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ACTS

Now that we’ve made our way through the four Gospels, we move onto the second book written by Luke, Acts.  This is not a Gospel or an epistle (an old name for “letter”), rather it is history.  This is the history of the early church as it spread from Jerusalem outward to the gentile nations. 

When I was a kid I used to watch a television program called, The Adventures of Superman. Superman had special powers, such as super human strength, and x-ray vision. He was “faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive” and he could fly. What could be more fun than that?  And kids could buy Superman outfits. Now the program was not called, “The thoughts of Superman” or “The teachings of Superman”, but the ADVENTURES of Superman.  The program was filled with ACTION rather than words.  And so it is with the book of Acts.  It is filled with action, travel, and suspense.  It is not the reflections of the Apostles or the deep meditations of Peter and Paul, but the adventures.  

As you read through this book, try to imagine what you would be feeling and thinking if you were among the group of early Christians.  What would it have been like to see Jesus ascent into heaven?  What were they thinking when they headed out on mission trips when most of them had probably never traveled more than 50-100 miles from their small villages in Israel?  What was going through their minds when they were brought before government authorities or being persecuted by some Jewish leaders?  Let’s join their adventures.

Luke was a companion of Paul, a physician by training and the author of more of the New Testament (about 30%) than anyone else. Throughout this book you will see the pronoun “we” being used to indicate that at these points in the story Luke is traveling with Paul.  I imagine it was reassuring to have someone with a medical background traveling with you. In these pages you will find that story shifts from Peter to Paul and then with Paul taking the lead from Barnabas.  The time period is from the ascension of Jesus in to heaven and for thirty years thereafter.  The book ends before 70 A.D. because that is no mention of the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans.

Acts 1:1 “In my former book, Theophilus. . .”

Who is this Theophilus?  Literally his name means “friend of God” or “loved by God.”  Theo means “God,” hence we study Theology (the study of God).  Philo means “love”, so Philadelphia is called the “city of brotherly love.”  So, is Theophilus a real person or is this a generic term to all “who love God?” Luke addresses him as “Most excellent,” an honorific title used for a high ranking Roman official in the Gospel of Luke. But the title is also used as a general form of a polite address, much as we use the title “Sir”.  Sir can be a form of politeness or to designate someone who has been knighted by the Queen.  So perhaps he is a high ranking official, perhaps someone who helped pay for Luke’s expenses as he researched the life of Jesus.  And, you can say that this book is for all who are friends of God or loved by God.  Perhaps we can insert our own name in this opening verse. 

Acts 1:6-8 “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the Kingdom of Israel?” 

The Jews had two descriptions of the Messiah from the Old Testament.  One was the description of the Lamb of God who would die for the sins of mankind, the second was the conqueror who would liberate the Jews from their oppressors and rule the world from Jerusalem.  One reason that the Jews rejected Jesus was that they we looking for the conqueror, not the lamb.  Now the disciples are asking, “OK Jesus, are you NOW going to take over and liberate us from the Romans?”  Jesus did not say, “You dummies, don’t you know that I never planned on literally returning to earth and ruling. That was only a figure of speech.  I only reign in the “hearts of men.”  Instead, he said “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority.”  Then, he gives his disciples their “marching orders,” when he said in verse 8, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you, and you will be my witnesses, in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” Judea and Samaria is what some refer to as the “West Bank” today.

Now if you were one of his disciples, would you have understood what he meant when he said, “you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you”? Can you imagine James turning to John and asking, under his breath, “What does he mean by that?  Does that mean we will be like Superman?” And when he said, “you will be my witnesses . . . to the ends of the earth”, how many thought, “Gee, I don’t know about that.  I’ve never been out of the country, don’t have a passport and really don’t feel comfortable eating foreign foods.” 

Verse 9, then Jesus was taken up into heaven and a cloud hid him while the disciples were staring up trying to keep Jesus in their sights the angels came and in verse 11 said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand here looking into the sky?  This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.”  

Jesus was taken up and “a cloud hid him.” This cloud might symbolize the Shekinah, the visible manifestation of the presence of God.  If you recall this Shekinah dwelt in the tabernacle and enveloped Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration.  It’s as if God is giving Jesus his approval.

Then the angel says that Jesus will come back “in the same way you have seen him.” So Jesus is coming back . . . to earth . . . to reign.  And it won’t be a secret coming.  You can read the description of his return flight in Revelation 19:17.  

So there they are, the disciples standing together trying to figure out, “What just happened?  What do we do now?” Might they have felt a bit like a group of young soldiers, just out of basic training being told that their orders have just come in for their first duty assignments? Where will I be going?  What will it be like?  Will I measure up?  I hope I don’t get orders for Thule Greenland.  (When I was in the Air Force there was an air force base Thule Air Base, it was a “remote” tour (no families) located 750 miles north of the Arctic Circle).

The disciples then decided that they should appoint someone to replace Judas.  One of the qualifications must be that he was a “witness with us of his resurrection” (verse 22). 

Why bother to replace Judas?  One reason is that Jesus predicted that his disciples would sit on twelve thrones (not eleven) and judge the twelve tribes of Israel (Matt 19:28). 

Whoever replaced Judas had to have been a witness of his resurrection. Why was this important?  Because the resurrection was the ultimate proof that Jesus was who he said he was, the Messiah.  If Jesus hadn’t risen from the dead, then, as Paul says, our faith is in vain and Christianity is a giant hoax (I Cor 15).  The word apostle means, “one who is sent.”  It is used in the strict sense to apply to someone who actually saw Jesus, but in a looser sense as one who is sent as a missionary.  Barnabas is called an apostle, as are others, some of whom probably never saw Jesus. This symbolic number twelve was important when ministering to the Jews, but as the church moved to Gentile territory, it wasn’t as important.  This explains why when James was executed, he was not replaced.

Acts 2 describes the Day of Pentecost, also known as the Feast of Weeks or festival of first fruits.  This is one of several holy days listed in Lev. 23 and is the beginning of the Church, when the Holy Spirit came as predicted by Jesus.  A scholar with time on his hands actually calculated the date of Pentecost, May 24, 33 A.D. And it was on Pentecost that the Holy Spirit came to the disciples, just as Jesus had predicted in John 16. But when it happened, I wonder how long before the disciples connected the dots and understood what was happening to them. And what might it have been like to actually experience what the disciples experienced.

When I moved to Indiana I called my insurance company concerning homeowners insurance.  They asked me if I wanted earthquake insurance.  I was surprised to hear that there is a fault line called the New Madrid fault, a 150-mile long seismic zone, which extends into five states.  In 2008 in the nearby Wabash Valley Seismic Zone, a magnitude 5.4 earthquake occurred. I felt it in the early morning and thought, “What was that?  Was it a big truck rumbling down the street? Was our house going to collapse into a huge sinkhole? How long will this last?” It’s scary.  I wonder what the disciples thought when in Acts 2:2 says, “Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting.  They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them.”  And if that wasn’t enough, they all started to speak in different languages.  Did some of the disciples recognize what was happening before others?  Did they have the same questions that I had when I felt the minor earthquake?  

Wind and fire have been used in the past as symbols of the Holy Spirit.  In Ezek 37:9 it says that wind as the breath of God would blow over the dry bones and bring them to life.  We’ve seen fire elsewhere, for instance, it was a pillar of fire that guided Moses (Ex 13) and before that of course Moses had a chat with the burning bush (Ex 3). And, there was fire on Mt. Sinai (Ex 24) as well as in the tabernacle (Ex 40).

God picked a good day to send the Holy Spirit and the first sermon of the Church to be preached.  The population of Jerusalem had temporarily swollen because according to Deut 16:16, Pentecost was one of the holy days, along with the Feast of Unleavened Bread and the Feast of Tabernacles, where all men were to come to Jerusalem.  It may have been like Sturgis, South Dakota when this small town population swells from            7,000 to 700,000 during the ten day motorcycle rally each August.  Peter gives a sermon which was heard by everyone “in his own language.”  Imagine how the Gospel spread when all of these men returned to their towns and villages and they told others what Peter had said? 

Peter gave them a message concerning Jesus and his resurrection (v 32).  Many accepted the Gospel and asked, “Brother, what shall we do?” (verse 37).  Peter said, “Repent and be baptized every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins.  And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”

This passage has been used to prove that baptism is necessary for salvation.  Not so.  We are saved by grace through faith, not of works (Eph 2:8, Rom 5:1).  The phrase “for the forgiveness of sins” can be better translated, “because of the forgiveness of sins.”  Matt 3:11 says that John the Baptist baptized “for repentance”. Does this mean that he kept baptizing the same person to bring about repentance, sort of water boarded them?  No, he baptized them because they had repented.  So it is in Acts 2:38, they were baptized because their sins were forgiven.  Besides, in Acts 10:45 we see Gentiles who had received the Holy Spirit (evidence of salvation) before they were baptized.  Baptism simply commemorates our spiritual renewal, it doesn’t cause it. Paul downplayed the importance of baptism (I Cor 1:1-17) and focused on preaching the Gospel. In Acts 3:19 Peter tells the Jews to repent so that your sins may be wiped out.  If baptism was the means of salvation, rather than a symbol of it, why does Acts 16:30-31 say, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved”?  They replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved.”? Why is there no mention of being baptized here? And of course, there is the thief on the cross who turned to God before he died and Jesus said that he would be with him in Paradise.  Yet, he was not baptized. The idea that one must be baptized in water is referred to as baptismal regeneration.  The only baptism that you need for salvation is the baptism of the Holy Spirit, which occurs when you repent, when you believe.

Acts 4:16 “Everybody living in Jerusalem knows they have done an outstanding miracle and we cannot deny it.”

The Sanhedrin, (made up of the High Priest and seventy others) was upset that Peter and John were preaching about the resurrection.  The Sanhedrin was made up mostly of Sadducees, who didn’t believe in the resurrection. But one thing they could not deny that Jesus was raised from the dead.

Acts 5: Ananias and Sapphira sold some land and donated some of the proceeds to the church, but claimed that they gave all of it to the church.  They wanted to appear more generous than they really were. Earlier Barnabas had sold land and gave it to the Apostles to help the poor (Acts 4:36) and these folks wanted the same praise for the generosity, but they lied about it.  Ananias and Sapphira were stuck dead, not for holding back their contribution, but for lying about it.  They were not under any obligation give any or all of the proceeds from the sale of land to the church.  But when they did, they lied about it. Not only that, but it says that they lied to God (v 4).   Being struck dead seems a tad bit harsh, but the same thing happened to Achan in Joshua 7:22. Perhaps as God was starting the church, he wasn’t about to let it become corrupted from the very beginning, so he had to set an example here.  In verse 11 it says that “great fear seized the whole church.” I bet it did. 

Acts 5:17 Then the high priest and all his associates, who were members of the party of the Sadducees, were filled with jealousy.

Jealousy leading to conflict, is that possible? You will see this throughout the book of Acts.  In 13:45 and 17:5 you see this again, jealousy leading to conflict.  Have you ever experienced this in your church?  Rather than encouraging and celebrating a gifted church member in his or her ministry, some try to destroy it out of jealousy or, as I have seen by the pastor himself, out of insecurity.

Acts 5:27-29 “Having brought the apostles, they made them appear before the Sanhedrin to be questioned by the high priest.  We gave you strict orders not to teach in this name, yet you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and are determined to make us guilty of this man’s blood.”  Peter and the others replied; “We must obey God rather than men!”

We are under obligation to obey the laws of the land, but if they conflict with those of God, we have to obey God, rather than man.  

Acts 6:2-3 “It would not be right for us to neglect the ministry of the word of God in order to wait on tables.  Brothers, choose seven men from among you who are known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom.  We will turn this responsibility over to them  and will give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the word.”

Here we have leaders of the church who were being distracted by chores unrelated to the ministry of the word and prayer.  So they appointed what we might call deacons, to handle these activities.  The qualification for a deacon are similar to those of an elder (I Tim 3), they are to be mature Christians “full of the Spirit” except they are not required to be able to “teach.”  The elders were to meet the spiritual needs of the church while the deacons were to meet the physical needs. One had a ministry of word and prayer, the other a ministry of mercy.  

Acts 7:57-58 “At this they covered their ears and, yelling at the top of their voices, they all rushed at him (Stephen) and dragged him out of the city and began to stone him.  Meanwhile, the witnesses laid their clothes at the feet of a young man named Saul.”

Stephen was the first Christian martyr and here we see the first appearance of Saul, also known as Paul, giving “approval to his death” (Acts 8:1). The fact that Paul was a witness may indicate that he was a member of the Sanhedrin. By the way, the word Stephen means “crown” and he wore the crown of the martyr. 

Acts 8:3 “But Saul began to destroy the church.  Going from house to house, he dragged off men and women and put them in prison.”

It is no surprise that when the converted Paul came to the Jerusalem church to join them no one wanted anything to do with him (Acts 9:26). Barnabas, the encourager, who offered practical assistance to the new Christians in Acts 4:36, offered encouragement to Paul by accepting him into the fellowship.  A third way that Barnabas encouraged people was by giving them a second chance, as he did with Mark in Acts 15:36-40.

Acts 8:4 Philip went down to a city in Samaria and proclaimed the Christ there.

Why would Philip be chosen to go to the Samaritans?  Is he one of the original apostles or is he a deacon of the same name (Acts 6:5)?  Perhaps he was sent to Samaria because he was not a Jew (his name is Greek).  He would have been more easily accepted than a Jew (also more willing to go than a Jew).  Whether or not he is the same person mentioned elsewhere named Philip is uncertain. 

Acts 8:14-17 “When the apostles in Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God, they sent Peter and John to them.  When they arrived, they prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit, because the Holy Spirit had not yet come upon any of them; they had simply been baptized into the name of the Lord Jesus. Then Peter and John placed their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit.”

Jesus said (Acts 1:8) that they were to be his witness in Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria and to the uttermost parts of the earth).  This is an account of the first conversion of the Gentiles. The laying on of hands was a way of breaking down the barriers between the Jews and the Samaritans, who had no contact with one another.  It appears that God withheld the Holy Spirit until the two groups accepted each other and all of those ancient cultural barriers were removed. This event has been called the Gentile Pentecost.

Acts 8:18 When Simon saw that the Spirit was given at the laying on of the apostles’ hands, he offered them money and said, “Give me also this ability so that everyone on whom I lay my hand may receive the Holy Spirit.”

In John 2:23 we find others who were fascinated by the miracles of Jesus but not truly committed to Jesus.  Perhaps those who attend miracle revivals, “seeking signs”, are not truly committed to Jesus. Here Simon believed that by simply going through the motions of a ritual that one can obtain some special power.  

Peter tells Simon in verse 20, “May your money perish with you.”  So, what became of Simon?  Did he repent or did he continue in his bitterness?

Acts 8:26 “Now an angel of the Lord said to Philip, “Go south to the road-the desert road-that goes from Jerusalem to Gaza.”  So he started out, and on his way he met an Ethiopian eunuch, an important official in charge of all the treasury of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians.”

A eunuch usually refers to a man who had been castrated early in life. They became servants of the royal family and as such they were trusted and had quite a bit of influence since they had access to the king’s ear. Some served as royal guards, singers, and guardians of women or harem servants. Sometimes the term eunuch refers to a high government official and may not imply emasculation.  So this Ethiopian eunuch may have had all of the secondary male characteristics of any other man who hadn’t been castrated.  If he was a man who was castrated before puberty, if would be obvious to Philip that he was a eunuch.  If, on the other hand, he was not castrated and was simply a government official, then he would look like any other man. Why would Luke have to identify him as a eunuch and say that he was an important official in charge of the treasury? Would he have introduced him as “a short, very fat man in charge of the treasury”?  Perhaps it is to be understood as, “he met an Ethiopian government official, in charge of the treasury.”

Acts 8:30 Then Philip ran up to the chariot and HEARD the man reading Isaiah.

Do you sometimes talk to yourself, talk out loud when you are walking or driving?  Do you every feel silly if someone sees you doing this?  Don’t be too concerned, you’re probably not going crazy.  In that time reading aloud to oneself was the universal practice.  Do you feel better now?  You can tell anyone that you are simply following an old tradition and that you really don’t need to be heavily medicated. 

Acts 9 gives the account of Paul’s conversion while on the road to Damascus, “breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples.”

I read an article recently where the author claimed that Paul didn’t really see a blinding light and hear the Lord, but was suffering from a seizure disorder called temporal lobe epilepsy. 

Do you know someone with a seizure disorder or migraine headaches?  Usually they know when a headache or a seizure is coming on. When a migraine headache is coming on the patient usually experiences visual disturbances, called an aura.  Symptoms might include: dots, sparkles, stars, flashing lights, blind spots, temporary blindness heightened sensitivity to light and shimmering pulsating patches or curves. The point is, if Paul suffered from either of these medical conditions, he would have known what was happening.  He would think, “Oh no, here comes another one of those nasty headaches or seizures.”  He would not have attributed it to an encounter with a person (Jesus) who he believed to be dead. When we have a dream, we know it is a dream and don’t attribute these images to something else.  Likewise, Paul, if he suffered from a medical condition such as migraine headaches or a seizure disorder, would not attribute the event to an encounter with a person he didn’t believe to even exist.

Acts 9:23 “After many days had gone by, the Jews conspired to kill him, but Saul learned of their plan.”

Situations can change rather quickly.  One day Saul is persecuting the Christians on behalf of the Jews; the next thing you know the Jews are trying to kill him.

Acts 9:26 When he came to Jerusalem, he tried to join the disciples, but they were all afraid of him, not believing that he really was a disciple.

I wonder what this looked like.  The disciples heard that Paul was in town.  Everyone runs and hides.  It’s like when an unwelcomed visitor is seen approaching your house.  What do you do?  “Don’t answer the door, be quiet, perhaps he will go away in a few minutes.” Perhaps it is like the movie High Noon.  The bad guy is getting out of prison and returning to town to take revenge on those who convicted him.  Everyone runs and hides, but the former sheriff who helped send him to prison, Gary Cooper, decides that he has to face him.  Well, here we find Barnabas (the same encouraging person who sold land and gave the proceeds to help the poor) approached Paul and was the first to accept him.  Have you ever been in such a situation where you needed someone to accept you? Have you ever been a Barnabas to someone else?

Acts 10:1-2 At Caesarea there was a man named Cornelius, a centurion in what was known as the Italian Regiment.  He and all his family were devout and God-fearing; he gave generously to those in need and prayed to God regularly.”

A centurion was a soldier in command of about 100 soldiers.  This would be the equivalent rank of a captain in today’s Army.

Some pacifist churches, such as Quakers, Brethren, among others, teach that Christians should not serve in the military.  Yet when John the Baptist was asked by a soldier, “What shall we do?” He was told to not extort money, or accuse people falsely and to be content with your wages.  He did not tell the soldiers to get out of the military (Luke 3:14).

Acts 10:14-15 “Surely not, Lord. I have never eaten anything impure or unclean” (according to Lev 11). The voice spoke to him a second time, “Do not call anything impure that God HAS MADE clean.”

Now, Peter, being a good, orthodox Jew never ate unclean foods.  This is another proof that when Jesus invited the disciples to eat his flesh and drink his blood he was using a figure of speech, the wine and bread were not converted into real flesh and blood.  Here we see that God HAS MADE all meats clean.  It’s OK now to eat these foods.  I imagine that even though eating these once prohibited meats was permissible, Peter felt pangs of guilt for some time whenever he ate any.  That was my experience when I left the church that also adhered to these clean and unclean laws.

Acts 10:43 “. . . everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”  

Here is another example of being saved by faith, not baptism, law keeping, etc.  Of course, it has to be genuine belief, not dead faith that James speak of in his epistle. 

Acts 10:45-47 “The circumcised believers (Jewish believers or Messianic Jews) who had come with Peter were astonished that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles.  For they heard them speaking in tongues and praising God.  Then Peter said, ‘Can anyone keep these people from being baptized with water?  They have received the Holy Spirit just as we have.’”

Here we see that they had received the Holy Spirit before they were baptized. Baptism didn’t bring upon them the Holy Spirit, nor did it save them, it only symbolized what had already taken place in their lives.

Acts 11:2 “So when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcised believers criticized him and said, ‘You went into the house of uncircumcised men and ate with them.’”

Peter could do this because he now realized that nothing is ceremonially unclean anymore, neither foods nor people. 

Acts 11:26 “The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch.”

Antioch was a chief center of the church.  Paul and Barnabas went there on their first missionary journey.  Tradition says that John and Mary, the Mother of Jesus, lived there, also. Christians were also referred to as “The Way” or “The Nazarenes.”  Perhaps they were also called, “Weirdo heretics.” 

Acts 12:21 “On the appointed day, Herod, wearing his royal robes, sat on his throne and delivered a public address to the people. They shouted, ‘This is the voice of a god, not of a man.’  Immediately, because Herod did not give praise to God, an angel of the Lord struck him down, and he was eaten by worms and died.”

This sound much like what happened to Nebuchadnezzar in Daniel 4 when he refused to acknowledge God and says, “Is not this the great Babylon I have built as the royal residence, by my mighty power and for the glory of my majesty” (Dan 4:30).

Doctors like to speculate as to what diseases historical figures may have had.  Some say that Goliath suffered from a tumor on the pituitary gland that caused an overabundance of growth hormone.  This is called, appropriately, Gigantism. One symptom of this is tunnel vision.  You can imagine what it might have been like for this giant spinning around trying to see this swift footed kid by the name of David as he danced around him, waiting for the perfect time to sling a rock towards his giant head. I might have been like Muhamad Ali (then called Cassius Clay) fighting the giant Sonny Liston.  His tactic was to “float like a butterfly and sting like a bee.”

According to Flavius Josephus, who lived about 100 years after Herod’s death, said that Herod had a fever, itching of the skin, pains in the intestines, tumors of the feet, inflammation of the abdomen and, brace yourself, gangrene of his genitals.  Some physicians today say that this sounds like Fournier’s Gangrene, a complication of chronic kidney disease.

You might also remember Nebuchadnezzar who went mad and ate grass like an ox.   Psychiatrists have given this disorder, the belief that one is a bovine, the name Boanthropy.

Later, in Acts 28:8 we find Paul healing many on the island of Malta who were sick.  It is thought by some that they were suffering from Malta fever, caused by drinking unpasteurized milk from Maltese goats.

That’s your medical lesson the today.  Now back to the Adventures of the Apostles!

Acts 13 and 14, you will notice in these passages, and others throughout this book, that when Paul speaks he oftentimes receives a favorable response from the people.  But the leaders, out of jealousy, attack Paul, both verbally and physically. They feel threatened if people start to listen and believe Paul.  They want to be viewed as the real authorities in the synagogues.  You see this today in church as well as in politics.  If you can’t win a debate with your arguments, you simply demonize your opponent.  

Acts 14:23 “Paul and Barnabas appointed elders for them in each church and, with prayer and fasting, committed them to the Lord, in whom they had put their trust.” 

It appears that the leaders chosen were from the churches themselves.  They were a people who were well known by the church, not unknowns from out of town appointed by outsiders. Also notice that “elders” is almost always in the plural.  Multiple leaders provide more balanced leadership in the church. 

Acts 15: 19 “It is my judgment, therefore, that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God.  Instead we should write to them, telling them to abstain from fool polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from the meat of strangled animals and from blood.” 

As the church expanded and consisted of fewer Jews and more Gentiles, the controversy arose as to whether or not the Gentiles had to obey the Laws of Moses (dietary laws, circumcision, etc.).  During the conference in Acts 15 it was decided, by the whole church, not just a few top leaders, that the Gentiles did not have to adopt the Jewish laws, but were to adhere to the laws that all mankind had to adhere, referred to as the Seven Laws of Noah.  These laws consisted of the establishment of law courts, the prohibitions against idolatry, murder, theft, sexual immorality, blasphemy, and eating flesh taken from an animal while it is still alive. Any non-Jew who lived according to these laws was regarded as “the righteous among the gentiles.”  There are still churches who claim that we are to adhere to the dietary laws, Sabbath observances, holy day observance, etc.  But even these groups are inconsistent, picking and choosing which of the laws they want to keep and how they keep it.  I don’t see any of these groups wearing tassels, stoning Sabbath breakers, etc. Also note that when the discussion took place, it wasn’t until everyone had a chance to speak that James stood up and gave his view.  This created the atmosphere of openness for all to speak their minds. Imagine if James gave his opinion first, then asked them, “What do you think?”  Anyone in authority who does this promotes Groupthink, where everyone must think alike.  The only downside of this decision is that it probably antagonized some of the Jews who felt as if they “lost the battle.” 

Acts 16:1-3 “He came to Derbe and then to Lystra, where a disciple named Timothy lived, whose mother was a Jewess and a believer, but whose father was a Greek.  The brothers at Lystra and Iconium spoke well of him.  Paul wanted to take him along on the journey, so he circumcised him because of the Jews who lived in that area, for they all knew that his father was a Greek.”

In Galatians 2:3 Titus would not allow himself to be circumcised, while in Acts Paul has Timothy circumcised. The difference is in Galatians some thought that it was necessary for salvation, whereas here it is done for expediency.  Paul tried to be “all things to all people” and didn’t want anything to hinder the Gospel.  The circumcision of Timothy was voluntary so as not to hinder the Gospel, not as a condition of salvation as the Judaizers claimed in Galatians. I imagine that as Paul’s group went from country to country they may have worn different clothes, changed their daily habits, etc. to better fit in with the culture.  See I Cor 9:19-23 where Paul said “I have become all things to all men.”

Paul, like other Jewish Christians, always considered himself a Pharisee, even after his conversion, and he observed many of the Jewish customs, such as holy days, etc.  But, he did not impose these customs onto Gentiles. This is what this meeting was all about.  The Law of Moses was given to the Israelites through Moses and was temporary.  It was never imposed upon the church. 

Acts 16:6-10 Paul . . . tried to enter Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus would not allow them to . . . during the night Paul had a vision of a man begging, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.”

Sometimes we can feel overwhelmed by the many needs in our community and in the world. We can overextend ourselves in many different directions, but not every need is a calling.

As for planning your ministry activities, have you ever asked someone what they have planned for some aspect of their ministry and they say, “I don’t know.  I will let the Holy Spirit lead men.”?  Frankly, I think this is just a cop out to excuse laziness.  Here we see Paul who made plans to go to one destination, but was redirected by the Holy Spirit to go elsewhere.  This is a good example good planning as well as sensitivity to the guidance of the Holy Spirit.   I always tell those who travel with me to Tanzania, plan, but remain flexible.  There is an expression in the Army, “No battle plan survives beyond the first shot.”  But we need to plan and not use “faith” as an excuse for laziness.

Acts 16:16 “. . . we were met by a slave girl who had a spirit by which she predicted the future.”

The commentary says that the girl had a “Pythian Spirit.” Pythian was a mystical serpent or dragon that guarded the temple of Apollo.  Later the term came to mean a demon-possessed person.

This comment caught my eye since my wife’s grandmother spent her later years in a nursing home operated by the Pythian Sisters. No, she wasn’t demon possessed.  The Pythian Sisters was the female auxiliary to the Knights of Pythia, fraternal organization that promoted loyalty, honor, and friendship. Such fraternal organizations peaked in popularity in the 1020’s and cared for those “in distress” or victims of disasters.  They also ran camps for underprivileged children and supported the Cystic Fibrosis Research Foundation. Some of our presidents and Supreme Court justices were members, including Franklin Roosevelt, William McKinley, and Hugo Black.

Acts 17:2 “As was his custom Paul went into the synagogue on three Sabbath days and reasoned with them.”

Here is another passage that is misused by Sabbatarians to “prove” that the New Testament church observed the Sabbath. Paul was a well-respected Jewish scholar who was invited to speak at the local synagogues.  He does the same thing in Acts 17:17 in Athens. He wasn’t preaching in a New Testament church.  He was evangelizing the Jews. He was reasoning with them, from the Scriptures, that Jesus was their long awaited for Messiah. And, of course, he got the same reaction that he got elsewhere.  Jealous Jews rounded up some trouble makers and they started a riot in the city and blamed it on that trouble maker, Paul.

Acts 17:11 “Now the Bereans were of more noble character than the Thessalonians, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.”

A couple of points that I take away from this passage are:

They received the message with eagerness.  Not like some who attend church, become upset if the sermon is a bit longer than usual and won’t walk thirty feet down the hall to attend a Bible study.

They examined the Scriptures every day.  I had heard that nowhere in the Bible does it say for us to read the Bible. The word is always stronger than “read,” such as “meditate” or “study.”  These members studied the Bible every day.

To see if what Paul said was true.  They did not accept whatever was said from the leaders, the Scriptures were their ultimate source of authority.

Acts 19:24-28 “Meanwhile a Jew named Apollos . . . he spoke with great fervor and taught about Jesus accurately . . . He began to speak boldly in the synagogue.  When Priscilla and Aquila head him, they invited him to their home and explained to him the way of God more adequately.  Apollos vigorously refuted the Jews in public debate, proving from the Scriptures that Jesus was the Christ.”

Here we see Apollos, a favorite of some Corinthians (I Cor 3), who spoke with great power about Jesus.  But, his theological training must have had some gaps in it since he needed to be taught the way of God “more adequately.”  He was able to prove from Scripture that Jesus was the Christ or the Messiah.  He proved it from Scripture, the ultimate source of authority.

Acts 19:11 “God did extraordinary miracles through Paul, so that even handkerchiefs and aprons that had touched him were taken to the sick, and their illnesses were cured and the evil spirits left them.”

Notice, this is a description of what happened, not a prescription for us to follow.  It was an extraordinary act, much like Peter’s shadow crossing over someone and being healed (Acts 5:15). Perhaps this was done because there were still those who were suspicious of Paul because of his pre-Christian background.

If you go to the Frequently Asked Questions and read the article, “Does God Heal?” I comment on the use of “prayer cloths.”

Acts 20:16 “Paul had decided to sail past Ephesus to avoid spending time in the province of Asia, for he was in a hurry to reach Jerusalem, if possible, by the day of Pentecost.”

This passage may indicate that Paul continued to observe the Old Testament holy days or he was simply referring to it as a date reference, much as even an atheist would refer to Christmas.

Acts 20:28 “Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers.  Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood.  I know that after I leave savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock.  Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciple after them.”

One of the job descriptions for an elder is to protect the flock from the wolves, some from the ministry itself. 

My wife attended a church regularly her first twenty-five years, but the pastor of that church could not protect her from the false teaching of the cult that she joined.   Is there such a thing as “pastoral malpractice”? 

Acts 23:6b “I stand on trial because of my hope in the resurrection of the dead.”

The Sadducees did not believe in the resurrection and they dominated the Sanhedrin, so they were the group that hounded the early church more than the Pharisees (Acts 24:21: 26:8).

Acts 26:22-23 “I am saying nothing beyond what the prophets and Moses said would happen-that the Christ would suffer and as the first to rise from the dead, would proclaim light to his own people and to the Gentiles.”

There is nothing that the Gospel teaches that is unorthodox or radical.  The Jews should have accepted the message as the fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecies.

Acts 28:23 “. . . From morning till evening he explained and declared to them the kingdom of God and tried to convince them about Jesus from the Law of Moses and from the Prophets.  Some were convinced by what he said, but other would not believe.”

Notice that some “would not believe,” not “could not believe.”  It was not for lack of proof, but a lack of will. These people knowingly and willingly rejected the Gospel.

Afterthoughts on the Book of Acts:

Luke the physician.  Do you know which medical school he attended?  Probably the one in Alexandria, Tarsus or Athens.
The coming of the Holy Spirit was predicted by Jesus in John 14: to help you remember what I’ve said and done and to teach you ALL things.  II Tim 3:16 All Scripture is inspired, useful s that we may be thoroughly equipped for EVERY good work.
Acts 1:6 Are you NOW going to restore the kingdom of Israel?
Jesus didn’t say, “No, dummy that was a figure of speech.”  I am not going to literally return to earth.  Why would I every want to come back to this hell hole?”

Mark 13:26 says that Jesus would return “in clouds and great glory.”
Do you know your birthday?  Do you know the date of the church’s birthday?   May 24, 33 A.D.

Acts 2:17 Peter quotes Joel.  Not that this is a fulfillment of the prophecy, but that they should recognize what is happening as the work of the Spirit.  

Acts 2:38 FOR the forgiveness of sin.  Same word used in Matt 12:41 They repented because of (not in order to) the preaching of Jonah.

Acts 4  main persecution not from Pharisees, but from Sanhedrin, controlled by Sadducees.  Why?  Issue was the resurrection.

Acts 5:15 Peter’s shadow healed the sick

Acts 6 Apostles directed, multitude chose deacons. Elders devote themselves to prayer and ministry of the word.

Acts 8 Stephen the first martyr, Stephen means “crown” he was the first to wear the martyr’s crown.  This is the longest sermon in the Book of Acts.

Why was the spirit delayed until the coming of Peter and John?  To unite the groups and to prevent them from thinking that their brand of Christianity was distinct from the Judean brand and creating two churches. 

Acts 8:9  Simon the Sorcerer: was he a real believer?

Acts 8:14 Samaritans converted, HS withheld until James and John came.

Acts 10 Gentiles have been given the Holy Spirit BEFORE being baptized.  Baptism not necessary for salvation, but symbol of.

Acts 11:26 Antioch where word Christian first used.  Christian used only here and in I Peter 4:16.

Acts 12 James was first apostle to die, John the last.  

Acts 12:6 After James was killed, Peter was arrested, yet he was able to sleep that night.  Why?  John 21:18 is suggests that it is only when he is OLD will he have his arms stretched out (crucified).

Acts 15 Law of Noah.
 

Acts 16:6-9 Paul was kept from preaching in the province of Asia by the Holy Spirit.  This illustrates that a need does not constitute one’s call.

Acts 17:2 He reasoned with them from the Scriptures.

Acts 18:19 reasoned with the Jews

Acts 18:28 Proving from the Scriptures.

Acts 19: 9 Some maligned “The Way” another term for Christians

Acts  19:10 the church met in homes, but Paul lectured to outsiders in the Hall of Tyrannus.

Acts 19:11 prayer clothes were not normative, but extraordinary miracle.
Paul didn’t heal himself of a thorn in his flesh; Timothy’s stomach and other illnesses, etc. 

Acts 20:7 Paul spoke until midnight, Eutychus fell asleep, fell out of the window, and died. Paul raised him from the dead, ate and spoke until midnight.

Acts 26:10 Cast his vote.  May have been a member of the Sanhedrin (married) or may have been part of a commission to carry out persecutions. 

Acts 20:16 Paul still observed Jewish customs.

Acts 20:28 Job description for leaders.

Acts 20:33 I have not coveted anyone’s silver or gold.  I supported myself.
 

Acts 28:21 We have not received any letters from Judea concerning you.  This might indicate that the Jews have “dropped the charges.”
The book of Acts is the early episodes in the “Adventures of the Church”.  The history of the church is still being written.  What will be written about our part in its history?

Do you have a Question on the Book of Acts? Contact Dr. DuCett: 
sdducett@thebereanbibleministry.org

 

 




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