Peter must have been on a spiritual high, after being used by of Holy Spirit to bring about another Pentecost-like outpouring of faith in Jesus. The Holy Spirit was poured out on Cornelius, a prominent and well regarded centurion, along with his family and friends as they repented and found forgiveness of sins through the Gospel of Jesus Christ. This was big news! God had now brought salvation to the Gentiles, just as he promised in the Old Testament. Peter seemed good and excited to bring the news to the other apostles, heading directly to Jerusalem after leaving the company of Cornelius. So big was this news that it even preceded Peter, arriving before him to the apostles and brethren in Jerusalem. But instead of arriving home to a joyous reunion and harps of praise, Peter faced the judgment of those critical of his actions. A group of Jewish Christians, referred to as “those who were circumcised,” awaited him and accused him of compromising his devotion to God. The truth is, Peter could not have been more obedient and was clearly in the center of God’s will.
Why is it that some in the church, at times, are so quick to be critical of and judge the innocent actions of their brothers and sisters, without first extending grace? We’ve all experienced it one time or another. And I suppose it shouldn’t be totally surprising, given that those in the church are equally as susceptible to sin as those outside it. Yet we are all unified by the Spirit of God through our faith in Jesus Christ and it seems that we should be able to extend grace as it has been given to us. Even when we have legitimately been wronged or hurt by our Christian brothers and sisters, it seems our desire should be to treat others as God has treated us.
This Sunday, we’re going to look at the elements of Peter’s trial by the brethren, to see what God might teach us through it and how we may become the kind of people and a church that extends grace as grace has been extended to us.
What image does the word “religion” conjure up for you? Yeah, that’s what I thought. Not so good. What does “religion” even mean these days? There’s a lot of confusion about its meaning, and that’s apparent in the way journalists, musicians and the average person on the street talk about it. To many, religion is a belief that causes people to act like hypocrites or the moralism police. To others, it’s a force that causes wars or compels its adherents to blow themselves up and fly airplanes into skyscrapers.
We’re going to talk about religion and religious people for the next couple of Sundays, as we work our way through Acts 10 and a portion of Acts 11. We’ll ask, “What is religion anyway?” “Is it OK to hate religion as long as we love Jesus?” “Why do religious people seem so nasty when their beliefs often espouse love?”
The Acts narrative about Peter and Cornelius is quite lengthy and is repeated once again and referred to yet another time. Luke is playing up its significance and it represents an important turning point in the history of the early Church. But there is something about it that smacks of religion. Is that a good thing or a bad thing? Together, we’ll take a look at what the Word of God has to say on Sunday.
Complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. (Philippians 2:2)
One of my favorite passages often read during Holy Week is Jesus’ high priestly prayer contained in John 17. This prayer, from Jesus to the Father, takes up the entirety of chapter 17 and occurred the night before Jesus gave His life on the cross. What was on Jesus’ heart that evening? You were! On the night He was betrayed, Jesus prayed for His present and future disciples. He prayed that they would be partakers of the love He, the Father and the Holy Spirit shared, and He also prayed for the unity of the body of Christ until such time as He returns.
The love of God we are drawn into and the unity of the body of Christ in which we have been placed are not inseparable, even though we may not fully know that love until we see Christ face to face. That is because we share the love of Christ when we are in the company of those who are also followers of Jesus. Twice, in John 17:20-23, Jesus prays that we may all be one, just as Jesus and the Father are One. It is His prayer that our unity will be an expression of the love of the unified Trinity. You may be surprised, however, to see what the church’s unity is meant to accomplish. In verse 21 Jesus indicates that it is “so that the world may believe that you have sent me.” Jesus prays the same objective for our unity in verse 23: “so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you have loved me.” The unity of the body of Christ is for the purpose of accomplishing its commission, to make disciples. Our shared life is inseparable from our shared mission. The Apostle Paul makes the same connection between our shared life and our shared mission in Philippians 2. Our unity, Paul says, “in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation” will make us appear as “lights shining in the world, holding fast the word of life,” which is the Gospel of Jesus Christ (Philippians 2:15-16).
Are we sharing life together as the local church? Do we really live life on life with one another? And when we do, are we of the same mind and love and in full accord? If we are truly in Christ, we will grow in our unity and love. That is God’s sovereign will for us. That’s something to consider as we gather to worship on Sundays, meet in the classroom and our small groups, and as we serve together in the ministry of our church. You magnify Christ to the world and are built up yourself when you seek out opportunities to be transformed within the life of the local body of Christ in each of these areas and in others. Remember, there are two things you cannot be alone, married and in the church. As a disciple of Jesus, you were made for His body.
The scene in our journey through the book of Acts changes from one great Apostle, Paul, to another, Peter. Then in a few chapters, it will switch back to Paul. Some Bibles even make mention that this section of the book is about Peter’s ministry and that the final section is about Paul’s ministry. That characterization is something I have to take exception to, and plan to do so on Sunday morning.
Yet there’s no denying that amazing things occur over the course of the next couple of chapters, and that Peter is intimately involved. Take this week’s passage, for instance. Peter assumes the role of miracle worker, healing a bedridden and paralyzed man, only to top it by raising a women from the dead. Both miracles seem strikingly similar to those we witnessed in Mark’s gospel last year. Hmmm. What are we to think of these miracles? Are they really miracles? What are miracles anyway?
The story ends with Peter lodging at the home of a Christian tanner (yes the type who makes leather not the one who makes one’s skin darker). It seems to be a rather odd occurrence, and something totally unfitting of a man of Peter’s stature. As you meditate on all twelve verses, consider how all of this might fit together. Ask yourself, “What is God communicating and how does it apply to us here and now?” The answers to all these questions will be our focus on Sunday, as we seek to be encouraged by God, through the accounts of these very first followers of our Lord Jesus Christ.
This week’s Boston Marathon bombing was a life changing event for all those who witnessed it. It completely caught us off guard and denied all sensibility. It was a horrible tragedy. It was an act of violence so heinous that it brings up all sorts of questions and causes people to respond in a variety of different ways.
As I watched the real time responses via social media, it became apparent that two reactions were foremost in people’s minds: “We must find out who did this and make them pay” and “We need to do something so this kind of thing never happens again.” These are predictable responses to an act of terror, like this, especially one so close to home. It got me thinking, “What would the solution to these two responses look like and how should we, as Christians, be praying at a time like this?”
This Sunday’s passage, in the book of Acts, serves as a divine window for answering these two questions. Saul, the zealous Pharisee, was responsible for the arrest and extermination of Christians in the early half of the first century. He was, no doubt what we would call today, a terrorist. I believe we can see, in the way God and others dealt with Saul, some hope for our present world and how we might respond to events as senseless as the marathon bombing.
Join us for worship on Sunday morning at 10:30 and for prayer and Christian Formation classes at 9:15.
After a break for Holy Week, we return to our series on the Acts of the Apostles, where we the see the church continuing to grow in both numbers and geography. The persecution by Saul and the Jews has not beat the church down but rather has served to bring the good news about Jesus to thousands and thousands of others. This was not the intent of the persecutors but, as always, God makes good out of the evil intentions of others.
Luke, the author of Acts, also continues to reveal the actions of individuals within the church, as God utilizes them to display His greatness and power and to accomplish His sovereign plan of redemption. I love how Luke doesn’t just tell us about the nice things that happened. He tells us how it is. Which is often how it is in our day. He could have merely ended the account of Philip’s conversion of the city of Samaria at the verse that reads, “And there was great joy in that city” (Acts 8:9). But Luke didn’t do that. He continued to tell us, as Paul Harvey would say, “The rest of the story.” He reports on what happened in the midst of that conversion story, through an encounter with an acclaimed magician by the name of Simon. Prior to Philip, Simon had mesmerized men and women of all statures by his amazing feats. So good was Simon that he was referred to by the people as “Simon the Great.” He was even assumed to have, as Rush Limbaugh says of himself, “talent on loan from God.” Philip’s arrival, however, was a game changer and now it is clear who is truly great, and it is not either Simon or Philip. Rather it is God.
Our own relationship with God is based on His greatness and power. Through Christ and the Holy Spirit we have communion with God and it is in that power that we begin to understand that He is truly great. That said, there are a few warnings in our passage that should make us stand up and take notice of our own relationship with our God, and that will be the focus of our journey through Acts this week. As we learn to live in a right relationship with God, we will begin to be amazed and take heed of the awesome majesty of our Lord.
This coming Sunday is Palm Sunday, representing the arrival of Christ into Jerusalem during the last week of His life and ministry. When Christ arrived He was hailed by the crowds as the coming messiah. Men, women and children waved palm branches crying out, “Hosanna, Hosanna,” which means “save us. But how Jesus would save was largely misunderstood, and within a week He would be all but abandoned by His followers. They would scatter.
As we arrive at these week’s passage, in our journey through the book of Acts, we once again see the disciples scattering. But this time it is because of their faith in Jesus, rather than their lack of, that they are on the run. They are not scattering and denying Jesus. Instead, they are scattering and proclaiming Jesus. The persecution of the early church was used by God to further the message of salvation beyond Jerusalem into Judea and Samaria.
Today, God is still sending the Church into the whole world with the good news about Jesus. God is sending out the Congregational Church of Goffstown. He is sending out you and me. There is much we can learn from the early church about the nature of mission we’ve been sent out on. This Sunday we’ll make several observations about the good news of Jesus and what we are to do with it, as we continue our journey through the book of Acts.