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The Choosing of the Seven May 21, 2016

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Here are my thoughts on Acts 6:1-7.

Summary: In this passage, a conflict arose in the church between Grecian and Hebraic believers regarding the distribution of food to widows. To resolve this issue, the apostles:

  • directed the church to appoint seven deacons to oversee food distribution
  • commissioned the appointed deacons.

The apostles then continued preaching the Gospel message – with great success.

Thoughts: I hope to meet the first deacons – Stephen, Philip, Procorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas and Nicolas – in the next life and learn more about them. How did they join the early church? Why did the early church appoint them as the first deacons? Did they experience any difficulties as they resolved the conflict between the Grecian and Hebraic believers? What were their responsibilities besides overseeing the distribution of food to widows? Did they have time to preach the Gospel message? How long did they serve as deacons, and did they appoint their successors?

The Apostles Persecuted May 20, 2016

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Here are my thoughts on Acts 5:17-42.

Summary: In this passage, the members of the Jewish aristocracy arrested the apostles. Yet God sent an angel to release them, and they went to the temple courts to continue preaching the Gospel message. This flummoxed the members of the Jewish aristocracy – yet they had to put a stop to the apostles’ preaching. They admonished the apostles for ignoring their orders – yet the apostles retorted by:

  • appealing to the authority of God Himself
  • asserting the divinity of Jesus of Nazareth
  • holding them responsible for His death.

This enraged the Sanhedrin, and they wanted to kill the apostles. Yet one member of the Sanhedrin, Gamaliel, mollified their rage by recounting the recent demise of two Jewish patriots – Theudas and Judas the Galilean. At that point, it could be argued that Jesus of Nazareth had also failed in His mission; thus, Gamaliel advocated allowing His movement to run its course. The apostles’ lives were spared; they continued to preach the Gospel message, defying the Sanhedrin in the process.

Thoughts: Here, we see that the members of the Jewish aristocracy repeatedly ignored the words of Christ in John 3:30, as they:

  • responded to the apostles’ acts of healing by imprisoning them – instead of praising God
  • insisted on preventing the apostles from preaching the Gospel message – instead of praising God after He miraculously freed them from prison
  • flogged the apostles and commanded them to stop preaching the Gospel message – instead of hewing to the advice of Gamaliel.

It should be noted that the Sanhedrin enjoyed a privileged position in the Jewish community; thus, they would have reacted angrily to any perceived threats to their status. In particular, they relied on the support of the Jewish community to maintain their comfortable lifestyles; if a significant fraction of that community declared its ultimate allegiance to Jesus of Nazareth, then they would be deprived of their creature comforts. They also viewed the suggestion that they had committed murder as repugnant – as they claimed to be genuine followers of God.

In verses 22 and 23, we see the report that the officers gave to the Sanhedrin after they went to the public jail. Since the jail was locked and the guards were at their posts, did the cells lack windows and bars? If so, then the guards would have needed to open a cell door to check on its inhabitant. Did the guards see the angel of the Lord, and if so, were they overwhelmed with fear? Did the Sanhedrin punish the guards after this incident? Did the guards eventually hear the Gospel message and accept it?

In verses 35-39, we see that Gamaliel used an eloquent speech to help spare the lives of the apostles. Calvin offers some intriguing thoughts on this point:

Both the things Gamaliel said are undoubtedly true…But it is wrong to deduce that we should do nothing in the meantime. Rather, we should see what God is commanding us, because obviously he wants us to hold crime in check…So it is wrong to conclude that we are to do nothing just because God is powerful enough to remove all evils.

When I read this passage, I deeply respected Gamaliel, as only he – among the entire Sanhedrin – reacted calmly to the words of the apostles. Indeed, his actions were exemplary – in comparison to their demands for the apostles’ heads. Yet I can also see the merit of Calvin’s position: if Gamaliel had exhorted the entire Sanhedrin to fast and pray in response to the apostles’ miraculous escape from prison, perhaps they would have eventually supported the apostles’ efforts. In any event, modern-day believers should actively seek God’s will – including asking Him how they should aid His work.

The Apostles Heal Many May 15, 2016

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Here are my thoughts on Acts 5:12-16.

Summary: In this passage, the apostles continued to perform miracles, such as:

  • Peter healing the sick by merely allowing his shadow to fall on them
  • driving out tormenting, evil spirits.

Also, the church continued meeting at the temple in Jerusalem, and it grew rapidly.

Thoughts: When I first read this passage, I was baffled by an apparent contradiction between verses 13 and 14: were people actually accepting the Gospel message? Calvin offers some insights on this point in his commentary on verse 13:

A second consequence of the miracles was that unbelievers were so convinced about God’s amazing power that they did not dare to ignore the apostles. Quite the reverse: they were forced to honor the church…Anyone who does not reach the point of willingly embracing God’s grace, which is so evident in the miracles, is held back through a guilty conscience.

Calvin’s insights spurred me to consider this question: do unbelievers affirm the reality of miracles? At least some would argue that since all phenomena can be explained by science, miracles are figments of our imagination. Others may affirm the reality of miracles while ascribing them to some entity other than God Himself. Now Christians affirm the reality of miracles – yet we, to varying degrees, battle our inner doubts along these lines. We definitely need strength from God Himself to remain open to the possibility of miracles in this day and age. Perhaps this video will offer some encouragement for us in this regard.

Ananias and Sapphira May 12, 2016

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Here are my thoughts on Acts 5:1-11.

Summary: In this passage, Ananias and Sapphira sold a piece of property – yet they did not bring the full proceeds of that sale to the apostles; instead, they kept part of it for themselves. Peter then confronted them regarding their act of deception; he asserted that they had actually sinned against God. God struck them down, and the news of this dramatic act caused many to be stricken with fear.

Thoughts: This passage furnishes another example of the apostles living by the principle in John 3:30: “He must increase; I must decrease.” Here, we see that Peter perceived the actions of Ananias and Sapphira as sins against God Himself. As far as we know, Peter was not resentful about Ananias and Sapphira’s attempt to deceive him; he simply responded to their actions by serving as God’s mouthpiece. My prayer is that as time passes, I will also adhere more closely to the principle in John 3:30 – and identify more closely with God.

While this is probably a minor point in the passage…I hope to meet the “young men” in the next life. Did they belong to the early church? If so, how did they come to accept the veracity of the Gospel message? Were they stricken with fear when they saw the bodies of Ananias and Sapphira? If so, how did they muster the strength to bury them? Did their respect for Peter – and the other apostles – grow after God performed this dramatic act?

The Believers Share Their Possessions May 8, 2016

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Here are my thoughts on Acts 4:32-37.

Summary: In this passage, wealthy believers used their possessions to meet the daily needs of their destitute brethren. In particular, believers such as Joseph liquidated assets such as land or houses and allowed the apostles to distribute the proceeds to penurious believers. The apostles continued to share the Gospel message.

Thoughts: This passage highlights the concern that wealthy believers in the early church displayed for their destitute brethren. It also challenges the modern church: for those of us with disposable income, how can we help our brothers and sisters with genuine needs (e.g. believers in Pakistan)? This caused me to perform an inventory of my assets, including:

  • my car
  • my television
  • my computer.

At this point I do not sense that God is calling me to sell these assets and distribute the proceeds to penurious believers. I do sense, though, that God is calling me to resist the temptation to become attached to these assets. My prayer is that God would help me to:

  • grow in my concern for my destitute brothers and sisters in Christ
  • continue to perform concrete actions that help meet their daily needs.

The Believers’ Prayer May 6, 2016

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Here are my thoughts on Acts 4:23-31.

Summary: In this passage, Peter and John rejoined their fellow believers and recounted their meeting with the Sanhedrin. This spurred the believers to pray to God, where they:

  • declared that people have always opposed Him and the Messiah – as evidenced by Psalm 2:1-2 and recent events concerning Jesus
  • appealed to His sovereignty in light of this opposition
  • asked Him for the strength to preach the Gospel message – and perform miracles to authenticate it.

God responded to their prayer in a mighty way; thus, they were able to boldly proclaim the Gospel message.

Thoughts: It is amazing that the believers in the early church were willing to boldly proclaim the Gospel message and bring glory to God – even in the face of threats from the Jewish aristocracy. My conjecture is that they knew that they had to decrease in order for God to increase. Thus, they viewed the threats of the Jewish aristocracy as verbal assaults on God Himself – as opposed to assaults on their standing in their community. As modern-day believers, we should also strive to magnify God in our lives – while avoiding the temptation to protect our reputation at all costs. If others insult us for adhering to “blind faith,” we should remember that Jesus had many opponents while He conducted His earthly ministry; why should we shun the insults that our Master endured?

Peter and John Before the Sanhedrin May 3, 2016

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Here are my thoughts on Acts 4:1-22.

Summary: In this passage, the Jewish aristocracy arrested Peter and John – since they continued to proclaim the Gospel message to the Jewish proletariat. The Sanhedrin gathered in Jerusalem and questioned Peter and John regarding the miracle that they had just performed. Peter responded by:

  • giving glory to God
  • citing the healing power of His Son – Jesus Christ of Nazareth
  • quoting from Psalm 118:22 to spur them to repentance – as they had crucified the Son of God.

The Sanhedrin was caught in a bind, as the news of this miracle had spread throughout Jerusalem – yet they did not want to legitimize the Gospel message. They ordered Peter and John to refrain from preaching the Gospel message – yet the apostles continued to obey God and acknowledge His sovereignty in this matter. Moreover, many Jews gave glory to God for this miracle and received the Holy Spirit.

Thoughts: In verse 11, we see that Peter quotes from Psalm 118:22 to illustrate the supremacy of Jesus Christ of Nazareth – even though He was rejected by the Jewish aristocracy. This reminds me that Peter quotes from the same passage in his first epistle – highlighting the fact that after he received the Holy Spirit, he yielded his entire life to the supremacy of Christ. Formerly, Peter was driven by worldly desires, including political grandeur and competition with the other apostles – yet the Holy Spirit drove away those desires and replaced them with subservience. I do pray that the Holy Spirit would continue to effect a similar change in my life.

In verses 19 and 20, we see Peter and John declaring their ultimate allegiance to God Himself – not to the Jewish aristocracy. This reminds me of the oft-persecuted Shouwang Church in Beijing. I remember that during one Sunday service, one of the former pastors at my old church made a Skype call to one of the Shouwang Church members. The Shouwang Church member was at home; he noted that the police were watching him and preventing him – and other church members – from attending Sunday services. He also noted that the government had repeatedly blocked the church’s attempts to purchase a building that could serve as their worship center. The Shouwang Church member appeared to be in good spirits, though, and he repeatedly gave glory to God. Indeed, it is amazing that believers who are subject to state-sponsored persecution continue to disobey their political leaders in order to worship God; I pray that their actions would encourage other believers in First World countries.