My guess is that a few of you reading this are, at this moment, undergoing some sort of difficulty. Perhaps, life has not turned out the way you expected. Maybe you never would have guessed you’d be facing the circumstances you now find yourself in. No one ever told you life would be like this. Life can be wonderful, but life can also be very hard. Thank God if things are going well for you, but also realize that at some point, you’re likely to undergo tough times. Heaven is not currently on earth. The world we live in is tainted by the effects of sin and it causes us to toil. Sometimes that toiling is worse than others. When it gets bad, you might even ask God, “Why?” “Why is this happening. Why are you allowing this to happen God?”
The followers of Jesus, in our passage from the book of Acts, find themselves in trying circumstances. They are in the midst of a great famine, many are struggling financially, most have been been chased out of Jerusalem because of their faith, some have been killed and now the government has turned on them. The apostle James was beheaded for political gain and now Peter has been imprisoned, for a third time, and is awaiting execution. And yet, God has not provided the slightest clue why any of this is happening. Peter is eventually freed but we learn very little of how God uses him following this week’s passage. It begs the question, “Why did God allow James to be executed and break Peter out of prison? Why was one used to glorify God in his death and the other to glorify God in his extended life?” We will never know the answers to these questions.
If it is not helpful to ask “Why,” then what question should we be asking during the troubling circumstances of life? I believe this week’s passage contains the answer to that question. And I believe it is in that answer that we can find peace and even joy when the circumstances of life are hard. Come join us as we seek helpful questions and answers from God’s Word.
WARNING: If you’re a Christian and have been spending almost no time engaged in the local church (worship, fellowship, discipleship and serving), you are doing so to your own detriment and the detriment of others. Association with other members of the body of Christ is essential to your spiritual health and growth. It is essential to the growth and health of the entire body. The more independent of the body you make yourself, the less connected you become to one of the primary means of grace God provides for Christians. And before long, your own “independent” connection also becomes frayed.
There are few other places in Scripture where this truth is apparent than in this week’s passage in the book of Acts. The growth and health of the Antioch church, as it is formed and strengthened, is directly dependent on those within the local church and on those from other churches. There is a sense of connectedness in Christ that provides the essential nourishment needed to advance that local church and to make it flourish. The church in Antioch serves as a model, one that has been reproduced time and time again over the last two thousand years.
Antioch was the third largest city in the Roman Empire, the equivalent of Chicago in our country. It was a city of great commerce, education and many different cultures. It was licentious and the degradation of morals would make our current culture seem conservative. Yet, Christianity exploded and flourished in this city for a very long time. Gentiles and Jews were awakened to the Christian faith and lived radically different lives than their pagan neighbors. It was the first place where Jesus’ followers were known as “Christians.” Yet none of this would have happened if the church and its members were independent and unengaged.
What does it mean to be “Christian” and how can you improve your Christian strength and fitness? Come find out this Sunday morning. Join us for worship at 10:30 and for prayer and Christian Formation classes at 9:15.
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.