I Thank God For You

Each morning on my Facebook page – which you can find here Andy Brown on Facebook – I try to share a daily Scripture. These are just verses from the Bible which I feel are relevant for the day ahead, and go in no particular order.

Today’s verse was from Romans.

First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for you all, that your faith is spoken of throughout the whole world.

Romans 1:8 (KJV)

Paul is writing to the Roman church, obviously, and is telling them how thankful he is for each and every one of them. He prays in thanks giving to the Father, through Jesus Christ, that their faith is spoken of the world over.

It is proving to be one of those days today for me. I woke with something of a migraine and the computer i’m working on, which was absolutely fine yesterday evening, is now doing some very odd things. The screen looks as though it is stretched in one direction, and the entire left hand side is missing presumed lost! The screen issues are not exactly helping the aforementioned headache!

We had a very busy day yesterday, as it was my eldest daughter’s birthday. They had quite a late night in the end, so today the children haven’t exactly been totally co-operative…

It would have been all too easy to just give the blog a miss today, but as I’ve posted every day since 17th March, I didn’t want to break the posting streak!

Why am I telling you this? Firstly, I think it is important to be open and honest with people where you are. It can be all too easy to read a blog or listen to a Bible teacher and mistakenly believe that all is well in their lives. Our nature somehow convinces us that everyone else is better and isn’t facing the same issues we are.

Bible teachers, while absolutely should be setting a good example, are human too and have problems like everyone else.

So, when I sat down to write after lunch, I was not exactly in the right frame of mind to do so.

As I pondered at the keyboard for a few minutes, I got to thinking about the verse above from Romans, which I had shared that morning. I cannot say that God “spoke to me” but felt perhaps it was enough to say to – the reader – that, like Paul, I thank God for you too.

To each and every reader of this blog, and to every follower of the Facebook page and social media, I say a massive thank you. It means a great deal to me when people read this blog and make the effort to get in touch. I read every comment and message, and I do my best to respond where I can.

Not only do I thank you, but I thank God for each of you. Most people who read this blog are seeking a deeper journey in their faith and walk with God, and I am humbled that these words can play even a small part in that. I am honoured that you would take time to read, and I pray that this blog encourages you and helps you draw closer to Jesus.

If you like what you see here, do let me know and please do pass it on to anyone else you think may benefit. I notice when people share my posts, as I see a bump in the page views and it is really encouraging. I do not want fame or fortune of course, but it is uplifting to see readers and sharers alike.

Thank you again, and I will be praying for every reader. It is an immense privilege to pray for you, so if you have any requests, then please do pass them along to me as well.

God bless you, and I hope normal service will resume tomorrow – stretchy screen permitting!

Peter Preaches… Again

In yesterday’s post – Miracle at the Gates – we spent some time thinking about the miracle performed by Peter and John at the entrance to the temple. This miracle created a lot of attention, and Peter did not hesitate to speak to those gathered. Today we will have a look at what he had to say. Notice this is the second time Peter preaches, hence the title. You can read about the first time he spoke (at Pentecost) in my post – Peter Preaches.

You can find Peter’s words in Acts 3:12-26, and as it’s quite a lengthy passage, I won’t quote it all here. Hit the link above if you want to read the full text, and I’ll quote parts of it throughout the post.

Open With a Question

Peter begins his sermon by asking the crowd a few questions. It can be a good way to start a message, as it gets us thinking about the subject at hand.

When Peter saw it, he responded to the people, “You men of Israel, why do you marvel at this man? Why do you fasten your eyes on us, as though by our own power or godliness we had made him walk?

Acts 3:12 (WEB)

Peter gets straight to it, asking why they are so interested in what has happened. He is challenging their surprise, as if this man becoming well is a perfectly normal thing to have happened. And indeed, when in the presence and power of Christ, the supernatural becomes the natural.

Peter asks the group why they “fasten their eyes” on them, which is the same phrase used in verse 4 when peter looked on the man prior to the healing.

He is crystal clear with the people that this man was not healed by his or John’s power or godliness, and therefore the crowd’s interest should not be on them, but on the source of that power. And that is…?

The Answer

Verse 13 begins “The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the God of our fathers, has glorified his Servant Jesus,” and points very clearly to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Peter names the Jewish forefathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob leaving the people in no doubt about Who has performed this amazing feat of healing.

Peter pulls no punches as he tells them that they are responsible for killing the prince of Life. Pilate offered them a chance to release Christ, but they chose a murderer instead, denying and rejecting the Messiah.

By faith in his name, his name has made this man strong, whom you see and know. Yes, the faith which is through him has given him this perfect soundness in the presence of you all.

Acts 3:16 (WEB)

Verse 16 implies it is both faith in the Name of Jesus, and the very Name itself which has given this man “perfect soundness” of body. What miracles can be brought about by the Name of Christ! We must never underestimate that Name, nor use it in vain. Power is released as we utter the Name of Jesus, and is the reason we pray in that Name alone.

What Shall We Do?

Verses 17 and 18 tell us that Peter acknowledged their ignorance of what they had done. They knew not who Jesus really was, and neither did their leaders. Yet the prophets had foretold that the Christ would have to suffer and die, and so Christ fulfilled their words.

Peter goes on to tell the people what they now need to do.

Repent therefore, and turn again, that your sins may be blotted out, so that there may come times of refreshing from the presence of the Lord,

Acts 3:19 (WEB)

To repent, as Peter says, is to turn – to turn away from sin and wrongdoing, and to turn to God. We must all do this. Few churches seem to remind their congregants of the need to repent these days. Yet, each one of us, must turn from our sin and turn to Christ. In doing so, our sins will be blotted out – crossed out of the book if you prefer – never to be mentioned again.

Peter tells not just his audience, but us as well, of the terrible consequences of not turning to Christ in verse 23.

And it shall be that every soul who does not listen to that prophet shall be destroyed from the people.’

Acts 3:23 (ESV)

We must take this warning seriously. There will come a time when it is too late to turn back, and their is no better time than now to give your life to Christ. He is the only way to Heaven and their are no shortcuts. Surrender to Him right here and now, ask Him to forgive you and to be in charge of your life from here on out. It will be the best decision you ever make!

Closing Words

Peter closes his sermon by telling the people that Christ will remain in Heaven until the time comes to restore all things. When that day comes, He will return and put all things right! This was spoken of by the prophets of old, and Peter points out several Scriptures to them.

He reminds them of the covenant God made with Abraham, and that it would never be forgotten. God is not slow in keeping His promises, nor will He ever break a single one of them.

Peter finishes in verse 26 with the following words, and I think it is a great place to finish our post today also.

Praise God our Father who sent His Son to us to bless us, and to turn us from our wickedness!

God, having raised up his servant, sent him to you first, to bless you by turning every one of you from your wickedness.”

Acts 3:26 (ESV)

Miracle at the Gates

Acts 3 can loosely be summarised into two parts. Firstly, Peter and John perform a miracle at the gates of the temple. Then, the second part of the chapter covers another sermon Peter preached in response to the events surrounding the above miracle. In today’s post, we will think about the miracle itself and then examine Peter’s words tomorrow.

A certain man who was lame from his mother’s womb was being carried, whom they laid daily at the door of the temple which is called Beautiful, to ask gifts for the needy of those who entered into the temple. 3 Seeing Peter and John about to go into the temple, he asked to receive gifts for the needy. 4 Peter, fastening his eyes on him, with John, said, “Look at us.” 5 He listened to them, expecting to receive something from them. 6 But Peter said, “I have no silver or gold, but what I have, that I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, get up and walk!” 7 He took him by the right hand and raised him up. Immediately his feet and his ankle bones received strength. 8 Leaping up, he stood and began to walk. He entered with them into the temple, walking, leaping, and praising God. 9 All the people saw him walking and praising God. 10 They recognized him, that it was he who used to sit begging for gifts for the needy at the Beautiful Gate of the temple. They were filled with wonder and amazement at what had happened to him. 11 As the lame man who was healed held on to Peter and John, all the people ran together to them in the porch that is called Solomon’s, greatly wondering.

Acts 3:2-11 (WEB)

Verse 1 (not quoted above) tells us that Peter and John were going to the temple at the hour of prayer. They encounter a man who is entirely dependent on others. Each day they carry him there, and he asks for gifts to meet his needs. In those days, there was no welfare system you could call on in time of need. If you were disabled and not able to work, then you were essentially reduced to begging.

Imagine how difficult that must have been? I guess it would have felt like being trapped, with no way out and very little hope ahead. Speaking from experience, I have a severe sight problem and so have a glimpse (if you excuse the pun) of what it must have been like. Technological advances in the last few years have made such a difference to some with disabilities, and for me personally smart phones and IT kit means I can work and live independently. This man had no such help.

Verse 4 is particularly interesting to me. Peter gazes at this man intently, and asks him to look in return. The phrasing is unusual, and it is not immediately obvious to me what is going on here.

I wonder if Peter, as he was passing by, was moved by the Spirit and this focusing of his eyes on the man was him discerning the Spirit’s call. As he looked on the man, maybe that still small voice was telling him what he could do to help.

Peter tells him to “Look at us!” suggesting he was not, initially, looking at them. I wonder how many times people had walked by, hearing his request for alms and yet not daring to even look.

I used to work in London, and would often see homeless men and women sitting by the side of the road. They might ask for spare change, and yet so many (and I admit myself at times) would walk past without even acknowledging they were there. For this particular man, perhaps the invisibility was as worse as his physical disability.

The man looks up expecting to be given something from these two men. Peter quickly quoshes that idea and informs him he has neither silver nor gold.

Then Peter does something astonishing. He gives the man what he has, and that is the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ. In that name, and in its power, he commands him to get up and walk. And with a helping hand from Peter, he does just that!

I want to point out that Peter does not pray. He does not first ask God to heal the man, and then wait on Him to move. Instead, he speaks out of his authority, using the power of Christ.

I was once taught that all believers have this authority, and any of us can call on the name of Jesus and invoke this power. I do not want to explore this thought here and now, as I think it is a whole series of blog posts. You certainly cannot take that view from this event alone. Peter may have been a special case, and this healing miracle was certainly “authentication” for the words he would shortly speak.

I am passionate about healing, and certainly believe it is clearly taught in the New Testament. Of course, not every person receives healing every time they ask, and there are many reasons for this. Suffice it to say that Jesus spent much of His ministry healing the sick, and I do not think He has changed today. There are gifts of healing promised in the New Testament, and James’ letter instructs us to pray for the sick, as does Mark’s version of the Great Commission. Unless someone can convince me biblically that healing is no longer for us today, I will continue to believe in it and ask for it.

Peter speaks these words over this man, and immediately his legs grew strong and he was able to walk. It is an amazing miracle, and one for which I praise God. Verse 8 tells us he joined them in entering the temple, and went in leaping and praising God! Thank God for the miracles He works in our lives, be it healing or otherwise!

Verses 9 and 10 tell us the reason for the healing. When all saw this healed man leaping and praising the Lord, they were amazed! It drew attention. It made people open to the Lord, and as we shall see next time, Peter was ready to speak of what Christ had done.

Something God has challenged me on in the last few days is how I approach Bible passages. My immediate reaction is to look for application, and to ask how I can apply it in my life. I heard someone say the other day that the Bible is not about me, it’s about God. I should not feel the pressure to extract application from every verse, as not every verse is about me. That applies here too. I would love to examine the miracle and look for the steps I need to take to receive my own miracle, or to bestow a miracle on others. There is room for that of course, but it is not primarily a teaching passage telling us what to do. Rather, it is telling us what happened.

As much as I would like my own healing, I praise the Lord for this man receiving his.

Had I only scoured this text for what I could get out of it, I would have missed something important. Today, as I wrote this post, I saw something I had never seen before.

A certain man who was lame from his mother’s womb was being carried, whom they laid daily at the door of the temple which is called Beautiful, to ask gifts for the needy of those who entered into the temple.

Acts 3:2 (WEB)

They recognized him, that it was he who used to sit begging for gifts for the needy at the Beautiful Gate of the temple. They were filled with wonder and amazement at what had happened to him.

Acts 3:10 (WEB)

Look at what this man was doing at the gate. I have always just assumed he sought fulfilment of his own needs, and most likely he was. But reading the verses above, you could also read it as he was collecting money for the poor other than himself.

Not wanting to overstretch the idea, perhaps this man shared what he received with others and that tells us something important about the kind of man he was. Maybe that played a part in what happened to him.

Don’t just read the Bible for what you can get out of it – it’s not about you!

Prayer Video – 4th June 2020

Today Andy shares a brief video praying over the latest requests he has received. Please join him in praying for those mentioned here.

Sorry that the preview is appearing upside down! It should play fine.

If you would like Andy to pray for you, please do get in touch via the Contact page or just leave a comment.

Thanks for watching!

The Early Church

We continue on with our study through the book of Acts, and today conclude chapter 2. There are only a few verses left in the chapter from where we left off, but there is a lot said.

They continued steadfastly in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and prayer. 43 Fear came on every soul, and many wonders and signs were done through the apostles. 44 All who believed were together, and had all things in common. 45 They sold their possessions and goods, and distributed them to all, according as anyone had need. 46 Day by day, continuing steadfastly with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread at home, they took their food with gladness and singleness of heart, 47 praising God, and having favor with all the people. The Lord added to the assembly day by day those who were being saved.

Acts 2:42-47 (WEB)

This passage gives us a brief look into what the early church would have been like. Remember that this comes straight off of the back of Peter’s sermon at Pentecost where three thousand souls were added to the number of the followers of Christ. The “they” here is the new group of believers joining the disciples.

The Apostles’ Teaching

The first thing we learn is that this group of believers were dedicated to the teaching of the Apostles. We are not told specifically what was being taught, but based on Peter’s sermon and other teaching both in Acts and the rest of the New Testament, I think we can get a fairly good idea. The believers spent time learning what they needed to know. They were not satisfied with a short sermon on a Sunday morning, but rather were “steadfast” or continual in the teaching of the Word of God.

Do we “continue steadfastly” in the teaching of the Word, or do we dip in and out of it as we wish? What a challenge!

Fellowship and the Breaking of Bread

Fellowship means that this group of believers lived life together. They were united, and shared their days with each other. This is also seen in the breaking of bread, meaning they shared meals together also. We need other believers in our life. Life is difficult, and all the more so when you are a serious Christian in a hostile world. We need encouragement and support, and we get this from each other. A life lived alone is very difficult indeed. A life shared with other like-minded believers is not necessarily easier, but at least you can draw on the strength and help offered by the family of Christ.

While breaking bread of course means to eat meals together, in the culture of the Middle East it is more significant than that. To break bread with another means to be united with them. In the western culture, we might liken it to the shaking of hands. When we give someone our word, we tend to shake on it as a sign that we are serious. It implies a sort of contract between us. In the Middle East, the breaking of bread means something similar.

Prayer

Again we see here the believers united in prayer. As we read through Acts, we will see time and time again that the Early Church were constant in their prayers. These were nott prayers prayed alone and in private, but corporate prayer shared with others. Absolutely they would have spent much time in private prayer also, but they made it a priority to pray with other believers. We should do likewise.

All Who Believed

We see in verse 44 that all who believed were “together.” It says that they had “all things in common,” and this is a real challenge to us in the modern church. These verses paint a picture of almost complete unity among the believers. It is a unity we often only dream of in churches today.

Yet Jesus prayed for unity as recorded in John 17. He wanted and expected us to be in unity, to stand together and to hold one another up. I really feel, as i write this, that we are to take it seriously. How many churches have divided over silly issues; the colour of the curtains, the time of the services or other such trivial matters. Let each one of us do our part to protect and maintain the unity among us.

There are many references in these few short verses alone of their togetherness, unity, being of “one accord.” etc. Let each of us pray for that kind of oneness among our church family.

The passage tells us that they also sold their goods and possessions that they might share with each other. This kind of selflessness is unheard of these days. Many of us work very hard for what we have, and yet few of us are true givers. We might give some money to the church, but I’ve met very few who would sell what they have just so that they could share with the family of believers. Again, it is a real challenge for us. Tossing a few coins into the offering basket each week seems woefully inadequate next to the kind of selfless life lived by these believers.

The chapter ends with verse 47:

praising God, and having favor with all the people. The Lord added to the assembly day by day those who were being saved.

Acts 2:47 (WEB)

As well as all the things we have mentioned above, this verse sums it all up with the words “praising God.” Everything they did revolved around their dedication to the worship of the Lord. He had saved them, in His great mercy, and they now lived their life in worship to Him.

It says that they had favour with all the people, which is a sign that they truly lived humbly and in loving-kindness. Only such a church family would attract such favour.

The chapter closes by telling us that everyday God was adding to their number. As churches, we may long for God to add to our number, and regularly pray that He would do so. It is a great responsibility however, to nurture new believers and we must make every effort – co-operating with the Holy Spirit – to be the kind of church where God can trust us with new believers. Let us not just preach the Gospel, but let us live it out each and every day. As we do so, it will be a witness to the world.

I pray that God will indeed add to the family of believers each day, and that the church globally will look like the early church described above. Amen!

Peter Preaches

Yesterday was Pentecost Sunday and I shared some thoughts on Acts 2 and the coming of the Holy Spirit. You can read that post here or even watch the video version on my Facebook page – Andy Brown on Facebook .

Acts 2 is a fairly lengthy chapter, so I won’t include the entire text in this post. Today I want to focus on Peter’s sermon which he gave to the crowd after they saw the results of the coming of the Holy Spirit. You can find the full text of Peter’s message here – Acts 2:14-41.

The Sermon

Seeing the Apostles so moved by the Holy Spirit, and hearing them speak in all manner of different languages, the crowd accuse them of drunkenness. It would be quite some drink that allowed them all to speak in various languages, but let’s not get distracted!

Peter stands up and begins to speak. It is a powerful word with conviction of the Holy Spirit behind it. What does he say?

Peter points out that what they are seeing is nothing to do with alcohol, especially given the time of the morning, but instead goes straight to the Old Testament Scriptures.

But this is what has been spoken through the prophet Joel:

Acts 2:16 (WEB)

This is interesting to me, as my expectation might have been to use the Hebrew Scriptures to a primarily Jewish audience. We know from the same passage though that there were many different nations and tongues present on the day of Pentecost. In our evangelism, we might choose not to be too Bible-heavy, quoting Scriptures and pointing our biblical texts, thinking those outside of the church may not respond to it. This is a mistake! People are saved by hearing the Word of truth!

having been born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, through the word of God, which lives and remains forever.

1 Peter 1:23 (WEB)

So we see Peter is right to quote the Scripture, and we should too.

Peter shows them that what they are seeing is the fulfilment of prophecies given long ago in the Old Testament. Joel speaks of the “last days” that God would pour out His Spirit freely, and various spiritual gifts would be displayed. What this audience is seeing in the disciples behaviour, is the release of that promise. We will read later that those who came to Christ as a result were also in receipt of the Holy Spirit and too displayed these gifts.

May I also point out that if those were the “last days,” then we, two thousand years later, live in even later days. Christ is coming, sooner or later, He will return. Every one of us must be ready for that hour.

Peter then goes on and sets out the truth of the Gospel of Christ.

Men of Israel, hear these words! Jesus of Nazareth, a man approved by God to you by mighty works and wonders and signs which God did by him among you, even as you yourselves know,

Acts 2:22 (WEB)

He tells them that they know of Jesus, what wonders and miracles He did among them, and yet was delivered up to be crucified. Peter shows them that this was the plan from the beginning, yet those who did this wicked thing were lawless men. He tells them that death was not able to hold Him in the grave, and that He rose to newness of life.

Peter again draws on the Old Testament, and particularly cites Scriptures of King David. He explains to his hearers that David could not have been speaking of himself, because they knew precisely where David’s tomb was in that very day. Peter shows them that David was a prophet, and was pointing to the Christ who would come after him, and that was Jesus.

Let all the house of Israel therefore know certainly that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.

Acts 2:36 (WEB)

The Response

How do they respond to this sermon preached at Pentecost?

Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?”

38 Peter said to them, “Repent, and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.

Acts 2:37-38 (WEB)

Peter’s words are wonderful, but only the conviction of the Holy Spirit can bring about such a response.

They immediately know that what Peter has said is true. They knew of Jesus, and the miracles He worked among them, and yet they knew that He had been executed without cause. What can we do! They cry out in fear, knowing they holdsome part of the guilt.

Peter tells them to repent, to change their ways and their minds and to be baptised in he Name of Christ for the forgiveness of their sins. They must submit to Jesus, giving their lives over to Him and receiving the forgiveness that His death brought about. If they do, then they too will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit just as the disciples have done.

In closing, we read:

With many other words he testified, and exhorted them, saying, “Save yourselves from this crooked generation!”

41 Then those who gladly received his word were baptized. There were added that day about three thousand souls.

Acts 2:40-41 (WEB)

With many other words Peter convinced them, and I do wonder what those words might have been. What we do know though is that many turned to Christ that day. Verse 41 says that three thousand were added to their number! Amazing!

And this was just the beginning…

Pentecost Sunday

It was my privilege to share with the church in our village this morning, celebrating Pentecost Sunday. Not all of the church’s members have access to video so I’ve written out a short message which I share below. I will put the video version out on my Facebook page later today. Here is a link to the Facebook page if you are interested in following there – Andy Brown on Facebook .

It is Pentecost Sunday, and the day we remember what is essentially the birth of the church. The word “Pentecost” means “50 days”, and it occurs fifty days after the Jewish Passover. We may associate Pentecost with the church, but if you look at Acts 2:1, you will see that the Apostles met together on Pentecost, and then the Holy Spirit came.

Jesus, prior to His Ascension and after His death and resurrection, had instructed the disciples to wait in Jerusalem until they had been “clothed with power from on high.” (see Luke 24:49). The Ascension, usually celebrated on the sixth Thursday after Easter, reminds us of how Christ ascended into Heaven. For ten days, the disciples have waited for this event, not really knowing what would happen.

The Holy Spirit descends on them with great power. As Jesus ascends into Heaven, He does not leave the disciples to fend for themselves, but sends His Spirit to dwell in and with them. We see this power displayed in an amazing way in Acts 2, with a great rushing wind and tongues of fire. The Apostles then begin to speak out in the languages of the people around them, sharing the Gospel of Jesus with them. This is perhaps a reversal of the events at the Tower of Babel, centuries earlier when God confused the language of mankind and scattered them about the Earth. Now all people are united in hearing the news about Christ and what He has done.

For us, living in the 21st Century, these first Pentecost events may seem like something out of a movie. Very few of us, I imagine, can claim to have seen such works of power. I do not think such miracles are restricted to the Early Church, but such things are not the subject of our message right now.

For today, I want us to focus on the Apostle Peter. As the people see the strange actions of the Apostles, they begin to imagine they might be drunk. Peter leaps to their defence and begins a very eloquent sermon. With authority, he speaks of Old Testament prophecies from Joel and how God would pour out His Spirit. Until that point, the Spirit was reserved for only a select few of the Old Testament believers.

Look at Peter, and listen to his words. How he has changed in such a short time! Less than two months prior to this, he denied that he even knew Christ let alone was one of his closest friends. Now he stands tall and proud, proclaiming the good news about Jesus to a huge crowd. Later in Acts 2 we read that 3,000 people believed in Peter’s words, so the crowd was at least as large as that and of course probably more.

What has driven this change in Peter? What has made him so bold?

I suggest two things. Firstly, no one who encounters the Risen Christ can remain unchanged. Shortly after Jesus’ resurrection, Peter and the others travelled north to Galilee. There he met the Risen Lord by the sea, and told Jesus that he loved Him three times (see John 21). Jesus restores Peter, and although the road ahead would not always be smooth and would in fact lead to martyrdom, Peter knew he had been accepted and forgiven by Jesus.

Secondly, Peter has indeed now been clothed with power. Peter no longer acts alone and impetuously, instead he is guided by the Holy Spirit. The Spirit shapes his words and gives him the confidence to face the crowds and Jewish authorities. Peter does not do it in his own strength, but in the Lord’s.

For us, we can likewise encounter the Risen Christ this Pentecost. We may not see Him with our own eyes, but that makes Him no less real or accessible. In the same way as Peter, we too can draw on the power of the Holy Spirit for our everyday lives. While we may not be called to speak to crowds like Peter was, the Spirit is as equally willing to aid us in raising our children, doing a good job at work or witnessing to those in our community.

If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him?”

Luke 11:13 (WEB)

Amen!

Togetherness

Over the last few days we have started to work our way through the book of Acts. You can catch up on any posts you’ve missed by selecting Acts from the categories list on this page.

I want to try and complete chapter 1 today, as tomorrow is Pentecost and it would be great to be able to move on to chapter 2 in time for that…

We pick up at chapter 1 verse 12, but I won’t include the entirety of the text here because it’s rather long. You can read the full section on Bible Gateway here.

In summary, Jesus ascends into heaven and the disciples and a group of others return to the Upper Room where they spend much time praying. Peter talks about what happened to Judas, how it fulfilled Scripture and then they set about finding a replacement for him.

I must confess to often struggling to write or speak about passages like this one. My make up is such that I immediately look for application and lessons, but some passages just are not there for that reason. This one is narrative in nature, just telling us what happened, and contains no direct instruction for us.

The wonder of the Bible is that there is always something of value to find. What you see in these words may be quite different to what I see, and only in sharing together can we learn and grow. So do feel free to comment below (on any of my posts) of things you see in the Scriptures which I do not mention.

The Disciples

When they had come in, they went up into the upper room where they were staying; that is Peter, John, James, Andrew, Philip, Thomas, Bartholomew, Matthew, James the son of Alphaeus, Simon the Zealot, and Judas the son of James

Acts 1:13 (WEB)

Verse 13 lists the names of the disciples who were gathered. I just want to point out that if you compares the lists of names in the Gospels, sometimes you end up a little confused. Different names appear, and so it can lead us to ask who actually were the Twelve? Just bear in mind that some of them were known by more than one name. The Twelve were consistent throughout, but one Gospel might use a different name to another.

One Accord

All these with one accord continued steadfastly in prayer and supplication, along with the women, and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers.

Acts 1:14 (WEB)

Verse 14 tells us that the believers were together with “one accord.” I love this little phrase! The modern day church comprises of all manner of different denominations who believe slightly different things about God and the Bible. Too often we are known by our division, not our “oneness.”

As churches, we are all in the same family of believers. We should not spend our time focusing on our differences of opinion and doctrine, but on what we can agree on. I am not saying we should compromise our beliefs or unite with any group who does not accept Jesus as Lord and Saviour, but let us all show the world how we can be of “one accord.”

I am struck by how often the early church met for prayer. It seems a constant marker in their lives that they did not just pray, but prayed together. It is a great privilege, seldom recognised, that we can join with other believers and pray to our Father in Heaven.

Peter and the Others

In these days, Peter stood up in the middle of the disciples (and the number of names was about one hundred twenty), and said, “Brothers, it was necessary that this Scripture should be fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit spoke before by the mouth of David concerning Judas, who was guide to those who took Jesus.

Acts 1:15-16 (WEB)

Verse 15 notes two important things to me. Firstly, Peter is already starting to step into his leadership role. Despite his many failures, he is already beginning to fulfil Jesus’ command by the sea of Galilee to “feed my sheep” (see John 21:17).

I mistakenly imagine this gathering in the Upper Room to be small and intimate. The remaining eleven disciples, holed up and avoiding the authorities, waiting for the promise of the Holy Spirit. This verse challenges my imagination, telling us clearly that there were over a hundred gathered there.

During His ministry, Jesus probably did not move around in a small group with just the disciples in tow. For starters, the women who travelled with Him went largely unmentioned. Jesus had no small following, and the events of the upcoming Pentecost would only multiply this.

Peter sets out how the betrayal of Jesus by Judas was foretold by David, and he shares some the Scriptures concerning this. For me at least, one of the reasons I am fully convinced the Bible is true is because of the Old Testament prophecy. It is undeniable that it was written in advance of the events, and yet clearly tells of what would happen. If so many were fulfilled by the coming of Christ, then we can have complete assurance that He is who He says He is. And we can also be sure that those prophecies which are yet to be fulfilled, certainly will.

Of the men therefore who have accompanied us all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, 22 beginning from the baptism of John, to the day that he was received up from us, of these one must become a witness with us of his resurrection.”

Acts 1:21-22 (WEB)

Verses 21 and 22 again challenge us that there were those who were with Christ from the beginning of His ministry, who were not included in the Twelve.

The passage ends with the selection of Matthias to replace Judas. They do not take a vote, nor conduct a series of interviews and selection processes. They cast lots and seek the will of the Father in this matter. The consensus of the group may have made a different choice, for all we know, and only God knows the heart and can make the right choice.

Doing it like this strengthens their togetherness in “one accord.” There is no division, preferring one party over another. In meekness and humility, they submit to God’s will.

Praise be to the God and Father who knows us inside and out, and let us always seek His will in every matter. Amen!

Don’t Just Stand There

Let’s pick up where we left off with the book of Acts:

Therefore when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, are you now restoring the kingdom to Israel?”

7 He said to them, “It isn’t for you to know times or seasons which the Father has set within his own authority. 8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you. You will be witnesses to me in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the uttermost parts of the earth.”

9 When he had said these things, as they were looking, he was taken up, and a cloud received him out of their sight. 10 While they were looking steadfastly into the sky as he went, behold, two men stood by them in white clothing, 11 who also said, “You men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into the sky? This Jesus, who was received up from you into the sky, will come back in the same way as you saw him going into the sky.”

Acts 1:6-11 (WEB)

A conversation is recorded between Jesus and the disciples, and we recall that this is happening between the Resurrection and the Ascension. Having seen all that they had seen, the disciples ask a question. Will you now be restoring the Kingdom to Israel?

It is hard for us to imagine what they had been through. They find a Man they believe to be the Christ, see Him perform many miracles, signs and wonders, and they watch as He is arrested and executed. Their hopes and dreams are dashed. Wasn’t He the One who was supposed to restore Israel to the good old days of King David?

jesus has challenged them all throughout, trying to help them understand that He is the Suffering Saviour, not the Warrior King they are expecting. One day He will come riding a warhorse, but not now.

Having seen the resurrection, they now think it is time for Him to rise up and conquer the Romans… it wasn’t the kind of King He was that they got wrong, just the timing right? Their question betrays all of this.

Jesus gives them something of a rebuke. It is not for you to know! Times and seasons are set by the Father, by and through His very own authority. He is in charge, and He calls the shots.

Jesus turns their thinking on its head once more. They are told they will be given power to be witnesses for Christ. yes, in Jerusalem of course, but also Judea, Samaria and the whole world. The mere mention of Samaria might have made them catch their breath, for the Jews and the Samaritans were not friends. Jesus tries to turn their Israel-centric thinking into a more global perspective. The Kingdom Jesus speaks of is not an Israeli one, but a worldwide one.

After Jesus had said these things, He ups and leaves – quite literally! The disciples watch as He ascends into Heaven, leaving them behind. They perhaps felt rather alone, His words ringing in their ears and highlighting that perhaps they had little idea of what was about to happen.

Verse 10 tells us that two men were standing by them, dressed in white clothes. The Greek word here is aner, and it means adult male. Some translate this as angels and many of us assume these are two angels standing there. And of course, it could well be.

The last time we saw Jesus enveloped in a cloud and touching Heaven was on the Mount of Tranfiguration, where there were also two men standing there.

About eight days after these sayings, he took with him Peter, John, and James, and went up onto the mountain to pray. 29 As he was praying, the appearance of his face was altered, and his clothing became white and dazzling. 30 Behold, two men were talking with him, who were Moses and Elijah, 31 who appeared in glory, and spoke of his departure,[d] which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem.

Luke 9:28-31 (WEB)

The word “men” in verse 30 above is the very same word – aner – as in Acts 1:10. It could be, and I would not make a new doctrine out of it, that these two men of the Transfiguration (Moses and Elijah) are the same two who spoke with the disciples at Jesus’ Ascension. It is just an idea, but interesting nonetheless!

Our passage today started with a question – the disciples asking Jesus about the Kingdom, and it too ends with a question. The two men, whoever they were, asking the disciples why they stood gazing into the sky? Do you not know that Jesus will come back the same way that He went?

The implication is that there is work to be done. Don’t stand around staring at the sky, roll up your sleeves and get on with the work of witnessing. Wait, of course, for the coming of the Spirit, but then let’s get on with the job until He returns.

I pose that same question to you today. Are you standing around, or do you know that Jesus will one day return (and perhaps soon)? We have the Holy Spirit, so let us all get on with the job of telling the entire world about Christ! Amen!

Wait!

Yesterday I began to write about the book of Acts, and you can find that post here if you didn’t get a chance to read it before – The Acts of the Apostles. Today I am continuing with chapter 1 concentrating on verses 4 and 5.

The first book I wrote, Theophilus, concerned all that Jesus began both to do and to teach, 2 until the day in which he was received up, after he had given commandment through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. 3 To these he also showed himself alive after he suffered, by many proofs, appearing to them over a period of forty days, and speaking about God’s Kingdom. 4 Being assembled together with them, he commanded them, “Don’t depart from Jerusalem, but wait for the promise of the Father, which you heard from me. 5 For John indeed baptized in water, but you will be baptized in the Holy Spirit not many days from now.”

Acts 1:1-5 (WEB)

As we discussed yesterday, these words describe the time between Christ’s Resurrection and His Ascension into Heaven. This was a period of approximately forty days in all.

Verse 4 begins “Being assembled together,” and although perhaps contains no great revelation for us, it should remind us that believers are meant to be together. This is but one example of how the Apostles met together, and indeed were almost constantly together in prayer and worship.

For them, this was of course a time of preparation for the launch of the church. They would not have known this necessarily, but dedicating this time to God in prayer was readying their hearts for what would be a difficult but amazing time ahead.

We must not neglect being together either.

And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near.

Hebrews 10:25 (NLT)

I have quoted this verse often in recent days, and mentioned it on the blog more than once. It is vital that we – the family of believers – continue to join together. That is especially difficult at this time, as many are still in isolation due to COVID. But I thank God for the technology that allows us to meet virtually if not in person.

The Apostles were together, but they were together with Christ. Note verse 4 which says “Being assembled together with them, he commanded them,” the “he” here is of course Jesus. The Lord was among them and part of their gathering. That’s the way it should be! Church should never become a meeting about God, but a meeting with Him.

Jesus instructs the Apostles to wait. None of us particularly like being told this! Yet Christ always has a good reason for His commands. Some of the Apostles may have been eager to get out there and tell the world about the Risen Lord, desperate to fulfil the Great Commission given them in Matthew 28. Others might have been fearful, afraid of what the Jewish leaders might do to them.

Yet Jesus is clear. Wait.

And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.”

Luke 24:49 (ESV)

They must wait for the promise of the Father. They must wait for the coming of the Holy Spirit.

Jesus refers to John’s baptism in water, reflecting repentance and a new start. This new baptism would be a baptism of the Holy Spirit Himself. They would be immersed in the Spirit and His power. Eager they may be to go out and tell others about Christ, but such witness would be ineffective without the aid and strength of the Spirit.

I remember, many years ago, asking God to allow me to preach. I was exxcited about the Word of God and wanted to share it, yet I had little opportunity to do so. God told me I was a pencil… which confused me at first! A pencil you may be, I felt Him say, but you must be sharpened before you can be used.

What are you trying to do in your own strength right now? Has God told you to wait? Are you listening, or are you trying to push the door open anyway? Wait until He tells you the time is right, and has equipped you with all that you need to do the task well.

The Acts of the Apostles

This is a brief introduction to the book of the Acts of the Apostles, or just Acts, from the Bible. I am not committing to a series on the book, but we shall see if it ends up becoming one!

Acts opens as follows:

The first book I wrote, Theophilus, concerned all that Jesus began both to do and to teach, 2 until the day in which he was received up, after he had given commandment through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. 3 To these he also showed himself alive after he suffered, by many proofs, appearing to them over a period of forty days, and speaking about God’s Kingdom.

Acts 1:1-3 (WEB)

The author is someone named Luke, and he also wrote the Gospel associated with his name. You can think of the book of Acts as a “part two” of the book of Luke, or if you prefer, a kind of sequel!

While the book of Luke focusses on Jesus’ life and teaching, covering in detail the events of His birth, ministry, death and resurrection – Acts tells the story of the early church. What happened after Jesus left the earth? Acts tells us.

The books of Luke and Acts fit nicely together. I do not know if they were originally written together and intended to be read as a pair, but Luke’s opening words above suggest Acts as a separate work.

When someone wants to read the Bible for the first time, I often think reading Luke then Acts is a good place to start. Together they describe the foundation and formation of the church we are a part of today.

Luke is writing to someone named Theophilus, also mentioned in Luke’s Gospel. He sets out why he wrote the first book, and what it covered. He picks up the narrative after Jesus’ death and resurrection, and begins with the Ascension of Jesus into Heaven and the promise of the Holy Spirit.

I love this phrase at the beginning of the book of Acts – “concerned all that Jesus began both to do and to teach.” His account of Jesus from the Gospel of Luke was just the beginning of what what Jesus did. Note the word “began” in verse one. On the one hand, Jesus had completed His earthly ministry and His work was done – reflected in His words at the cross “It is finished!” And yet, it was also just the beginning. Through His Holy Spirit, He would continue to do and to teach, and build His church.

One of the things I think we can miss sometimes is the frequency of Jesus’ appearances to the Apostles after His death. Verse three above points out that Jesus appeared to them over a period of forty days, showing them “many proofs.” The Gospels give us a number of accounts of the Resurrected Jesus, but clearly cannot describe them all. Jesus appeared many times, and this served to strengthen the faith of those Apostles, many of whom would go on to die for their belief in Christ.

Acts contains many miracles, great sermons and displays of God’s power. It may be known for the miraculous conversion of Paul on the Damascas Road, but also notes the astonishing change in Peter from the one who denied Christ to one who would preach to thousands and suffer arrest and persecution for it.

When we truly encounter Christ, we cannot help but be changed forever.

The opening chapters of Acts is often read and thought about at this time of yar. We celebrated the Ascension of Christ in the week just gone, and this coming weekend recall the events of Pentacost described in Acts chapter 2.

I encourage you to read and study this book over the coming days. There is much we can learn from how the early church conducted itself, and may you be encouraged and uplifted as you read of God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit being praised and worshipped throughout the ancient world. May He ever be praised as He was among those few early believers!

The Gospel of… Barnabas?

Over the weekend, I read an article about an ancient manuscript they recently found. The headline read: “1,500 year old manuscript rocks Christian Church!”

According to the article, this newly discovered manuscript is the Gospel According to Barnabas, and dismisses the Apostle Paul, claims Judas was actually crucified and more critically, states that Jesus did not die on a cross but was just taken up to heaven.

It claimed that the church has been “rocked” because if Christ was not crucified, then it essentially breaks the major doctrines of the church. The article referenced the Roman Catholic Church particularly, and how the Vatican will be examining the manuscript carefully and were even accused of trying to suppress its contents.

This Gospel of Barnabas dates back to around 500 AD and the article claims it is “genuine.” It was written in Aramaic and this somehow lends credibility to it. As well as the article itself, there were many comments saying such things as “At last! The truth comes out!” Some even claimed that the person of Jesus never even existed, let alone anything the Bible says about who He was.

Much of the article’s claims are clearly false. I see no reason why the church would be rocked by this. This is not the first, nor I suspect will it be the last such manuscript to be unearthed and dispute the Christian faith. There are a number of ancient works not included in our Bible which make all kinds of claims. Most of them never made it into the Bible because they were questionable at best.

They cite this as an ancient work, written 1,500 years ago and the age alone somehow gives it credibility. The manuscript, if accurately dated, was written some 450 years after the time of Christ. The Gospel of Mark was written around 70 AD and some of the original readers might well have been alive at the time of the events described in its words.

Old it may be, but it is not as old as the Gospels we know and rely on in the Bible. Many historical texts were written years and years after the events, but not some of the biblical ones. Had someone just made up the Gospel of Mark, then those living at the time would have verified it and dismissed it as nonsense. Yet we still read it today, and we can trust its contents.

People are rather quick to believe the claims of this new work, dismissing the traditional and established history. What people fail to realise is that many have set out to disprove the Christian faith, and yet it stills stands. Seriously scholarly effort leads to having to face the claims of Christ and a whole lot of evidence supporting them.

I am not certain what the author of the article means by saying the work is “genuine.” Genuine does not mean true, and even if properly dated and authenticated as a real work of history, then it still does not equate to being true. I can write down a total fabrication and if someone finds it in a thousand years, claim it to be a genuine handwritten note from Andy Brown… but that does not make its contents a reality.

If this newly found gospel, which is no gospel at all, were true, then it leads us to ask an important question about the Apostles. If they were there and knew that Christ did not die, why would they themselves surrender themselves to death in belief of it? IF they knew it was false, they would not have given up their lives for it. There is no benefit to them of doing this.

If you have set your mind against believing in Jesus Christ, then there is little I can say to change it. Anything I argue will be disputed or ignored. Those looking for an excuse not to believe will welcome this Gospel of Barnabas with open arms, and are glad to undermine the church’s teaching.

Do not be closed minded. Even if you remain unconvinced, do not just believe what others have told you. Investigate it for yourself. If you take an honest look at the claims of the Bible, I think you will be surprised how coherent and convincing they are.

Don’t take my word for it though, find out for yourself.