Category Archives: Bible

Christianity is Not a Contract!

Diablo 3 - Tyrael

Tyrael of Diablo fame.

“Every time you make a choice you are turning the central part of you, the part of you that chooses, into something a little different than it was before. And taking your life as a whole, with all your innumerable choices, all your life long you are slowly turning this central thing into a heavenly creature or a hellish creature: either into a creature that is in harmony with God, and with other creatures, and with itself, or else into one that is in a state of war and hatred with God, and with its fellow creatures, and with itself. To be the one kind of creature is heaven: that is, it is joy and peace and knowledge and power. To be the other means madness, horror, idiocy, rage, impotence, and eternal loneliness. Each of us at each moment is progressing to the one state or the other.” — C.S. Lewis

A fairly common question I see asked regarding Christianity is, “Is it okay to do _________?” I recently saw such a question posed again and I thought to myself, “Why is this question even being asked? What theological framework allows for such a question to even be asked in the first place?” As I thought about the answer to these questions I realized that to ask if a certain behavior is “okay” is to approach Christianity with the assumption that it is a contract entered into between a person and God, an assumption I believe is invalid.

In a contract two parties agree to fulfill certain responsibilities and it remains in effect as long as the terms of the contract are not breached. Such an approach sets up the expectation that as long as we do not breach the “contract” God will still fulfill His side of the deal and give us a place in heaven. And since we are by nature sinful and evil beings we then try to seek out what the bounds of this contract are; we ask ourselves, “How far can I go? What sort of loopholes can I find that will allow me to do what I want and fulfill my desires without breaching this contract?” It is this mindset I believe that leads to the question, “Is it okay for a Christian to do _________?”

Such a mindset is, I believe, taught nowhere in Scripture. We are taught that we were created by God, in His image, and were commanded to multiply and fill the earth and subdue it (Gen. 1.26-28). In order to sustain us He gave us the plants and the trees and their fruits (Gen. 1.29) and of the trees the only prohibition was from eating of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, and if we did so we would die (Gen. 2.17). So we see that one tree leads to death, while all the others (including the tree of life [Gen. 3.22]) lead to life. Thus we had two ways set before us, one of life and another of death, and we had to walk in one or the other, there were no alternatives. For if we ate of the trees that were allowed, we would live and fill the earth and subdue it; and if we ate of the tree of which eating was prohibited, we would die; and if we had tried to be “neutral” and not eaten of any of the trees we also would have died as we require sustenance by our nature.

Even though we chose the way leading to death, the way to life was not thereby made unavailable to us, for we were prevented from eating from the tree of life, which would have resulted in us living forever in our fallen state (Gen. 3.22). Thus God cast us out of the Garden in order to work the ground from which we were taken (Gen. 3.23-24) in order that we might learn that the way of life was now through repentance and trust (Isa. 30.15).

The Commandments given through Moses were given in order that we might know more clearly which way leads to life and which leads to death. For at the beginning of the list of blessings for following the commandments it is written, “Now it shall be, if you diligently obey the LORD your God, being careful to do all His commandments which I command you today, the LORD your God will set you high above all the nations of the earth.” – Deuteronomy 28.1. Or in other words, they would subdue the earth. But concerning the curses it is written, “So all these curses shall come on you and pursue you and overtake you until you are destroyed, because you would not obey the LORD your God by keeping His commandments and His statutes which He commanded you.” – Deuteronomy 28.45. Or in other words they would die.

The New Testament also presents two ways, one of death and another of life, and these two ways are opposed to each other. Representative of this are the words of the Apostle Paul in his letter to the Galatians 5.16-26:

16 But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. 17 For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. 19 Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, 20 idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, 21 envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. 22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. 24 And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit. 26 Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another.

Thus Scripture does not present us with a contract, but with a choice, a choice between two ways, one which leads to life and another which leads to death. In Advent we are called to recognize our sinfulness and repent as we await the coming of our Lord. Let us do this so that when He comes we will be found working as the wise servant and serving others (Matt. 24.45-47) and not as the unwise one and be found exploiting and beating them (Μatt. 24.48-51). Let us continue on the way of life. Let our prayer throughout this Advent season truly be:

ALMIGHTY God, give us grace that we may cast away the works of darkness, and put upon us the armour of light, now in the time of this mortal life, in which thy Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility; that in the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious majesty to judge both the quick and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal, through him who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Ghost, now and ever. Amen.

 

 

Acts of the Apostles 6.1-15

Book of Acts

Up until this point in the narrative the episodes and events have primarily involved the Apostle Peter. Now the focus will shift from Peter and onto others, the first of whom is Stephen. His time in the narrative is short, but there is quite a bit that we can learn from him.

Now at this time while the disciples were increasing in number, a complaint arose on the part of the Hellenistic Jews against the native Hebrews, because their widows were being overlooked in the daily serving of food. 2 So the twelve summoned the congregation of the disciples and said, “It is not desirable for us to neglect the word of God in order to serve tables. 3 Therefore, brethren, select from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may put in charge of this task. 4 But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.”

I remarked earlier that the events recorded in the Bible are not necessarily arranged chronologically, but are instead arranged according to the purpose of the author. Here we have another episode that does not necessarily follow chronologically from the previous events. The only clue we are given as to where it falls chronologically in the narrative is the phrase in v. 1, “Now at that time while the disciples were increasing in number…” Thus it is possible for these events to have occurred at any point after the bestowing of the Holy Spirit in chapter 2.

What transpired was a complaint from the Hellenistic Jews (Jews who had adopted the Greek language and probably some of the culture as well) against the native Hebrews regarding their widows being overlooked in the daily distribution of food. This was no small matter since in those days these widows likely would have been dependent on others for their daily needs.

Recognizing the seriousness of this matter the Twelve (the remaining 11 appointed by Jesus and Matthias) gathered all the disciples together and told them to select “seven men of good reputation, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may put in charge of this task.” The Twelve recognized that this was a task that needed to be done, but they also recognized that it was not for them to carry out since they said, “It is not desirable for us to neglect the word of God in order to serve tables… But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.”

The lesson here is that there are a variety of ministries within the Church and none is inferior to the other and each is necessary. The Twelve recognized that their place was in the teaching and ministry of the word of God.* They had each spent time with Jesus while he was on Earth and had heard him teach regularly for 3 years. They had been chosen and prepared by God for the positions they were in and they recognized that they should not neglect the duties and responsibilities of their positions (e.g. prayer and “ministry” of the word). However they also recognized that ensuring all the widows were provided and received food, so they decided to appoint others to be in charge of this task.

The statement found approval with the whole congregation; and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit, and Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas and Nicolas, a proselyte from Antioch. 6 And these they brought before the apostles; and after praying, they laid their hands on them.

Remember earlier that the requirements for this position were to be a man “of good reputation, full of the Spirit and of wisdom,” so all these men listed here had to have met that requirement. Thus mentioning that Stephen was “a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit” seems unnecessary and redundant. However, as we will see shortly, this is done in order to place special emphasis on Stephen and to seemingly put him above the others in terms of being full of the Spirit.

7 The word of God kept on spreading; and the number of the disciples continued to increase greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests were becoming obedient to the faith.

Before we move on to Stephen however it is again mentioned that the disciples, or the Christian community, continued to increase in Jerusalem. What is significant about it this time however is that the Jewish priests were also becoming part of the Christian community.

8 And Stephen, full of grace and power, was performing great wonders and signs among the people. 9 But some men from what was called the Synagogue of the Freedmen, including both Cyrenians and Alexandrians, and some from Cilicia and Asia, rose up and argued with Stephen. 10 But they were unable to cope with the wisdom and the Spirit with which he was speaking. 11 Then they secretly induced men to say, “We have heard him speak blasphemous words against Moses and against God.” 12 And they stirred up the people, the elders and the scribes, and they came up to him and dragged him away and brought him before the Council. 13 They put forward false witnesses who said, “This man incessantly speaks against this holy place and the Law; 14 for we have heard him say that this Nazarene, Jesus, will destroy this place and alter the customs which Moses handed down to us.” 15 And fixing their gaze on him, all who were sitting in the Council saw his face like the face of an angel.

The account of Stephen here is remarkably similar to what has been recorded of Peter and the other Apostles. Like the Apostles he performed miracles among the people (v. 8); was then opposed by some of the Jews (v. 9); those who opposed him could not answer him (v. 10); so they raise up false witnesses against him and get the Jewish leaders involved (vv. 11-14). However they all recognize that there is a certain power at work in him that is quite formidable (v. 15).

This is not the end of Stephen in the narrative, but rather just his introduction. His story continues in the follow chapter, which will be discussed next time.

*What exactly is meant by “ministry of the word” isn’t exactly clear from the context. I believe however that teaching, preaching, and administering of sacraments are included in this idea.”

And Stephen, full of grace and power, was performing great wonders and [h]signs among the people. But some men from what was called the Synagogue of the Freedmen, including both Cyrenians and Alexandrians, and some from Cilicia and [i]Asia, rose up and argued with Stephen. 10 But they were unable to cope with the wisdom and the Spirit with which he was speaking. 11 Then they secretly induced men to say, “We have heard him speak blasphemous words against Moses and against God.” 12 And they stirred up the people, the elders and the scribes, and they came up to him and dragged him away and brought him [j]before the [k]Council. 13 They put forward false witnesses who said, “This man incessantly speaks against this holy place and the Law; 14 for we have heard him say that this Nazarene, Jesus, will destroy this place and alter the customs which Moses handed down to us.” 15 And fixing their gaze on him, all who were sitting in the [l]Council saw his face like the face of an angel.

Acts of the Apostles 5.12-42

Book of ActsIf you’ve been paying close attention to the previous chapters you’ve probably noticed that the incidents described have a single person in common: the Apostle Peter. In addition to providing us with examples of God’s faithfulness and commitment to the community (i.e. the Church) that He established on Earth, these incidents also authenticate for us the authority of the Apostles within the Church. The Apostles simply couldn’t claim to speak for God and expect people to believe them; anyone can do that. They had to provide tangible, irrefutable proof, usually in the form of miracles, that they spoke for God. We have already heard one account of Peter and John performing a miracle when they healed the lame beggar (3.1-10), and in the opening paragraph of this passage we have more accounts of Peter performing miracles:

12At the hands of the apostles many signs and wonders were taking place among the people; and they were all with one accord in Solomon’s portico. 13 But none of the rest dared to associate with them; however, the people held them in high esteem. 14 And all the more believers in the Lord, multitudes of men and women, were constantly added to their number15 to such an extent that they even carried the sick out into the streets and laid them on cots and pallets, so that when Peter came by at least his shadow might fall on any one of them. 16 Also the people from the cities in the vicinity of Jerusalem were coming together, bringing people who were sick or afflicted with unclean spirits, and they were all being healed.

Unlike the people who “held them in high esteem,” the Jewish leaders had no such affections towards the Apostles. So they put them in prison:

17 But the high priest rose up, along with all his associates (that is the sect of the Sadducees), and they were filled with jealousy. 18 They laid hands on the apostles and put them in a public jail.

God however is not willing that His witnesses be in prison and unable to continue teaching the people everything Jesus taught them. So:

19 But during the night an angel of the Lord opened the gates of the prison, and taking them out he said, 20 “Go, stand and speak to the people in the temple the whole message of this Life.” 21 Upon hearing this, they entered into the temple about daybreak and began to teach.

The Jewish rulers did not expect an angel of the Lord to free their prisoners, so they were confused when they were not found in the prison, but instead in the temple teaching the people the very things that the Jewish rulers had instructed them not to teach.

Now when the high priest and his associates came, they called the Council together, even all the Senate of the sons of Israel, and sent orders to the prison house for them to be brought. 22 But the officers who came did not find them in the prison; and they returned and reported back, 23 saying, “We found the prison house locked quite securely and the guards standing at the doors; but when we had opened up, we found no one inside.” 24 Now when the captain of the temple guard and the chief priests heard these words, they were greatly perplexed about them as to what would come of this. 25 But someone came and reported to them, “The men whom you put in prison are standing in the temple and teaching the people!” 26 Then the captain went along with the officers and proceeded to bring them back without violence (for they were afraid of the people, that they might be stoned).

Earlier in this passage we saw the attitude of the people contrasted with the attitude of the Jewish rulers towards the Apostles. The people thought highly of them, but the Jewish leaders thought low of them and had them imprisoned. Now we see a contrast between the attitudes of the Jewish rulers and the attitudes of the Apostles. In v. 26 we see that the Jewish rulers are afraid of the people. In the following verses we see that the Apostles are afraid of God since Peter says that they must obey God rather than men:

27 When they had brought them, they stood them before the Council. The high priest questioned them, 28 saying, “We gave you strict orders not to continue teaching in this name, and yet, you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and intend to bring this man’s blood upon us.” 29 But Peter and the apostles answered, “We must obey God rather than men. 30 The God of our fathers raised up Jesus, whom you had put to death by hanging Him on a cross. 31 He is the one whom God exalted to His right hand as a Prince and a Savior, to grant repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins. 32 And we are witnesses of these things; and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey Him.”

The contrasts continue with the reaction of the Jewish rulers to Peter’s words:

33 But when they heard this, they were cut to the quick and intended to kill them.

After Peter’s Pentecost speech in chapter 2 the people were also pierced to their hearts (cut to the quick), but instead of recognizing what they had done and repenting like the people did the Jewish rulers instead want to kill the Apostles. However a Pharisee named Gamaliel offers the following advice:

34 But a Pharisee named Gamaliel, a teacher of the Law, respected by all the people, stood up in the Council and gave orders to put the men outside for a short time. 35 And he said to them, “Men of Israel, take care what you propose to do with these men. 36 For some time ago Theudas rose up, claiming to be somebody, and a group of about four hundred men joined up with him. But he was killed, and all who followed him were dispersed and came to nothing. 37 After this man, Judas of Galilee rose up in the days of the census and drew away some people after him; he too perished, and all those who followed him were scattered. 38 So in the present case, I say to you, stay away from these men and let them alone, for if this plan or action is of men, it will be overthrown; 39 but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them; or else you may even be found fighting against God.”

Regardless of his intentions, Gamaliel offers good advice to the council. At this point the newly formed Church is too large and causing too much of a stir for the Jewish leaders to simply execute the Apostles; doing so would anger the people and likely cause a riot. But the Apostles are undermining the authority of the Sanhedrin, so something must be done. Gamaliel reminds the council that this situation has been encountered before and that movements like these have died out on their own because they were not of God. However, if this movement is of God it will not be able to be stopped, and those who do fight against will be found to be fighting against God. So in the end the best thing for the Jewish rulers to do at this point is nothing and see what comes of this movement.

40 They took his advice; and after calling the apostles in, they flogged them and ordered them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and then released them. 41 So they went on their way from the presence of the Council, rejoicing that they had been considered worthy to suffer shame for His name. 42 And every day, in the temple and from house to house, they kept right on teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ.

The Jewish rulers apparently recognize that Gamaliel’s advice is wise since they take it and simply beat the Apostles and release them. The Apostles however did not listen to the order to not speak in the name of Jesus, but in fact directly disobeyed it and continued to teach and preach in the name of Jesus. If it wasn’t already clear that the Apostles were not going to listen to the orders of the Sanhedrin, it is now.

Thanks for reading. More next week.

Acts of the Apostles 4.32-5.11

Book of ActsThus far in the Acts of the Apostles the narrative has primarily been concerned with the formation of the Messianic community that would eventually become known as the Christian Church and the opposition to this community by the Jewish leaders and some of the Jewish people. This theme will resume shortly, but in the meantime we encounter an incident that demonstrates not everyone within this community truly belongs to this community; outwardly they are part of it, but they are not truly part of it because their hearts are different.

Before I begin discussing the incident I wish to point out that this is the first time an incident does not fall neatly within a chapter. Chapters and verses were added much later to the Bible and were not present in the originals, nor for several centuries thereafter. Thus when reading the Bible it is best to simply ignore them and focus on the flow of thought within the text because the thought may not be complete until somewhere within the next chapter. This passage is an example of this.

32 And the congregation of those who believed were of one heart and soul; and not one of them claimed that anything belonging to him was his own, but all things were common property to them. 33 And with great power the apostles were giving testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and abundant grace was upon them all. 34 For there was not a needy person among them, for all who were owners of land or houses would sell them and bring the proceeds of the sales 35 and lay them at the apostles’ feet, and they would be distributed to each as any had need.

36 Now Joseph, a Levite of Cyprian birth, who was also called Barnabas by the apostles (which translated means Son of Encouragement), 37 and who owned a tract of land, sold it and brought the money and laid it at the apostles’ feet.

This incident can be divided into two halves. This is the first half of the incident and describes for us how a particular practice functioning within the newly formed Christian community. If someone owned land or a house, and they desired to sell it, they would sell it and lay all the proceeds from the sale at the apostle’s feet so that it could be distributed to those who were in need. This was not something they were required to do, but was a consequence of the community being “of one heart and soul”  and no one claiming anything as his own, but instead recognizing it as belonging to the entire Christian community (v.32). Joseph, also called Barnabas, follows this practice and gives all the proceeds from the sale of the tract of land he owned.

But a man named Ananias, with his wife Sapphira, sold a piece of property, 2 and kept back some of the price for himself, with his wife’s full knowledge, and bringing a portion of it, he laid it at the apostles’ feet. 3 But Peter said, “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back some of the price of the land? 4 While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not under your control? Why is it that you have conceived this deed in your heart? You have not lied to men but to God.” 5 And as he heard these words, Ananias fell down and breathed his last; and great fear came over all who heard of it. 6 The young men got up and covered him up, and after carrying him out, they buried him.

7 Now there elapsed an interval of about three hours, and his wife came in, not knowing what had happened. 8 And Peter responded to her, “Tell me whether you sold the land for such and such a price?” And she said, “Yes,that was the price.” 9 Then Peter said to her, “Why is it that you have agreed together to put the Spirit of the Lord to the test? Behold, the feet of those who have buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out as well.” 10 And immediately she fell at his feet and breathed her last, and the young men came in and found her dead, and they carried her out and buried her beside her husband. 11 And great fear came over the whole church, and over all who heard of these things.

The second half of this incident begins with “but.” Most of the time when you see the word “but” used what follows is being contrasted with what was said before it. So in this case these next verses are in contrast to what has been described previously in 4.32-37.

In the previous verses we saw that the accepted practice was for someone to lay the entire proceeds from a sale of land or a house at the apostle’s feet. In these verses we see Ananias and Sapphira keep back a portion of the proceeds (vv.1-2). Peter’s words in v.4 are indicative that Ananias and Sapphira were under no obligation to sell the land (“While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own?”) and even after it was sold they were under no obligation to give the proceeds to the apostles (“And after it was sold, was it not under your control?”). Because the money they laid at the feet of the apostles they claimed was the entire price is why Peter asks in v.3, “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back some of the price of the land?” In v.8 Sapphira agrees that the money she and her husband laid at the feet of the apostles was indeed the price of the land.

Ananias and Sapphira were both struck dead in judgment for their actions. But why? At first glance it seems like a relatively minor offense to be struck dead for. However if we take a closer look perhaps their offense is not so minor. Recall that at the beginning of this passage the community of believers were of one heart and soul and no one claimed anything for themselves, but considered their possessions to be common property to the entire community. Because they had this attitude they gave all the proceeds from a sale of land to the apostles so that it could be distributed among the rest of the community. This act is in keeping with the attitude of claiming nothing for themselves, but considering their possessions, including their money, to belong to the entire community.

So if someone sold some land and laid all the proceeds at the apostles feet so it could be distributed to the rest of the community they were “of one heart and soul” with the community. Barnabas did this, but Ananias and Sapphira did not since they held back some of the proceeds; they were not of one heart and soul with the Christian community.

However in selling their land and claiming to have donated all the proceeds from the sale to the apostles they claimed to belong the Christian community. Ananias and Sapphira wanted to be considered as part of the Christian community, but demonstrated by their actions that they were not. They were not struck dead in judgment because they sinned, but because they were not of one heart and soul with the rest of the community and were a threat to it.

In the previous passage we saw an example of God’s protection of His Church from the outside threat of the Sanhedrin. Here we see an example of God’s protection of His Church from the inside threat of Ananias and Sapphira. Were it not for God’s protection over His Church it would not have survived to this day. And should God cease to protect His Church, His Church will cease to exist.

That’s all for now. Thanks for reading.

Acts of the Apostles 4.13-31

Book of ActsThe response of the Jewish rulers, elders, and scribes continues in this passage:

13 Now as they observed the confidence of Peter and John and understood that they were uneducated and untrained men, they were amazed, and began to recognize them as having been with Jesus. 14 And seeing the man who had been healed standing with them, they had nothing to say in reply. 15 But when they had ordered them to leave the Council, they began to confer with one another, 16 saying, “What shall we do with these men? For the fact that a noteworthy miracle has taken place through them is apparent to all who live in Jerusalem, and we cannot deny it. 17 But so that it will not spread any further among the people, let us warn them to speak no longer to any man in this name.” 18 And when they had summoned them, they commanded them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. 19 But Peter and John answered and said to them, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to give heed to you rather than to God, you be the judge; 20 for we cannot stop speaking about what we have seen and heard.” 21 When they had threatened them further, they let them go (finding no basis on which to punish them) on account of the people, because they were all glorifying God for what had happened; 22 for the man was more than forty years old on whom this miracle of healing had been performed.

Despite the Jewish leaders recognition of Peter and John as being uneducated these educated leaders can offer no reply or rebuttal to what has been said. The reason is found in v.16: they recognized that a great miracle had taken place through them and it was evident to everyone and could not be denied. In fact the only response the Jewish leaders can offer at this point is to tell Peter and John to no longer speak or teach in the name of Jesus. To which Peter and John respond: it is not right to listen to man over God, so we will not stop talking about what we have seen and heard because what we have seen and heard is from God. In response the Jewish leaders threaten Peter and John further and then release them since the miracle they performed was too great (the man on whom it was performed was 40 years old) and the response of the people too overwhelming for them to dole out any actual punishment.

The response of the Jewish leaders here is indicative of a group of people who have been caught off guard by something they did not expect. The Sadducees in particular did not expect two uneducated and untrained fisherman to heal a man who had been unable to walk for the entire 40 years of his life and then turn around and counter one of their chief teachings by proclaiming that Jesus, who was crucified, dead, and buried had risen from the dead and it was through him that this man had been made well. Presumably the Jewish leaders thought that by taking down the leader of the group, Jesus, the rest of the group would disperse and the movement would ultimately come to nothing (more on this in chapter 5). However this is not what is happening, and the Jewish leaders seem surprised.

23 When they had been released, they went to their own companions and reported all that the chief priests and the elders had said to them. 24 And when they heard this, they lifted their voices to God with one accord and said, “O Lord, it is You who made the heaven and the earth and the sea, and all that is in them, 25 who by the Holy Spirit, through the mouth of our father David Your servant, said,

Why did the Gentiles rage,
And the peoples devise futile 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 in this city there were gathered together against Your holy servant Jesus, whom You anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, 28 to do whatever Your hand and Your purpose predestined to occur. 29 And now, Lord, take note of their threats, and grant that Your bond-servants may speak Your word with all confidence, 30 while You extend Your hand to heal, and signs and wonders take place through the name of Your holy servant Jesus.” 31 And when they had prayed, the place where they had gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak the word of God with boldness.

The quotation here is from Psalm 2.1-2. In the portion of the Psalm that is quoted here we have a group of people (Gentiles) opposing and conspiring against the Lord’s Christ (or “anointed one”). Peter recognizes the situation described in the Psalm as being the same as the current situation where there is a group of people (Herod, Pontius Pilate, and Jewish leaders) opposing and conspiring against the Lord’s Christ (Jesus). Since Psalm 2 ends with the promise that the Lord’s “anointed one” will triumph over those who have gathered together to oppose him (Psalm 2.4-9) Peter then asks God to grant that he (Peter) and all those with him (“Your bond-servants”) would speak God’s message with confidence while God himself performs signs and wonders through Jesus. In other words, Peter is saying that Jesus is the Lord’s anointed one in Psalm 2 and asks God to grant the promise of Psalm 2, that those opposing the anointed one be defeated.

There is also another phrase in here which I want to note, since it occurs multiple times throughout the book: “filled with the Holy Spirit.” This phrase has occurred in 2.4; 4.8, 31 so far in the book and is usually followed by someone, or a group, proclaiming God’s message despite any opposition that might be encountered. This proclamation of God’s word despite opposition is a theme that will be encountered later on in the book as well.

At this point we also have another of the major themes setup which is going to play out through the rest of the account: the opposition of the Jewish leaders and people to the Holy Spirit indwelt Messianic community which would later be recognized as the Christian Church. But really this is just a continuation of the theme that runs throughout the entire Bible: God is in the process of executing a plan to redeem humanity and some are opposing that plan of redemption.

That’s all for today folks, thanks for reading.

Acts of the Apostles 4.1-12

When we last left off Peter and John had just performed a miracle in the Temple by making a man who had born lame able to walk. This attracted a crowd of people, presumably mostly Jewish, to which Peter delivered a second speech proclaiming to his fellow Jews that Jesus was the Messiah they had been waiting for, so they should repent of their lack of faith in Jesus as Messiah and join the community that He established “in order that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord;” (Acts 3.19). We did not, however, learn of the reaction of the people to Peter’s speech; that is reserved for the following verses, the first part of which will be covered in this post.

As they were speaking to the people, the priests and the captain of the temple guard and the Sadducees came up to them, 2 being greatly disturbed because they were teaching the people and proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection from the dead. 3 And they laid hands on them and put them in jail until the next day, for it was already evening. 4 But many of those who had heard the message believed; and the number of the men came to be about five thousand.

Book of ActsFollowing Peter’s Pentecost speech there is no mention of any opposition to his words, but here, for the first time in the narrative, opposition is encountered. The Sadducees were a sect of Jews who taught that there was no resurrection (Matthew 22.23; Mark 12.18), so naturally they would be disturbed if someone was proclaiming that someone rose from the dead. Not only did this challenge one of their defining teachings, but it also was a threat to their power as well since they were members of the Sanhedrin, the supreme court of ancient Israel to which all questions of the Jewish faith (e.g. the Law; Law of Moses) were finally put; one of their defining teachings being proven false threatens their credibility to accurately interpret and decide on matters of the Jewish faith.

So in order to keep their credibility and power they have Peter and John put in jail. However Peter’s words had already had an effect on the people since “the number of the men came to be about five thousand.” The word translated “men” here is the Greek term andron, which usually refers to men or husbands; so the number of male Christian believers is now at about 5,000, and the total number of believers presumably higher with women and children added in. Often the Jews, when discussed in relation to Biblical events, get a bad rep, however a significant number of them did come to recognize Jesus as the Messiah and the early Christian community was primarily composed of Jewish converts. Let’s not forget that.

5 On the next day, their rulers and elders and scribes were gathered together in Jerusalem; 6 and Annas the high priest was there, and Caiaphas and John and Alexander, and all who were of high-priestly descent. 7 When they had placed them in the center, they began to inquire, “By what power, or in what name, have you done this?” 8 Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, “Rulers and elders of the people, 9 if we are on trial today for a benefit done to a sick man, as to how this man has been made well, 10 let it be known to all of you and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead—by this name this man stands here before you in good health. 11 He is the stone which was rejected by you, the builders, but which became the chief corner stone. 12 And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved.”

Annas and Caiaphas are mentioned previously in Scripture as presiding over Jesus’ trial before the Sanhedrin (specifically mentioned in Matthew 26.57-68 and John 18.12-28), so they are no strangers to opposing Jesus and His followers; in fact they were part of the group that persuaded Pilate to have Jesus crucified. Peter is certainly aware of who these men are and what their feelings are towards Jesus and His followers, but that doesn’t dissuade him from continuing to proclaim what he has consistently proclaimed: that Jesus Christ was crucified, dead, buried, and rose again and there is salvation in no one else; He is the Messiah that we have been expecting and His kingdom has been established.

Thus far in the narrative Peter has given three speeches and each speech has been delivered to the same audience: Jews, and had a consistent message: Jesus the Nazarene is the prophesied Messiah you have been waiting for, so repent of your lack of faith in Him and join the community He established. Even when faced with a group that he knew to be hostile towards his message he still did not change it, but proclaimed it faithfully. His faithfulness was not due to him being logically convinced of a theological system of beliefs, but rather because he had witnessed the events he was proclaiming and could not deny his experience.

I have mentioned previously that Christianity is based on the historical event of Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection, not on any particular system of theology; the theology can fall away and be proven false, but as long as Jesus rose from the dead Christianity is true. I say this is the basis because this is what the Apostles themselves claimed as the basis of the faith, and we have seen Peter state that basis three times now in the Acts of the Apostles.

As Christians the basis of our faith should be this basis as well; Jesus has risen and defeated death and through Him we have eternal life and salvation. In the Christian culture I was raised in I found this basis unfortunately neglected and not proclaimed to the extent I believed that it should have been. To me it seemed that more effort was devoted to defending particular doctrinal or theological beliefs (though this certainly does have a place), and not enough to proclaiming and reminding me of Jesus’ resurrection and the implications of that event.

The Biblical Storyline

In the previous post the Apostle Peter referenced a promise God gave to Abraham (who was then known as Abram):

Now the Lord said to Abram,

“Go forth from your country,
And from your relatives
And from your father’s house,
To the land which I will show you;
2 And I will make you a great nation,
And I will bless you,
And make your name great;
And so you shall be a blessing;
3 And I will bless those who bless you,
And the one who curses you I will curse.
And in you all the families of the earth will be blessed.”

This quotation comes from Genesis 12.1-3. Genesis is the first book in the Bible and is the book of beginnings. Not so much the beginnings of the Earth and mankind (though these are briefly mentioned), but the beginnings of the rest of the story contained in the Bible. Understanding the events of Genesis is critical to understanding the events in the rest of the Bible; without this understanding the events of the Bible will seem like one big disjointed mess that doesn’t make a bit of sense. So before we can understand this promise to Abram in Genesis 12, we first must go back to the beginning of Genesis and understand the events that transpired earlier in the book.

The Bible has a protagonist (the central character) and an antagonist (the opposition to the central character). The protagonist in the Bible is God and is introduced in the opening sentence of the Bible, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the Earth.” The antagonist is Satan and is introduced in Genesis 3.1, “Now the serpent was more crafty than any beast of the field which the LORD God had made.”

In the opening chapters of Genesis the actions of the protagonist, God, are to create a world and establish man and woman to rule over it (Gen. 1.26-28). The antagonist, Satan, opposes God by corrupting this established order and causing humanity to be ruled over by creation (Gen. 3.1-7). In response to Satan’s actions God promises to destroy Satan and redeem humanity (see Gen 3.15, especially: “…He shall bruise you on the head…”). The rest of the Biblical story develops along this line: God’s plan to crush Satan and redeem humanity, and Satan’s opposition to God’s plan.

With Noah humanity is wiped out and the anticipation is that Noah is the promised deliverer, the Messiah, promised in Gen. 3.15. However Noah allows himself to be ruled by creation as well (Gen. 9.21), thus demonstrating that he is not the Messiah. When we arrive at Abram (Abraham) God reveals that it is through Abraham’s descendants that the Messiah will come (Gen. 12.1-3, especially vv. 2b-3a), then specifically through Isaac (Gen. 21.12), then Jacob (Gen. 28.10-15, esp. vv. 13-15 which reiterate the promise to Abraham in 12.1-3), then David (2 Samuel 7.4-17).

This is why Matthew begins his Gospel by tracing Jesus’ genealogy: his audience was primarily Jewish, and they believed that the Messiah would come from David’s descendants, thus it was important to establish this fact right away. Luke also affirms Jesus’ descent from David in his genealogy as well (Luke 3.23-38).*

So when we come to Peter’s statement in Acts 3, “It is you who are the sons of the prophets and of the covenant which God made with your fathers, saying to Abraham, ‘And in your seed all the families of the earth shall be blessed.’ 26 For you first, God raised up His Servant and sent Him to bless you by turning every one of you from your wicked ways.” what Peter is saying is that the Messiah that was promised by God who was to come from the nation of Israel has come! Since this was promised to you, and this promise has been fulfilled, accept it so that you and the rest of humanity may be redeemed!

For a more in-depth discussion of the biblical storyline see Dr. Charles Baylis’ videos. It is from his work that I drew the majority of this post from also. You can find the videos here: http://biblicalstory.org/home

Next up, Acts 4.

*Yes the genealogies in Matthew 1 and Luke 3 have variances in them. No I’m not going to discuss them in this post as it is off topic.