The first time we heard the name Saul was the last scripture in Acts 7 where his name is referred to as one of those present when Stephen is martyred. Then, the beginning of chapter 8 where it says Saul was not just present but consented of Stephen's death and then went forth and made havoc of the church, going from house to house dragging men and women to prison. He was the leader of the great persecution that caused the scattering of the church throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria. Here in chapter 9, the focus is primarily on the transformation of Saul the Terrorizer to Paul the Apostle.
Saul was born in Tarsus, modern-day Turkey, but he was raised in the strict order of Hebraic Judaism, similar to Hasidic Jews in New York City. He was taught by a well known Pharisee named Gamaliel in the strictness of the law and was zealous towards God. Paul was a fanatic Pharisee and believed one must become a jew and obey the law to be accepted by God. So with his understanding, those of the WAY was teaching heresy, therefore were enemies of God and it was his duty to silence them.
As Saul journeyed to Damascus suddenly a great light brighter than the noonday Sun shone on him and he fell from his horse and he heard a voice say to him, "Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me."
We see here that there is no brighter light than that of Jesus Christ and that He knows us by name and wants to speak to us personally. It doesn't matter how deep of darkness someone is in even those in religious deception the Lord is able to open blind eyes. Our righteousness is as filthy rags even what we do in the name of God is wicked if we don't do it in the power of the person of God.
Today, it is being reported that Saul like encounters are being experienced by the thousands, especially in the Middle East amongst Muslims, even former terrorists, who are coming out of the darkness and into the light. Turning from persecuting Christians to preaching Jesus Christ.
Saul responds to God speaking to him by asking, "Lord, what do You want me to do?" This is the key to receiving guidance from the Lord, not just telling God what we want Him to do, but asking Him what He wants us to do? Our American independence is something we celebrate but it can also be what hinders our faith. Prayer should be much more about listening than speaking. Faith is an action word so prayer should lead to work more than just dumping our problems on God.
Saul was told to go to the city and that is what he did, being still blind he was led by his companions by hand. Instead of Saul going to Damascus as a captain of soldiers to imprison Christians, he is led to Damascus as a prisoner of the Lord. Paul was blinded for three days just as Jesus was in the grave for three days, that is why Paul is able to write, "I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me." (Gal. 2:20)
How was Saul going to be accepted by the church considering his history? Well, first of all, the Lord revealed to his disciple Ananias by a vision that he was to meet Saul at a street called Straight, and likewise, Saul had the vision that he would meet Ananias who would help him see. Ananias knew about Saul and questioned what he saw but the Lord told him to go.
The street called Straight was significant. The only way we can walk right (straight) with God is through step by step obedience to His voice. We see that Saul was not just healed physically but was filled with the Spirit. The spiritual is more important than the physical, healing is not enough, transformation takes a spiritual awakening. We should use opportunities to pray for healing to also open ones spiritual eyes as well. Our goal should always be to lead people from the wide path of destruction to the narrow road of walking in obedience.
Here in Acts 6, we have our first cultural conflict with the early church. The Greek-speaking Jews felt their needs were being ignored by the Hebrew speaking Jews. Two different cultures often don't mix much and sometimes the issue isn't a blatant disregard of the other it is just done through ignorance. The dispersed older Jewish widows, who were mainly in Greek-speaking territories, would often return to Jerusalem so they would die in the holy city and not in a foreign land. So here it was all the early believers were taking care of each other but there was a food distribution issue with the Hellenist widows.
The Hebrew Jews only knew the needs of the people they were accustomed too for the Greek Jews often live in different neighborhoods. Just like in New York City you have people from the Caribbean living in Brooklyn but Jamaicans will live in one area while Dominicans will live in another.
So things got heated and the Apostles reasoned together how to deal with the matter. They knew their primary purpose was to teach the Word of God so they needed to devote themselves to that and appoint what they would call deacons which means servant to help the widows.
So deacons were the first appointed service role in the early church outside of the Apostles. The qualification of being a deacon was, they were greatly respected, full of the Holy Spirit and had wisdom. Today deacons are often chosen because they make themselves available and are willing to do the physical work around the facility where they fellowship. The qualifications of Elders and Deacons as described in Timothy and Titus are very similar. So the church overall today has gotten the role of Deacon wrong.
The Deacons chosen first of all were fellow Hellenists so they could identify with the needs of those they were serving. Secondly, while they may not be teaching as often as the Apostles, they still needed to be filled with the Holy Spirit and walk in wisdom. That means they needed to be ready to do power ministry and give counsel.
The Apostles at this time were the ones who had been with Jesus the longest so they had a special grace regarding teaching but the appointed Deacons who were younger in the faith still had Jesus through the Holy Spirit and they were not to limit what God could do through them.
These seven men that were chosen had hands laid on them, how often do we lay hands on deacons that they would be empowered spiritually to serve in their role. Too often only a select few are expected to be the ones walking in God's power. But, the bible says "these signs will follow those who believe......," it doesn't say, Apostles, Evangelists, Prophets, no, it says those who believe.
Deacons are closely involved with people they see the needs often before the Apostles they are not to drag a person to an Apostle to meet their need, no they are called to meet the needs of others through the power of the Holy Spirit themselves.
This early church dilemma was solved and it says many more jews believed as well as priests. These issues can halt the move of God, leaders need to quickly seek the Lord how to resolve it so that Kingdom growth doesn't stop.
The challenge: If you have limited how the Lord can use you because you have not been given a significant role such as an Elder or Pastor, repent! Then receive or re-receive the infilling of the Holy Spirit for it is for all who believe.
As we see at the end of this chapter and into chapter seven the Lord uses the deacon Stephen just like He was using the Apostles to do mighty wonders. Initially, it was the Apostles because of their extensive time spent with Jesus they had great faith but it wasn't long before faith increased in the early believers and they began to do the same works.
Acts 7 is a continuation of Acts 6 the focus being now entirely on the deacon Stephen. The leadership of the early church was no longer just designated to the Hebrew Apostles but now the Hellenistic Jews where seven deacons were appointed and out of those seven, Stephen stood out as it says in Acts 6:5 that he was "a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit." His measure of grace was further along than the other deacons at this point and therefore the one whom the Lord used in tremendous ways.
Hellenistic Jews were raised in the Greek culture and were typically more intelligent than the Hebrews and therefore able to debate and possibly lead the high-class Jews to accept the Gospel message. Peter and John were let go but these religious elites had to do everything in their power to stop Stephen for their livelihood was being threatened as the crowds continued to grow becoming more and more diverse.
In Acts 6:8 it says "Stephen, full of grace and power, was performing great wonders and signs among the people." So we see here again the work of deacons is not just to do manual labor. We are all vessels of the Holy Spirit and capable of releasing miracles, all it takes is faith. It then says in the following verses that Stephen was approached by unbelieving Hellenistic Jews from the synagogue of the Freedmen. They tried to debate with him as those from the Greek culture often do but since they were outwitted they responded by spreading lies that Stephen was speaking blasphemous words against Moses and YHWH. The shakeup was now way beyond just the performance of miracles it was beginning to win over the sophisticated Hellenists. So they persuaded men to be false witnesses and to approach the high priest so that Stephen could be silenced.
Every attempt of the enemy to silence His church is an opportunity to spread the Lord's message to even a wider audience. We are not to back off but rather, seize the moment, not trying to defend ourselves but just simply speak the Words of Truth as Holy Spirit gives utterance.
Stephen shining with the face like an angel does exactly that in Acts 7. See the High Priests twisted and deceived believed that YHWH was only for the Jews and that the temple was the only place where one could hear from YHWH. The only way Gentiles could worship YHWH was by becoming Jewish proselytes, which meant they had to repudiate their native culture and practice the Jewish rituals including being circumcised.
Stephen answers the High Priest revealing through the History of the Jews the real truth to counter these lies. He reminds them that YHWH spoke to Abraham in a far off country. He revealed how YHWH was with him in the land of the Chaldeans and gave him the covenant of circumcision. Also, the Lord was with Joseph while in Egypt, and Moses from a burning bush on Mt. Sinai received a message from the Lord to deliver the children of Israel from Egypt through His help. He told him to remove his sandals for he was walking on holy ground.
He reminds them that offerings and sacrifices were given in the wilderness to the Lord. David asked that He could build a house for the Lord and his son Solomon was given the favor to do so. Stephen declared that YHWH does not dwell in man-made structures quoting Isaiah 66:1-2 "Heaven is My throne, and earth is my footstool."
He is saying to these leaders who do you think you are? How can you box YHWH into a designated place? He is the Lord of the universe! He is not just the God of the Jews limited to the temple in Jerusalem.
Stephen now takes it further and calls them "stiff-necked people with uncircumcised hearts and ears!" Those responsible for persecuting and killing the prophets who had announced the coming Righteous one! Hearing this, they forgot all about Roman law and took matters in their own hands unlike what they did with Jesus. Stephen kept his eyes on heaven and said to his murderers "Look! I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing on the right hand of YHWH!" They responded by covering their ears and rushing towards him, throwing him out of the city and stoning him, and like Jesus, he said "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit!" and "do not charge them with this sin!"
We learn here how to deal with persecution; we are to keep our eyes on Jesus, hopefully revealing Him to those who are against us, while holding no evil in our heart against them.
Martyrdom often leads to a greater move of the Holy Spirit. In Acts 1:8 it says that the Holy Spirit was given for the purpose of the church to be empowered as witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and the ends of the earth. So far it was limited to Jerusalem, Judea, but after the death of Stephen, we are going to see in Acts 8, Saul was later known as Paul the Apostle to the Gentiles comes on the scene and the first evangelist also a deacon Philip was sent out by the Holy Spirit to Samaria and then supernaturally to spread the witness of Christ to an Ethiopian Eunuch.
The charge is to not limit our Christian service to a place or a certain group of people. Let's repent for our lack of witness and fear of persecution and ask Holy Spirit to take us to whom He desires; going wherever He wants us to go, doing whatever He wants us to do.
Sunday January 27
The Real versus the Fake - Acts 5
There was a story that I heard about several men who were standing around in the locker room of a local gym. A cell phone that was laying on one of the benches started ringing. A man picked it up and since the phone was on speaker mode, the rest of the men could hear the entire conversation, which sounded like this: "Hello?
"Honey, It's me. I stopped by the real estate agent this morning and asked about that house we had looked at last year. Remember? The one with beachfront property?"
“Uh-huh.” “Remember, it was the one with the Jacuzzi and the really nice deck?”
“Yeah” “Well I know you said it was out of our price range, but they just dropped the price and now they’re only asking $950,000. I was going to give them a check for $10,000 as a down payment"
“Okay." "Really? Thanks so much Honey! I'll see you later! I love you!!!" "OK Bye." The man hangs up, holds the phone up in the air and asks: "DOES ANYONE KNOW WHO THIS PHONE BELONGS TO?"
Speaking of real estate transactions:
At the end of Acts chapter 4, in verses 36 and 37 we saw this:
And Joses, who was also named Barnabas by the apostles (which is translated Son of Encouragement), a Levite of the country of Cyprus, 37 having land, sold it, and brought the money and laid it at the apostles’ feet.”
Why did I want to go back and remind you of that? Because it’s only when we remember the context of those verses that we can make sense of what happens next, as chapter 5 begins:
But a man named Ananias, with his wife Sapphira, sold a piece of property, 2 and kept back some of the price for himself, with his wife’s full knowledge, and bringing a portion of it, he laid it at the apostles’ feet. 3 But Peter said, “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back some of the price of the land? 4 While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not under your control? Why is it that you have conceived this deed in your heart? You have not lied to men but to God.” 5 And as he heard these words, Ananias fell down and breathed his last; and great fear came over all who heard of it. 6 The young men got up and covered him up, and after carrying him out, they buried him.
7 Now there elapsed an interval of about three hours, and his wife came in, not knowing what had happened. 8 And Peter responded to her, “Tell me whether you sold the land for such and such a price?” And she said, “Yes, that was the price.” 9 Then Peter said to her, “Why is it that you have agreed together to put the Spirit of the Lord to the test? Behold, the feet of those who have buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out as well.” 10 And immediately she fell at his feet and breathed her last, and the young men came in and found her dead, and they carried her out and buried her beside her husband.
MAN, that sounds HARSH, doesn’t it?
But from the standpoint of Peter and the other Apostles, this fraud that Ananias and Sapphira just tried to commit was a serious offense!
And it wasn’t just the church leadership who had a problem with the deceitfulness of this couple, the Holy Spirit was clearly grieved about it too! Peter would have never even known what Ananias and Sapphira had done unless the Holy Spirit had revealed it to him.
So what’s the big problem here? I would like to point out to you that the difference between what Barnabas did at the end of chapter 4 and what this couple was attempting to do here at the start of chapter 5 is that one was showing real commitment and the other was showing fake commitment.
Barnabas said, “Here’s all of the money from the sale of my land.”
Ananias and Sapphira said, “Here’s all of the money from the sale of our land.”
It was the same statement, but in one case it was true, and in the other case it was false.
Consider this: God was moving powerfully in the early church, and one sure way to slow down a move of God is to start passing off fake commitment as real commitment.
And the Holy Spirit wasn’t going to allow that.
Notice that there was an even GREATER release of the Spirit’s power that fell upon the church as a result of witnessing God’s judgment;
11 And great fear came over the whole church, and over all who heard of these things.
12 At the hands of the apostles many signs and wonders were taking place among the people; and they were all with one accord in Solomon’s portico. 13 But none of the rest dared to associate with them; however, the people held them in high esteem. 14 And all the more believers in the Lord, multitudes of men and women, were constantly added to their number, 15 to such an extent that they even carried the sick out into the streets and laid them on cots and pallets, so that when Peter came by at least his shadow might fall on any one of them. 16 Also the people from the cities in the vicinity of Jerusalem were coming together, bringing people who were sick or afflicted with unclean spirits, and they were all being healed.
Signs and wonders, people getting healed by Peter’s shadow, healing and deliverance - As a result of what happened to Ananias and Sapphira, a holy fear of the Lord was released among the believers, a renewed reverence and a passion to walk in true holiness and true commitment. Ain’t nobody got time for that fake stuff!
The renewed commitment of these believers was causing an increase in the outpouring of God’s power! People were traveling from near and far to Jerusalem just to see what was going on!
You see, real commitment makes a real difference.
Great moves of God are found only when people are truly committed to the work of God.
Is there a cost of Commitment? Yes there definitely is.
In fact, the price of commitment is often very high – that’s why so few people are willing to pay it. And that’s why so few reap the benefits of commitment.
But look at what happens next when the apostles are asked to pay a high price for their commitment:
17 But the high priest rose up, along with all his associates (that is the sect of the Sadducees), and they were filled with jealousy. 18 They laid hands on the apostles and put them in a public jail. 19 But during the night an angel of the Lord opened the gates of the prison, and taking them out he said, 20 “Go, stand and speak to the people in the temple the whole message of this Life.” 21 Upon hearing this, they entered into the temple about daybreak and began to teach.
Just like many of our fellow believers in persecuted countries today, the apostles were arrested for the simple act of preaching the gospel. But once again, their commitment is a trigger for a mighty move of the Holy Spirit to set them free miraculously. And so they go right back to preaching. And this really freaks the temple leaders out!
Now when the high priest and his associates came, they called the Council together, even all the Senate of the sons of Israel, and sent orders to the prison house for them to be brought. 22 But the officers who came did not find them in the prison; and they returned and reported back, 23 saying, “We found the prison house locked quite securely and the guards standing at the doors; but when we had opened up, we found no one inside.” 24 Now when the captain of the temple guard and the chief priests heard these words, they were greatly perplexed about them as to what would come of this. 25 But someone came and reported to them, “The men whom you put in prison are standing in the temple and teaching the people!” 26 Then the captain went along with the officers and proceeded to bring them back without violence (for they were afraid of the people, that they might be stoned).
Isn’t that just fantastic! “Guards, bring those men here from the jail that we arrested for preaching in the temple.” “They’re not in their jail cells!” “Where are they?” “They’re back in the temple, preaching!”
27 When they had brought them, they stood them before the Council. The high priest questioned them, 28 saying, “We gave you strict orders not to continue teaching in this name, and yet, you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and intend to bring this man’s blood upon us.” 29 But Peter and the apostles answered, “We must obey God rather than men. 30 The God of our fathers raised up Jesus, whom you had put to death by hanging Him on a cross. 31 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. 32 And we are witnesses of these things; and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey Him.”
When you are moving in true commitment to the cause of Christ, you don’t have to be afraid of anyone!
Let’s summarize several of Peter’s answers this way:
“We ordered you not to preach!” “I take my orders from someone higher than you.”
“You’re blaming us for Jesus’ death!” “That’s because you killed him.”
Of course these answers don’t go over real well with the leaders, until one reasonable old man speaks up:
33 But when they heard this, they were cut to the quick and intended to kill them. 34 But a Pharisee named Gamaliel, a teacher of the Law, respected by all the people, stood up in the Council and gave orders to put the men outside for a short time. 35 And he said to them, “Men of Israel, take care what you propose to do with these men. 36 For some time ago Theudas rose up, claiming to be somebody, and a group of about four hundred men joined up with him. But he was killed, and all who followed him were dispersed and came to nothing. 37 After this man, Judas of Galilee rose up in the days of the census and drew away some people after him; he too perished, and all those who followed him were scattered. 38 So in the present case, I say to you, stay away from these men and let them alone, for if this plan or action is of men, it will be overthrown; 39 but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them; or else you may even be found fighting against God.”
What powerful wisdom! If these guys are fake, then they will fizzle out on their own. We’ve seen other fakes come and go. But if this is a real move of God, you’d better not stand in its way!
40 They took his advice; and after calling the apostles in, they flogged them and ordered them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and then released them. 41 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. 42 And every day, in the temple and from house to house, they kept right on teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ.
Look at the price that the apostles had to pay for preaching the Gospel in those last few verses. They were flogged. They were whipped. They were beaten. They were told to keep their mouths shut.
But what was their reaction?
They not only kept preaching, they actually REJOICED over the fact that their true commitment made them WORTHY to suffer for the name of Jesus! There’s nothing fake about that.
The bottom line in this entire chapter is this:
We all face the same choice as to how far we are willing to go to commit to the work that God is doing. I really can’t tell you how committed you should be, that’s between you and God.
But I can tell you this - the real problem that Ananias and Sapphira ran into was that they weren’t willing to commit to the work of God 100%, but they wanted to pretend that they were giving their all.
Let’s not pretend. Let’s decide in our hearts how far we are willing to go to see the Kingdom of God fulfilled in our lives, in our marriages, in our families, in our church, and in our community. Those aren’t necessarily easy decisions. There is a cost involved. But whatever you decide to do, commit to it! Don’t give half-measures to the work of the Lord. Don’t fake it. Give God what He deserves. And remember this important reality - our commitment to God is the key to the release of His power in our lives!
Upon the crucifixion of Jesus, the rulers, elders, and scribes of Jerusalem were so relieved expecting that the movement He began would now die out. Yet, it wasn't long after His death that they were forced to meet together to discuss what to do about the disciples of Jesus who were continuing to perform miracles in His name.
Peter and John were confronted and thrown in jail by the commander of the temple police and the Sadducees because they were proclaiming the resurrection of the dead. Pharisees and Sadducees were greatly divided regarding the resurrection of the dead, so many of the Pharisees were actually now believing in Jesus after the report of His resurrection.
Right after the scripture reporting that Peter and John were thrown in jail, the next scripture says 5000 men had come to believe in Jesus. The Lord turns the devil's works back on his head. The result of persecution is always many souls coming into the kingdom. In only a three month time believers in Jesus grew from 3000 to 5000 men. In those times it included only men because the decision the head of the household made would include women and children. So this number was more like 15,000 just in Jerusalem, as it is too complex to know the numbers in other lands from those who converted at Pentecost. This was approximately 10-20% of Jews living in Jerusalem.
This was a huge threat to the religious elite who wanted to hold onto their social status. When we keep our religion to ourselves where it doesn't have much effect on the condition of our land we will experience very little opposition. The moment it does is when all hell breaks out. Satan is fine with us as long as we stay quiet but when we bring the good news out and walk in Holy Spirit power that is when he will try to take us down.
Peter confronted with the who's who of the high priests responds, filled with the Holy Spirit and instead of him being on trial puts them on trial as those who were responsible for Christ crucifixion.
Wasn't Peter already filled with the Holy Spirit? In certain situations, our humanity can feel overwhelmed where fear cripples us, so we need to be renewed with the baptism of the Holy Spirit day to day, issue after issue. It is like drinking water, we have one drink, but it isn't long before we are thirsty again, and the hotter it is the more often we need to drink.
When they observed Peter and John they were amazed because these were unlearned and untrained men so they knew they had been with Jesus. They had not gone through the same training as them but they walked with even greater authority and knew the scriptures. Bible School is a good environment to grow but with or without it we have Holy Spirit who is our teacher, counselor, and comforter. He empowers us it is not a work of our own intellect and experience. As long as we empty out of ourselves to God, we will be filled up and that is the greatest witness. It proves more than anything else that Jesus is alive!
These leaders were threatened they did not know now what to do, they thought they could stop the movement by crucifying its leader but His power was now distributed through the Holy Spirit upon all who believed in Him and that had now gone to 15,000 and was growing daily. They told Peter and John to stop preaching but they responded we are unable to stop for we must listen to God, not you. This got them so angry but there was nothing they could do for if they imprisoned them the effect would be a riot.
Where we run too after being released from threatening situations is the key to how well we recover. Peter and John ran to there "own people," meaning their close friends in the faith. They reported to them what they went through and together instead of complaining and becoming fearful, they "raised their voices to God," reminding themselves what Holy Spirit spoke through David regarding what they went through and then asking the Lord to grant them boldness to continue despite the threats to speak His message with boldness, with healings, signs, and wonders being performed through the name of Jesus.
When going through challenges we got to remember that Christ said that all those that follow Him will suffer. Therefore we should not run from our problems but face them boldly and continue to do the work of the Lord no matter the opposition. As the disciples prayed together they had another Pentecost like experience. The combined energy of like-minded believers through prayer is an explosion.
The enemy is doing all he can to hinder us and so we desperately need group support if we are going to continue to remain on fire. The enemy hinders us by trying to keep us isolated and divided from the dynamics of group participation. An engine cannot run without all its parts placed together and neither can we unless we are are in continual fellowship with other believers. We can be part of groups but are they the right groups? Acts 4:32 says that this large group was of one heart and mind. That is the correct group, and naturally, they are hard to find, but if we are led by the Spirit, we will be connected to such ones.
A group becomes dynamic when it puts the needs of one another above themselves like a strong family. It gets to the point that what each one owns is now shared as each one has a need. When people are no longer distracted by their needs they can focus on the work of the Kingdom. When we are possessed by the Holy Spirit our possessions are no longer our own, they are just resources to be used for Kingdom purposes. This spiritual harmony created a great manifestation of the resurrection power of Yeshua and great grace was on all of them.
Group fellowship and prayer is absolutely necessary for growth and Kingdom activity. If you are struggling in your Christian walk it is because you are not getting enough support. Being part of a group is a sacrifice, it takes your time, money, and talent, yet without it, those items will not be properly utilized in the Kingdom of God. It will be like the parable of talents where punishment came to the servant who hid his talent and therefore became unprofitable.
THE CHALLENGE FROM THIS DEVOTION:
1.) Repent for allowing the enemy to keep you isolated and divided.
2.) Ask Holy Spirit what fellowship group are you supposed to be actively involved in.
3.) Make up your mind that you will remain faithful to whom Holy Spirit has placed before you until He sends you elsewhere.
Sunday January 13th
“Silver and Gold”
Acts Chapter 3
A lot of people don’t know this, but Beethoven was buried in a church graveyard. A couple days after he was buried, a man was walking through that cemetery when he heard some strange noises coming from the area where Beethoven was buried. The terrified man ran and got the priest to come and listen to it. The priest bent down close to the grave and heard some faint, unrecognizable music coming from the grave. The priest ran and got the choir director.
When the choir director arrived, he bent his ear down close to the grave, listened for a moment, and said, "Ah, yes, that's Beethoven's Ninth Symphony, but it’s being played backwards."
He listened a while longer, and said, "yes, there's the Eighth Symphony, and it's playing backwards, too. Most puzzling." He kept listening; "There's the Seventh... the Sixth... the Fifth...all in reverse!"
Suddenly the realization of what was happening dawned on the man; he stood up and announced, "There's nothing to worry about. It's just Beethoven decomposing."
Speaking of graves…
In Moscow, Vladimir Lenin’s body is kept in a crystal casket. The inscription on the casket reads: “He was the greatest leader of all peoples, of all countries, of all times.
He was the lord of the new humanity.
He was the savior of the world.”
There are two things we can be sure of regarding this inscription. One is that Lenin wasn’t the lord of humanity or the savior of the world, because he’s dead, and his body is still in its tomb.
The other thing we can be sure of is that Jesus Christ is the true lord and savior of the world, who defeated death for us all, which is why His tomb is empty!
And as we read through Acts chapter 3 this morning, we will see the power of the true risen savior being poured out through His earthly representatives, the church that He established.
In verses 1 through 10 we read about a visit of Peter and John to the temple, where the power of the risen Lord heals a man who had been lame from birth.
1One day Peter and John were going up to the temple at the time of prayer—at three in the afternoon. 2Now a man crippled from birth was being carried to the temple gate called Beautiful, where he was put every
day to beg from those going into the temple courts. 3When he saw Peter and John about to enter, he asked them for money. 4Peter looked straight at him, as did John. Then Peter said, "Look at us!" 5So the man gave them his attention, expecting to get something from them.
6Then Peter said, "Silver or gold I do not have, but what I have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk." 7Taking him by the right hand, he helped him up, and instantly the man's feet and ankles became strong. 8He jumped to his feet and began to walk. Then he went with them into the temple courts, walking and jumping, and praising God. 9When all the people saw him walking and praising God, 10they recognized him as the same man who used to sit begging at the temple gate called Beautiful, and they were filled with wonder and amazement at what had happened to him.”
Peter’s words must have sounded disappointing to the beggar when he said “Silver and gold I do not have”
Perhaps the beggar wondered, “Well then, what good are you if you don’t have any money to give me?”
But then Peter continued, “What I have I give you”!
And what he had was worth a lot more than money! He took the man by the hand, lifted him up, and through the power of the Holy Spirit, he healed him.
There is a great lesson in this story.
As Christians, we are supposed to do “what we can - with what we have – where we are – at any moment”
Let me repeat that: We are supposed to do “what we can - with what we have – where we are – at any moment” and not wait for a greater opportunity or for a better time when we might have more abilities or resources.
Because money isn’t everything! Too often people think that that giving money is the only way to help a person in need. But here we see a story that clearly demonstrates that money was not the most important thing Peter had to offer.
Peter said, “Silver and Gold I do not have” and then proceeded to be used by God to work a miracle.
Whether we talk in terms of money, talents, abilities or gifts, we must all answer the same question, “What do I have to offer right now?” And another question quickly follows: “Am I willing to give myself – including my finances, my talents, abilities and gifts – to be used any way that God sees fit?”
How else will the world know that Jesus Christ has the power to transform lives?
When we read about this particular encounter we must realize that we are also faced with cripples every day – an entire crippled society – and they need the power of Jesus to set them free just as much as this lame man did.
Our Society has crippled morals, crippled marriages and crippled relationships.
Our world is crippled by perversion and pornography.
Lives are crippled by alcohol and drug abuse.
People are crippled with negative attitudes, anger, hate, resentment, bitterness and unforgiveness.
Only Jesus Christ can bring the healing they need.
The truth is that all of us, prior to knowing Christ, were crippled and in need of healing.
Romans 3:23 says “All of us have sinned and fall short of the glory of God”.
Isaiah 53:6 says “All are like sheep who have gone astray, we have turned, every one to their own way.”
We are dead spiritually and the words of Jesus recorded in Luke 13:3 state “Unless we repent we will perish”.
Like the lame man at the gate, we are helpless and powerless, spiritually crippled without Christ.
Salvation is our most basic need.
Verse 6 says that Peter healed the lame man,
“In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth.”
Jesus’ promise to his disciples in John 14:14 was “Whatever you ask in my name, that I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son”.
The answer to our crippled generation is the name of Jesus Christ, not silver or gold or self-help books.
Jesus was given all authority in heaven and earth (Matt 28:18). He shared his power with the apostles, and according to Ephesians 1:18-19, all of us as believers share this power:
“18I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, 19and his incomparably great power for us who believe.”
If we believe that then everything we do should be done in that spiritual authority.
We have the authority to lead people to salvation.
We have the authority to pray victoriously.
We have the authority to resist the devil and make him flee.
We have the authority to enforce Christ’s victory in our lives and homes and our church and our country.
Spiritual authority shouldn’t be taken lightly; it is intended to be exercised by believers who are filled with the spirit, living cleansed lives, and walking by faith.
Notice how Peter uses this healing to proclaim the power of the risen Christ in verses 11-26
“11While the beggar held on to Peter and John, all the people were astonished and came running to them in the place called Solomon's Colonnade.
12When Peter saw this, he said to them: "Men of Israel, why does this surprise you? Why do you stare at us as if by our own power or godliness we had made this man walk? 13The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God of our fathers, has glorified his servant Jesus. You handed him over to be killed, and you disowned him before Pilate, though he had decided to let him go. 14You disowned the Holy and Righteous One and asked that a murderer be released to you. 15You killed the author of life, but God raised him from the dead. We are witnesses of this. 16By faith in the name of Jesus, this man whom you see and know was made strong. It is Jesus' name and the faith that comes through him that has given this complete healing to him, as you can all see.
17"Now, brothers, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did your leaders. 18But this is how God fulfilled what he had foretold through all the prophets, saying that his Christ would suffer. 19Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord, 20and that he may send the Christ, who has been appointed for you—even Jesus. 21He must remain in heaven until the time comes for God to restore everything, as he promised long ago through his holy prophets. 22For Moses said, 'The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own people; you must listen to everything he tells you. 23Anyone who does not listen to him will be completely cut off from among his people.'
24"Indeed, all the prophets from Samuel on, as many as have spoken, have foretold these days. 25And you are heirs of the prophets and of the covenant God made with your fathers. He said to Abraham, 'Through your offspring all peoples on earth will be blessed.' 26When God raised up his servant, he sent him first to you to bless you by turning each of you from your wicked ways."
Peter explains that the miraculous healing of the crippled man was the work of the risen Christ.
And then he uses the attention that the healing has brought to bring conviction and preach salvation. He reminds them that all of us are responsible for Christ’s death because He died in our place. And he points out to them that without the resurrection there’s no hope, no salvation.
He tells them that there is no new life without repentance, but if they turn to God their sins will be blotted out – completely wiped away – and that times of restoration, of refreshment await those who come to God for forgiveness.
And he quotes from Deuteronomy 18 where Moses tells the people of Israel that when the Messiah comes, whoever rejects Him will have to face God’s judgment.
It is a simple message: hear it and be blessed or refuse to hear it and be destroyed!
Responding to Christ’s forgiveness brings untold joy; rejecting him brings spiritual ruin.
The final point that we need to take from this chapter is simply this: that true spiritual power comes through obedience. Without Peter’s obedience to God, the power of the Gospel would not have been shown, the man would still have been lame, and the truth would not have been shared.
In obedience, we allow God to provide opportunities.
Peter and John were walking in obedience - "Now Peter and John went up together into the temple..." What would have happened if they didn’t feel like going to church that day?
Because Peter and John were obedient and went to the temple as God had commanded, they were used by God to perform a miracle.
Peter knew that because he was walking in obedience, he had the power of the name of Jesus.
So he was able to make the bold proclamation,
“Rise up and walk!”
1 John 3:22 states, "And whatsoever we ask, we receive of him, because we keep his commandments, and do those things that are pleasing in his sight."
There are conditions through which we receive His power - "Because we keep his commandments, and do those things that are pleasing in his sight!”
The key is obedience.
Are we living in the power of Christ because we’re walking in obedience to God’s Word, or are we lacking power because of disobedience?
We can’t expect to receive anything from God if we aren’t following Him and obeying His commandments.
Peter tells the people of Israel that “God desires not only to bless you, but to also make you a blessing to others.” The same is true for each of us.
We can expect the blessings of God to flow through our lives if we completely surrender our hearts to Jesus.
If you’ve never trusted Jesus as your personal Savior, today would be a perfect day to ask Him into your heart. He desires to fill you with His wonderful grace, power, and blessings.
If you are a child of God but have felt defeated because of your lack of obedience, make a new commitment to obey Him today.
Follow His path, be obedient in all things to His Word, and watch God transform your life.
The living savior means there is hope for our crippled world.
Ephesians 2:12 states that without Christ people have “no hope”.
They are spiritually lost, “condemned already” (John 3:18).
Not condemned tomorrow, or next year, not when they die, but now, already condemned, trapped in sin. Christ is their only hope!
But He’s all the hope they need!
Christianity has been described as “One beggar telling another beggar where he found bread.”
You might not feel like you have a lot to give, but if Jesus has impacted your life in a way that gives you hope, then you can share that hope with others.
Peter didn’t have silver or gold, but he had hope. Jesus had freed him from the crippling grip of shame, and he knew that he could call upon the power of Jesus to help another man out of his crippled state.
In 2 Corinthians 1:4 we are told that…
“He comforts us when we are in trouble, so that we can share that same comfort with others in trouble.”
Whatever you’ve been through, and God has helped you to get through it, you can share that experience, strength, and hope with someone who is going through their own struggles right now.
It’s not silver or gold, but to a person who sees no hope, what you have to share with them is priceless!
HOLY SPIRIT INSTRUCTION
In order to advance God's Kingdom, it must be an act of the Holy Spirit. We must know the teachings of Christ in order to know what He is doing. As we grow in our knowledge of God's will we will now be responsible to walk it out. As we seek Him daily, instructions will now be given us, we must choose to obey them in order to work with Him to see His Kingdom come, His will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.
We now become instruments to prove to the world that Jesus is resurrected through the demonstration of His power in our lives. Daily we must humbly present ourselves to God to be empowered by Him. We bear no witness of Christ without the Holy Spirit! We can do things in the name of God but without the power of God we will end up building nothing but our own man-made Kingdom. Any fellowship of Christians that do not accept and operate in the baptism of the Holy Spirit will never fully be able to represent Him. They have a form of godliness but deny the power thereof.
Apart from union with the Holy Spirit, we can bear no fruit, we are as John 15 describes dead branches, good for nothing but to be cut off and used for burning. It is not enough to be baptized in water for the repentance of sins we must be baptized in the Holy Spirit for the empowerment to be a witness, it is not an option, it is a command! Jesus commanded the disciples to go and wait until they are empowered and they did. We daily must wait until we are empowered before we go and do anything in His name! You can tell when someone has been with Jesus because they walk in authority and demonstrate it with power. People should know we are with Jesus if they don't we should not even tell them we are Christians. We can no longer settle for the human-created Christian religion, if Holy Spirit is not in it, we need to be out!
Too many people are looking to the sky, waiting for Jesus return, too few are looking for Jesus to empower them in the here and now! I look forward to Him returning and completing His work, ushering in the new millennium, but my main concern is to be an instrument He can use to prepare the way, to reform the earth, to be a witness so nobody can say they didn't have an opportunity to believe in Him.
Do you want to live an adventurous, world-changing life then ask Holy Spirit for His instructions daily, and be about it?
LET HOLY SPIRIT LEAD
Acts 1:12 through chapter 2.
You can expect it to be special when people come together with the same purpose; being devoted to God in prayer, with no selfish agenda just hearts desiring to hear from the Lord. As the body of Christ, we need each other, there is only so much we can receive alone. We must balance our personal time with God with our corporate time! Sunday morning will not cut it, growth requires more! We need to find a fellowship of like-minded believers that we can meet together regularly.
Each believer is like a puzzle that only together can the bigger picture be seen. When we neglect Christian fellowship we become narrow-minded, simpletons. It is praying, worshipping, and studying the Bible in small groups that expand our knowledge as we receive deeper insight into the ways of God. It is in these environments that certain decisions can be made because a wider perspective is developed through the grace on each person's life. When decisions are made by one individual failure will often be the result because of a lack of foresight. It is in the counsel of advisers that decisions succeed.
It is when we unite together in prayer that the culmination of the Holy Spirit in each individual creates an outpouring Pentecost experience. It will not always be like the day of Pentecost but we can expect to be refreshed each time we meet. The key is the condition of our heart, are we just going through the motions or are we expectant? We should not be looking to man but rather our focus should be on God and how He wants to move and through who depends on His lead. If we let Him lead, we will never leave disappointed.
Whom God uses will depend on who is ready to minister out of the overflow of His presence. In this place, you walk in discernment to know the thoughts and intents of man, to be able to minister to the heart, where those who listen can be convicted and be given an opportunity to repent and receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.
As long as Holy Spirit is directing there will be people drawn to the Father. Man can help people make a temporary decision but God transforms lives to where a deep devotion follows. Christian leaders get frustrated because it is so hard to keep believers devoted to God, the problem is we are relying too much on ourselves and not on the power of the Holy Spirit.
We see in Acts 2:41-47 that the people who accepted the message of Peter were baptized, 3000 of them, and they devoted themselves to the apostles teaching, to the fellowship, and prayer. Signs and wonders followed the Apostles, the believers were together daily, joyful and humble, and they had favor with all people and the Lord added to them daily those who were being saved.
We make ministry way too complicated, it is simple, be baptized in the Holy Spirit and let Him lead in all we do, and He will do what only He can do, save souls, and make devoted followers.