2008. Mark A Hewitt
Things to watch for as you read these chapters.
Monday, February 17, Chapter 6
We learn a couple of intriguing details about the early church. First, we do not know how much later this occurred, but it was still a Jewish congregation, both Judean Jews and those from around the Roman world. Judeans had always believed they were superior to other Jews and it carried over in the early church experience.
Second, church structure came out of necessity. The Messianic Jews, the first followers of Jesus, went to synagogue, and the Temple, so followed the organization they knew. Over the years, as the church spread throughout the empire, the structure became different in North Africa, Syria, Egypt, Gaul, Spain, etc. The church in Rome adapted the Roman governmental structure for their own use; as the modern churches in the US now use many organizational features of the US government, for better or worse.
The choice of the number seven may have been how many people they thought it would take to do the work. However, seven in the Bible generally represents perfection.
The most relevant detail of this story is to introduce us to both Stephen and Philip. Philip is one of the few followers at the time who was not Jewish by birth. More importantly, he will play an vital role later in Acts.
Stephen moves to center stage right away with his arrest. Notice that he was attending services in a synagogue serving non-Judeans; he was with his own people. As a follower of Jesus, he spoke out about the scriptural proof of Jesus as the Messiah and that upset the others there.
We should be able to take pride in having people upset with us when we speak the Truth. If we speak and no one reacts, perhaps we are not speaking the Truth.
Tuesday, February 18, Chapter 7
Stephen was defending himself against a death sentence. The fact that his speech contains some inaccurate details should cause us no problem. The history he describes is of people who responded to the Word of God. He reminds the leaders of the harsh treatment the prophets received and uses that to lead into their killing of both John and Jesus.
In verse 51, Stephen unloaded on the Sanhedrin, “stiff-necked people.” At verse 55, it becomes clear that God intended for Stephen to become the first martyr of the church and Stephen gladly accepts the assignment.
Stoning, by the way, included all sizes of rocks, many requiring two men to carry and drop on the accused.
Luke, I would guess with Paul’s blessing, went to some trouble to name the young man who held the outer robes. Luke worked with Paul for several years and wants us to know his background so that we can see the change that Jesus made in him.
Wednesday, February 19, Chapter 8
God’s hand shows as the church is forced to leave the city center of the faith and go into the world as promised. Saul/Paul is one of the persecutors who seemed to do the job with more zeal than necessary.
Phillip went north into the dreaded Samaria. His preaching and healing brought in many believers, including, it seemed, Simon the Sorcerer. It is not clear in this chapter if Simon was a true believer or if he just saw Christianity as another form of magic. Peter seemed to think that was the case. We need to be careful we do not become Simons. It is tempting to ask God to give us all the comforts we want. A young pastor friend was videoing his young son playing in the snow. The son looked up and shouted, “Jesus, make it warm.” It is funny in a child, but how often do we resort to such tactics?
Phillip was next directed to the road going south out of Jerusalem. He traveled at least a day just to get out of Samaria, plus another day to get through the city. The angel directed him to a man simply called the Eunuch. He may have been a Jewish convert, but was more likely a gentile who believed in the God of Abraham, a God fearing man.
He invited Phillip to explain the scriptures and Phillip listed all the references that promised the coming Messiah and explained how Jesus met every one of them. It was the same message the early church used for all Jews and God fearing people, one we should study more closely.
At the end of the chapter Phillip simply disappeared, transported by Spirit Express to Azotus, some 20 miles north. Oddly enough, Luke gave us no explanation of this strange event, but had him preach his way from there to the powerful Roman dominated city of Caesarea, 60 miles farther north. Luke does not refer to Phillip again until 20 years have lapsed.
Thursday, February 20, Chapter 9
We now have the wonderful story of Saul’s blinding conversion. It is entirely consistent with how God works in the world by using weakness to achieve extraordinary things. In this story, he uses an enemy to create a powerful Apostle for the Word. Saul likely traveled with assistants who probably took him to a house prepared for them near the Governor’s Residence, adding to the trepidation of Ananias. Saul’s blindness, though real, was also a symbol of his lack of understanding of Jesus. He had much to learn.
Saul at once preached about Jesus as the Messiah. Remember that he was a student of the great Gamaliel, so he already knew all the passages of scripture that promised the Messiah. Saul’s blindness fell away only when he accepted Jesus as that Messiah.
Going to Jerusalem does seem a strange choice given all that had happened. Luke fails to explain how Barnabas knew of Saul’s conversion, but his word was enough to convince the Apostles. As we read, Saul eventually fled to Tarsus, his home town.
Two more healings round out the chapter with Peter at the center again. Tabitha is Aramaic and Dorcas is Greek; both mean gazelle. More people believed as a result of the healings.
Simon Peter moved in with Simon the tanner. It looks to be such a simple thing, but in Jewish belief, tanners were at the bottom of a strict social scale because they handled dead flesh every day. Tanned leather presented no problems, but the tanner was beneath contempt. A tanner was worse even than a Jewish tax collector. Peter was starting to move away from his strict belief system and accept people in whatever station of life.
Friday, February 21. Chapter 10
Now Peter moves from a tanner to a Roman from a prominent family who is rising through the ranks of the military. Being a centurion of the Italian Cohort, it is likely that he was a man on the rise, yet he was also one of the God fearing men. At that time, it was not a disadvantage to his military and political career to follow the practices of a local religion. Cornelius was a Centurion, but if he commanded the first Centuria of the Cohort, he would have had responsibilities more in line with a Lieutenant Colonel today, responsible for supervising five other Centurions.
We need to note how God looked on Cornelius, a man who had not taken the next step to become Jewish. Cornelius was living in two worlds, yet God looked on him with favor.
The Cornelius affair is a lesson for Peter to prepare him for ministry to gentiles. The vision of unclean animals and Jesus telling Peter to eat them was difficult for Peter, but the message did sink in. When the angel told him to go with the men, he was ready to do it.
What happened in the home of the Roman officer can be called an ice breaker. Not only Cornelius, but his whole family with friends received the Holy Spirit. Do not miss this point: none of those people made a profession of faith nor had any been baptized. Still, they were made pure, just like the unclean animals shown to Peter.
Only those whom Jesus makes pure can stand before God, but we do not decide who those people are. Many who have never heard his name will be saved, if this account is any indication and I believe it is.
Be righteous and do good.