Acts 17 Live Class Audio

Acts 17 is a beautiful and triumphant chapter, showing obedience to the commandment Jesus gave His disciples after His resurrection when He said, “But you shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you. And you shall be witnesses unto me …unto the uttermost parts of the earth.” (Acts 1:8)

Paul preaching in Athens

Paul preaching in Athens

In our live class on Acts 17, we saw the Apostle Paul as he witnessed both to the Jews and especially to the Greeks of Athens. The audio recording of our Acts 17 live class can be heard here.

We talking about how this chapter shows so much of the character and heart of the Apostle Paul. In the second half of Acts 17, at one point he is witnessing to fully pagan Greeks. Did he tell them they were all worshiping devils and that they’d all burn in hell? No, he didn’t. His purpose was to win souls.

But at the beginning of the chapter, when he was witnessing to the Jews, it says in Acts 17:2 & 3 “And Paul, as his manner was, went in unto them, and three Sabbath days reasoned with them out of the scriptures, opening and alleging, that Christ must needs have suffered, and risen again from the dead; and that this Jesus, whom I preach unto you, is Christ.”

We talked about how Paul must have used Isaiah 53, the chapter that so clearer foretells the suffering of the Messiah to come. It’s one of the most astounding prophecy chapters in the Bible and the one that perhaps encapsulates the life of Jesus, more than any other chapter in the Old Testament.

But, just as happened to Paul in Acts 13, the Jews, “moved with envy” (Acts 17:5), gathered a mob and accused Paul and his friends of “turning the world upside down”, “doing contrary to decrees of Caesar”. (Acts 17:6 & 7)

If they’d come with religious accusations to the authorities, they wouldn’t have listened to them. So they had to try to make it something political. But actually it was religious envy at the core of it all. “The time will come that whoever kills you will think they do God service.” (John 16:2)

In Athens, Paul passes by the altar “To the unknown god”

In Athens, Paul passes by the altar “To the unknown god”

So this pattern we see here in this chapter is something that had happened before and would happen later in Acts. And it has been repeated in history for centuries when radical discipleship Christians stand up for the Lord and refuse to be cowered by the jealousies and power of the older church which no longer was moving with the white hot fires of the Spirit of God.

We went over that in our class how many denominations have come out of once “on fire” groups of believers. The Church of England came out of the Catholic Church back in the 1500’s. John Wesley led the Methodist Revival movement which eventually came out of the Church of England. And England was swept with Christian fervor and revival at the same time as nearby France was suffering the terrors of the French Revolution. Then later, after Methodism began to cool, William Booth led the Salvation Army out of the Methodist 150 years ago.

And of course we paused at Acts 17:11, which says, “These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the Word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so”. That verse is often remembered and quoted, about the Bereans who didn’t just listen to Paul but went back home and checked with Scripture on whether what he’d been telling them was the truth. Just one verse, but it’s famous for being how all of us should be in digging into the Scriptures personally to be certain of the truth ourselves.

Paul witnessing in AthensAnd then we have the beautiful, deep witness that Paul gave to the Athenians on Mars Hill, as he told them about “the unknown god”, the Creator. If ever there is a witness to us Christians of someone’s love for the lost, even the intellectual lost, this is it. No condemnation, no ranting and talk of the devil, just expounding and explaining to them about something most of them had maybe never heard of, the God of creation.

It’s a beautiful and significant chapter, not just as history but an example to us all of how, as Solomon said, “a true witness delivereth souls”. (Proverbs 14:25) God help us all to be more like that. The live audio of our Acts 17 class can be heard here. I hope you’ll be able to listen to it and that it will be a blessing to you.

 

Acts 16 live class audio

Paul Acts 16In Acts 16, Paul was back out “on the road”, obeying what the Lord had told him would be his future and destiny, “to bear my [Jesus’] name before the Gentiles” (Acts 9:15). (You can listen to our live class on Acts 16 here.)

Paul and his companions, first Barnabus and then later Silas, had already experienced severe, violent persecution in our earlier chapters. But in Acts 16, at one point they seemed to have a new dilemma: struggling to find the direction God was leading.

They were back in the area they’d been in before, what is today modern Turkey, and they were visiting regions they had been in before. But then it says, “They were forbidden of the Holy Ghost to preach the word in Asia.” (Acts 16:6) OK, they might have said, “Let’s just head off this direction”. But then it says, “They attempted to go into Bithynia. But the Spirit did not allow them.” (Acts 16:7)

I don’t know about you but I think at this point they might have gotten confused or perhaps even angry or discouraged. “Jesus, we’re out here in virtual “enemy territory” and then everywhere we turn, your Holy Spirit keeps telling us no! What’s up, Jesus?

Probably they didn’t exactly say that or react that way but maybe it was a temptation. But it all turns out to be an incredible lesson on following the leading of God and God’s direct revelations. It says next, “And a vision appeared to Paul in the night. A certain man of Macedonia stood, begging him, saying, Come over into Macedonia and help us!” (Acts 16:10)come to Macedonia

That was it! That was why they weren’t supposed to go to those other places! So immediately they got going that new direction, on toward Macedonia and the beginning of Christianity on the continent of Europe.

God wanted them to go to the major cities and centers, rather than getting off somewhere in the boonies, which is what Bithynia, along the coast of the Black Sea, was in those days. He wanted them to win leaders and people He could raise up to reach their own people in their area. And that’s what happened.

The rest of the chapter is a classic example of the Lord opening doors for Paul and his friends as they “pioneer” a new city, Philippi. The Lord raised up new friends and converts who became disciples as well as hosts and helpers there for the disciples.

And it’s an example for modern missionaries of how you can find people at different levels of belief.Paul by the river It turns out that Paul and Silas met up with some women who came together by a riverside to worship. It says one woman in particular was touched by their witness, Lydia. This woman believed in God, but Paul and his friends were able to share with her the whole council of God. It’s a similar situation to the ones later in Acts 19:2, they knew the baptism of John but that’s all they knew and had heard about. In our Christian witnessing, quite often we find ones who know some about God, they believe some. But then the Lord brings you along so you can share with them truths from the Word and from the life of faith that they’ve never before seen or heard about.

And it seems that in nearly every chapter Paul and his companions are suffering one kind or another of physical persecution. Later in Acts 16, after casting out the spirit of divination from a young woman, her handlers were furious because their source of income had been ruined. So they caused a riot that made it so that Paul and Silas ended up in prison or jail again.

Paul and jailorAnd a famous salvation verse is found in this chapter. Paul’s jailor came to him after an earthquake in the night had opened the prison doors, and the jailer asked Paul, “Sir, what must I do to be saved?” (Acts 16:30)

So Paul said, “Well first you have to get circumcised and keep the laws of Moses. You have to be accepted into a local synagogue and complete 50 years of training in the Talmud.”

Do you think Paul said that? Maybe he gave him a long lecture on his sins and a list of do’s and don’ts to keep? Nope. Here’s what Paul said to the man, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you shall be saved, and your house.” (Acts 16:30)

Mark! It’s all too easy! Come on, anybody can do that! The bar is too low, Mark!

I didn’t write this, I just read it and believe it. And actually, maybe that’s the whole point. The bar is low, it is easy and anybody can do that.

But sadly so many don’t. Their pride, their intellect, their own understanding, their upbringing, their background and a 1000 other things keep people from simply doing what Paul said to that man right then: Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you shall be saved.

So it’s another wonderful chapter and we had a really inspiring class as we discussed these and other aspects of all this. I hope, if you get a chance, you can listen to the live class audio on Acts 16 which can be heard here. God bless you and yours as you witness and win souls for Him, like the ones of the Early Church did.

Acts 15 Live Class Audio

Acts 15 pictureAfter two chapters of real “action” in Acts, our chapter 15 study showed us another aspect of the Early Church, but such an important one. (You can listen to our live class on Acts 15 here.)

Acts 15 seemed a little bit to be a repeat of what happened back in Acts 11. If you read that chapter and read or listened to our live class on Acts 11, you’ll remember that the Apostle Peter basically kind of got in trouble with the brethren back in Jerusalem after he had obeyed the leading of the Holy Spirit in chapter 10 to go and witness to the large group of Roman gentiles who’d been gathered together to hear him.

What will they say-flattened

From Acts 10 and 11

As Peter spoke to the friends and family of Cornelius the centurion, “the Holy Ghost fell on all them which heard the word” (Acts 10:44) and they had a similar experience to what the first Christians had on the day of Pentecost in Acts 2. But this didn’t go over well with the brethren back in Jerusalem who at that time were still more than a little conflicted about their own identity and how much they were still required to keep their Jewish traditions and customs.

I hate to say it. And some might censor me for it. But it almost seems like Peter’s following of the Holy Spirit in Acts 10 led to a case of “Old Bottle-ism” with the brethren in Jerusalem, somewhat like what I wrote about in the blog post “New Wine and Old Bottles”. God at times can be a radical God. Following Him can “break your bottle” and shake your foundations, if they are rooted in traditions of man, rather that really being founded on the Rock.

This seemed to have all gotten worked out in Acts 11. But in Acts 15 it all comes up again. This time, instead of the question being, “Do the Jewish followers of Jesus have to stay away from the Gentiles?”, the question is, “If they are to be saved and be Christians, do the Gentiles who come to Jesus have to convert to Judaism?

Here’s where you could think, “Who cares?! This is all just ancient history stuff and theological arguments!”

Ah, but some of you, perhaps many, know how much this whole question is still right on the front burner of millions of Christians’ hearts and minds, 2000 YEARS LATER! That’s why, in our live class, we had a major discussion about the significance of this chapter and what was disputed and discussed within the Early Church. Because, to this day, these things are disputed and millions of fundamentalist evangelical Christians are taught that their diligent observance of Jewish laws and customs will be pleasing to God.

Is it all really by grace? Don’t we have to keep the laws of Moses also? This is not ancient history; this is an acrimonious discussion that goes on daily among Christians in our times. But the answer is still the same as it was in Acts 15. Here to me are the two most important verses in Acts 15, where again the Apostle Peter is having the last word and laying down for the Early Church the facts and reality of what they had learned in Christ, regardless of how well it was received by their Jewish countrymen.

In Acts 15, verses 10 and 11 Peter said,

Peter Acts 15“Now therefore, why do you tempt God to put a yoke upon the neck of the disciples which neither we nor our fathers were able to bear. But we believe that through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, we shall be saved, even as they.”

Can it be clearer than that? Do we need to find a more trustworthy source than the Apostle Peter? This should be the end of it. Here in Acts, it was the end of it, at least for a few chapters. But it’s back; and it goes on still to this day.

Well, I could share the whole chapter here in this post but maybe that’s not necessary. The live class on Acts 15 can be heard here. You can listen to it there or download it so you can listen to it later or share it with others. Acts 15 is one of my favorite chapters in Acts. I love it when you can see brethren “earnestly contending for the faith” (Jude 3) and hearts united in really trying to “search the Scriptures” (John 5:39) and find the truth in them. I hope you enjoy the class and that you’ll find in it the things we did when we studied this chapter. God bless you.

 

 

Acts 14 live class audio

Paul walkingOne way to look at Acts 14 is to just quote what Paul told his follower Timothy towards the end of Paul’s life: “All that will live Godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution.” (II Timothy 3:12) Our weekly live class was on Acts chapter 14  [You can hear the live class audio here] and this was the chapter where Paul and Barnabas suffered their first and some of their worst persecution.

In our class we again noted and discussed the different ways Paul witnessed to the Jews and then to the Greeks. His whole approach and conversation with the Greeks was completely different from the way he spoke to the Jews. For one, when speaking to the Greeks, he didn’t start out by blasting them that they were all worshiping devils and that they were going to hell. He was a good deal wiser and more loving, doing all he could to win them to the Lord and to share the Gospel with them in such a way that they could relate to it from their background and nationality.

Paul really loved people and was earnest in his desire to bring men to Christ, not to tell them how bad they were and how righteous he and his fellows were. And that’s a good lesson for all Christians today when we’re faced with those from another race, religion, ethnicity or nation.

Paul preachingIn fact, if you want to read a sweet, loving, heartfelt speech given to present to the complete heathen an introduction to who the “Father of Spirits” (Hebrews 12:9) is, the “Father of lights” (Hebrews 12:9) , you can read this passage here in Acts 14.Paul told them,

“We are merely human beings the same as you and we’re telling you the good news so you’ll turn from these worthless things [worshiping idols] to the living God, Who made heaven and earth, the sea, and everything in them. In past generations He allowed all the nations to go their own ways, but He has not abandoned His witness: He continues to do good, to give you rain from heaven, to give you fruitful seasons, filling your hearts with food and gladness.” (Acts 14: 15-17)

But also this chapter was one of the worst and most direct examples of extreme persecution that Paul every experienced. Did he cut and run? Did he apologize and shilly-shally? Did he become an apostate and go back to Jerusalem to rejoin his Pharisee friends? You know he didn’t. He was literally left for dead on the side of the road in Acts 14.Paul stoned But he got up, went back into the same city his persecutors had come from and again preached the gospel. How could he?! Was he crazy? You or I would never do anything like that, would we? Christians are not like that now, are they?

God can surprise you. There are Bible prophecies saying that the people of the Last Days “shall be strong and do exploits“. (Daniel 11:32) “And they that understand among the people shall instruct many.” (Daniel 11:33) “And they that be wise shall turn many to righteousness”, (Daniel 12:3) all spoken of concerning the times yet to come.

“Oh that couldn’t be me! I’m not like that. Those days were different! People are not like that now!”

Well, the Bible says, “Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, today and forever.” (Hebrews 13:8) I personally believe that someone, maybe it won’t be you, maybe it won’t be me, but someone is going to do “greater works” (John 14:12); Jesus said so.

The church of the future to come is not going to be full of cowards, quitters and defeated souls. Someones are going to stand up in the days to come as some of the strongest Christians to have ever lived, as a witness to the nations and peoples of the Last Days, just as Paul did here in Acts 14 at the beginning of Christian times and the Early Church 2000 years ago.endtime witness-flattened

We also talked about the two manifestations of the Devil, the serpent and the dragon. Most of the time, sadly, the serpent can get many people with his words. That’s all that’s needed for some people who can be led away from God and the truth through the words of the serpent. But if, at length, that doesn’t work, then along comes the dragon with violent, physical persecution and attacks like Paul suffered in Acts 14

And we talked about how this pattern of witnessing, winning souls, and ordaining elders or pastors in small fledgling churches was the model on which future missionaries patterned their work for the next hundreds of years, including St. Patrick when he evangelized the Irish, Columba when he evangelized the Scots and Boniface when the gospel was preached to the nation we now call Germany, around 700 AD.

So I hope if you get a chance, you can listen to the 30+ minute audio of our class on Acts 14. In some ways, it’s all there. True disciples of Jesus were going into all the world to win souls. They received persecution for their efforts. But through them Christianity was born in the hearts of those they witnessed to. And it took root and grew in the centuries to come to be some of the best bodies of believers there has ever been. A sample to us all, God help us.

Acts Chapter 13 live class audio

Acts 13 marks a new beginning in the book of Acts. From here forward, the narrative is primarily about the Apostle Paul, his three missionary journeys, his subsequent arrest in Jerusalem and his trials in courts after that. [You can hear an edited version of our Acts 13 class here.]

Believe it or not, I read a few days ago a Christian web site that questioned whether Paul was really an apostle of God or not. Can you believe that?! Primarily they didn’t like how Paul moved the early church so much towards the gospel of grace, rather than the Mosaic Law, and that the church was less observant of Jewish rituals and traditions as a result of Paul’s teaching and influence. Can you imagine Christians in this day and age thinking, believing and teaching that? Sadly, it’s not highly unusual here.

On their way to Cyprus

On their way to Cyprus

But the book of Acts only gets better, once we enter this stage of where Paul and his companions begin to go even further “into all the world” (Mark 16:15). The chapter starts out at a good place: hearing from God. Verse 2 says “As they ministered to the Lord, and fasted, the Holy Ghost said, ‘Separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them.’” (Acts 13:2) One of the first things you can see is how the early church was set up, with prophets, fasting, counseling together and really being led of the Lord and the Holy Ghost. And at that point it was still “Barnabas and Saul” but before long it was “Paul and Barnabas”.

Acts 13 map

Paul’s 1st missionary journey

They started out by sailing to the island that Barnabas was from, Cyprus. A lesson that many missionaries have drawn from this chapter is who they first aimed to reach: the governor of the island, Sergius Paulus. They went to the top first.

But when they met him, they found out that the devil had already got there first. A sorcerer, the Bible says, a Jewish false prophet, Elymas, was already Sergius Paulus’s guide and councilor. And Elymus “withstood them, seeking to turn the deputy away from the faith.” (Acts 13:8)

Paul rebukes

Paul rebukes the sorcery

Oh my gosh! The devil is attacking them! What did Paul do? Did he choke up with fear, turn tail and run? Let’s read it. “Then Paul, filled with the Holy Ghost, set his eyes on him, and said, ‘O full of all subtlety and all mischief, you child of the devil, you enemy of all righteousness, will you not cease to pervert the right ways of the Lord? And now, behold, the hand of the Lord is upon you, and you shall be blind, not seeing the sun for a season.’ And immediately there fell on him a mist and a darkness; and he went about seeking some to lead him by the hand.” (Acts 13: 9-11)

Don’t you just love the Bible?! No political correctness there, no namby-pamby beating around the bush and politely asking the devil if he would be so kind as to move along now. Just plain, outright spiritual warfare, in the extreme.

rebuke the devil-flattenedIn this case Paul recognized by the Spirit that this Elymas was nothing but an evil “sorcerer” as the Bible calls him and the only solution was to rebuke the devil and the man who was inhabited by the devil.

The results? “Then the deputy, when he saw what was done, believed, being astonished at the doctrine of the Lord.” (Acts 13:12) The governor saw the raw power of God, exposing the darkness of Elymas and confirming that Paul and Barnabas were the true apostles of God.

But this isn’t even the best part of the chapter. From Cyprus, Paul and Barnabas sailed north to what is today the Mediterranean coast of modern Turkey. Have you ever heard of the book of Galatians? Well, this is where Paul and Barnabas first preached the gospel to the people of Galatia.

They ended up going into the synagogue on the Sabbath and were invited to speak. As was often the custom of those days, Paul rehearsed the history of Israel to them, similar in many ways to what Stephen did in Acts 7. And when Paul got to the place of David in their history, he told them “Of this man’s seed has God according to His promise, raised unto Israel a Savior.” (Acts 13:23)

It’s just a clear and simple example of witnessing and trying to reach people for Jesus , the Jews in this case, through means and things that they could relate to and understand. Later, when Paul was talking to the Greeks in Athens, his method was totally different

Paul in synagog

Paul in the synagogue

In Acts 13, he told them, “Men of Israel, and you who fear God, to you is this word of Salvation sent” (Acts 13:26) and went on to tell them how the Jewish rulers at Jerusalem, “because they knew Him not” (Acts 13:27) had killed their own Savoir.

In our live class, we talked about how Paul witnessed to this people and the similarity and difference we have with what he did. In Acts 13, Paul was not witnessing to Greek philosophers, he was witnessing to solid believers in the God of the Jews. He was reasoning with them, he was sharing the Word with them and in many ways he was showing a great deal of respect to them.

And our class developed into a very good and rousing discussion on witnessing, how to witness to believers in God, whether they be Muslim, Catholic, Jewish, Orthodox or whatever. Find the points you agree on first. There’s much that we can see in this chapter that can be a lesson to us as to how to witness even in our times. I hope the live class audio [here] will be a blessing to you and that you too will be finding avenues and open doors to witness your faith and to share the gospel and love of God with others, God bless you!

 

Acts Chapter 12 live class audio

Acts 12 is the last chapter where the Apostle Peter is the primary character. After this, from chapter 13 on, the Apostle Paul becomes the central figure. In Acts 12, Peter was continuing to witness and to spread the good news to his brethren the Jews that the long awaited Messiah had indeed come. [You can hear an edited version of our Acts 12 class here.] And because it’s a short chapter, we included the last 8 verses from Acts 11 which sort of set the stage for chapter 12.

An angel awakens Peter in prison

An angel awakens Peter in prison

The chapter nearly starts out with the martyrdom of Peter. It does start with the martyrdom of “James, the brother of John. (Mark 5:37) This man was definitely one of the main disciples as often in the gospels it talks about “Peter, James and John” (Mark 9:2). This James was the brother of John the Beloved who later wrote the gospel of John and the book of Revelation. There’s not a whole lot in the Word about James, the brother of John, except that he evidently was one of the most trusted disciples.

But after the death of James, Peter himself was kept in prison under heavy guard. It was great in our class to go over how this miraculous release of Peter must have actually been. We’re all so used to “instant replays” and 20 different video angles on everything that it could be a little rough to not have all the visuals that must have just been amazing in all this.

The angel commands Peter to follow him

The angel commands Peter to follow him

I’ll let you read it or listen to the class but it’s a remarkable, almost funny story of what happened and what the Lord did to get Peter out of prison then. It just wasn’t God’s time or place for Peter to go to be with Him. So the angel of the Lord, probably quite a few angels, worked out Peter’s release the night before what was most likely going to be his death.

Peter at the gate

Peter at the gate

All the while, prayer was made without ceasing  (Acts 12:5) by the Christians in Jerusalem for Peter. But it seems the situation was so bad that, when Peter actually got to the gate of the house where he knew the brethren were, they wouldn’t even open the gate at first. They just could hardly believe it was true that he had escaped or been released.

To me, one of the main things at this place in the book of Acts is the introduction of three new characters. They’re not really major players in the scheme of things here. But, on the other hand, they are important and will become increasingly so as the book of Acts continues.

One of those mentioned is an early prophet of the church at that time, “Agabus(Acts 11:28). We don’t hear a lot about him here but we certainly will hear more about him later. Another person mentioned is “John, whose surname was Mark: (Acts 12:25). We first hear of him here in Acts 12; it sounds like the main body of the disciples were staying at the house of his mother in Jerusalem.

Church history tells us that this is the man who eventually wrote the book of Mark. And basically it could be considered that the book of Mark is like the gospel of Peter. It seems that Peter was not a man well versed in Greek. But John Mark wrote down what Peter told him of the life of Jesus and that’s what developed into the book of Mark, which is considered by some to have been the first of the four gospels written. We’ll hear more about John Mark in subsequent chapters.

The third person that we first begin to hear more of in this chapter was “James(Acts 12:17). This is not James, the brother of John, who was martyred at the beginning of the chapter but “James the Lord’s brother” (Galatians 1:19). For our Catholic friends here this gets difficult. Because, according to Catholic teaching and tradition, Mary and Joseph had no children together after Jesus was born.

But in Mark 6:3 it says, “Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary, the brother of James, and Joses, and of Juda, and Simon? And are not his sisters here with us? And they were offended at him. We also hear of Jesus’ brothers at the beginning of John 7 and it says of them at this time, “neither did his brethren believe in him”. But according to the Bible, after Jesus’ resurrection “He appeared unto James” (I Corinthians 15:7), one of His brothers. And from what we can read, this James eventually became the leader of the Christians at Jerusalem for the rest of his life. According to church history he was martyred there just one year before the armies of Titus destroyed the city in 70 AD.

In some ways Acts 12 is more action than theology. But it is also a transitional chapter and several new characters we see there will come more to the fore as we go forward in Acts. I hope these classes are a blessing to you and that the live version of this class can help those of you in far off places and without so much Christian fellowship to, at least a little, feel a part of our activities and fellowship here, GBY.

 

Acts Chapter 11 live class audio

What will they say-flattenedAs I’ve mentioned before, it’s seemed to me from time to time that some rather humorous situations happen in the Bible. I’m not sure there was much laughter during the events of Acts 11. But perhaps if a movie was made of Acts 10 and 11, then things happening in both chapters at some points could really bring a smile. [The next class in our series on Acts was on this chapter and you can hear an edited version of that class here.]

It’s not a chapter full of doctrinal disputes… well, I take that back. That’s exactly what the first half of Acts 11 is about. In Acts 10, Peter had had the mind-blowing experience of witnessing to the Gentile group that the centurion Cornelius had gathered at his house to hear Peter. It was “bad enough” that the Lord had led him there in the first place. But “to make matters worse”, the whole group of Gentiles was filled with the Holy Ghost! And the brethren “heard them speak in tongues and glorify God” (Acts 10:46). Uh-oh. Now Peter had to go back and “face the music” so to speak. And it really seems like he knew what was coming.

Peter you ate

Acts chapter 11, verse 3

When Peter got back to Jerusalem, “they that were of the circumcision contended with him, Saying, ‘You went to uncircumcised men  and did eat with them!'” (Acts 11:3). Some people in my classes have asked me if this was the Pharisees contending with Peter about this. No, folks, this was the Christian body of Christ in Jerusalem at that time. And it just shows how deeply entrenched old mindsets and “old wine” can stay with us.

But Peter had seen this coming. He’d “rehearsed the mater from the beginning” (Acts 11:4) which means he’d thought it over in advance how he was going to explain this “big mistake” to all the brethren who were still thinking that they were still obligated to keep all the Mosaic Law and traditions that they had before the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.

Who was I-flattened

Peter back in Jerusalem

The whole first half of the chapter is Peter just giving a personal testimony of what happened. Basically he was saying, “You can’t blame me, guys; I was just obeying God!” He ended it by saying, “Who was I to try to stop God?” (Acts 11:17)

God is pretty smart, isn’t He. He knew He had to do something like this through Peter as he was the head disciple. So the reaction of the disciples when they heard Peter’s testimony? “They held their peace.” (Acts 11:18) Ha! It sounds like many of them would have liked to say something but, under the circumstances, “They held their peace.”

There’s just so much here that’s going on, the almost struggle of God to bring His people further into the fuller understanding of His Will and His grace. And a parallel struggle of the weakness of human nature and frailties, to hold on to legalism, “old wine”, the past and traditions of the past. Thank God for the brave pioneers of history who’ve dared to obey God, usually against the onslaughts of, not intentionally evil people, but often “religious” people who just can’t accept that God is moving a new direction and calling for a change from how things have always been.

Weve always-flattenedWe went over a lot of this in the class we had and pondered the implications of it all for our own times, how we instinctively resist change and are highly suspicious of anything that might be a new move of the Lord or a better way to do His will that He is leading us toward.

The second half of the chapter is about the continuing move to more missionary work as Barnabus, who we first heard of in Acts 4, headed up to Antioch where he went to search for Saul (Paul) who was not far away in his hometown of Tarsus. It was their teaming up in the chapters ahead of us that produced Paul’s first missionary journeys in chapters 13 and 14.

One other seemingly insignificant thing in this chapter, it says “And in these days prophets from Jerusalem came to Antioch” (Acts 11:27).  The early church had prophets? It says so there. Does your church have prophets? That’s ok; hardly any churches have prophets anymore unless they are of the Charismatic persuasion. I could go off on a very big discussion about that but won’t do it here and now.

But it’s a little like a movie where some character is introduced who, as it turns out later, is very important. So a specific prophet is named, Agabus, who prophesied that there would come a famine in their times. And the Bible says this happened. So the brethren in Antioch took up a collection to send to the brethren still in Jerusalem. We’ll hear more about Agabus.

I hope you’re studying along with us as we go through Acts and are listening to the classes on line. The edited version of the Acts 11 class that we had can be heard here.

I love to read history because there’s often so much to learn about people and about life. Certainly this is true of the book of Acts, where we can read about the founding of our faith and its progressive advancement in the first years after the Lord’s resurrection. It’s thrilling, inspiring and feeding. I hope you are enjoying it too.

Acts Chapter 10 live class audio

Peter with CorneliusActs chapter 10 is one of the most incredible chapters in the book of Acts and even in the New Testament. But it’s very easy to not appreciate it at all. We mostly have no idea of the significance of the events in this chapter, the importance to the future of the world that was there. [We recently had a live class on Acts 10 and you can hear the edited version here.]

This chapter is where God made abundantly clear that His grace and salvation were for all people and His plan included all nations, not just Israel with whom He’d been working for centuries. But it took a tremendous act of the Holy Spirit to get this message and point across.

God worked with Jesus’ top disciple, Simon Peter. And He told Peter to do something, by direct revelation, that seemed to be utterly and totally opposite to all that Peter had thought was God’s Will according to Mosaic Law and customs. If ever there was a case of “New Wine” very nearly breaking what was not probably even an “Old Bottle”, it was with God’s message to Peter here in this chapter.

Peters visionIn a vision on a housetop Peter was shown a sheet full of animals which were unclean for Jews to eat, according to the Mosaic Law. But Peter heard the voice of God telling him to “Rise and eat.” (Acts 10:13) Peter argued with God that he’d never do something like that. But the Lord said, “What God has cleansed, don’t call unclean” (Acts 10:15). Immediately there was a knock on the gate of the house and 3 gentiles, Romans, were there to ask if Peter would come to a nearby city to speak to a Roman centurion and his family. The centurion had been visited by an angel and told to send people to this house in another city to fetch Peter and get him to come and speak. The Lord told Peter, “Go, doubting nothing.” (Acts 10:20)

So Peter was lead and directed miraculous, more or less against his own will, to journey across country to visit the house of a Roman centurion who’d been visited by an angel of God . Peter almost reluctantly obeyed the direct voice of God to go with these uncircumcised Gentiles and to even (“perish the thought!”) enter into their house. The centurion, Cornelius, had gathered together what was probably a pretty large number of people, simply to hear what Peter would say. But Peter at first didn’t even know for what cause he’d been sent for. At length, when it was clear to him that they just wanted to hear what he had to say, then Peter explained to them about Jesus.

Peter told Cornelius and his friends about Jesus (whom they certainly had heard about already as it was a very big deal and the story of Jesus had reached practically everyone) “who went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed of the devil”. (Acts 10:38) And it sounds like, while Peter was still speaking, the Spirit of God came upon this large group of non-Jews and they experienced something very similar to what had happened to Peter and the disciples of Jesus on the day of Pentecost in Acts chapter 2. Cornelius and his friends were suddenly and powerfully filled with the Holy Ghost.

For almost everyone reading this post, we are “Gentiles”. This is the chapter and this event is where the Lord revealed that His love and grace and even Spirit were for all peoples.

Most folks nowadays can tell you who Bill Gates is. A few could tell you who Nelson Mandela or even Mahatma Gandhi were. But how many can tell you the effect Acts chapter 10 had on the future of Christianity, even western Civilization and the overall civilizing effect on Mankind around the World?

The fall of Jerusalem 70, AD

The fall of Jerusalem 70, AD

Without Acts chapter 10, Christianity would have remained some kind of semi-orphaned offshoot and outcropping of Judaism, which might have perished altogether in 70 AD when the Roman legions of Titus destroyed Jerusalem and effectively ended the nation of Israel. Instead of this, Christianity continued to thrive and grow for the next decades and even centuries, eventually becoming the foundation and backbone of Roman society and organization by the 400’s AD.

Reading the book of Acts is a way to prepare for the future and the endtime since this was the best example of Christianity that there is. So we aren’t just looking at this as the past. We’re looking, or should be looking, to see the kind of Christianity that will be needed in the final end time, a radical discipleship Christianity.

I hope you’ll have time to listen to the live class we had on this chapter, to ponder the significance of it for yourself and also for the history of mankind. The full edited version of our class can be heard here.

Acts Chapter 9 live class audio

We’ve continued our weekly classes on the book of Acts and the next one was Acts chapter 9. [You can listen to the full 35 minute class here.] There’s a famous phrase that is associated with this chapter, “a Damascus Road conversion”. Even in secular circles this is a common phrase and it relates to what happened to “Saul”, later called “Paul” in this chapter.

Paul on the road to Damascus

Saul confronted by the risen Jesus on the road to Damascus

On the road to Damascus from Jerusalem a young Jewish zealot was traveling in order to round up members of the growing movement of Christians who worshiped Jesus of Nazareth as the Jewish messiah. Saul was adamantly against these people, as was the Jewish Sanhedrin in Jerusalem who had sent him on his journey.

But at noon a light shined about Saul. He fell from donkey and heard a voice say, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” (Acts 9:4) And so, on the road to Damascus, this man who later became the Apostle Paul had one of the most dramatic turnarounds in history, which is why that phrase is still used today.

Sometimes God has to use drastic measures. God is love. He is gentle, longsuffering, patience and all that and more. But there comes a time when “His Spirit will not always strive with man”. (Genesis 6:3) When Paul saw the light on the road to Damascus, he ended up on the ground, as he spoke to the light, “Who are you Lord?” And the voice said, “I am Jesus who you persecute.” (Acts 9:5)

The Lord didn’t give Saul a big list of things to do. At first He just said to “go into the city and it will be told you what you must do“. (Acts 9:6) There’s just so much there about the basics of obedience to the leadings of God and how He will just lead us step by step most of the time.

In our class we talked about the importance of Paul to the progress of the spread of Christianity in the first century and discussed what might have happened and how things might have gone if he hadn’t hadn’t his conversion and then took up such an important place in the history of Christianity. Paul seemed to be the fire-starter, the catalyst, the pilot light on the stove that provoked even the original 12 disciples to go further and to do more than they were doing at the time.

So our class this week was on the events of Acts chapter 9. You can listen to the full 35 minute class here. I hope these are a blessing to you, Mark

Acts Chapter 8 Live Class Audio

In our class on Acts chapter 8, we begin to move on from the time of the foundation of the Early Church in Jerusalem. [The live audio class can be heard here.] As often happens, God had to use persecution to push His people onward to what He had originally called them to do. We talked about what the Lord had told His disciples in Acts chapter 1, verse 8. “But you shall receive power after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you, and you shall be witnesses unto me, both in Jerusalem and in all Judea and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost parts of the earth.

“You shall be witnesses…in all the world” (Acts 1:8)

“You shall be witnesses…in all the world” (Acts 1:8)

But now we’re at Acts chapter 8. Had the disciples obeyed Acts 1:8? Well, somewhat. They’d certainly been faithful to witness in Jerusalem. But what about the other areas? They weren’t called to bunch up there in Jerusalem but to “go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature.” (Mark 16:15) But like all of us, it’s sometimes not totally clear to our minds what the Lord meant, even when He told us plainly.

“Do you understand what you are reading?” (Acts 8:30)

“Do you understand what you are reading?” (Acts 8:30)

Someone said one time, If you don’t Acts 1:8, God will Acts 8:1! What does that mean? Well, the Early Church had stacked up huge numbers of converts and new disciples in Jerusalem. But, in the big picture, God had told them to go into all the world. So ultimately God had to send persecution their way in order to force them out.

Acts 8:1 says “And in that day there was a great persecution on the church at Jerusalem, and all were scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles.” That could sound bad and I suppose in some ways it was. But then the really good news is Acts 8:4 “Therefore they that were scattered abroad went everywhere preaching the Word.

That was really what it was all about. Why should anyone hear the gospel twice when so many have not heard it once? So the persecution in Acts 8 resulted in a spreading abroad of the good news, many new souls were won and people outside Jerusalem were witnessed to for the first time.

Again we talked in our class about “old bottles and new bottles” (Luke 5:37-39). Even for the evangelists going to the Samaritans, that was something that could “break the bottles” of the religiously conservative and devout from the circle of the Jewish priests. “The Jews have no dealings with the Samaritans.” (John 4:9) But in Acts 8 the Lord was having them reap a great harvest there. Probably it was controversial to some of the Hebrews of those days, even if they had come to believe in Jesus.

But Peter said to him, “repent". (Acts 8:22)

But Peter said to him, “Repent”. (Acts 8:22)

One of the biggest conversations we had in our class was about salvation. Actually we talk about that a lot, basic things like that. In Acts 8 there was a man who, the Bible says, “believed and was baptized”  (Acts 8:13). But later he told the apostles he would give them money if they would give him the power to lay hands on people so that they could receive the Holy Ghost. Then Peter said to him, “repent; for you are in the gall of bitterness and the bond of inequity”  (Acts 8:22 & 23). So we had a pretty rousing discussion about that. Was the man saved and needed to get delivered from some major sins? Or was he not saved in the first place? I won’t go into it all here but it’s in the recording of the class

And at the end of the chapter we zeroed in on some of the more esoteric verses in the book of Acts when it sounds like Philip the evangelist, after wining and baptizing the Ethiopian eunuch, was caught up or translated, moved physically from one place to the other, by the Holy Spirit. That opened up the kind of conversation you don’t usually find in church on Sunday morning.

We had a good class. And again, overall it was about witnessing, winning souls, obeying the voice of the Lord through the Holy Spirit and just plain frontier, Early Church Christianity. And that’s really the best kind. [The live audio class can be heard here.] I hope these are a blessing to and that you are as thrilled as we are to delve into these chapters and to have your vision refreshed in Him. God bless you!