Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Making sense of the Book of Acts - 6

During the first half of Acts, Peter, the minister to the circumcision, is mentioned 67 times.  In the last half, Peter is never mentioned after Acts 15:13 and Paul (as Paul) is mentioned 132 time, beginning with Acts 13:9.  In all the messages of Paul, from Acts 9:14 to 2 Timothy 4:22, he uses the first person pronoun in speaking of himself more than 1200 times.  Acts closes in the middle of Paul's Epistles.  Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, 1 Timothy, Titus, Philemon and 2 Timothy were all written after Acts closes.

There is not a single word in the first nine chapters of Acts that "Peter and the eleven" preached justification by faith alone, the gospel of the grace of God, the ministry of reconciliation; or that they urged the Jews, to whom they preached, to forsake Moses, give up circumcision, or to abandon their hope of the Messianic kingdom.  Of course there was the element of grace in their messages of repentance and restitution, but they preached to Israel only the gospel of the earthly kingdom and of circumcision (Gal 2:7-9).  They preached to Cornelius the word that God sent to Israel (Acts 10:34-43).  Paul, on the other hand, preached to Gentiles the gospel for the uncircumcision.  This was not preached to Israel.  God preached the gospel (good news) to Abram in uncircumcision, when he was 75 years old.  Abram was circumcised when he was 99 years old (Gen 17:3-20).  From that day until when Cornelius was saved, all blessings were on the grounds of circumcision.

All of this is further evidence that the Book of Acts is principally the record of the fall of Israel, not "the story of early-day Christianity."

Thursday, April 25, 2013

He Giveth More Grace

To my fellow choir member, Joy Gabelec, who is currently in hospice, this song is especially for you.  Never doubt for a moment that you are missed and loved, and that we're all praying for you.
He giveth more grace when the burdens grow greater,
He sendeth more strength when the labors increase;
To added affliction He addeth His mercy,
To multiplied trials, His multiplied peace.

His love has no limit; His grace has no measure,
His power has no boundary known unto men;
For out of His infinite riches in Jesus
He giveth and giveth and giveth again.
When we have exhausted our store of endurance,
When our strength has failed ere the day is half done,
When we reach the end of our hoarded resources,
Our father’s full giving is only begun.
His love has no limit; His grace has no measure,
His power has no boundary known unto men;
For out of His infinite riches in Jesus
He giveth and giveth and giveth again.
Words by Annie Johnson Flint


Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Making sense of the Book of Acts - 5

So many seeming Scriptural paradoxes can be solved by simply observing progressive revelation.  Not doing so is the most frequent error I see. 

For example, many people seem to forget that when Jesus Christ walked the earth, people were still under the Law.  Because of this, they try to apply such verses as "For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses" (Matt 6:14-15) directly to themselves.  How do they reconcile this with Ephesians 2:8-9?  Progressive revelation must be taken into account, not only in the Gospels but in the Book of Acts as well.

The Law, of course, was given to show us what sin is, that we are sinful and can't keep from sinning, and that we therefore need a Savior (Rom 3:19-20; 7:7, 12; Gal 3:24; 1 Tim 1:9).  In a word, the Law condemns us (Rom 4:15; 5:13; 7:14; Gal 3:10; Jas 2:10).

Galatians 4:4, Matthew 23:1-3 and 28:20 tell us that our Lord Himself was born under the law of Moses and taught His disciples complete subjection to it.  Therefore, in obedience to His instructions, the twelve taught their hearers subjection to Moses' law and set the example themselves.

In the early chapters of Acts we see that the believers practically lived in the temple.  In Acts 2:46 we find them "attending the temple together."  See also Acts 3:1, 3, 8, 11; 5:20-21, 25, 42.  In the last of these verse we read that "every day, in the temple and from house to house, they did not cease teaching and preaching that the Christ is Jesus."

As pointed out before, at the council at Jerusalem it was agreed only that the Gentile believers were not to be subjected to the law of Moses.  The status of the Jews was not even discussed.  They had, until that very time, remained under the law, and they assumed that they were to continue to do so.  God had not yet given the twelve any revelation delivering believing Jews from the law (Acts 15:1, 19, 21; Gal 2:3, 7, 9).

In Acts 21:20-25, we are specifically informed that the Jews which believed remained "zealous for the law."

We are also told in Acts 22:12 that Ananias, the person who baptized Paul, was "a devout man according to the law, well spoken of by all the Jews who lived there."

Not until the Apostle Paul comes on the scene do we hear any such declaration as, "BUT NOW the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law" (Rom 3:21), or "through this man forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you, and by him everyone who believes is freed from everything from which you could not be freed by the law of Moses" (Acts 13:38-39).

Sunday, April 21, 2013

A Sinner Saved By Grace

If you could see what I once was
If you could go with me
Back to where I started from
Then I know you would see
A miracle of love that took me

In it's sweet embrace
And made me what I am today
Just an old sinner saved by grace.

I'm just a sinner saved by grace.
When I stood condemned to death
He took my place.
Now I live and breathe in freedom

With each breath of life I take.
Loved and forgiven
Back with the living
I'm just a sinner saved by grace.

How could I boast of anything

I've ever seen or done?
How could I dare to claim as mine

The vict'ries God has won?
Where would I be had God not brought me

Gently to this place?
I'm here to say I'm nothing but

A sinner saved by grace.

I'm just a sinner saved by grace.
When I stood condemned to death
He took my place.
Now I live and breathe in freedom

With each breath of life I take.
Loved and forgiven
Back with the living
I'm just a sinner saved by grace.

By Mitch Humphries and William and Gloria Gaither


Saturday, April 20, 2013

Shadow of Death

Lou Nicholes (missionary/author) remembers hearing Dr. Donald Grey Barnhouse, pastor of the Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia, relate about his first wife’s death. He, with his children, had been to the funeral service, and as he was driving home, Dr. Barnhouse said that he was trying to think of some words of comfort that he could give them. Just then a huge moving van passed them. As it passed, the shadow of the truck swept over the car, and as the truck pulled out in front of them, an inspiration came to Dr. Barnhouse. He said, “Children, would you rather be run over by a truck, or by its shadow?” The children said, “Well, of course Dad, we’d much rather be run over by the shadow! That can’t hurt us at all.” Dr. Barnhouse said, “Did you know that two thousand years ago the truck of death ran over the Lord Jesus in order that only its shadow might run over us?”

When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: “Death is swallowed up in victory.” “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain (1 Cor 15:54-58).

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Making sense of the Book of Acts - 4

Aside for the statement "Peter, standing with the eleven" in Acts 2:14, only three of the apostles are mentioned by name from the day of Pentecost through the end of the Book of Acts (except ten words concerning the death of James, the brother of John, in Acts 12:2).  The three apostles mentioned are Peter, John and James.  In Galatians 2:7-9 these three are referred to as "pillars."  After the council at Jerusalem (Acts 15:1-19), there is only one short reference made to one of these men — James — when Paul visited Jerusalem (Acts 21:18-28).

If we study the ministry of Peter, James and John in Acts in light of Galatians 2:7-9, we will see that they agreed to go to the circumcision and Paul to the uncircumcision.  Why?  These verses seem pretty clear.

But on the contrary, when they saw that the gospel for the uncircumcised had been committed to me, as the gospel for the circumcised was to Peter (for He who worked effectively in Peter for the apostleship to the circumcised also worked effectively in me toward the Gentiles), and when James, Cephas, and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that had been given to me, they gave me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship, that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised (Gal 2:7-9).

All of the apostles mentioned in Acts proclaimed that "the Christ is Jesus" and that He had died and risen again, but the earthly kingdom was also being offered to Israel during this time — commonly called the "transitional period" (Acts 3:17-21).  And remember, too, at the council at Jerusalem it was agreed only that the Gentile believers were not to be subjected to the law of Moses. The status of the Jews was not even discussed.  It is evident that they had remained under the law up to that point, and it seems that they assumed they were to continue to do so.  God had not yet given the twelve apostles any revelation delivering believing Jews from the law.  See also later in Acts 21:20 that the Jews which believed remained "zealous of the law."

The ministry of the twelve apostles in Acts was, in fact, a ministry of confirmation, witnessed by signs and miracles (Heb 2:2-4). The messages they proclaimed were concerning events foretold by Israel's prophets (Acts 1:16-20; 2:16, 25, 30-31; 3:22-24; 4:11, 25-26; 7:1-50; 8:32-33; 10:43; 15:13-18). I believe that all of this should be studied in light of Colossians 1:24-28 and Ephesians 3:6-9 where Paul plainly says that "the mystery hidden for ages and generations" which he preached — the strange blessing of Gentiles in the Body of Christ — was unknown to Israel's prophets.  (See also Rom 2:16; 16:25; 2 Tim 2:8 regarding "my gospel.") 

One last note:  Wouldn't it make sense to use Acts 15:19-20, and Acts 21:18-25, and Galatians 2:3, 7-9 as the key to understanding James' Epistle "to the twelve tribes in the Dispersion" as well?

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Making sense of the Book of Acts - 3

One thousand years before Christ came to earth, the Holy Spirit prophesied that a successor would be chosen to take the place of Judas, who would lose his apostleship (Acts 1:16-30, cf. Ps 69:25; 109:6-8). That successor had to be a fellow-companion of the eleven apostles and Jesus of Nazareth (Acts 1:21-22).  These requirements made Saul of Tarsus ineligible to succeed Judas, which disproves the claim of some that Paul succeeded Judas as one of the twelve.

Although the resurrected Christ gave his commission to the eleven, He required twelve men for the ministry and message to all the "men of Israel," on the day of Pentecost (Matt 19:28; 28:19-20; Mk 16:14; Lk 22:30; Acts 1:8; 2:22).  To me, the fact that the Holy Spirit came upon them immediately afterwards, is proof of God's approval of the selection of Matthias.

Notice also that at Pentecost, after the Holy Spirit was poured out, the people obeyed the Sermon on the Mount as well as other commands referred to in Matthew 19:20-28 (cf. Mk 10:21; Lk 12:33; 18:22; Ezk 36:27).  They sold their assets and turned the proceeds over for the common good.

And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need (Acts 2:44-45).

Now the full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common. And with great power the apostles were giving their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. There was not a needy person among them, for as many as were owners of lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold and laid it at the apostles' feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need (Acts 4:32-35). 

The twelve apostles also obeyed Matthew 10:9-10, carrying "no silver and gold" (Acts 3:6, cf. Matt 19:27-28).  Certainly this was a foretaste of the earthly kingdom of Christ (Heb 6:5), the "times of refreshing" referred to in Acts 3:19-21.  This is not, however, the order for the Church — the Body of Christ — today.*

*See "Sell Everything" posted September 25, 2011.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Making sense of the Book of Acts - 2

The last words of Luke's Gospel concerning the twelve apostles are:  "And they worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and were continually in the temple blessing God" (Lk 24:52-53).  In Acts 5:42 it is recorded concerning them that "every day, in the temple and from house to house, they did not cease teaching and preaching that the Christ is Jesus."  Acts 8:1 tells us that when a great persecution arose against the church in Jerusalem and many were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, the apostles remained in Jerusalem.

It is also interesting to note that Jerusalem is mentioned 60 times in Acts from Acts 1:4 to Acts 28:17, and that the temple is mentioned 24 times in Acts.  Jerusalem continued to be the headquarters for the twelve apostles throughout the Book of Acts, and so far as the Acts record is concerned, not one of them preached the gospel outside of Israel's land.

Despite the judgment of Christ, pronounced against the temple and Jerusalem (Matt 23:31-39), Israel never received greater favor from Rome than they did during the period covered by the Book of Acts.  During this time the temple continued to stand and both believing and unbelieving Jews had access to it.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Salvation and good works

Many people think that salvation is God’s reward to those who do their best to live good lives. But this isn't true because God’s Word says of those who are saved:

...who saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began (2 Tim 1:9).

Referring to this "salvation that is in Christ Jesus," Paul says:

If we have died with him, we will also live with him (2 Tim 2:10-11).

In other words, we have died with Christ.  It was not Christ’s death.  He was no sinner.  He had no death to die.  He was dying our death!  By faith we have been "crucified with Christ" (Gal 2:20). The penalty for all our sins have been fully paid because we have died in Christ AND have risen with Christ to "walk in newness of life" (Rom 6:3-5).

This is all God’s doing.  Only now are we in a position to do good works that will please Him (Rom 6:6-11).  Paul also writes in 2 Tim 2:12:  "if we endure, we will also reign with him; if we deny him, he also will deny us."  When our service for Christ is reviewed, some of us "will receive a reward," but others "will suffer loss," though they themselves "will be saved, but only as through fire" (1 Cor 3:14-15).

It will be deeply embarrassing for unfaithful believers to face empty-handed the One who gave His all — Himself — to save them. Yet salvation is by grace, so Paul is quick to conclude with these words:  "if we are faithless, he remains faithful—for he cannot deny himself (2 Tim 2:13).

So you see, our rewards depend upon our faithfulness, but our salvation (praise the Lord!) depends upon His.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Making sense of the Book of Acts - 1

Our small group Bible study has been going through the Book of Acts.  We're nearing the end now, and there are several observations I would like to make.  It seems to me that if there was a better understanding of this book, there wouldn't be so much confusion in the Church today.

The Book of Acts was written by Luke, the beloved physician.*  He must have joined Paul when he received the call to Macedonia because Luke uses "we" for the first time in Acts 16:10.  Luke was sailing to Rome with Paul when the ship broke apart and the passengers and crew reached land on pieces of broken vessel (Acts 27:39-44 through Acts 28:1-2).  Among the last written words of Paul are these: "Luke alone is with me" (2 Tim 4:11).  This gives us some idea of the unwavering faith and fortitude of this beloved companion of Paul.

*"Luke, the 'beloved physican' (Col 4:14), close friend and companion of Paul, was probably the only Gentile author of any part of the New Testament. We know nothing about his early life or conversion except that he was not an eyewitness of the life of Jesus Christ (Lk 1:2).  Though a physician by profession, he was primarily an evangelist, writing his gospel and the book of Acts and accompanying Paul in missionary work.  He was with Paul at the time of the apostle's martyrdom (2 Tim 4:11), but of his later life we have no certain facts." (Ryrie)