An Incident Before the Temple

Acts 3:1-10

Om a certain day, Peter and John were headed into the temple area for afternoon prayer, which appears to have been the custom of the early church. There was a crippled man there; he was always there, begging for money because it was his only means of survival, having been unable to walk since birth. In a scene like so many that we find in the Gospel accounts of Jesus, they stopped and healed the man (3:6-7).

This story gives some substance to what we read in the previous passage (2:43) regarding the many wonders and signs being performed by the Apostles, of course this is the first one that Luke specifically relates to us.

As we read this, most of us will recall that when Jesus began His ministry, He, the embodiment of the Kingdom of heaven went from place to place proclaiming the Kingdom, teaching God’s truth, healing the sick, making the lame walk, restoring sight to the blind and driving out demons. We saw that this is quite a natural progression, for wherever the Kingdom goes there are truth, salvation, healing, wholeness and redemption from evil. In this account of one of those incidents, we see the new embodiments of the Kingdom, here represented by Peter and John doing the very same things that Jesus had done before. As we see events unfold in the rest of this chapter, we will also see that like Jesus, the Apostles will use miraculous signs and wonders not simply to benefit people like this poor man, but to confirm their message of salvation as being genuine and truly from God.

It is also important for us to note that what the Kingdom brought was far more than physical healing and wholeness, that actually the physical miracles performed were but an illustration of the far greater spiritual healing that takes place within the kingdom, for the spiritual healing that takes place has eternal consequences… or maybe I should say eternal “benefits” or “rewards”.

As the passage concludes, the two Apostles, along with the very familiar and now restored man enter the temple courts, to the great wonder of the crowd gathered there, setting the scene for the next part of the story…

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Life in the Early Church

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.

Acts 2:42-47

Luke abruptly shifts the scene from Pentecost to a summation of the period that followed in which he tells us what they did and how they lived during this early time. What is there for me to add to this picture?

Not much. There is one thing: For me at least, there are two references here that are easy to miss: First, notice that during this period they are said to have enjoyed “the favor of all the people” and finally, the Lord “added to their number daily”. When the love of Christ shines through the Body of believers into the larger community, amazing and wonderful things happen.

That should give us something to ponder…

With that, I’ll bid you farewell for now.

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Thought for a Monday

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Peter’s First Address (2)

Acts 2:22-41

We left off earlier after Peter’s citation of the prophecy of Joel 2:28-32 (cf. Acts 2:17-21). Our text picks up in verse 22 as Peter moves forward to drive his point home. I would certainly recommend that you read the text at this point, if you haven’t already. He mentions the name Jesus of Nazareth in that verse, reminding them that He performed miracles and wonders in the midst of the people which were intended by God to confirm His identity and authority, and that his hearers knew all about these things. Then Peter goes right to the nitty-gritty:

This man was handed over to you by God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross. (2:23)

This is an amazing contrast to the Peter who not long before had denied Jesus three times and gone into hiding, and it might even be called a reckless thing to say to a large crowd of Jews in Jerusalem at that point in time, yet Peter boldly proclaimed the truth. He continued in his proclamation of the truth by boldly announcing that Jesus had been raised from the dead in 2:24-28, including another quotation, this time from Psalm 16. His explanation of the day’s events is wrapped up in 2:29-33, and then Peter closes his remarks with this:

For David did not ascend to heaven, and yet he said,

“‘The Lord said to my Lord:
“Sit at my right hand
until I make your enemies
a footstool for your feet.”’

“Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah.” (2:34-36)

Let’s pause a moment and take in the power of what we’ve been reading of the address by Peter at Pentecost…

Peter began to address this very large crowd of thousands when people in the crowd began to say that he and the other Apostles were drunk (2:13-14). This was not only silly, as Peter pointed out, but it was an attempt to marginalize the magnitude of the coming of Holy Spirit, which had been God’s purpose all along. Yet the Holy Spirit, through Peter, took that slur and turned it completely around on the scoffers and used the occasion as an opportunity to proclaim the Gospel of Christ in a most convincing way; who could argue with it?

Apparently no one dared to do so. I would suggest to you that the coming of the Holy Spirit was the greatest miracle of that day, but the working of the Holy Spirit through Peter comes in a very close second. Look what happened next:

When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” (2:37)

Where are the scoffers now?

Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.”

With many other words he warned them; and he pleaded with them, “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.” Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day. (2:38-41)

Here’s a question to ponder:

When did Peter become such a Bible scholar that he could cite and interpret Scripture so insightfully that people would see truths they had never before seen? Peter was a fisherman, not a theologian; he was a working man, not a Rabbi − where did this come from?

Another question might be, what had Peter really done?

The answer is simplicity itself: Not much. On that amazing day, the only thing Peter had done was show up, and get out of the Spirit’s way; the Spirit did the rest, and about 3,000 people were saved from destruction. I’ll end with one final point to think about: The same Holy Spirit that was in Peter is in all of us; brothers and sisters, what shall we do?

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Sunday Sermon Notes: January 14, 2018

Join together in following my example, brothers and sisters, and just as you have us as a model, keep your eyes on those who live as we do. For, as I have often told you before and now tell you again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is set on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.

Philippians 3:17-21

Here is the exhortation; Paul is urging the people to follow his example, and the example of others who live as he does.  Because of this, it is quite clear that he is talking about the way we all live; follow the example of the way he and certain others live. This is an important distinction, for many say all of the right things and live quite differently.

Pay careful attention to verses 18 and 19: Many live a different kind of life than Paul does− a life that leads to destruction.  My first question about this would be, “Just exactly who are we talking about?” My first impulse is to assume that he must be talking about unbelievers, to make a distinction between Christians and non-Christians; some might even want to toss in the concept of phony Christians or fake Christians, or Christians who aren’t “really” saved.  I’d prefer to leave that kind of speculation to others; they are probably much smarter than I am if they can make such judgments. I’ll ‘play it safe’ and stick with the context.  Since Paul is sending this message to Christian believers, I must infer that he thinks it is possible for Christians to follow the wrong path, thus the warning; otherwise the warning is pointless and sent to the wrong people. Are there Christians that we might know of (or be) who live for the things of this world and neglect the heavenly priorities of Christ? If so, we should not follow their example.

Our citizenship is in heaven! Our priorities must be on heavenly things. As citizens of heaven, we must concern ourselves with the mission that Jesus has given us, to love others, to put their interests ahead of our own in true humility, and to share the awesome gospel of Jesus Christ, for this is the way that will lead us to our reward. It is also the reason that Paul wrote this letter to the Philippians.

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Random Ramblings: January 13, 2018

I wasn’t going to write anything in this column today, there are just some times when I think that’s best. Usually those times are when I want to write something that is either entirely political or would be political commentary; this is one of those days, I’m afraid.

Yet there’s a little voice in the back of my head that prompts me. It says I should go ahead, that the “rules” for this column say that I can write anything I want here, that this column can be as far off-topic as I want it to be.  Of course, that is entirely true, and has been published and advertised, so no one who reads this column should be shocked at what they find here.

And that’s where I seem to lose control…

Then I came across a post by paulfg: We do not need (more fear) moral outrage and now, I simply can’t stop! (It’s all your fault Paul!)

Shocked? Outraged? Horrified? Mortified?

Give me a break!

“Don, what the heck are you talking about?”

Fair question. I am sick and tired of phony outrage, I have had it up to here with people who are simply horrified and shocked at trivial things whenever it suits their purposes and who will sweep a real outrage under the rug when it doesn’t suit their purposes to be outraged. As I listen to the “news” accounts from this latest incident, I find myself thinking back to a movie from years ago. Maybe you remember it… It starred Burt Reynolds, Dolly Parton and Dom DeLuise, and it was called The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas. In a nutshell, there is a brothel headed up by a Madam played by Dolly Parton that everyone in the world knew about. When watchdog reporter (Dom DeLuise) decides to “break” the shocking news of its existence, everyone pretends to be horrified. Since the movie is a musical, the “Watchdog” goes on television with his shocking report in the form of a song and dance routine; this is the audio from that report:

As I was watching news accounts this week about Mr. Trump’s latest comment, I must admit that this song was playing in my head!

If you didn’t hear the story (good for you!) Mr. Trump referred to certain countries as “s***hole” countries from which so many people flee to enter the USA illegally, and naturally the result of this has been an international firestorm of “outrage”. How dare the President refer to these countries. full as they are of corruption, violence, poverty and oppression as “s***hole” countries! Obviously he’s a racist! He’s deranged, using such offensive language! How can Trump talk like that in public?!

Texas has a whorehouse in it!!!

Isn’t it about time we grew up?

First off, a closed-door meeting in the Oval Office is private. The protocol for such meetings is that what is said there stays there and to have United States Senators running to the microphones to leak the story is a real outrage. That one of those senators, the senator from South Carolina, called the same countries “hellholes” in an open committee hearing of the United States Senate back in 2013 for exactly the same reasons, to feign shock now… is a real outrage.

As for Mr. Trump and his apparent inability to get his big mouth under control, sir it’s time for you to grow up too.

As for the rest of us, when are we going to stop being outraged at the trivial while turning a blind eye to the truly outrageous? When are we going to stop calling real outrages tragedies? A violent crime is not a tragedy, it’s an outrage, a terrorist attack is not a tragedy, it’s an outrage… see what I mean? A stupid Tweet or a gaffe is a dumb move, not an outrage, at least not to a grownup.

One more thing: Here’s another actual outrage for you to think about this Saturday… tabloid gossip and scandal mongering being passed off as actual journalism. Yep, that is a real outrage, at least for a grown up.

Grow up America!

“Well Don, that’s all the time we have for this session, I’m so glad you’ve shared your real feelings. Same time next week?”

Yeah doc, see ya next week.

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Peter’s First Address

Acts 2:14-21

Actually Peter’s remarks continue all the way through verse 41, but I want to be respectful of your time, so I’m breaking them into multiple parts for our discussion.

Peter begins by speaking to the silly notion that they are all drunk, reminding the crowd that it was still only nine in the morning. By tradition, the ninth hour was the time for morning prayer after which the first meal of the day would be eaten; silly notion indeed. Then Peter gives an explanation of what was going on that morning, by telling the people that “‘In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. (2:17a). The prophet Joel, who is being quoted here (see Joel 2:28-32) spoke in a time of trial when the people were feeling the weight of their sin during a time of plague, when God had spoken of a future when Messiah would bring about the fulfillment of God’s purpose with His people, pouring out His Spirit upon all people. This was the longed for age of the Messiah for which they had been yearning such a long time now. In addition to Joel, Isaiah, Hosea and Micah had called this time “the last days”, as would New Testaments writers such as Peter himself, John and the author of Hebrews. Those in the crowd that day would have had no difficulty in understanding the reference, since it was a rich part of their heritage.

Joel made it quite clear that these wonders of God would be for all of the people. Notice that he said things like “all people”, “sons and daughters”, and “both men and women” that mark a great contrast with the restricted activity of the Holy Spirit in the Old Testament. Now, the Holy Spirit was to be “poured out” on all who believed; God was expecting universal acceptance. In 2:19-20 we see a number of apocalyptic elements that add to this the sense that God is doing a work of staggering proportion, and finally in verse 21 we see that what is coming about is a new age of salvation for all of those who will accept it:

And everyone who calls
on the name of the Lord will be saved

From our point of view, this passage is somewhat more difficult to grasp then it would have been to those who heard it first, for most of us are not well versed in the Messianic understanding of the first century; some today even suggest that Peter might have been mistaken in citing this passage from Joel as what was happening at that time, preferring instead to place its fulfillment at some point that is still in the future. Of course you are welcome to your view on the subject, but as for me, I must respectfully reject such thinking, and here’s why: In 2:1-12, we are told that the Apostles received the Holy Spirit. Their having been filled with the Spirit was so much in evidence that they began to speak in other languages (tongues), and while this was still going on, Peter applied the Joel text to that moment in time. Thus, we have in this very highly documented point in time, as we understand time, an Apostle who is under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit making an assertion that Joel’s prophecy was being fulfilled at that moment, nearly 2,000 years ago.

This event is being recorded by Luke, who although not an Apostle himself, is under the oversight of an Apostle while also being inspired by the Holy Spirit. Our whole understanding of inspired Scripture is that each author, either Old Testament prophet, New Testament Apostle, or a New Testament believer under the direction of an Apostle, is accurate and reliable precisely because of the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Therefore, if either Peter or Luke got this wrong, then none of the 66 books of the Bible are reliable as the Word of God. As a consequence, any time I think the Scriptures might be mistaken, I recheck my work, for it is I who am mistaken.

At any rate, we can all be assured that Pentecost was the day the Church began as had been foretold long before. As we will see next time, Peter moves on from explaining to the people what they had witnessed, to telling them about the Messiah, and in doing so, he will pull no punches.

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