Acts 1:8 “...unto the uttermost...”
Someone has wisely suggested that the name of this book might be The Acts of the Holy Spirit and that these “acts” continue to our present time as God, by His Holy Spirit builds the church “upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief cornerstone; in whom all the building fitly framed together groweth into an holy temple in the Lord: In whom ye also are builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit.” (Eph.2:20-22).
Yes, we are put together in that edifice being constructed by the Spirit and it is indeed wonderful to contemplate what has been, what is and what is yet to come. Today, let us take a few moments to praise the Lord for His church. I think in terms of circles, interlocking circles made up of local assemblies all over the world. There is first our own local assemblies where we fit in and function supplying that which, hopefully, serves to cause increase and edification (Eph.4:16). There is also a prayer circle as we each have those for whom we lift up our hearts in daily intercession. Then there is a circle of missionaries that we each know, love and pray for. In our case, and I hope in yours there is a circle of local churches that gather periodically for mutual edification and comfort.
We rejoice in the fact that there are multitudes of brothers and sisters in Christ all over the world that have their circles as well, even though there are many from whom we believe we must separate due to doctrinal differences. Some day soon we will be together in heaven with those who are one with us in Christ. Think of all the tiny churches as well as large ones, all the mission boards, all of the intertwining circles of saints as the gospel has gone “unto the uttermost part of the earth.” Think of those who have gone on to heaven before us and who now await our coming and of those who in generations to come, should the Lord tarry, will believe and take our place. Praise God for the mighty acts of the Holy Spirit!
Acts 2:7 Amazing and Marvelous
We might look together, while in this chapter, at two problems that have often perplexed believers. These are the subject of tongues and the question of human responsibility in view of God’s sovereignty.
First, there is here the introduction to a phenomenal occurrence during which foreign languages were spoken in connection with the filling of the Holy Spirit. This occurred at the feast of first fruits otherwise known as Pentecost since it followed the Passover by a space of fifty days. Notice that the sojourners from “every nation under heaven” were classified as “devout”. That is because characteristically only the most faithful of Jewish men came to Jerusalem for this feast since it followed so closely on the heels of Passover, a very sacrificial journey for most. Miraculously each language of fifteen nations or more was spoken by uneducated “Galileans,” so that on this birthday of the Church men were converted in great numbers by hearing the Gospel in their mother tongue. We will speak more of this subject later.
On the matter of balancing the Sovereignty of God with human responsibility, while there is probably no adequate way to harmonize two such divergent concepts, there is a wonderful verse of Scripture that shows us that both are certainly true. Verse 23 in our present chapter tells us that our Lord Jesus was “delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God.” This means that God planned the murder of Christ (I Peter 1:20 & Rev. 13:8) and theoretically those who carried it out were doing the will of God. But no, our verse tells us clearly that it was “wicked hands” that crucified Him, i.e. were guilty of this heinous crime. Logically these two lines of thought can no more be brought together than the two rails of a train track. Only God can harmonize them.
Ephesians 1:11 tells us that our predestination is “according to the purpose of him who worketh all things after the counsel of his own will” and yet, we are certainly responsible to “believe on the Lord Jesus Christ” in order to be saved (Acts 16:31). To have a problem with either of these two truths is to have a problem with accepting the clear teaching of Scripture. Let us believe the Word and someday, down the track of time, in eternity, He may show us how they come together.
Acts 3:8 The Leaping Lame
Peter’s words after the healing of the lame man at the temple gate in verses 18 - 26 are addressed to the Jews as a nation. That is why he says “be converted that your sins may be blotted out when (in order that or so that) the times of refreshing shall come from the presence of the Lord” etc. He is telling them that in the light of what they have seen, i.e. the healing of the lame man and the resurrection of Christ to which the apostles were giving testimony (v.15) Israel should repent and look for the second coming of the Messiah.
He is telling them that Jesus must be received into heaven until things are restored (the millennial reign) about which the prophets have testified (v.21). “Unto you first” (to the Jews first etc) (v.26). We know that in the first several chapters of Acts the message of the resurrection went out to the Jew but as they continued to reject it the apostles eventually went “unto the Gentiles”(18: 5 & 6). It was appropriate that this message was given at the very gate of the temple which was the center of Jewish worship.
By application, we who have been saved may take the words on our lips of that great hymn O For Thousand Tongues to Sing Our Great Redeemer’s Praise having experienced its truth “Hear Him, ye deaf ! His Praise, ye dumb, your loosened tongues employ! ye blind, behold your Saviour come, and leap, ye lame for joy!”
We will append 2 more verses to Wesley’s hymn that are not usually sung:
Verse 5; He speaks and listening to His voice new life the dead receive, the mournful broken hearts rejoice and humble poor believe.
Verse 7; In Christ, your head, you then shall know, shall feel your sins forgiven; anticipate your heaven below, and own that love is heaven.
There are at least nineteen verses!
Acts 4:28 Determined Before
Here again we have the principles, discussed only recently while in Acts chapter two, predestination and responsibility in juxtaposition. The apostles, recalling David’s prophecy in Psalm 2 apply it to what has recently been happening to them. In doing so they give a wonderful statement of their utter confidence in God as they remind Him in this great prayer of the fact that what was happening had been determined beforehand (v.28). However, rather than reacting as some do by saying “well, if these things are predestined what is the sense of us doing anything,” they prayed a tremendous prayer of faith and received a stupendous answer.
Before we write off the doctrine of predestination which has much scripture supporting it, we might rather recognize the fact that God Himself tells us that we cannot comprehend with our finite minds the heights of His knowledge. He says “for as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts” Isa.55:9. So, before we go trying to put God in one of our little boxes, it would do us better to study Him carefully in the Word and take the attitude of a humble and contrite heart commended by Isaiah in 57:15.
Personally, I think the whole subject of God’s dealing with the nation Israel is a lesson in the doctrine of predestination. Here is a people chosen of Him apart from their works with absolutely nothing that they do or don’t do influencing their eternal destiny and it is all for the purpose of magnifying His greatness. Read with great admiration that thrilling passage, again in Isaiah (54:11- 17), and remember, though we may rightly apply some of this to ourselves, it was written of Israel and will yet come to pass!
What God does for the nation Israel (Rom.9:11) He does for believers individually as noted in such verses as II Thess.2:13; Eph. 1;4 &11 and Romans 8:28 - 39.
If you want to read on this subject, I would recommend Charles Haddon Spurgeon who, while strongly espousing the doctrine of predestination was at the same time one of the world’s greatest evangelistic preachers. Certainly, a study in balance.
Acts 5:11 Great Fear
In these days every effort is seemingly made to try to get folk into the churches and you
hear some say “well, if we are going to reach the young people we have to use contemporary music” etc. To the contrary I have believed that it is probably a good thing if “ joining the church” were hard rather than easy. I heard Peter Eldersveld once say “if there is a cross in it then God is in it”. We should be asking the question, “how can we be sure the Holy Spirit is the One drawing people to salvation and into the church if we make it so attractive to the flesh?” This does not seem to square with our Lord’s teaching that to be His disciple one must deny himself and take up the cross to follow Him. The rich young ruler was told that he must sell all that he had and in another place the way to heaven is called “narrow”.
In our chapter today we have an example of how it was in the early days of the church. When people heard what happened to Ananias and Sapphira we read that “of the rest durst (dared) no man join himself to them” (v.13). Having a powerful church can only be the case when there is purity and this chapter convincingly demonstrates how important this was to God. It was not Peter and the apostles who dealt with these conniving believers!
Therefore, we should probably say, “so what if the young people don’t like our old hymns.” Let them truly get saved and start growing in the Lord and they perhaps will see that conforming to the ways of their elders is not such a bad idea.
I am sure that some will say that there is another side to this issue and granted there well may be, but nevertheless I am pleased to find the text which supports the theory that it is probably a good thing that joining the church is not made too easy. The drawing power must ever be the lifting up of Jesus.
Acts 6:1 Growing Pains
There were probably lots of problems in Jerusalem as “the number of the disciples was
multiplied” but only one is singled out in the beginning of this chapter. It was factional, fractious and foolish. Perhaps there was discrimination, Jews and Gentiles failing to get along in spite of the fact that technically the wall between them “hath been broken down” (Eph..2:14) and clearly discord had arisen between them. Like so many problems in our local churches, they develop over small and relatively foolish matters.
Of course the solution is found in that Ephesian passage if only these squabbling infants could be made to see it. Christ is our peace (v.14) and “we both have access by one Spirit unto the Father” (v.18). To put it bluntly, get your eyes on the Lord, off yourselves and talk to God about it.
The apostles took the right approach but we might miss it here if we are not careful. Yes, they solved the immediate need by appointing deacons to handle the “daily” problems of logistics, but, long range, they knew that what these people really needed was to be taught the word (as we found it there in Ephesians) and be not only prayed for but taught to pray. Surely any apostle who knew the worth of prayer would be anxious to acquaint new converts in the precious art.
Often too much of a pastor’s time is spent putting out wild fires among the saints rather than seeking long term solutions. Recently some of us were privileged to hear a “down east” pastor who shared an eloquent testimony to the effect that discouragement and the temptation to flee to greener pastures have given way to joy and satisfaction as he has occupied himself with the priorities in his own life of prayer and the word and has experienced the resultant growth in the lives of those of his congregation. Now there is harmony and stability among them and he is very glad that he stuck it out!
We all know that a “quick fix” is no solution to the bringing of saints to maturity. Teach them the word, especially the importance of yielding (Romans 12:1& 2), help them to come to really love Jesus and their brethren (I John 5:1) and in the light of the cross, anger, frustration and even racial bias will give way to the graces of patience and forgiveness. Study I Cor.6:1- 8.
Acts 7:60 Trouble Falling Asleep ?
Talk about being politically correct, Stephen could have used a few lessons! Had he been a little less direct and used more tact he might have avoided martyrdom. He was smart though, for before he gave them the old fifth rib treatment, he did a little trimming with the sword. Mesmerized by the angelic face of this deacon and the words which, gradually warming up the pot, were ready to cook them, these spiritual leaders being “cut to the heart”, suddenly felt like tearing him to pieces with their very teeth (v.54).
Seriously, Stephen is known as the first of a continuous list of those who have “climbed the steep ascent to heaven through peril, toil and pain” and we might do well to invoke the words of the next line of that great hymn The Son of God Goes Forth to War. “Oh God to us may grace be given to follow in their train.”
It is possibly a little known fact that the word for “witness” in the Greek is basically the same word as “martyr.” We all know that God calls us to be witnesses as our present literature declares (Acts 1:8) but perhaps we are not aware of the implications. Not only should the Christian disciple be prepared to die for his Saviour when called upon to do so, but in all honesty, the lack of power in the witness of the church today is probably due to a lack of the commitment called for in this very word. Perhaps it starts with believing something so sincerely that one is willing to die in defense of it and ends with the fact that the N.T. teaches that the real disciple is one who has already embraced the cross (Lk.14:27) and having already died with Christ (Gal.2:20) simply awaits the summons home.
And what a home coming! Would anyone in his right mind (Phil.2:5) not be willing to accept the short journey through the valley (Ps.23:4) when he knew that a mountain top experience awaited him (Heb.12:2 and II Cor.4:17 & 18) such as that which Stephen experienced?
And let us not fail to catch the magnanimity of this man who drew from His Saviour the strength to imitate Him with his words of forgiveness for his adversaries.
Acts 8:39 Who Wouldn’t Rejoice!
What a delicious opportunity! I’m afraid the day has passed when we may safely pick up hitchhikers in order to witness to them but here is clearly a case where those tables were turned. Philip, the hitchhiker, had a wonderful opportunity to witness the gospel to the driver of the vehicle. Those horses were heading for the barn so the reins could be slacked off and they could be given their heads. “ What does this mean” said the eunuch ? Would you explain it to me? Of course, and may we all be ready to do as much (I Pet.3:15).
Let us speculate just a bit further? How was it that this devout man, on his way home from Jerusalem where he had (certainly as a proselyte) been worshiping, happened to have this particular piece of paper in his hands? Well, I like to think that perhaps some zealous believers had taken advantage of the opportunity of spending some time at Jerusalem handing out tracts. Their reasoning may have been that since many such worshipers would be there from distant lands, let’s try to put something into their hands that God can use to convert them to Christ. What better than Isaiah fifty three? Certainly the Spirit can use such a text to open one’s eyes to the Saviour. Perhaps the eunuch had been too busy overseeing the bridling of his horses to have heard the admonition that went with the tract, “read about the Messiah prophesied by Isaiah.”
All of the above could have happened but probably didn’t, anyway the important part of the story is that a servant of the Lord was ready to do some reaping even under questionable circumstances (v.26).
Men are more fortunate than women in at least one respect, they have pockets in their shirts. In other days those pockets perhaps carried a pack of cigarettes. What a good place to carry a few gospel tracts. Never leave home without them! And always be ready, when that delicious opportunity comes, to talk to a stranger about Jesus.
Acts 9:5 The Call of Saul
A bombshell exploded in Jerusalem but it was the work of no terrorist, it was just another
one of those mighty acts of the Holy Spirit! Consternation must have seized the minds of the Judiazers who commissioned Saul to bring back some of those fanatic followers of Christ, the “way.” But if these were confused when they heard that the “destroyer” now “preached Christ in the synagogues, that he is the Son of God”, what must have been the reaction when first the church heard that he who once sought their destruction now apparently had become one of them (Gal.1:23)?
There are some who would say that because Saul’s conversion was more spectacular than the average Christian, that therefore it was unique in that God made of him a special case because he would become the great apostle Paul. He said in Galations 1:15 & 16 that God called him by his grace, to reveal Christ in him. The fact is that Paul taught that we are all called according to God’s purpose having been foreknown and predestinated (Rom.8:28-30). If Paul thought of his conversion as being different it was only in that he saw himself as less than the least of the apostles because he persecuted the church. It is clear as he wrote to the Thessalonians that he saw the order of events in salvation to be the same for them as it was for him. “God hath from the beginning chosen you to salvation through sanctification of the spirit and belief of the truth: whereunto he called you by our gospel” etc., II Thes.2:13. If He had a special work for him so He did for us also (Eph.2:10).
With some of us, as the hymn-writer says “He called us long before we heard, before our sinful heart was stirred.” He may have been doing that with Saul, we don’t know for sure, but He said to him on the Damascus road that there was a pricking inside him against which he was resisting. Could it have started when he witnessed the execution of Stephen? It may be so for he was there, wasn’t he. When did God start working in your heart?
Acts 10:14 Poor Peter - Wrong Again
Could it be that it was in anticipation of the events in this chapter that God made the distinction in Judaism between clean and unclean creatures? It seems entirely possible because exactly here it all comes to a head and an end!
Some day we may get to do devotionals on those chapters in the books of Moses that deal with the subject, but in the meantime today’s lesson forces us to trek back in time to when God was laying out His ceremonial laws for Israel to obey. There are two primary passages that should be researched in order to prepare for the thoughts upon Peter’s vision. They are: Leviticus eleven and Deuteronomy fourteen.
First, one must not get so wrapped up in the details so as to miss the point which is clearly set forth in Lev.11:46. This is the law covering all creatures, land, sea and winged namely that there is a difference in every category, some are clean for you and can be eaten while others are unclean and cannot be eaten. While a case might be made that there is an intrinsic reason for this distinction, it is entirely incidental. There is one reason and only one why God did this and it is found in verse 44 “I am the Lord your God...therefore ye shall be holy” (separated). Animals were the closest to man of all His creation so He used them to represent mankind. Furthermore, in a sense we identify with what we eat because it becomes a part of us. Israel needed to know that God had separated them from all other people on the earth and they were to respect that distinction every time they ate. It should be noted that many of the clean animals were identical to the sacrificial ones. Since these represented Christ and were mostly eaten by the priests representing the nation, this too is significant. Now read Deut.14:2 for confirmation of the above.
Any faithful Jew should be expected to react as Peter did. Ah yes, but something has happened that changes everything ( Ephesian 2:11 - 22) and it took the sheet vision of this chapter to convince Peter that it is now time to take the gospel to the Gentiles! And he did!
Acts 11:18 To the Gentiles
How did the apostles know that the Holy Ghost had fallen on the Gentiles convincing
them that now the Gospel should be taken to them? After all, for centuries the Jews had been the chosen people. Sure, Peter was convinced that things had changed when he experienced the vision on the housetop in Joppa, but was that enough to convince the whole church that age old principles and practices were suddenly laid aside? This was not going to be easy for like most of us change comes hard! They needed a sign.
Yes, that’s it, a sign from God that would convince them all. That is why the gift of tongues is called a sign gift. Go for a moment to I Cor.14:22. Here Paul says it clearly “wherefore tongues are for a sign.” But let us note, a sign for whom? “Not to them that believe” (those already saved) “but to them that believe not.” It will be clear upon reading verse 23 carefully that those who are referred to as those that “believe not” are not the unsaved (unlearned) who come into the assembly and will think you all to be mad when they hear you speak in tongues. No, it is the unconvinced Jews to which this sign was given (v.21).
You see, since it would not be possible to know whether these Gentiles in our chapter had received the same Holy Ghost as the church made up of Jews had received at Pentecost, it was necessary that an outward visible sign be given. Going back to the actual event in ch.10 we note that it was while Peter was yet speaking that “the Holy Ghost fell on all them that heard the word” (v.44). Note the little word “for” at the beginning of verse 46! These circumcised Jewish converts were absolutely dumbfounded to think that a Gentile could have the Holy Spirit! - No laying on of hands as in 8:18; no baptism yet (v.47), but the same experience as theirs on the day of Pentecost! That convinced them and Peter especially got the message “what was I that I could withstand God?” He had tried that more than once (Matt.16: 22 as well as on the housetop).
Acts 12:4 “An absurd translation”
The events in this chapter relevant to Peter’s deliverance are pretty straightforward and as a remarkable answer to prayer it should encourage us all to pray expectantly, not being surprised as was Rhoda or astonished as was the church at such a quick response to prayer. “Lord, teach us to pray.”
There are, in addition to this account of answered prayer, a couple of little matters upon which the commentators shed some light and we will share them thus saving our readers the effort of looking them up themselves.
The first relates to the term Easter in verse four about which Clark says; “there never was a more absurd or unhappy translation than this. The original is simply ‘after the Passover’. The word Easter is of Saxon origin, and is derived from a word meaning the goddess of love, or the Venus of the North in honor of whom a festival was celebrated by our pagan ancestors in the month of April (Webster). Tindal and Coverdale used the word Easter (in their translation) and hence it has very improperly crept into our translation”.
Secondly, perhaps a few words of explanation are in order regarding the short episode at the close of this chapter. Herod’s displeasure was such a serious matter to the people of Tyre and Sidon (the word used here speaks of meditating war or to be angry or enraged) that they sent an embassage of peace. This was a political matter irrelevant to our text and the occasion unknown. It is obviously referred to here to introduce the matter of Herod’s oration and the judgement upon him because he pridefully accepted adoration implying deity. What is especially interesting is the fact that Josephus in Antiquities of the Jews tells of this exact occasion. He writes, he “did neither rebuke them (the people) nor reject their impious flattery. A severe pain arose in his belly and began in a most violent manner — for five days, etc.” Barnes New Testament Notes.
Remember, pride goeth before a fall (Pro.16:18). God hates it.
Acts 13:3 Sent Away
Here in this chapter we have the beginning of the great missionary enterprise of the
church. We identify with the joy of the disciples (v.52) over these great events that mark Paul’s first missionary journey the close of which comes at the end of chapter 14. His second is found in Acts 15:36 through18:22 and the third, Acts 18:23 through 21:16. It was during these journeys the churches were founded that he wrote to later. This block forms a large section of our book and a great catalogue of those mighty acts of the Holy Spirit.
The opening scene is thrilling as we watch the early church in action. How many times has this event been duplicated throughout the history of the church? Every missionary ought to have a local assembly behind him as his sending church, elders that have “laid hands on them and sent them away.” To this church in Antioch (of Syria) these missionaries felt responsible and so they reported back to it when the journey was completed (14:27). It ought to be the desire of every assembly to find among its members those upon whom it might lay hands and also send away.
We may be sure that the prayers of the church didn’t cease when their team sailed out of sight. In the midst of spiritual battles (v.6 -11) with the devil’s children and enemies of all righteousness; of disheartening experiences (v.13) over the failure of fellow workers; of preparing and delivering sermons; of great decisions involving a change of venue (v.46) and of much persecution (v.50), these missionaries must often have felt the need of prayer support.
A dear young lady who serves the Lord in Mexico recently wrote: “If you don’t know how to pray for us, think about your own life. What do you need? Physical strength for each day, good health to keep on serving the Lord, money to pay your bills, put gas in your truck, and food on your table, wisdom in teaching your children, the Holy Spirit’s power in witnessing, patience for each day’s frustrating problems, love toward your spouse etc, etc. You get the idea; you need the same things we need. We’re just in another country.”
Joy must often have filled the hearts of Paul and Barnabas as they saw people coming to faith in the risen Christ whom they proclaimed. The salvation of a deputy must have excited them (v.12), as did the evangelization of a city and the response of the Gentiles. What a great beginning!
Acts 14:23 Elders in Every Church
It is significant, I believe, that wherever Paul and Barnabas went on their first missionary journey, preaching the gospel (v.7) they ordained elders in the churches. When we learn about the standards for elders communicated to both Timothy (1Tim.3:1-7) and Titus (1:5-9) we might wonder where they came from. They were, of course, graduates with a masters degree from the university of Namit (you name it) i.e. they really had no training. They may well have been Jews who had been brought up in the synagogue for as it is obvious from the Jewish persecution, they were widespread throughout the Roman Empire (15:21). But the point is that they were, in effect, laymen who desired “ a good work” (1Tim.3:1). A bishop was the same as an elder (compare verses five and seven in the Titus passages),with these different words referring to the same person. It is also significant that the term elder is never found in the singular implying a plurality of eldership.
Not only were elders found in each assembly, not only were they not formally trained but it was expected that they would be capable leaders who could “labor in the word and doctrine.” Isn’t it a pity that such men could be found in those heathen lands but not in America where we must turn to the above university for leadership? Historically, the Baptist in New England made a big mistake when they began to look to Waterville college and Brown University for this pastoral leadership. That’s when things went downhill! On the other hand, when a local assembly in Middleborough Massachusetts found a twenty year old volunteer who was willing to come to Maine to preach, they laid hands on him in the spirit of Acts 13 and sent him away. Isaac Case walked to Thomaston stopping off to visit in the homes of Hezekiah Smith in Haverhill, MA. Dr. Sam Shepherd in NH and pastor James Potter in Bowdoin, ME. In Thomaston (1784) he gathered a church, married Elisha Snow’s daughter and with his father-in-law evangelized the area and established most of the older Baptist churches in a 50 mile radius. Too bad he hadn’t been better educated, he might have really been somebody!
Even if a formally trained pastor is called to a church today, there ought to be men in every assembly that can be expected to help him in the ministry. Come on men! Rise up and desire this good work. With all that is available for tools today (internet included) you ought to be able to do almost as well as those found in Crete.
Acts 15:2 Dissension
We wonder what the sectarian Pharisees did when their advice was not taken. If it went
like it usually goes today, they set up an opposing organization that made circumcision a mark of membership and called the true church of the Holy Spirit heretics. It is an interesting observation that even the few rules that the church was admonished to follow were seldom mentioned again. Are any of these things about idolatry and eating of things strangled found in your church constitution? We think it also strange that the leaders would find it necessary to admonish believers to abstain from fornication. It certainly says a great deal about society of that day. And we think the Lord must soon come since things are so bad these days. (Of course we surely hope He will!)
Getting back to the times of the New Testament, it is interesting to note that as bad as things often became in some of the churches (Corinthian for example) Paul never said a word about separating over issues. I think it was probably the case that he felt that the believers had the internal equipment to handle most problems (I Cor.6). Instead of praying with brethren that are considered in error and seeking to uphold the spirit of unity (Eph.4:1- 16) a new group is spawned that believes that at the church supper, the fork should be placed on the right side of the plate. These Right Fork Baptists won’t have anything to do with those on the left and they both spend their time anathamizing each other while a third group holds to basics and eats with their fingers and have verses to prove they are right. Sound foolish? I can think of Primitive Baptists, Six Principle Baptists, 7th Day Baptists, Two Seed in the Spirit Predestinarian Baptists, in Rhode Island besides the First Baptist, and if my Haywood’s book of religions were at hand I could probably find a few more. These were all back before the Free Will Baptist broke from the Calvinist Baptists here in Maine. Today there are at least five different assemblies of born again believers in one town that I can think of not too far from here.
Perhaps it’s time to pray for and endeavor to keep the “unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Eph.4:3). (But, never forsaking the Biblical concept of separation). Can it be done? Let’s work at it and pray for those with whom we differ.
Acts 16:31 A Belief that Truly Saves
It is worthy of note that of Lydia it is not said that she “gave her heart to the Lord,” but rather that her heart was opened by the Lord. I have seen a lot of conversions where people gave their hearts to the Lord and eventually like disappointed lovers when things didn’t go their way they took it back again. I think of two sisters who lived in a neighborhood where several of their friends underwent shallow salvation experiences as teenagers. These kids, most from unsaved homes, could sing choruses, give testimonies, carry their Bibles to public school, but after 50 years not one stands today whereas the two sisters were not accosted by the Lord until later in life but they both married Christian men and are active in sound local assemblies.
This chapter tells us of two solid conversions which were accomplished by the Acts of the Holy Spirit. One or two of these is worth waiting for and praying for as compared with many of the other kind. Let us be wary of picking the fruit too soon before it is ripe. I could probably go next door and get my neighbor to say the words right now but I would rather wait til the Lord opens her heart and her prison doors. Let us pray much for our loved ones and our neighbors that the Lord will do the opening for He it is that “hath the key of David, he that openth and no man shutteth” etc.(Rev.3:7). Upon such as these His new name is written and the name of his God.
Children from strong Christian homes may be evangelized and harvested early in life but we must be real wary of a shallow profession that can easily be extracted from an impressionable child. A wise parent may know when a heart is truly open, and even then may only be able to drop in a tiny seed. So many parents quit seeking the salvation of their children because they think that they are safe now that they “have given their little hearts to Jesus.” Is this perhaps a ploy of the enemy? I think parents should never be satisfied with words but rather look for the fruit of the Spirit in a mature child’s life (17 - 21).
Acts 17:4 Some Believed
In this chapter we find more of those wonderful acts of the Holy Spirit. First, in
Thessalonica a work was begun which resulted in the establishment of a church in that city. Though he suffered persecution there, Paul’s preaching produced fruit among the Jews, the Greek proselytes and the chief women. It was apparently these believers that Timothy was sent to establish and comfort (I Thess.3:2). It was his positive report (v.6) that probably prompted the very first epistle that Paul ever wrote and shortly thereafter a second. Though it is indicated in this passage that he only preached in the Jewish synagogues 3 Sabbaths, he most likely was in the city longer than that as I Thess.2:9 and II Thess.3:8 would indicate (see also Phil.4:16). It is especially noteworthy that in the relatively brief time he spent among them he had taught them concerning the Day of the Lord and AntiChrist (II Thess.2:5 )which is amazing!
The second sphere of influence treated in this chapter is that which took place in the city of Berea which ever after has lent its name to those Bible believers who are searchers of the Scripture. These people were of a different stripe than the run of the mill Thessalonians. This was probably said particularly of the Jews. It is interesting , however, that it was the latter in which a church was formed and which was addressed by the Apostle Paul not once but twice. No Berean church is mentioned!
Thirdly, what a day Paul had on Mars Hill among the Athenians. These philosophers had a mixed reaction to the message of Christ’s resurrection (v.32). Two names are specifically mentioned and that is because they were well known figures. Dionysuis was later, according to an early church writer, a pastor of the church in Athens.
Note there were those who “believed” in all three centers (verses 4, 12 and 34).
Acts 18:2 Priscilla and Aquila
When you meet new Christian friends aren’t you usually interested in finding out how they got saved? I am. Recently we had two couples in our home and we spent an enjoyable afternoon listening to and sharing our testimonies. In this verse we are introduced to a couple with euphonic names. Aquila and Priscilla are a “harmonious succession of words having a pleasing sound” (Webster). They are Latin names though the owners are Jewish. Perhaps, when we see this couple in heaven, we may find that they first heard the gospel from devout Jews who were at Pentecost when the church was born (Acts 2:9) though this is unlikely. It would be interesting to know what took them from this most easterly province of the Roman empire in Asia Minor, Pontus, all the way to Rome? Whether it was the lure of that metropolitan city or the opportunity for more lucrative employment, in any case, it was one more fascinating step in the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Then perhaps it was at Rome that they heard the gospel of redeeming grace.
At any rate, being caught up in a Jewish purge and finding themselves at Corinth they were launched on the most exciting phase of their life heretofore. How Paul “found” them is probably a great story in itself and who knows but that it may have been only after he became a guest in their home that they were arrested by God’s spirit but when Paul left Corinth after a successful but stormy ministry lasting more than a year and a half, they left with him. Had they already earned the privilege of being Paul’s helpers by this time (Rom.16:3)?
In Ephesus Priscilla and Aquila found their Cherith. As behind the scenes servants of the Lord they were able to straighten out Apollos (v.26) then ever after sharing in this brother’s very public ministry. It is quite certain that Timothy appreciated having this couple in his church or enjoyed an overseership relation to the one in their home (I Cor.16:19).
Finally, in their otherwise unobtrusive ministry this couple had attracted notoriety among the churches in their willingness to put their own lives on the line for Paul Rom. (16:4). Good friends like these are a precious gift – be one.
Acts 19:17 The Lord Jesus Magnified
Evidently these former disciples of John the Baptist, after hearing him preach repentance to Israel as pious Jews in identification with his message received baptism at his hands even as our Lord Jesus had done. Thereafter, they had apparently moved on out of the country and were completely oblivious of what had transpired at the feast of Pentecost. This is not to be wondered at in that day when communication was only by word of mouth. This being the case, they sincerely did not know what Paul, who suspected that something was missing, was talking about.
This dozen men, being truly repentant at the time when John baptized them, were still responsive to what God was doing and as soon as they heard the gospel they believed. Once again, the confirmation that these now had something (or Someone) that previously they had lacked is manifested by their speaking in tongues as was done at Pentecost. Throughout this book of the Acts of the Holy Spirit, the only time after that occasion that tongues were given was as a sign to show that both the Gentile believers and John’s disciples were a part of the New Testament church. Think of how many people other than in these two instances had been saved but not another word about the subject. The only other place it is mentioned is in a letter to a church riddled with problems. That should tell you something! “Whether there be tongues, they shall cease” and I am satisfied that they have! Then too, this was a transition period for the church, a time when the apostles were given special miraculous powers.
Notice that the Jewish exorcists left out an important word when they sought to cast out demons saying “we adjure you by Jesus whom Paul preacheth.” That word was Lord. It is used of our Lord Jesus 17 times in Acts and I like to hear it used when we speak of Him in a personal way. It is a good habit don’t you think? But certainly, as someone has wisely put it, “if He is not Lord of all He is not Lord at all!”
Acts 20:17 & 28 Presbyterians and Episcopalians
In these few verses typically called a “we” passage readers are reminded that it is Dr. Luke who is writing this book and who was traveling with Paul on this journey though they were temporarily separated as indicated here. What an experience it must have been for him and how good for them to have an experienced physician along for the trip. Though Paul for some reason did not want to stop at Ephesus, he did very much feel the need to have a conference with the elders of that assembly so they were invited to join him at Miletus, about 30 - 40 miles distant.
The words used for the leadership of this church are very interesting. In verse 17 the English word elder is translated from a word which using our alphabet instead of the Greek would look like
presbyterous. You can see where the Presbyterians get their name! The important point in this verse is that it is evident that the one church (singular) in Ephesus had numerous elders. “Ho-hum” you say “our church isn’t run that way; we have one pastor and deacons and trustees. Does it really matter as long as we get the job done?” Ok, when the search committee places a woman on the list to be considered as a pastoral candidate, don’t say a word, you may find yourself being inconsistent. Is a matter right or wrong because of tradition or do we do what we do because it is scriptural?
To get in a little deeper, which shouldn’t discourage meateaters, lets look at verse 28. Here these same elders are all called bishops. “Wait,” you say, “ my King James Bible says, overseers.” This word in the Greek is episcopous, (now you know where the Episcopal church gets its name) and everywhere else is translated “bishop” (examples I Timothy 3:1 and Titus 5:7), the translators here missing a great opportunity to show that the elder and bishop are the same person! With these thoughts in mind, study what is said about these leaders. Pray that the churches you are concerned about might have several of them. While it seems evident to me that the early churches had a pastor who was recognized as the leader of the assembly, it is also quite evident that there were many spiritual leaders in each church and these men were to help guard the assembly from error. I suggest that perhaps one of the reasons why churches often have so many problems is due to a failure to train leadership within the local church and a failure also for good men to be satisfied to sit back and let the pastor do all the teaching of the Word of God. See Hebrews 5:12. Brethren, these things ought not to be!
Acts 21:14 The Will of the Lord be Done
I am suspicious of people who seem bent on finding fault with the Apostle Paul. Once I listened to a Sunday school teacher who was bound to blame Paul for the dissension that arose over John Mark. It seemed obvious to him that Barnabas was right and Paul was wrong. We don’t know, but one thing is sure the Holy Spirit followed Paul in his journeys and not Barnabas here in the book of Acts. And we are glad that eventually this young man won his way back into Paul’s good graces (II Tim.4:11).
In this chapter he often comes in for more criticism. Why didn’t he listen to the Spirit filled Agabus, he might have avoided martyrdom at Rome. Yes, and may we hasten to say, he might, too, have missed the will of God! The Holy Ghost was simply telling the truth through Agabus “the Jews at Jerusalem shall bind the man that owns this girdle and shall deliver him into the hands of the Gentiles.” If nothing else, this message from God was a reminder to Paul that he had a first class ticket to wherever God wanted him to go and preach to Gentiles. Yes, he was willing to die at Jerusalem but there were not many Gentiles there so it was highly unlikely. He might have thought it would all end in martyrdom in this Jewish capital, that the people he had met on his missionary journeys had fulfilled God’s purpose for him, but if he thought that, he was being a bit nearsighted, and in this he may have been wrong, we all have a bit of a problem that way. But it is evident Paul was being pressed in his spirit (Acts 20:22) and though we can appreciate both the concerns for his safety felt by his friends and the “breaking of his heart” in parting from them as he had from the elders in the previous chapter, he, like the Lord Jesus, had set his face as a flint toward Jerusalem. Of the nature and warning in verse 4, we cannot be certain, but of this, we are sure, Luke and his friends were right when they said, “the will of the Lord be done.”
And what exactly was the will of the Lord for Paul? Obviously, the answer to that is what transpires in the saga of his journey to Rome which unfolds in the remainder of this book. Go back to 9:15 and then ahead to 23:11 and 27:24 asking yourself the question, what was God’s will for Paul? Now enjoy the great adventure as he witnesses to kings!
Acts 22:13 Brother Saul
Here Paul the apologist (lit. apologia, translated “defense”) makes the first of four separate defenses. This one, “on the stairs” (21:40) in Hebrew, the second before governor Felix, the third before his replacement governor (in Caesarea) Festus and finally, before being sent to Rome (on which journey he was shipwrecked) before king Agrippa.
What better than to give one’s testimony every chance we get. That’s what Paul did. For a first hand account and to note what the Lord actually said to Ananias, go back to Acts nine and read it again.
Just think what it took for this man to lay his hands on “the destroyer” and call him “brother Saul.” Recently a man who had been converted from a life of pedophilia was released from his obligation at the Bangor Rescue mission to go back into society. Can men be reclaimed by the power of the gospel? We can say a resounding YES, praise the Lord, and if such men as K have no hope of change we are found to be liars! We pray that the neighborhood where he has lived and which resisted vociferously his being there might somehow know of his victory over sin and we must pray for him and others like him that they might learn to “walk in the spirit” for we all know what the enemy would like to do.
Speaking of being vociferous! What a reaction this crowd had to Paul’s testimony (vv.22-23). To think there are places today, on this sphere of God’s focused blessings, that would react even more violently than these, should one attempt such a witness. Pray for missionaries in such places.
By the way, in case verse 16 has troubled you a bit, I have checked over half a dozen commentators and they all agree that this is a reference to symbolic cleansing. It is certainly a fact that water baptism never washed one’s single sin away from anyone! But the blood of Christ - that’s another story. Praise God!
Acts 23:10 “In whatsoever state...”
In-fighting among the opposition began when Paul, knowing what would probably happen,
brought up the subject of the resurrection. Sure enough, for a little while attention was focused away from him but soon they began such an attack on him as to cause concern on the part of the chief captain. The figure of speech of Paul being “pulled to pieces” conjures up a humorous picture of each of these three factions grabbing him and having somewhat of a tug of war with him in the middle.
That night the Lord reassured Paul that he could be confident that his trip to Rome would certainly take place, though the circumstances that would bring it about were apparently not revealed to him at this time. It is enough for us to know that the Lord is with us, yea, actually in us, and best that the details of His plans not be made known lest we get in the way. (If Paul had any idea of the ship wreck that was in his future he might have decided to go by train!)
What an interesting scenario now unfolds. With forty religious cut- throats vowing not to eat until they kill him, he must have wondered what God was going to do. I think he must have chuckled a bit when he was rousted out in the middle of the night and hurried on his way out of Jerusalem by four hundred men, seventy of them on horseback and half of them trained in the use of the javelin (ref.), leaving in their dust forty pretty hungry guys whose curse would catch up with them if their appetite didn’t.
I venture to think that uncle Paul would take time to write a note of thanks to his young nephew and tell him what had transpired as a result of his courage and resourcefulness.
Speaking of writing letters, those two years or more when Paul might have wondered if God’s plan for him was still on track presented a great opportunity for him to get some important stuff written to follow up his missionary activity. Phil.4: 11-13 was probably conceived out of such an experience so, we are the beneficiaries. Now, you aren’t going to neglect to look it up are you?
Acts 24:10 Paul cheerfully Answers for Himself
I don’t know about you, but I don’t think I will ever forget chapter twenty-three! Wow, what a send-off! Can’t you just imagine Pastor Rose or Silas Fox handling that at a youth retreat! (Or some other evangelist of your acquaintance.)
Ta dah...make way for the great orator Tertullus who begins by seeking to “butter up” the most noble Felix and then with lies and exaggeration makes accusations against this “pestilent fellow and mover of sedition throughout the world...” ad nauseam. Don’t mix this wind bag up with Tertullian who was one of the early church fathers after the apostolic age and a true believer who said, among other things, that “the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.”
Here again, Paul gets a great opportunity to defend himself and Felix wisely puts off his accusers until later when he can hear the truth. The exciting part of all of this is that Paul was able to give witness to him and his wife. Drusilla, being a Jewess, gave Paul the privilege of speaking the truth to one of his own people for whom he was so burdened while at the same time carrying out his divine commission to take the word of God to the Gentiles. Excitement is putting it mildly for who wouldn’t be thrilled to see a governor tremble at the preaching of the Gospel. Just imagine having such an opportunity with our own state governor. (Let’s pray for our governor right now!)
With such an exciting start I’m sure Paul thought he was on the fast track to Rome which now suddenly comes to a screeching halt and he is left bound in prison for two years or more. How would you and I feel about this seemingly waste of time to have the great evangelist before whom men would tremble at the word placed on the sidelines. But how did Paul take it? Being “instructed” by the principle of the cross he had learned “in whatsoever state...to be content” (see Phil.4: 11-13). To be sure, he made good use of his time writing letters.
Acts 25:11 Not Quite the Highest Court
Though later we find out (26:32) that his appeal to Caesar had been unnecessary, it was by
this means that Paul was to receive a free ride to Rome courtesy of the Empire, that is, he would be transferred from Caesarea as a prisoner.
We remember the means God used to get Joseph to Egypt. It was not an easy road, but it got him there on time and intact. Getting Pharaoh’s attention was another story. It would surely have made it easier if he had known exactly what God’s plan was for his life. At least Paul had been told that he was headed for Rome, think of poor old Job with all kinds of backstage maneuvering going on and he never did know the half of it. As we can see, it does make quite a difference when we get it all behind us and begin to get God’s perspective on what our lives are really all about. The important thing for us is to have the attitude that accepts the fact that all things do indeed “work together for good” for those of us who are saved. Our times are in His hands!
Did Paul ever say to himself “why oh why did I get myself into this mess in the first place by appealing to Caesar. I never would have done it had I known what Nero is capable of doing etc, etc.”
Of course not! He knew that the God who had taken him to Rome and had used his house arrest there to touch many lives (Phil:4:22) was able to deliver him from the executioner’s axe if He wished to do so. No, the time had come for him to be “offered” and he was “ready” as he told Timothy (II Tim.4:6).
“I have a fought the good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith: Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness which the Lord, the righteous judge shall give me at that day: and not to me only but unto all them also that love his appearing” (vv.7&8). That’s us, beloved, isn’t it? Hallelujah!
Acts 26:22 Witnessing
We might think of this chapter as Paul’s grand finale for it was his last defense ever recorded by the Holy Spirit. The curtain was falling on the acts of Paul in his homeland to open a new drama in his life of which we actually know very little. He would receive those who came to visit him (28:30), there would be much time for writing to the churches at Philippi, Collosse, Ephesus and Galatia, and he would enjoy wonderful fellowship with men like Tychicus, Onesimus and Epaphroditus but we don’t know if he ever got an opportunity to witness of the resurrection to such as Nero. We really don’t need to know for we are certain that he would be giving his testimony again as he did before King Agrippa and Festus.
In fact, have I ever told you about my own personal experience on a high mountain top in eastern Maine? As I bowed there in the presence of a man sent from God whose name was George, suddenly the sky was full of an angelic choir singing praises to the Lord. That was right after a lightening bolt struck the very rocks upon which I was seated prostrating us in the dust while we heard a voice from heaven.... Wait a minute! If you think I am going to believe this you are crazy in the head! –Yes, and that just the reaction these men had (v.24) as Paul shared his glorious experience- get the point? Apart from the Holy Spirit, would we ever believe it either?
Actually, I was on a mountain (Porcupine) in Lubec which is about as far east in the USA as you can go. The angels did rejoice or so I am told in Scripture (Luke 15:10), and it wasn’t long after I sat on those rocks that a company blasted those ledges to smithereens and sunk them into the Narrows between Lubec and Campobello for a breakwater when the bridge was built. (I often thought, I should have said to that mountain- be thou removed etc.- Now that would have made quite a story!) But suffice it to say that a teenaged boy got saved that day and you should tell your story as often as you can too! Here, sing Channels Only.
Acts 27:25 Be of Good Cheer
Our voyage to heaven on the good ship Grace may encounter rough seas but, “be of good
cheer for I believe God that it shall be even as it was told me.” Paul was assured, even as we should be, that nothing can alter God’s sovereign plan for us (Phil.1:6). Paul had been told earlier (23:11) that God was taking him to Rome. What He didn’t say is when and how. Wouldn’t we like to know the “whens” and “hows” of His dealings with us! Let this story be a rich source of encouragement especially if at this time you may be going through some trial or testing. As the song goes, “ it will be worth it all when we see Jesus.”
Note the fact that Paul remembered God’s very words and repeated them here when he told the frightened crew and passengers about his vision that night, “be of good cheer.” Furthermore, he witnessed to these men again that he belonged to God and was His servant (v.23) but this case was the very opposite of Jonah’s. How much better for us to be a follower of Paul (Phil. 4:9) rather than him. In this case it was mandatory that all of them stick together even to the drastic measure of cutting loose the tender (v.32) to keep some of the sailors from abandoning ship. May God graciously give us those who are sailing with us on this often wild sea of life.
The day I started thinking and praying about writing on this chapter I happened to be spending time with my friend Ross Hodsdon, a translator with Bibles International, a division of Baptist Mid- Missions. He mentioned an item of interest that I will now pass on to you. A few years ago he was in church in Boothbay Harbor, Maine and speaking of this story. A noted artist and model ship builder, Earl Barlow heard him and proceeded to spend the next 3 and 1\2 years researching the subject and building a model of the ship Paul was on. At the dedication of this model which was to be used as a teaching tool traveling with Ross and other missionaries to about fifteen language areas, reporters from Boston showed up at the church explaining that whatever Mr. Barlow touched sold for at least $10,000. The Smithsonian museum has expressed an interest in the model which now is said to be worth $100,000.
Acts 28:28 “They will hear it.”
In this chapter we see a flurry of activity before the curtain falls on the career of the great apostle Paul. On the island of Melita he witnesses to barbarians, to chiefs and to multitudes of afflicted ones during the three months that he stayed there en route to Rome. Certainly his shipmates, all two hundred seventy-six souls, (27:37) saw and heard during this voyage great testimony to the power and grace of the gospel, so they were without excuse. To all of this Luke was an eyewitness.
After arriving at Rome Paul at once called the chief Jews together and witnessed to them to the end that “some believed.” Also he lived in a house where for two years he received all who came, preaching and teaching concerning the Lord Jesus Christ. Even though this was house arrest, someone has noted that after what he had been through, this must have seemed to Paul to be two of the easiest years of his ministry.
Tradition has it that after the two years he was released and traveled about for some ten more years before he was taken prisoner, according to Chrysostom, by Nero because one of his mistresses had been converted. It is quite certain that Nero had Paul beheaded.
So we come to the end of the book of Acts, but in reality it is but the beginning of the Acts of the Holy Spirit. Our church and your church are a continuation. Let us rejoice as we contemplate the tremendous work of God that is going on today all over the world! “He shall see His seed...” (Isa.53:10).