continued to spread, and there were many new believers.

25 When Barnabas and Saul had finished their mission to Jerusalem, they returned to the church at Antioch, taking John Mark with them.

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Images courtesy of:
Steenwyck.  http://www.wga.hu/art/s/steenwyc/liberati.jpg
Lippi (in London).    http://www.nationalgallery.org.uk/paintings/fra-filippo-lippi-and-workshop-beheading-of-saint-james-the-great-predella-panel
Lippi (in Florence).     http://www.abcgallery.com/L/lippi/lippi2.html
Jenkins.     http://ferrelljenkins.files.wordpress.com/2009/06/caesarea_theater-t.jpg?w=500&h=340
Herod coin.    http://www.wildwinds.com/coins/greece/judaea/agrippa_I/Hendin_546.jpg

446.) Acts 11

January 17, 2011

See Antioch of Syria, in the lower right side. This Antioch (one of many cities with that name) was the third-largest city in the Roman Empire.  It was the western terminus of the Silk Road, with camels bringing silk, spices, and other exotic goods.  The city served as St. Paul’s “home base” for his various missionary journeys.

Acts 11 (New Living Translation)

Peter Explains His Actions

1 Soon the news reached the apostles and other believers in Judea that the Gentiles had received the word of God. 2 But when Peter arrived back in Jerusalem, the Jewish believers criticized him. 3 “You entered the home of Gentiles and even ate with them!” they said.

Such a close association with “them” was considered compromise and an affront to Jewish standards.

4 Then Peter told them exactly what had happened. 5 “I was in the town of Joppa,” he said, “and while I was praying, I went into a trance and saw a vision. Something like a large sheet was let down by its four corners from the sky. And it came right down to me. 6 When I looked inside the sheet, I saw all sorts of small animals, wild animals, reptiles, and birds. 7 And I heard a voice say, ‘Get up, Peter; kill and eat them.’

11. Peter's vision rooftop

8 “‘No, Lord,’ I replied. ‘I have never eaten anything that our Jewish laws have declared impure or unclean.’

9 “But the voice from heaven spoke again: ‘Do not call something unclean if God has made it clean.’ 10 This happened three times before the sheet and all it contained was pulled back up to heaven.

11 “Just then three men who had been sent from Caesarea arrived at the house where we were staying. 12 The Holy Spirit told me to go with them and not to worry that they were Gentiles. These six brothers here accompanied me, and we soon entered the home of the man who had sent for us. 13 He told us how an angel had appeared to him in his home and had told him, ‘Send messengers to Joppa, and summon a man named Simon Peter. 14 He will tell you how you and everyone in your household can be saved!’

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11. believe button

Acts 16:29-32 (New International Version)

The jailer called for lights, rushed in and fell trembling before Paul and Silas. He then brought them out and asked, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”

They replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved—you and your household.” Then they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all the others in his house.

_________________________

15 “As I began to speak,” Peter continued, “the Holy Spirit fell on them, just as he fell on us at the beginning. 16 Then I thought of the Lord’s words when he said, ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ 17 And since God gave these Gentiles the same gift he gave us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I to stand in God’s way?”

The event at Cornelius’s house passes two tests:  that God is at work, and that what happens is in line with Scripture.

18 When the others heard this, they stopped objecting and began praising God. They said, “We can see that God has also given the Gentiles the privilege of repenting of their sins and receiving eternal life.”

_________________________

Romans 10:12-13 (New International Version)

For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile—the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him, for, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

_________________________

The Church in Antioch of Syria

11. star of David and cross

19 Meanwhile, the believers who had been scattered during the persecution after Stephen’s death traveled as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus, and Antioch of Syria. They preached the word of God, but only to Jews. 20 However, some of the believers who went to Antioch from Cyprus and Cyrene began preaching to the Gentiles about the Lord Jesus. 21 The power of the Lord was with them, and a large number of these Gentiles believed and turned to the Lord.

22 When the church at Jerusalem heard what had happened, they sent Barnabas to Antioch. 23 When he arrived and saw this evidence of God’s blessing, he was filled with joy, and he encouraged the believers to stay true to the Lord. 24 Barnabas was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and strong in faith. And many people were brought to the Lord.

25 Then Barnabas went on to Tarsus to look for Saul. 26 When he found him, he brought him back to Antioch. Both of them stayed there with the church for a full year, teaching large crowds of people. (It was at Antioch that the believers were first called Christians.)

1 Peter 4:16 — “Praise God that you bear that name!”

_________________________

The word Christian can be understood as “the party of Christ” or “little Christ.”

Martin Luther wrote, in The Freedom of a Christian (1520):

“As our heavenly Father has in Christ freely come to our aid, we also ought freely to help our neighbor through our body and its works, and each one should become as it were a Christ to the other that we may be Christs to one another and Christ may be the same in all, that is, that we may be truly Christians . . .

“But alas in our day this life is unknown throughout the world; it is neither preached about nor sought after; we are altogether ignorant of our own name and do not know why we are Christians or bear the name of Christians. Surely we are named after Christ, not because he is absent from us, but because he dwells in us, that is, because we believe in him and are Christs one to another and do to our neighbors as Christ does to us.”

C. S. Lewis writes, in Mere Christianity (1952):

” . . . the Church exists for nothing else but to draw men into Christ, to make them little Christs. If they are not doing that, all the cathedrals, clergy, missions, sermons, even the Bible itself, are simply a waste of time. God became Man for no other purpose. It is even doubtful, you know, whether the whole universe was created for any other purpose.

“Every Christian is to become a little Christ. The whole purpose of becoming a Christian is simply nothing else.”

_________________________

Music:

“I am a C-H-R-I-S-T-I-A-N.”  I remember this song from Vacation Bible School decades ago!

_________________________

27 During this time some prophets traveled from Jerusalem to Antioch. 28 One of them named Agabus stood up in one of the meetings and predicted by the Spirit that a great famine was coming upon the entire Roman world. (This was fulfilled during the reign of Claudius.)

Ancient records show that under Claudius there were years of bad harvests and subsequent food shortages in Rome, Greece, Egypt, and Judea.

29 So the believers in Antioch decided to send relief to the brothers and sisters in Judea, everyone giving as much as they could. 30 This they did, entrusting their gifts to Barnabas and Saul to take to the elders of the church in Jerusalem.

_________________________

Holy Bible. New Living Translation copyright © 1996, 2004 by Tyndale Charitable Trust. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers.

Images courtesy of:
Antioch of Syria map.    http://www.lakesideministries.com/images/ActsMap_1st_Missionary_Journey_Ends.jpg
Peter’s vision.  http://www.lavistachurchofchrist.org/Pictures/The%20Early%20Church%20Artwork/target10.html
believe button.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yrNM-B_gg4A&feature=related
cross and star of David.  http://s3.images.com/huge.99.495169.JPG
Hello.  My name is Christian.  http://rlv.zcache.com/hello_my_name_is_christian_tshirt-p235880723244301568sn5x_400.jpg
Martin Luther.    http://www.covenanter.org/Luther/luther.jpg
C. S. Lewis.    http://www.turnbacktogod.com/wp-content/uploads/2008/08/cs-lewis.jpg

445.) Acts 10

January 14, 2011
Aeriel view of the harbor at ancient Caesarea

Aeriel view of the harbor at ancient Caesarea

Acts 10 (New Living Translation)

Cornelius Calls for Peter

1 In Caesarea

Caesarea was the headquarters of the Roman governor of the province of Judea.

there lived a Roman army officer named Cornelius, who was a captain of the Italian Regiment.

The Italians were considered the most loyal of the Roman troops.  Of course, this would have made Cornelius to be all the more despised by the Jews.

2 He was a devout, God-fearing man, as was everyone in his household. He gave generously to the poor and prayed regularly to God. 3 One afternoon about three o’clock, he had a vision in which he saw an angel of God coming toward him. “Cornelius!” the angel said.

4 Cornelius stared at him in terror. “What is it, sir?” he asked the angel.

And the angel replied, “Your prayers and gifts to the poor have been received by God as an offering! 5 Now send some men to Joppa, and summon a man named Simon Peter. 6 He is staying with Simon, a tanner who lives near the seashore.”

7 As soon as the angel was gone, Cornelius called two of his household servants and a devout soldier, one of his personal attendants. 8 He told them what had happened and sent them off to Joppa.

Peter’s Vision

10. Peter's vision animals

9 The next day as Cornelius’s messengers were nearing the town, Peter went up on the flat roof to pray.

The housetop was not unlike our outdoor patio.

It was about noon, 10 and he was hungry. But while a meal was being prepared, he fell into a trance. 11 He saw the sky open, and something like a large sheet was let down by its four corners. 12 In the sheet were all sorts of animals, reptiles, and birds. 13 Then a voice said to him, “Get up, Peter; kill and eat them.”

14 “No, Lord,” Peter declared. “I have never eaten anything that our Jewish laws have declared impure and unclean.”

15 But the voice spoke again: “Do not call something unclean if God has made it clean.” 16 The same vision was repeated three times. Then the sheet was suddenly pulled up to heaven.

17 Peter was very perplexed. What could the vision mean? Just then the men sent by Cornelius found Simon’s house. Standing outside the gate, 18 they asked if a man named Simon Peter was staying there.

19 Meanwhile, as Peter was puzzling over the vision, the Holy Spirit said to him, “Three men have come looking for you. 20 Get up, go downstairs, and go with them without hesitation. Don’t worry, for I have sent them.”

21 So Peter went down and said, “I’m the man you are looking for. Why have you come?”

22 They said, “We were sent by Cornelius, a Roman officer. He is a devout and God-fearing man, well respected by all the Jews. A holy angel instructed him to summon you to his house so that he can hear your message.” 23 So Peter invited the men to stay for the night.

Oh, now I get it, Peter thinks.  This whole clean and unclean thing — not so much food, as people!

Peter Visits Cornelius

The next day he went with them, accompanied by some of the brothers from Joppa.

Many years before, another Jew had come to Joppa with the same mission — to take God’s word to the Gentiles.  Jonah refused to obey.  But Peter is willing to change his own perceptions to bring them in line with God’s plan for the world.

_________________________

24 They arrived in Caesarea the following day. Cornelius was waiting for them and had called together his relatives and close friends. 25 As Peter entered his home,

He goes into a Gentile home!  That act took, I think, no small amount of courage.  Peter understands the vision, that all people are acceptable to God and have the right, if you will, to hear the gospel.

Cornelius fell at his feet and worshiped him. 26 But Peter pulled him up and said, “Stand up! I’m a human being just like you!”

_________________________

Psalm 115:1 (New King James Version)

Not unto us, O LORD, not unto us,
But to Your name give glory,
Because of Your mercy,
Because of Your truth.

_________________________

27 So they talked together and went inside, where many others were assembled.

28 Peter told them, “You know it is against our laws for a Jewish man to enter a Gentile home like this or to associate with you. But God has shown me that I should no longer think of anyone as impure or unclean. 29 So I came without objection as soon as I was sent for. Now tell me why you sent for me.”

30 Cornelius replied, “Four days ago I was praying in my house about this same time, three o’clock in the afternoon. Suddenly, a man in dazzling clothes was standing in front of me. 31 He told me, ‘Cornelius, your prayer has been heard, and your gifts to the poor have been noticed by God! 32 Now send messengers to Joppa, and summon a man named Simon Peter. He is staying in the home of Simon, a tanner who lives near the seashore.’ 33 So I sent for you at once, and it was good of you to come. Now we are all here, waiting before God to hear the message the Lord has given you.”

It is frequently noted that Peter did not open the doors for the Gentiles as much as Cornelius opened the door for Peter.  Or as John Stott puts it,  “The principle subject of this chapter is not so much the conversion of Cornelius as the conversion of Peter.”

_________________________

Music:

Here is an old Fanny Crosby hymn which echos the request Cornelius had for Peter — “Tell Me the Story of Jesus.”

__________________________

The Gentiles Hear the Good News

34 Then Peter replied, “I see very clearly that God shows no favoritism. 35 In every nation he accepts those who fear him and do what is right. 36 This is the message of Good News for the people of Israel—that there is peace with God through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all. 37 You know what happened throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee, after John began preaching his message of baptism. 38 And you know that God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power. Then Jesus went around doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him.

Isaiah 61:1-3 (New International Version)

The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me,
because the LORD has anointed me
to preach good news to the poor.

He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim freedom for the captives
and release from darkness for the prisoners,

to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor
and the day of vengeance of our God,
to comfort all who mourn,

and provide for those who grieve in Zion—
to bestow on them a crown of beauty
instead of ashes,
the oil of gladness
instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise
instead of a spirit of despair.

_________________________

39 “And we apostles are witnesses of all he did throughout Judea and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a cross, 40 but God raised him to life on the third day. Then God allowed him to appear, 41 not to the general public, but to us whom God had chosen in advance to be his witnesses. We were those who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. 42 And he ordered us to preach everywhere and to testify that Jesus is the one appointed by God to be the judge of all—the living and the dead. 43 He is the one all the prophets testified about, saying that everyone who believes in him will have their sins forgiven through his name.”

Gentiles Receive the Holy Spirit

10. dove

44 Even as Peter was saying these things, the Holy Spirit fell upon all who were listening to the message. 45 The Jewish believers who came with Peter were amazed that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out on the Gentiles, too. 46 For they heard them speaking in tongues and praising God.

Then Peter asked, 47 “Can anyone object to their being baptized, now that they have received the Holy Spirit just as we did?” 48 So he gave orders for them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Afterward Cornelius asked him to stay with them for several days.

_________________________

John 3:16 (Contemporary English Version)

God loved the people of this world so much that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who has faith in him will have eternal life and never really die.

_________________________

Holy Bible. New Living Translation copyright © 1996, 2004 by Tyndale Charitable Trust. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers.

Images courtesy of:
harbor.  http://www.bibleplaces.com/newsletter/hr/Caesarea_aerial_from_northwest,_tb121704937sr.jpg
animals in sheet.  http://www.wcg.org/lit/bible/acts/tuvision.gif
Jonah and the whale.    http://bible.phillipmartin.info/bible_jonah.gif
beauty for ashes, Christian art by Stacy Lee.     http://api.ning.com/files/r1sGlEsFbyB5CAxKfZB8nc5UoQxSraUMOeYpSi7ZFQSwCa6TZ72ibRx6ebmGQGi6LRsPK-batxVpLtaf5uyYiJrqayPpCmX2/BeautyforAshesbyStacyLeeContemporaryChristianArt.jpg
embroidered dove.  http://www.windstarembroidery.com/cw2/Assets/product_full/506.jpg

444. ) Acts 9

January 13, 2011

“Conversion of Saul” © Jef Murray, 2011

Acts 9 (New Living Translation)

Saul’s Conversion

1 Meanwhile, Saul was uttering threats with every breath and was eager to kill the Lord’s followers.

Yes, we know!  The last we heard of Saul he was trying to destroy the church and dragging believers off to prison.

So he went to the high priest. 2 He requested letters addressed to the synagogues in Damascus,

Damascus is 135 miles from Jerusalem.  A significant journey.

asking for their cooperation in the arrest of any followers of the Way he found there. He wanted to bring them—both men and women—back to Jerusalem in chains.

Galatians 1:13-14 (New International Version, ©2010)

For you have heard of my previous way of life in Judaism, how intensely I persecuted the church of God and tried to destroy it.  I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my own age among my people and was extremely zealous for the traditions of my fathers.

3 As he was approaching Damascus on this mission, a light from heaven suddenly shone down around him.

Michelangelo’s “Conversion of St. Paul”

Here is the first account in Acts of Paul’s conversion
(see also chapters 22 and 26).

4 He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul! Saul! Why are you persecuting me?”

5 “Who are you, lord?” Saul asked.

"Conversion of St. Paul,"  contemporary Southern American artist Chris Cook

“Conversion of St. Paul,” contemporary Southern American artist Chris Cook

_________________________

Acts 9:5 (King James Version)

And he said, Who art thou, Lord?

By the miracle of Redemption Saul of Tarsus was turned in one second from a strong-willed, intense Pharisee into a humble, devoted slave of the Lord Jesus.

My Utmost for His Highest, Oswald Chambers

_________________________

And the voice replied, “I am Jesus, the one you are persecuting! 6 Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.”

7 The men with Saul stood speechless, for they heard the sound of someone’s voice but saw no one! 8 Saul picked himself up off the ground, but when he opened his eyes he was blind. So his companions led him by the hand to Damascus. 9 He remained there blind for three days and did not eat or drink.

Here is my theory of these three days of blindness:  Saul is a brilliant man, well-trained in the Torah and unusually adept at expressing himself in speech and letters.  I think he was whizzing through the reams of Scripture he had memorized and stored in his mind — putting it together, by the help of the Holy Spirit, with all that he had heard about Jesus, and becoming more and more sure that Jesus is in fact the Messiah.  In his physical darkness, Saul was being spiritually enlightened.  No wonder he forgot about food!

_________________________

10 Now there was a believer in Damascus named Ananias. The Lord spoke to him in a vision, calling, “Ananias!”

“Yes, Lord!” he replied.

11 The Lord said, “Go over to Straight Street, to the house of Judas. When you get there, ask for a man from Tarsus named Saul. He is praying to me right now. 12 I have shown him a vision of a man named Ananias coming in and laying hands on him so he can see again.”

13 “But Lord,” exclaimed Ananias, “I’ve heard many people talk about the terrible things this man has done to the believers in Jerusalem! 14 And he is authorized by the leading priests to arrest everyone who calls upon your name.”

— just in case God didn’t know these things!

15 But the Lord said, “Go, for Saul is my chosen instrument to take my message to the Gentiles and to kings, as well as to the people of Israel. 16 And I will show him how much he must suffer for my name’s sake.”

Oh, my.  Like Jesus in Gethsemane, Saul in his blindness is “counting the cost.”

17 So Ananias went and found Saul. He laid his hands on him and said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on the road, has sent me so that you might regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” 18 Instantly something like scales fell from Saul’s eyes, and he regained his sight. Then he got up and was baptized. 19 Afterward he ate some food and regained his strength.

To all of us who are praying for loved ones to come to Jesus, loved ones who seem hard or indifferent to the Word of God, or who believe themselves intellectually beyond Jesus-of-the Bible, or who are consumed by a cult or an addiction or a bad relationship — the story of Saul’s conversion is so heartening!  Jesus finds them, even when they aren’t looking for Him! Let us not stop praying for them, for the Lord’s will is that none should perish, but that all should have everlasting life.

_________________________

Music:

“Just a Little Talk with Jesus (Made Me Whole)” —  Tennessee Ernie Ford (1919-1991) and the Jordanaires.

I once was lost in sin but Jesus took me in
And then a little light from heaven filled my soul
It bathed my heart in love and wrote my name above
And just a little talk with Jesus made me whole

Now let us have a little talk with Jesus
Let us tell Him all about our troubles
He will hear our faintest cry
He will answer by and by
Now when you feel a little prayer wheel turning
Then you’ll know a little fire is burning
You will find a little talk with Jesus makes it right

Sometimes my path seems drear without a ray of cheer
And then the cloud about me hides the light of day
The mists of sin may rise and hide the stormy skies
But just a little talk with Jesus clears the way

I may have doubts and fears my eyes be filled with tears
But Jesus is a friend who watches day and and night
I go to Him in prayer He knows my every care
And just a little talk with Jesus makes it right

_________________________

Saul Preaches in Damascus

Saul stayed with the believers in Damascus for a few days. 20 And immediately he began preaching about Jesus in the synagogues, saying, “He is indeed the Son of God!”

_________________________

Because Saul was a skilled student of the great rabbi Gamaliel, he could take advantage of the synagogue custom that invited any able Jewish man to speak on the Scriptures at synagogue meetings.
—David Guzik

Romans 1:16 (New American Standard Bible)

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.

_________________________

21 All who heard him were amazed. “Isn’t this the same man who caused such devastation among Jesus’ followers in Jerusalem?” they asked. “And didn’t he come here to arrest them and take them in chains to the leading priests?”

2 Corinthians 5:17 (New International Version, ©2010)

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!

22 Saul’s preaching became more and more powerful, and the Jews in Damascus couldn’t refute his proofs that Jesus was indeed the Messiah.

Saul Escapes from the Jews

Later Paul remembers this event, as pictured here by James Shaw Crompton.  2 Corinthians 11:32-33 -- "In Damascus the governor under King Aretas had the city of the Damascenes guarded in order to arrest me.  But I was lowered in a basket from a window in the wall and slipped through their hands."

Later Paul remembers this event, as pictured here by James Shaw Crompton. 2 Corinthians 11:32-33 — “In Damascus the governor under King Aretas had the city of the Damascenes guarded in order to arrest me. But I was lowered in a basket from a window in the wall and slipped through their hands.”

23 After a while some of the Jews plotted together to kill him.

He who was once the hound is now the fox.

24 They were watching for him day and night at the city gate so they could murder him, but Saul was told about their plot. 25 So during the night, some of the other believers lowered him in a large basket through an opening in the city wall.

_________________________

Job 19:20 (English Standard Version)

I have escaped by the skin of my teeth.

_________________________

Saul in Jerusalem

26 When Saul arrived in Jerusalem, he tried to meet with the believers, but they were all afraid of him. They did not believe he had truly become a believer! 27 Then Barnabas brought him to the apostles and told them how Saul had seen the Lord on the way to Damascus and how the Lord had spoken to Saul. He also told them that Saul had preached boldly in the name of Jesus in Damascus.

I think there must be a special place in Heaven for people like Ananias and Barnabas who offer, so kindly, the simple gift of friendship in Jesus’ name.

28 So Saul stayed with the apostles and went all around Jerusalem with them, preaching boldly in the name of the Lord. 29 He debated with some Greek-speaking Jews, but they tried to murder him. 30 When the believers heard about this, they took him down to Caesarea and sent him away to Tarsus, his hometown.

31 The church then had peace throughout Judea, Galilee, and Samaria, and it became stronger as the believers lived in the fear of the Lord. And with the encouragement of the Holy Spirit, it also grew in numbers.

_________________________

Here is another true story from my friends in South Asia; they teach local pastors to tell Bible stories to their congregations and the pastors return with amazing reports!  These stories make me ashamed of how careless I am, so often, in living out my faith.

Forsaking Christ in Persecution
Told by B.B.

When the violence and persecution against Christians took place in our area, some of the believers in our churches backslid because of fear. The persecutors demanded written statements from them saying, “We are forsaking Christianity and are adopting the Hindu religion.”

I along with many others were praying for them. Whenever I met them, I would encourage them to be faithful to Christ. My heart was breaking as I told them the story of how Paul [Saul] was persecuting the Christians, and how he became a servant of Christ (Acts 8:1-3 and chapter 9).

I said, “See how God is much greater than anything. If you forget Him now, then there may be no chance for you to accept Christ again and follow Him as your personal Savior.”

One of them who had gone back said, “If I will be a Christian again, then I will have to suffer a lot.”

And I told him, “Brother, this is the life of a Christian.”

I kept praying for him, and the next time we met, he told me he has started attending church again. Now many of those who backslid are slowly coming back. Even though they had given the written application saying, “We are forsaking Christianity and we are adopting the Hindu religion,” now they are returning to Christ.

Recently I learned about three more families who had backslidden that have started attending church again, and two of those brothers are actively involved in ministry there.

Really I am so thankful to God. That story has some special power that makes a difference in our ministry. Thank you so much for teaching us these stories.

_________________________

Peter Heals Aeneas and Raises Dorcas

"Healing of the Cripple"  by Masolino, 1425 (Brancacci Chapel, Santa Maria del Carmine, Florence, Italy)

“Healing of the Cripple” by Masolino, 1425 (Brancacci Chapel, Santa Maria del Carmine, Florence, Italy)

32 Meanwhile, Peter traveled from place to place, and he came down to visit the believers in the town of Lydda. 33 There he met a man named Aeneas, who had been paralyzed and bedridden for eight years. 34 Peter said to him, “Aeneas, Jesus Christ heals you! Get up, and roll up your sleeping mat!” And he was healed instantly. 35 Then the whole population of Lydda and Sharon saw Aeneas walking around, and they turned to the Lord.

"Healing of Dorcas"  by Masolino, (Brancacci Chapel, Santa Maria del Carmine, Florence, Italy).  This is the right-hand portion, the rest of the picture above.  Note the same guy in both pictures --  in the gray tights and hat, and pink tunic.

“Healing of Dorcas” by Masolino, 1425 (Brancacci Chapel, Santa Maria del Carmine, Florence, Italy). This is the right-hand portion of a wide fresco, the rest of the piece above. Note the same guy in both pictures — in the gray tights and hat, and pink tunic.

36 There was a believer in Joppa named Tabitha (which in Greek is Dorcas). She was always doing kind things for others and helping the poor. 37 About this time she became ill and died. Her body was washed for burial and laid in an upstairs room. 38 But the believers had heard that Peter was nearby at Lydda, so they sent two men to beg him, “Please come as soon as possible!”

39 So Peter returned with them; and as soon as he arrived, they took him to the upstairs room. The room was filled with widows who were weeping and showing him the coats and other clothes Dorcas had made for them. 40 But Peter asked them all to leave the room; then he knelt and prayed. Turning to the body he said, “Get up, Tabitha.” And she opened her eyes! When she saw Peter, she sat up! 41 He gave her his hand and helped her up. Then he called in the widows and all the believers, and he presented her to them alive.

42 The news spread through the whole town, and many believed in the Lord. 43 And Peter stayed a long time in Joppa, living with Simon, a tanner of hides.

For a law-keeping Jew of that time, it was strictly forbidden to associate with anyone who routinely worked with dead animals. According to the laws of that time, a tanner had to live at least 75 feet outside a village because of his ritual uncleanness.
—David Guzik

_________________________

Holy Bible. New Living Translation copyright © 1996, 2004 by Tyndale Charitable Trust. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers.

Images courtesy of:
Murray.    www.JefMurray.com
Michelangelo.    http://www.utdallas.edu/orgs/catholicsfortruth/index_files/patronsaintpaul_files/michelangelo_st_paul.jpg
Cook.  http://www.chriscookartist.com/images/stpaul.jpg
candle put out.    http://www.markmallett.com/blog/wp-images/Smoldering_wick.jpg
Crompton.  http://www.biblical-art.com/extra/ownpub/public/pd479.jpg
Masolino – Aeneus.   http://www.abcgallery.com/M/masaccio/masolino2.html
Masolino – Dorcas.  http://www.wga.hu/art/m/masolino/brancacc/raising.jpg

443.) Acts 8

January 12, 2011
"Philip and the Ethiopian"  by Alexandre Abel Denis de Pujol, 1848 (Musee des Beaux-Arts, Valenciennes)

“Philip and the Ethiopian” by Alexandre Abel Denis de Pujol, 1848 (Musee des Beaux-Arts, Valenciennes)

Acts 8 (New Living Translation)

1 Saul was one of the witnesses, and he agreed completely with the killing of Stephen.

Persecution Scatters the Believers

A great wave of persecution began that day, sweeping over the church in Jerusalem; and all the believers except the apostles were scattered through the regions of Judea and Samaria.

We are entering part two of Acts:  “You will be my witnesses in . . . Judea and Samaria.”

2 (Some devout men came and buried Stephen with great mourning.)

The persecution which began in this chapter grew in Roman times and still continues today.

The famous observation of Tertullian that, “the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church,” has a depth of insight which is all too often lost on believers today. We have no trouble thinking of persecution and martyrdom as a great obstacle to the spread of the gospel which will not, however, be successful in hindering Church growth. We would have no problem affirming that the blood of the martyrs is a hurdle which, by God’s grace, can be overcome. But to say that the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church is an altogether different concept. If martyrdom is a surmountable obstacle to the growth of the Church, then the Church might advance just as well, even better, without it.

But if the blood of the martyrs truly is the seed of the Church, then without it, the Church does not grow. Without martyrdom, the Church would never have taken root in the world of Tertullian. Without martyrdom, the Church would not have spread to the Auca Indians in South America, or to China or Burma or the islands of the South Seas. The blood of the martyrs is a necessary means for the worldwide application of Christ’s great redemptive accomplishment. This is the full force of Tertullian’s insight.

—Nathan Pitchford, http://www.reformationtheology.com/2006/05/the_blood_of_the_martyrs.php

_________________________

3 But Saul was going everywhere to destroy the church. He went from house to house, dragging out both men and women to throw them into prison.

Philip Preaches in Samaria

4 But the believers who were scattered preached the Good News about Jesus wherever they went. 5 Philip, for example, went to the city of Samaria and told the people there about the Messiah. 6 Crowds listened intently to Philip because they were eager to hear his message and see the miraculous signs he did. 7 Many evil spirits were cast out, screaming as they left their victims. And many who had been paralyzed or lame were healed. 8 So there was great joy in that city.

8. magic

9 A man named Simon had been a sorcerer there for many years, amazing the people of Samaria and claiming to be someone great. 10 Everyone, from the least to the greatest, often spoke of him as “the Great One—the Power of God.” 11 They listened closely to him because for a long time he had astounded them with his magic.

12 But now the people believed Philip’s message of Good News concerning the Kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ. As a result, many men and women were baptized. 13 Then Simon himself believed and was baptized. He began following Philip wherever he went, and he was amazed by the signs and great miracles Philip performed.

14 When the apostles in Jerusalem heard that the people of Samaria had accepted God’s message, they sent Peter and John there. 15 As soon as they arrived, they prayed for these new believers to receive the Holy Spirit. 16 The Holy Spirit had not yet come upon any of them, for they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. 17 Then Peter and John laid their hands upon these believers, and they received the Holy Spirit.

18 When Simon saw that the Spirit was given when the apostles laid their hands on people, he offered them money to buy this power. 19 “Let me have this power, too,” he exclaimed, “so that when I lay my hands on people, they will receive the Holy Spirit!”

Essentially, Simon wanted to be “in charge” of the Holy Spirit!  He regarded the Holy Spirit as a “power” he could use as he willed, instead of a Person who would rule his life.  “The sin was a desire to possess spiritual power for personal ends,” Bible commentator G. Campbell Morgan says.
—David Guzik

20 But Peter replied, “May your money be destroyed with you for thinking God’s gift can be bought! 21 You can have no part in this, for your heart is not right with God. 22 Repent of your wickedness and pray to the Lord. Perhaps he will forgive your evil thoughts, 23 for I can see that you are full of bitter jealousy and are held captive by sin.”

24 “Pray to the Lord for me,” Simon exclaimed, “that these terrible things you’ve said won’t happen to me!”

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“simony”

According to Merriam-Webster, “the buying or selling of a church office or ecclesiastical preferment.”  The term comes from this story.  During the Middle Ages, when the Church and the state were closely intertwined, simony was a constant problem.  Dante, in his Commedia, placed simonists in the eighth circle of Hell, buried upside down, the soles of their feet burning with oil in a mock baptism (as pictured below by Gustave Dore).

8. Inferno

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25 After testifying and preaching the word of the Lord in Samaria, Peter and John returned to Jerusalem. And they stopped in many Samaritan villages along the way to preach the Good News.

Philip and the Ethiopian Eunuch

"Ethiopian Eunuch"  American artist Paul Goodnight.  From his website:  "Paul Goodnight’s vibrant and emotional work has often been a reflection of his life--from the demons he faced during the Vietnam War to the time he was incarcerated.  “I’ve learned that art is making me, rather then me creating it.”

“Ethiopian Eunuch” by American artist Paul Goodnight. From his website: “Paul Goodnight’s vibrant and emotional work has often been a reflection of his life–from the demons he faced during the Vietnam War to the time he was incarcerated. ‘I’ve learned that art is making me, rather than me creating it.'”

26 As for Philip, an angel of the Lord said to him, “Go south down the desert road that runs from Jerusalem to Gaza.” 27 So he started out, and he met the treasurer of Ethiopia, a eunuch of great authority under the Kandake, the queen of Ethiopia. The eunuch had gone to Jerusalem to worship, 28 and he was now returning. Seated in his carriage, he was reading aloud from the book of the prophet Isaiah.

29 The Holy Spirit said to Philip, “Go over and walk along beside the carriage.”

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from Experiencing God Day-by-Day,
by Henry T. Blackaby and Richard Blackaby

Missions is God finding those whose hearts are right with Him and placing them where they can make a difference for His kingdom.  Some of the great missionaries in history did not live long lives, but their lives dramatically affected eternity.

God had access to Philip, and the Book of Acts gives the exciting account of how God used Philip’s life to take the gospel to the ends of the earth.  Philip was preaching powerfully in the city of Samaria.  So mightily did God use him that the entire city was rejoicing at the miracles God was doing.  This would be any evangelist’s fondest desire, to see an entire city responding to the gospel through his preaching.  Yet Philip was not activity-centered in his Christian life.  he was God-centered.  Philip was not preoccupied with expanding his reputation as a great preacher or miracle worker, he was concerned that his life remain in the center of God’s activity.  When he was instructed to leave his fruitful ministry, he did not hesitate.

God continues to seek those as responsive as Philip to go on mission with Him.  Have you seen the activity of God around you?  What is God presently inviting you to do?

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30 Philip ran over and heard the man reading from the prophet Isaiah. Philip asked, “Do you understand what you are reading?”

31 The man replied, “How can I, unless someone instructs me?” And he urged Philip to come up into the carriage and sit with him.

32 The passage of Scripture he had been reading was this:

8. sheep shearing

“He was led like a sheep to the slaughter.
And as a lamb is silent before the shearers,
he did not open his mouth.
33 He was humiliated and received no justice.
Who can speak of his descendants?
For his life was taken from the earth.”

34 The eunuch asked Philip, “Tell me, was the prophet talking about himself or someone else?” 35 So beginning with this same Scripture, Philip told him the Good News about Jesus.

36 As they rode along, they came to some water, and the eunuch said, “Look! There’s some water! Why can’t I be baptized?” 38 He ordered the carriage to stop, and they went down into the water, and Philip baptized him.

39 When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord snatched Philip away. The eunuch never saw him again but went on his way rejoicing.

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Music:

Tradition has it that this eunuch, who “went on his way rejoicing,” brought the Gospel to Ethiopia.  Here is some joyful African gospel music from the Soweta Gospel Choir.

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40 Meanwhile, Philip found himself farther north at the town of Azotus. He preached the Good News there and in every town along the way until he came to Caesarea.

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Holy Bible. New Living Translation copyright © 1996, 2004 by Tyndale Charitable Trust. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers.

Images courtesy of:
Pujol.  http://www.culture.gouv.fr/Wave/image/joconde/0039/m063804_0000269_p.jpg
Christian martyrs and a lion.    http://www.visionforum.com/news/blogs/doug/2006-03-20_the_christian_martyrs_last_prayer-737363.jpg
magic.  http://www.magicbob2000.com/resources/Hocus%20plate%20small0003_edited-5.jpg
Dore.  http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/7/7a/DvinfernoPopeNicholasIII_m.jpg
Goodnight.  http://www.picassomio.com/paul-goodnight/14789.html
sheep shearing.  http://www.rainbeauridge.com/cms/images/RR_Assets/Images/Livestock/sheep%20shearing79.JPG