Category Archives: Sovereignty of God

Study 15 – 1 Corinthians 10:1-13

Warnings for believers

Discussion Question

What use is the Old Testament?

Background

Paul’s letter about Christ centeredness has progressed to discuss Christian freedom and the possibility of being disqualified from the faith. Even though Paul is aware that he is no longer under the law of Moses, he remains under the law of Christ which is love. He is no man’s’ slave but he will ensure that his own body and intentions will be subject to him for the sake of the kingdom. It is God who saves and we now have an obligation to live for the kingdom and not for ourselves.

Paul talked briefly about the danger of being disqualified and now, in Chapter 10, Paul uses the Old Testament to highlight how we can fall into the same traps as the Israelites did. We are free in Christ but we have an obligation to love God and his kingdom values.

Read 1 Corinthians 10:1-13

For I do not want you to be ignorant of the fact, brothers and sisters, that our ancestors were all under the cloud and that they all passed through the sea. 2 They were all baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea. 3 They all ate the same spiritual food 4 and drank the same spiritual drink; for they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ. 5 Nevertheless, God was not pleased with most of them; their bodies were scattered in the wilderness.

6 Now these things occurred as examples to keep us from setting our hearts on evil things as they did. 7 Do not be idolaters, as some of them were; as it is written: “The people sat down to eat and drink and got up to indulge in revelry.”b 8 We should not commit sexual immorality, as some of them did—and in one day twenty-three thousand of them died. 9 We should not test Christ,d as some of them did—and were killed by snakes. 10 And do not grumble, as some of them did—and were killed by the destroying angel.

11 These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the culmination of the ages has come. 12 So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall! 13 No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.

What did you see?

Structure

  • Comparing OT Israel with NT Christians (1-5)
  • Examples of stumbling like Israel (6-10)
  • The Old Testament as warnings to us (11-13)

Comparing OT Israel with NT Christians (1-5)

“…ignorant of the fact…” Perhaps an early stage of foolishness and ungodliness is ignorance. Paul has said previously that love builds up while knowledge puffs up, but here he puts back in balance the need to know things. It’s knowledge applied in love that we need. Not love out of ignorance or a life living in ignorance.

“…our ancestors…” The word for ‘ancestors’ as the NIV  puts it is actually ‘fathers’ in the Greek. I have no idea why the NIV would go with ancestors. One could be tempted to say at this point that Paul is showing us that his readers must be Jews. But he teaches in Romans 9 that the true Israel are those who have put their trust in Jesus. Most of us reading this blog will not be Jewish and yet we are able to think of Abraham and Moses as our ancestors. They are our forefathers of the faith.

“…our [fathers] were all under the cloud and that they all passed through the sea.” We are taken back to the book of Exodus. As Moses lead Israel out of Egypt, they were all lead by a cloud by day and pillar of fire by night (Ex 13:21-22; 14:19-24; 40:34-38). The LORD travelled with Israel in the cloud and met with Moses on the Mountain and in the Tabernacle in a cloud. This was the presence of the LORD in visual form. And as they left Israel, famously they walked through the Red Sea which had been parted for them by the power of God (Ex 14:15-31). The were lead personally by God and were delivered by the power of God from their captors.

“They were all baptised into Moses in the cloud and in the sea.” Any study on baptism needs to branch out beyond the book of Acts and listen to how it is described in the whole of scripture. Notice firstly that this is called a baptism into Moses. This helps us think of baptism as an allegiance event. As the people followed Moses through the sea, they are aligning their future with his. They are all the one community. They are Moses’ community. John the baptist was not baptising people as Christians but as Jews. He called people to come back to the LORD and be part of the true community again. Only after the resurrection do we get anybody being baptised into Christ. The baptism that Paul is talking about is not only about the sea but is about the cloud also. They moved from slavery to freedom by these two means. Following the LORD into their deliverance. Please note that, although both clouds and seas are made up of water, no Israelite was sprinkled or drenched for this baptism. A water ritual can be used to represent a baptism but a baptism is not by definition a water ritual. I do admit that, in a poetic way, the people went down into the sea and came up saved, but this should not be pushed to the point of misunderstanding the meaning of baptism. The people, young and old, were baptised as they put their trust in God through Moses.

“…spiritual food…spiritual drink…spiritual rock…that rock was Christ.” Paul is highlighting an example of how the stories of the Old Testament point forward to Christ. The historic story of Israel is more than an ancient account of how God was good to them. The story of Israel is the story of Christian faith. As they ate food and drank water supplied to them miraculously in the desert, nourishing their bodies, they became an illustration to us on our own dependance on God. Fifteen hundred years after Moses, Jesus would stand before a crowd and say, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” (John 6:35). He says this in the context of declaring that all those who put their trust in him will be accepted and have eternal life. The Jews in Moses’ day physically ate and drank miraculous food which fed their physical bodies. But Paul says, their story is an illustration of the Christian story.

“…God was not pleased with most of them…” The book of Numbers illustrates how an entire generation failed to enter the promised land because of their disobedience and lack of faith.

As we leave this paragraph, notice how Paul uses the Old Testament as a teaching platform for Christ and the church. The whole bible is an unfolding story that points forward and backward to Christ. The technical term for this is Biblical Theology. This is not to be confused with Theology that is biblical – since all good theology must be biblical. No, this is a term which describes the historical revelation of the world’s salvation through Christ. Every Christian must devote some time to understanding Biblical Theology otherwise they will not approach the bible in the way that the bible is presented. Every Growth Group leader ought to have a grip on this. It can be studied easily through the God’s Big Picture book and the course that we run from time to time at this church. It can be accessed and studied via the Introduction to the Bible subject of the PTC course run by Moore Theological College External Studies. And the writer of this blog would be more than happy to walk people through this important – essential – tool for opening up the scriptures.

Examples of stumbling like Israel (6-10)

“…as examples to keep us from…” The books of Narnia by CS Lewis and ‘Pilgrim’s Progress’ by John Bunyan are examples of entertaining narratives which point to a deeper spiritual lesson for Christians. The Old Testament, while historical and real for the nation of Israel and surrounding countries, carries deep spiritual lessons for Christians who are saved by grace. As Israel needed to put their trust in God and not allow the dangers around them, nor the temptation to leave God in pursuit of happiness elsewhere, we are to learn from their story about faith in the God who saves, who protects, who promises and who delivers. The failings of the people of Israel are warnings to us too.

“…from setting our hearts on evil things…” This describes finding our treasure in anything other than God. You cannot serve two masters (Matthew 6:19-24).

“Do not be idolaters…” No other god but the LORD right? And yet this command/basic expectation goes beyond idols and statues. Paul is going to make a big deal about this from Verse 14! The Corinthians, and we, need to be reminded not to be idolaters. Anything that takes us outside of true doctrine is idolatry – it captures our hearts and leads us to sin. Paul uses an odd verse in the Old Testament as his proof. Exodus 32:6b is quoted: “afterward they sat down to eat and drink and got up to indulge in revelry.” Verses 5-6a state clearly the actions of idolatry – the making of a false god and the offering of sacrifices. But Paul points to the real evidence of giving ones’ heart to anything that is not truthfully God. An idol is nothing, but denying your heart to God and desiring fulfillment elsewhere ruins the soul.

“…should not commit sexual immorality…” Paul has already dealt with this issue back in Chapters 5 and 6, “Flee from sexual immorality. All other sins a person commits are outside the body, but whoever sins sexually, sins against their own body.” (1 Cor 6:18). We are not simply flesh and bones, biological animals that can take pleasure as we feel the desire. We are God’s people who walk in the light, with love and self-control as a goal. Our goal can be described with more words than that but sexual immorality is a clear indication that the flesh is winning. In Numbers 25:1-9 we read of the event that Paul refers to where 23,000 Israelite men died in one day! As you reread that event, you can imagine using this as a self-discipline guide to quench one’s immoral desire. Nothing breaks the mood more than someone entering the room with a spear to pierce you and your lover through the heart! When Paul says, flee from sexual immorality, you can see how this account in Numbers illustrates the seriousness of sin.

“We should not test Christ, as some of them did…” Notice how Paul continues to draw a quick line between their faith in Yahweh and our faith in Christ. Paul sees such a strong tie here that it is Christ they were testing! The example Paul gives for this is found in Numbers 21:4-9. Notice too that the remedy for their sin was to look to a pole that Moses was instructed by God to make – much like we look to the cross for forgiveness (see John 3:14-15). We’ve moved from idolatry, to sexual immorality, to putting the LORD to the test.

A note on ‘the LORD’ and on Christ being tested by Israel. Some will ask something like, is the LORD in all capitals a reference to Jesus Christ our Lord? An excellent question with a layered answer.  Jesus Christ is eternally begotten of the Father and he is the name that is above all names. When we refer to Jesus as our Lord, we are declaring that he is the boss and ruler of all things. King of kings and Lord of lords. When the Old Testament writes LORD in all capitals, it is a signal to God being called Yahweh. The Trinity is veiled in the Old Testament (not absent!) and God does not operate or behave in separation from Himself. Our God is Three in One. When they disobey and grumble against Yahweh, it is the Lord and the Father and the Spirit whom they put to the test.

“And do not grumble…” Discontentment is verbalised when we grumble. Paul, in 1 Timothy 6:6-7 describes godliness as a means to contentment for we do not come into the world with anything and we do not leave it with anything. But faith in God, true faith, will increase our contentment in all circumstances. What do we need if we have Christ? The New Testament is filled with illustrations and guidance on how to come to Christ and find life. Blessings and suffering are put into the same category with God since both lead to godliness when viewed through faith in Christ. Paul takes us to Number 16 and 17 where the Israelites grumbling was a major disappointment to God. The destroying angel came in the form of a plague on the people. It is perhaps the same destroyer as killed the firstborns in Egypt during passover (Ex 12:23). See also 1 Chron 21:15. An angel of destruction is allowed by God to complete this deed of death. The bible has much to say to us about angels but not enough for us to know everything and it is wise for us to not become obsessed with such inquiry (Col 2:18;  Hebrews 1-2; 1 Tim 1:3-4).

Let’s learn how the Old Testament, even being an historical account, instructs us much like any narrative instructs us beyond the storyline. If God’s anger is fanned by devoting ourselves to other loves, through sexual immorality and through discontentment, then let’s be warned by that. Although our sins are dealt with at the cross, he is the same LORD who deserves our lives.

The Old Testament as warnings to us (11-13)

“These things happened…and were written down as warnings for us…” It should be clear to any reader of the bible that it was not written down in order to preserve a culture’s history and traditions. Rather, the sins of individuals and nations are recorded as warnings for us. 2 Timothy 3:16 tells us that ALL scripture is God breathed and is USEFUL for teaching, correcting, rebuking and training in righteousness. This means that every page of scripture can do any one of those four things.

“…on whom the culmination of the ages has come.” In Biblical Theology we can place the history of the whole world into a few basic stages or ages.

  1. Creation to The Fall (Gen 1-3)
  2. The Fall to Abraham (Gen 3-11)
  3. The Promises to Abraham to Moses (Gen 12-Exodus 19)
  4. The Covenant with Moses at Sinai to David (Exodus 19-2 Samuel)
  5. The Covenant with David to the Exile (2 Samuel 7 – 2 Kings and 2 Chronicles)
  6. The Exile and return to Jesus (Ezra – the Gospels)
  7. The Resurrection of Jesus to Christ’s return (Acts – Revelation)

This 7th age is the culmination of the ages. The coming of Christ and his work of redemption is the culmination of all the ages before this. We live in the Now-but-Not-Yet age. The Kingdom of God has been revealed in the Lord Jesus Christ and all who put their trust in him are declared the people of God and yet we await his final return to conclude even this age. Ephesians 1:9-10; Mark 1:15; Galatians 4:4.

“So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall!” Have you heard about the Preservation of the Saints? If you have then you may declare that God does not lose any that he has called. If you are a Christian then you cannot fall. Well, the method that God uses to prevent us from falling is called warnings from scripture! God has waken us up in Christ and we are called not to slumber and fall back to sleep! Of course, Paul may be talking also about falling into sin and so we must be awake and sober minded with regard to the traps of this world. Either way, the Christian walk is an eyes-wide-open walk.

“No temptation…what is common to mankind.” I love this sentence. It humbles me. I know that any experience that I may face, either a triumph of mine or a failing or an experience of suffering, I know that I am only one in a few billion people who have shared this experience in some way. Yes, we are all individuals and unique, but we are all humans with the same drives and thought patterns and so on. Why else do we have personality types and so on in Psychology. Because we aren’t that different you and I. Nobody can turn to God and say, well nobody has felt temptation like I have. I’m only human and you can’t blame me cause if you’ve been through what I’ve been through then you’d understand why I am like I am or behaved like I behaved. Well, a temper tantrum is a temper tantrum. Sexual sin is sexual sin. Humans have been doing it for generations. Every sin you can imagine, you can be the Israelites have a story about how they fell into it!

“And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear.” We are all sinners. But God is quite aware of what we go through a) he created us b) he has watched us all our human lives and c) he became one of us and was tempted like us. God is also Sovereign and able to protect us. The question is, will we exercise our wisdom, discipline, self-control and watchfulness to flee from immorality and put to death the misdeeds of the body. In short, it is not God’s fault that we sin. Adam and Eve had it in them to say no. But sin is strong and we are easily beaten. We must never blame God for our sin.

“But when you are tempted…” We will be tempted.

“…he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.” This is a clear message from scripture. Treat it like a challenge or a dare”: God dares you to be pure and to say no to sin. Let me quote 1 John 1:8-9 “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”

What did we learn?

All of Scripture has been given to us for our learning on how to be righteous. The culmination of this lesson is that we need a Saviour and He has been provided. We do not ignore the Old Testament because in them we find many examples and illustrations of how to stay pure and walk humbly with our God. He has found us and delivered us. Let’s listen to him through all of his word and take up the challenge to say no to sin.

Now what?

Topic A: Do you know how the bible fits together? A course on Biblical Theology is an essential for every Christian. This can be done formally, informally and even one-to-one. If you are unsure of what this is all about, please ask your leader, or one of the ministry staff or search for (as a good example and summary) a podcast by Nancy Guthrie interviewing John Woodhouse on the book of 2 Samuel. Here is a link to it…
https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/help-me-teach-the-bible-john-woodhouse-on-2-samuel/

Topic B: Idolatry, sexual immorality and grumbling. What a variety of categories. Take some time to explore how these three areas affect our lives and how we are tempted in them. For larger groups, you may want to divide down to more intimate groups for this discussion.

Topic C: Knowing the faithfulness of God. He is faithful in calling us and saving us and growing us in our maturity in Christ. We are challenged in this passage to be faithful ourselves but let’s not lose sight of the faithfulness of God toward us. He is faithful and just and will forgive us of our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9). We are to be aware of our sins and also aware of his forgiveness. We can keep moving forward in holiness when we know that our failings do not equal our eternal damnation.

Acts 16:1-40 – Being lead by the Spirit

Context

While Paul and Barnabas worked well together in spreading the gospel to the north-west of Israel, they disputed over working together with Mark (formerly known as John). Barnabas and Mark sailed to Cyprus but Paul and Silas went through Syria and Cilicia.

Observation

Structure

  • 1-15 The Spirit leads them to Lydia (gathering gospel partners along the way)
    • 1-5 Paul picks up Timothy
    • 6-10 Paul is led by the Spirit and picks up Luke
    • 11-15 Paul meets Lydia
  • 16-40 The Spirit leads them to the Jailer
    • 16-18 Paul rebukes a spirit
    • 19-24 Paul is imprisoned
    • 25-34 Paul and Silas convert the jailer
    • 35-40 Paul escorted out of jail

1-15 The Spirit leads them to Lydia (gathering gospel partners along the way)

1-5 Paul picks up Timothy

“…a disciple named Timothy…” This young man would become a very close and invaluable partner in the gospel for Paul. He is mentioned in almost all of Paul’s letters (excluding Galatians and Ephesians and Titus), two of which were written directly to him. Timothy was regarded as a son, a brother and a co-worker in the gospel to Paul. His mother was a believing Jew while his Father was a Greek. There is no mention of his father’s faith but his mother and grandmother taught him well from youth about the scriptures (2 Timothy 3). Paul met Timothy while travelling and found a young man who was already growing steadily in the faith and in good regard in his neighbourhood. These are two excellent agendas for life: to grow in love for the Lord and be respected in the community – particularly when the latter flows out of the former. Luke 2:52 says that “Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and man.”

“…he circumcised him because of the Jews…” In light of the previous chapter, you may think this is a hypocritical decision. The point though is about being received by the Jewish community so that the gospel can be heard. The circumcision decision was not done for the purpose of religion. Remember 1 Corinthians 9:22 tells us to become all things to all people so that by all possible means (even circumcision) we might save some.

“…as they travelled from town to town, they delivered the decisions reached by the apostles…” Even while Timothy had been circumcised, they intended to continue the encouraging message that life in Christ brings freedom and unity between Jew and Gentile.

6-10 Paul is led by the Spirit and picks up Luke

“…kept by the Holy Spirit from preaching…” Who knows how the Spirit did this. The means are not really important (or else we might be told) but when doorways are closed to the disciples, they regarded this as a sign from the Spirit of Jesus (v6 and 7). When some doors are closed, others are opened and one town that received the gospel as a result is Galatia – the church there would receive the Epistle to the Galatians – a book filled with gospel truths and a strong argument against staying with the law now that Christ has come.

“…concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel [in Macedonia].” This conclusion was reached after Paul had a night vision. Some people claim to receive words from the Lord like Paul did here. I don’t wish to dismiss things too quickly. But the practice overall is that we walk by faith in the knowledge of the word of God. This is the norm. To expect anything else as the norm or more common is to regard the books of the bible as average and common stories. In the first century, the gospel is fresh and the mission of God was to take the name of Jesus to the nations (Acts 1:8). Some areas had been restricted in the wisdom of God but others were opened and Paul was being lead by God to go to Macedonia.

“…we got ready at once…” Notice the pronoun ‘we’. For the first time in the book of Acts, it is written in the first person. Introducing Dr Luke to the story. He doesn’t make note of his joining in the mission and he comes in and out of the narrative without further attention (16:10-17; 20:5-15; 21:1-18; 27:1-28:16).

11-15 Paul meets Lydia

“…we travelled to Philippi…of Macedonia. And we stayed…” Philippi is described as the major city of the area of Macedonia and we know that Paul founds a Christian church here which he will write to later in the New Testament. They stopped here since this is where God had directed them and this is where they planned. This is where the story unfolds and we meet Lydia.

“…to the river, where we expected to find a place of prayer.” Interesting that they are further and further away from Jerusalem and the use of Synagogues is not as common. Fewer Jews means less money to build such things. But a river makes for a great meeting place to reflect on the creator. Remember that this is where the Israelite exiles met in Ezekiel – they were by the Kebar River and recall Psalm 137, “By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept when we remembered Zion.”

“…The Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul’s message.” A little reminder that it is not Paul’s persuasion but God’s pull to the gospel of grace. Many scholars have read the bible and discussed it thoroughly without seeing clearly that Jesus is Lord. It is with the mind and the Holy Spirit that we hear the good news and respond. Remember what Jesus said to Peter when he finally confessed that Jesus is the Christ, “Blesses are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven.” (Matt 16:17)

“…her heart…” This is also a little reminder that the gospel ought to be felt. Tears of repentance, grief over sin, thankfulness for mercy and joy to be free.

“…When she and the members of her household were baptised, she invited us to her home.” Paul invited her whole household to hear and respond to the gospel. She accepted and the household presumably followed her lead. Paul and Silas and Luke and Timothy had no place to stay, but when the gospel found a home in someone’s heart, a home was opened to them. Once they were strangers but now, through faith in Jesus, they are brothers.

16-40 The Spirit leads them to the Jailer

16-18 Paul rebukes a spirit

“…a spirit by which she predicted the future…” Who knows what access the spirit world has to future events? Who even knows what access the Almighty has to it? That’s not to suggest that the future is out of his control or takes him by surprise, but can we ever resolve the coexistence of God’s sovereignty with man’s free will? The spirit was in a slave girl and her owners were profiting from her apparent skill. Paul did not know the future, nor did the Spirit of Jesus reveal it to him (except that he should go to Macedonia), but the Spirit of God will lead Paul to the ears of a jailer. We don’t need to know the future to be sure that God has the future under his control. We walk by faith and obedience.

“…he turned and said to the spirit…” For some bizarre reason, the spirit which turned out to be an annoying spirit, was proclaiming the truth that Paul and co were working for the Most High God and are here to show the way to salvation! At first, this might have amused Paul since it was the truth. But even the truth said over and over with no purpose can be counterproductive. Paul cast out the spirit in the name of Jesus – apparently not a spirit ion the side of Jesus.

19-24 Paul is imprisoned

“…her owners realised that their hopes of making money was gone…” The love of money will take many people to hell. Paul’s message of salvation was, to them, a message of poverty and ruin. And they hated him for ruining their livelihood. Their idol was greed and wealth and wanted nothing to do with Paul’s message.

“…the crowd joined in the attack against Paul and Silas…” Like some of the towns around Judea that rose up against Jesus, the apostle is up against crowd mentality.

“…and the jailer was commanded to guard them carefully.” So, they were locked up as public nuisances and found themselves with an audience ordered to be with them. God works in mysterious ways. Who could have planned for Paul to find his way to this jailer – but God worked all things out for good. Though the townsfolk meant their actions for evil, God intended it for good. They will still receive their condemnation for rejecting the gospel of life but their actions were used by God to bring the gospel to one who would respond.

25-34 Paul and Silas convert the jailer

“…praying and singing hymns to God…” The mission has come to a halt – or so it seems. Locked up in a prison cell with only themselves and a guard. Far away from their home church in Antioch where their friends would not know to be praying for their release. But Paul and Silas continued to trust in the Lord. Why not take the time to remind one another of God’s goodness and to praise Him from the heart. While many were safely sleeping in their beds, these missionaries were chained up, perhaps cold, probably uncomfortable, they were awake and praising God. We can’t help associate the earthquake as the intervention of God.

“…Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” This is the sort of question every Christian longs to be asked. It’s really the most important question. Is God real? Is the bible God’s word? Why does God allow suffering to go on? These are all very good questions too but ought to lead everyone to the first question: what must I do to be saved? This question, of course, is answered with, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved.” Both the question and the answer are loaded with side issues and questions, for sure. But this is the heart of importance. John’s entire gospel is aimed at answering this question. Romans 10:9 explains that “if you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” The difference between heaven and hell is this one decision: do you believe in the Lord Jesus. Not simply that a guy named Jesus lived – but that he is Lord. He is your Lord. He is the Lord of all. This is the difference between life and death. Perhaps the jailer understood that the Almighty took care of Paul and Silas and also that the prisoners were not desperate to preserve their own freedom. He may have witnessed the power of God over nature as well as the power of the gospel in the lives of these two men. Whatever he perceived, he was struck to ask these two men about salvation.

“…he was filled with joy…” Oh I wish that we could perpetuate that feeling. If only the church – all of us – would perceive the joy that it is to know Jesus. Our faith is one of knowledge of the truth. We can speak with philosophers who wonder and say that we know God. We can speak with scientists who study and say we know who did this. We can speak with the lost and say that we know the solid rock who gives us freedom from sin. We can speak to those burdened by religion and say that we know the mind of God and his invitation to come and find rest. We can speak to those who have sold themselves to money and say that we know the God of hope who has prepared an inheritance for all who turn to Jesus and believe the good news. We can also talk to God, the one whom we know in truth, and we can ask him to fill our hearts with joy – the joy that comes by faith in believing.

35-40 Paul escorted out of jail

“When it was daylight…” Between midnight and dawn, a man had been delivered from darkness to light. An earthquake had taken place and a man’s whole household had been baptised in response to the good news that Jesus is Lord. A man who previously only knew the fear of his Roman authorities, now was filled with joy because he had come to believe in God. He had opened his home to the prisoners and apparently lead them back to their cell before morning. When the morning came, officers of the magistrate may have thought they were bringing good news to Paul and Silas to release them. But that is no news at all compared to the release of the jailer from his bondage to sin and death.

“…No! Let them come themselves and escort us out.” The boldness of Paul makes me smile. An earthquake came and opened the doors for him to be free, yet he stayed. The jailer took him home and fed him and yet Paul and Silas returned to their cell before morning. Now they are given permission to leave and yet they want to demand their rights as Roman citizens. It’s quirky of Paul. But it illustrates his co-citizenship of earth and heaven. The gospel that he preaches is ultimately about right and wrong. If you are on the wrong side of Jesus you are in the wrong, so turn to him and be saved. He has been dealt with wrongly as a citizen of Rome and he chooses to make an issue out of this too. Sure, he could have dismissed it and gone on with his mission. But he has an opportunity here to declare that they are in the wrong! According to their rules, they have wronged him and they need to make amends.

“…they went to Lydia’s house…” This had become a base in Philippi for the believers and Paul encouraged them with the news of what had happened to him and Silas just as Peter encouraged the believers in Jerusalem after his rescue from prison by the hand of God. He undoubtedly let them know about the jailer and his family. When he left the believers, they supported him financially in his mission and even sent money to him when he was abroad (Philippians 4:14-16)

Meaning

Finding people and places to preach the gospel is as much a part of following the lead of the Spirit as it is setting an agenda and a plan. The plan will fail without the Spirit of God. But the plan must be to preach where the Spirit opens doors (or locks you in). The gospel itself is a work of the Spirit to open the hearts of the elect to respond. And our message must be directed to Jesus as Lord – this is the good news.

Application

  1. Discuss ways in which you have seen the Spirit of God directing you in your life? How have you been aware of this? What principals must we follow to know whether it is the Spirit of God or not?
  2. Our plans do get changed and it is important to understand the sovereignty of God in all situations. Bad events in life are also used by God for his good purposes. Do you have examples of this in your life? How might you see your current situations (today, this week, a specific function) as an opportunity to spread the gospel and to glorify God?
  3. Would you describe your life as full of joy for knowing God? Would you use the word joy at all to describe your life? Why or why not? Discuss.

Acts 12:1-24 – The church must be out of its mind to pray! (v5,9,15)

Context

The book of Acts is attempting to describe the spread of the good news that Jesus is Lord. The expansion of the gospel is taking place in many directions now, in Jerusalem and surrounding towns, to the north of Jerusalem as far now as Antioch, and to the south-west where Philip had baptised an Ethiopian.

The story has bounced between Peter’s experiences and Saul’s experiences. We return to Jerusalem now and to Peter and the others. There has been a great explosion of faith since Acts 2 but also scattering of believers through persecution. Jerusalem was experiencing a time of strengthening and peace and growth (Acts 9:31). But then King Herod acts. This is the Herod who had arrested and beheaded John the Baptist. In Mark 14:1-12 we learn that Herod was aware of prophets and their public influence. We also learn that he is influenced by the whims of the people and of the moment.

Observation

Structure

  • 1-5 Herod’s attack and the church’s defence
  • 6-11 Peter is rescued by God’s messenger
  • 12-17 The church is astonished
  • 18-19 Herod executes his own soldiers
  • 19-24 Herod is executed by God’s messenger

1-5 Herod’s attack and the church’s defence

“who belonged to the church…” Once the followers of Jesus were called disciples, then believers, then people of “The Way”, and then Christians. Now, they are recognised as the church. This word means “gathering” or “assembly” or “congregation”. Many will use it to describe a building used for religion but it is undeniably used here to refer to the people gathering together for a common purpose. It is used as a synonym for all the previous titles given to the followers of Christ.

“Herod” – This is Herod Agrippa I, the grandson of Herod the Great. See ‘Context’ for more.

“Persecute” – The greek says something like: to mistreat in the hands of Herod. As the mistreatment of is aimed at the church, ie, a specific people group, it is persecution.

“James, the brother of John” – these are the two sons of Zebedee, disciples of Jesus. At the end of this narrative, another James, probably the brother of Jesus, is told of Peter’s rescue. This second James is likely the writer of the epistle by the same name.

“…death with the sword…approval among the Jews.” Most of the Jews who had turned to Christ had been scattered out of the area under Saul’s persecution. While there was peace in Jerusalem post Saul’s conversion, apparently many Jews still viewed the Christian church as a nuisance and abomination. Herod’s dislike or hate for the church was embraced by the Jews. The approval encouraged Herod to arrest Peter, the leader of the church.

“Herod intended to bring him out for public trial after the Passover.” The Festival of Unleavened Bread is a seven day annual event amongst the Jews in preparation for the Passover. Both festivals are memorial celebrations of the Exodus, especially the night when God passed over all the houses marked by blood. This was the same festival coinciding with Jesus’ arrest, trial and crucifixion. Jesus had told Peter that he would die a similar death (John 21:18019). Perhaps Peter felt like this was the moment!

“…but the church was earnestly praying to God for him.” This was the church’s line of defense – to take their concern to God and plead with Him to intervene. Against a King who has successfully executed one believer and assigned 16 soldiers to guard Peter, the church prays. Perhaps Herod conceived a remote possibility that the church would muster a rescue plan by force? But he did not expect a rescue mission from the Almighty!

It must be noted that the church prayed ‘earnestly’. I wonder if there really is a different type of prayer? Of course you can say that you’ll pray and you can throw a light-hearted suggestion to God for something (like someone to believe, healing to happen, peace to be reached). But if it’s not earnest prayer, is it actually prayer? Of course I need to answer yes. Prayer is prayer whether it is described as earnest or casual. These are just adjectives. But this verse describes the focus of their gathering – they desired for God to help Peter in some way. They prayed deliberately, decidedly, thoughtfully, intentionally. The actual word here means: eagerly, fervently, constantly. They were still together at the end of the rescue – still in prayer! (v12) And the answer to their prayers even took them by surprise! It is so good when God answers our prayers so vividly. And it is a shame that we don’t pray like this. Individually and as a body of believers, it would be good to cultivate our prayer habits.

6-11 Peter is rescued by God’s messenger

“Then Peter came to himself…” The account of Peter’s rescue is mixed with physical action and mystical illusion. On the one hand, Peter is physically struck by the angel in order to get him to wake up, he is ordered to dress himself and chains and doors are removed or opened. On the other hand, Peter doesn’t feel like it is really happening, the guards are mysteriously avoided, doors and chains are dealt with magically and the rescuer is an angel. It all happens, in Peter’s mind, as if it is a dream or a vision. But when he comes his senses, he sees that this has actually happened. God has answered the prayers of the church and intervened miraculously.

All of the intentions of the government and the religious enemy have been thwarted by God. Everything was stacked against Peter. But God was against the will of men in this instance.

12-17 The church is astonished

“John, also called Mark.” This new character becomes very significant in the early church and the work of God. He became a travelling partner with Saul and Barnabas (v25), he was a cousin of Barnabas (Col 4:10), remained in service of the apostles and described as a son to Peter  (1 Peter 5:13). He is recognised as the writer of the gospel in connection with Peter.

“You’re out of your mind!” It’s amazing how Peter’s arrival was met with doubt. They had been praying for God to act but even this was beyond their expectations. The episode of the arrival of Peter is comical. But when they realised that Peter was saved, they celebrated and sent word to James to encourage and relieve him too. Our Christian growth will include a growing confidence in the ability of God to act. He will not always give us exactly what we ask, but when we pray fervently for things that God has promised to do, we must dismiss the temptation to doubt He can do it!

“It must be his angel.” This could be understood as Peter’s spirit (like Matthew 14:26) or as a guardian angel of Peter’s (see Matthew 18:10 and Hebrews 1:14).

“But Peter kept knocking” – He didn’t intend to go in and stay with the believers in Mark’s home since he immediately “left for another place” (v17). But he was intent on showing his brothers and sisters that he was alive and free and that James be told as well. Peter’s persistent knocking may remind us of the persistence needed sometimes in prayer. This is a shallow link, I know, but his unstopping approach is paralleled by the unstopping prayer of the church. It’s a small illustration of persistence when the initial prayers are not answered, don’t give up.

18-19 Herod executes his own soldiers

“no small commotion…thorough search…cross-examined…” The aftermath of the escape was extreme. With no answers found, Herod executes the guards. Perhaps his only explanation was that the guards were hiding the truth from him. How else could the escape be explained? It reminds me of when illnesses are mysteriously removed – unexpectedly – but doctors will just shrug their shoulders rather than concede that someone divine has intervened. Herod knew that the Christian church was surrounded by stories of miracles – even an empty tomb. But rather than examining the truth and conceding Jesus as Lord, he orders and execution on his own men.

19-24 Herod is executed by God’s messenger

“…because Herod did not give praise to God…” These verses describe the unique way that Herod the Tetrarch died. Although he was bringing a kind of unity in the region, according to these verses, he did not rebuke the people for praising him as a god. He had been exposed to enough of the work of God to know better and this was the final straw. A messenger of the Lord struck him down. He wasn’t instantly killed but bizarrely he was eaten by worms and died.

It’s a fitting conclusion to this section which began with Herod’s attack on the church. The church had prayed for the situation with Peter. Not only was the prayer answered by delivering Peter to freedom but it was further answered by delivering Herod over to death by worms!

Meaning

The church might appear out of their mind to pray – but we would be out of our minds not to!

Application

  1. Prayer of course! Prayer must be understood as a request or plea to the Almighty to take action. It is not a demand or a ‘name it and claim it’ practice. But neither is it a social pleasantry aimed at closing a Christian gathering or wishing someone good luck. When we pray, we enter the council of the Lord our God and we ask him to save, to restore, to renew, to protect or to reveal. Christians have turned their life to Christ and admit that God is supreme over their lives, which they are failing to live properly. Prayer is this faith speaking. The community of saints must be a community of prayers. If we are to be a “Christian community devoted to maturing in Jesus”, then let us devote ourselves to prayer!
  2. Reflect on your prayers and consider what you pray for. Do you bring to God the things that you believe he would want you to want?
  3. Pray for the persecuted church. opendoors.org.au, vom.com.au, and barnabasfund.org are three ways to be informed in your prayers – to pray specifically.