Okinawa Baptist Convention Pulpit Exchange Program. This year’s theme is “Ambitious Church”. Pastor Tomari from Goya Baptist Church Okinawa Japan gives an insight on the Church of Antioch in the Book of Acts. A church that sends out missionaries to bring the good news of Jesus Christ.
1At Caesarea there was a man named Cornelius, a centurion of what was known as the Italian Cohort, 2a devout man who feared God with all his household, gave alms generously to the people, and prayed continually to God. 3 About the ninth hour of the day he saw clearly in a vision an angel of God come in and say to him, “Cornelius.” 4And he stared at him in terror and said, “What is it, Lord?” And he said to him, “Your prayers and your alms have ascended as a memorial before God. 5And now send men to Joppa and bring one Simon who is called Peter. 6He is lodging with one Simon, a tanner, whose house is by the sea.” 7When the angel who spoke to him had departed, he called two of his servants and a devout soldier from among those who attended him, 8and having related everything to them, he sent them to Joppa.
9The next day, as they were on their journey and approaching the city, Peter went up on the housetop about the sixth hour to pray. 10And he became hungry and wanted something to eat, but while they were preparing it, he fell into a trance 11and saw the heavens opened and something like a great sheet descending, being let down by its four corners upon the earth. 12In it were all kinds of animals and reptiles and birds of the air. 13And there came a voice to him: “Rise, Peter; kill and eat.” 14But Peter said, “By no means, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is common or unclean.” 15And the voice came to him again a second time, “What God has made clean, do not call common.” 16This happened three times, and the thing was taken up at once to heaven.
So far in the Book of Acts, we’ve seen a definite progression beginning with the Gospel in Jerusalem during Pentecost. It then spread through Judea and into Samaria and even was beginning to go out to the ends of the earth as the disciples were scattered by persecution. Acts Chapter 9 recorded the conversion of Saul, who was to become the Apostle Paul who would be the Apostle to the Gentiles. But, before Paul was to begin his evangelistic journeys, Peter was actually the Apostle to break ground in evangelizing Gentiles.
As obvious as it seems that the Gospel should have gone out to the Gentiles to us who are sitting here today, it wasn’t at all obvious to the disciples or to Peter. It probably should have been as it was hinted at during Christ’s ministry but, you have to remember, centuries of the Old Covenant had seared in the minds of the believers that the Covenant was for a particular culturally and ethnically distinct people. A person could convert to Judaism but would have to go through many ritual cleansing rites and eventually be circumcised into Covenant membership. For all intents and purposes, the world at large was barred from participating in worship of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob unless they ceremonially prepared themselves for that worship. Even though Christ had removed the separation between God and redeemed sinners by the veil of His flesh at His death, it was still natural for the early Christians to still consider ceremonial laws as part of a Christian’s reasonable service and minimum level of participation.
In the fullness of time, then, when God was ready to reveal the fulfillment of the Promise to Abraham that, in him, all the nations would be blessed, He sent an angel to Cornelius’ house in Caesarea while he was praying. Acts called him devout and one who feared God. This was a category of Gentile to the Jew. Such men would attend Synagogue worship and offer alms but could not fully participate in all the ceremonies of the Old Covenant because they were not circumcised.
Cornelius, though, had been blessed to be exposed to the oracles of God and the truths of the Word. His worship was looking to God for salvation and, I believe, he had regularly prayed to be saved by the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Like Rahab and Ruth before him, this Gentile wanted Israel’s God to be His God and he turned his back on all the false gods of the Roman pantheon to worship to One, Holy and Living God. Believing in Him, he was known for his devotion and for his generosity to the poor.
God’s Word had made Cornelius a seeker after the Truth but he still had not received the Promise of salvation found in Christ. He did not know it but God had come looking for him and, with a glorious announcement from an angel, told Cornelius he had heard his prayers and that his gifts to the poor were remembered on high. He was commanded to bring the Apostle Peter to his house so he could hear the message of salvation.
God fully intended to save Cornelius and His household but it is important to note that He was sending a Gospel bearer to Cornelius. He didn’t reveal the Gospel directly to Him apart from the Word or apart from the means of an Evangelist. Only the Apostles were taught directly by God in Christ. Apostles were to bear witness in the Gospel of these truths and we are not to expect that God simply reveals Christ directly to men and women apart from those that are sent out today. As Romans 10 tells us: “…how can they hear unless someone is sent….”
It takes about 10 hours to walk from Caesarea to Joppa where Peter was staying, so by the time the soldiers arrived where Peter was staying it was about noon the next day after an overnight stay somewhere.
Meanwhile, Peter was praying before lunch and went into a trance. This was not a normal experience for Peter as this passage indicates the unique experience.
Peter saw a blanket with all the different kinds of animals and insects on it. All kind of clean and unclean animals were on this blanket. The command from on high was to kill and eat.
Peter’s response is actually Scriptural. He quotes Ezekiel 4:14 noting that he has kept himself undefiled from eating unclean animals since he was a youth. I think he thought he was on safe ground here for doing so. Perhaps he thought it was a test.
But God’s response says much more than about food when He responds that “…what God has called clean do not call common….” The unclean animals and the dietary rules were a picture of the separation between Jew and Gentile that had existed. God was abrogating the dietary laws and laws of separation between Jew and Gentile to herald that the Gospel would be for the Gentiles too. He had to shock the system of Peter to tell him that He was now saying that, even as these foods were clean, so were the Gentiles. It wasn’t enough for this to happen once or twice but God had to tell Peter three times so the point could be driven home.
17Now while Peter was inwardly perplexed as to what the vision that he had seen might mean, behold, the men who were sent by Cornelius, having made inquiry for Simon’s house, stood at the gate 18and called out to ask whether Simon who was called Peter was lodging there. 19And while Peter was pondering the vision, the Spirit said to him, “Behold, three men are looking for you. 20Rise and go down and accompany them without hesitation, for I have sent them.” 21And Peter went down to the men and said, “I am the one you are looking for. What is the reason for your coming?” 22And they said, “Cornelius, a centurion, an upright and God-fearing man, who is well spoken of by the whole Jewish nation, was directed by a holy angel to send for you to come to his house and to hear what you have to say.” 23So he invited them in to be his guests.
Now we see why Peter what Peter was being made ready for. Some commentators have dated this event to the time of a Jewish persecution by the Emperor Caligula. He had become angry with the Jews and had directed that an idol be place in the Temple of the Lord. The Jews had convinced the Roman governor to appeal this decision and Caligula died before the appeal could be acted upon.
In any event, the situation with the Romans was always tense. The Romans were not welcomed visitors by the Jews and the Church, especially, had been harmed by the Jewish leaders sometimes using the Romans against them.
So when two soldiers came to a Jewish home looking for Peter, it must have been quite difficult. I will also note that when God wants to teach us something He does so in a way that will make us extremely uncomfortable and to set up a situation that would really drive home a point. He could have caused the Gospel to spread to Egyptian or Arabic Gentiles first but He made a strong point that it was Roman soldiers that would receive it.
Peter was expecting them by now and agrees to go with them but did you also notice that the Roman soldiers stayed with him that night. The vision was already enough to teach Peter that God was no respecter of men. Peter no longer considered Gentiles to be unclean. He no longer separated himself physically from their presence.
Now you might think that God just immediately changed Peter’s revulsion to Gentiles. I think Galatians 2 reveals differently. We have a crazy idea that obedience to God is on the basis of an unblemished desire to do the right thing but the truth is that real faith sometimes demands that we walk by faith and not by sight. We may we be revolted by the thing we are commanded to love but if we wait until warm and fuzzy feeling develop then we will never obey the law of Love.
The next day he rose and went away with them, and some of the brothers from Joppa accompanied him. 24And on the following day they entered Caesarea. Cornelius was expecting them and had called together his relatives and close friends. 25When Peter entered, Cornelius met him and fell down at his feet and worshiped him. 26But Peter lifted him up, saying, “Stand up; I too am a man.” 27And as he talked with him, he went in and found many persons gathered. 28And he said to them, “You yourselves know how unlawful it is for a Jew to associate with or to visit anyone of another nation, but God has shown me that I should not call any person common or unclean. 29So when I was sent for, I came without objection. I ask then why you sent for me.”
30And Cornelius said, “Four days ago, about this hour, I was praying in my house at the ninth hour, and behold, a man stood before me in bright clothing 31and said, ‘Cornelius, your prayer has been heard and your alms have been remembered before God. 32Send therefore to Joppa and ask for Simon who is called Peter. He is lodging in the house of Simon, a tanner, by the sea.’ 33So I sent for you at once, and you have been kind enough to come. Now therefore we are all here in the presence of God to hear all that you have been commanded by the Lord.”
I love all the little details that Luke provides us. We’re told that Cornelius was expecting Peter and had invited over all his relatives and close friends for this meeting. It wasn’t as if Cornelius could send Peter and e-mail and Peter could just get into his car and zip over to Cornelius house in a few minutes. It had taken days but Cornelius is waiting anxiously, expectantly. He’s been Promised by God that he will hear a message about God from Peter.
Now, I wonder right now as I’m saying this how many of you are simply bored by that idea. What if somebody told you that you were going to receive a message from God in four days. Would that be exciting for you? In fact, beloved, were you anxious today to come to worship so you could hear the Word of God and receive what God had intended to speak to you this day through His Word? Or maybe you consider to be boring the very Words of Life.
Cornelius knew how important this appointment was. He also knew this wasn’t simply about a very personal relationship. He wasn’t deceived into thinking that his relatives and friends have religion too and didn’t need this message. No. He loved them and so he reasoned correctly that everyone he cared for should be at his home that day to hear the message of salvation.
Peter asked Cornelius to explain why he had asked for him to come and this confirmed to Peter that God was sending him on an errand to preach the Gospel to the Gentiles.
34So Peter opened his mouth and said: “Truly I understand that God shows no partiality, 35but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him. 36As for the word that he sent to Israel, preaching good news of peace through Jesus Christ ( he is Lord of all), 37you yourselves know what happened throughout all Judea, beginning from Galilee after the baptism that John proclaimed: 38how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power. He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him. 39And we are witnesses of all that he did both in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree, 40but God raised him on the third day and made him to appear, 41 not to all the people but to us who had been chosen by God as witnesses, who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. 42And he commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one appointed by God to be judge of the living and the dead. 43 To him all the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”
44While Peter was still saying these things, the Holy Spirit fell on all who heard the word. 45And the believers from among the circumcised who had come with Peter were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit was poured out even on the Gentiles. 46For they were hearing them speaking in tongues and extolling God. Then Peter declared, 47 “Can anyone withhold water for baptizing these people, who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” 48And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked him to remain for some days.
As we’ve been going through the Acts, have any of you noticed how much different the Gospel is presented than what many of us have become accustomed to understanding in recent years. As we’ve already seen over and over again even in Acts, just because a man grows up with a religious understanding doesn’t mean it’s the Scriptural way. The Sanhedrin and the Pharisees missed Christ altogether and, because of the way they were taught to understand the Scriptures didn’t bother to conform themselves to the Word when it was explained to them.
So, when I’m showing you the way the Apostles preached the Word of God and “gave their testimony”, I hope you will start to have a better Biblical appreciation for what our testimony of Christ really is.
You see, didn’t Peter have a better story he could tell about his personal life than you? Didn’t Peter have a better story to tell about how much Jesus meant to him and made his life better?
Of course he did. But did Peter point to his own life as his “testimony”? When presenting the Gospel, did Peter talk about how Jesus made him feel?
No. Just like other times when the Gospel was presented the character that took center stage was Christ. Peter proclaimed the death and resurrection of Christ for the sins of mankind. He testified not of himself or his feelings but of a historical person who was the God-man who died for our sins, rose for our justification, and sits at the right hand of God on high. He testified that everyone who believes upon the name of Christ will be saved from their sins.
That’s a story that only a Christian can tell. That the type of News that a Christian should tell. The Muslim can talk about how much Allah makes his life happy. The Mormon can talk about how wonderful his life is since he believed his false God.
But only the Christian can testify truly concerning Christ and His work. Only the Christian has the true hope inside of him because that hope is directed that the work of a perfect mediator. That faith is directed to real events that are the bedrock of our soul.
In short, we need to know what Christ has done not only that we might understand Who it is that we have believed but we need to understand Christ and His work so we can proclaim it properly. Christ did not simply come to give us all fuzzy feelings that we cannot describe other than to give others the promise that they can have fuzzy feelings too.
And while Peter was preaching this Gospel, God did an amazing thing that day. He poured out His Spirit with power upon all the Gentile hearers. He poured it out in view of Peter and the other Jews he had brought as witnesses with him.
With that powerful act, God astonished Peter and the Jews. He literally took a wrecking ball and knocked down the barriers that had once stood between the unclean Gentiles and clean Jews. Just as He had promised to Abraham, all the nations of the world would be blessed. It had finally come to pass. The Seed of Abraham, Christ, had provided access through the veil of His flesh for all to approach God boldly by trusting in the person and work of Jesus Christ. The Jew had always had ceremonial access to the house of worship where God had commanded central worship but his conscience could not be cleansed. Christ cleanses both the consciences of Jews and Gentiles, men and women, slaves and free. There is now no longer a distinction because God gives His Spirit as an earnest, as a seal that these are mine to everybody who believes.
Acts Chapter 11 records that Peter was taken to task for entering the home of a Gentile and staying with him. How could he do such a thing. Peter told the story and then pointed out to them that the Gentiles had received the Spirit.
15As I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell on them just as on us at the beginning. 16And I remembered the word of the Lord, how he said, ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ 17If then God gave the same gift to them as he gave to us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could stand in God’s way?” 18When they heard these things they fell silent. And they glorified God, saying, “Then to the Gentiles also God has granted repentance that leads to life.”
Indeed, this was the meaning of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit to demonstrate the unity that Jew and Gentile had together. God had spoken to the Jews and let them know: “I have baptized them with the Holy Spirit to show you they are mine. They are clean because I say they are clean.” That is enough for a believer. That is enough for a man who understands that he has no access to God apart from the veil of Christ’s flesh which removes the barrier of sin and condemnation between God and man for everyone who believes.
1But Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest 2and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. 3 Now as he went on his way, he approached Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. 4And falling to the ground he heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” 5And he said, “Who are you, Lord?” And he said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. 6But rise and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.” 7 The men who were traveling with him stood speechless, hearing the voice but seeing no one. 8Saul rose from the ground, and although his eyes were opened, he saw nothing. So they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus. 9And for three days he was without sight, and neither ate nor drank.
Saul of Tarsus was on his way to literally destroy the Church in Damascus. Though his mentor in the Jewish religion had been the famous Gamaliel, he did not have the wisdom of the man and was acting against something ordained of God. Saul was still breathing out threats and murder against disciples. I think you have to remember how devastating he was to the Church. Time and distance might remove us from the events but this persecution went on for some time and imagine the fear that this man would evoke in the minds of a Christian. Imagine how you would feel about a man who had taken your husband from you and thrown him into prison for believing in Christ. This Saul was bent on destroying more lives, throwing more in prison, separating more families – leaving widows and orphans in his wake.
Was Saul “seeking” Christ as we sometimes talk about? Some of us believe that the reason we believe the Gospel is because we were smart enough to go looking for God and looked in the right place. Saul, in my mind, is a dramatic example that when God comes looking for you that He will find you. Christ comes to seek and save the lost. The lost don’t know where they are and cannot find their way to God. God does not leave the lost but goes looking for them.
In Saul’s case, he was travelling to Damascus in the middle of the day and a light brighter than the sun knocked him literally off of his horse.
A voice from heaven asked him: “Saul, Saul why are you persecuting Me?”
Does anyone notice anything profound in the way that Christ called out to Saul? He said to him “Saul, Saul”. In the Hebrew, repetition is often used for emphasis as in “Holy, holy, holy” or “Amen, Amen” but repetition of a name by a Jew is meant to imply intimacy. It is meant to imply love and caring for a person. God cried out “Moses, Moses…” from the burning bush, He called out “Samuel, Samuel…” to a young prophet. When David cried over the death of his son he cried out “Absolom! Absolom!”
Before Christ was the man who has been destroying the very lives of His beloved sheep. But doesn’t 1 John 4:10 testify that the nature of Love is not that we loved God but that He loved us? Would we not all be lost if it weren’t for the initiating love, the first love that God showed us in having mercy toward us? I just marvel at the words here because I know that, in myself, Christ could have let me go to destruction to the sins and rebellion in my life but the nature of the Gospel is a God that interrupts our plans for self-destruction.
The other remarkable thing is that Christ told Saul that he was persecuting Him. He doesn’t ask why Saul was persecuting Christians because Christ so identifies with us that He considers His own person to be assaulted by those who would seek to destroy the Body of Christ.
Well, Saul may have be a fool up until then but he wasn’t stupid. He fell to his face, knowing full well he was in the presence of Someone powerful and asked: “Who are You, Lord?”
Now, imagine that you’re the man that gave approval to the death of Stephen even as he testified to seeing the risen Christ. You’ve been zealous to stop the mouths of these blasphemers – at least that’s what you think they are. Put yourself in Saul’s sandals for a moment and wonder to yourself how you would react if you heard this: “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.”
I hope that, as you have encountered the Jews throughout the Acts that have become aware of their guilt before the living God for putting the Son of God to death and for fighting against Him how much fear that would strike into the heart. If that idea doesn’t strike fear in your own heart then pray for a heart that understands the holiness and righteousness of God for as Hebrews 10 testifies: “…it is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.”
Though Saul deserved judgment and death and knew it and would testify to it throughout his Apostolic career, he did not receive what he deserved from the hand of God but, on the basis of the grace provided in the Cross, Saul was marked out by God be bear the Gospel to the Gentiles. He was commanded to go to Damascus and wait. When he got up, he was blind.
I imagine the next few days must have been sleepless. I imagine his mind must have been clouded with confusion. The man had the Scriptures memorized. He was a master of the Scriptures, a Pharisee of Pharisees, and had missed the whole point. Everything he thought he understood was now falling away as the revelation of Christ was organizing all the Scriptures to be understandable.
10Now there was a disciple at Damascus named Ananias. The Lord said to him in a vision, “Ananias.” And he said, “Here I am, Lord.” 11And the Lord said to him, “Rise and go to the street called Straight, and at the house of Judas look for a man of Tarsus named Saul, for behold, he is praying, 12and he has seen in a vision a man named Ananias come in and lay his hands on him so that he might regain his sight.” 13But Ananias answered, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to your saints at Jerusalem. 14And here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who call on your name.” 15But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel. 16For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.” 17So Ananias departed and entered the house. And laying his hands on him he said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus who appeared to you on the road by which you came has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” 18And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and he regained his sight. Then he rose and was baptized; 19and taking food, he was strengthened.
Ananias was praying and was commanded by Christ to go to a specific house and lay hands on Saul to restore his sight. I find Ananias’ answer to be a bit funny as if Christ needs us to fill in the blanks on information he lacks. But, here, I think Ananias was expressing wonderment at the command. This was Saul! Murderer! Come here to destroy us.
We may be putting on the mind of Christ as we are being transformed more and more to His image but we still lack faith.
Christ is tender in His mercy toward us and patient with us. He considers our frame. “Go!”, Christ commanded Ananias, “he is a chosen instrument of mine….”
That’s all Ananias had to hear. That’s all any of us should have to understand about men who have been chosen out of this world for belief in the Gospel. “Saul belongs to me now Ananias. I’ve called him out of this world just as I’ve called you out. Just like you, he doesn’t deserve grace but I have chosen him. Go!”
Now I don’t care how many times I’ve read this, whenever I get to this next part it always moves me. Ananias walked straight to the house where Saul was praying and expecting him.
Did you notice how Ananias speaks to Saul? Does he just say: “Saul, you deserve wrath for what you’ve done but I’m under orders.”
No. He calls Saul, the murderer, the persecutor of the Church, Brother. Brother Saul. Beautiful. That’s a man that understands the Gospel. That’s a man that understands that, before God, he’s a beggar at the foot of Cross just like a murderer is. That’s a man that doesn’t confuse his belief in the Cross as being because he was better or smarter than another man or that God only chooses the decent people in this world so you better clean up your act before you come to the Cross. No! The Cross is for the filthy to come because Christ has taken our filthy garments upon Himself on the Cross and given us spotless garments in return.
For some days he was with the disciples at Damascus. 20And immediately he proclaimed Jesus in the synagogues, saying, “He is the Son of God.” 21And all who heard him were amazed and said, “Is not this the man who made havoc in Jerusalem of those who called upon this name? And has he not come here for this purpose, to bring them bound before the chief priests?” 22But Saul increased all the more in strength, and confounded the Jews who lived in Damascus by proving that Jesus was the Christ.
23 When many days had passed, the Jews plotted to kill him, 24but their plot became known to Saul. They were watching the gates day and night in order to kill him, 25but his disciples took him by night and let him down through an opening in the wall, lowering him in a basket.
Other portions of Acts and the Epistles reveal that Saul, now an Apostle, spent 3 years in Damascus. Now, imagine the surprise of the Synagogue leadership who called for a hired gun sent with a commission from the High Priest in Jerusalem to take care of this pesky sect that is proclaiming Jesus as they see a new Saul roll into the Synagogue one day. It’s always the case of unbelievers that they seem respectable and good believers of God. They have the outward appearance and words of men that say they are seeking Truth. And so, with a smile, I imagine they welcomed Saul to the Synagogue one day wondering where he had been. I imagine they were smiling when they expected Saul to continue to breathe out the lies that the Jewish leaders had used as a way to cover their eyes from the true meaning of the Scriptures.
But their smiles turned to scowls of anger as Saul began proclaiming the Name that he had come to stamp out. I wonder if some of them thought they had been duped. They had heard stories about how this man would destroy the Church and so how can this be the same man that is proclaiming the Truth?
Now you read this account about how Saul, just like Stephen before him, and just like Peter and John, and just like Christ before them would open up the Scriptures and demonstrate that the Jewish leaders had completely missed Christ in the Scriptures. The Jews had missed Christ just as they miss Him today. You probably cannot think of how something can be so obvious and people will even admit that the Word says something but will still refuse to believe it and, yet again, plot to kill a man for continuing to point it out.
But I see it all the time. All the time. It’s never that the Scriptures aren’t plain on a subject but men and women are so comfortable with the twisted meaning of some Scriptures that they become very angry when you try to teach them the Truth. I’ve noticed that a line is crossed with some men and women. Once you’ve crossed that line of comfort where the Word demands something of them – to admit that they are sinful like you. To admit that they are not honoring God’s Word. Some men and women will call you hateful and they’ll even try to destroy you. Acts Chapter 10 is not fiction. It’s real life. I’ve never been persecuted like Paul but, I can assure you, I’ve seen what standing for the Truth of God’s Word costs.
The people of Damascus eventually plot to kill Saul and he was lowered out of the city wall and went to Jerusalem. Thou shall not kill. Right? Well, when someone is forcing upon you what God’s Word says then anything goes.
26And when he had come to Jerusalem, he attempted to join the disciples. And they were all afraid of him, for they did not believe that he was a disciple. 27But Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles and declared to them how on the road he had seen the Lord, who spoke to him, and how at Damascus he had preached boldly in the name of Jesus. 28So he went in and out among them at Jerusalem, preaching boldly in the name of the Lord. 29And he spoke and disputed against the Hellenists. But they were seeking to kill him. 30And when the brothers learned this, they brought him down to Caesarea and sent him off to Tarsus.
Remember that three years had passed but three years is nothing in the memory of some men. It was enough for Ananias to know that Saul was Christ’s but, even after 3 years, Saul found it nearly impossible to find Christians to fellowship with. This was to their discredit. He tried to explain who he was but memories of imprisonments and murders are not easily overcome. Beloved, grudges against those in the Church are wicked. Roots of bitterness will destroy you. We are commanded to forgive even as Christ has forgiven.
But Barnabas, the encourager, believed the Gospel enough for Saul to be brought to Peter and James where they extended the right hand of fellowship to him and understood that Christ had given Saul a commission. Galatians reveals he was only there for two weeks but, again, opposition to the Truth is such that Saul was a wanted man – the Jews wanted his head only after a couple of weeks of showing them that their understanding of the Scriptures was wrong. Are we to imitate Paul even as He imitates Christ? Paul commanded this of us in his Epistles. How many of us are willing to stand for what the Scriptures teach and actually tell people when they are abusing the Word of God? Or are we simply just supposed to get along with all men?
31So the church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria had peace and was being built up. And walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it multiplied.
32Now as Peter went here and there among them all, he came down also to the saints who lived at Lydda. 33There he found a man named Aeneas, bedridden for eight years, who was paralyzed. 34And Peter said to him, “Aeneas, Jesus Christ heals you; rise and make your bed.” And immediately he rose. 35 And all the residents of Lydda and Sharon saw him, and they turned to the Lord.
36Now there was in Joppa a disciple named Tabitha, which, translated, means Dorcas. She was full of good works and acts of charity. 37In those days she became ill and died, and when they had washed her, they laid her in an upper room. 38Since Lydda was near Joppa, the disciples, hearing that Peter was there, sent two men to him, urging him, “Please come to us without delay.” 39So Peter rose and went with them. And when he arrived, they took him to the upper room. All the widows stood beside him weeping and showing tunics and other garments that Dorcas made while she was with them. 40But Peter put them all outside, and knelt down and prayed; and turning to the body he said, “Tabitha, arise.” And she opened her eyes, and when she saw Peter she sat up. 41And he gave her his hand and raised her up. Then calling the saints and widows, he presented her alive. 42And it became known throughout all Joppa, and many believed in the Lord. 43And he stayed in Joppa for many days with one Simon, a tanner.
God was gracious to grant some peace to the Church but it is not long lived. I do love this story, though, of Tabitha. It says simply of her that she was full of good works and charity – known by all the Church in Joppa for her love and service to the Church. She has died and the Church is mourning for her.
Peter is in the region and disciples come quickly for him, hoping that he can do something if God be so gracious.
What a beautiful story as the widows of the town came to Peter. It doesn’t say that they said anything. They just came weeping because they loved Tabitha. They came weeping and without words showed Peter the coats that Tabitha made for them. They didn’t have to say anything. They said everything about Tabitha’s belief in the Gospel by the love and care she showed for the downtrodden. She loved and cared for those that society would normally cast out. She clothed widows and demonstrated the love of Christ that she had.
And because she honored Christ by her sacrificial service to others, the great Apostle Peter does something special. God is gracious to give her back to the Church here. Notice, though, how it says that Peter presented her to the Church.
Tabitha is honored by the Apostle as he presented Tabitha to the Church as a testimony of her love of Christ. Testimony that this was a woman who wass to be imitated even as she imitated Christ. He was pleased to return Tabitha to a Church that loved her so much for the selfless love that she showed the entire Church there.
There are a lot of different things that happened in the stories today but I do hope you at least noticed the stark contrast between light and darkness. You witnessed the hell-bent attitude of Saul as he went to murder those in the Church but then witnessed Christ knock Him off his horse to save Saul from not only harming His Church further but saving Saul eternally to be an instrument in His hands.
You witnessed Ananias struggling with Christ over laying hands on a murderer but then Christ naming Saul as His own and Ananias calling Saul “Brother.”
You witnessed Saul proclaiming words of life in Damascus and men who preferred the darkness that wanted him dead.
You witnessed Saul rejected by the disciples in Jerusalem for his former life of destruction but then the acceptance of Barnabas, Peter, and James who knew they were no better than Him and bought by a price by a Savior.
Finally, you witnessed Tabitha, taken by death who had demonstrated her hope in the Gospel by the love she poured out in service to her fellow heirs expecting nothing in return. You witnessed her triumphal presentation before the Church as they received back an honored saint.
You see Tabitha died again years later. Just like Paul did. Just like those that persecuted and hated the Gospel did. The difference at that point and what awaited them was not whether or not Truth was before them but whether or not they believed the report or hated it.
I urge you this day to believe the Gospel. If you have been hostile to it before then I pray that the scales would fall off of your eyes and that you would see Christ and Him crucified for the sins of those who believe. If you believe Christ then I urge you to draw nearer to Him and continue to cast off the prejudices and grudges that cause you to doubt portions of His Word. I urge you to consider the contempt of the world to be a small thing compared to the riches of His Gospel.
We see now the result of opposition to the Gospel. Saul, empowered by the authority of the Sanhedrin not only gives approval to the execution of Stephen who had just proclaimed the truth about the Resurrection. Saul is empowered to go throughout Jerusalem looking for believers to cast into prison.
Saul was zealous in this task, husbands taken from wives, mothers from children, men and women murdered as evidenced in Acts 9. If ever a man was to be hated in the early history of the Christian Church it would be Saul. He would be the Osama bin Laden – literally a terrorist so bent on his twisted view of who God was that he justified injustice and the taking of human life.
You might have noticed in verse 1 that many believers, except the Apostles, were scattered by this persecution throughout Judea and Samaria. This is not a mistake. It’s not an accident in God’s plan. It’s not plan B. With God there are no Plan B’s or backup plans because God knows the beginning from the end and guides everything by the invisible hand of Providence.
You see, in Chapter 1 of Acts, Christ had commanded the Apostles to wait for the Spirit but that, eventually, His Church would expand from Jerusalem to Judea and Samaria and to the outermost parts of the earth. Up to this point the Church was thousands strong but it was confined to Jerusalem. It turns out that God had a plan to expand the Church beyond the borders of Jerusalem but it’s not what we might have expected.
In fact, it is persecution that causes believers to move out from the confines of Jerusalem and the Gospel is spread with them.
There is an un-Biblical notion of what it means to be in God’s perfect will these days. When someone asks what the Will of God is, they normally think today of what kind of job should I have, should I marry this man, and those kinds of things. What they are doing, however, is trying to peer into the hidden things where God commands us not to pry. The hidden things belong to God but the revealed things to us and our children (Deut 29:29). God commands us not to marry an unbeliever but don’t expect to get divine revelation about the name of your future spouse.
You see Romans 8:28 tells us that God works all things together for the good for those that love Him and are called according to His purposes. This means that sometimes things that are worked are not very pleasant to believers: in this case persecution has been used of God to spread out the Church but who benefitted from this? Those who heard the Gospel when the disciples left Jerusalem. God does not make a wicked man sin, but our confidence is that even when the wicked hurt us that God is working even their wicked deeds to our ultimate good.
Notice, finally, that Stephen was mourned and buried by the disciples. Jewish law would have prevented them from doing so because stoned people are considered accursed. Not only does this show that the Sanhedrin had put to death a righteous man but that this ceremonial aspect of the Law no longer bound those who were in Christ. A new era had dawned.
The Gospel first expands to Samaria, which used to be the location of the Northern tribes but, following their being conquered by the Assyrians centuries earlier, they lost their tribal identities. They were despised by the Jews as sort of mongrels with a sub-standard worship that still had pagan elements in it.
Yet, Samaritans weren’t quite as bad as Gentiles. When it came to those that were considered scum by the Jew it went downhill from Samaritan to God-fearers to Gentiles at the bottom of the food chain.
The Samaritans received the Gospel in large numbers and even a magician by the name of Simon was impressed and became a disciple. Simon was apparently famous. He was so well known and respected for his power that the Samaritans called him the “the power of God that which is called Great.” In other words they were giving him worship and he was an idol to them.
We tend to wink at witchcraft and sorcery and things like palm reading and other aspects of the occult. These things are condemned in the harshest of terms in the Old Testament and Paul says that those who practice such things will not inherit eternal life.
And so it is great to read that the Samaritans turn in large numbers away from their superstitions and to the living God and salvation in Jesus Christ and even the object of their idolatry seems to be willing to die of himself and become a disciple of Christ. Acts says he believes and becomes a disciple.
But there is something suspicious about the way he is following. Luke notes that Simon follows Philip around and is amazed by his power.
Simon’s motives seem to become clearer when the Apostles Peter and John come to lay hands on the Samaritans. Let me get back to that in a minute.
What is extremely important for you to understand first is why Peter and John came here to perform this act. What occurs is that Peter and John lay hands on the Samaritan converts and the Holy Spirit comes upon them in power.
This happens in a few places in Acts and there has been some improper teaching on the meaning of this event from Pentecostals that insist there are two classes of Christians: those who have the baptism of the Holy Spirit and those who do not. The problem with the Pentecostal view is that the Acts gives its own interpretation to the event and you’ll see this in Acts 10 when Peter is challenged about visiting the House of Cornelius.
In effect, what is happening here is that the boundary markers for God’s Covenant people are being expanded. In the Old Covenant, God placed His favor on a particular people and, if you did not live among or identify with this national people, you were not of the people of God. But, in the New Covenant, the Gospel is expanding outward and the boundary markers are being expanded. No longer will the Samaritan be another variety of scum. Now, there is no longer Jew nor Samaritan among God’s Covenant people. And how does the Church recognize this? Because the Holy Spirit had come upon them in power just like it did for the Jewish disciples. Do you understand? The laying on of hands and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit is not an individual thing in the Acts but a corporate event. Entire people groups receive the Spirit to show that God now includes all people groups in His Covenant people.
Well, let’s get back to Simon then. Remember Simon is following this Philip around because he’s amazed at his power. Simon was powerful after all but the miracles that Philip could perform made him realize that he better hang it up. But then Peter and John roll into town and he witnesses them lay hands upon people and they receive the Spirit with power and now his true colors seem to emerge.
That’s the power that Simon wants and so he does what a man who is seeking power in that time would naturally do. He asked if he could buy that power from Peter and John. In fact, because of this verse, whenever someone purchases a religious office it is still called simony to this day in reference to this event.
But Peter rebukes Simon in the harshest of terms telling him that his attitude reveals that he is far from the Kingdom of God. I wish that the false teachers on the Trinity Broadcast Network or other prominent Church leaders that teach that the Gospel is about prosperity would read this passage and have their eyes opened to the dreadful warning that Peter gives to Simon.
The Gospel is not about us receiving power. The Gospel is not about us being exulted. The Gospel is not about us receiving riches or wealth. The Gospel isn’t about us receiving adoration for the great things we can command or how we can pack out a stadium and overawe with our power. This is the way of the world. This is idolatry.
The Way of the Cross is humiliation. It is being made aware of our sin before a Holy God and His power to make our hearts alive to run to the Cross and cling with all our might like beggars. Beggars are what we are before God. We bring nothing to Him and get no glory for our salvation. The riches we inherit are the inheritance of Salvation and eternal life. Our citizenship is with another country and not becoming in love with the country and possessions that we have now.
Simon repented in tears to Peter and John. It is my prayer that his repentance was born of genuine faith. Even sinners like Simon can be saved by the power of Christ.
Some time later, we’re not sure when, Philip is commanded to take a southern path from Jerusalem to Gaza. Did you notice how it said: “This is a desert place?” It’s not the smartest path to be taken but Philip obeys.
Do you remember what I talked about God working all things together for the good? Anyone who has walked in the desert knows it’s miserable but Philip just so happens to encounter a Eunuch who just so happens to be taking that path and just so happens to be reading Isaiah 53!
Do you ever just stop and marvel that God saved you? Do you ever just stop and marvel that one day you were doing something else and, out of the blue, the Gospel found you? Do you ever just stop to praise God that His Gospel saved you even though you know very well He could have saved someone much nicer, much smarter, and much better than you?
This Eunuch was reading out loud and, of course, Philip recognizes this passage. There is more to this. It is the prophecy of Isaiah about the Christ. It is not about how Christ came as a powerful man. It is not how Christ was adored for His power the same way we just saw Simon desiring. It is about Christ, who deserved service, who deserved adoration, became a sacrifice and underwent the worst kind of humiliation, scorn, and agony for those of us who deserve that from Almighty God:
Let us meditate as we too consider again what was read and explained to the Eunuch:
7He was oppressed, and he was afflicted,
yet he opened not his mouth;
like a lamb that is led to the slaughter,
and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent,
so he opened not his mouth.
8By oppression and judgment he was taken away;
and as for his generation, who considered
that he was cut off out of the land of the living,
stricken for the transgression of my people?
9And they made his grave with the wicked
and with a rich man in his death,
although he had done no violence,
and there was no deceit in his mouth.
10Yet it was the will of the LORD to crush him;
he has put him to grief;
when his soul makes an offering for guilt,
he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days;
the will of the LORD shall prosper in his hand.
11Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied;by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant,
make many to be accounted righteous,
and he shall bear their iniquities.
“Do you understand what you are reading?” asked Philip.
“How can I unless someone explains it to me?” invited the Eunuch.
Oh, how my heart just beats with excitement as I think about this. The Eunuch was searching for Truth in the Scriptures and here now was a Preacher with Good News! Not with promise of Power but with news of a Savior. He told Him of Jesus Christ, the Word who became flesh. He told him of a life lived in poverty and no place to call home, no place to lay his head. Despised and rejected even by his home town and family. He told him of Christ being nailed to a Cross and becoming a Curse for us. So humiliated was He that only one disciple and some women dared to be near Him at His death. So afflicted for our sins that He cried out in agony: “My God, My God Why Have you forsaken Me?!”
And such a perfect Savior that when He cried “It is Finished!” that He had once and for all paid the debt for sin. He had once and for all taken away the wrath of God for all who believe. He told of the Son of God who rose again in Power to secure our Eternal life and the promise of resurrection for us all to live with Him. He told of His ascension into heaven where He lives to intercede for all who believe.
The Ethiopian’s heart must have been pounding out of his chest at this point. Can this be for me? Can I believe and be saved? What is that? In the middle of the desert they happened to come upon water!
I don’t think the text expresses the pleading of the Eunuch. “Look, water, is there anything preventing me from being baptized? I believe this report. I want to cling to this News. I want to become a disciple of Jesus Christ. Is there anything preventing me?”
This man is a Eunuch. If Philip was a representative of the Law then the Eunuch would have no part of this because the Law barred Eunuchs from the people of God.
But Christ had torn down those barriers and Philip was a bearer of the Gospel that allowed the unclean to come near!
No! Nothing prevented him! He was baptized and went away rejoicing. And why not rejoice? He was lost and now was found. He was blind and could now see. He was in the middle of a desert and God had found Him and sent His Gospel to save Him.
Beloved, the Gospel has come to you this day. God has given you much grace that you hear it today again as you have heard it before. Have you believed it? Be amazed again at the grace of God toward you that you would believe upon Jesus Christ for the salvation of your souls. Believe and be saved.