Stephen

Acts 7

Stephen preaches.

His sermon is long and filled with history, Jewish history, Israel’s history. His words point out that the plan all along was Jesus. Gods role in the history of Israel was all to bring out Jesus. All the patriarchs and prophets and people were providing a path to Jesus.

Jesus is THE plan and path for our salvation.

What is salvation? It is having all of our sins washed away because one perfect man who was in fact God in the flesh, willingly died in our place. He willingly took on all of our sins. All of us. All of it. And he died. And then he came back to life. All we have to do is confess that we need forgiveness and then accept the forgiveness God offers us in Jesus.

The surprise of this chapter is that after preaching eloquently, and passionately the crowd doesn’t receive what Stephen said. Instead they pound him with rocks until he is dead.

He didn’t go out fighting, he went out contending, contending for the faith. He went out like Jesus did, he went out forgiving. I hope I follow his example.

“59 While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” 60 Then he fell on his knees and cried out, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” When he had said this, he fell asleep.”

And we meet Saul, Professional Christian hater. Little did he know how this Jesus would change his life.

Being the body

Acts 6

Some of the widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food.

The apostles were concerned and decided to divide the labor of ministry. It’s like when a human is formed from two cells, the egg and sperm. They quickly begin to multiply and as they do they cluster into groups. Theses groups begin to develop into the various organs and tissues that will make up this little person. No group is more important than any other because they are after all just specialized copies of the original two cells.

The church, this living organism is a multifaceted organization with millions of people. We all, all Christians, have a part play in the function, health and growth of the church, which is also called the body of Christ.

Stephan was chosen not to preach and teach, “3 Brothers and sisters, choose seven men from among you who are known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom. We will turn this responsibility over to them 4 and will give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the word.”

And yet he served. And the church continued to grow.

“7 So the word of God spread. The number of disciples in Jerusalem increased rapidly, and a large number of priests became obedient to the faith.

Stephen Seized

8 Now Stephen, a man full of God’s grace and power, performed great wonders and signs among the people. 9 Opposition arose, however, from members of the Synagogue of the Freedmen (as it was called)—Jews of Cyrene and Alexandria as well as the provinces of Cilicia and Asia—who began to argue with Stephen. 10 But they could not stand up against the wisdom the Spirit gave him as he spoke.”

My body has a lot of different parts and pieces. I need them all to work, to work well, to work hard, to work at their jobs when I don’t even recognize what they are doing. It’s a team effort and all victories and defeats affect my entire body. Every part of me is working together to feed, encourage, bless, protect, aid, and serve every other part. When a part is sick or hurting all parts suffer.

We are like that. Us Christians. We all part of one body. One body of Christ. We need to work together. We need to be connected to each other. We need to aid and support each other. One body, one goal: witness to the miraculous work that Jesus is doing in us. We have a mission to go into the whole world and make disciples and to be witnesses to what Jesus is doing in our lives.

The good news is Jesus loves us and has forgiven all of our sin. He wants to have a relationship with us. There are people, really every person, that Jesus is, no, that Jesus did, die to meet, and now he lives forever waiting and watching, hoping and encouraging us to to share the good news with the people in the world that don’t know about him yet.

Secrets

John 8

What if God knew our secrets?

“8 1 but Jesus went to the Mount of Olives.

2 At dawn he appeared again in the temple courts, where all the people gathered around him, and he sat down to teach them. 3 The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group 4 and said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. 5 In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” 6 They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him.

But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. 7 When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” 8 Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground.

9 At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. 10 Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”

11 “No one, sir,” she said.

“Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.”’

We don’t know what Jesus wrote with his finger on the ground. We can only guess. The Text says that the older men left first. This was a society that esteemed elders and they would’ve been in the front. They would’ve seen what Jesus was writing first. I believe Jesus was writing out the list of each mans dalliances, names and dates.

Who was without sin? not one in that crowd. There is no crowd where the outcome would be any different. No one is without sin.

The one man who lived his life without sinning, Jesus, stood there completely justified to condemn this woman but instead he forgave her.

What if God knew our secrets?

He does.

He knows all of them. He knows all of our past. Here’s the hard part to understand, he still loves us. Jesus knew us and and our sin and yet went to the cross to pay for them all, to pay for us all.

I did some stuff, bad stuff. I was young and stupid. I cannot undo what I did. I recently met an older gentleman who knows part of my story. I can’t see him without thinking about that part of my life and feeling shame and remorse. He only knows part of my story. God knows it all. Every detail. Every motive. Every move I made, he was watching me. He has enough on me to condemn me for eternity but instead he has forgiven it all.

Jesus paid it all. It’s not fair, but it’s true. I walk away forgiven.

Thank you Jesus. You have set me free!

How to grow a church

Acts 5

Busy chapter.

Ananias and his wife lie to the Holy Spirit and die.

The apostles carry on Jesus’ healing ministry. All who come to them are healed.

The apostles teach openly at the temple about Jesus.

The church continues to grow which make the Jewish leadership jealous.

The apostles are arrested, jailed, set free by angels, teach more, re arrested and told to just quit it. Quit teaching about Jesus. Just stop already.

Peters reply is “We must obey God rather than human beings! 30 The God of our ancestors raised Jesus from the dead—whom you killed by hanging him on a cross. 31 God exalted him to his own right hand as Prince and Savior that he might bring Israel to repentance and forgive their sins. 32 We are witnesses of these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him.”’

Then a very wise man named Gamaliel says something that gives me hope

“38 Therefore, in the present case I advise you: Leave these men alone! Let them go! For if their purpose or activity is of human origin, it will fail. 39 But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop these men; you will only find yourselves fighting against God.”’

Then the apostles are beaten up, flogged, and let go.

“41 The apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name. 42 Day after day, in the temple courts and from house to house, they never stopped teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Messiah.”

This new thing, the good news of Jesus coming and dying for our sin. It’s a new way of living. It’s a heart thing. It’s no longer about external shows. Our heart has to be right inside of us. The Good news is that Jesus can do that. He can make our hearts right.

There is power in this new life. Power to heal, power to be witnesses of what Jesus Is doing in our lives. Power to keep going even in great opposition. The opposition is heating up. It is more visible and more real and more menacing then I have I ever seen.

Jesus strengthen my weak arms and feeble legs so that I can stand and be a witness to the amazing love, amazing mercy, amazing grace, that you have for me. Not just for me but for all people who come to you and repent.

Carrying on

Acts 4

“8 Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them: “Rulers and elders of the people! 9 If we are being called to account today for an act of kindness shown to a man who was lame and are being asked how he was healed, 10 then know this, you and all the people of Israel: It is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead, that this man stands before you healed. 11 Jesus is

“‘the stone you builders rejected,

which has become the cornerstone.’[a]

12 Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.”

13 When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus. 14 But since they could see the man who had been healed standing there with them, there was nothing they could say. 15 So they ordered them to withdraw from the Sanhedrin and then conferred together. 16 “What are we going to do with these men?” they asked. “Everyone living in Jerusalem knows they have performed a notable sign, and we cannot deny it. 17 But to stop this thing from spreading any further among the people, we must warn them to speak no longer to anyone in this name.”

18 Then they called them in again and commanded them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. 19 But Peter and John replied, “Which is right in God’s eyes: to listen to you, or to him? You be the judges! 20 As for us, we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.”’

Jesus had been crucified, was dead and buried. He rose from the dead, taught his disciples, told them to wait for power and then he ascended into heaven.

Now it’s just the disciples carrying on. The church is growing. From 72 to 3000 and now because of this healing it has swelled to 5000 believers in Jesus.

Jesus had warned them about the opposition they would face. Back in Luke 21, ”

12 “But before all this, they will seize you and persecute you. They will hand you over to synagogues and put you in prison, and you will be brought before kings and governors, and all on account of my name. 13 And so you will bear testimony to me. 14 But make up your mind not to worry beforehand how you will defend yourselves. 15 For I will give you words and wisdom that none of your adversaries will be able to resist or contradict. 16 You will be betrayed even by parents, brothers and sisters, relatives and friends, and they will put some of you to death. 17 Everyone will hate you because of me. 18 But not a hair of your head will perish. 19 Stand firm, and you will win life.”

We will face persecution and opposition when we believe in Jesus. In it we will find the power to tell our story. I was lost, but now I am found. I was broken but now I am in the process of repair. I continue to contend for healing for the sick, wounded world I live in.

Jesus thank you for saving me. Help me tell other people about you.

Lunatic, devil or Lord?

We are at the point in Matthew 26 where Jesus is going to make a statement that condemns him. He claims to be God.

what are we to do with this information. Here is what C.S. Lewis said about the matter,

“I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God. That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.”

C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

Here is the story from Matthew 26:

“57-58 The men who had seized Jesus took him off to Caiaphas the High Priest in whose house the scribes and elders were assembled. Peter followed him at a safe distance right up to the High Priest’s courtyard. Then he went inside and sat down with the servants and waited to see the end.

59-61 Meanwhile the chief priests and the whole council did all they could to find false evidence against Jesus to get him condemned to death. They failed completely. Even after a number of perjurers came forward they still failed. In the end two of these stood up and said, “This man said, ‘I can pull down the Temple of God and rebuild it in three days.’”

62-64 Then the High Priest rose to his feet and addressed Jesus, “Have you no answer? What about the evidence of these men against you?” But Jesus was silent. Then the High Priest said to him, “I command you by the living God, to tell us on your oath if you are Christ, the Son of God.” Jesus said to him, “I am. Yes, and I tell you that in the future you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of power and coming on the clouds of Heaven.”

65-66 At this the High Priest tore his robes and cried, “That was blasphemy! Where is the need for further witnesses? Look, you’ve heard the blasphemy—what’s your verdict now?” And they replied, “he deserves to die.”

67-68 Then they spat in his face and knocked him about, and some slapped him, crying, “Prophesy, you Christ, who was that who hit you?”’

It isn’t a crime to claim you are the son of God, if in fact you are the son of God.

Jesus is the son of God, I say is, not was, because he lives, he is alive today. He suffered, he died, he rose from the dead, he ascended into heaven and he is returning some day, one day, possibly soon.

Our eternal destiny hangs in the balance of our answer to this question: What do you believe about this man Jesus?

Plugging into power

Acts 3.

“6 Then Peter said, “Silver or gold I do not have, but what I do have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk.” 7 Taking him by the right hand, he helped him up, and instantly the man’s feet and ankles became strong. 8 He jumped to his feet and began to walk. Then he went with them into the temple courts, walking and jumping, and praising God. 9 When all the people saw him walking and praising God, 10 they recognized him as the same man who used to sit begging at the temple gate called Beautiful, and they were filled with wonder and amazement at what had happened to him.”

As a child I spent 21 days in a hospital bed. I was a complete surprise to me when I was able to try and walk that my legs would not support me. I just crumpled to the floor. After just 21 days of not using my leg muscles, they had atrophied so much they wouldn’t support me. This man had never walked.

This healing then is actually two-fold. The beggar was not only given the ability to walk but also the strength to walk.

Then Peter uses the miracle as a platform from which he told everyone there about Jesus.

Jesus had said to his disciples that they would be “Empowered to be My witnesses”.

Jesus healed folks and we see in this story, his disciples healing. Today what is happening?

Where did the power to heal go? What changed? Is wasn’t God. Jesus Christ is same, yesterday, today and forever.

It feels like being late to a 4th of July party and the fireworks are over. When you arrive the people there say “oh, you should’ve seen it, wow it was great!” Or when the old timers reminisce about the good old days, “back in my day…”

It is today. I am here now. What miraculous signs will God do through me today? Through us today? I believe God’s healing power is still available to us. I’m Praying for healing for cancer patients, for babies hanging on for life in crisis pregnancies, for people healing from surgery, for GERD, for rashes that won’t go away, for food allergies and the list goes on. For marriages, ones in bliss and ones on the rocks. God please hear and heal and touch. Show us us your power God. Most important God, save us from our sin. Forgive us and clean us.