Tag Archives: Saul

Do You See The Light?

 

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1 Samuel 16:1-13
Ephesians 5:8-14
John 9:1-41
Psalm 23

Theodore of Heraclea (died 355 AD) He calls himself light both because he enlightens the souls of those who believe and because he was about to open the eyes of the one who was blind from birth.

King Saul had a problem with open eyes.  In Chapter 15, we read that Saul not only failed to do God’s bidding, he tried to lie by saying he had done as commanded.  God turned to David to replace him.  God had Samuel say to Saul, Does the Lord delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obeying the voice of the Lord?  To obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed is better than the fat of rams.

From all the sons of Jesse, God chose the youngest and smallest, saying, Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.

Jesus was himself a son of Jesse, born in the same city.  By listening to God, his Father, Jesus brought the Light of God into the world.

Irenaeus (died 202 AD) He healed others by a word…. But the Lord bestowed sight on the one who was blind from birth—not by a word, but by an outward action…. He did it this way in order to show it was the same hand of God here that had also formed man at the beginning….He did this so that the works of God might be evident in him, and so that we would now seek for no other hand than that through which humanity was formed.

Paul reminds us to, Live as children of light (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth) and find out what pleases the Lord.

Saul is someone we can relate to.  He took the word of God and mostly followed it, making only a couple of changes that seemed reasonable.  Much like Adam and Eve thinking the fruit looked reasonable.  We today think it is reasonable that God would hate _____  (fill in the blank), therefore, we should hate them.  It is reasonable that God would want every human immersed in water as a sign of faith.

The Lord leads me

The Lord guides me

The Lord comforts me

The Lord prepares for me

The Lord anoints me.

Be righteous and do good.

Mike Lawrence

Acts 11-15

158452014   Ancient church at Antioch, Turkey

Things to watch for as you read these chapters.

Monday, February 24, Chapter 11

The first 14 verses are a repeat of chapter 10.  In 15-18, gentiles receive the Holy Spirit, even before baptism or profession of faith.  Only God and the Son of Man get to choose, not humans.  Even Peter chose not to argue with Jesus this time.

Antioch became the second leading center of church growth and remained for centuries as a center of the faith.

When the faithful at Jerusalem heard what was happening there, they sent Barnabas to investigate and make sure they were staying true to the teaching of Jesus.  Barnabas, impressed, preached and then went to Tarsus to get Saul to join him in a year-long ministry in Antioch.  In that time, those who opposed the church branded the sect with the derogatory name of Christians.

Notice that Barnabas was the leader with Saul in support.  Their roles would reverse, but not for another few years.

Tuesday, February 25, Chapter 12

You have to have a score card to keep track of the Kings Herod.  This time it is Herod Agrippa I, the grandson of Herod the Great.  He took over from the exiled Herod Antipas.

The events described in this chapter took place around 10 years after the resurrection.  Agrippa beheaded James the Apostle, but Luke chose not to tell us anything else about it.  The public reaction did encourage Agrippa to arrest Peter for the same purpose.

The prison escape is compelling reading, but do not lose sight of why God chose to free Peter here, but did not free him later in Rome.  Even after 10 years, Peter was the leader of the Church.  James, the brother of Jesus was the leader of the church in Jerusalem, but his influence was far less than Peter’s.  Luke only mentions John with Peter and the other ten not at all.  Paul was still some years away from his full authority.  Peter was the center of the church in the human sense.

Peter made his way to Mary’s house.  This is the Mary who is the mother of John Mark, yet another helper to Paul years later, after they made up over a misunderstanding.  Many scholars today believe John Mark as a youth, was present at the arrest of Jesus.  More on that in a later book.

Syphilis may have caused the death of Agrippa, but God arranged the timing.

Wednesday, February 26, Chapter 13

With this chapter, Saul, finally called Paul, begins to move to the center stage.  The church at Antioch, instigated by the Holy Spirit, commission Barnabas and Saul to a specific missionary journey to Cyprus.  The two are becoming equals even as Barnabas gets top billing.  Their assistant was the young John Mark.

The two move on to Pisidian Antioch in Asia Minor, what is now Turkey, with John Mark going on to Jerusalem.  In a synagogue there, Paul, invited to speak, gives the now familiar outline of the scriptural testimony to the Messiah.  This time, their words pleased the people who invited them to return the following Saturday.

Jealousy interceded and some Jews started speaking against Paul and Barnabas, so Paul announced he would turn to speaking to the gentiles.  However, being chased from the area quickly became a way of life.

Thursday, February 27, Chapter 14

Here in verse 4 and again in 14, Luke calls Paul and Barnabas apostles, the only times in Acts.  However, a number of other people are called apostles at different times.  It is not reserved for the Twelve.  The New Testament holds apostles to the highest standards, assuming for them the duties of missionaries, healers, and representatives of Jesus on earth.  The First Century Church seems to have had a large number of apostles of the caliber of Paul and Barnabas, not to mention the Twelve.

The difficulties in Iconium were common experiences for early Christians, not just for Paul.  Every apostle and disciple preaching the Word met with both acceptance and rejection.  An important lesson for us is in verses 6-7.  There comes a time when we have to move on.  Not everyone will receive the Word of God.

One of the more recent early church fathers, Bede, writing in the early 700’s in England, had this to say on the miracle:

Just as that lame man whom Peter and John cured at the door of the temple prefigured the salvation of the Jews, so too this sick Lycaonian prefigured the people of the Gentiles….

Paul tried to help his listeners understand what God does for all of us; that we should thank Him every day for those great gifts.  He might have won the day, but the trouble makers from Iconium arrived to promote ugliness to the crowd; again, a common occurrence for Paul.

I turn again to the writing of Chrysostom about 390, only a few decades after Christianity became accepted by the Roman Empire:

Believe me, it is possible to suffer things now worse than what Paul suffered.  Those enemies pelted him with stones, but it is now possible to pelt with words that are worse than stone.  What then must one do?  The same that he did.  He did not hate those who cast the stones.  After they dragged him out, he entered their city again, to be a benefactor to those who had done him such wrongs….  Such things are worthy of crowns, worthy of proclamations by the heralds, worthy of ten thousand good things, not worthy of stones.  And yet having suffered the opposite, he did the opposite to what was expected.  For this is the splendid victory.

The two missionaries retraced their path and encouraged those who became followers.  They also selected men and women, strong in the Spirit, to become church leaders.  The Greek word used for ‘elders’ is presbutevrou, presbyterian, a term used generally of leaders.

Antioch, by the way, was the home church of Chrysostom, just 3 centuries later; Paul and Barnabas did excellent work there.  Having set those churches on the right road, the exhausted travelers returned to their home church in Antioch where they presented a slide show of their trip.

Friday, February 28. Chapter 15

Reading the first 35 verses of this chapter, you may not get the full sense of what was happening.  The young and growing church faced a crisis that could have split them into a civil war that could have damaged the church and the faith for centuries, even to today.  The emotions on both sides were high, and both sides had proofs to offer from the scriptures.

This Cliff Note version gives us the impression that Paul and Barnabas let the Jerusalem church serve as the senior elders as was their place.  Both Peter and Jesus’ brother James spoke wisely and strongly in support of the Gentile ministry, James using significant scriptural support.

Sadly, the chapter ends with Paul and Barnabas going separate ways over the issue of John Mark.

Be righteous and do good.

Mike Lawrence

Acts 6-10

new year fireworks @ port vincent

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.

Mike Lawrence

Acts 1-5

 

Drawing above: When the day of Pentecost came. Mark A Hewitt, Pastel & pen. 26 May 2012.

Things to watch for as you read these chapters.

Monday, February 10, Chapter 1

Writing sometime around 390 AD, John Chrysostom remarked, “To many people this book, both its content and its author, is so little known that they are not even aware it exists.”  He then did his best to bring the Acts of the Apostles to light.  Remember that he was writing only about 200 years after the last Apostle died and before the books of the New Testament were agreed upon.  Many did not accept Acts as scripture, only as an interesting read.

We will find it more than just interesting.  Luke, having written a Gospel, now describes events of the early church.  Beginning in verse 2, he stresses the importance of the Holy Spirit in that experience.

When we read the end of Luke and the beginning of Acts, we find no contradictions.  The Gospel account is a quick summary, expanded in Acts.  Now we see Jesus rising into a cloud, but not just any cloud, He rose into the Cloud of God, the Cloud that led the Israelites through the desert to the Promised Land.

In verse 14 we read that the 120 apostles met every day in prayer.  In the Gospel, Luke adds that they met continually in the Temple.  There was no other place indoors where that many people could gather, not even in Herod’s palace.

Since Jesus chose the Twelve to represent the Twelve Tribes of Israel and since Judas killed himself, the Eleven suggested two men to replace Judas: Joseph and Matthias.  We can speculate that Jesus treated both men with special favor, but we do not know anything about them.  Lots were cast and Matthias became an Apostle, much the way we decide which goal a team will defend.  Neither man appears again in the Bible.

Tuesday, February 11, Chapter 2

Pentecost deserves some explanation.  The word is Greek, meaning 50, because it took place 50 days after the Saturday following Passover.  In Hebrew it was, and is, called the Feast of Weeks (Shavuot), also sometimes Feast of Harvest or First Fruits.  On the first day of the festival, priest harvested wheat, ground it, made it into bread, and offered it at the Temple as the first fruit of the harvest.  An earlier first fruit harvest of barley took place earlier on the first Sunday after Passover.  We as Christians should celebrate it because Jesus rose from the grave that very day, becoming the First Fruit of the Eternal Harvest.

Forth-nine days later, the Holy Spirit filled 120 followers with a power that must have felt like fire.  Peter preached his best sermon and thousands of lives were changed forever.  All of the followers spread throughout the city like a flood, preaching and teaching through the power of the Holy Spirit.  They could speak Aramaic but be understood by a Greek speaker as speaking in Greek and a Syrian in his language at the same time.  The Holy Spirit became a universal translator.

In the days that followed, only the Twelve did the miracles, but all joined together in complete trust, sharing all that they had.  The phrase, ‘breaking bread’, simply means they ate together.  Spreading the Word all started just as Jesus said it would, in Jerusalem, then Judah, Samaria, Galilee, and the world.  It is fitting that the Romans aided the rapid spread of the Way, as it was first called.  Their transportation system was one of the best known before modern times.

Wednesday, February 12, Chapter 3

Peter and John healed a crippled man, well, not really.  Jesus through the Holy Spirit healed a man, a man who accepted the power of God on faith.  The message of this chapter is that everyone is crippled and in need of the healing power of Jesus.  Peter said, ‘Repent, then and turn to God that your sins may be wiped out.’  It is sin that cripples us; it is sin that we need to repent.  Understand though that God forgives sin and we are healed in that, but we still live in a world with worldly bodies that decay and die.  Asking God to cure a disease will only postpone the death all Christians look forward to.

Thursday, February 13, Chapter 4

Remember that the Apostles and disciples were preaching and teaching in the Temple and in the synagogues to Jews almost exclusively.  They were not peddling a new religion, but rather claiming that Jesus was the Messiah promised by the Scriptures and that he rose from the grave.  The religious leaders believed they were rid of the problem when they had Jesus killed, but his followers continued to spread the same message, adding the resurrection to what the leaders perceived as blasphemy.  When Peter and John healed the crippled man, the leaders decided to go on the attack once again.

A note on the high priest.  In the days of Jewish kings, the high priest was the second most powerful person in the land because the nation was ruled by the religion, somewhat like Iran today.  In the time of Jesus, the political rulers were Roman, so the high priest was the most powerful Jewish leader.  Annas had been appointed to the position at the time of Jesus birth and held it for 21 years when the Romans forced his removal.

However, Annas was rich and powerful and able to control the office through the next six office holders, five of whom where his sons and one his son-in-law.  In the years of Jesus ministry and the beginnings of the church, the high priest was the son-in-law, Joseph Caiaphas.

The Captain of the Temple Guard was the highest ranking officer of the small Jewish army, small because the Romans kept it that way.  He, none-the-less, held a powerful position, in part because he worked closely with both the high priest and the Roman legions.

Notice in verse seven the leaders get right to the issue of blasphemy.  The scriptures say that only God can heal, so it they claimed they did it or that Jesus did it, they would be guilty of blasphemy.  Peter threw it in their faces, ‘it is by Jesus the Messiah, the one you murdered.’  The leaders had a problem: healing comes from God and the man was clearly healed.  He was a man they had all seen before.  To claim it was faked was absurd.  In the end they warned Peter and John to stop preaching and let them go.

The response of Peter and John was to pray for even more of the Holy Spirit to speak the bold words they knew angered the authorities and put their own lives in jeopardy.

Luke reminds us of how the Followers of the Way lived.  It was a true commune, each sharing what they had as it was needed.  We are introduced to Barnabas who will later become one of Paul’s closest associates.

Friday, February 14, Chapter 5

What was the sin of Ananias and Sapphira?  The answer takes us back to Luke’s first book when Jesus spoke with the rich young ruler.

18:24 Jesus looked at him and said, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!  18:25 Indeed, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.”  18:26 Those who heard this asked, “Who then can be saved?” 18:27 Jesus replied, “What is impossible with men is possible with God.”  

 

Note that in verses 4:35, 4:37, and 5:2, Luke uses the same phrase, ‘put it at the apostles’ feet.’  An important Greek word is used here, nosphizein, meaning to misappropriate. The difference is that Ananias tried to pass it off as the full amount.  All he had to do was announce, ‘Here is part of the sale. I can give you more as needed.’  Keep in mind what Jesus said in Matt 6:2-4.  Ananias was being a hypocrite.

The Greek word translated ‘died’ was used in ancient times only to describe a person struck down by God.  Why was the penalty so heavy?  Ananias and his wife were no longer controlled by the Holy Spirit but by Satan, by greed.  The Holy Spirit is Life, Satan is death.

In verse 11, the Greek word, ekklesia, is used for the first time.  In English it is church.

Solomon’s Colonnade or Portico, located along the eastern wall of the Court of the Gentiles, was used by many groups for teaching and meetings.  The followers of the Way seem to have taken control of a portion of it.

Verse 17 starts the first great escape.  We see the leaders filled with jealousy.  That tells us much about the true nature of their attacks on the still tiny Messianic movement.  Nothing is said about the jailers here, but remember that if a prisoner escaped, the jailer was killed.  Later, we are told they were still at their posts.

In verse 20, the angel tells the Twelve to ‘stand firm’ in the Temple.  They had to wait for sunrise when the gates were opened again.  While they were teaching, the captain took his men to bring them, carefully, to the Sanhedrin to be questioned.

Notice in verse 28 the leaders will not even speak the name ‘Jesus’, perhaps out of fear the very name contains powers they cannot control.  Peter speaks for the group and claims Jesus to be the Prince of God and the Savior of man.  The word for savior is used in the Old Testament only of God and of those defeating evil.

Gamaliel was important because he is still considered the greatest teacher of the Law.  He is important to the early church because Saul who became Paul was his student.  Later, in Acts 22:3, Paul claimed he was well trained by Gamaliel.  Here in chapter 5, Gamaliel, perhaps with Saul standing beside him, suggests that the Sanhedrin allow Peter and crew to destroy themselves as did all the other would be Messiahs.

Pay special attention to verse 39 and compare it to Deut 18:20-22.

They were flogged according to Deut 25:2-3.  We do not know how many lashes their ‘crime’ required.  It did not matter to the Twelve, they rejoiced for their bloody backs.

Be righteous and do good.

Mike Lawrence