Vs. 1, “Some men came down from Judea to Antioch and were teaching the brothers: “Unless you are circumcised, according to the custom taught by Moses, you cannot be saved.” Our chapter today is one of the most pivotal chapters in the Bible; the meeting of the Jerusalem Council. Some men from Judea came unauthorized by the church in Jerusalem (vs. 24) to teach that new Gentile believers must adhere to the customs taught by Moses (vs. 1-2). Question: What is going on here? The Jewish Christian’s in Judea felt it was heresy for Paul and Barnabas to allow Gentiles to think they were saved by grace alone; they must adhere to circumcision and the Mosaic laws. Fortunately, they realize this is serious enough to take to the mother church in Jerusalem (vs. 3-4). The all gather in Jerusalem to discuss this deep theological issue of salvation (soteriology). Peter is first to respond and step for the Gentiles and the way of salvation for them (vs. 6-11). Certainly, we know God spoke to Peter clearly when he visited Cornelius’ house concerning salvation for all (Acts 10). After more witnessing from Paul & Barnabas (vs. 12), James (half-brother of Jesus) who has now taken the prominent role of leading the Jerusalem church speaks up (vs. 12-21). His speech affirms that Gentiles were always a part of God’s plan as attested from the Scriptures (Amos 9:11-12). Jesus’ sacrifice put everyone (Jew and Gentile) on the same level. The Law was setup to protect the Israelites and point them towards Christ, but it cannot save. The process of salvation is agreed upon, now they had to make some practical decisions (vs. 20-21) about how to live holy lives as a church (consisting of both Gentiles and Jewish believers). They also wisely sent Judas and Silas who would accompany Paul and Barnabas to help validate the council’s decision (vs. 22-35). And lastly, we see Paul and Barnabas split up due to an issue with John Mark. Fortunately, as the years went on, Paul and John Mark reconciled their differences (Colossians 4:10, II Timothy 4:11).
Regarding application…Accommodating Others. Vs. 19, “It is my judgment, therefore, that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God.” This is a very difficult topic to address in the church. Question: Why and how should we accommodate others? Jesus tells us not to cause others to stumble (Matthew 18). And in our passage today, the Gentiles should make efforts to not cause the Jewish believers to stumble (vs. 20). A cultural example today would be the topic of alcohol. It is not a sin to drink, but we are warned throughout the bible not to get drunk. There are other cultures, religions, and Christians who choose to completely abstain from alcohol. As Christians, it would be wise to not drink around them and accommodate their sensitivities. Question: How can you set aside your freedoms to accommodate others this week? Whether in the workplace, church or home, we all could be more sensitive to others.
Vs. 17, “Then Ananias went to the house and entered it. Placing his hands on Saul, he said, “Brother Saul, the Lord—Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you were coming here—has sent me so that you may see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” This is one of the most pivotal moments in the church history; the conversion of Saul/Paul. What made Paul so effective both as a Pharisee and later a Christian was his zeal and commitment. It was his zeal that led him to stamp out the Way (vs. 1) and request to go to Damascus. However, God had different plans for Paul. Jesus literally intercepts Paul and calls out to him (vs. 5-6). It must have been quite an encounter on the road to Damascus, for Paul was blind after it (vs. 7-9). While in Damascus, Jesus comes in a vision to Ananias (a devout Jew) and informs him he must care for Paul (vs. 10-19). Already, among those who were saved, Paul had quite a reputation of doing harm to the church (vs. 13). Upon regaining his strength, we see Paul’s zeal as he immediately starts testifying about Jesus (vs. 20-22). However, the Jews in Damascus began to plot to kill Saul. By God’s grace Paul escapes and eventually finds his way back to Jerusalem, though it would be three years later (Galatians 1:17, vs. 26). Question: What was Paul doing? Most believe it was there that God prepared Saul for the ministry through the Holy Spirit and connecting all the dots he had already learned from OT Scripture to the revelation of Christ on the road to Damascus. Once Paul finally arrives in Jerusalem (vs. 26), many of the Christians feared him. But the son of encouragement, Barnabas would live up to his name (vs. 27). In the last section of our chapter (vs. 32-43), we see Peter healing Aeneas, raising Dorcas back to life and bringing salvation to many.
Regarding application…Standing up For Others. Vs. 27, “But Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles. He told them how Saul on his journey had seen the Lord and that the Lord had spoken to him, and how in Damascus he had preached fearlessly in the name of Jesus.” While others were skeptical, it was Barnabas (Son of encouragement) that stood up for Paul. There were many godly people in the church in Jerusalem that had their doubts. Rather than point out their lack of foresight, the bigger lesson is the actions of Barnabas. We need people like Barnabas in the church today! While not everyone is going to have the interpersonal relationship skills and the natural ability to encourage, we should make every effort to prayerfully raise up people that do. Question: Who is the “Barnabas” at your church? It could be you! Whether or not we have a special gift of encouragement, there will be times in our lives where we must be able to stand up for others.
Vs. 1, “In those days when the number of disciples was increasing, the Grecian Jews among them complained against the Hebraic Jews because their widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food.” Earlier in Acts, we saw a vibrant and loving church sharing to all in need! But as time passed, there was a bit of predicament; there was favoritism going on (vs. 1-7). Where God is working the enemy is also at work. There was a specific way to take care of the needy; in this case it was the widows. The Grecian Jews and the Hebraic Jews indicate that while they were both Jews, they were of different culture. I work in Korean-American ministry and it would sort of a similar situation. The first generation adults grew up in Korea and now live in America. They still speak Korean. The second generation Koreans are Korean, but they grew up in America and speak English. So, instead of ignoring this issue, the apostles wisely raise up seven leaders (possibly among the Grecian Jews) and this begins to show us the model of the “deacon” in the church today. As the church grows, we need to have people who are Godly continue to pick up the increased work and attention to all. Among the seven deacons chose, we focus in on Stephen (vs. 8-15). Unfortunately, there were those who opposed Stephen and brought false accusations (vs. 11). This reminds me of the lies of the Persian Leaders (Satraps) that were presented to Darius in Daniel 6. Satan is the father of lies. We must be very discerning! In our next chapter, we will further investigate more about Stephen.
Regarding application…Reflecting God’s Glory. Vs. 15, “All who were sitting in the Sanhedrin looked intently at Stephen, and they saw that his face was like the face of an angel.” We know Stephen was a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit (vs. 5). Question: Is this how people would describe us? Is our face like that of an angel? This reminds me of the glory of God shone through Moses’ face coming down from the mountain (Exodus 34). One of the most Godly people I ever met was Bertha Holt. She and her husband Harry Holt founded Holt International. Holt International is worldwide adoption agency that has placed so many orphans into homes. I had the opportunity to meet Bertha on several occasions and I will tell you that I understand Luke’s description of Stephen in our passage today. Bertha radiated the glow of God’s glory. It was amazing. It was as if it was a minor miracle that God would manifest himself so evidently into someone. Brothers & sisters, this is something we should humbly seek. That when people see us, they see God’s glory!
Vs. 10, “At that moment she fell down at his feet and died. Then the young men came in and, finding her dead, carried her out and buried her beside her husband.” Our chapter opens ominously as Ananias and his wife Sapphira lied to the church regarding the profit they offered from the land they had sold (vs. 1-11). Question: What’s the big deal? You may recall that the church was willingly sharing their possessions and ensuring others were taken care of. Yesterday, we were reminded that Barnabas sold his property and gave it to the church. Ananias and Sapphira do the same thing, but they deceived the church and God (Holy Spirit) by keeping some of their proceeds for themselves. The big issue is they lied and made themselves look much more sacrificial than they really were. This was literally a grave mistake. Satan is the father of lies. This was a big move by the enemy to dismantle the early churches progress thus far. It was important to the LORD that such a deed not goes unpunished, especially because this was setting the foundation for the early church. Despite the setback, the growth of the early church continues (vs. 12-16) and the disciples continue to heal many. But, this didn’t set well with the enemies of the Gospel (vs. 17-42). The High Priest along with the Sadducees threw the apostles into jail. Blessed are those who are persecuted (Matthew 5:10). Despite the persecution, an angel of the Lord comes and rescues them out of jail in middle of the night. However, the Sanhedrin is boiling with anger, but Peter courageously stands up and reminds them they must obey God rather than men (vs. 29). Fortunately, Gamaliel stepped in and spoke reason to the Sanhedrin (vs 34-40). Gamaliel was a prominent Pharisee as well as the mentor for Paul (Acts 22:3).
Regarding application…Rejoicing in Trials. Vs. 41, “The apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name.” What a response of faith! Their lives were in question until Gamaliel stepped in and to top it off, they were flogged (Limit was 40 lashes). But, this did not make their hearts bitter or downcast. They couldn’t believe they were counted worthy to suffer like the Lord Jesus! Brothers and sisters, this is real faith being tested. God created them to do good works and they were doing it. When I think about the sufferings and trials in my life, I’m convicted for the short-sightedness of my outlook. I’m so thankful that we have the Word of God speaking to our hearts each day! Let us never take for granted the privilege we have as believers to suffer trials in this life. Our response to such trials can testify of God’s great love and mercy to a world that is lost!
Vs. 3, “They seized Peter and John, and because it was evening, they put them in jail until the next day.” Jesus’ prophetic words are coming true as the disciples are now experiencing persecution for their faith (Matthew 10). Peter and John are arrested that evening, however, this does not deter many more coming to faith (vs. 1-4). In our previous chapter, they had healed the lame man and were now preaching the gospel in the Solomon’s Colonnade. The following morning, Peter and John stand before Annas (former high priest), Caiaphas (current high priest), and the Sanhedrin; the same people who tried Jesus just weeks earlier (vs. 5-12). The Holy Spirit filled Peter and gave him the words to respond before them (Matthew 10:19)! These were the very people who rejected Jesus, but now Peter calls them out. The opponents were in a dilemma, for it was undeniable that a miracle had occurred with the lame man (vs. 13-22). If they let them go, they may continue to share. But if they condemn them, there may be a public riot. In our application section, we will discuss the disciple’s response. When Peter and John returned, the early church responded with great faith and courage (vs. 23-31). Their response and prayer was so powerful, that place they met was shaken by God (vs. 31)! And we close our chapter (vs. 32-37) with another reminder how the early followers voluntarily shared their possessions. It’s notable that Barnabas is mentioned. In the next chapter, we will see why this reminder was placed contextually.
Regarding application…Who Do We Obey? Vs. 19, “But Peter and John replied, “Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God’s sight to obey you rather than God.” We should be respectful citizens of the country we reside in. The Apostle Paul gave us the right perspective (Romans 13:1-7) as well as Peter (I Peter 2:13-17) in laying down the foundation of civil obedience. However, there is a caveat: If your countries laws go directly against God’s word, than we must obey God first! In most cases, this will not apply to us. For example, if your country is banning bibles and meeting together for worship, you are justified in breaking such a law. Please pray for wisdom from the Spirit of God in how you respond. We should do our best to obey the laws of our land!
Vs. 4, “The Jewish Passover Feast was near.” Again we see events that surround one of the festivals that are drawing near. Some time has passed and John now takes an opportunity use one of Jesus’ miracles and teachings to compare and contrast the Passover festival. The feeding of the five thousand (vs. 1-15) reminds us of how God provided manna during the Exodus. John gives us additional insight as we see Jesus testing Philip (vs. 5-7). Jesus’ walking on water (vs. 16-24) reminds us also of the water miracle with the crossing of the Red Sea after Passover. Having arrived in the headquarters at Capernaum, Jesus uses an opportunity to further teach that He is the Bread of Life (vs. 25-35) the first of the great I AM statements. Jesus’ teaching highlights the process of how we come to salvation one that involves God’s sovereignty, yet also our free will (vs. 36-40). However, this was very difficult for many to hear and understand so they grumbled (vs. 41-51). Jesus continued to share truth in love as He revealed more about how we come to the Father. Jesus use of eating flesh (51-59) confounded the Jews as the imagery of who Jesus is was too much for them to handle. Only through the body (bread) and the sacrifice (flesh and blood) can we find eternal life. Sadly, for many, this hard teaching would draw many so-called disiples to desert Jesus (vs. 60-71). This chapter teaches us about incredibly deep things of God. May we be like Peter who simply realized that there was no better place to be than with Jesus (vs. 68-69).
Regarding application…Right Reasons. Vs. 26, “Jesus answered, “I tell you the truth, you are looking for me, not because you saw miraculous signs but because you ate the loaves and had your fill.” The crowds followed Jesus all the way to the other side of the Sea. However, their intentions were not right. Ironically, they were looking for Jesus to provide for them, but what they sought was not what they really needed. Question: I wonder how often we are guilty of the same thing? We come to church looking for provision. We come to church to satisfy a guilty conscience. We may even come to church for good worship, fellowship, etc. But, Jesus is sifting out the chaff. Jesus didn’t ask them to leave, but He did teach them the reality of the cost and deep truths. It reminds me of when God instructed Gideon to give any solider who trembled in fear a way out (Judges 7). Twenty-two thousand of the thirty-two thousand soldiers left. 68% were in God’s army for the wrong reason. Question: Are you following Jesus for the right reason?
Vs. 1, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” In a reference to Genesis, John’s opening statement is a wondrous lesson on theology (Study of God)! Jesus is the Word and He always existed (vs. 1-2); He is eternal. Through the Word, God created the universe (vs. 3). The Greek word for Word is Logos. Jesus is the Word and that Word is described as light shining in the darkness (vs. 5). The Apostle John takes time to expound upon John the Baptist’s role as a witness to the light (vs. 6-9; 15-34) and testimony to Jesus’ identity as the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. We are presented with a deep theological understanding of the incarnation; Word became flesh (vs. 10-14). This is where we are reminded Jesus was 100% human, yet 100% Deity. The Apostle John also records to us the calling of Jesus’ first disciples as John the Baptist points out Jesus to them (vs. 35-42). Andrew, Peter, James and John (Mark 1:16-20) are the ones who are called here in this passage. In our last section (vs. 43-50), Jesus moves onto Galilee where He calls Philip and Nathanael. Jesus’ interaction with Nathanael reveals His omniscience (knowing everything). Jesus also give a reference to the “stairway to heaven” (Genesis 28) with the angels ascending and descending on the Son of Man (Stairway) (vs. 51)
Regarding application…What Do You See? Vs. 9, “The true light that gives light to every man was coming into the world.” This past week, I was cutting my hair in the shower with a mirror. The light bulb in the bathroom decides to go out right in the middle of my haircut. Needless to say, it was much more difficult! This reminded me how much we take for granted the light that is provided to us. Certainly, I’m not just talking about the modern day technology and the advancement of light bulbs. We have the light of Christ in our life. Yet, I wonder how often we try to navigate life without the light of Christ being a lamp unto our feet (Psalm 119:105). We need light to find our way in the dark. We need Jesus to find our way in our spiritual journey. As we look to the light that gives light, what do you see? Take time today to consider and be thankful to how Jesus the light of the world brings light to your life.
Vs. 2, “There he was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light.” We open our chapter with Jesus revealing His glory to inner three (Peter, James & John) on the mount of Transfiguration (vs. 1-13). Question: What is the Transfiguration? It comes from the Greek language that gives us our modern day word: Metamorphosis. All three Synoptic Gospels record this event. The Transfiguration is a special glimpse into the glory of the Lord as Jesus reveals His true identity. The presence of Moses (law) & Elijah (prophets) come to bear witness of Jesus’ identity and mission. Once again, Jesus admonishes them not to reveal what they have seen (vs. 9); at least until He has done His work on the cross. Jesus reminds them the prophecy of Malachi (Malachi 4:5-6) concerning Elijah coming first is fulfilled through John the Baptist (Luke 1:17). When they come down the mountain they encounter a failed exorcism (vs. 14-23). Jesus uses this as an opportunity to give us a fresh understanding of what true faith looks like (vs. 20-21). Sadly, we are reminded that Jesus’ death will come about because of betrayal of the worst kind; betrayal of their own in Judas Iscariot (vs. 22-23). The Temple tax incident (vs. 24-27) teaches us that though Jesus being the Son of God (vs. 25) does not have to pay it, He does so to prevent the stumbling of others.
Regarding application…Father’s Approval. Vs. 5, “While he was still speaking, a bright cloud enveloped them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!” These words from the Father were identical to His affirmation when Jesus was baptized (Matthew 3:17). The caveat is, “Listen to him!” As children, we sought so hard to find the approval of our parents. Sometimes they were disappointed, other time we were disappointed. But deep down inside, we want to hear the praises and approval of our parents. Jesus was obedient; even obedient to death on the cross (Philippians 2:8). For my leisure reading, I am reading Peter Criss’ biography (the drummer of the rockband Kiss). He shares a story when they finally performed in MSG (Madison Square Garden) and he had his parents and family attend. As they performed he saw the tears and proud looks of his parents and it brought this 30 plus year old successful man to tears as he played the drums that night. No matter how old we are, we want to make our loved ones proud of us. Just as the Father approves His son Jesus, He also does for us. Question: Why? Because we listened to His son and put our faith in Him. Jesus’ blood brings the approval of our Father in Heaven. Thank you Father for loving us so much!
Vs. 4, “For certain men whose condemnation was written about long ago have secretly slipped in among you. They are godless men, who change the grace of our God into a license for immorality and deny Jesus Christ our only Sovereign and Lord.” Though Jude would rather have written about glorious things (vs. 3), he is compelled by the Spirit of God to address those who have infiltrated the church. The strategy of the enemy is often deceit and that is what we see here. We too should not be naïve that this doesn’t happen in the churches today. Jude gives us some OT examples of Israel and the first generation lacking faith (vs. 5), the fallen angels (vs. 6), and Sodom & Gomorrah (vs. 7). It is not easy reading to hear of the hardened rebellion against our God (vs. 8-16). Question: How should we respond? Jude exhorts us to persevere in these last times (vs. 17-23).
Regarding application…Be Builders. Vs. 20, “But you, dear friends, by building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit.” The picture of building reminds me of Nehemiah’s call to help rebuild the walls of Jerusalem. We must not be bystanders in this life. The enemies of God are always trying to breakdown the church, but we must remain steadfast in building it. What a timely reminder that we must pray even while we build. Prayer is calling upon the resources that only God can provide. Question: What are you building? Take time today to consider your goals for 2013 and pray that God be the author of those plans. I’m reminded of that saying, “Prayer in not getting man’s will done in heaven-it is getting God’s will done on earth.”
Vs. 8, “But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day.” Peter admonishes us all to have perspective. That is why he wrote this second letter to them (vs. 1) There will always be scoffers and opponents of the church (vs. 1-7). Throughout Scripture, we have been told of a day of judgment (Isaiah, Jeremiah, Daniel, Amos & Zechariah). Jesus continued teaching of such things (Matthew 24-25). Just like the days of Noah and those who scoffed judgment, we live in such times today. God is not limited by time (vs. 8-10) and His desire is that all turn to Him. Question: What then do we do with this truth? We are to continue to grow in the Lord with patience and alertness (vs. 11-18).
Regarding application…Live Holy Lives. Vs. 11, “Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives.” Question: What does it mean to live holy? Holy basically means to be separate. In essence, living holy lives means to not live like the world. God chose us to live as His children. Having a right perspective on this temporary world will only help us remember how unimportant the things of this world really are. As we venture into a new year and think about all of our goals and aspirations, let us humbly consider what God has planned for us. We can’t control our future, but we can control how we live each day.