Dr. Bob Rowley brought a stirring message to Three Rivers Community Church. He challenged us to think seriously about church in terms of the call to make disciples. It was a message that looks beyond church as a ritual and more as the most relevant thing we can do to promote a better world, honor the Lord, and love others. Listen in!
Real Talk with Roderick
Per the request of the Holy Spirit the church leaders Barnabas and Saul, assisted initially by John Mark, were sent by the anything-but-ordinary fellowship in Antioch on the first missionary journey (Acts 13:4-5). As they went from city to city, commended by their sending church to the grace of God, they faced increasing success and resistance. First, they were opposed by a sorcerer in Paphos. Paul ended the interference by declaring blindness on the evil false prophet. Seeing what had happened the proconsul of that island city believed (Acts 13:6-12). Second, jealous Jewish brethren in Pisidian Antioch, contradicted the teaching and blasphemed in a dog-in-the-manger attempt to stop the work of witnessing to the Gentiles. Paul and Barnabas are expelled but not before the word spreads throughout the region, a multitude hear the gospel, and many choose to become disciples of Jesus Christ (Acts 13:49-52). Leaving Antioch they go to Iconium. Before they are finally forced to leave Iconium because of the threat of stoning the Lord supports their witness with signs and wonders (Acts 14:1-3). In that city a great multitude of Jews and Greeks believed.
In Lystra Barnabas and Paul continue to have Jesus-enabled miracle support in their preaching. Unfortunately their audience mistake them for the gods Zeus and Hermes (Acts 14:8-18). Before everything gets sorted out enemies from cities visited earlier (Antioch and Iconium) show up and make matters worse. Paul is stoned, dragged out of the city, and left for dead (Acts 14:19-20). But he is not dead and gets up to go back to the previously visited cities to encourage, explain the necessity of Christian suffering, and establish structure through the installation of spiritual leadership.
When Paul and Barnabas, having come through persecutions and a stoning, return to their sending church they report their experiences. It was a success! Especially the work among the Gentiles in Galatia. Churches have been established among the Gentiles in Galatia. And now these godly men can relax for a while. Right?
(Galatians 1:1-5; Mark 10:45; Isaiah 53)
1 Paul, an apostle (not from men nor through man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father who raised Him from the dead), 2 and all the brethren who are with me, To the churches of Galatia: 3 Grace to you and peace from God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ, 4 who gave Himself for our sins, that He might deliver us from this present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, 5 to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.
The writer opens the letter to the Galatians using a name he began using during his first missionary journey (Acts 13:9). Besides the fact that Luke will no longer use Saul when referring to the former Pharisee, Paul (Greek - small or little) himself will not use his Jewish name in any of his letters. Why the change? He is doubtless not ashamed of his heritage (Philippians 3:4-5) and probably used the Jewish-Roman Saul Paul among Jews of the diaspora. His chosen designation of Paul is one way in which he has embraced his calling (2 Timothy 1:11).
Some scholars have equated this change of names with a major shift in Paul’s preaching career: his transition from a largely Jewish orientation to his new role as Apostle to the Gentiles.
George, T. (1994). Galatians (Vol. 30, p. 77). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.
Immediately after stating his name Paul goes on to state his title: an apostle (Galatians 1:1). This is a standard feature in his letters and readily seen as part of his salutation formula: name (Paul), title (an apostle), blessing (grace and peace), and then thanksgiving for the recipients. He uses this self-designation in eight of the twelve New Testament letters that bear his name (66.7%).
The opening of this letter at first glance seems to be just like all of his other writings. It contains his name (Paul), his title (an apostle), and a blessing (Grace to you and peace...). However, a closer inspection reveals important differences. The elaboration on his title not from men nor through man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father who raised Him from the dead is unique. There are no other letters where Paul uses so many words in the salutation to gird up the authenticity of his authority. And there are other differences.
Though the salutation includes the usual identification of author and recipient together with a customary greeting, the usual expression of thanksgiving and praise for believers is totally absent.
Campbell, D. K. (1985). Galatians. In J. F. Walvoord & R. B. Zuck (Eds.), The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures (Vol. 2, p. 589). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.
So, there is an elaboration on his position as an apostle and an absence of thanksgiving for the recipients. Is this worthy of note? Do we care? Yes! Each departure from his usual opening signifies an issue precipitating the letter itself. The issue being handles in the letter has and does keep coming up for the church. The list of deviations, although short, is pregnant with meaning and advice for the modern Christian.
As we try to interpret Galatians for its original audience and today these exceptional features of the salutation signal counterparts that are coming in the body of the letter. In Paul's prescript he portends the content. That is, the why of Paul's letter is indicated by the items included or excluded from his usual salutation.
Galatians defends the authority of its author and the sufficiency of what has been said concerning salvation. In its words a former leader in legalism refutes the accusation of an inferior apostleship, razes the camp that would corrupt the gospel, corrects the teaching concerning the purpose of the law, and calls his readership back to grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone. By this book we are loosed from the sophistry of man-made salvation and the futility of attempting to live by the law. We are led back to confidence in Christ, in His cross work, and the effectiveness of His Spirit in doing God's will.
The salutation is important for the proper understanding of the book of Galatians. And the larger work, salutation and following material, arms us in our war with those who would attack the veracity of Scripture, against seemingly spiritual people who would lead us into the bondage of legalism, and against people who would corrupt the gospel.
6 I marvel that you are turning away so soon from Him who called you in the grace of Christ, to a different gospel, 7 which is not another; but there are some who trouble you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ. 8 But even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed. 9 As we have said before, so now I say again, if anyone preaches any other gospel to you than what you have received, let him be accursed. 10 For do I now persuade men, or God? Or do I seek to please men? For if I still pleased men, I would not be a bondservant of Christ.
Paul is dumbfounded by the defection of the Galatian disciples. He is astonished by their apparently rapid abandoning of the grace of Christ to a different gospel. News of their falling away is the reason why their is no thanksgiving for their faith. He is not sure of their faith at this point! When the essentials of the gospel are given up there can be no assurance of salvation, no hope for a heavenly home, and no counting on the Comfort of Holy Spirit for the recipients.
When compared with the opening of 1 Corinthians this is even more striking, for despite the Corinthians’ deep moral defection Paul nonetheless expressed commendation. But here in the face of theological departure he did not express thanks, thus emphasizing the more serious nature of doctrinal apostasy.
Campbell, D. K. (1985). Galatians. In J. F. Walvoord & R. B. Zuck (Eds.), The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures (Vol. 2, p. 590). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.
When the foundational facts of the gospel are removed you no longer have grace. The preacher becomes a panderer of one more religious system where man saves himself, where the cross work of Christ is necessary but not sufficient, and where Jesus is only a significant contributor to redemption. That false gospel is no cure for what ails but a poison pill that makes the perdition certain.
To make this work you have to undermine the credibility of the work and witness of Paul. They made him out to be someone leading people into licentious living to gain favor with the Gentiles. It is not hard to imagine the damaging words of his detractors: "He will do anything to gain favor among the nations. He even said something like I am all things to all men that I might by all means save some. So he throws out the Law to win approval."
Apparently the Judaizers had charged Paul with teaching freedom from the Law in order to curry the Gentiles’ favor. But the tone of this letter, specifically the harsh language Paul had just used, was hardly calculated to win the approval of men. Men-pleasers simply do not hurl anathemas against those who proclaim false gospels. Indeed, if the apostle had wanted to please men, he would have remained a zealous Pharisee and promoter of the Law rather than becoming a servant of Christ.
Campbell, D. K. (1985). Galatians. In J. F. Walvoord & R. B. Zuck (Eds.), The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures (Vol. 2, p. 591). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.
The tone of his letter would be a problem for his enemies. The words he had penned in the opening of this letter were infused with a tone that did not fit the profile of a people pleaser. Instead of smooth words aimed at promoting calm and collaboration with the Judaizers... he cursed them and anyone else that would dare to change the gospel.
Three Rivers Spring Break 2016
We got away from the daily grind to hang out in Leakey, Texas. There was fishing, battles with snakes, time in the word, good meals, and some hiking.
Many thanks to Steven Marron, Rob Hollis, and Col (Ret.) Mike DeBow for teaching. Also, many thanks to Toni Timmons and Brady Buchanan for helping with the youth. Finally, thanks goes out to Mary Alice DeBow for helping to make sense of fellowship schedules and meals.
In His grip by His grace,
Roderick L. Barnes, Sr.
Dear Real Talk Community,
My youngest son and I have the same birthday. We celebrated with breakfast, dinner as a family, and some colorful cake items.
I thank God for His grace toward our family.
In His grip by His grace,
Roderick L. Barnes, Sr.
Real Talk with Roderick
The Last Word (Acts 12:20-24; Isaiah 42:8)
Introduction (Daniel 4; 5:19-21)
King Herod has harassed the church and killed an apostle. The illegitimate leadership that arraigned Jesus and promoted His crucifixion is working with Herod to hurt Jesus followers. And it seems like they are getting away with too. It is reminiscent of another king that seemed to operate with impunity until he crossed the line with God.
Under Nebuchadnezzar the Jews were taken captive. Under Nebuchadnezzar they were stripped of their names, their freedom to practice their faith, and their homeland. He was cruel toward his captives and toward the poor. And he even setup idols to himself and demanded that everyone bow down and worship. That was taking it too far (Isaiah 42:8). So God warned him in a dream (Daniel 4:20-26). Not withstanding, one year later he boasts about his accomplishments. Immediately heaven reduces him to a beast of the field. He loses his mind and becomes a grass-eating, long-nailed, crazy man in the pastures for seven years. What happened?
The seriousness of Nebuchadnezzar's sin is not in what he says but in the way he sees himself. His chief trespass was not the conversation he had with himself about his greatness but considering himself (1) above other men and unobligated toward the needs of the poor and (2) the cause of the great splendor of his own kingdom. The primary problem is not in his pompous words; these are but a symptom of the real problem - his pride. In His pride He sinned by seeing success as something he made happen... without God's help. His uplifted heart, wallowing in the wickedness of self worship, said "I did this!"
Now back to king Herod. It seems like he is getting away with murder as he persecutes the church. But he is about to cross the line.
The Prop for Displaying the Problem (Acts 12:20; 1 Kings 5:1-11; Ezra 3:7; Ezekiel 27:17)
20 Now Herod had been very angry with the people of Tyre and Sidon; but they came to him with one accord, and having made Blastus the king’s personal aide their friend, they asked for peace, because their country was supplied with food by the king’s country.
Herod the Great (37 - 4 BC, Matt 2:1–22; Luke 1:5) and his grandson Herod Agrippa I (37 - 44 BC, Acts 12) were kings over Judea; they wielded power conferred upon them by Rome. They both desired (1) due respect as rulers of the region and (2) undue religious reverence from the Jews (Matthew 2:1-3); each coveted the crown that ultimately belonged to the Son of David. Given their way the prophecies concerning the Messiah King would be set aside in favor of a Herodian Dynasty. However, as both men are Edomites, neither of them can ever have legitimate claims to David's throne.
Herod [the Great] was an Idumean, an Edomite half-caste; in Jewish eyes he was unfit to rule. As a client-king of Rome, Herod symbolized foreign domination to the Jews...
Brisco, T. V. (1998). Holman Bible atlas (p. 199). Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers.
Although much was done by the grandfather and grandson to garner favor with the priesthood and common folk they were both genealogically disqualified for the position King of the Jews. Further, as seen in their ongoing acts of wanton wickedness and brutality toward the people of their region (Matthew 2:16-18; Acts 12:1-2), they were so insecure and depraved in nature that they could never muster the servant leadership God wanted for Israel.
Legitimate leadership is often thought to be about grand actions, great ability, and a good command of others. But these types of "real leaders", apart from heavenly enabling for service, are often little more than rulers. The Anointing that moves Messiah to wash feet is not at work in them. These take charge types are actually the continuation of the Herodian Dynasty.
Herod Agrippa I wants to be regarded as a type of Solomon in blessing other nations.
1 Now Hiram king of Tyre sent his servants to Solomon, because he heard that they had anointed him king in place of his father, for Hiram had always loved David. 2 Then Solomon sent to Hiram, saying:
3 You know how my father David could not build a house for the name of the Lord his God because of the wars which were fought against him on every side, until the Lord put his foes under the soles of his feet. 4 But now the Lord my God has given me rest on every side; there is neither adversary nor evil occurrence. 5 And behold, I propose to build a house for the name of the Lord my God, as the Lord spoke to my father David, saying, “Your son, whom I will set on your throne in your place, he shall build the house for My name.” 6 Now therefore, command that they cut down cedars for me from Lebanon; and my servants will be with your servants, and I will pay you wages for your servants according to whatever you say. For you know there is none among us who has skill to cut timber like the Sidonians.
7 So it was, when Hiram heard the words of Solomon, that he rejoiced greatly and said, Blessed be the Lord this day, for He has given David a wise son over this great people! 8 Then Hiram sent to Solomon, saying:
I have considered the message which you sent me, and I will do all you desire concerning the cedar and cypress logs. 9 My servants shall bring them down from Lebanon to the sea; I will float them in rafts by sea to the place you indicate to me, and will have them broken apart there; then you can take them away. And you shall fulfill my desire by giving food for my household.
10 Then Hiram gave Solomon cedar and cypress logs according to all his desire. 11 And Solomon gave Hiram twenty thousand kors of wheat as food for his household, and twenty kors of pressed oil. Thus Solomon gave to Hiram year by year.
In Acts 12:20 we are told that Herod had been angry with the people of Tyre and Sidon. The reason for his angst is not provided. It was not important for the unfolding of his fateful errors and is recounted summarily only as a foil for a bigger point. They need his help and he cannot resist the opportunity to have them groveling at his feet.
The cities of the Phoenician seaboard, Tyre and Sidon, depended on Galilee for their food supply, as they had done a thousand years earlier in the time of Hiram and Solomon (1 Kings 5:9–12).
Bruce, F. F. (1988). The Book of the Acts (pp. 240–241). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.
The Problem Displayed (Acts 12:21-23)
21 So on a set day Herod, arrayed in royal apparel, sat on his throne and gave an oration to them. 22 And the people kept shouting, “The voice of a god and not of a man!” 23 Then immediately an angel of the Lord struck him, because he did not give glory to God. And he was eaten by worms and died.
Like Nebuchadnezzar king Herod has crossed the line. It was not so much in his action as in his inaction and his tacit approval of being worshiped.
Josephus also went into greater detail on the “royal robes” worn by Agrippa. The garment was made of silver and glistened radiantly in the morning sun. As Herod, in all his glory, turned and addressed the people, they shouted, “This is the voice of a god, not of a man” (v. 22). Josephus recorded a like response from the people, who hailed Herod as a god and “more than mortal.” Josephus at this point added significant detail, noting that Herod neither affirmed nor denied the people’s ascription of divinity to him.
Polhill, J. B. (1992). Acts (Vol. 26, p. 285). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.
His affirmation is in his silence. And his demise is in his decision to do nothing as he is being lauded by the people as deity. His chief failure is not in actions but in his attitude toward God and himself. Like Satan he wants something that only belongs to God - worship. And like Satan this attempt to get glory for himself results in a fast and unrelenting removal from power. Regarding Satan's fall Jesus said, "I saw Satan fall like lightning."
The Last Word (Acts 12:24)
24 But the word of God grew and multiplied.
Having removed Herod the Lord has ended a period of persecution of the church.
The lofty get lowered. The low get lifted. So get low.
Questions for Discussion
Real Talk with Roderick
Beyond Our Boundaries with Bridge-Building Barnabas (Acts 11:22-26)
If Peter's preaching to people outside of the Jews was not enough to make the Judaizers of Jerusalem lose it... this may do it (Acts 11:1-3). Beyond the seemingly wayward work of the most eminent apostle we now have the work of a few radical disciples. The outcome of their efforts has begun to make the news (Acts 11:22). It all started when some of the Jews that were scattered with the persecution of Stephen went as far as Antioch (Acts 11:19). Initially they stayed with the practice of presenting the grace of God through the gospel to Jews. Only Jews.
But eventually some of them began to go off road and present the gospel to the Gentiles. And although that causes consternation for people who want to keep the faith - away from nations, the decision was confirmed by Christ Himself. Similar to what happened when Peter preached to the centurion's household, the hand of the Lord was with those roguish preachers; a great number of heathen believed and turned to the Lord (Acts 11:21).
But, lest this thing get out of hand and the faith become feral, the church in Jerusalem needs to get someone to Antioch to make sure that things are being done right going forward. To that end they selected Barnabas and sent him over 300 miles as far as Antioch to investigate (Acts 11:22). What happens next is a set of powerful lessons for anyone that is serious about supporting the work of God among the nations. A close examination of bridge-building ministry of Barnabas yields a bounty of truth on going beyond our borders.
Barnabas himself was a Cypriot Jew by birth, like some of those who had begun to preach the gospel to the Antiochene Gentiles, and his sympathies would in any case be wider than those of such Jerusalem believers as had never set foot outside Judaea.
Bruce, F. F. (1988). The Book of the Acts (p. 226). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.
Principle 1 - Content with the Core
The gospel finds its best support and promotion in people who know it well. They are not deceived by dangerous deviations and will readily recognize and refute error. But when the gospel has been really received they are not distracted by cultural differences orthogonal to an unconditional commitment to Christ. Their deep understanding of God's grace gives them the ability to be genuinely glad when the critical part and core of salvation has been received: the Lord Jesus Christ. They do not need to hear in new believers their own music, agreement with their own political positions. They do not need to see conformity to their own preferences in the arranging of hair or adorning of the body. The gospel finds it best support and promotion in people who are content with the clear communication of the need to receive Christ - Christ alone.
Barnabas was a wise choice for several reasons. First, he, like some of these Christian ambassadors, was from Cyprus (4:36; 11:20). Second, he was a generous man (4:37) and therefore thoughtful of others. Third, he was a gracious gentleman as attested by his nickname (4:36) and Luke’s testimony about him (11:24).
Toussaint, S. D. (1985). Acts. In J. F. Walvoord & R. B. Zuck (Eds.), The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures (Vol. 2, p. 383). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.
The presence of a man of such sterling character and faith, a man “full of the Holy Spirit,”29 gave them the stimulus they needed to prosecute their evangelism still more vigorously; the number of converts increased rapidly.
Bruce, F. F. (1988). The Book of the Acts (p. 227). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.
Several years had gone by since Saul of Tarsus had been escorted to Caesarea by his new friends in Jerusalem and put on board a ship bound for his native city. Barnabas could think of no one more eminently suited for the responsibility of sharing his ministry in Antioch. He therefore went to Tarsus in person to seek him out30—a task of some difficulty, perhaps, since Saul appears to have been disinherited for his joining the followers of Jesus and could no longer be found at his ancestral home.
Bruce, F. F. (1988). The Book of the Acts (p. 227). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.
The text of Acts is compressed and selective, but the most likely reconstruction of Pauline chronology from Gal 1–2 would indicate that some ten years or so had elapsed from the time he first departed from Cilicia to when Barnabas set out to find him.
Polhill, J. B. (1992). Acts (Vol. 26, p. 272). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.
Principle 2 - Capable of Collaborations
The gospel finds its best support and promotion in people who are able to receive by faith the fruit of its transforming power. Looking at life through the lens of the gospel and their confidence in Christ, they see marvelous works of God where some can only see the mistakes of the past. They see an agent for good and apostle born out of time where others only see the adversary that once wreaked havoc in the church. They no longer see the persecutor of brethren but see by faith the eventual writer of powerful epistles. The gospel finds its best support and promotion in people willing to collaborate with the formerly violent and insolent man who has become in Christ a new creation.
Jesus’ disciples were first called Christians at Antioch. The ending “-ian” means “belonging to the party of”; thus “Christians” were those of Jesus’ party. The word “Christians” is used only two other times in the New Testament: in 26:28 and 1 Peter 4:16. The significance of the name, emphasized by the word order in the Greek text, is that people recognized Christians as a distinct group. The church was more and more being separated from Judaism.
Toussaint, S. D. (1985). Acts. In J. F. Walvoord & R. B. Zuck (Eds.), The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures (Vol. 2, p. 383). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.
Second, it reflects that Christianity was beginning to have an identity of its own and no longer was viewed as a totally Jewish entity. Again, the success among Gentiles would have hastened this process in Antioch.
Polhill, J. B. (1992). Acts (Vol. 26, p. 273). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.
But “would-be” Barnabases of today need to heed a further lesson from this outstanding biblical figure. Barnabases want everyone to be happy, but sometimes it simply is not possible to please everyone without serious compromise of one’s basic convictions. Barnabas found that out later at Antioch when, in order to placate the conservative Jewish Christians “from James” (Jerusalem), he withdrew from table fellowship with those very Gentile-Christian converts we see him here witnessing to so enthusiastically (Gal 2:11–13).
Polhill, J. B. (1992). Acts (Vol. 26, p. 272). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.
The Approachable Apostle
All of Jerusalem is in shock over the scandal. How could he have done it? Peter, changed by his time spent with Jesus and charged by the Spirit of Jesus, has become a legend. He spoke into the bewilderment of his brethren words of tremendous insight and hope and helped them to see the trustworthiness of God's word in the tragedy of Judas' treachery (Acts 1:15-26; 4:4). When he preached thousands made decisions to place their faith in Christ (Acts 2:40-41). When he extended the right hand of fellowship even people that could not walk were fully restored. Literally! E.g., there was a man that had been lame from birth. But when he was pulled to his feet by the big fisherman, the same man is later found walking, and leaping, and praising God (Acts 3:4-10).
When Peter was in trouble for his faith in Jesus he was indomitable. Incarceration did not break him (Acts 4:3). Threats from high ranking officials did not scare him away from preaching in the temple. When put on trial for the trespass of teaching the resurrection he in turn put his judge and jury on trial for the murder of the Messiah and told them to their face that they have no hope of salvation except in the name they won't say - Jesus (Acts 4:8-13). And when he was whipped for proclaiming the truth he would not wail saying "Woe is me!" Instead he sang for the joy of being allowed to suffer in Jesus' name (Acts 5:40-41). In the power of the Holy Spirit the man formerly driven by fear to deny the Lord is now fearless in his new identity as a witness for Jesus.
But legend or not... he has taken things too far. Even though he is the most well known and popular among the apostles he has crossed the line. Check out the headline in The Jerusalem Journal
Pete Meets and Eats with Gentiles
Peter's meeting and eating with Gentiles is altogether unacceptable. He seems to think that he is above the Law. Every self respecting Jew knows that God has in one breath both called Israel both away from Gentile fellowship and Gentile food.
24 But I have said to you, “You shall inherit their land, and I will give it to you to possess, a land flowing with milk and honey.” I am the Lord your God, who has separated you from the peoples. 25 You shall therefore distinguish between clean animals and unclean, between unclean birds and clean, and you shall not make yourselves abominable by beast or by bird, or by any kind of living thing that creeps on the ground, which I have separated from you as unclean. 26 And you shall be holy to Me, for I the Lord am holy, and have separated you from the peoples, that you should be Mine. (Leviticus 20:24-26)
Wait until he gets to Jerusalem. Apostle or not he is going to confronted and needs to answer for his actions.
People Perceive Problems in Peter (Acts 11:1-3)
1 Now the apostles and brethren who were in Judea heard that the Gentiles had also received the word of God. 2 And when Peter came up to Jerusalem, those of the circumcision contended with him, 3 saying, “You went in to uncircumcised men and ate with them!”
The news of what has happened in Caesarea traveled fast. It was such an astonishing thing that the Jewish News Network (JNN) was carrying the matter as breaking news: Gentiles had also received the word of God (Acts 11:1). But not everyone is happy about it. There are some who see a more disturbing issue: Peter's rebellion overshadows Gentile repentance. There are some in the fellowship who are so incensed about Peter's transgression of fellowship and food restrictions that they cannot rejoice in the faith revival. They are so fixed on his failure to keep the Law they are fundamentally incapable of seeing in his actions the leading of the Lord. Who are they? In the passage they are referred to as those of the circumcision. They are a group within the new fellowship holding up the importance of the Old Covenant.
Here, however, “those of the circumcision” has a narrower sense, namely those who contended for circumcision as being necessary for membership in the Christian Church, the circumcision party.
Lenski, R. C. H. (1961). The Interpretation of the Acts of the Apostles (p. 438). Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Publishing House.
What does Legalism do? It locks up the grace of God in man-made traditions, in religious rituals, and in the Law. According to the gospel of legalism you cannot see the Savior until you have seen the synagogue. You cannot meet Messiah until you have been properly introduced to Moses. And you cannot know Jesus as Lord until you have submitted to the Law (Acts 15:5).
But the relentless grace of God sends an evangelist into a deserted area to share His truth with one man who was physically disqualified from participating in the fullness of Judaism. The determined move of the Spirit sends Peter to preach salvation to the uncircumcised. And the uncanny counsel of the Godhead considered it wise to send a former Pharisee to make grace in Christ known among the nations.
The legalists take issue with Peter's behavior. But, lest we become their judges, we should bear in mind that their thinking is reasonable. Judaism and Christianity are still viewed by some as the same thing.
Evidently they represented a strongly Jewish Their perspective is understandable, given that at this point Christianity was still seen as a movement within Judaism.
Polhill, J. B. (1992). Acts (Vol. 26, p. 266). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.
Moveover, the facts had not yet been brought forward. The decision to confront Peter should be viewed as an attempt to get an explanation. It is actually a good thing and reveals that Peter was approachable, people did not regard him as infallible, and their issues were not reduced to slander and gossip.
With refreshing openness [Peter] was taken to task for his conduct.
Lenski, R. C. H. (1961). The Interpretation of the Acts of the Apostles (p. 439). Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Publishing House.
The Lord's Lesson on Being Loosed from the Law (Acts 11:4-10; Galatians 3:24-15; Romans 10:4; Leviticus 20:24-26)
4 But Peter explained it to them in order from the beginning, saying: 5 “I was in the city of Joppa praying; and in a trance I saw a vision, an object descending like a great sheet, let down from heaven by four corners; and it came to me. 6 When I observed it intently and considered, I saw four-footed animals of the earth, wild beasts, creeping things, and birds of the air. 7 And I heard a voice saying to me, ‘Rise, Peter; kill and eat.’ 8 But I said, ‘Not so, Lord! For nothing common or unclean has at any time entered my mouth.’ 9 But the voice answered me again from heaven, ‘What God has cleansed you must not call common.’ 10 Now this was done three times, and all were drawn up again into heaven.
* 9 But the voice answered me again from heaven, ‘What God has cleansed you must not call common.’ (Acts 11:9)
* 24 Therefore the law was our tutor to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith. 25 But after faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor. (Galatians 3:24-25)
* 1 Or do you not know, brethren (for I speak to those who know the law), that the law has dominion over a man as long as he lives? 2 For the woman who has a husband is bound by the law to her husband as long as he lives. But if the husband dies, she is released from the law of her husband. 3 So then if, while her husband lives, she marries another man, she will be called an adulteress; but if her husband dies, she is free from that law, so that she is no adulteress, though she has married another man. 4 Therefore, my brethren, you also have become dead to the law through the body of Christ, that you may be married to another—to Him who was raised from the dead, that we should bear fruit to God. (Romans 7:1-4)
He did not argue in the least; he let the facts speak for others just as they had spoken for him. The imperfect ἐξετίθετο should receive more attention, “he proceeded to set out.” It continues the previous imperfect διεκρίνοντο. Both are descriptive, but both intend to hold the reader in suspense as to the final outcome which is recorded by the aorists in v. 18 after Peter has delivered his address. Here were these people contending with Peter, here was Peter telling his story. What was the result? Verse 18 tells us.
Lenski, R. C. H. (1961). The Interpretation of the Acts of the Apostles (p. 440). Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Publishing House.
The wording of Peter’s refusal in verse 8 is closer even than that of 10:14 to Ezekiel’s protest when he was directed to eat “unclean” food: “abominable flesh has never entered into my mouth” (Ezek. 4:14).
Bruce, F. F. (1988). The Book of the Acts (pp. 221–222). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.
Clean Meat Means Clean Man?
Some scholars feel that Peter’s vision dealt more with food laws than with interaction with Gentiles. This is to overlook the fact that the two are inextricably related. In Lev 20:24b–26 the laws of clean and unclean are linked precisely to Israel’s separation from the rest of the nations. The Jewish food laws presented a real problem for Jewish Christians in the outreach to the Gentiles. One simply could not dine in a Gentile’s home without inevitably transgressing those laws either by the consumption of unclean flesh or of flesh that had not been prepared in a kosher, i.e., ritually proper, fashion (cf. Acts 15:20). Jesus dealt with the problem of clean and unclean, insisting that external things like foods did not defile a person but the internals of heart and speech and thought render one truly unclean (Mark 7:14–23). In Mark 7:19b Mark added the parenthetical comment that Jesus’ saying ultimately declared all foods clean. This was precisely the point of Peter’s vision: God declared the unclean to be clean.86 In Mark 7 Jesus’ teaching on clean/unclean was immediately followed by his ministry to a Gentile woman (7:24–30), just as Peter’s vision regarding clean and unclean foods was followed by his witness to a Gentile. It is simply not possible to fully accept someone with whom you are unwilling to share in the intimacy of table fellowship. The early church had to solve the problem of kosher food laws in order to launch a mission to the Gentiles. Purity distinctions and human discrimination are of a single piece.
Polhill, J. B. (1992). Acts (Vol. 26, p. 255). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.
The Prevenient Grace and Gospel of God Goes Beyond My Boundaries (Acts 11:11-14)
11 At that very moment, three men stood before the house where I was, having been sent to me from Caesarea. 12 Then the Spirit told me to go with them, doubting nothing. Moreover these six brethren accompanied me, and we entered the man’s house. 13 And he told us how he had seen an angel standing in his house, who said to him, ‘Send men to Joppa, and call for Simon whose surname is Peter, 14 who will tell you words by which you and all your household will be saved.’
The most significant difference from the earlier account is the additional detail that there were six Christians from Joppa who accompanied Peter to Caesarea (v. 12). More than that—it was “these” six whom Peter brought to Jerusalem as witnesses to what transpired in Cornelius’s home (cf. 10:45).117
Polhill, J. B. (1992). Acts (Vol. 26, p. 267). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.
Barriers Broken Down in Baptism (Acts 11:15-18; Matthew 3:11; Acts 2:3-4; John 1:26, 33)
15 And as I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell upon them, as upon us at the beginning. 16 Then I remembered the word of the Lord, how He said, ‘John indeed baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ 17 If therefore God gave them the same gift as He gave us when we believed on the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could withstand God?” 18 When they heard these things they became silent; and they glorified God, saying, “Then God has also granted to the Gentiles repentance to life.”
The legalist would tell you it is necessary for you to help pay for your pardon and that you must garner God's grace through great effort. He will say that you must see the synagogue before you can see the Savior, that you must meet Moses before you can be properly introduced to Messiah, and that you must learned in the Law before you can know the Lord.
God evidently made no distinction between believing Gentiles and believing Jews; how could Peter maintain a barrier which God plainly ignored? To do so would be to oppose God. There is no express mention here (as there is in 10:47–48) of the baptism of the Gentiles, though it is perhaps implied in the language of verse 17.
Bruce, F. F. (1988). The Book of the Acts (pp. 222–223). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.
Real Talk with That Guy
What Do I Do? (Acts 5:22-32)
There are times in life when it is unclear what we should do. Should we take the job or not take the job? She we buy the house or not buy the house? Should we try to adopt a child or not try to adopt a child? Should I marry this person or not marry this person? Should I put solar panels on my home and learn more about conservation or not put solar panels on my home... and not learn about conservation? In such times it is more than moderately helpful to review our corporate and personal why. Our why is always more important than our what. A clear understanding of why we exist and why God has called us to Himself is often enough guidance for the formulation a plan of action that will find heaven's approval. If you are unsure about what to do in the face of increasing personal difficulty, growing opposition, a motley crew of options, or mixed emotions about your situation this message is going to help.
Lost Their Way (Acts 5:22-24)
22 But when the officers came and did not find them in the prison, they returned and reported, 23 saying, “Indeed we found the prison shut securely, and the guards standing outside before the doors; but when we opened them, we found no one inside!” 24 Now when the high priest, the captain of the temple, and the chief priests heard these things, they wondered what the outcome would be.
Previously in our study of Acts we saw the apostles being arrested... again (Acts 5:17-18). Their open defiance of the mandate not to talk about Jesus (Acts 4:17) had run its course. The religious authorities, hearing that these unapproved religious upstarts were still in the temple teaching Jesus and resurrection was too much; the Sadducees came unglued. Among the people making the arrest was the high priest himself.
But after they were unlawfully incarcerated they receive a Get Out of Jail Free from an angel of the Lord (Acts 5:19). And the heavenly messenger, in case they were wondering what to do, reminded them:
Go, stand in the temple and speak to the people all the words of this life. (Acts 5:20)
And so the apostles have continued in the rabble rousing what of proclaiming salvation in Jesus name even when it carries with it the promise of prison. The authorities are now ready to retrieve the criminals and review their crimes. But there is problem.
The officers went as instructed to retrieve the rogue rabbis and could not find them. Imagine the looks on their faces and the questions they asked among themselves. "This is the jail right?" "Did someone post bail last night?" "How did you not see 12 grown men leave through a single door?" "Who unlocked the door?" "This is obviously an attempt to make us look bad. Seriously, who locked the door after all of the prisoners had been released?" In their report were the following facts:
The effect upon the leadership was immediate and profound. Only hours ago they had been confident of what to do and how to do it: (1) get the perpetrators, (2) put the perpetrators in prison, (3) conduct a "trial" and condemn them, and then (4) find a way to get rid of them. The word used to describe their state of mind (διαπορέω (diaporeō) - be at a loss) indicates that they were completely confused or thoroughly perplexed. When we see this word in Scripture it is always used to convey the idea that a person has no idea what to do:
The inability to understand or forge ahead is rooted in a loss of identity.
Religious leaders who are devoted to glorifying themselves cannot find peace or function properly when confronted by genuine glory. Their angst and anxieties are only amplified by the anticipation of His appearing (Matthew 2:1-3). And they cannot be happy when hearing His name on the lips of His people (Matthew 21:9-15). In getting away from their why they lose their way.
Resistance is Futile (Acts 5:24-26)
25 So one came and told them, saying, “Look, the men whom you put in prison are standing in the temple and teaching the people!” 26 Then the captain went with the officers and brought them without violence, for they feared the people, lest they should be stoned.
Even as the Sadduccees are reeling with the unsettling news about the empty prison there comes in more news that must have made some of them realize that they were not accomplishing anything by fighting against this faith (Acts 5:33-39). The "So" of this verse does not translate a word normally used to introduce a logical conclusion but rather a connected idea. Luke wants his readership to see that the message of this latter messenger is to be viewed with the news of the empty prison. Seen together they say that the war on His witnesses is irrelevant.
In the light of the apostles great and growing support the captain went with the officers but was careful to bring them without violence. There is no mention of fear in the apostles. However their adversaries are now beginning to feel unsafe as they harass these men of God.
What Is Going On? (Acts 5:27-28)
27 And when they had brought them, they set them before the council. And the high priest asked them, 28 saying, “Did we not strictly command you not to teach in this name? And look, you have filled Jerusalem with your doctrine, and intend to bring this Man’s blood on us!”
The apostles are conducted to the council chamber and set before the convened group - the Sanhedrin (Acts 5:27). The high priest begins with a rhetorical question. It is the type of interrogative that is presented not because the person asking is unaware of the answer but because they are wanting to bring the answer to the fore of thinking. Sometimes it is used for dramatic effect; the question draws attention to a fact for the sake of a point that is going to be made. This is the intent of the high priest. He is making much drama out of the defiant actions of the apostles. He is taking issue with two whats.
First, although the edict against evangelism was clearly articulated, the city of Jerusalem is now filled with their teaching about Jesus. The command against teaching in Jesus' name was not a suggestion. It was a strict command. And yet the what of witnessing keeps happening.
Second, beyond teaching a doctrine that the Sadduccees do not support there is the matter of the ongoing indictment: the religious leaders are murderers. They are guilty of the blood of an innocent Man - the Messiah Himself. But this what is the outworking of their own evil actions. And their actions are proof positive of what Jesus had said so many times during his ministry - they are murderers (Matthew 23:35; John 7:19; John 8:37, 40, 44).
24 When Pilate saw that he could not prevail at all, but rather that a tumult was rising, he took water and washed his hands before the multitude, saying, “I am innocent of the blood of this just Person. You see to it.” 25 And all the people answered and said, “His blood be on us and on our children.” (Matthew 27:24-25)
When We Are Witnesses (Acts 5:29-32)
29 But Peter and the other apostles answered and said: “We ought to obey God rather than men. 30 The God of our fathers raised up Jesus whom you murdered by hanging on a tree. 31 Him God has exalted to His right hand to be Prince and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. 32 And we are His witnesses to these things, and so also is the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey Him.”
An Old Testament prophet had called the people of Israel to be God’s witnesses in the world (Isa. 43:10; 44:8); the task which Israel had not fulfilled was taken on by Jesus, the perfect Servant of the Lord, and shared by him with his disciples. The close relation between God’s call to Israel, “you are my witnesses,” and the risen Lord’s commission to his apostles, “you will be my witnesses,” can be appreciated the more if we consider the implications of Paul’s quotation of Isa. 49:6 in Acts 13:47.32 There the heralds of the gospel are spoken of as a light for the Gentiles, bearing God’s salvation “to the end of the earth”; here “the end of the earth” and nothing short of that is to be the limit of the apostolic witness.
Bruce, F. F. (1988). The Book of the Acts (p. 36). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.
Questions for Discussion
11 Now when they drew near Jerusalem, to Bethphage[a] and Bethany, at the Mount of Olives, He sent two of His disciples; 2 and He said to them, “Go into the village opposite you; and as soon as you have entered it you will find a colt tied, on which no one has sat. Loose it and bring it.3 And if anyone says to you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ say, ‘The Lord has need of it,’ and immediately he will send it here.”
4 So they went their way, and found the[b] colt tied by the door outside on the street, and they loosed it. 5 But some of those who stood there said to them, “What are you doing, loosing the colt?”
6 And they spoke to them just as Jesus had commanded. So they let them go. 7 Then they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their clothes on it, and He sat on it. 8 And many spread their clothes on the road, and others cut down leafy branches from the trees and spread them on the road. 9 Then those who went before and those who followed cried out, saying:
11 And Jesus went into Jerusalem and into the temple. So when He had looked around at all things, as the hour was already late, He went out to Bethany with the twelve.
12 Now the next day, when they had come out from Bethany, He was hungry. 13 And seeing from afar a fig tree having leaves, He went to see if perhaps He would find something on it. When He came to it, He found nothing but leaves, for it was not the season for figs. 14 In response Jesus said to it, “Let no one eat fruit from you ever again.”
And His disciples heard it.
15 So they came to Jerusalem. Then Jesus went into the temple and began to drive out those who bought and sold in the temple, and overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who sold doves. 16 And He would not allow anyone to carry wares through the temple. 17 Then He taught, saying to them, “Is it not written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations’?[e] But you have made it a ‘den of thieves.’ ”[f]
18 And the scribes and chief priests heard it and sought how they might destroy Him; for they feared Him, because all the people were astonished at His teaching. 19 When evening had come, He went out of the city.
20 Now in the morning, as they passed by, they saw the fig tree dried up from the roots. 21 And Peter, remembering, said to Him, “Rabbi, look! The fig tree which You cursed has withered away.”
22 So Jesus answered and said to them, “Have faith in God. 23 For assuredly, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be removed and be cast into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that those things he says will be done, he will have whatever he says.24 Therefore I say to you, whatever things you ask when you pray, believe that you receive them, and you will have them.
25 “And whenever you stand praying, if you have anything against anyone, forgive him, that your Father in heaven may also forgive you your trespasses. 26 But if you do not forgive, neither will your Father in heaven forgive your trespasses.”[g]
10 There was a certain man in Caesarea called Cornelius, a centurion of what was called the Italian Regiment, 2 a devout man and one who feared God with all his household, who gave alms generously to the people, and prayed to God always. 3 About the ninth hour of the day he saw clearly in a vision an angel of God coming in and saying to him, “Cornelius!”
4 And when he observed him, he was afraid, and said, “What is it, lord?”
So he said to him, “Your prayers and your alms have come up for a memorial before God. 5 Now send men to Joppa, and send for Simon whose surname is Peter. 6 He is lodging with Simon, a tanner, whose house is by the sea.[a] He will tell you what you must do.” 7 And when the angel who spoke to him had departed, Cornelius called two of his household servants and a devout soldier from among those who waited on him continually. 8 So when he had explained all these things to them, he sent them to Joppa.
9 The next day, as they went on their journey and drew near the city, Peter went up on the housetop to pray, about the sixth hour. 10 Then he became very hungry and wanted to eat; but while they made ready, he fell into a trance 11 and saw heaven opened and an object like a great sheet bound at the four corners, descending to him and let down to the earth. 12 In it were all kinds of four-footed animals of the earth, wild beasts, creeping things, and birds of the air. 13 And a voice came to him,“Rise, Peter; kill and eat.”
14 But Peter said, “Not so, Lord! For I have never eaten anything common or unclean.”
15 And a voice spoke to him again the second time, “What God has cleansed you must not call common.” 16 This was done three times. And the object was taken up into heaven again.
17 Now while Peter wondered within himself what this vision which he had seen meant, behold, the men who had been sent from Cornelius had made inquiry for Simon’s house, and stood before the gate. 18 And they called and asked whether Simon, whose surname was Peter, was lodging there.
19 While Peter thought about the vision, the Spirit said to him, “Behold, three men are seeking you. 20 Arise therefore, go down and go with them, doubting nothing; for I have sent them.”
21 Then Peter went down to the men who had been sent to him from Cornelius,[b] and said, “Yes, I am he whom you seek. For what reason have you come?”
22 And they said, “Cornelius the centurion, a just man, one who fears God and has a good reputation among all the nation of the Jews, was divinely instructed by a holy angel to summon you to his house, and to hear words from you.” 23 Then he invited them in and lodged them.
On the next day Peter went away with them, and some brethren from Joppa accompanied him.
24 And the following day they entered Caesarea. Now Cornelius was waiting for them, and had called together his relatives and close friends.25 As Peter was coming in, Cornelius met him and fell down at his feet and worshiped him. 26 But Peter lifted him up, saying, “Stand up; I myself am also a man.” 27 And as he talked with him, he went in and found many who had come together. 28 Then he said to them, “You know how unlawful it is for a Jewish man to keep company with or go to one of another nation. But God has shown me that I should not call any man common or unclean. 29 Therefore I came without objection as soon as I was sent for. I ask, then, for what reason have you sent for me?”
30 So Cornelius said, “Four days ago I was fasting until this hour; and at the ninth hour[c] I prayed in my house, and behold, a man stood before me in bright clothing, 31 and said, ‘Cornelius, your prayer has been heard, and your alms are remembered in the sight of God. 32 Send therefore to Joppa and call Simon here, whose surname is Peter. He is lodging in the house of Simon, a tanner, by the sea.[d] When he comes, he will speak to you.’ 33 So I sent to you immediately, and you have done well to come. Now therefore, we are all present before God, to hear all the things commanded you by God.”
34 Then Peter opened his mouth and said: “In truth I perceive that God shows no partiality. 35 But in every nation whoever fears Him and works righteousness is accepted by Him. 36 The word which God sent to the children of Israel, preaching peace through Jesus Christ—He is Lord of all— 37 that word you know, which was proclaimed throughout all Judea, and began from Galilee after the baptism which John preached: 38 how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power, who went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with Him. 39 And we are witnesses of all things which He did both in the land of the Jews and in Jerusalem, whom they[e] killed by hanging on a tree. 40 Him God raised up on the third day, and showed Him openly, 41 not to all the people, but to witnesses chosen before by God, even to us who ate and drank with Him after He arose from the dead. 42 And He commanded us to preach to the people, and to testify that it is He who was ordained by God to be Judge of the living and the dead. 43 To Him all the prophets witness that, through His name, whoever believes in Him will receive remission of sins.”
44 While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit fell upon all those who heard the word. 45 And those of the circumcision who believed were astonished, as many as came with Peter, because the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out on the Gentiles also. 46 For they heard them speak with tongues and magnify God.
Then Peter answered, 47 “Can anyone forbid water, that these should not be baptized who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” 48 And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of the Lord. Then they asked him to stay a few days.
Northwest Community Evangelical Free Church
(March 22, 2014)
Sermon series: THIS Jesus
Sight to the Blind Study #4
Introduction: A question that clarifies…
Some time ago I was talking with a friend on a hiking trail. We were on Day Three of a multi-day backpacking trip, and this friend was at something of a crossroads in his spiritual life.
Good talks often happen no the trail and I was listening to him express doubts and wonderings about life and God.
When there was a silence I took the opportunity to ask a question that I hoped would help bring some clarity. We had been talking about what would be a sufficiently grand ideal or idea or value to live for.
So I asked, “What would you be willing to die for?”
That question sent my friend for a loop. Frankly, the question rocks me back on my heels, too. It is a challenging question and I ask it of myself pretty regularly.
A few minutes ago you and I watched a video that highlighted the sufferings of some of our Christian family. We watched as twenty one men sang hymns of praise to God before going to their deaths for their faith in Christ.
After viewing that, we almost can’t help but ask ourselves, “For what would I be willing to die?”
Those men were willing to die for Jesus.
Not the nice Jesus of popular culture, not “gentle Jesus, meek and mild.”
No. They were willing to die for the Jesus who is revealed on the pages of the New Testament. THIS God-in-the-flesh, wonder-working, loving, courageous Jesus. It was THIS Jesus for whom they lived and for whom they died.
During these weeks leading up to Easter, we are viewing signs that Jesus performed, signs recorded in the Gospel of John. All of these signs advertise something about Him and His ways.
We’ve seen signs that include turning water into wine and a couple of healings, multiplying food and walking on water.
The text we are going to explore today shows us Jesus performing another sign.
Today’s sign, like all the signs do, advertises His power. On a strictly physical level, He performs a miracle that defies all medical explanation.
But He is going to follow up that physical miracle with its spiritual counterpart. That He is able to do THAT amazing work assures us that He is worth both living and dying for.
When we catch up with Jesus today, He is in Jerusalem, having just walked through a crowd of people who were poised to stone Him to death.
Of the action that follows, we are given very few details. Aside from the fact that it is in Jerusalem, we don’t know where the incident we are about to see occurs.
Most scholars place this event about six months out from the crucifixion, putting it in the September/October time frame. But we really don’t know for sure exactly when it happened.
As He was walking, Jesus saw something that caught His eye. He saw a man who had never seen anything.
Opens the Eyes of the Blind (9:1-12)
Blindness: The Dead-End of the “Cause” Question (vv. 1-5)
Jesus SAW the blind man (v. 1)
 As he passed by, He saw a man blind from birth.
This man’s world was the world of the blind. Hearing, taste, touch, and smell were all intact. But he had never seen the face of his parents or sisters or brothers or friends. He had never seen a sunset, or a nighttime sky. He’d never seen the Temple or a Passover lamb.
The World Health Organization tells us that today, there are over 39 million people who are blind and 285 million who suffer with compromised vision of some sort.
Problems with sight can develop due to all kinds of causes, including cataracts and glaucoma, diabetes, and macular degeneration, to name only a few.
One of the most touching times our team experienced during a 2012 missions trip to Kenya was the time we spent with blind children who had developed problems with sight. Blindness is a huge problem in East African children, due in large part to a simple deficiency of Vitamin A.
My brother-in-law, Don Kerr, suffered a general optical neuropathy over fifteen years ago that the doctor’s still can’t explain.
First sight in one eye went away; then, most of the sight in the other. Don is now virtually blind, in addition to many other ailments that plague him. But before he went blind, he had been able to see.
The man Jesus has just passed by, though, had never seen anything. He had been blind from birth and he would have made his way in the world by begging, which was about the only way blind people in ancient times and in many places today can make ends meet.
Jesus and His disciples passed by this man. The twelve were intrigued by his condition, so they asked Jesus a question.
Theology 101 (vv. 2-3)
The disciples assume sin’s causality (v. 2)
 And His disciples asked Him, saying, “‘Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he would be born blind?”
Their question sounds Hindu-ish, because the Hindu says that if you see someone who is suffering, you can know that they lived badly in a previous life.
The idea in Hinduism is that the moral universe is a zero-sum game. One piece of suffering is the result of one bad action by somebody somewhere. It is a convenient and simple explanation of suffering and evil in the world.
Jesus’ disciples (who weren’t at all closet Hindus) reveal by their question how tempting it is to think in terms of moral cause and effect. One sin translates to one suffering.
It’s tempting for us, today, to think that way, too. But it’s wrong-headed thinking.
We don’t wonder, after someone has died on a slick South Texas road, what they or their parents did wrong to require such cosmic payback.
We don’t walk through the cancer ward of Santa Rosa Children’s Hospital and ask what sin this child or her parents committed.
The moral universe is NOT a zero-sum game. There is not a neat one-to-one correspondence between sin and suffering. The Bible doesn’t play the “sin card” every time someone suffers - and Jesus doesn’t play it here, either.
Jesus jumps to God’s great effects (v. 3)
 Jesus answered, “It was neither that this man sinned nor his parents; but it was so that the works of God might be displayed in him.”
Of course, Jesus would agree that some suffering is the result of personal sin. But the suffering of this blind man was not the direct result of his own sin or of the sin of his parents.
Jesus’ answer moves us away from speculation about causality. He wants His disciples - and us! - to think of suffering in some way other than as a part of a cosmic blame game or as a brain teaser.
He wants us to think of suffering’s redemptive potential and of God’s power to bring personal wholeness out of personal brokenness.
Then Jesus turned from His disciples to the blind man.
Blindness: Jesus Eye-to-Eye with a Blind PERSON (vv. 6-7)
A messy healing (v. 6)
 When He had said this, He spat on the ground, and made clay of the spittle, and applied the clay to his eyes
Imagine the thoughts running through the blind man’s mind as - as SURPRIZE! - Jesus applied spit-moistened clay to his eyes.
“What’s this? No! Someone is rubbing mud in my eyes!”
Maybe he’s been the victim of unsuccessful and messy healing attempts before. Maybe he’s been the victim of bullying and ridicule. It may be that he thinks someone is making fun of him.
Whatever his thoughts, with the mud applied, Jesus gave the blind man marching orders.
Marching orders (v. 7a)
[7a] and said to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam.” (which is translated Sent)
And off the man went, stumbling his way to the pool of Siloam, a stone-lined pond somewhere nearby in the old city of Jerusalem.
When he walked away from Jesus he was blind. His walk to the pool was a walk by faith, not sight.
By faith the man walked and by faith the man washed. Then, with the mud gone from his eyes, he opened his eyes. And, for the first time in his life, his eyes work!
Washed and well! (v. 7b)
[7b] So he went away and washed, and came back seeing.
We are not to understand that there was any healing power in the mud or in the pool’s water. The means do not explain the miracle. Jesus’ power - and that alone - explains the miracle.
He could see the pavement he walked on and the trees that shaded him. He could see the faces of friends he had known for years.
I would have loved to have seen him walking back. He’s probably never walked all that steadily, due to his blindness. He may still have the blind man’s cautious, shuffling gait.
But his eyes are feasting on everything he sees as he makes his way back to the place where he had encountered Jesus.
This sign shouts Jesus’ power.
The Lord didn’t miraculously scrape off a cataract or reverse the effects of glaucoma. He connected an optic nerve that had never been connected and trained synapses to fire that had never fired and taught nerves to send signals to the brain of what the eyes now, for the first time ever, saw.
This was a display of God-sized power, poured out on an unsuspecting blind man because Jesus simply takes pleasure in bestowing grace on needy people.
When this formerly blind man returned from the pool of Siloam to his familiar begging spot, I’m sure that he was looking for his Healer.
But that one Voice he would have known above all others was gone. He had not seen Jesus and Jesus has now retreated to the sidelines.
The healed man, though, is thrust right into the spotlight. We listen as John records the responses of a few people to the miracle. And I’ll just warn you. Their responses are kinda odd.
Closed Minds from the Sighted Blind (vv. 8-34)
The Neighbors: “It’s hard to say…” (vv. 8-12)
A case of mistaken identity (vv. 8-9)
 Therefore, the neighbors, and those who previously saw him as a beggar, were saying, “Is not this the one who used to sit and beg?”  Others were saying, “This is he,” still others were saying, “No, but he is like him.” He kept saying, “I am the one.”
These friends and neighbors have watched this man beg for years. Now, they are doubting their own senses of sight because he has gained his. For them, simply seeing the man see was NOT believing.
Rather than embrace the obvious miracle, they figured they were looking at the man’s heretofore unknown identical twin brother.
Well, finally, someone who did see that he was the [formerly] blind man, asked the man himself to explain how he had come to see.
A case of a curious healing (vv. 10-12)
 So they were saying to him, “How then were your eyes opened?”  He answered, “The man who is called Jesus made clay, and anointed my eyes, and said to me, ‘Go to Siloam and wash.’ So I went away and washed, and I received sight.”
He likely doesn’t know much about Jesus. But he did know that it was Jesus who had given him his sight. But he wasn’t out to preach a sermon. He didn’t have an axe to grind. He just answered the question.
When they then asked him,  “Where is He?” he had to admit, “I do not know.”
So confusion reigns. Nobody is exactly certain what has happened.
And at the height of all this confusion, some genius among the crowd of friends and neighbors suggested that they do what was always a good idea: “Hey, let’s go see the Pharisees!”
The Pharisees: “You and Jesus are sinners…” (vv. 13-34)
The Pharisees’ opinions about Jesus (vv. 13-17)
Polite questioning (vv. 13, 15a)
This meeting between the Pharisees and the formerly blind man began friendly enough.
Pharisees were among the religious heavyweights of ancient Israel and, at first, were polite in their questioning.
 They brought to the Pharisees the man who was formerly blind…[15a] Then the Pharisees also were asking him again how he received his sight.”
So here, for the second time, the man recounts the story of how he came to see.
Courteous answering (v. 15b)
[15b] And he said to them, “He applied clay to my eyes, and I washed, and I see.”
It’s a consistent story. He’s telling the truth and all seems well.
But all is not well because of a detail John provides. Because of this detail, there arises a difference of opinion among the Pharisees about the significance of what has happened.
Pharisaic division (vv. 14, 16)
 Now it was a Sabbath on the day when Jesus made the clay and opened his eyes.…  Therefore some of the Pharisees were saying, “This man (meaning Jesus) is not from God, because He does not keep the Sabbath.” But others were saying, “How can a man who is a sinner perform such signs?” And there was a division among them.
Now, here’s what I find to be the most amazing thing about this whole exchange.
Nobody is marveling over the fact that a blind man has received his sight. Nobody is giving glory to God for the miracle of healing.
Instead, they are engaged in a debate about the propriety of healing on a Sabbath. And this conversation about Sabbath theology is taking place with the formerly blind man standing right there.
As far as the Bible tells us nobody even said, “Congratulations! Happy for you!” to the man who can now see for the first time in his life. Talk about world class insensitivity.
Finally, the Pharisees turned to the now-seeing man and asked his opinion of the Man who had opened his eyes.
 So they said to the blind man again, “What do you say about Him since He opened your eyes?” And he said, “He is a prophet.” (And what did we expect him to say? Jesus had given him his sight, after all.)
But the Pharisees weren’t satisfied that Jesus was a prophet from God or anything of the sort.
Seeing wasn’t believing for them anymore than it had been for the friends and neighbors and they looked for ways to deny the miracle.
Parenthetical: Meet the Parents (vv. 18-23)
 The Jews then did not believe it of him, that he had been born blind and had received sight, until they called the parents of the very one who had received his sight,  and questioned them, saying, “Is this your son, who you say was born blind? Then how does he now see?”
The first question was easy and the parents answered, “Yep, this is our son.”
The second question - “How does he now see?” was tougher.
Maybe they really didn’t know how he had received his sight. If so, their response isn’t unreasonable, although it does sound a little odd.
 His parents answered them and said, ‘We know that this is our son, and that he was born blind;  but how he now sees, we do not know; or who opened his eyes, we do not know. Ask him; he is of age, he will speak for himself.”
Did you notice how curt, how short, their answers are? It’s not what I would have hoped for from the parents of a blind son who can now see. I’m surprised that they didn’t say, “Yes, he can see! Isn’t it great?”
We keep reading and discover the reason why they were so restrained in their responses.
 His parents said this because they were afraid of the Jews (meaning the Jewish leadership – Sadducees, Pharisees, chief priests, scribes); for the Jews had already agreed that if anyone confessed Him to be Christ, he was to be put out of the synagogue.  For this reason his parents said, “He is of age; ask him.”
The parents’ reluctance to answer the Pharisees’ questions is due to the Pharisees’ new policy. Anybody who crossed over to Jesus’ side was to be excommunicated.
To be “put out” was serious business.
If you were “put out” of the synagogue, you would be treated like an unclean leper and would be excluded from the community’s social life.
You wouldn’t even be admitted into the temple or the synagogue for worship. You would be talked about as if you were dead. And when you did die, you’d receive a dishonorable funeral.
This is first century persecution for aligning with Jesus. This may be THE first time that people were made to suffer for siding with Jesus. What is happening in our day began in John, chapter 9, while Jesus was still alive.
And with that kind of a threat, the parents weren’t very excited about answering a lot of questions posed by the Pharisees. They just put the ball back in their son’s lap. “Ask him. He is of age.”
This whole scene doesn’t leave us with a warm, fuzzy feeling, does it?
Sadly, though, while one man who was blind can now see, others who can see are as blind as bats to the wonder-working power of God.
And as the drama continues, the next scene gives us front row seats to a Pharisaic interview that has turned into an inquisition.
They have confirmed that this man really had been born blind. There’s no arguing that. But they demand that he revoke his comment about Jesus being a prophet.
The Pharisees’ “put out” the former blind man (vv. 24-34)
Urging the man to condemn Jesus (v. 24)
 So a second time they called the man who had been blind, and said to him, “Give glory to God; we know that this man is a sinner.”
According to their logic, Jesus MUST be a sinner. After all:
Air tight logic (except for the faulty presuppositions), right?
And the man whose healing had sparked all of this controversy replied with a wonderfully dry wit.
I know what I know (v. 25)
 He then answered, “Whether He is a sinner, I do not know; one thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.”
Wow! Somebody ought to put those words to music in a song!
This is a great testimony. He describes his own irrefutable, personal experience.
Now bubbling with frustration, the Pharisees attacked the man again, this time with a question.
Condemning Jesus, take two (v. 26)
 So they said to him, “What did He do to you? How did He open your eyes?”
Listen to the man’s hilarious response.
Explanation, take three (v. 27)
 He answered them, “I told you already, and you did not listen; why do you want to hear it again? You do not want to become His disciples too, do you?”
While we may think that’s pretty funny, the Pharisees weren’t laughing. They had no interest in being Jesus’ disciples, and said so.
We choose Moses (vv. 28-29)
 And they reviled him, and said, “You are His disciple, but we are disciples of Moses.  “We know that God has spoken to Moses; but as for this Man, we do not know where He is from.”
Moses had the weight of fifteen hundred years of tradition behind him. Moses was a tried and true commodity. They sided with Moses.
And with that, the formerly blind man has had enough. His next words are intended to be inflammatory. And they were.
The healed man preaches! (vv. 30-33)
 The man answered and said to them, “Well, here is an amazing thing, that you do not know where He is from, and yet He opened my eyes.  We know that God does not hear sinners; but if anyone is God-fearing, and does His will He hears him.  Since the beginning of time it has never been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a person born blind.  If this man were not from God, He could do nothing.”
That little speech took guts. For the first time in his life, he is able to look at someone eye to eye. And on this day he looks at the most powerful men of his day and tells them, “Your unbelief is more of a wonder than my sight.”
A lesser man would have buckled under and agreed, “He is certainly a sinner, whatever you say.”
But, this man who had not had sight his entire life had developed backbone in sight’s absence. He doesn’t care all that much about what the Pharisees had to say or about what they thought. And, now that he can see, he is not about to condemn the One who gave him his sight.
He sees the Pharisees and he sees them for what they are. His thinking is clear. His testimony is powerful. His healing is irrefutable.
But the Pharisees aren’t about to be lectured by this guy.
Power, run amuck (v. 34)
 They answered him, “You were born entirely in sins, and are you teaching us?” So they put him out.
And with that, the man was summarily tossed out of the synagogue, and from the communal life of Israel.
He is among the first people to ever suffer for aligning with Jesus - and he did suffer greatly.
From this man forward we can trace an unbroken line over the last two thousand years of men and women who have willingly lost social status, jobs, family ties, friendships and even life itself for the sake of Jesus.
This man and the Twenty One and others have concluded that Jesus is worth living for, suffering loss for, and dying for. At the end of this day, this man has lost substantially for choosing Jesus.
It’s been quite a day. Have you ever looked back at a day and thought, “Well, that was a big day!”?
This guy has had a big day.
Early in the morning, he had known his place in society. It wasn’t much of a place - He was a blind beggar. But, at least that was his place. He fit.
Now, late on the same day, he has no place in society. Friends haven’t stood by him. Parents have hung him out to dry. Leaders have excommunicated him.
AND, he’s not blind anymore. He can see. What a dramatic change and reversal of fortunes.
And now that the Pharisees have put him out and the commotion has all died down, he is alone. I picture him all alone. While he was all alone, Jesus went looking for him. I love that.
III. Opens the Hearts of the Blind (vv. 35-38)
[35a] Jesus heard that they had put him out, and finding him…
This Jesus we meet in the Bible is a relentless Pursuer. He searches for the lost and the least and last and the lonely.
When Jesus found him, He asked a question in a voice the man would have instantly recognized.
[35b]…He said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?”
Notice that the first thing Jesus says is not, “I’m sorry that you were excommunicated. I’m sorry you were ‘put out’.”
The biggest thing going on here was not that he can now see flowers and people and a temple. The biggest game in town is not that he had lost something.
Having received his sight, the biggest game in town was what it had always been: “What are you going to do with Jesus?”
That’s always the biggest game in town. It was then and it is now.
No matter what is going on in our lives, the God-question is always the most pressing. Not excommunication. Not health. Not wealth. Not popularity. Not promotion. But this: “Do you believe in Jesus, the Son of Man?”
And for any of us, anything - a scary diagnosis or a surprisingly clean bill of health, a reconciliation with a long-time enemy or a relational earthquake, a financial windfall or a job loss - that forces us to face the question, “What will I do with Jesus?” is a blessing because there is no more important question than this, “Do you believe in Jesus?”
Jesus had asked His question. Now the former blind man, having never before seen Jesus, has his own question.
 He answered, “Who is He, Lord, that I may believe in Him?”
To which Jesus was only too happy to answer, … “You have both seen Him, and He is the one who is talking with you.”
And here is the man’s short, sweet response -  And he said, “Lord, I believe.” And he worshiped Him.
Two blindnesses were removed from a man on one day. His physical blindness was the most obvious one. And Jesus dealt with that blindness and proved Himself to be the God-in-the-flesh Light of the World.
But, the second blindness - his spiritual blindness - was a far more serious condition. With this second blindness intact, the man would never have a chance at life with God, no matter how well he could see flowers and trees.
In calling the man to faith in Himself, Jesus removed the scales that blinded his spirit. And, in doing that, He proved Himself to be, not only the Light of the World, but also the Savior of the world.
This man knew and the Egyptian 21 knew and our brothers and sisters in Christ all over the world know today that THIS Jesus, the One powerful enough to open eyes and hearts, to give sight and to give eternal life to those who believe, is worth dying for.
And if He is worth dying for, He is worth living for.
Once we decide what we are willing to die for, it becomes pretty clear, pretty quick, what we are going to live for.
Live for Him at home. Be the loving, faithful, generous, hospitable man or woman you were saved to be. Whether living alone, with roommates, married, with or without children, live for Jesus at home.
In your life outside your home, be it school or work, part-time or full-time, outside or inside, be Jesus’ light to a dark world there.
The Jesus who laid down His life for you and who calls you to be willing to lay down your life for Him, now calls you to take up your life and live for Him.
 Some might have said that the man was blind because his mother sinned. The apostasy of a rabbi of Jesus’ day was attributed to his mother’s involvement with idolatry while she was pregnant with him. Or maybe his father sinned, and God was punishing the father by the blindness of his son. In Israel, until age 13, children were thought to be an extension of their father, and so, answering for his sins.
 Unlike the lame man at the pool of Bethesda, John 5, who didn’t know who it was who had healed him.
 No doubt, the man had not been begging on this day, as it was illegal to beg on the Sabbath. As well, I am certain that Jesus purposefully performed this miracle on the Sabbath - as He did frequently - to expose the hypocrisy and cruel insensitivity of the Pharisees.
 Not even this disapproval of Jesus was unanimous. (v. 16) Some Pharisees sided with Jesus because He performed a miracle only a man of God could have done.
 Mixing dirt and spittle was seen as work by the Pharisees, although not by God’s Law. This ridiculousness was purely an invention of men. God’s Laws for the Sabbath were designed to free, not enslave.
Real Talk with Roderick
Called into Conflict for Christ (Acts 6:8-15)
When we receive Jesus we receive pardon, we receive purpose, and we receive the Person of the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 1:13). Once He has come gone are the days of being without power, without counsel, without comfort, without companionship (John 14:15-18). Through the Holy Spirit the Lord keeps His promise to (1) never leave us nor forsake us (Matthew 28:20; Hebrews 13:5) and (2) enable us for amazing acts of service. But with His coming also comes the unresolvable conflict that results from being indwelt by the Spirit of Christ. When the Jesus follower surrenders gladly and becomes Spirit-filled he also becomes, from the world's perspective, as irritating as Jesus.
While we should always endeavor to promote peace, love our enemies, and be a blessing to the community - we should not be surprised when living like Jesus brings out antagonism. Some believers, having failed to see or accept this truth, are working in vain to make peace with the world. They have a great zeal for Jesus. But the same believer is terribly wrong in thinking that their white hot faith is compatible with a society that is surrendered to Satan. The story in Acts, with the focus on Stephen, shows as much.
The narrative about Stephen constitutes a major turning point in Acts. It ends a series of three trials before the Sanhedrin. The first ended in a warning (4:21), the second in a flogging (5:40), and Stephen’s in his death.
Polhill, J. B. (1992). Acts (Vol. 26, p. 183). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.
In the few verses under consideration today we see the consequence of becoming irresistible.
Called to Conflict (Acts 6:8)
Luke has presented the Lord and His apostles as having power to perform signs and wonders (Luke 2:40; 4:1,14-15; Acts 2:43; 5:12). Now, for the first time in the records of Luke we are hearing of wonders and signs among the people being done through someone other than the Lord or one His apostles.
He was the first other than the apostles to be described as working miracles.
Polhill, J. B. (1992). Acts (Vol. 26, p. 184). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.
A naive reading of this verse begins to cheer about this new thing: regular people of faith are doing great work. But do not miss the fact that Stephen has already been introduced as a (1) a man full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom (Acts 6:3), (2) man full of faith and the Holy Spirit (Acts 6:5). If you are mindful of his introduction the words of Acts 6:8 seem odd. You might think, "Okay. He was full of the Holy Spirit. It has been said three times. Got it!" But this third mention should make me ask if the author is trying to tell me something through the pattern of words (full of the Holy Spirit) and their rapid repetition (Acts 6:3, 5, 8). What do we find in the writings of Luke:
It does not take a Bible sleuth to see that where these words occur in the writings of Luke we can expect to see conflict that cannot be resolved. The Spirit-filled person was called to it! The story with Stephen is no exception. Indeed, because of the threefold mention of his filling with the Spirit we expect unprecedented animosity.
Irresistible Witness (Acts 6:9-11)
9 Then there arose some from what is called the Synagogue of the Freedmen (Cyrenians, Alexandrians, and those from Cilicia and Asia), disputing with Stephen. 10 And they were not able to resist the wisdom and the Spirit by which he spoke.
The great wonders and signs among the people has the effect of drawing much attention to Stephen. And with the increased attention come the questions about what how he has done these things. We can be certain that the Spirit of Christ was at work to produce the miracles in order to gain this audience. And when Stephen was questioned the answers kept coming back Jesus. His infiltration of the Hellenistic synagogues with indisputable power and irresistible wisdom were quickly making him unpopular among the zealots of these other synagogues.
The Greek of v. 9 is notoriously obscure and could refer to as many as five synagogues. In fact, there are scholars who represent every point on the spectrum between one and five. Content suggests one synagogue (named “Freedmen”) with the four national constituencies in its membership, although grammatically two synagogues has strong support—(1) Freedmen, with Alexandrians and Cyrenians, and (2) a synagogue of Asians and Cilicians. A poorly attested textual variant reads “Libyan” instead of “Freedmen” (Libystinōn for Libertīnon), and Moffatt’s translation adopts it, but its authenticity is highly unlikely.
Polhill, J. B. (1992). Acts (Vol. 26). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.
Could Stephen have avoided his conflict with the Synagogue of the Freedmen? Was it possible to prevent the problem caused by his witness? The answer will be found in considering the other times where the Spirit is filling the witness. Could the Savior have avoided the conflict in the wilderness with Satan? Only in disobedience to the Spirit's leading. Could Peter have avoided the conflict that led to his arrest by the Sanhedrin? Only in rejecting the command to feed Jesus' sheep and refusing to accept his own identity as a witness. Stephen cannot avoid this conflict - he is called to it!
The members of this synagogue were from three divergent areas—North Africa (Cyrene and Alexandria were two of its leading cities), Asia (the western portion of modern-day Turkey), and Cilicia. Possibly this was the assembly Paul attended because Tarsus was located in the province of Cilicia.
Toussaint, S. D. (1985). Acts. In J. F. Walvoord & R. B. Zuck (Eds.), The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures (Vol. 2, p. 368). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.
We can no more avoid the conflict that comes with being filled with the Spirit of Christ than could Jesus, or Peter, or Stephen - not without being disobedient. It is part of the work of being a witness. But we need not worry.
The Spirit will both do the work and provide the witness. What is needed more than anything else is a willingness. In that moment where we relinquish ourselves to being used by God for His glory and the good of His people there comes the filling of the Holy Spirit.
Jesus on Trial - Again(Acts 6:11-14)
11 Then they secretly induced men to say, “We have heard him speak blasphemous words against Moses and God.” 12 And they stirred up the people, the elders, and the scribes; and they came upon him, seized him, and brought him to the council. 13 They also set up false witnesses who said, “This man does not cease to speak blasphemous words against this holy place and the law; 14 for we have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place and change the customs which Moses delivered to us.”
Stephen is on the edge of known theology. Some of what he is saying has not even been written down by the apostles. One cannot help but wonder if he has not come to understand some things that will not be formally acknowledged by the twelve or Paul until later. Christians today have great difficulty with the concept of covenants and the changing role of the law in the life of the believer. Before Saul becomes Paul and writes to the Galatians against legalism and Judaizers this man foresees that some aspects of the Mosaic system are going away altogether. Why? How? Jesus said that not one jot or tittle would pass from the law until all was fulfilled (Matthew 5:17-18). He also said that He came not to destroy the Law or the Prophets but to fulfill. He did (Romans 10:4).
In the background to v. 14 stands the charge of blasphemy directed against Jesus at his own trial when he was accused of threatening to destroy the temple (Mark 14:57–58). Luke did not include that tradition in the narrative of Jesus’ trial in his Gospel, but its inclusion here is highly significant. It put Jesus back on trial once again.25
Polhill, J. B. (1992). Acts (Vol. 26, p. 186). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.
The false witnesses were not necessarily outright liars. Stephen had probably said the things they accused him of; however, they misrepresented the intentions and imports of his statements (cf. Matt. 26:61; Mark 14:58; John 2:19). The Lord Himself predicted the destruction of the temple (Matt. 24:1–2; Mark 13:1–2; Luke 21:5–6), though He never said He would do it. The other half of the allegation against Stephen involved the temporary nature of the Mosaic system. Undoubtedly he saw the theological implications of justification by faith and the fulfillment of the Law in Christ. Furthermore, if the gospel was for the whole world (Acts 1:8), the Law had to be a temporary arrangement.
Toussaint, S. D. (1985). Acts. In J. F. Walvoord & R. B. Zuck (Eds.), The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures (Vol. 2, pp. 368–369). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.
In an attempt to rid their synagogues of this wonder working man with irresistible wisdom they resorted to the same scheming that they used against Jesus - false charges and misrepresentation of the message.
The Reason for the Radiance (Acts 6:15-7:1)
15 And all who sat in the council, looking steadfastly at him, saw his face as the face of an angel. 1 Then the high priest said, “Are these things so?”
The face of an angel is undoubtedly a description of radiance. But why did his face shine? It shone because of God's indwelling presence. It shone as a sign that He must be heard.
The radiant face of Stephen recalls that of Moses when descending from Sinai (Exod 34:29–35) and of Jesus on the mount of transfiguration (Luke 9:29).
Polhill, J. B. (1992). Acts (Vol. 26). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.
Conflict comes with the calling of the Jesus follower. When it comes do not think it strange but count it all joy.
12 Beloved, do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you; 13 but rejoice to the extent that you partake of Christ’s sufferings, that when His glory is revealed, you may also be glad with exceeding joy. 14 If you are reproached for the name of Christ, blessed are you, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. On their part He is blasphemed, but on your part He is glorified. 15 But let none of you suffer as a murderer, a thief, an evildoer, or as a busybody in other people’s matters. 16 Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in this matter. (1 Peter 4:12-16)
Questions for Review
Real Talk with Roderick
Concentration and Focus (Acts 6:1-7)
Focus on the Main Thing (Acts 6:1-4)
1 Now in those days, when the number of the disciples was multiplying, there arose a complaint against the Hebrews by the Hellenists, because their widows were neglected in the daily distribution. 2 Then the twelve summoned the multitude of the disciples and said, “It is not desirable that we should leave the word of God and serve tables. 3 Therefore, brethren, seek out from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business; 4 but we will give ourselves continually to prayer and to the ministry of the word.”
Caring for the poor is found throughout the Scriptures (Exodus 23:11; Leviticus 23:22; Deuteronomy 15:7-11; Esther 9:22; Psalm 14:6, 41:1; Proverbs 14:21; Matthew 11:5, 19:21; Romans 15:26; Galatians 2:10; Luke 14:13, 21). It is one way that people in the community of faith show honor toward God (Proverbs 19:17). The poor are made in the image of God; showing kindness to the poor is a way of showing respect for His image while also providing compassion where it is needed. Within the group of society regarded as poor there is a subsection that is especially dear to God's heart: widows and orphans (Exodus 22:22; Deuteronomy 10:18, 14:19; Psalm 68:5; Proverbs 15:25). The early church is mindful of the needs of its poor. Widows were particularly vulnerable to poverty and were looked after in special ways.
The care of the widows is good. But when the care is not done carefully it can cause hard feelings, discontent, and even division. Although the number of disciples was multiplying not everyone was feeling good about how their fellowship was treating the poor - especially the widows. A particular problem had gotten so bad that it was brought to the attention of the apostles as a complaint: "Sorry to bother you guys with this but the Hellenists are upset because their widows are neglected by the Hebrews in the daily distribution. That is, when the food pantry or clothing is given out the Greek-speaking widows typically get less or are left out altogether." But who are the Hebrews and who are the Hellenists?
The main distinction between the two groups was probably linguistic: the Hellenists were Jews whose habitual language was Greek and who attended Greek-speaking synagogues; the Hebrews spoke Aramaic (or Mishnaic Hebrew) and attended synagogues where the service was conducted in Hebrew.
Bruce, F. F. (1988). The Book of the Acts (p. 120). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.
(Acts 6:2) Some will see in the solution of the apostles a condescending attitude toward others in the congregation. Some will read this passage and get the impression that the apostles believe themselves to be above serving. However, they have been trained to serve (Matthew 20:28; John 13:1-17), charged to serve (Luke 22:26; John 21:17; 1 Peter 5:3), changed in order to serve effectively (John 14:26; 15:26). In seeking to understand the response of the apostles we must prayerfully consider their calling. The apostles were to have a special foundation-laying ministry of preaching, teaching, and penning the word. (Mark 3:14; Matthew 10:14; John 15:20; John 14:23-26; John 21:17).
It is with their calling in mind that they must say no to the request for their personal oversight of the distribution to the poor. They say no in order that they would concentrate in the area of their calling. For the apostles to personally prevent the problem that has been presented they would have had to take an enormous amount of time away from prayer and the ministry of the word. That would not be desirable.
Excellence is never an accident. In order to effectively bring forth fruit you must focus. And there will be no casual completion of the great calling that is on your life. You must concentrate (1 Timothy 4:15).
What can I do to become more fruitful? Three things:
Story - Will you continue serving with this ministry? Will you be our media guy? Will you go over to this church to help? Will you be at this church to lead a men's ministry?
Watch God Work (Acts 6:5-7)
5 And the saying pleased the whole multitude. And they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit, and Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolas, a proselyte from Antioch, 6 whom they set before the apostles; and when they had prayed, they laid hands on them. 7 Then the word of God spread, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests were obedient to the faith.
There are times when the work of God is hindered by my unwillingness to let things go. But there are people around me willing and waiting to use the gifts that are in them. Such was the case with Stephen. He was ready! Full of faith and the Holy Spirit he was an untapped resource for the kingdom of God. By delegating some duties the apostles released into the kingdom the help of a man that was prepared by God to get it done.
Questions for Study
To Boldly Go (Acts 4:23-31; Matthew 28:18-20)
Sharing Problems with People of Faith (Acts 4:23-24)
23 And being let go, they went to their own companions and reported all that the chief priests and elders had said to them. 24 So when they heard that, they raised their voice to God with one accord and said: “Lord, You are God, who made heaven and earth and the sea, and all that is in them,
Immediately upon their release the apostles Peter and John go to their own. [The word companions (NKJV) or friends (ESV) has been added for readability. However the text only says they went to their own.] In the company of their fellow Jesus followers they begin to share their experience. The threats of the chief priests and elders were reported to their fellowship.
Jesus followers should be intentional and inclined to keep close company with committed Jesus followers... especially when they are being persecuted for Jesus following. (Psalm 1:1-2; Acts 4:23-24)
The companions of Peter and John are said to have raised their voice to God with one accord. What does this mean? Were they were all saying the exact same thing at the exact same time? The word rendered with one accord (NKJV) or together (ESV) is an adverb that literally means with one mind (ὁμοθυμαδὸν). It is likely that as one in the group was praying the others were sounding in their agreement and support for the words they both heard and understood. We do this by saying "amen" as a person speaks to God on behalf of the group (1 Corinthians 14:16). One accord praying happens when the Lord's people convene in His name to make requests (Matthew 18:19-20). Where the prayers of a single righteous person are effective (James 5:16) there is a special presence and power associated with the gathering of God's people to pray:
Based on the promise of Jesus the unity of this group in purpose and prayer will get results. As we consider the prayer we should note that it is very Jewish. It sounds like the worship literature of their Scriptures (Exodus 20:11; Nehemiah 9:6; Psalm 146:6); it begins with an acknowledgement of God's power and role in the universe - Sovereign Creator.
By starting prayer with a recognition of God's role in Creation the person praying declares the Lord's right to rule and their own obligation to obey.
Seeing Life Through the Lens of Scripture (Acts 4:24-30)
24 So when they heard that, they raised their voice to God with one accord and said: “Lord, You are God, who made heaven and earth and the sea, and all that is in them, 25 who by the mouth of Your servant David have said: ‘Why did the nations rage, And the people plot vain things? 26 The kings of the earth took their stand, And the rulers were gathered together Against the Lord and against His Christ.’ 27 “For truly against Your holy Servant Jesus, whom You anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles and the people of Israel, were gathered together 28 to do whatever Your hand and Your purpose determined before to be done.
The followers of Jesus are not confused by recent events. They are not tossed about by adversity and left to wonder about what is happening. There are two reasons for their sound understanding of their circumstances. First, Jesus told them these things would happen (Matthew 5:11-13; 10:23; 23:34; Luke 21:12; John 15:20) . Second, they have learned to see life through the lens of Scripture; they have a biblical world view. As they review the recent persecution of their Rabbi they realize, owing to the Spirit's leading, that it was all according to plan. Here is what they see in Psalm 2 and recent events:
This part of their prayer comes from God by the mouth of [His] servant David. They not only see through the lens of Scripture (Acts 4:27-28) they pray using the words of God Himself.
Persecution of the early church drove it not to programs, petitions, or powerful politicians but to prayer. In the wake of threats they threw themselves before the throne of grace pleading for help with the words of God Himself. Our prayers will have more weight when we follow their example and pray to God Himself with the words of God Himself.
Seeking Support to Boldly Go (Acts 4:29-30)
29 Now, Lord, look on their threats, and grant to Your servants that with all boldness they may speak Your word, 30 by stretching out Your hand to heal, and that signs and wonders may be done through the name of Your holy Servant Jesus.”
In the latter part of their prayer the apostles and their companions call the Lord's attention to the threats issued by the priests and the elders: look on their threats. The charge of the risen Lord was fresh in their minds. They were to be witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. His commissioning was not to be subverted by cowardice or the desire to avoid conflict. Remembering their own innate frailties and tendencies toward fretting, they called upon God to make them able:
For your own glory give us the disposition to boldly go where no one has gone before with a message that no one has heard before validated by works that no one has done before.
We must be especially aware of the reason for their prayer. They did not ask for a way out but for the strength to press in.
The prayers of the early church look very different from our own. We beseech God to give us better stuff where they asked to be made better; they asked for boldness for the one thing: witnessing. We want healing in order to be comforted in our affliction apart from our calling but they asked for healing as a help for the one thing: witnessing. We seek signs and wonders as a means of creating buzz about ourselves. They asked for the same thing but for an entirely different reason: witnessing. Their praying was for the resources needed to accomplish the mission of making Him known - for witnessing. (Isaiah 43:10; 44:8; 49:6; Acts 1:8)
Supernatural Confirmation (Acts 4:31; Matthew 28:18-20)
31 And when they had prayed, the place where they were assembled together was shaken; and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and they spoke the word of God with boldness.
The answer from Heaven was immediate. As if to say "Let's shake things up" the place where they were assembled together was perturbed. It says that they were then filled with the Holy Spirit and began to operate in the boldness that they had requested. But one might ask, why was the building shaken and why is that not happening today when we ask for boldness.
There are times in Scripture where a sign is used to indicate that something spiritual has taken place without seeking to make it normative. That is, there are instances of God performing a work in a special way so as to reveal how He will work in the future - even without the sign.
God is listening now for prayers to answer. Prayers for boldness in the face of persecution. Prayers for validation when confronting vicious opponents of the gospel. Let the church convene, call out to God for help, in order that we might succeed in our commission - witnessing.
There are three things that we can do with the expectation that God is going to hear. There are three things that should come into our prayer life and we can do them with the expectation that God is going to help.
Real Talk with That Guy
Stay on Target (Acts 5:17-21)
The Reaction of the Religious (Acts 5:17-18; John 12:42-43)
17 Then the high priest rose up, and all those who were with him (which is the sect of the Sadducees), and they were filled with indignation, 18 and laid their hands on the apostles and put them in the common prison.
This is now the second time the Sadducees have been goaded into action by the preaching and teaching ministries of the apostles. In the first instance the marvelous healing and subsequent rejoicing of a well-known temple beggar occasioned an inquiring audience. Peter and John ascribed the miracle to the power of the risen Jesus of Nazareth (Acts 3:12-16). In the preaching that followed the captain of the temple seized upon them and put apostles in custody until the next day (Acts 4:1-3). When brought out for a trial Peter did some seizing of his own; he seized the moment for the glory of God. In his response to the question of how the man was healed he (i) indicts Israel's leadership for the murder of the Lord (Acts 4:10), (ii) declares the resurrection of Jesus and His position of prophesied importance (Acts 4:11) , and (iii) promotes forgiveness of sins through faith in Jesus Himself (Acts 4:12).
In that first case the Sanhedrin did not repent. Instead they commanded the cult leaders to stop witnessing for Jesus. Peter made it clear that he was not going to keep that command (Acts 4:19-20) and so... they threatened him and then let he and John go (Acts 4:21).
Acts 5:17 Here we are again. But it is worse this time. The same group that does not believe in the coming of a messiah, angels, spirits, or resurrection has been watching as their command went unheeded. Teaching and preaching just kept right on going. And now more people than ever know the truth:
It was too much for people who were preoccupied with the self-promotion and protection of their own vain glory (John 12:42-43). Upon hearing the truth about their villainy they are filled with indignation (ζήλου). They cannot bear the assertions about the ousted Rabbi and are wholly unprepared for the brazen disregard for their authority, the bold disrespect of teaching a forbidden doctrine in their house, and the lambasting declaration that they are murderers.
Notice that in the company of people coming into Solomon's colonnade is the high priest himself. He is not delegating this one to the temple captain and his law-enforcing cohort. His anger is so hot that he has personally come to help make the arrest and make sure that they get all of the apostles - not just Peter and John.
Acts 5:18 Having apprehended the rebellion leadership they put them into the common prison (τηρήσει δημοσίᾳ). It could be that the prior place of imprisonment was full or not large enough for the twelve. However, I believe that likely it was an attempt to make a public example of the apostle's defiance. This will prove to be a monumental mistake.
The Relevance in the Rescue (Acts 5:19-20)
19 But at night an angel of the Lord opened the prison doors and brought them out, and said, 20 “Go, stand in the temple and speak to the people all the words of this life.”
An angel of the Lord briefly enters the narrative. The coordinating conjunction of Acts 5:19 tells the reader that his actions are to be seen as a response to the imprisonment. Who is he? Luke is especially frugal in describing their visitor. There is no mention made of his name, no intimation of a shining face (Matthew 28:3), and no hint of amazing apparel (Mark 16:5; John 20:12; Luke 24:4; Acts 1:10). But what he does say goes beyond the mere relating of historical events to challenge and encourage us today. The angel was relevant.
It is not enough to tell people that we are praying for them. It is not enough to wish that people get well, or to want them to be encouraged during their incarceration. It is not enough to send money. There comes a time for those who name the name of Christ to get up from the pews and go to the place where their brethren are being held to just be there with them. To remind them that they are loved on earth as well as in Heaven.
The Righteous Rebellion and the Clueless Council (Acts 5:21)
21 And when they heard that, they entered the temple early in the morning and taught. But the high priest and those with him came and called the council together, with all the elders of the children of Israel, and sent to the prison to have them brought.
The visitation was not in vain. They heard the words and heeded them. There would be no retreating to recuperate. Instead there would be a relentless charge against the gates of hell through the gospel. The lesson of Lazarus was with the Lord's men. And they are now living in the fulness of a righteous rebellion. And what about the hard-nosed high priest and his council?
1 Then the high priest said, “Are these things so?” 2 And he said, “Brethren and fathers, listen: The God of glory appeared to our father Abraham when he was in Mesopotamia, before he dwelt in Haran, 3 and said to him, ‘Get out of your country and from your relatives, and come to a land that I will show you.’ 4 Then he came out of the land of the Chaldeans and dwelt in Haran. And from there, when his father was dead, He moved him to this land in which you now dwell. 5 And God gave him no inheritance in it, not even enough to set his foot on. But even when Abraham had no child, He promised to give it to him for a possession, and to his descendants after him. 6 But God spoke in this way: that his descendants would dwell in a foreign land, and that they would bring them into bondage and oppress them four hundred years. 7 ‘And the nation to whom they will be in bondage I will judge,’ said God, ‘and after that they shall come out and serve Me in this place.’ 8 Then He gave him the covenant of circumcision; and so Abraham begot Isaac and circumcised him on the eighth day; and Isaac begot Jacob, and Jacob begot the twelve patriarchs. 9 “And the patriarchs, becoming envious, sold Joseph into Egypt. But God was with him 10 and delivered him out of all his troubles, and gave him favor and wisdom in the presence of Pharaoh, king of Egypt; and he made him governor over Egypt and all his house. 11 Now a famine and great trouble came over all the land of Egypt and Canaan, and our fathers found no sustenance. 12 But when Jacob heard that there was grain in Egypt, he sent out our fathers first. 13 And the second time Joseph was made known to his brothers, and Joseph’s family became known to the Pharaoh. 14 Then Joseph sent and called his father Jacob and all his relatives to him, seventy-five people. 15 So Jacob went down to Egypt; and he died, he and our fathers. 16 And they were carried back to Shechem and laid in the tomb that Abraham bought for a sum of money from the sons of Hamor, the father of Shechem. 17 “But when the time of the promise drew near which God had sworn to Abraham, the people grew and multiplied in Egypt 18 till another king arose who did not know Joseph. 19 This man dealt treacherously with our people, and oppressed our forefathers, making them expose their babies, so that they might not live. 20 At this time Moses was born, and was well pleasing to God; and he was brought up in his father’s house for three months. 21 But when he was set out, Pharaoh’s daughter took him away and brought him up as her own son. 22 And Moses was learned in all the wisdom of the Egyptians, and was mighty in words and deeds. 23 “Now when he was forty years old, it came into his heart to visit his brethren, the children of Israel. 24 And seeing one of them suffer wrong, he defended and avenged him who was oppressed, and struck down the Egyptian. 25 For he supposed that his brethren would have understood that God would deliver them by his hand, but they did not understand. 26 And the next day he appeared to two of them as they were fighting, and tried to reconcile them, saying, ‘Men, you are brethren; why do you wrong one another?’ 27 But he who did his neighbor wrong pushed him away, saying, ‘Who made you a ruler and a judge over us? 28 Do you want to kill me as you did the Egyptian yesterday?’ 29 Then, at this saying, Moses fled and became a dweller in the land of Midian, where he had two sons. 30 “And when forty years had passed, an Angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire in a bush, in the wilderness of Mount Sinai. 31 When Moses saw it, he marveled at the sight; and as he drew near to observe, the voice of the Lord came to him, 32 saying, ‘I am the God of your fathers—the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.’ And Moses trembled and dared not look. 33 ‘Then the Lord said to him, “Take your sandals off your feet, for the place where you stand is holy ground. 34 I have surely seen the oppression of My people who are in Egypt; I have heard their groaning and have come down to deliver them. And now come, I will send you to Egypt.” ’ 35 “This Moses whom they rejected, saying, ‘Who made you a ruler and a judge?’ is the one God sent to be a ruler and a deliverer by the hand of the Angel who appeared to him in the bush. 36 He brought them out, after he had shown wonders and signs in the land of Egypt, and in the Red Sea, and in the wilderness forty years. 37 “This is that Moses who said to the children of Israel, ‘The Lord your God will raise up for you a Prophet like me from your brethren. Him you shall hear.’ 38 “This is he who was in the congregation in the wilderness with the Angel who spoke to him on Mount Sinai, and with our fathers, the one who received the living oracles to give to us, 39 whom our fathers would not obey, but rejected. And in their hearts they turned back to Egypt, 40 saying to Aaron, ‘Make us gods to go before us; as for this Moses who brought us out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.’ 41 And they made a calf in those days, offered sacrifices to the idol, and rejoiced in the works of their own hands. 42 Then God turned and gave them up to worship the host of heaven, as it is written in the book of the Prophets: ‘Did you offer Me slaughtered animals and sacrifices during forty years in the wilderness, O house of Israel? 43 You also took up the tabernacle of Moloch, And the star of your god Remphan, Images which you made to worship; And I will carry you away beyond Babylon.’ 44 “Our fathers had the tabernacle of witness in the wilderness, as He appointed, instructing Moses to make it according to the pattern that he had seen, 45 which our fathers, having received it in turn, also brought with Joshua into the land possessed by the Gentiles, whom God drove out before the face of our fathers until the days of David, 46 who found favor before God and asked to find a dwelling for the God of Jacob. 47 But Solomon built Him a house. 48 “However, the Most High does not dwell in temples made with hands, as the prophet says: 49 ‘Heaven is My throne, And earth is My footstool. What house will you build for Me? says the Lord, Or what is the place of My rest? 50 Has My hand not made all these things?’ 51 “You stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears! You always resist the Holy Spirit; as your fathers did, so do you. 52 Which of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? And they killed those who foretold the coming of the Just One, of whom you now have become the betrayers and murderers, 53 who have received the law by the direction of angels and have not kept it.” 54 When they heard these things they were cut to the heart, and they gnashed at him with their teeth. 55 But he, being full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God, 56 and said, “Look! I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!” 57 Then they cried out with a loud voice, stopped their ears, and ran at him with one accord; 58 and they cast him out of the city and stoned him. And the witnesses laid down their clothes at the feet of a young man named Saul. 59 And they stoned Stephen as he was calling on God and saying, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” 60 Then he knelt down and cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not charge them with this sin.” And when he had said this, he fell asleep.