Monday, November 21, 2016

4 Truths About the Law for Christians

The Ten Commandments
The Law is not meant to be a matter of contention for believers. It is a powerful tool for leading people to faith in Christ. May the body of Christ be equipped to share God's message in God's way.

What does the Bible teach New Testament Christians about the Old Testament Law?

1. The Law is not something that Christians are to argue about.

Such arguments are foolish, unprofitable, and worthless. This doesn't mean we can't discuss the Law. Look carefully at what Paul writes:
But avoid foolish controversies and genealogies and strife and disputes about the Law, for they are unprofitable and worthless. Reject a factious man after a first and second warning, knowing that such a man is perverted and is sinning, being self-condemned. (Titus 3:9-11 NASB)
Christians are to agree on the purpose of God's Law. We are not to waste time arguing about it. If someone rejects the the purpose of God's Law after a first and second warning then that person is to be rejected. That's strong language!

Paul taught that the purpose and intention of the Law was clear. What did he say about it?

2. The Law is good.

So then, the Law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good. (Romans 7:12)
The Law is good if it is used for its lawful purpose.
But we know that the Law is good, if one uses it lawfully (1 Timothy 1:8)
Paul explains the lawful use in the next verses:
realizing the fact that law is not made for a righteous person, but for those who are lawless and rebellious, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who kill their fathers or mothers, for murderers and immoral men and homosexuals and kidnappers and liars and perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound teaching, according to the glorious gospel of the blessed God, with which I have been entrusted. (1 Timothy 1:9-11)
The lawful use of the Law is to be used by Christians for those who are still dead in their trespasses and sins. The Law has not passed away. It is also not for people to earn their salvation. This is where the misunderstanding lies. This is why Christians are often deceived into arguing with each other about it.

If salvation were by works of the Law we would have no need for Jesus (Galatians 2:21). The Law of God is a diagnostic tool that is used by followers of Christ to show people why they need a Savior.

3. The Law exposes and defines sin.

because by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight; for through the Law comes the knowledge of sin. (Romans 3:20)
What shall we say then? Is the Law sin? May it never be! On the contrary, I would not have come to know sin except through the Law; for I would not have known about coveting if the Law had not said, "YOU SHALL NOT COVET." (Romans 7:7)
Why the Law then? It was added because of transgressions, having been ordained through angels by the agency of a mediator, until the seed would come to whom the promise had been made.(Galatians 3:19)
Proclaiming the gospel includes that a Day of Judgment is coming. Those who have broken even the least of God's commandments are storing up wrath for themselves on that coming Day (John 3:36; Romans 2:5). God has made His Law explicit so that we can know that we have sinned against Him. Without the Law we may be unaware of the standard against which we are to be judged. We may incorrectly think we've done nothing wrong.

Most human beings profess their own goodness. God weighs the hearts and motives. People compare themselves to other fallen human beings instead of against God's holy standard. As a result most people think they have nothing to fear when they stand before the Lord. Exposing them to the Law shows them how radically they have fallen short of God's standard of righteousness. This is the only standard that actually matters.

The Law serves as a mirror. It is able to reflect the fallen nature of a human being so they are able to see it. It must be used according to its lawful purpose.

4. The Law is given to lead people to faith in Christ.

Therefore the Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, so that we may be justified by faith. (Galatians 3:24)
The Law is a God ordained tool in the hands of His Ambassadors. Do you want to lead people to Christ that they would be justified by faith? The Law is the best tool available to you!

Some argue that this diminishes the role of the Holy Spirit in salvation. The opposite is true. The Holy Spirit works most powerfully through the people of God using God's ordained means. Conviction from sin comes most powerfully through exposure to God’s Law.

Does this mean that God has never saved anyone without the Law being administered? I'm not the judge of such matters. However, our experience should not trump the word of God. We do not want to be like the Pharisees who nullified the word of God with their traditions.

Conclusion

To be as clear as possible: the Bible teaches that the Law is not for believers to take upon themselves to try to earn their salvation. Salvation by works was clearly taught against in Ephesians 2:8-9; Titus 3:5-7; Galatians 2:21; 3:1-5; and Acts 15:1-11.

To quarrel over these things, either saying the Law is not to be used by believers in exposing and explaining sin to non-believers to lead them to Christ or that it is for believers to try and earn their own salvation is foolishness. Anyone advocating such ideas should be warned (up to twice if necessary) and rejected if they persist.

Understanding this clear distinction between lawful and unlawful uses of the Law will help Christians to understand how the Law has been fulfilled by Jesus (Matthew 5:17). His righteousness is applied to all who confess, repent, and believe in Him and who walk according to the Holy Spirit (Romans 8:4).

The good news of the gospel calls those who are under the wrath of God to come out and find refuge in the grace of the Savior. Those who are born-again by the Spirit of God can genuinely profess that they are no longer under Law but under grace (Romans 6:14-15)! This is good news!

Even so, we must not wrongly conclude that the Law has passed away or is irrelevant. Instead we uphold and establish the Law as a tool for leading others to Jesus:
Do we then nullify the Law through faith? May it never be! On the contrary, we establish the Law. (Romans 3:31)
May it be so in the church to the glory of our God.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Freedom Through Christ

Freedom through Christ

The Scriptures record Paul's conversion in Acts 9. We get descriptions of Paul's preaching and teaching activity immediately. Paul's first full recorded message comes in chapter 13.

Paul has been preaching Christ for 13-14 years when he speaks in the synagogue in Pisidian Antioch in Acts 13. Reading Acts 9 to Acts 13 only takes minutes. It can be easy to miss how much time has passed. When Paul accepts the invitation to speak in the synagogue he is seasoned.

Paul stands and preaches the gospel fully and faithfully. The full message (only 582 words in the NASB) could easily have been delivered in three minutes. Paul covers the history of Israel from the entrance of the people into Egypt through David. Paul focuses on the promises made to David and their fulfillment in Jesus Christ.

Paul paraphrases history from Genesis, Exodus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, Joshua, Judges, and 1 Samuel. This is approximately the first third of his message. It is his foundation. The promises of the Gospel are built on real history. They are not fairy tales. Paul's audience understood this history better than most modern hearers. Paul still took the time to recount this history to make sure the Gospel had a firm foundation.

Paul then explicitly quotes five passages from the Old Testament Scriptures. These passages are taken from the psalms and the prophets.

How Paul Uses the OT

All of Paul's quotations are used to emphasize God's fulfillment of His promises made in the Scriptures. When Paul lays out the essential components of the Gospel in 1 Corinthians 15:3-5 he is clear that the testimony of the Gospel must be built on Christ's fulfillment of the Scriptures. This is where God's promises have been recorded.

Paul knows the Scriptures. He also knows his audience. He is preaching in a synagogue to a Jewish audience. He starts with a passage they would not find controversial. He starts with David.

A Man After God's Own Heart

Paul's first citation is 1 Samuel 13:14. In context this passage is just as much about King Saul as it is about King David. The prophet Samuel is explaining to King Saul why God is rejecting him and giving the kingdom to David. King Saul was rejected because of his disobedience to the covenant.

Paul uses this passage to transition to the more recent prophet John the Baptist. Paul explains that John came preaching repentance. This prophet came to prepare the way for the One who was fulfilling the promise made to David of an enduring kingdom through his line. John's prophetic ministry was to announce the coming of the Messiah.

Paul's audience was rejecting God's plan and promises like King Saul before them. They failed to recognize the Messiah and the promises made in the Scriptures they gathered to hear every Sabbath. They condemned their own Messiah by putting him to death in fulfillment of these Scriptures that they ignored.

Resurrected According to Promise

Paul's next three quotes all point to the promised resurrection of the Messiah after his rejection and execution by His own people. Paul cites Psalm 2:7, Isaiah 55:3, and Psalm 16:10 to establish his point.

Psalm 2 is clearly messianic. It is worthwhile for every Christian to memorize and meditate on the description of Christ revealed in this psalm. Paul's focus is on the declaration of Jesus's identity as the Son of God. It is through the Son that the promises are fulfilled. The Son is to be exalted over all the nations. This exaltation happened after his death, burial, and resurrection. Christ ascended to heaven and took His seat and the right hand of the Father in heaven.

Paul cites Isaiah 55:3 to point to the everlasting covenant based on the promise to David. The Messiah is the one who fulfills this promise as the King who will reign forever.

These passages could be fulfilled theoretically through an unbroken line of kings through the lineage of David. Jesus was born as a descendant of David. However, no further persons are needed because Jesus fulfilled the final passage Paul cites from Psalm 16:10.

This passage was also used by Peter on the day of Pentecost. The final King would never undergo decay. Although Jesus was crucified, He is risen. He is never going to die again. His body was not dead long enough to undergo decay.

These three passages together show the fulfillment of God's promise. The eternal King has been revealed by his death according to the Scriptures, His burial, His resurrection from the dead, and His exaltation to the right hand of the Father in heaven.

The Final Warning

All of God's promises are true. His promises for blessings. His promises for curses. Neither should be ignored. People often focus on God's positive promises and conveniently ignore His negative ones.

Paul warns His hearers about this. Paul's final citation is from the prophet Habakkuk.

This final quote is a declaration that God will achieve His purposes even in the midst of scoffers. For those who continue to scoff and ignore God's gracious offer of salvation through repentance and faith in the Messiah they can only expect to perish under God's wrath.

God's Messiah and the declaration of salvation through Him alone is not something to take lightly. Many modern Gospel presentations water down the presentation at this point. They focus only on the promise of eternal life for those who come to Jesus. Many leave unsaid the terrifying prospect of ignoring the Messiah. Paul did not leave it unsaid.

It is only through the resurrected Messiah Jesus that we can gain freedom from the penalty of our sins. This must be made explicit in our testimony of Jesus.

We must tell of the fulfillment of God's promises through the Messiah Jesus. These promises include blessing for those who repent and trust in Him. These promises include a terrifying expectation of judgment for those who do not.

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Opening The Door To The Gentiles

Open door

Miraculous intervention opens the door to Gentiles.

Through Acts 8 the growing church has been primarily a Jewish movement. There have been a few exceptions. Saul is converted to the Apostle Paul in Acts 9. God tells him he will go to Gentiles.

God opens the door through Peter before sending Paul through. Peter is reluctant. Gentiles were unclean. They did not observe Jewish Law.

God overcame Peter's reluctance. God sent an angel to a Gentile with instructions to send for Peter. God gave Peter a vision while the delegation was en route. They arrived as Peter was mulling the meaning.

Peter understood. So he went. He preached to Gentiles.

Peter's Use of the OT

Peter's message (Acts 10:34-43) doesn't quote any Scripture. Superficial analysis may lead us to conclude that the Old Testament is more important to Jew than to Gentile.

This would be an error.

Peter's Message

They knew of Jesus of Nazareth. Peter built upon this by going a step further: Peter was an eye-witness. He was with Him while Jesus went about preaching and doing good. They had heard some things. Peter was there to make it clear.

Peter preaches the basic gospel message in Acts 10:39b-41. Peter makes it personal in Acts 10:42. Peter's final statement is an appeal to the testimony of the Old Testament:

Of Him all the prophets bear witness that through His name everyone who believes in Him receives forgiveness of sins. (Acts 10:43 NASB)
This is a book-end to something he said at the beginning of his message:

The word which He sent to the sons of Israel, preaching peace through Jesus Christ (He is Lord of all) (Acts 10:36 NASB)
The "He" in 10:36 is God the Father. God sent His word to the sons of Israel. He gave them the Old Testament. The modern reader may miss the significance of these opening and ending comments. They would have been clear to a Gentile living in the Greco-Roman Empire. Cornelius knew Jews and Gentiles were separated. Cornelius knew the Jews had their own Law and God.

The Holy Spirit fell upon all who were listening while Peter was still talking. Peter had more to say. But they believed at this point. So he stopped. The new Gentile believers were baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. They were added to the fellowship of the church.

Five Takeaways

1. Follow the lead of the Spirit. This is a common theme throughout Acts. It is the starting point for effective witness.

2. Start with common ground. Peter was a Jew. Cornelius was a Gentile. They didn't have a lot of common ground. Peter started with what they had. It didn't hurt that God was preparing the way by sending visions to both. But Peter didn't use the visions. He knew Cornelius was aware of the events happening in and around Jerusalem.

We can't count on visions and angels to open doors for evangelism for us. We can find common ground if we are willing to look for it. Often people have heard of Jesus. Like Peter we can help clarify who Jesus is.

3. Preach the gospel. Peter didn't spend all his time on common ground. He was a man with a message. All Christians are. We cannot be ashamed of the gospel. We must articulate that Jesus of Nazareth is the Christ.

We must tell that He came in fulfillment of the Scriptures to live a sinless life. He came to die on the cross taking sin upon Himself. He rose on the third day. He has ascended to heaven. He currently sits as the Lord of all Creation.

4. Make it relevant. The relevance is found in the fact that the risen Lord is Judge of the living and dead. We are speaking to people who are living. Christ is their judge. They may not agree with that but it is a fact proved by the resurrection (see Acts 17:30-31). We must tell them that this is not just an opinion they can take or leave.

Peter understood that this is a solemn testimony. Evangelizing is serious business. We must be sober-minded. It is not a silly task. We are speaking to people made in the image of God. If they fail to repent and trust in Christ they will die in their trespasses and sins. When they stand before the Judge of all the earth they will be condemned. This message is eternally relevant to every person.

5. Know the Scriptures. The consequences of rejecting and/or ignoring the gospel are severe. Peter didn't leave it there. He appealed to the awesome promise of salvation. This promise is that through the name of the Messiah all our sins can be forgiven. Through Him we can receive peace with God. The promise is witnessed by all the prophets.

We can safely assume that Peter would have begun quoting some of these promises from the Old Testament had their faith not been made evident by the pouring out of the Holy Spirit. Acts records a universal pattern of appealing to Old Testament passages. That is what Peter began to do. He didn't need to continue in this case because faith came by the simple gospel witness.

Start with the simple gospel. Add to this your understanding of the Old Testament prophesies. Rely on the Spirit to lead your proclamation. Take your responsibility seriously. To stand upon the promises and warnings of Scripture we must know them. When we stand upon them we can proclaim with faithfulness, love, and boldness.

Friday, August 26, 2016

A Bold Gospel

Saul was present at the stoning of Stephen in Acts 7. He gave approval to his death. Saul is converted in Acts 9.

He immediately begins preaching Jesus as the Son of God in the synagogues. He was boldly and faithfully proving from the Old Testament Scriptures that Jesus is the Christ.

Yesterday evening a brother in Christ sent me the sermon below. I watched it this morning before continuing this blog series. It is so good I just had to link to the whole message instead of writing my own post on Saul's conversion.

Pastor Durbin discusses the significance of Acts 9:19-22. He preaches the importance of studying Acts in general. He lays out the importance of preaching Christ from the Old Testament. He makes an irrefutable case for the need for boldness in our proclaiming Christ.

He nails it.

I hope you'll take the time. You will be challenged. You will be moved. You will want to see the end.

Monday, August 22, 2016

5 Tips for Effective Witness

5 Tips for Effective Witness

We may not all share Jesus with an Ethiopian eunuch. We can all learn a few things from Philip's ministry.

We will see Philip again in Acts 21:8. Here are five things we can learn about his effective witness in Acts 8.

1. Preparation. Philip's effective witness in Acts 8 began before. Philip was recognized earlier by the congregation in Jerusalem. He is described as a man of good reputation and full of the Spirit and of wisdom (Acts 6:3-5).

But Philip's preparation began even before Acts 6. Philip devoted himself to the apostolic teaching and to the fellowship when he was converted. His dedication was evident. He was one of the first leaders appointed by the early church. He didn't demonstrate himself as a leader. He demonstrated himself before becoming a leader.

Philip's effective witness began before he opened his mouth to preach. It began with dedicating himself to the apostles' teaching and serving the body. This dedication to preparation made him ready when each opportunity came.

2. The Holy Spirit. Philip was a man recognized as being "full of the Spirit and of wisdom" (Acts 6:3-5). In Acts 8:29 the Spirit told Philip to join a specific chariot. When he obeyed he found a person who was prepared to hear the good news of Jesus Christ.

The leading of the Spirit is critical. Some think it is unnecessary. They may argue that the power of God for salvation is in the gospel message. That's true. They may also argue that we have been commanded to proclaim the gospel to every creature. That's also true.

But no individual can share the gospel with everyone. The whole church working together will accomplish this task. Our individual part should be led by the Spirit.

To make effective use of the gospel's power we must first know the gospel. Additionally the Spirit can lead to individuals who are prepared to hear. This was the case with the Ethiopian eunuch.

Philip had nothing to do with the Ethiopian reading the scroll of Isaiah. Philip had nothing to do with the questions the Ethiopian was wrestling with. The Spirit brought someone prepared to preach to someone prepared to hear. The result was an effective witness and sound salvation.

The Holy Spirit is able and willing to lead today. Are we willing to listen and obey? When we are led to prepared people we understand what Jesus said:  "For in this instance the saying is true, 'One sows and another reaps.' I sent you to reap what you did not work for; others have labored and you have entered into their labor" (John 4:37-38 NET).

3. Preaching Where Present. Following the lead of the Holy Spirit doesn't mean don't witness until the Holy Spirit speaks to you. The Holy Spirit inspired the Word of God which commands Christians to proclaim Christ. This general instruction applies at all times. When specific instruction is given we should obey. Specific obedience is in keeping with the general instruction to evangelize every creature.

Philip preached Christ where he was. When he scattered he found himself in Samaria. He preached Christ to the people there (Acts 8:5). When he continued on his way to Caesarea he preached the gospel to all the cities along the way (Acts 8:40). When we see him again in Caesarea (about twenty years later in Acts 21:8) he is known as the evangelist. He is still preaching where he is.

When Philip heard specific instruction on who to preach Christ to he obeyed. When specific direction was lacking he preached Christ where he was to everyone he could.

4. Person Focused. There are many one-size-fits-all methods of evangelism. They are easy to memorize. They make dedication to preparation much easier. When the method doesn't fit the context some try and force the situation and have an ineffective witness. Or they don't witness because they didn't have an "open door."

Some methods are better than others at fitting into different contexts. No method can ever account for every situation. Every witnessing situation will contain at least one person. If we focus on method we will miss opportunities. If we focus on people we don't have to miss any opportunity.

Philip was fully prepared to meet the Ethiopian where he was. He used the situation to create a natural opportunity to proclaim Christ. Philip didn't begin where his "method" told him to begin. He began where the Ethiopian was. Not everyone will be reading messianic prophesies when we meet them. However, every person is worth taking the time to diagnose their present situation and then effectively, faithfully, and lovingly share the gospel with them.

The ambassador for Christ must always remember that we are not simply preaching Christ. We are preaching Christ to people. Effective witness is person focused.

5. Crosses Barriers. The modern reader may not immediately see the barriers that were crossed with the Ethiopian eunuch. Suffice to say they were many. These two men were about as unalike as could be. Philip crossed this barrier after crossing another by preaching to Samaritans. Philip was willing to do what only few were (e.g., Acts 11:19-20).

There is great opportunity for effective witness to be done among your peers. We miss opportunity when we think the Spirit is restrained by our own barriers. Jesus is Lord of all. The gospel is for everyone. Don't quench the Spirit by disqualifying yourself from witnessing across barriers.

Friday, August 19, 2016

To The Remotest Part of the Earth

Isaiah 53:8

Persecution scattered the believers from Jerusalem into the regions of Judea and Samaria. Philip is led by the Holy Spirit to preach Christ to an individual representing the remotest part of the earth.

Jesus told His disciples they would be witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria, even the remotest part of the earth. In Acts 8 we see a partial fulfillment of the entire plan.

When the believers were scattered they preached the word wherever they went. Although these events are recorded in the New Testament this was written after the fact. At the time they scattered not a single New Testament book had been written. They were preaching Christ from an Old Testament foundation.

In Acts 8 we get a closer look at the second non-apostle to preach Christ. Philip is representative of what every Christian was doing at the time. He was preaching Christ wherever he went.

Philip first went and preached Jesus and the kingdom of God in Samaria. Many believed and were baptized. The apostles came to see what was happening in Samaria as a result of Philip's preaching. Philip's preaching received the apostolic seal of approval. The Holy Spirit came to the Samaritans.

The Holy Spirit leads Philip to approach an Ethiopian who served as a court official for the Queen of the Ethiopians. Here is the first recorded preaching of Christ specifically to a full Gentile in the early church.

The Ethiopian eunuch is reading from the prophet Isaiah. When Philip approached he could hear him reading out loud to himself. Philip asked him if he understood what he was reading. He said he did not. Philip took the opportunity to preach Christ from that passage. It was Isaiah 53:7-8.

Isaiah 53 in Context

Isaiah 53 was written approximately 700 years before the birth of Christ. The exact verses that the Ethiopian eunuch was reading is part of a larger messianic passage: Isaiah 52:13-53:12. Although directly messianic some Jewish interpreters would interpret the Servant as the nation of Israel instead of as the Messiah.

The Servant in this passage is described as suffering for the sins of the people. This suffering is according to the will of God. Although this suffering will result in the death of the Servant it is also prophesied that the Servant will see the fruit of His suffering. Under normal circumstances this would be impossible as the dead do not prolong their days. A resurrected Messiah would fulfill the full passage.

How Philip uses Isaiah 53

The Ethiopian asks a direct question about this passage. He asks if the passage is speaking of the prophet himself or someone else. In response to this question and beginning with this text Philip preaches Jesus to him.

It is unclear if Philip restrained himself to simply Isaiah 53:7-8 or if he expanded his explanation to include other verses from this chapter. These two verses would be enough to proclaim that Jesus died according to the Scriptures.

Explaining Christ

The gospel message is that Jesus died according to the Scriptures, was buried, and rose on the third day according to the Scriptures. The New Testament records that Jesus died, was buried, and rose according to the Old Testament prophesies. Isaiah 53:7-8 describes the false accusation and death of the Messiah according to the will of God.

Jesus was not executed because He made too many political or religious enemies. His execution was always part of the plan.

This passage prophesies the death of the Christ. It foretells that He would not open His mouth to defend Himself from the accusations against Him. Although many believed in a conquering Messiah this text tells of a suffering Messiah. A Messiah who will achieve salvation through His own death. A Messiah who would bring healing to the people by taking their sins upon Himself.

Philip proclaimed Jesus was the man who fulfilled this 700 year old prophesy. Jesus was falsely accused. He did not open His mouth to defend Himself. He came to lay down His life and die to take away the judgment upon all who will put their trust in Him.

When Jesus rose from the dead He fulfilled the entirety of Isaiah 52:13-53:12.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

The Fruit of Devotion

Empty Fruit

The stoning of Stephen brought persecution. It also produced great fruit for the kingdom of God.

Much is made of Acts 2:42-47. Some teach it is the ideal church model. The apostles are teaching. People are getting saved. They are dedicating themselves to learning and growing in the faith. Christians are dedicating themselves to each other.

Great generosity is demonstrated. Meals are shared. God is praised. The church is growing.

This activity continues until Stephen's stoning. The whole church in Jerusalem (except the apostles) is scattered by persecution (Acts 8:1). We could lament the loss of this early church purity. This would be to misunderstand God's will for His people.

We see the true fruit of their devotion from Acts 2:42-47 in Acts 8:4. To stop too soon is to drain the life from these early church activities and replace them with empty shells. We don't want empty fruit. We don't want activity for the sake of activity. At least, we shouldn't.

Between Pentecost and Stephen's message only the apostles are preaching the gospel. The people are in awe of what God is doing through them. As a result, many who aim at reproducing Acts 2 often end with idolizing paid church leaders. To focus only on Acts 2 means we can be happy to let the pastor(s) preach while the rest focus on giving, eating, singing, and small group Bible study.

But the book of Acts doesn't end in Acts 2. That was the beginning. The church was never supposed to be isolated in Jerusalem. It was supposed to spread.

Before Jesus ascended to heaven He said:  "you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth" (Acts 1:8 NASB). God gathered Jews from Judea and Samaria, even the remotest part of the earth, to Jerusalem for the feast of Pentecost. This is where many of the converts in Acts 2 were from.

After they were converted they didn't go home. They stayed in Jerusalem. They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and to the fellowship.

The end goal of their devotion was not to stay in Jerusalem. It was to spread. God's goal was not to build a megachurch in Jerusalem. The apostles were not called to be rock star pastors. We see the apostles preaching exclusively in Acts 2-6. Stephen is the first fruits of their true focus on discipleship.

Conversion of sinners. Equipping the saints. Releasing equipped saints to go and do likewise.

The apostle Paul lists the officers given by Christ to equip the saints in Ephesians 4:11. Apostles are listed first. They are foundational. Jesus spent three years equipping and preparing His apostles (minus Paul) during His earthly ministry. The apostles spent the first part of the early church period equipping those who devoted themselves to their teaching.

When persecution came and scattered the church look at what they did: "Therefore, those who had been scattered went about preaching the word." (Acts 8:4 NASB)

The church began with the apostles preaching in Jerusalem. The first non-apostle to preach was murdered by an angry mob and received into heaven by Jesus standing from His throne. Their anger spilled over into a great persecution that scattered everyone except the apostles.

At this point we see the fruit of their devotion. They didn't give up the faith. They all went about preaching the word. Acts 8:2 tells us that they were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria. We are beginning to see the fulfillment of God's plan for the church to spread. It spreads by every member being equipped and mobilized.

Concluding Observations

The early church model was successful because Acts 2:42-47 led to Acts 8:1-4. If our modern "devotion" to the body results in potlucks and home groups but not people equipped to preach the word wherever they go, then our model is not the same as Acts 2.

Devotion to apostolic teaching is designed to grow us to maturity. When we are mature we are able to proclaim Christ in whatever setting we find ourselves. Business men and women, stay-at-home moms and dads, astronauts, engineers, salespeople, janitors, cooks, students, and everyone else who claims to follow Christ should be moving toward a place of maturity. Then the word of God will be preached to the remotest parts of the earth.

Thousands of preachers were scattered into the world in Acts 8. Twelve preachers remained in Jerusalem. Is it any wonder the church spread so rapidly in the early church? Their devotion led to multitudes of mature believers being released to preach the word wherever they went.

This equipping doesn't happen overnight. It doesn't happen by accident. It happens by devotion.

Devotion from leaders to equip the saints. Devotion from the saints to be equipped by their leaders. This is what Paul wrote about in Ephesians 4:11-16. This is God's design for His church. Acts 2:42-47 was simply stage one. It was the beginning not the end.

Many people are willing to bring a dish to pass to the potluck but are not willing to devote themselves to being truly equipped. It is a deception to believe that this lesser standard was what the early church was all about.

Are you devoted?

Friday, August 12, 2016

Stephen, The Preachin' Deacon

Stoning of Stephen

Stephen's ministry is marked by many firsts.

Stephen is the first man listed to be chosen as a deacon. Stephen is the first non-apostle recorded as performing signs and wonders among the people. Stephen is the first non-apostle recorded to publicly preach the gospel after Pentecost. Stephen is the first martyr of the church age. Stephen was murdered after preaching publicly his first time.

Some may look at the results of Stephen's message and reject his method. His audience became enraged. They stoned him to death for what he preached. It would be a mistake to conclude that Stephen's message and method were faulty.

Stephen is also the first (and only) person recorded in Scripture to be welcomed into heaven by Jesus standing from His throne. The fact that Jesus stood up to receive His servant demonstrated that Jesus was pleased with Stephen. If the King is pleased with this method and message then we should be too!

While many firsts marked Stephen's brief ministry he followed the same course as the apostles: he preached Christ using the Old Testament Scriptures.


How Stephen Used the Old Testament

Stephen demonstrated a comprehensive understanding of the flow of the Old Testament. His message (Acts 7:2-53) could be preached in under seven minutes. In this brief message Stephen covered the history of Israel from Abraham to Solomon. That's roughly a thousand years.

Stephen explicitly quotes sixteen Old Testament passages (he quotes one passage twice) by my count. These passages are from Genesis, Exodus, Deuteronomy, Amos, and Isaiah. Stephen also paraphrased or alludes to history recorded in 2 Samuel and 1 Kings (and the parallels in Chronicles).

That's a lot of content in under seven minutes!

Stephen's overarching purpose is to point to two parallel truths:
  1. God has been faithful to do everything He has said
  2. People have resisted Him every step of the way
Stephen pulls no punches in applying these truths directly to his hearers. He says that God is at work in their midst. He also says that they are doing what their fathers have always done: resist God's plan.

They understood exactly what Stephen was saying. By putting him to death they continued in the line of killing those who announced news of the Righteous One. They confirmed that Stephen's message was true by their actions. Their fathers killed those who proclaimed He is coming. The present group killed Stephen for announcing that the Righteous One had come and been nailed to a cross by their own doing.

Explaining Christ

Scripture records that Saul of Tarsus was present at the stoning of Stephen (Acts 8:1). Saul is converted in Acts 9 and ministers as the apostle Paul for the rest of his life. The ministry of Stephen no doubt had an impact on Paul. Paul wrote to the believers in Corinth (1 Cor. 10:11) that the Old Testament narratives are recorded for the benefit of present-day people. He heard Stephen preach a message of this type when he was still a non-believer.

Many treat Old Testament narrative as quaint stories with a moral. But they aren't fables. They are an inspired record of God's faithfulness in making a people for Himself. They are the record of God's faithful dealings with often unfaithful people.

All along the way God has been working toward fulfilling His promises. He has made promises to Adam, to Noah, to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. He made promises to Moses, Samuel, David, and Solomon.

Jesus is the fulfillment of these promises. There are more promises yet to be fulfilled. They will no doubt come to pass just as God has promised. God's promised blessing and His warning of judgment for those who resist His plan of salvation are both sure to happen just as He has said.

The nature of the gospel includes a call to a decision. To repent and trust in Christ or to continue in rebellion against Him. When this distinction is put clearly people will respond with brokenness and humility or they will respond with antagonism and hostility. This has been true since the beginning. It will be true until the end.

When we faithfully explain Christ we should expect one of these two responses. Apathy usually means that we have failed to make our explanation of who Jesus is clear enough to our hearers.

Stephen loved his hearers. He prayed for their forgiveness as they were killing him in their rage. He loved them enough to tell them the truth that they were in rebellion against God. Most of them considered themselves to be "religious people" so they did not respond kindly to Stephen's bold proclamation.

Do we love people enough to tell them that being religious isn't enough? They must be found in Christ or they will perish under God's righteous wrath forever. Moralism is deadly. Jesus saves.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Preaching Jesus as The Christ

The apostles continued to face opposition for proclaiming the gospel. They also continued to experience the power of God.

It would have been very difficult for the apostles to preach Jesus as a "life-enhancer." The people saw the controversy. The early preachers were imprisoned. They were publicly shamed and beaten. The gospel message was clearly scandalous.

None of this discouraged the apostles. They saw the power of God through the persecution. It confirmed their testimony. They were instructed by God to continue preaching and teaching the truth. They were never encouraged to soften the message. They were not told to make the message more pleasing to the ear.

In Acts 5 the high priest and his associates are filled with jealousy. They have all of the apostles forcibly arrested. During the night an angel opened the prison gates and led them out. The angel told them:
"Go, stand and speak to the people in the temple the whole message of this Life." (Acts 5:20 NASB)
They obeyed. They began teaching in the temple around daybreak.

They didn't teach some of the message. They didn't teach just the parts of the message that they liked best. They didn't teach only what resonated with them. They didn't teach just the parts that made their hearers feel comfortable.

They taught the whole message of this Life.

The Council thought the apostles were still in prison. That's where they left them. When they sent the officers to bring them in for questioning they found the prison gates locked and the guards at the door. But no one was inside.

They were confused. Then someone told them that the apostles were standing in the temple teaching the people. They brought the apostles before the Council for further questioning.

Peter gave a summary of the whole message:
"The God of our fathers raised up Jesus, whom you had put to death by hanging Him on a cross. 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. And we are witnesses of these things; and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey Him." (Acts 5:30-32 NASB)
This summary filled the Council with rage. They intended to kill the apostles. However, one member of the Council persuaded them to be more prudent. They had the apostles severely beaten and sternly warned to stop preaching. Then they released them.

The apostles responded by rejoicing.
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. (Acts 5:41 NASB)
The apostles knew that this punishment was shameful. The Council intended it to be. The public knew it too. That was the point.

The apostles couldn't preach Jesus as a "life-enhancer." It wouldn't have made any sense.

No one would think being publicly shamed for the name of Jesus was an enjoyable benefit. They continued to preach:
And every day, in the temple and from house to house, they kept right on teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ. (Acts 5:42 NASB)

Two Observations on the Apostles Approach

  1. The Apostles taught both publicly and privately. The text says the taught both in the temple and from house to house. They used all the venues available to them to reach as many people as possible with the message. Although some tried to shame them they were unashamed of the message.
  2. The Apostles preached Jesus as the Christ. The Christ is the Anointed One. The Messiah. The Promised One. Where were these promises made of the coming Messiah? In the Old Testament Scriptures! In order to preach "Jesus as the Christ" required teaching how Jesus fulfilled the Old Testament promises.
There are other ways to preach Christ. The apostles spent a lot of time with Jesus. They could have spoken about the cool experiences they had watching Him multiply the loaves and fishes. They could have explained that despite their current difficulties following Jesus has blessed them because of __________ (fill in the blank).

They didn't follow this methodology. They didn't preach themselves or their experiences. They preached Jesus as the Christ.

As "the Christ" Jesus is no mere life-enhancer. As "the Christ" Jesus is the life-giver. The gospel is not a call to a better life from your current one. It is a call to life from death.

The apostles knew this. They obeyed God and preached the whole message of this Life. There was power behind this approach. Not a manipulative power. Not a rhetorical power. The power of God for salvation.

Will you follow this approach and likewise preach Jesus as the Christ? Are you willing to do what it takes to get equipped to share the whole message of this Life? Are you prepared to rejoice when (not if) you suffer shame for the Name?

Saturday, August 6, 2016

A King To Be Opposed

The Old Testament Scriptures encouraged the believers after Peter and John were warned to stop speaking and teaching in the name of Jesus.


Opposition did not discourage the apostles or the early church. It made them bolder. They were not encouraged because they loved punishment. They were encouraged because the Scriptures told them in advance that the Christ would be opposed. It also told them that this opposition would be futile.

Acts 4 records that Peter and John were arrested for preaching Christ. When they were released they were warned by the rulers and elders to stop proclaiming Jesus to the people. Peter and John told them they planned to obey God rather than men. They would not stop. After hearing further threats from the religious leaders Peter and John returned to the believers.

They held a prayer meeting. They prayed Old Testament promises.

Psalm 146 in Context


Acts 4:24 records a citation from Psalm 146:6. There are several other passages throughout the Scriptures which affirm similar truths.

The language quoted from Psalm 146 directly affirms that God is the Creator of the earth. These early believers understood more immediately the implications of this truth than many modern hearers.

Psalm 146 praises God because He is the Creator. It affirms that it is foolish to trust in human leaders because they are only temporary. Humans are powerless in contrast to the Creator God. It affirms that the one who trusts in the Creator is blessed when God helps them.

The power of the Creator allows for Him to open the eyes of the blind; to raise those who are bowed; and to release prisoners. The Creator God is worthy of putting your trust in.

Psalm 2 in Context


Psalm 2 describes the Messiah as God's anointed King. It also describes that the kings of the earth and the rulers conspire together to oppose God's King.

The reaction of God to this rebellion is not to fear or tremble. It is to laugh and scoff. God knows that their opposition is futile. It will be short-lived. Those who persist will be destroyed in His wrath.

The psalm includes a call to worship the Lord with reverence and a command to rejoice with trembling. The final verse tells us of the proper response to the King, God's own Son:
Do homage to the Son, that He not become angry, and you perish in the way,
For His wrath may soon be kindled.
How blessed are all who take refuge in Him! (Psalm 2:12 NASB)
The contrast is strikingly clear. Those who fail to do homage to the Son will perish under His wrath. Those who take refuge in Him are blessed.

How the Believers Used Psalm 2 and 146


The gathered believers' response to persecution is one of faith. God revealed in advance in the Scriptures that His plan would unfold exactly this way.

God would establish His Christ. The rulers and authorities would oppose Him.

The believers used these psalms in their prayer time to affirm the truth of God's Word. They used these psalms as an encouragement that God was at work in their midst. They used them to strengthen their own resolve. They knew God had already won and they were confident to continue proclaiming Christ boldly to all.

Explaining Christ


These psalms are used together to emphasize the authority, power, and nature of Jesus.

Jesus is much more than a human ruler whose authority extends for a short period of time. Jesus is much more than a human king whose power is limited.

Jesus is the eternal king. He has been anointed by the Creator of heaven and earth. As God in the flesh Jesus demonstrated His power by overcoming death. He now rules from His throne in heaven.

Jesus' nature as revealed in these psalms is perhaps even more controversial in the modern-day. Many believe in a Jesus who is incapable of wrath. Some teach that the Father is angry. My children were once taught at a VBS they attended that Jesus never gets angry. This is false.

Genuine biblical teaching on the Trinitarian God teaches that Jesus and the Father are the same in their attributes. Both are holy, righteous, merciful, compassionate, and vengeful.

Psalm 2 paints the same picture of Jesus as Revelation. The wrath of the Lamb will be fierce against all who refuse to receive His merciful offer of pardon for their rebellion. This gift is free for rebels to receive. This gift was purchased with the precious and costly blood of Christ.

We must be sure that we worship Jesus as He is revealed in the Scriptures.

He is the eternal King of heaven and earth. He will crush His adversaries under His feet. He is willing and able to save all who take refuge in Him from the wrath that is to come. Praise God! He is both righteous and merciful.

These truths should likewise encourage believers today when we face opposition for proclaiming the name of Jesus. Opposition should not surprise us. It should not discourage us.

We must be equipped to proclaim the fullness of these truths. It is not enough to simply tell people that we like Jesus and inform them that we hope they will like Him, too. Our task is to warn those who are in rebellion against God to turn from their rebellion and seek refuge in the Lamb.

His grace is amazing. His wrath is fierce. This is the Jesus of Scripture.

Monday, August 1, 2016

This is the Lord's Doing

Corner Stone Psalm 118

Peter and John spent the night in jail after their last message.

They used the opportunity after healing a beggar and gaining a crowd to proclaim Christ and the resurrection from the dead. The captain of the temple guard, the priests, and the Sadducees laid hands on them. They put them in jail for the night. In the morning Peter and John were brought before the authorities.

They were asked in what power or name they were acting. Peter preached Christ to them from Psalm 118:22.

He made it clear they were acting in the name of the Lord. God's power in healing the beggar was authentication that they spoke in God's will, power, and authority.

Psalm 118 in Context

Psalm 118 was commonly interpreted in Peter's day to be speaking of the Davidic Messiah.

The psalm begins with a call to give thanks and praise to the God of Israel for His goodness and lovingkindness. It tells of God's past faithfulness in rescuing His people. God's past faithfulness is a firm foundation for present hope in the face of adversity.

God has been faithful. God will continue to be faithful.

The psalmist describes acting in the name of God on the basis of His faithful promises. Victory is ensured by acting in the name of the Lord. No matter how hopeless it may seem. Acting in God's name is synonymous with acting according to His will. To act contrary to God's will while claiming His name is blasphemy. Blasphemous activity should not expect blessing. This should bring expectation of judgment and/or discipline.

The psalm ends by affirming that the one to come in the name of the Lord is blessed. Therefore, it is right to give thanks to God for his goodness and lovingkindness.

How Peter Uses Psalm 118

The question of the rulers was direct. Peter's answer was direct, too.

Peter was leaving little doubt that he was acting in the name and power of the God of Israel by citing Psalm 118 in his response to their question. More directly they are acting in the name of God incarnate: Jesus Christ the Nazarene.

Peter boldly continues by pointing out this is the same Jesus that they crucified and rejected.

Peter makes a strong point that his audience would have understood immediately but may be missed by the modern reader. His audience was very familiar with the Old Testament Scriptures.

When Peter began responding to their question he referred to his inquisitors as "rulers." This same word (archwn) is used in Psalm 118:
It is better to take refuge in the LORD
Than to trust in princes (archwn). (Psalm 118:9 NASB)
Although the English translations are different the Greek word is the same (coming from the Greek translation of the Psalm in the Septuagint). Peter continues to draw a line in the sand and make it personal when he quotes Psalm 118.

The original wording of Psalm 118 says that the cornerstone was rejected by the builders. Peter makes this personal by saying:  "He is the stone which was rejected by you, the builders, but which became the very corner stone" (Acts 4:11 NASB).

This may seem aggressive. Peter's point is actually compassionate. Peter understands that the Scriptures had to be fulfilled. The rejection of the Messiah was part of God's predetermined plan.

The main point is not their rejection.

The main point of Peter's message is that despite their actions (crucifying Jesus) God has also acted in His goodness and faithfulness. God has brought salvation through the name of Jesus and no other name.

Peter's audience would have likely known this psalm by heart. The very next verse says:
This is the LORD's doing;
It is marvelous in our eyes. (Psalm 118:23 NASB)

Explaining Christ

Peter was not shy in declaring that Jesus is God's Messiah and the only Savior.

Psalm 118 includes the details that the Messiah:
  • was to be rejected by the rulers
  • is a better refuge than the rulers
  • was established by God to be the only foundation of eternal salvation
  • is worthy of being trusted
  • is able to accomplish salvation, even in the face of His enemies
  • comes because of the everlasting goodness and lovingkindness of God.
The resurrection of Jesus proves this is all true beyond any shadow of a doubt. Therefore, let's take the psalmists advice:
This is the day which the LORD has made;
Let us rejoice and be glad in it. (Psalm 118:24 NASB)
If you are in Christ, rejoice! If not, then repent and trust Him today. Today is the day of salvation.
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. (Acts 4:12 NASB)

Friday, July 29, 2016

Increase Witnessing Opportunities

Increase Opportunity

Acts 3 contains another public proclamation of Christ by Peter. Many more individuals were saved as a result. Here are three observations on how this opportunity arose.


You can increase your own opportunities to proclaim Christ by focusing your attention on these things:
  1. Opportunity came through normal life activity. Some people view evangelism with an "event" mentality. That is, they break up their life into times of active duty and periods of off-duty. Active duty would be when they evangelize at church events, etc. Off-duty is any other time. In Acts 3, Peter and John were going about their normal activities when an opportunity to proclaim Christ presented itself. They took full advantage. Christians should seek to live a Great Commission lifestyle instead of being event focused. Events may be part of your evangelism lifestyle but we will miss opportunity to proclaim Christ if we stick only to special occasions. Every day is a special occasion from the Lord to meet people made in His image and to tell them of the Savior.
  2. Opportunity came through the power of God. We live in a materialistic culture. We have all been trained to look at material resources to see what is possible. That is the responsible thing to do. In Acts 3, we see opportunity arise for ministry and evangelism because Peter and John look beyond their material resources to the power of God. When we walk in the will and power of God we already have everything we need. We may not all possess the ability to heal in the power of God like the Apostles. However, every Christian does possess the ability to rely on the Spirit of God to lead and empower us to accomplish His will. When He leads us to do things beyond our natural ability and means, then only He can receive the glory.
  3. Opportunity came when they directed people away from themselves and toward Christ. Humility is hard. After the miraculous healing the amazed crowd gathered around Peter and John. Peter wasted no time in re-directing the attention of the people: "Men of Israel, why are you amazed at this, or why do you gaze at us, as if by our own power or piety we had made him walk?" (Acts 3:12). Peter doesn't take even a moment to relax in the glory himself or to receive even a little bit of the praise. He immediately points people to Jesus. When we minister in the name of Jesus we should take every opportunity to ensure that people know we are serving them because of Christ, not because of our own goodness. Serving people can create a great platform from which Christ can be proclaimed. Christians should not serve simply to make ourselves feel better or to receive praise from men. Christians serve to make Christ known to a broken and fallen world. Any time we serve someone an opportunity to proclaim Christ has arrived.
Certainly other observations are possible on Acts 3. Leave yours in the comments below.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Preaching Christ from Moses

In Peter's Pentecost proclamation he preached from the prophets and psalms. In his second sermon (Acts 3) he preaches from Moses.

The church has been growing. The Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved (Acts 2:47). Peter has a captive audience because a beggar lame from birth was publicly healed.

The people are marveling at this miracle. Peter asks them, "Why are you amazed at this?" He points our their unbelief. Then he points them to Christ. Two passages from Moses serve as foundation texts.

After this message more believe: But many of those who had heard the message believed; and the number of the men came to be about five thousand (Acts 4:4, NASB).

Deuteronomy 18:15 in Context

Moses is giving instruction for after entering the Promised Land. He commands them to be holy. He teaches that whoever participates in the profane practices of the pagans will be detestable to God.

Then, Moses promises that God will raise up a prophet for them to obey.
"The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your countrymen, you shall listen to him. This is according to all that you asked of the LORD your God in Horeb on the day of the assembly, saying, 'Let me not hear again the voice of the LORD my God, let me not see this great fire anymore, or I will die.' The LORD said to me, 'They have spoken well. I will raise up a prophet from among their countrymen like you, and I will put My words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him. It shall come about that whoever will not listen to My words which he shall speak in My name, I Myself will require it of him.'" (Deuteronomy 18:15-19, NASB)
This passage does not speak of the Lord raising up prophets (plural). It speaks of raising up a prophet.

This was taken to be a messianic promise. The Jews living in Jerusalem would have understood immediately that Peter was appealing to a text that prophesied the coming Messiah.

Genesis 22:18 in Context

This is one of the most famous passages in Scripture. God tested Abraham by telling him to sacrifice Isaac.

Isaac was a child of promise. His birth had been promised by God to Abraham and Sarah. In Genesis 15 Abraham was promised a son. In Genesis 16 we see Abraham having a child through his wife's maid, Hagar. This child, Ishmael, is not the child of promise. Ishmael is born to Abraham when he is 86 years old (Gen 16:16).

In Genesis 18 we again read of the promised child to come through Abraham's barren wife, Sarah. This promise is made thirteen years after the birth of Ishmael. Abraham was 99 years old.

Isaac is born the following year. Abraham is 100 (Gen 21:5).

Abraham had been waiting for this promised child for more than a decade. Abraham knew God had promised blessing and descendants through Isaac. In Genesis 22 God tested Abraham's faith by asking him to sacrifice this promised son.

God is foreshadowing the sacrifice of His own Promised Son, the Messiah. God does not make Abraham follow through on what He Himself will do by offering His own Beloved Son Jesus to die on the cross.

After Abraham's willingness to sacrifice Isaac is demonstrated God once again reiterates His plan to bless the nations through Isaac.
Then the angel of the LORD called to Abraham a second time from heaven, and said, "By Myself I have sworn, declares the LORD, because you have done this thing and have not withheld your son, your only son, indeed I will greatly bless you, and I will greatly multiply your seed as the stars of the heavens and as the sand which is on the seashore; and your seed shall possess the gate of their enemies. In your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed, because you have obeyed My voice." (Genesis 22:15-18, NASB)

How Peter uses Moses

Both of these passages appear in books written by Moses. Deuteronomy 18 records a prophesy in Moses' own lifetime. Genesis 22 predates Moses by roughly 600 years. Peter is appealing to a line of promises that were made by God 2,000 and 1,400 years before his present day.

Peter is confronting the unbelief of the people by citing these promises. Peter uses these texts to show that God is doing what He has said He would do.

In their unbelief they are amazed at this demonstration of God's power.

In their unbelief they handed over the Promised Messiah to be crucified.

In contrast, the healing took place because of the man's faith in the name of Jesus.

Peter calls his hearers to repent of their unbelief and to return to God by faith. As Jews, they trust that by lineage they are the sons of the prophets and the covenant. Peter claims that if this is true, then they should take hold of the fulfillment of the promised Messiah by putting their faith in Christ. He is the One of whom they spoke.

Peter proclaims that all of the prophets have announced the coming of the Prophet since the beginning until their present day. These prophecies were all built on the foundation found in Moses' writings.

Peter concludes by showing that this promise contained a call to holiness. The promised blessing comes for those who obey the Promised Messiah. Therefore, the proper response is not simply faith. It is repentance and faith.

Explaining Christ

Once again we see that Christ is the fulfillment of God's promise. In this message the promise is not simply for the promised Prophet but also for the promised blessing.

Many seek the blessing of God. Many people think of blessing contrary to how Peter defines it.
"For you first, God raised up His Servant and sent Him to bless you by turning every one of you from your wicked ways." (Acts 3:26, NASB)
Blessing comes through faith and obedience. His children understand that it is a blessing to obey our heavenly Father. He is not an oppressive dictator. He is not holding out on us.

Consistently Scripture declares that following our own lusts and impulses is slavery. It's a curse.

Christ came to call a people to God. He came to bless us (Jew first, then Gentile) by turning us from our wicked ways to His holy ways. He came to shed His own blood for the forgiveness of our trespasses so that we could receive life and peace by putting our faith in Him.

Many today believe that we can come to Christ without forsaking our former way of life. Many preach a gospel of salvation without repentance.

This is contrary to the promised blessing. This is contrary to the ministry of the Promised Prophet.

We are blessed by turning from our disobedience, believing in Him for salvation, and obediently following Him until the end.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Five Keys to Effective Witness

Content is a major component of effective witness. But it is not the only component.

Some evangelistic methods are presented as if they are the perfect witnessing method. Some think memorizing a method and mechanically delivering the content means you have effectively witnessed.

Witness throughout the New Testament demonstrates this is not accurate. There are certainly unifying principles to be identified. But there is not a cookie-cutter approach that is applied the same way every time.

Content is extremely important. Without the right content our witness cannot be effective. Messing with the content of the gospel voids its power.
For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel, not in cleverness of speech, so that the cross of Christ would not be made void. (1 Corinthians 1:17, NASB)
Focusing only on content fails to recognize that our witness is not made in a vacuum. We are not preaching to the air. We are preaching to persons.
To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak; I have become all things to all men, so that I may by all means save some. I do all things for the sake of the gospel, so that I may become a fellow partaker of it. (1 Corinthians 9:22-23, NASB)
Reflecting on Peter's proclamation in Acts 2 is helpful. Other observations could be made from other passages. Regardless, I know of no biblical example of more people responding to the gospel at one time than what we see recorded in Acts 2.

What made Peter's proclamation so effective? Here are five reflections of my own. Feel free to leave your reflections in the comments.

Effective witness includes:

  • Walking in God's timing. Peter waited for God to open the door. Jesus commanded the disciples to wait for the power they would receive when the Holy Spirit came. They waited patiently until God delivered on His promise. They did not rush ahead and miss the opportunity God was preparing.
  • Going along with God's activity in the world. God's preparation of the audience is clear. "Now there were Jews living in Jerusalem, devout men from every nation under heaven" (Acts 2:5). God had gathered this audience from every nation. The reason they were gathered was to celebrate the Jewish feast of Pentecost. Their presence in Jerusalem demonstrates the truth of what the text tells us: these were devout people. They were already primed for hearing God's Word. When God poured out the Holy Spirit on this day so that Peter could speak to this audience we should be overwhelmed with God's activity in this effective witness. God is still active in the world today. We should strive to go along with His activity. It is not enough to simply be active on our own.
  • Boldness. God opened the door. Peter took full advantage. He was not shy. He was bold and direct.
  • Picking relevant passages. Peter's content was perfectly suited to his immediate context. Peter did not simply use his favorite text. He picked passages that explained the situation they were currently experiencing. He picked passages that directly explained the significance of the moment. We must be aware of our surroundings and our hearers. This is what it means to be in the world but not of it.
  • Dedication to the Word of God and to prayer. Peter's message came on the heels of three years of personal discipleship with Jesus and an intense ten day prayer meeting. Peter remained committed to this focus. When a situation arose in the early church that threatened this Peter resisted it. "'But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.' The statement found approval with the whole congregation" (Acts 6:4-5a, NASB). The whole congregation approved of this statement because they understood the importance of prayer and God's Word to effective witness. 

It is easy to wander off the path of effective witness. We can fall into the trap of thinking that memorizing a few verses and speaking them mechanically to everyone regardless of the situation is the ministry that God has called us to. It's not. The appeal of such approaches is that they lack a need for continued dedication beyond the initial investment of time in memorizing the method.

Memorizing methods is easy. Dedication to serving in the ministry of reconciliation requires sacrifice.

Dedication to prayer and the Word will keep us tethered to God's will. If we ask for wisdom and opportunity God will direct our steps. He is pleased to use humble and well prepared people to accomplish His purposes.

Dedication to being person focused will ensure that we lovingly speak the truth in understandable ways. We want them to hear us because we want them to be reconciled to God. We want this because there is rejoicing in heaven over every sinner who comes to repentance. We want this because when people are saved they magnify the glorious grace of our God and Savior.

Dedication to boldness will keep us alert. We cannot wait for dead sinners to ask us how to be saved. The crowd asked Peter what they must do only after he boldly proclaimed Christ to them. They responded to Peter's boldness. Peter did not wait for them to open the door because God had already shown him that the door was open.

Dedication to faithfulness to biblical content ensures that we are bringing the word of life; not an eloquent speech which lacks the power of God for salvation.

Are you willing to do what is necessary to prepare yourself to be an effective witness for Christ?

Monday, July 25, 2016

The Promised King

Jesus is King
As Peter wraps up his explanation of Christ on the Day of Pentecost he uses two additional Old Testament passages.

The first reference is seemingly a paraphrase of Psalm 132:11 although it could simply be a summary of several Old Testament passages. The final passage is Psalm 110:1. Both texts serve to drive home the same point: Jesus is the promised king from the line of David.

Psalm 132 in Context

Psalm 132 is a Psalm of Ascents. It would have been sung by faithful Israelites on their way to the Temple to worship. This particular psalm calls on the Lord to remember His promise made to David. This promise included:
  • God providing a king from David's line to rule on the throne forever
  • God choosing Zion as His habitation forever
  • God's blessing upon His people for their faithfulness to the covenant
  • God bringing shame upon the enemies of His king
All of these hopeful truths are found repeatedly throughout the Old Testament. This psalm served as a reminder of God's promises and a stimulus to faithfulness on behalf of the ones singing the psalm.

Psalm 110 in Context

Psalm 110 is a psalm of David. This puts its dating in the same window as Psalm 16 which Peter already cited - approximately 1000 years before the birth and crucifixion of Jesus.

This psalm is messianic in nature, meaning it speaks prophetically of the coming Messiah. Many who are familiar with the New Testament know that often Jesus' followers thought He was going to establish the kingdom of heaven by forcefully overthrowing the Roman oppressors. Ideas like this came from passages like Psalm 110.

Psalm 110 starts with a conversation between God the Father and His Messiah - with the Father telling the Messiah to sit at His right hand until He makes the enemies of the Messiah a footstool for His feet. The psalm ends with a picture of the victorious Messiah lifting up His head and seeing peace in the land after taking a drink from the brook.

In between the first and last passage is a description of the Messiah's people submitting freely to His reign. We also see the striking contrast of the carnage wrought upon the enemies of the Messiah who persist in their rebellion against Him. He fills the nations with their corpses (Ps. 110:5-6).

This passage paints a vivid picture of both a conquering warrior king and a peaceful prince. However, the Prince reigns in peace after the destruction of His enemies.

How Peter Uses His Texts

Building upon the dramatic events of Pentecost and the foundation of Jesus' resurrection from the dead in fulfillment of prophecy, Peter turns to these two passages to emphasize the implications. These events are not simply happening to cause a stir. They are happening to call people to a decision: submit to Jesus or perish under His wrath.

Peter explains that Jesus is the promised king from the line of David. Contrary to the common expectation of a Messiah that would reign on earth immediately, this king has ascended to heaven and taken a seat at the right hand of the Father on high. He has taken his seat and He will remain there until the coming day of wrath when He will fully establish His kingdom on the earth.

The establishment of His kingdom will include two major tasks:
  1. The gathering of His people
  2. The destruction of His enemies
These implications are immediately understood by Peter's audience. They respond by asking, "Brethren, what shall we do?" (Acts 2:37). Peter directly tells them the appropriate response:
Peter said to them, "Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off, as many as the Lord our God will call to Himself." And with many other words he solemnly testified and kept on exhorting them, saying, "Be saved from this perverse generation!" (Acts 2:38-40, NASB)

Explaining Christ

Part of our responsibility as ambassadors for Christ is explaining who Jesus is. Another part of our responsibility is explaining the implications of His identity. In Acts 2, Peter does both.

Jesus is not simply some guy that people can pay attention to if that makes them happy and ignore if that makes them happy. Everyone is accountable to Jesus as Lord whether they like it or not. That's what a king is.

What people often do not understand - and certainly many misunderstood in the first century - is the nature of Jesus' kingship. As Messiah, He came first to lay down His life and shed His blood to save all who will trust in Him. He did this already. But He is coming again.

After He ascended to heaven in his resurrected body, He went to wait for His second coming when He will return to judge the nations and establish His kingdom on earth. Peter cited Psalm 110 to show that Jesus has begun the second part of His ministry by sitting at the right hand of God the Father.

The present time - extending from the moment Christ ascended to the moment He returns - are described in this prophetic psalm. Psalm 110:5-6 describes the second coming of Christ which is described again in Revelation 19:11-21. Read both carefully and humbly.

We live in the time between the first and second coming.

As a result, we are responsible to solemnly testify and warn our hearers that this Jesus, whom we crucified, God has made both Lord and Christ. He has made two promises:
  1. He will save all who repent of their rebellion and call on His name to save them
  2. He will destroy all who persist in their rebellion against Him
Therefore, we must lovingly urge our hearers to be reconciled to God through Christ. If they do not heed this urging we must warn them that they will perish under His wrath.

Peter understood well the difference between Jesus' first ministry and his second. We are sadly mistaken if we believe Jesus' return will be as peaceful as His first.

John combines the contrast with striking symbolic language the reaction of those who fail to repent:
Then the kings of the earth and the great men and the commanders and the rich and the strong and every slave and free man hid themselves in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains; and they said to the mountains and to the rocks, "Fall on us and hide us from the presence of Him who sits on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb; for the great day of their wrath has come, and who is able to stand?" (Revelation 6:15-17, NASB, emphasis added)
We don't usually think of "lamb" and "wrath" in the same sense - as a lamb seems gentle. Jesus was meek and mild in His first coming. He is patiently giving time for people to respond to His invitation to salvation, purchased with His own precious blood.

He will not wait forever.

Jesus is King. He is coming back. Are you ready? 

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Power Over Death

Psalm 16 Hebrew Text
Peter's sermon continues in Acts 2 with a second Old Testament passage explaining Christ.

Peter transitioned the crowds attention by citing the prophet Joel. Now that he has their attention Peter cites from Psalm 16:8-11, a psalm of David.

Psalm 16 in Context

Psalm 16 was written during the life of King David. Scholars debate the exact dates of David's birth and death. Regardless of the dates chosen we are looking at a psalm written roughly 1000 years before the birth of Jesus.

The original writing certainly applied to events happening in David's own context. In this psalm, David expresses his trust and delight in the living God. Not only does David say that he delights in God but he also expresses delight in God's people.

How Peter Uses Psalm 16

Peter focuses the crowds' attention on the reality of God's power working in the life of Jesus by pointing to the miracles, wonders, and signs God performed through Jesus during His public ministry. The resurrection was the pinnacle of this demonstration.

Peter does not simply point to the historical reality. He wouldn't need Scripture for this.

Instead, Peter first explains that all of these miracles - including the resurrection of Jesus from the dead - were all part of God's predetermined plan. God inspired David to speak prophetically and look ahead in human history to proclaim the resurrection of Jesus roughly 1000 years in advance.

Jesus rose from the dead in fulfillment of this prophecy in the psalms. Jesus rose from the dead to demonstrate His victory over death. Jesus did this in accordance with God's predetermined plan.

Peter then links this truth back to the events of Pentecost as further proof of Christ's victory. Christ is risen from the dead - they are all witnesses to this. More than this, Christ has been exalted to the right hand of God the Father in heaven. Part of Christ's exaltation included His receiving the promise of the Holy Spirit from the Father, which He poured out on earth resulting in the dramatic events they were currently experiencing on Pentecost.

The crowds' present experience and the events of the past - both ancient and recent - declared without a shadow of a doubt that Jesus is Lord and the promised Messiah (Christ).

Explaining Christ

No matter what anyone believes, Jesus was not a victim. He was not a political activist who angered the wrong group of people. He wasn't a religious zealot whose views got Him killed.

He was the promised Messiah. He was God in the flesh come to shed His own blood for the salvation of sinners.

His death was on His own terms. He died so that He could rise again in fulfillment of the Scriptures.

The gospel message relies on this truth:

For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures (1 Corinthians 15:3-4, NASB)

Psalm 16:8-11 is foundational for explaining Jesus' mission and victory. Anyone can claim to be a Savior. But not anyone can predict their own death, burial, and resurrection 1000 years in advance.

Only the living God can do this.

Jesus is both Lord and Christ. We can know that He reigns with authority because of His victory over death. But it is even more than this. His victory over death was proclaimed 1000 years before He was even born!

Only God is able to speak authoritatively and perfectly regarding the future. We can trust His Word and the resurrection of Christ in fulfillment of Psalm 16 is a perfect example.

God's Word tells us of a coming Judgment and that every human being is guilty. He also tells us that Jesus is willing and able to save all who trust in Him for salvation. Praise God!

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Call on the Name of Jesus

Acts 2

Acts 2 contains our first example of how the first followers of Christ explained Him using the Old Testament.

We don't start here because it is the first canonically. It's not. There have been many references to the Old Testament - many of which explain Christ - in the Gospels. These are printed before Acts 2 in your Bible. They were written by Apostles and associates of the Apostles. We will examine many of them in later posts.

There are even two Old Testament Scriptures cited in Acts 1:20. These Scriptures are used in relation to replacing Judas. They are not specifically explaining Christ. If you are interested in an in-depth study that looks at the complete use of the Old Testament in the New I recommend G.K. Beale and D.A. Carson's Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament.

We start in Acts 2 because it is the first chronologically. Luke wrote Acts c. A.D. 60-62 which is nearly three decades after the crucifixion. But the event he is recording in Acts 2 happened on Pentecost - only 10 days after the Ascension of the risen Christ into heaven and only 50 days after the crucifixion of Jesus.

Prior to ascending to heaven Jesus told His disciples that they would be His witnesses. He told them to testify what was written about Him in Moses, the Prophets, and the Psalms. Then He told them to wait for the Holy Spirit to come and empower them.

Acts 2 records the coming of the Holy Spirit. It records the power of heaven being magnified. It records the first public testimony of Christ by His followers in obedience to the command He gave before ascending to heaven.

When Peter opened his mouth the first passage he used was Joel 2:28-32. He testified about Christ from the Prophets.

Joel in Context

Scholars do not all agree on the date of Joel. We will assume that the dating of 597-586 B.C. is best. This was leading up to the destruction of Jerusalem and the Babylonian Captivity. It is 600 years before the day Peter is speaking in Acts 2.

In its original context the prophet Joel is declaring judgment against Judah for their unfaithfulness to the covenant. It also promises salvation to those who will repent and trust in the Lord. Judgment is coming but hope and salvation are available.

How Peter Uses Joel

The coming of the Holy Spirit included some drama. There was loud noise. People began proclaiming the mighty deeds of God in different languages. This activity grabbed the attention of a large crowd of people. The observers didn't know what was happening. Some thought the disciples and their associates were drunk.

Peter opened his mouth and explained that this was not from drunkenness. It was what the prophet Joel wrote about 600 years prior.

The Holy Spirit had come in fulfillment of God's promise. They are prophesying because of the Holy Spirit. Here is the whole passage (Old Testament references are capitalized in the NASB):

But Peter, taking his stand with the eleven, raised his voice and declared to them: "Men of Judea and all you who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you and give heed to my words. For these men are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only the third hour of the day; but this is what was spoken of through the prophet Joel:
 'AND IT SHALL BE IN THE LAST DAYS,' God says, 'THAT I WILL POUR FORTH OF MY SPIRIT ON ALL MANKIND; AND YOUR SONS AND YOUR DAUGHTERS SHALL PROPHESY, AND YOUR YOUNG MEN SHALL SEE VISIONS, AND YOUR OLD MEN SHALL DREAM DREAMS; EVEN ON MY BONDSLAVES, BOTH MEN AND WOMEN, I WILL IN THOSE DAYS POUR FORTH OF MY SPIRIT And they shall prophesy. 'AND I WILL GRANT WONDERS IN THE SKY ABOVE AND SIGNS ON THE EARTH BELOW, BLOOD, AND FIRE, AND VAPOR OF SMOKE. 'THE SUN WILL BE TURNED INTO DARKNESS AND THE MOON INTO BLOOD, BEFORE THE GREAT AND GLORIOUS DAY OF THE LORD SHALL COME. 'AND IT SHALL BE THAT EVERYONE WHO CALLS ON THE NAME OF THE LORD WILL BE SAVED.' (Acts 2:14-21)

Some people want to get caught up on the wonders in the sky and the signs on the earth below. However, this is a misunderstanding of Peter's intention. Peter uses Joel 2 as a link from the current event to an explanation of Christ. Nothing in the text tells us that there was darkness on the day of Pentecost. The text doesn't say that the moon turned to blood.

There is no reason for us to try and force these things or to try and explain how those parts of Joel's text were fulfilled while Peter was speaking. That wasn't his intention. We shouldn't make it ours.

The events of Pentecost - particularly the coming of the Holy Spirit - marks the beginning of the fulfillment of the promise God made through the prophet Joel. It is a mistake to think that everything the prophet wrote was fulfilled in that moment.

Peter uses this passage because it begins with the pouring out of the Holy Spirit. This is happening in the immediate present for him and his audience. Peter quotes Joel all the way to the coming of the Lord and the promise that all who call on His name will be saved. This contains a promise for his present hearers all the way up to our present moment in the 21st century.

It will continue until the Great and Glorious Day of the Lord shall come!

Revelation contains descriptions of the signs Joel described. They are coming in the future. They will occur before Christ returns in glory.

Peter was not using this passage to say it was all happening right then. Instead, he was showing that it was beginning to be fulfilled right then. The fulfillment continues to the present day. It will continue until the Great and Glorious Day of the Lord.

Explaining Christ


Peter used a relevant text to turn his audiences attention to the significance of the events taking place. God wasn't making a show just to display His power.

He was making a show to point people to Christ. God was fulfilling His promise made 600 years before.

Peter uses this passage to transition to an explanation that to be saved everyone must call on the name of the Lord. Peter used this opportunity to make the case that Jesus is the Lord. Everyone must call on Jesus to be saved.

Just as the remnant was preserved through the judgment brought by God on Judah through the Babylonian nation, salvation would be given to all who trust in the Lord from the judgment to come. God was faithful in the past. He will be faithful in the future. We can trust His promises. Jesus is able and willing to save all who come to Him. Praise God!

In our next post, we will continue to look at Peter's message in Acts 2. He cites further Old Testament texts to drive home his point that everyone must call on the name of Jesus to be saved from the wrath to come.