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Peter Speaks to the Onlookers April 29, 2016

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Here are my thoughts on Acts 3:11-26.

Summary: In this passage, many astonished Jews gathered around Peter, John and the beggar whom they had just healed. Peter swiftly glorified God in light of this miracle, and he used this opportunity to preach the Gospel message to them – including the fact that Jesus of Nazareth is the Christ. He then called them to repent of their sins and anticipate the Second Coming of Christ. To spur them in this regard, he asserted that in their cherished Old Testament, God had foretold the First Coming of Christ – and stressed the necessity of obedience to Him – through many prophets, including:

Thoughts: We see that the initial presentations of the Gospel message in the early church relied on the Old Testament; this was a sensible strategy in that Peter wanted to prove to Jews that Jesus of Nazareth is the Christ. One could argue that preaching the Gospel to Jews was relatively simple, as they already accepted the truth of the God of the Old Testament and His promise of the Messiah; they only needed to be convinced that Jesus of Nazareth was the Messiah. Yet many modern-day unbelievers who lack a Jewish background reject the truth of the God of the Old Testament. While this can be discouraging for believers as we aim to carry out the Great Commission, we can draw strength from the forthcoming anecdotes in this book – where the Gospel is successfully preached to many Gentiles.

We also see that all of the Old Testament prophets eagerly anticipated the arrival of the Messiah as the One who would redeem Israel. They likely mulled over the following questions:

  • when would the Messiah be born?
  • where would the Messiah be born?
  • what would be the (earthly) name of the Messiah?
  • how would the Messiah redeem Israel?

While these prophets had to anticipate the arrival of the Messiah, modern-day believers are blessed in that we can look back to that historical moment. Yet we join these prophets in our anticipation of His (Second) Coming; thus, we ponder the following questions:

  • when will Jesus Christ return?
  • will Jesus Christ return at the Mount of Olives?
  • when Jesus Christ returns, what will I be doing?
  • when Jesus Christ returns, will He approve of me?

While we long for the answers to these questions, we must continue to trust in God – as only He knows the hour of the Second Coming.


Peter Heals the Crippled Beggar April 27, 2016

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Here are my thoughts on Acts 3:1-10.

Summary: In this passage, Peter and John went to the temple in Jerusalem for the afternoon prayer. They encountered a beggar who had been crippled since birth, and he asked them for money. Instead, God performed a miracle through Peter – healing the beggar of his infirmity. The beggar then joined Peter and John as they entered the temple courts; he praised God for what He had done for him, and the onlookers pondered this miracle.

Thoughts: In verses 7 and 8, we see that when Peter healed the beggar of his infirmity, “his feet and ankles became strong” and he began “walking and jumping.” As a sports fan, I have grown to appreciate the importance of the feet and ankles in terms of maximizing an athlete’s performance. Injuries such as plantar fasciitis, Jones fractures and Achilles tendon ruptures generally prevent athletes from competing at a high level, as they are unable to push off their feet; they must endure lengthy stretches of rest and rehabilitation. It should be noted, though, that the beggar in this passage had never been healthy; this highlights the role of Christ as the Great Physician, as He is able to instantly heal any infirmity.

The Fellowship of the Believers April 16, 2016

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Here are my thoughts on Acts 2:42-47.

Summary: In this passage, the first converts to Christianity:

  • immersed themselves in the teaching of the Twelve
  • gathered regularly – in public and in private – for fellowship
  • celebrated the Lord’s Supper
  • prayed consistently
  • lived simply
  • used their possessions to meet the needs of their brethren.

The Twelve also performed various miracles. Indeed, the first Christians lived such exemplary lives that nonbelievers admired them – and their ranks grew on a daily basis.

Thoughts: Here, we see that the first Christians used their possessions to meet the needs of their brethren. Calvin offers some insights on this point in his commentary on verse 44:

We need to beware of two extremes here. Some hide what they possess, do not give to the poor, and in a self-righteous way refuse any gifts they are offered. Others want everyone to give everything away. What does Luke say? He suggests a third way. He says that the people who gave things away did so from their own free choice…they gave so that the poor might be helped, as the need dictated.

The growing concerns regarding income inequality should motivate modern-day believers to determine what we can learn from early believers who adopted spartan lifestyles. When we assess our resources, can we distinguish luxuries from genuine necessities? How can we use the resources that God has blessed us with to meet the needs of the less fortunate? How can we maximize the impact of our generosity (e.g. minimize the risk that our resources are co-opted by kleptocrats)? This reminds me of a helpful website that my old small group leaders highlighted; it contains several challenging blog posts that consider the meaning of sacrificial giving.

Peter Addresses the Crowd April 14, 2016

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Here are my thoughts on Acts 2:14-41.

Summary: In this passage, Peter addressed the Jews from the previous passage – including those who dismissed the Twelve as drunkards. In particular, he used the following Old Testament passages to prove their sobriety:

  • Joel 2:28-32, where God asserts that He will pour out the Holy Spirit on all people after the coming of the Messiah
  • Psalm 16:8-11, where God asserts that He will raise the Messiah from the dead
  • Psalm 110:1, where God asserts that the Messiah will be seated at His right hand in heaven.

Peter then asserted that Jesus of Nazareth fulfilled all of these prophecies; he also stated that the other members of the Twelve concurred with him in this regard. Therefore, Jesus of Nazareth is the Messiah. Many of the Jews were mortified by Peter’s assertions and were befuddled as to how to respond to them; he stated that they needed to:

  • repent of their sins
  • accept the forgiveness of Jesus Christ
  • be baptized as an outward sign of this fact.

About three thousand Jews responded appropriately that day, and they received the Holy Spirit.

Thoughts: In this passage, Peter makes several salient points:

  • the Old Testament states that the Messiah will die
  • the Old Testament states that God will raise the Messiah from the dead
  • the Old Testament states that the resurrected Messiah will sit at the right hand of God in heaven
  • the historical person, Jesus of Nazareth, fulfills all of these prophecies
  • therefore, Jesus of Nazareth is the Messiah.

These points are essential components of the Christian worldview; thus, believers – and nonbelievers – should ponder them in their hearts. For example, we should consider the true meaning of the name “Jesus Christ”. Also, we should consider the fact that Peter’s salient points are interdependent; if any of them were to be falsified, then all of them would be called into question. This reminds me that I should read The Resurrection of the Son of God at some point.

In this passage, it appears that Peter serves as the spokesman for the Twelve. Now since his audience on the day of Pentecost consisted of Jews from sundry parts of the Roman and Parthian empires who spoke different languages, how did he communicate with them? Did the other members of the Twelve act as interpreters for those Jews who could not understand him – and if so, was the audience divided into linguistically homogeneous groups? What language did he use to convey these important truths to his audience?

In verses 37 and 40, we see that some of the Jews in this passage “were cut to the heart” by Peter’s message, while “he pleaded with” other skeptical Jews. Calvin offers some insights on this point in his commentary on verse 40:

It was not easy for the Jews to leave their erroneous ways and break away from the priests whose rule they were accustomed to. So it was up to Peter to haul them out of this mire. They could not belong to Christ unless they parted company with his professed enemies. The priests and the scribes were very powerful, and under the guise of leading the church they deceived the simple.

I certainly hope to meet at least some of the Jews in this passage in the next life and learn how they initially responded to Peter’s message. Had they heard about the historical person, Jesus of Nazareth, before the day of Pentecost? If so, did Peter’s message furnish them with a new perspective on Jesus? Did they view themselves as being complicit in the execution of Jesus? Were they convinced by Peter’s arguments that Jesus had been raised from the dead?

The Holy Spirit Comes at Pentecost April 11, 2016

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Here are my thoughts on Acts 2:1-13.

Summary: In this passage, the Twelve were in one place on the day of Pentecost. At that time, they received the Holy Spirit; His arrival was signified by wind and fire. They began to proclaim the Gospel message to a plethora of Jews from sundry parts of the Roman and Parthian empires who had gathered in Jerusalem for Pentecost; moreover, they used these Jews’ native tongues to this end. These Jews were bewildered, as they knew that the Twelve were actually Galileans. Some of them belittled the Twelve as drunkards, though.

Thoughts: In verses 1 and 2, we see that the Twelve were seated together in a house on the day of Pentecost (I assume that before they received the Holy Spirit, they persisted in their prayers for His arrival). Now I am curious as to the location of this house – especially since it is the birthplace of Christianity. I had always assumed that the Twelve had received the Holy Spirit while they were in the temple in Jerusalem, so perhaps I need to re-evaluate this assumption in light of these verses. Did God direct the Twelve to go to this house – or did He provide them some latitude in this regard?

In this passage, we see that when the Twelve were filled with the Holy Spirit, they began to speak in different languages. Calvin offers some insights on this point in his commentary on verse 11:

Luke records two things that filled the hearers with wonder. First, the apostles had been uneducated men who came from nowhere of any importance. Yet they spoke profoundly about the things of God and the wisdom of heaven. Second, they had suddenly been given new languages…The majesty of the subject matter ought to have spurred them on to think about the miracle.

I had never pondered the content of the apostles’ speech on this momentous occasion, but Calvin’s insights caused me to dwell on this point. One could make the following argument:

  • if the apostles had merely used their new gift of speaking in tongues to discuss relatively mundane topics such as the weather, food, and their daily routines, the Jews would have been briefly impressed – before returning to their own affairs
  • since the apostles used their new gift to discuss the Gospel message, the Jews could not easily dismiss their speech; since their audience consisted of “God-fearing Jews” who had a solid understanding of the Old Testament, they were able to connect with them on a deeper level.

One must wonder if an analogous miracle could occur today; if so, how would modern listeners respond to it?

Matthias Chosen to Replace Judas April 5, 2016

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Here are my thoughts on Acts 1:12-26.

Summary: In this passage, the eleven apostles returned to Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives, and they joined other believers in fervent prayer. Peter then declared that:

  • the betrayal of Jesus by Judas occurred in order to fulfill a prediction in Psalm 69:25
  • Judas must be replaced by another apostle in order to fulfill a prediction in Psalm 109:8.

In particular, the believers needed to select an apostle who could attest to the earthly ministry of Jesus – including His resurrection. They then called upon the Lord for His guidance in this matter – by casting lots between two men: Joseph and Matthias. God selected Matthias as the replacement for Judas.

Thoughts: In verse 14, we see that the believers in Jerusalem devoted themselves to prayer. Calvin offers some insights on this point:

From this we learn that true faith is faith that stirs us up to pray to God. The assurance that faith gives is quite different from laziness. God does not assure us that we have his grace so that we may at once become careless, but so that he may give us a keener desire to pray. Prayer is not a sign of doubting but is a witness to our certain hope and confidence, since we ask the Lord for things that we know he has promised.

The prayers of these believers are inspiring; they likely desired the arrival of the Holy Spirit – since Christ had now departed from their midst. While my prayer life has improved over the last few years, I definitely have a lot of room for improvement in this regard. In particular, I need to pray with more confidence that God would help me to comprehend His ways – especially when my other prayer requests are not answered according to my timing. I should note that I often present prayer requests that should be pleasing in His sight (e.g. world peace), yet I often grow discouraged when these requests are not answered, causing me to question Him and His ways. Thus, I need to pray that He would help me to grow in my understanding of His ways and continue to place my trust in Him.

In verses 23-26, we see that the believers in Jerusalem – based on God’s direction – selected Matthias as the twelfth apostle. Calvin offers some insights on this point in his commentary on verse 26:

We may infer that Matthias was not rated as highly as Joseph. Not only does Luke name Joseph first, but his two surnames show that he was held in great respect. He was called Barsabbas, which means “the son of an oath or of rest,” as if he were a mirror of faithfulness and innocence or of a quiet and unassuming nature. His other name, Justus, implied outstanding honesty. But God chose Matthias.

How did the believers in Jerusalem select Joseph and Matthias as the two candidates to replace Judas? Were there male disciples outside of the Twelve who were particularly close to Jesus during His earthly ministry? How did Joseph and Matthias distinguish themselves during Jesus’ earthly ministry? Was Joseph actually rated more highly than Matthias by the believers in Jerusalem? How did Joseph respond when God selected Matthias? Where did Matthias preach the Gospel message, and what fruit did he bear in the process? I am eager to meet Joseph and Matthias in the next life and learn about their earthly lives.

Jesus Taken Up Into Heaven April 4, 2016

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I’ve recently started reading through the Acts of the Apostles with the aid of a commentary by John Calvin. I should note that I’ve previously read through Acts. As in my recent stroll through the book of Revelation, I hope to comprehend Acts as a whole. I also hope to be inspired to engage in the mission of the New Testament church: preach the Gospel to all nations.

I plan to blog about this experience as I read through both this book and Calvin’s commentary. Each post will correspond to a specific section in the NIV translation.

For starters, here are my thoughts on Acts 1:1-11.

Summary: In this passage, Luke begins with a concise description of his previous book. He then mentions some of the events that occurred after the resurrection of Jesus; in particular, Jesus reinforced His prior teachings to His apostles. Although they still viewed Him as their political Messiah, He asserted that He was their spiritual Messiah. In light of this great truth, He commissioned them – through the power of the Holy Spirit – to proclaim His true Person and deeds throughout the world. After this, He ascended to heaven; two angels then promised them that He would return someday.

Thoughts: As I am a history buff, I have always enjoyed reading through Acts. In particular, this book features a plethora of fascinating personalities who play critical roles in the growth of the New Testament church – in spite of fierce opposition and internal struggles. For this stroll, though, I hope to gain a greater appreciation for the work of the Holy Spirit throughout this book – especially as the same Holy Spirit works in all believers today. While God does not guarantee that we will bear the same fruit that the apostles bore in the early church, I pray that I would be inspired to match them in terms of their faithfulness. I am certainly curious as to how God will lead me in that regard during this stroll.

In verse 6, we see that the apostles still viewed Jesus as their political Messiah. Calvin offers some intriguing thoughts on this point:

Their stupidity is incredible. They had been carefully taught for three whole years, yet were as ignorant as if they had never heard a thing!

My opinion is that Calvin’s thoughts are a bit harsh. In particular, I believe that if I had been in the apostles’ position, I would have also failed to grasp the meaning of Jesus’ teaching regarding His identity as their spiritual Messiah. The disciples had been taught – from a young age – that the Old Testament predicted the arrival of a political Messiah; thus, it would have been difficult for three years of intense instruction from Jesus to overcome the biases that they had developed at a young age. While hindsight is always 20/20, in this passage it is evident that the apostles were still struggling to comprehend the wondrous sequence of events that began with Jesus’ death on the cross. It would take another miracle – Pentecost – for them to truly comprehend His teachings.