This humongous entry, covering six days of reading, delves into THE MIRACLE OF THE DAY OF PENTECOST, THE BASICS OF PRACTICING CHRISTIANITY, HOW THE HOLY SPIRIT WAS THE MAIN ACTOR IN ACTS, HOW COURAGE COMES FROM SPENDING TIME WITH JESUS, a “SIN PACT” IN MARRIAGE, HOW GROWTH CAN COME FROM GODLY PERSECUTION, BEING WILLING TO DIE FOR GOD, PREACHING THE WORD WHEREVER WE GO, KNOWING HOW TO GIVE AND RECEIVE A GODLY REBUKE WHEN NECESSARY, LESSONS ON HUMILITY AND BAPTISM FROM THE ETHIOPIAN EUNUCH, THE WORK OF THE HOLY SPIRIT, OVERCOMING BIGOTRY, GOD’S MIRACLES, LUKE’S SENSE OF HUMOUR, and “GIVING GOD THE GLORY OR ELSE!”
Luke began his book with a personal introduction, just as he had his gospel. He not only prepared his audience to learn about the history of the early church – he also got the readers ready to discover the wondrous way the HOLY SPIRIT had worked in the formation of that early church. This makes sense, when we consider that Jesus had told the apostles to wait in Jerusalem until clothed with power from on high…they were expecting something big, and they got it!
It came at the Feast of Pentecost, which the Jews celebrated every year, “50 days” (pente is from the Greek word for “five”) after the Passover. Also known as the Feast of Weeks, it was originally given in celebration of the first fruits of the harvest, and was one of the three main annual Jewish feasts, attracting thousands of the faithful. Dr Smith notes that God the Father chose to reveal the Holy Spirit in the midst of this throng gathered for the Feast.
I am not sure what kind of “house” the apostles were gathered in when the Holy Spirit “landed” in full force – I once heard speculation that “house” may have been a slang word for “temple” in Aramaic, but who knows. Maybe it was a house on a hill and it was conducive to preach from there. I guess we can see a video in heaven! At any rate, the noise of the violent wind, the miraculous tongues of fire, and the bizarre cacophony of sounds from all of the languages being spoken at once certainly would have attracted a crowd, and did they ever come! People from all over the Roman world – the Jewish diaspora lived up to their name! And when they listened closer to the racket, they realized that they were hearing preaching, and IN THEIR OWN LANGUAGES! Now that wouldn’t have been so amazing had it not been for the fact that the uneducated men from Galilee probably only spoke Hebrew, Aramaic, and maybe for the sake of survival had learned Greek or Latin (they must have learned more Greek by the time they wrote their letters, but that was a good deal later). They certainly didn’t know Parthian, Arabic, or any of the other languages represented by that gathering. This was truly a day not to be forgotten!
There are always doubters who don’t want to acknowledge what they have seen and heard before their very eyes/ears – a few sneered and said, “This isn’t a miracle – they’re just drunken babblers!”
Peter got up and preached his heart out (Isn’t it wonderful to see how he had been shaped and moulded for the past three years?!) and by the time he finished, the open seekers in the crowd understood that the man from Galilee had actually been the Messiah who had been written about in the Old Testament, that they had put the Messiah on the cross either by their betrayal or because of their sin, that He had risen from the dead, and that God had made Him LORD! Wow! A sermon to end all sermons! The part we usually remember the most is the altar call (so to speak), which Luke recorded in detail:
When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” Peter replied, “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 promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.”
Then the finale:
With many other words he warned them; and he pleaded with them, “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.”
The preaching had the desired effect – Luke recorded that 3000 accepted the message, were baptized and were added to their number that day!
Six years ago at this time, the end of November, I studied out the topic of baptism with my son, who at the time was 14. During the time he studied the Bible with youth mentors from our church, we had loads of talks about what he was studying and getting convicted about whenever he wished to talk, but we wanted David to make his own decision so we also gave him lots of space. However, I did ask if I could lead just one study with David, the baptism study. The reason I wanted to be involved with that one is that it wouldn’t be about getting him to confess anything or sharing something embarrassing with his mother, but about doctrine, and how to study the Bible in general.
We reviewed the idea that we are all separated from God because of our sin, and then we discussed how the blood of Christ shed in his death on the cross is the only thing that gets rid of sin – not our wonderful repentance, not how perfectly we get baptized, but our faith in the fact that the grace of God covers everyone who reaches Jesus’ blood. Then we discussed the meaning of “studying in context”, and then we read the whole of Acts 2! It was so much fun – almost like the first time I read it in 1979! (I remember thinking, as a 17 year old, “why hasn’t anyone ever told me this before?”)
Next we looked at Romans 6 and saw how Paul used the memory of the Christians’ baptism event to reinforce what he was teaching them about not being slaves to sin. After that we looked at the story of the Ethiopian Eunuch and saw that he was humble, eager, and that when he had heard the good news about Jesus, he knew that meant baptism; more on him later…
(An aside for all you mothers out there – when we started the study, and I said a prayer, I wept. David was like, “Mom, why are you crying?” I said, “David, I have never studied baptism with my son!” This is amazing!)
At the time, I hoped my son’s reaction would be like “the 3000” in Acts 2, but I will tell you more in a later entry. As for the folks in Acts 2 who did make Jesus their Lord that day, it didn’t stop there – baptism was only the beginning! The 3000 gathered daily, the apostles kept doing their thing, and the believers were all united and full of joy! They truly began their Christian walk with a firm foundation because “they devoted themselves to:
* the apostles’ teaching
* the fellowship,
* the breaking of bread and
We would do well, whether young Christian or old, to remember the basics, and to live like these worthy souls. It is no surprise that “the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.” God, help us to practice New Testament Christianity in the 21st Century!
In chapter three – a man crippled from birth gets healed and gets a sermon to boot! Some of us may remember a Sunday school song about this event:
Peter and John went to pray,
They met a lame man on the way.
He asked for alms
and held out his palms
and this is what Peter did say –
Silver and gold have I not,
but such as I have I give you
In the name of Jesus Christ
of Nazareth rise up and walk.
(chorus) He went walking and leaping and praising God,
Walking and leaping and praising God.
In the name of Jesus Christ
of Nazareth rise up and walk!
If you type the first line of the song into Google Search, you can hear someone named Frank McConnel sing it…quite a fun memory verse type of song.
I know a woman whose son has been crippled from birth. She has carried him around his whole life. She and her husband have been to the hospital tens, maybe hundreds of times in their son’s 18 or so years on earth. How she would rejoice if he were suddenly able to walk, much less leap! This is such a miracle – if you picture it, it is sure to bring a tear to your eye!
Recognizing the immediate gathering as an opportunity the Holy Spirit had just provided for him to preach, Peter launched into his second sermon recorded in the book of Acts. This sermon was shorter and more to the point. It still focused on how the crowd put Jesus on the cross, and it ended on a positive note, with the call to repentance being partly motivated so that “times of refreshing” could come.
This led to Peter and John’s first arrest. Now I don’t know about you, but I think reading the opening lines of Acts 4 is almost like watching a comedy sketch.
The priests and the captain of the temple guard and the Sadducees came up to Peter and John while they were speaking to the people. They were greatly disturbed because the apostles were teaching the people and proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection of the dead. (I bet they were – they had just crucified Jesus a few days earlier! Insolence!) They seized Peter and John, and because it was evening, they put them in jail until the next day. But many who heard the message believed, and the number of men grew to about five thousand. (Don’t you know they hated THAT!)
The next day the Holy Spirit wanted the floor, and when He got it, He let loose!
“Are you arresting us for doing an act of kindness? (Burn!) By the way, salvation is found in no other name under heaven!” Oops! The Pharisees were shocked at the courage of these “unschooled and ordinary men”, and “they took note that they had been with Jesus”. If our courage convicts others, hopefully it will point them to Christ! The leaders ordered the apostles to stop preaching about the Christ, but Peter again answered with what has become a well-known line, “Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God’s sight to obey you rather than God. For we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.” Ideally this is the kind of response to the cross that we should feel – that we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.
This is one of the reasons that helping the needy is so intertwined with preaching the Good News about Jesus – people cannot deny the good works we do in the name of Jesus. In this case, everyone kept talking about the healing of the man who had been crippled since birth!
Persecution also helps to strengthen believers – the whole church gathered, prayed from Psalm 2, and asked God to make them bolder! (Some of us will think of the Sherwin Mackintosh, Steve Johnson song “Why Are All the Nations Raging?” as we read this!)
The Holy Spirit kept up His lead actor status and shook the room! Cool! Then He gave them all an extra measure, and they went out and preached boldly! People were so convicted that they began selling their possessions and leaving them at the apostles’ feet – there were no needy among them.
The sad story of Ananias and Sapphira is like a slap in the face after all the victories of the first four chapters. Apparently the couple made a pact to lie about how much they got for the land they sold – that means they were so sacrificial that they sold land, and gave a huge amount of it to the church! Why didn’t they just tell the truth? Then God would have been totally pleased with their giving! But they wanted to LOOK better then they were, by acting as if they had given everything! (Probably heard someone praised in a sermon and felt jealous…)
Lessons – (1) make sure what we are doing is for God, not man; (2) don’t lie or try to look more spiritual than you are; (3) don’t make sin pacts with your spouse!
No wonder great fear seized the church – everything was real, right in front of their eyes!
Meanwhile the apostles kept on healing. Even Peter’s shadow could heal someone! The religious leaders were fuming with anger and jealousy, and had them imprisoned but during the night, AN ANGEL LET THEM OUT OF JAIL!!! This is just too good!
The apostles went back to the temple courts and started preaching again – this is what I call boldness! Once more they were arrested, and Peter stressed that there was no way they would quit preaching in Jesus’ name! Some wanted to have them killed, but a wise man named Gamaliel put a stop to it and preached patience. The twelve were merely flogged and then went on their way rejoicing that they had been considered worthy of suffering. From there, they went house to house preaching, and set up the deacon-ship in order to serve more people, especially the Grecian widows. The word kept spreading and the numbers kept increasing – the Holy Spirit was having a field day!
What comes next is quite heart wrenching; let’s see what Dr F LaGard Smith wrote in his introduction to this section:
Throughout the centuries since the death of Jesus, thousands of Christians have died as martyrs to the cause of Christ. It is only fitting, then, that Luke should record the events surrounding the very first martyrdom, that of Stephen. This Stephen had been one of the seven chosen to resolve the problems arising with regard to distribution of assistance to the Grecian widows. He was a man known for his faith and his ability to do great wonders through the Holy Spirit. But it was his boldness and wisdom that finally prompted his adversaries to bring him before The Council on a charge of blasphemy. Stephen’s defense was a classic review of the history of God’s dealing with the Jewish people, and a reminder to The Council that leaders such as themselves have always rejected and persecuted God’s prophets and teachers.
Wow, what a hero! No wonder people are still naming their sons “Stephen”!
Even Jesus saluted him!
Let’s look back at his story in detail. First of all, after having the apostles lay hands on him (my assumption is that after that happened, he had the miraculous gifts just as we discover later that Philip the deacon did as well), Stephen performed miracles and preached with boldness and wisdom. (Funny how he was appointed as a deacon but that certainly didn’t make him want to stop sharing his faith – he did the double duty of serving the widows AND preaching the word!) Then just as they had been afraid and jealous of Jesus because of His miracles and preaching, the religious establishment had Stephen brought before the powers that be on trumped up charges very similar to the ones they had brought against the Messiah himself. It’s so amazing that when they stared hard at Stephen, Luke wrote that he had the face of an angel. Now I am not sure what that means – a scary angel that made people afraid, or a cherubic angel that comforted people? Maybe just radiating purity, power and peace?
At any rate, he decided to go out with a bang. He took the opportunity to speak (he had only been asked a YES or NO question, but you know preachers!!) and he gave the sermon of his life! Stop for a minute and read these verses aloud, as you think that Stephen may have delivered this speech in front of his accusers…
You can imagine as he got to about verse eight, the Council members would have been nodding and smiling politely; by verse 16, they would have been getting a bit impatient; by verse 34, they would have been rolling their eyes, thinking “Yeah, yeah, we know all this stuff! Get on with it!” By the time verse 39 came around, they would have been thinking, “Now wait just a minute – what do you mean, ‘our fathers’?” They must have been confused, up until the point when in verse 51, Stephen unleashed the most powerful rebuke given to them since Jesus in Matt 23!
You stiff-necked people, with uncircumcised hearts and ears! You are just like your fathers: You always resist the Holy Spirit! Was there ever a prophet your fathers did not persecute? They even killed those who predicted the coming of the Righteous One. And now YOU have betrayed and murdered him— YOU who have received the law that was put into effect through angels but have not obeyed it. (emphasis mine)
Whoa baby! Them is fighting words!!
I guess he was trying to trigger their counter-attack coping mode for their Entitlement and Defectiveness schemas! And it worked!
When they heard this, they were furious and gnashed their teeth at him.
Then, as if to add insult to injury (but not in a sinful way, obviously, since the Holy Spirit was coaching him):
Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. “Look,” he said, “I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.”
This was more than they could take. They had already been in the highest level of denial when they had Jesus crucified. They weren’t going to let anyone make them feel guilty for that!
At this they covered their ears and, yelling at the top of their voices, they all rushed at him, dragged him out of the city and began to stone him.
I believe you’ll find that in the handbook entitled, “Top Five Ways To Get Rid of Guilt”. (This was an actual article in a women’s magazine back in the ‘80s).
- 1. Stop going to church or hanging out with people who make you feel guilty.
- 2. Do the thing that’s making you feel guilty more and more and soon the guilt will go away.
- 3. Cover your ears so you can’t hear the people telling you the truth.
- 4. Gnash your teeth, yell at the top of your voice, rush at the person telling you what you don’t agree with, drag them out of the city, and stone them to death.
Ok, I lied, only the first two really appeared in the article. But the others could have! No wonder real Christians get persecuted! This is not persecution for acting like an idiot, which many of us have done at various times in our Christian lives…(As my husband says, there’s a difference in being a fool for Christ and being a plain old fool!), this is real persecution for preaching the truth about Jesus and standing up for righteousness.
I can’t help but think of the first Christian martyr in China – she was a young disciple, only a few months old, a campus student. She told her roommate that she didn’t want her to bring her boyfriend back to the dorm room to have sex anymore. She told her that sexual immorality is a sin and that she shouldn’t be doing that. When the boyfriend came to meet his lover, the roommate made him leave with her so they could talk outside. She told her boyfriend that Sister X had just become a Christian and that she didn’t want them having sex in the dorm room anymore since it was wrong. Overcome with rage, the boyfriend secretly went back to the dorm room and murdered the Christian. That is so sad. But you can just imagine Jesus standing at the right hand of the Father, saluting her faith and conviction!
Meanwhile, the witnesses laid their clothes at the feet of a young man named Saul.
We’ll read more about him later. The next part is my favourite:
While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” Then he fell on his knees and cried out, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” When he had said this, he fell asleep.
Could you get any closer to being like Jesus? What an awesome story! Tragic, but amazing! Don’t you hope when it is our time to go, which will probably not be by martyrdom but you never know, we will have even a bit of the grace and peace that Stephen had?
By the way, Christian martyrs are willing to DIE for Jesus, but never to KILL for Jesus…just thought that that is an important thing to make that distinction in today’s bizarre terrorist filled climate!
Chapter 8 begins with Saul giving approval to Stephen’s execution. I guess the Jewish leaders were bolstered by the fact that they didn’t get in trouble from the Romans for this killing, so they went all out to stop the new religion in its tracks. I am sure they thought if they could just kill off the top guys and threaten enough people, they could snuff out the fire of Christianity. How wrong they were! Their persecution backfired, and the word of God spread throughout the whole region! Amen! God really does know how to vindicate His people!
Philip, one of the deacons, began to preach in Samaria, and do signs there as well. It attracted Simon the Sorcerer, someone known for his “miracles”, who quickly realized he couldn’t hold a candle to the workings of the Holy Spirit. So many people were converted that Philip felt the need to call in the big guns to help him. Peter and John came to Samaria and, as far as my interpretation of this story goes, wanted some of the Samaritans to be able to have the miraculous gifts of the Holy Spirit so that they could carry on when the Apostles and Deacons left. Simon the Sorcerer’s selfishly ambitious side took over and he asked if he could buy the ability to give the Spirit at the laying on of his hands.
Peter gave him a right rebuke, which seems almost harsh, but there must have been a reason. Certainly we don’t to humiliate people, but sometimes when a young Christian especially, but any Christian for that matter, is straying off the path and showing a very wrong understanding, we have to speak up!
After his success in Samaria, Philip was called by God to go to a desert road (of all places). Little did he know that he was about to meet up with a high-powered God-seeker from Africa who would be reading the Bible in his chariot! That humble man, who was clearly no respecter of persons, asked Philip to help him interpret a passage from Isaiah.
Then Philip began with that very passage of Scripture and told him the good news about Jesus. As they traveled along the road, they came to some water and the eunuch said, “Look, here is water. Why shouldn't I be baptized?” And he gave orders to stop the chariot. Then both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water and Philip baptized him. When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord suddenly took Philip away, and the eunuch did not see him again, but went on his way rejoicing. Philip, however, appeared at Azotus and traveled about, preaching the gospel in all the towns until he reached Caesarea.
Besides the lessons of the Ethiopian’s eagerness, humility, and respectfulness, we can learn a few more lessons from this passage. First, we are told that Philip told him “the good news about Jesus.” We are not told what that entailed. However, when the man saw water outside his window, he initiated to get baptized. My personal opinion is that there must have been some correlation between the good news about Jesus, and baptism! Secondly, it doesn’t look as if this was a sprinkling, because they went down into the water (not to mention that baptism comes from the Greek word for immersion) and then came up out of the water. Why else would he have made the man ride home in his chariot all wet unless there was a reason? Lastly, why would the official want to get baptized during his journey? Why not wait until he was home in a comfortable place surrounded by his relatives? Because he knew that he needed to be baptized in order to be right with God! He went on his way rejoicing because his sins were forgiven!
O Lord, help me to have an open mind and heart, to not persecute people with different ideas, to love the truth, to honour you with my actions, to be willing to die for you, to preach the word wherever I go, to not have selfish ambition, to know how to give and receive a godly rebuke when necessary, and to rejoice because my sins are forgiven.
Getting back to Saul, he made his first appearance in chapter seven, when Luke noted that those who were stoning Stephen laid their clothing at his feet. (Does that mean that Saul was too young to be able to participate? Does it mean that he was too “high and mighty” to participate? Perhaps he had health problems and could not? That will be an interesting question to ask Paul in heaven, though it might not be a very sensitive one…maybe I just have a weird mind!) Saul is mentioned again at the beginning of chapter 8, when Luke recorded that Saul approved of Stephen’s death. Then, a few verses later, Luke wrote that Saul began to destroy the church, dragging off Christians, men and women, from their homes and putting them in prison! What a creep! He really had an axe to grind!
Now, in chapter nine, Luke asserted that “Saul was still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples,” who at this point, were considered members of “The Way”. As followers of Jesus, we know that it is noble to go to foreign soil to share the gospel, but Saul went to foreign lands to persecute! He was going all out to make sure that Christians went to jail!
What follows is a true miracle! While in some aspects Saul’s conversion is just like anyone’s (all conversions are miraculous in some way), at the same time, we can say that his conversion was truly unique. After all, he was to become a specially appointed apostle, and we have already seen in Acts 1 that an apostle must be a witness of the resurrection. So God gave him his own special viewing – and it was so incredible, he went blind! Once he realized it was Jesus speaking to him, he meekly obeyed everything told him, and went to Damascus as he had been directed. Humbled, he prayed and fasted for three days, still in blindness. What must have been going through his mind?
If you read the entry about Nebuchadnezzar on Narcissism, you may remember that what helped him to finally change was when he went through a crisis – in Nebuchadnezzar’s case, becoming like a wild ox, growing long nails and eating grass! Paul’s intervention came in a less severe form, but it was still a crisis! (You have to be pretty narcissistic to go around killing people just because they have different beliefs…ahem, sadly, we are still seeing this in the 21st Century!) It seemed to have the desired effect – by the time Ananias, a well-known (Jewish) Christian came to speak with him, Saul was ready to do anything. (I love the part where Ananias hears that he has to go and talk to Saul, and he’s like, “you’ve got to be kidding! This guy kills Christians!” Bet he was wishing he skipped his Quiet Time that day!) Saul received his sight when Ananias lay hands on him, was baptized, ate some food, spent several days with the disciples, and immediately began preaching.
It is one thing to have been Jesus’ disciple for three years and go and preach – it is altogether another thing to have been a known persecutor and then go and preach, powerfully, at that! You can bet that, once the Pharisees got over their initial shock, they were fuming at the loss to their cause! Luke didn’t give a time line, but he told us that after many days, the Jews conspired to kill Saul. Praise God the Christians were more creative than the persecutors were vigilant, and he was able to escape Damascus in a basket! I love it!
Because of his past reputation, Saul received a mixed reception in Jerusalem. Good ole Barnabas, the Son of Encouragement, took him in when everyone else was afraid of him. He brought Saul to the apostles and he told them about his amazing and dramatic story. He preached powerfully, and debated fearlessly, almost getting killed again! He left for Tarsus, and the church enjoyed a time of peace. Even at this time, however, the Holy Spirit was still the star of the show:
Then the church throughout Judea, Galilee and Samaria … was strengthened; and encouraged by the Holy Spirit, it grew in numbers, living in the fear of the Lord.
It seems like this was the perfect time for God to introduce the part of His mystery that no one had figured out yet – the conversion of the Gentiles! God had promised Abraham that through him (and the Jewish nation) all nations would be blessed. Why? Because God’s eternal plan was for ALL MEN to come to be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth! (1 Timothy 2:4) But first, we switch our focus from Stephen, Saul, etc., to pick up with Peter doing some pretty amazing things among the Hebrew Christians – he healed a paralyzed man and many people turned to the Lord. Next he went to Joppa and raised a dead woman back to life – just like he had seen Jesus do! Wow! This is mind blowing! I have been to my share of funerals. Imagine if someone walked into the room full of mourners, grabbed the hand of the dead person, got down on their knees and prayed, and the dead person stood up totally alive! Dorcas, also called Tabitha, had been a very serving widow who had sewn clothes for many poor people. Thanks to the power of Jesus, she would live a few more years to serve many more brothers and sisters.
The story of chapter ten and eleven is so fun… It involves several visions, and it really turned Peter’s world upside down. Firstly, we see a God-fearing and devout Gentile, Cornelius, who gave generously to the poor and prayed regularly. He had a vision about an angel telling him to bring a man to his household who could be found in the home of Simon the Tanner in Joppa. Now THAT is a specific vision!
Next, Peter had an even more bizarre vision, three visions, to be exact. This was a dream (which he had while he was hungry – ha ha) of Jesus telling him to kill and eat every kind of food and that nothing was unclean, to which Peter, in the vision, argued with Jesus (as was his custom) and said, “Surely not, Lord!” Some things never change… As Peter considered what could possibly be the meaning of that strange dream, the men Cornelius had sent came to find him, and when he heard their story, he knew that somehow this was all connected.
Peter later went with them (no doubt AFTER he had eaten), and by the time he reached Cornelius’ house, the man had his whole family gathered, ready to hear from the Lord. Once he heard about Cornelius’ vision, then it all started to make sense!
I love the way Luke recorded Peter’s first line:
I now realize how true it is that God does not show favouritism but accepts men from every nation who fear him and do what is right.
You kinda want to say, “Duh!” But if we think about it from Peter’s perspective, it was a new teaching! There are parts of Asia where people literally treat others (from different castes & ethnic groups) as if they were almost sub-humans. It is hard to believe, but when these people become Christians, getting them to accept people from these “undesirable groups” as brothers and sisters is really difficult. That helps me to understand what Peter went through!
Peter then preached one of his famous sermons about Jesus dying for the lost, and at the end, God did something that Peter would never forget – He sent the miraculous Holy Spirit onto a room full of Gentiles! That was the sign from God that there was no way they could keep these people from having salvation – so they were baptized! Unbelievable! And Peter stayed a few days to help strengthen his new brothers and sisters in Christ!
Isn’t it sad that when exciting things are going on in the kingdom, there will always be some critical oafs who have to start moaning and complaining? Peter patiently explained what had happened, in great detail, starting with his visions! He had a wonderfully logical argument:
So if God gave them the same gift as he gave us, who believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I to think that I could oppose God?
Luke told us that they couldn’t object to that, and they even praised God, saying:
So then, God has granted even the Gentiles repentance unto life.
(Nice to see they were so gracious!)
In the meantime, when the gospel was being spread because of the persecution, the church at Antioch was established and Barnabas was sent to encourage them. He took his friend, Saul, who had been in Tarsus, and together they taught the church in Antioch for a year. Most of us would remember that that is where the disciples of Jesus were first known as “Christians”.
A prophet predicted that a famine would hit the Roman world, and the Christians took up a contribution for the poor disciples in Judea. Now that is a good way to spread unity…
Unfortunately, the calm period the church had been experiencing was brought to an end by none other than Herod Agrippa I. No stranger to causing suffering, he was the grandson of the man who slaughtered babies, and the nephew of the man who had beheaded John the Baptist. The evil ruler instigated a wide spread persecution of the Christian religion, probably to build up his political base. He had James, the brother of John, put to death. We were sad to see the martyrdom of Stephen, but now one of the Twelve has met his end. And not just any of the Twelve, but one of the Three closest to Jesus – the inner circle, so to speak. How demoralizing for the remaining apostles, and even for the Christians. When Herod saw that the Jews were pleased with his actions, he had Peter imprisoned. What a jerk! And what must have been going through Peter’s mind? “Well, Lord, I guess I’ll be seeing you sooner than I had thought!”
Even in this potentially depressing time, the story here brings out Luke’s sense of humour! The physician recorded that the church was earnestly praying for Peter’s release. (Did we mention that he was being guarded by sixteen Roman soldiers?) However, when an angel miraculously broke Peter out of jail, Peter himself didn’t even believe it! (He thought he was in another one of those bizarre traces!) And when Peter showed up at the house where the disciples were praying for his release (which happened to be the home of the boy who would later write the book of Mark) and knocked on the door, the folks in the house didn’t believe it was him either! Isn’t it funny how we can pray for something but not really believe it? Can you think of a time in your Christian life when that happened? Another “duh!” moment in the life of Peter the apostle! When he figured out what had really happened, and convinced the praying disciples of the same, he told them to convey the news to James, the brother of Jesus, and then he left for another place. Don’t you love the way the Bible says things? “and then he left for another place.” I’ll say! It was definitely time to get the heck out of Dodge! (OK you have to be really old to get that one…sorry!)
The Roman guards didn’t know what was going on, and they ended up losing their lives just because King Herod had put Peter in jail on a whim. Herod finally got what was coming to him, however. The story of his death might have put a smile on the face of some of the members of the first century church, who had suffered under his cruelty. The death itself is almost ironic – such a proud man eaten by worms! I do seriously think of this story anytime God does something awesome – I think, “Karen, better give glory to God or you may get eaten by worms!” Along the same lines, when I hear someone boasting and taking the credit for him/herself, I often think, “Oh my, I hope he/she doesn’t get eaten by worms!”
For those of you with little children, my kids and I used to listen to Christian music by someone known as “The Donut Man” and he had a great song about King Herod being so proud that he was eaten by worms. Quite fun, believe it or not!
This chapter full of God’s wonders and the work of the HOLY SPIRIT ends on an encouraging note:
But the word of God continued to increase and spread. When Barnabas and Saul had finished their mission, they returned from Jerusalem, taking with them John, also called Mark.
Stay tuned for Paul’s first missionary journey…