Category Archives: Faith

Acts 17:1-15 – Reasoning from the scriptures

Context

Paul and Silas left Antioch in Syria for Paul’s second missionary journey. In chapter 16, they had spent time in Philippi where they met a lady named Lydia who, along with her household, gave their life to Christ. And he met a jailer who did the same – he and his household. They left Philippi of their own will to continue their journey. Their mission is to take the word of the Lord – the message of salvation – to the Gentiles but it has been Paul’s practice to begin wherever he found a Jewish Synagogue.

Observation

Structure

  • 1-4 Believers in Thessalonica
  • 5-9 Jealousy in Thessalonica
  • 10-12 Studying the scriptures in Berea
  • 13-17 Stirring the crowd in Berea

1-4 Believers in Thessalonica

“…As was his custom…” Paul’s strategy has been consistant in his missions. Any time that he came to a town where there was a Jewish Synagogue, he began his ministry at that place. When there was no Synagogue, he looked for a place of worship. The Synagogues gave him a starting point to reason with the Jewish community to teach them what the Scriptures say about the Messiah. He is a man who is dependant on the Spirit and goes when he is called and follows opportunities as they arise but who had a plan and a system to follow. Rather than waiting for things to happen, he put his plans to work. Whether the plan was fruitful or not, well, that is a different issue. Paul knew that the Jews had already received the word of God and should have first opportunity to respond to the gospel. If they receive it, then they also provide a base to work out from.

“…he reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and proving…” We live in a world overwhelmed with short pithy phrases that are supposed to set our hearts at ease. “Dance like there’s nobody watching – Love like you’ve never been hurt – Sing like nobody’s listening – Live like it’s heaven on earth.” There’s one example of what I mean. And there you go. Life’s problems have been solved right there! Do you think that Jesus and the Scriptures are often boiled down so simplistically that they are no more profound than that? God is love. Jesus teaches us to do unto others… But life is complex – not simple. God is love and yet he has prepared hell for those who reject Jesus. The Scriptures are neither a child’s book nor a list of Twitter feeds. The bible is a grown up book to be read like a grown up. In them, you can find eternal life. In them, you can discuss the complex issue of suffering and how to find joy in every situation – really. Paul had his brain switched on and expected his hearers to be attentive and think while he reasoned with them, explaining and proving from the Scriptures that Jesus is Lord. God has not given us a child’s book but a sophisticated story which unpacks the issues of life and death and everything in between.

“…that the Messiah had to suffer and rise from the dead…” Thinking as a first century Jew, the concept of the Messiah was for God to raise up a king for Israel who will gather his people and rule again. This is a concept that comes from reading the Old Testament (or just the Scriptures as Paul would refer to them). What Paul wanted to convince the Thessalonian Jews of was this: that the Messiah had to suffer and rise from the dead. The disciples found it hard to digest that Jesus was preparing to die and rise to life again because that was not part of the Messiah description they were used to. Paul thought like this right up until his conversion on the Damascus road. After that, he saw clearly that the Messiah is God’s chosen king to rule over his people but it involved him suffering the cross and rising to life again. That this is supported and proven through the reading of the Scriptures means that God always had this planned – although unclear. The proof is scattered throughout Scripture in many and various ways. The clearest passage to go to is Isaiah 52-53. Knowing that the Messiah must suffer and rise again actually sheds light on passages to give them clarity. God’s Big Picture by Vaughan Roberts and taught at our church helps in this learning.

“…Some of the Jews were persuaded and … prominent women…” Not an overwhelming response from the Jews in Thessalonica. It’s not easy to know what Luke meant by “prominent women” or why he adds this. Luke draws attention to women in his story from time to time (1:14; 5:14; 8:12; 13:50; 16:13; 17:12). Although only a small response came from the Jews in the positive sense, a larger following was gathered from the Greeks and prominent women.

5-9 Jealousy in Thessalonica

“…But other Jews were jealous…” Perhaps they were jealous that high standing Greeks and women were moving their attention to the gospel. Their perceived power was being taken from them and they became jealous – an immature response which exists outside the gospel and must be removed as soon as possible for any convert (1 Corinthians 3:3). Their actions were worse than their motives since they drummed up a mob from the marketplace full of bad characters. Their response was not simply disbelief but vengeance and hate. They accuse Paul of causing trouble all over the place but Paul is not the one gathering up vigilantes and shouting before the city officials.

“…saying that there is another king, one called Jesus.” The fact is that if someone else appeared claiming to be the Messiah and seeking to raise an army of Jews to overthrow Rome, then these Jews would most likely be on the side of that king. But since Jesus is a so-called king who gives them no power, he is rejected as their king and they speak hypocrisy for their own sakes.

10-12 Studying the scriptures in Berea

“…the Berean Jews were of more noble character…” A funny translation for the NIV. Literally the phrase is “noble-minded” or “open-minded”. We are not being told that because the Bereans were more upper class that they listened like educated folk but that they had a mind to listen to alternate perspectives. Since they gave more time and attention to what the apostle had to say, they were described as open-minded.

“…examined the scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true…” The Bereans responded to the message of Paul with equal interest and vigor to learn. They approached the subject with sincerity and purpose to know and understand. They were not won over by short, sharp propaganda. When they believed, it was with a depth of understanding. They applied their confidence in the Scriptures to test the truth about Jesus. Yet again, the story of Acts is about the truth that Jesus is Lord in connection to the ancient faith of the Jews. He is the fulfillment to the unfolding story of salvation through the promises of God to Israel. The gospel does not require that we throw away, abandon or move on from the Old Testament. On the contrary, the good news is that Jesus is the Messiah of the Old Testament – the Lord.

13-17 Stirring the crowd in Berea

“…Jews in Thessalonica…agitating the crowds and stirring them up.” It’s truly amazing the extent that haters of Jesus will go to. Paul was as convicted against the uprising Christian church that he once travelled abroad to take them down. It’s such an extreme reaction to a message which brings hope and peace and life and truth.

“Those who escorted Paul brought him…and then left with instructions…” Paul travels on from Berea but not with his missionary companions. This time he is escorted for his own safety by a band who do not engage or remain with him for the mission. When he arrived in Athens, probably seeing the potential there, he sent instructions with the same men to have Silas and Timothy join him again on mission.

Meaning

The gospel demands a thorough investigation. It is a message grounded by…

  1. an ancient text predicting its fulfillment in Jesus and
  2. in an historic event where a man suffered and rose to life again having shown himself to be the Messiah.

To disprove Christianity, there are two clear places to attack: the ancient texts and the historic event. A fool who does not wish to believe can then attack the believers out of jealousy and hate. The wise man, however, will search the evidence thoroughly and come to see that Jesus is Messiah and Lord.

Application

  1. How thoroughly do you search the scriptures? Is your beliefs and convictions driven more by surface feelings and thought or are they grounded in deep understanding and study? Talk about how you study the scriptures or how you could learn to study them better.
  2. What is the gospel? Can you sum it up in one word? Can you sum it up in a sentence? A paragraph? A page? What things are important in the gospel message and what things are of secondary importance? Where does the cross and resurrection fit in your answer?
  3. Do you have anybody that you should or could disciple? Discuss how that is going and what you need to do to improve in the area of discipling others. (If you are a parent then you clearly have some people that you need to disciple.)

Acts 3 – The Author of Life

We’re back to looking at a larger chunk of text and so Growth Group leaders will need to decide how to divide the text and what to focus on. In this week’s passage, it is possible to discuss the whole passage from an eagle-view and then zoom in on a few sentences to discuss.

Context

The book of Acts is dealing with the early days of the Christian church. Jesus is risen and ascended to the right side of God the Father. From there he has poured out the Holy Spirit on all who believe. A great crowd of Jewish God-fearers hear Peter’s conviction that Jesus is both Lord and Messiah whom they had crucified. About 3000 of them repented and were baptised. During this time of revival, the church enjoyed the excitement of Learning together, meeting together, eating together and praying together. The days of the early church sound amazing! The apostles were excited to teach about Christ and their teaching was accompanied with many wonders and signs (2:43).

Observations

  •  Notice how similar chapter 3 is to chapter 2!
  1. 3:1-10…A miracle occurs through the apostles resulting in praises to God (2:1-12)
  2. 3:11-14…Peter steps up and declares that this is because of Jesus (2:14-23)
  3. 3:15-16…Peter convicts his fellow Jews of their wicked treatment of the Messiah (2:24-32)
  4. 3:17-26…Peter calls the hearers to repent for the forgiveness of sins (2:33-40)
  • While chapter 2 ends with 3000 converts, this episode leads to the first sign of persecution in the church (Ch4). Instead of converts, they get critics!
  • What the lame man expected from anyone was, at best, some money, and has experience of getting little or nothing as people walk by. Getting money from pious Jews was why he was brought to the temple and this is what he asked for. Even when he asks Peter and John, it seems like he hasn’t made any eye contact with them – he sees them and asks them for alms, but does not know for sure that he’ll get anything from them.
  • “In the name of Jesus Christ” – this phrase could be read as a magical word to provoke a miracle but this doesn’t fit at all with the gospel, of Jesus ministry or of the teaching of the apostles. It’s better to be read as a command for the man to get up and walk in Jesus name. That is, he’s being asked to trust Jesus and the power of Jesus. Verse 16 supports this. So, the man responded immediately to the call to trust Jesus.
  • Notice the physical aspect of this story. The man was carried to, probably, a routine location to receive alms from folk who were not even going to look him in the eye – any gifts from the crowd would be passed on with minimal to no personal contact. But Peter and John asked the man to look at them. Peter looked at them and said, “look at us!” After talking with the man (more than what he’d be use to) they took him by the hand (v7) and helped him up. What follows (7-8) is quite a visual description of the man’s activity – strength returned, jumping and walking and shouting praises to God (yes, go ahead and sing that song). Lastly, we read that the man held on to Peter and John (v11). The physical elements of the story take us from lame and distant, mechanical and dreary – to leaping and touching and talking and praising. It sounds like death has come back to life.
  • Notice the descriptions or titles attributed to Jesus in the story:
    1. “servant” (v13) which reflects the language of the Servant Messiah in Isaiah (eg, Isa52);
    2. “Holy and Righteous One” (v14) which seems again to point to the Messiah (note Mark 1:24);
    3. “author of life” (v15) – this doesn’t seem to have any past usage but clearly refers to Jesus’ divinity and work in creation. John 1 covers this theology and it’s brilliant to see Peter, only weeks after the resurrection, preaching this conclusion about Jesus.
    4. “Messiah” (18 and 20)
    5. “Prophet like [Moses]” (v22) – from Deut 18:15
  • The sermon from Peter is quite similar to the sermon in chapter 2. It’s where it differs which helps us to learn. Peter continues to emphasise the teaching of the Old Testament but rather than quoting as much as he did in chapter 2, he refers to key figures in the Old Testament: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, “all the prophets” beginning with Samuel, Moses. Jesus is the fulfilment of all that God has been promising beforehand.
  • Peter is encouraging the Jews to respond to all of this on the basis that the promise is first for the Jews (v25-26). The inference is that if they don’t accept Jesus as the Messiah, then others will be offered the gospel to accept.
  • Verse 18 – God fulfilled, God foretold – the Jews recent participation in the death of Christ was part of God’s plan. This doesn’t make what they did any less wicked and wrong – they killed the author of life! But repentance and forgiveness is still there’s to take hold of if they would turn to God.
  • Verse 19 – Repentance means turning to God. These are not two things. We can say sorry but it is only valid if you turn to the one you are sorry to! It’s being turned away from God and working, seemingly, against him that we are to repent of and be sorry for.
  • “Times of refreshing” – here is a recollection to the Deuteronomy choice: choose life or choose death! Choosing life will see you live long in the land that the Lord has given you! The difference now is that the times of refreshing are looking forward to the reality of the kingdom of God. See verse 21 which describes when the time comes for God to restore everything! So the times of refreshing are not prosperous times here on earth but are the day ahead of us when God restores all things – that is, when Jesus returns and the new heaven and new earth are revealed.
  • “Completely cut off from their people” – This is the flip side of the coin – if you do not repent, you will miss out on the refreshing times and will be cut off and removed from the people of God.
  • The Jews all needed to come to terms that Jesus Christ the Nazarene is the suffering servant, the holy one of God, the author of life and the Messiah whom God has promised. Unless they turn to God and repent, they will not be saved.

Meaning

Peter has taken another opportunity to teach his fellow Jews that Jesus is the promised Messiah and that all of his brothers, the descendants of Abraham, must turn from their wickedness and turn back to God. God will make all things new through Jesus.

Application

  • Faith healing is not about the power of the preacher/healer, but of the trust that we place on Jesus. This does not mean that we need more or greater faith in order to receive healing, but that our trust and confidence must be in Jesus. It’s not ours to demand a healing, but it is Jesus’ who demands to be trusted.
  • Peter had preached that Jesus is Lord in chapter 2 and his message and focus has not changed in chapter 3 – nor will it for the rest of his days or the book of Acts. The question of who Jesus is to us is key to Christian ministry. Who do you say that Jesus is?
  • Jesus had said that he would work first in Jerusalem before the gospel goes beyond (Acts 1:8) and this sermon is directed to the Jews in Jerusalem. Therefore, the mission of God is going exactly how God said that it would. He uses us to preach and teach and speak about Jesus but it is his mission.
  • Jesus is the author of life – in the name of Jesus, we will see people move from spiritual death to spiritual life – their sins are wiped out! And in the name of Jesus, we will see the whole of creation see refreshing and restored times – illustrated by the lame man. Are we living like the cripple who didn’t expect much improvement or are we seeing clearly like Peter who waits for the Messiah to return and make all things new?!

Prayer for the week

Author of life, wake us up to the mission you have for this world. Gift us with great joy to be praising you for the life you have given us and for the refreshing times you promise ahead. Amen.

Romans 4 – Faith like Abraham

We are studying a whole chapter this week which may seem or feel like a big chunk compared to our previous weeks. We had slowed down to consider the weight of sin and the evidence of our unrighteousness. Now we look at Paul’s scriptural evidence why it is and always has been a matter of faith that we are saved. God hasn’t changed the rules at all! In Christ, he is being completely consistent with all that he has said and promised in the Old Testament. Although it is a whole chapter, Paul’s message is simple: it has always been a matter of trust.

Before I continue I’d like to put a cheap plug in for the God’s Big Picture Plus course. If you have anyone in your growth group who is doing that course on a Sunday arvo, it would be great to ask them to share with the group how they have found it. I will run the course again, God willing, later this year or early next year. I highly recommend it. I’m confident that it is helpful to everyone who seeks to know God better and to understand righteousness given by faith in Christ.

THE THEME

The gospel is not a New Testament phenomenon but is the same message that God has always been committed to. Are you fully persuaded of God’s power to redeem you.

TOPICS COVERED IN THE TEXT

  • The full story of scripture – how the whole bible fits together.
  • What faith delivers vs what the law or works delivers.
  • What faith is.

 

OBSERVATIONS OF THE TEXT

V1 Paul turns now to Abraham, the father of all the Jews, to testify that righteousness is given by faith. God called Abraham, one man out of all the human race, to make promises to. Gen 12:1-3; 15:1-6; 17:3-8. These are the promises which began the Jewish race (sons of Judah) and the promises which precede the law received by Moses.

V2 Paul picks up the language of boasting again which he brought up in 3:27. It is also in line with Paul’s aim which is to elevate the gospel of faith over the law of works as he put it in Romans 1:16 ‘I am not ashamed of the gospel because it is the power of God’. Abraham was not labelled as righteous because of his works but because of his faith in trusting God who promised he would be the father of many.
NB: to be justified by works is not to outweigh the bad with the good but it is to always do good. One wrong makes us guilty.

V3 – ‘what does scripture say?’ Paul’s theology of salvation is not brand new. It is not a new message from the spirit but an understood message from the Old Testament scriptures. Our faith must be the same – based on a correct and intelligent reading from the word of God. Reading the bible for all it’s worth and being trained to read it better is of eternal value – not only to yourself but for those who you disciple. To teach others based on our own shallow knowledge will lead us and others astray from the truth.

‘Abraham believed God and it was credited to him as righteousness’ – here is Paul’s bible text which he will use to teach his message – that faith stands apart from the law and this is the basis of salvation. NB: James uses the same text of scripture to talk about faith in James 2. Many would believe that James teaches that we must have faith and follow through with works. I strongly suggest that James is simply giving a strong definition of faith since having faith will affect the way we live and make decisions. Abraham’s faith meant that he would do whatever God asked of him – even if it meant the death of his one and only son. His actions didn’t make him righteous – his absolute trust in God made him righteous.

Vv6-8 – Paul now turns briefly to David and quotes psalm 32. How does psalm 32 make sense without Christ? Isn’t it because God has always demanded faith as the basis of forgiveness and righteousness? The difference that Jesus makes is that we now know how this gift of righteousness is made possible and that God remain just. Jesus said to Thomas: blessed are you because you have seen and believe. How much more for those who have not seen and yet believe’ in 20 paraphrase. This is true of us today who have not seen the risen Lord and even truer for the saints who believed prior to Jesus’ incarnation.

Vv9-12 – whether circumcised or not, righteousness is received on the basis of faith alone. Not faith plus works or religious ceremony but faith from first to last (rom 1:17).

V13 – faith brings righteousness

V15 – law brings wrath … And an awareness of sin.

V17 – notice the details of this verse : that we believe in the God who gives life to the dead. God made Abraham the father of many nations – this is his promise and gift – calling into being something that was not!

Vv18-21 – hope beyond hope. The parallel between what Abraham was asked to believe and what we Christians have been asked to believe is clear: Abraham was promised life coming out of a dead womb. We are promised life out of a dead heart.

V21 – here is the definition of faith: being fully persuaded that God has power to do what he has promised! This is where assurance of salvation becomes clear: do you believe and are you fully persuaded that God can credi you as righteous through Jesus Christ?

V24 – the gospel is not simply believing in Jesus. It is believing in the power of God to justify sinners – the same God who raised Jesus from the dead.

V25 – read this verse. Do you believe it? Every word of it? Do you believe he did that for you?! Now read Romans 10:9.