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Archive for April, 2009

5. Church Begins – Converted!

5. Church Begins – Paul’s Conversion

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Acts 9:1-6 But Saul, still breathing threats and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest, and asked for letters from him to the synagogues of Damascus, that if he found any who were of the Way, whether men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. As he travelled, it happened that he got close to Damascus, and suddenly a light from the sky shone around him. He fell on the earth, and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” He said, “Who are you, Lord?” The Lord said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. But rise up, and enter into the city, and you will be told what you must do.” The men who traveled with him stood speechless, hearing the sound, but seeing no one. Saul arose from the ground, and when his eyes were opened, he saw no one. They led him by the hand, and brought him into Damascus. He was without sight for three days, and neither ate nor drank.

The conversion of Paul is perhaps the most famous throughout the history of the Church. Luke tells us the story three times. But was Paul’s conversion special? Many people say “I have not had a Damascus Road experience“. There were, it is true, special events on that day, which make Paul’s conversion unique. Let us look together at his conversion experience.

Conversion Experience

The only possible cause for his conversion is the beautiful sovereign grace of God. It was Jesus Christ who decided for him. Each of the 3 previous times Paul is mentioned, Luke mentions him as opposing the church & persecuting the body of believers, most fittingly having witnessed the death of Stephen (Acts 7:58; 8:1,3). Now Luke resumes his story of Paul by saying that he was still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples (9:1). Paul had tried to contain the church to Jerusalem, but some had escaped to Damascus. Paul then devised a plan to capture the believers in Damascus. Armed with letters from the High Priest in Jerusalem, he set out for Damascus in a bid to stop the spreading of the Good News. He would arrive in Damascus, a proud and pompous man, bent on ridding the city of its followers of Jesus. Why did Paul hate the believers so much? Because, To his mind at the time, to him a dead Messiah was no Messiah at all and how could the Saviour of the Jews, the Messiah, die on a cross and be cursed by God. No, no. Paul considered it his duty as a man zealous for the law, to eradicate all those who were followers of this man. Luke’s description of Paul seems to be like that of a wild animal trying to destroy a flock of sheep, creating havoc & destruction which ever way he turned. And yet, he had not considered the sovereign grace of God. To a man like this there could only be one reason why he changed his mind, and became the most ardent follower of Jesus. He turned from a wolf who destroyed sheep, to become a sheep with the character of a shepherd. It can only be through the sovereign grace of God. So let us look together at Paul’s conversion.

Paul and his companions were nearing the end of a weeks’ travelling of the 150 mile journey to Damascus from Jerusalem Then suddenly, a light from heaven flashed around him (v3), brighter than the sun (26:13). It was so overwhelming that it both blinded him and knocked him over (v8-9), flat on his face before his conqueror. Then a voice cried out “Paul, Paul, why do you persecute me?” And in answer to Paul’s subsequent question as to his identity, the voice continues “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.” Paul must have at once, hooked on to how closely Jesus identifies with His followers, so to persecute them was to persecute Him, that he suddenly realised that Jesus was no longer dead as he supposed, but was alive and all His claims were true. Paul’s companions, while hearing the voice, did not see the resurrected Jesus. They took Paul into the city. Instead of arriving there full of pride & bravery, a self confident enemy of Jesus, Paul entered Damascus, humbled and blinded, a prisoner of Jesus. The light he saw was the glory of Jesus, and the voice he heard was the voice of Jesus. In his letters we discover how Paul views this event: how God arrested him (Philippians 3:12), shone his light upon him (2 Corinthians 4:6), and the mercy of God overflowed upon him (1 Timothy 1:14). And yet, while it was entirely due to the grace of God, that Paul was converted from enemy of the Christ to follower of the Christ, it was not sudden. Yes, the light was sudden, and Christ appeared suddenly, but Jesus had talked to Paul before. The goads, likened Paul to a wild horse needing to broken in, ready to be ridden. The implication is that Jesus was pursuing Paul, prodding and pricking him, and Paul was resisting painfully. But what were the goads that Jesus used to prick Paul of Tarsus? While we are not told specifically what they were, by reading his letters we can gain an insight into what they were.

The Goads

Here are three of the goads used by Jesus on Paul:

a.. His sub-conscious doubts. With his conscious mind, he proclaimed Jesus as an impostor, who had been rejected as the Messiah by his own people, and died under the curse of God on a cross. Yet, Paul would have heard reports about Jesus’ teaching & miracles, claims & character, together with the talk that Jesus had been raised from the dead.

b. The testimony of Stephen. Paul had been present at the trial of Stephen and had seen his execution, both the non-resistance while being stoned to death and his face shining like an angel. He had heard Stephen’s speech at his trial, his prayer for forgiveness of his executioners and his astonishing claim to have seen Jesus at the right hand of God. There was something about these Christians, that could not be explained to Paul- the divine living power of Jesus in the lives of His followers.

c. The inadequacy of the law to save. Paul claimed to be faultless i e ­that is his public life. In private however, he knew that his thoughts & attitudes were not clean for example his sin of covetousness. Therefore he had no inner power or peace, and it was the goads of Jesus. His conversion was a sudden climax, to a long drawn out process with Jesus having pursued him.

And yet while his conversion was not sudden, it was not forced upon him. Indeed, forcing him to the ground blind, he did not change his character and turn him into a robot. And when Jesus asked the questions, Paul did not have to answer the questions of Jesus. Paul’s conversion, while not sudden or compulsive, was due entirely to the gracious pursuit of Jesus. Not everybody has sudden flashes of light and voices that say his name. No-one else has seen the historical fact of the Jesus’ resurrected body and a call to be an apostle. Yet there are similarities with us. To be converted, we did not & do not need those things to happen, anymore than we have to travel to the same spot Paul was at on the road to Damascus. We must experience a personal encounter with Jesus, surrendering to Him our will in faith, and receive his order to serve Him. Just as Jesus Christ has pursued all people everywhere, over the past 2000 years, to return into a dynamic relationship with Him. Just as He did me and I handed my life over to Him. Millions of other people have also done that down through the centuries. My final question to you is – have you?

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4. Church Begins – Organized!

4. Church Begins – Let’s Get Organized

Today we go back to the beginning of Acts 6. So far in the book of Acts, we can see that the Church has come under attack by the world (through persecution) and satan (through deceit & moral compromise).

A new crisis has appeared. Unable to destroy the church by way of persecution and deceit, satan now tries to create a split in the church by getting believers to argue and fight with each other. If satan had succeeded in creating an implosion within this church, the only church in existence at the time, then the effects could have been devastating. I have had people tell me they want a church without any form of organizational structure. If a church has no organizational and leadership structure then it will soon have chaos instead of harmony, and will collapse rather than grow. Of course, some leaders are corrupt or make wrong decisions as we have seen already, but Godly leaders will not be corrupt and as we shall see, make decisions that are wise and based on prayer and spiritual insights.

So, what was the problem, what was the solution and what happened after it was resolved?

The Problem! (Actsv1)

Now in those days, when the number of the disciples was multiplying, a complaint arose from the Hellenists against the Hebrews, because their widows were neglected in the daily service.

  • Good news – they were growing, but this had caused a problem!
  • Bad news – Some widows were not being cared for!

Hebraic Jews had always lived in the then nation of Israel, spoke mainly Aramaic and some Hebraic. They would have been well used to life in a Jewish society, the Temple and avoiding those who were not Jews: the Gentiles..

Grecian or Hellenestic Jews were part of the Jewish Diaspora, born elsewhere within the known world and had returned to Jerusalem. These mainly spoke Greek, and were well used to working with Gentiles.

We know that widows were and are important to God, because justice is important to God. God is a God of justice and mercy. In the Old Testament, under the Law of Moses, God commanded provision for those who were widows, oppressed or uncared for. The Apostles would have known about God caring for the widows and in Jesus teaching about justice for the poor and the oppressed. We know this because earlier in Acts 2 and 4, people were selling and sharing possessions and ensuring that people within the Christian community were being looked after and cared for. This included making sure that everyone got fed, particularly those who had no family to care for them. Somehow, unintentional or not, this group of widows were missing out.

What then happened?

The Solution! (Actsv2-6)

The twelve summoned the multitude of the disciples and said, “It is not appropriate for us to forsake the word of God and serve tables. Therefore select from among you, brothers, seven men of good report, full of the Holy Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business. But we will continue steadfastly in prayer and in the ministry of the word.” These words pleased the whole multitude. They chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit, Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolaus, a proselyte of Antioch; whom they set before the apostles. When they had prayed, they laid their hands on them.

Three things about the solution

Transformation of the Apostles – James, Peter & John particularly (v2)

Its not stated here, but a transformation had taken place! Only a few short time ago, the disciples of Jesus had refused to wash feet as an act of service (Peter); some had wanted positions of power and greatness (James & John). Their old nature must have started asking questions and prompting them to react negatively. The world has attacked the church, satan has attacked the church, and now satan would have been using the Apostles old nature to attack the church. But – as they are transformed by the indwelling Holy Spirit and now have a new nature, the nature of Jesus Christ, they react much more righteously and judiciously.

All together now! (v2-5)

Notice they gathered all the believers together for a church meeting. The gave their opinion or judgment if you like, that their ministry or time would be better spent doing what God had called them to do – to be leaders of the Church, praying, preaching, evangelizing and discerning how best to apply the 3 years of teaching that they had had when travelling with Jesus Christ before His ascension. Their time, rightly so, was best spent doing that, for that was their ministry of service. But other people in the church gathering, who had a ministry of service and overseeing the food distribution, could spend their time doing that! So what of these seven men with Greek names? They were elected by the whole church, both Grecian and Hebraic, to perform this duty. They may already have been doing it, but now were being set apart especially for this role. These men were controlled by the Holy Spirit and were wise. They were chosen to give relief to the leadership so that the Word of God and prayer would not be hindered.

Commissioning (v6)

Interestingly enough, the word diakonia is translated here as ministry. Another way to translate it is as deacons. But, they were not deacons in the way the Paul uses the word as part of a church government in 1 Timothy 3. Rather they were deacons, set apart for this specific task – it was their ministry. It may well have been from here, that Paul developed what some parts of the universal church understands of the role of deacons. So these seven men, were prototypes as it were, for the Paul-ine idea of deacons.

Note also that the Apostles didn’t say their work was more important than serving. They were just following what God had called them to do, just as God had called these seven men to take responsibility for providing food for the widows. So they were commissioned by God, by the laying on of hands and set apart to perform it. We know only of Steven and Phillip and that they continued doing other ministries as well as this.

The Result! (v7)

The word of God increased and the number of the disciples multiplied in Jerusalem exceedingly. A great company of the priests were obedient to the faith.

The result was growth! Growth and witness may well see the conversion of former enemies. Growth and witness may well see reasoning and transformation.

Now that the Apostles had time for their dedicated and unique ministry, all the widows could be fed, and all believers able to participate within the life of the church. Not only that, Stephen was instrumental in reaching the Apostle Paul (Acts 7:58). Philip was instrumental in reaching the city of Samaria and won over for Jesus Christ, the Ethiopian Eunuch who then took the gospel to Africa. (Acts 8)

This growth was where the word of God increased in its effectiveness in the lives of those unbelievers who would listen to the gospel. This growth was not merely addition but multiplication! It was explosive! So explosive that even former enemies were becoming converts! Sadducees were Jewish believers who didn’t believe in a bodily resurrection – yet they came to faith and started to believe in the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ. It’s not hard to imagine that some of those Priests coming to faith in Jesus Christ were former persecutors of the Church! They were watching the church to see how best to attack and debate them. Yet found that they were joining the church, rather than continuing to oppose it. The church was preaching one thing and acting upon it. There was no hypocrisy within the church. The church was transparent – it lived as it believed. The church was seen as transformative and servant-like. While the Church continued to reason with others about the validity of Jesus Christ’s claims to be the Messiah, it would have not been effective if lives were not being transformed. If lives were not being changed, then no amount of reasoning alone would have seen the growth in numbers being added to the Church. Just as transformation and change alone would not have been the catalyst for growth, without the reasoning behind it.

Transformation

The early Church was a radical community of believers, growing quickly. At Pentecost, the church community began when the Holy Spirit filled the Disciples (Acts 2v4). The hallmarks of this community were commitment and transformation. This community was radical. It was where people’s lives were being changed as the Holy Spirit filled them. Instead of being a withdrawn people filled with fear of retribution from the Roman government and Jewish leaders, they became a people filled with boldness and joy. This church in Jerusalem grew by being a radical community imbued with radical individuals engaging with others and serving. It was a church where every member was asked and expected to play some role, in the life of the church. .

The Christian life is to be dynamic and active. As we have seen the word “deacon” here denotes ministry. Ministry is any service for Jesus Christ. When you serve as God’s deacon in this way, God’s honour is released. That’s why the embryonic Church in Jerusalem grew and flourished. This is done because service shows the beauty and glory of Jesus Christ to those being served and to those watching. That is to be our motive for service. Serving and ministry should never to be about what you and I can get out of it. When that is the motive, God is not glorified. God’s glory and supremacy is our goal as Christians. Spiritual growth comes from serving rather than being served. This is because what ever is given in service of God and others, faith grows and Jesus Christ gives back even more. Jesus speaking in Matthew 25v15-30 tells of the rewards for faithful service and the penalties for being faithless.

Serving others is a sign that you are trusting God and having faith in God. Serving God and others is the mark of a spiritually maturity and through service, the greatest servant of all, is reflected: Jesus Christ, who came to serve and give his very life for others (Mark 10v45). As Christians, we are to be as Jesus Christ (Romans 8v28; Philippians 2v5) and to serve. Yet if we are honest, we sometimes feel incapable, just as Moses did (Exodus 3). An excellent example to follow is that of the deacon Stephen.

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3. Church Begins – Persecution

3. Church Begins – Persecution

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The world was changing, particularly for the Jewish people. They were still under the rule of the odious Romans, in the land God had given them. For centuries they had been expectant of a Messiah, a King, to rise up and rid them of the Roman oppressors. When the Messiah, Jesus Christ, did come – they missed Him. They had misunderstood what the Messiah was to do. The Messiah was not to lead a political revolution as they thought, but rather lead a spiritual revolution, bring people back into relationship with God. The worldview of the Jewish people needed to be changed. When worldviews need wholesale change of focus, problems arise. The embryonic church, followers of Jesus Christ the Messiah, was soon to feel pressure to change back.

Its not long into the book of Acts, and therefore the history of the church, that persecution arises. We see the first stages of this persecution in Acts 4v1-4.

“As they spoke to the people, the priests and the captain of the temple and the Sadducees came to them, being upset because they taught the people and proclaimed in Jesus the resurrection from the dead. They laid hands on them, and put them in custody until the next day, for it was now evening. “

However somewhat surprisingly we then read that “But many of those who heard the word believed, and the number of the men came to be about five thousand.”

Then later on in chapter 5v17-18, 27-33, we readBut the high priest rose up, and all those who were with him (which is the sect of the Sadducees), and they were filled with jealousy, and laid hands on the apostles, and put them in public custody.” “Then the captain went with the officers, and brought them without violence, for they were afraid that the people might stone them.

When they had brought them, they set them before the council. The high priest questioned them, saying, “Didn’t we strictly command you not to teach in this name? Behold, you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching, and intend to bring this man’s blood on us.”

But Peter and the apostles answered, “We must obey God rather than men. The God of our fathers raised up Jesus, whom you killed, hanging him on a tree. God exalted him with his right hand to be a Prince and a Savior, to give repentance to Israel, and remission of sins. We are His witnesses of these things; and so also is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him.” But they, when they heard this, were cut to the heart, and determined to kill them.”

Later on in that chapter we read “They agreed with him. Summoning the apostles, they beat them and commanded them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go. They therefore departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for Jesus’ name. Every day, in the temple and at home, they never stopped teaching and preaching Jesus, the Christ.”

Then at the beginning of chapter 6 we read about the first Christian martyr, Stephen. Stephen we read in Acts 6v8 was “full of faith and power, performed great wonders and signs among the people. But some of those who were of the synagogue called “The Libertines,” and of the Cyrenians, of the Alexandrians, and of those of Cilicia and Asia arose, disputing with Stephen. They weren’t able to withstand the wisdom and the Spirit by which he spoke. Then they secretly induced men to say, “We have heard him speak blasphemous words against Moses and God.” They stirred up the people, the elders, and the scribes, and came against him and seized him, and brought him in to the council, and set up false witnesses who said, “This man never stops speaking blasphemous words against this holy place and the law. For we have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place, and will change the customs which Moses delivered to us.” All who sat in the council, fastening their eyes on him, saw his face like it was the face of an angel.” Then after reminding them of some of what the Old Testament says, Stephen concludes “You stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears, you always resist the Holy Spirit! As your fathers did, so you do. Which of the prophets didn’t your fathers persecute? They killed those who foretold the coming of the Righteous One, of whom you have now become betrayers and murderers. You received the law as it was ordained by angels, and didn’t keep it!”

Now when they heard these things, they were cut to the heart, and they gnashed at him with their teeth. But he, being full of the Holy Spirit, looked up steadfastly into heaven, and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing on the right hand of God, and said, “Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!”

But they cried out with a loud voice, and stopped their ears, and rushed at him with one accord. They threw him out of the city, and stoned him. The witnesses placed their garments at the feet of a young man named Saul. They stoned Stephen as he called out, saying, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit!” He kneeled down, and cried with a loud voice, “Lord, don’t hold this sin against them!” When he had said this, he fell asleep.

So there was Stephen, filled and controlled by the Holy Spirit, with an angelic look on his face. We see his love and faith put into practise when he exclaimed “don’t hold this sin against them!”

Stephen had reminded them that God did not dwell in buildings made from stone, as in the Temple. For had not God also been with his servants in various places, such as Mesopotamia, Palestine and Egypt? He reminded them also of how the Jews had always rejected God’s messengers and now finally, they had killed God’s Son, the Messiah, Jesus Christ. He also reminded them that what made somebody a person after God’s own heart was not the physical circumcision but a circumcision of the heart and soul. It was a spiritual revolution that occurred when a people were in relationship with the Living God, not just the outward appearance.

We see in Stephen’s final words, the reaction of a man full of faith and filled with the Spirit undergoing pressure. Stoning is an awful and excruciating way to die. While Jesus had prayed to the Father in his dying moments, Stephen prayed to – Jesus! It was not so long ago, that Jesus was walking the earth, indeed on these very stones. Yet, we already find prayers being made to Him. Stephen, sees Jesus in all his magnificent, glorious and heavenly majesty, and can only cry out to Him in such a way! Then finally he asks Jesus to forgive those who have killed him. Amazing isn’t it? I wonder how you and I would act under the same conditions. Would we ask why and whinge and grumble and complain?

Finally, I wonder if you notice one other name in that Bible passage. The name of Saul. He led systematic persecution of these Christians, and yet as we shall find out, will play a major role in the development of the church and of Christian thinking. For as the church father, Augustine comments “If Stephen had not prayed, the Church would not have had Paul!

Despite this persecution, the church continues to grow. When ever and where ever the church has endured persecution for their belief in Jesus Christ, growth has always occurred. There are places in this world, where it is illegal to be a Christian. Let us pray for our brothers and sisters that have to endure all kinds of hardships for the sake of Jesus Christ. Yet amazingly, these churches are growing numerically, just as we have seen occur in the New Testament. If the New Testament church had known that Jesus did not rise from the dead physically, would the church have grown like it has over 2000 years? Would people like Stephen, have knowingly died, or undergone systematic persecution, for a known lie or mistruth? The existence of the church, is the greatest physical proof of the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. The church – nothing will stop its growth and nothing will stop that glorious day when Jesus Christ comes again to collect his followers, his bride – the church.

But for our study next time, it will be how the church needed to be organized, in order to facilitate this growth, and that means going back to Chapter 6.

Thank you.

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2. Church Begins – Power and Passion

2. Church Begins – Power & passion

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1:8 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.”

1:12-14 Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mountain called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a Sabbath day’s journey away. 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. 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 2:1-2 Now when the day of Pentecost had come, they were all with one accord in one place. Suddenly there came from the sky a sound like the rushing of a mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting.

As we saw last time, Jesus has ascended back to the right hand of the Father. The 12 apostles are now back in Jerusalem and waiting. Waiting for the Holy Spirit to come. The Holy Spirit who indwells members of the early church. The Holy Spirit who empowers and transforms them! Remember Peter? Remember how just a few days earlier he had rejected Jesus Christ and openly defied Him by trying to stop Jesus going to the cross. This Peter who was dejected and defeated. In the early chapters of Acts, we see the disciples transformed. Lets concentrate on Peter for a good example of this. This is now a new Peter, transformed by the indwelling Holy Spirit, who speaks with the authority Jesus gave the disciples.

This Peter, given impetus by the Holy Spirit, who preaches a sermon and 3000 people are added to the church in one day (Acts 2v41). This Peter, who when passing by a man who couldn’t walk, told him to get up and walk – and he did (Acts 3v1-11)! Peter was allowing himself to be controlled by the Holy Spirit and doing some of the things that were synonymous with Jesus’ earthly ministry. What is the difference between this Peter and the Peter before Jesus’ resurrection? It was only the Holy Spirit and the difference He makes to Peter. Peter, by submitting himself to the authority and power of the Holy Spirit, was allowing the Holy Spirit to control him and guide him. This Peter, who we know from the Gospel accounts, had no self-control, yet now had self-control because he submitted to the Holy Spirit. The greatest evidence of the Holy Spirit living inside any of us, is the transformation of the individual into the image of Jesus – as demonstrated here in Peter.

This Peter who not only allowed the Holy Spirit’s power to heal people but also administered church discipline as in the case of Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5v10). But it wasn’t just Peter who was empowered. As Acts 5v12-16 shows us, all the disciples, not just the twelve apostles, filled and controlled by the Holy Spirit, were able to do healings and other signs and wonders. The Holy Spirit, living inside and empowering all believers for service of Jesus Christ, not just the 12 apostles.

All of this power delivers their passion for Jesus Christ and making Him, and Him alone, known. The early church was dynamic and seen to be exercising the authority of Jesus Christ. This was done by preaching the good news about him being the long waited for Messiah. Exercising His authority, by submitting themselves to Him and relying totally on the Holy Spirit alone.

This power and passion however, had a cost. The early church endured persecution from the Jewish authorities, keen to exercise authoritarian rule. The early church persecuted for being Christian and preaching Jesus as the Messiah. What was the result of this persecution? Did persecution stop the church growing? That is for next time! In preparation for that, you might like to read Acts 7 & 8.

So finally, remember this. The greatest evidence for the power of the Holy Spirit is not by way of signs and wonders and healings or tongues or other miracles. The greatest evidence that you have the Holy Spirit living inside you, controlling you and of you being submitted to Him is your being continually transformed into the very image of Jesus Christ. Transformed by allowing yourself to be so intimate with Jesus Christ that people will notice you have changed and will ask you why! Being filled with the Spirit, is allowing yourself to be continually controlled by Him and exercising His will, power and authority. That is one of the reasons the early church grew phenomenally and why the church is still here 2000 years later. The Pharisees and Sadducees are long gone. The Roman Empire collapsed. But Jesus’ church still stands, is still growing, and will one day be joined with Jesus in eternity, to the praise, honour and glory of Him who will return!

Thank you.

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Church Begins 1 – Catalyst

1. Church begins – Catalyst

Jesus’ resurrection is the catalyst for the mission of the church, beginning with the disciples and throughout history. Indeed, the growth and spread of the church, is a proof of the historical fact of Jesus’ physical resurrection or rising from the dead. Having been raised from the dead, Jesus’ mission to earth is coming to an end and shortly He will be returning to the right hand of the Father. Before He does so though, He has some more words to say to His disciples. Lets read Acts 1v1-12 for what happened between His resurrection and ascension.

The first book I wrote, Theophilus, concerned all that Jesus began both to do and to teach, 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. 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. 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. For John indeed baptized in water, but you will be baptized in the Holy Spirit not many days from now.”

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

He said to them, “It isn’t for you to know times or seasons which the Father has set within his own authority. 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.”

When he had said these things, as they were looking, he was taken up, and a cloud received him out of their sight. While they were looking steadfastly into the sky as he went, behold, two men stood by them in white clothing, 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.”

Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mountain called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a Sabbath day’s journey away.

Jesus’ Authority

Throughout the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus’ authority is a major theme. Where Matthew records Jesus doing miracles, this is to highlight Jesus authority in action and not just merely in words. Matthew records Jesus’ authority to forgive sins (Matthew 9v6) and He imparted authority to His disciples for a short time when they went on a mission in Matthew 10. Jesus has authority (Matthew 28v18) over all things, all people, all circumstances and happenings. Jesus has authority over all spiritual beings, whether angels or demons. Jesus has authority over all nations, governments and rulers. Jesus has authority over all earthly and spiritual authorities. Jesus has the authority. This means regardless of what ever the Christian Disciple faces, Jesus is in control. Therefore, as Christian Disciples, we can obey him without fear of retribution from those who would seek to harm us. We can obey Him regardless of the circumstances we find ourselves in. It is a great comfort to know, that He is in control of everything!! Through His death on the cross and His rising from the dead, Jesus has conquered all enemies.

Now people sometimes confuse authority with authoritarian. Authoritarian means severe, rigidity and a dictator. None of these apply to Jesus. We have been given a free will, but as His disciples, we should choose to exercise our free will to obey Him and live a life worthy of Him. As the Christian depends on Jesus’ authority, the Christian Disciple gains wisdom, guidance, and power.

You Go

If Jesus had not risen from the dead, then the disciples would not have had a story to tell. But Jesus had indeed risen from the dead, and the early church exploded numerically as the twelve disciples exercised Jesus’ authority and His power. We read about the growth of the early church in the Book of Acts.

Christianity is a faith whereby all Christian Disciples are to tell others of the goodness of God. Indeed God Himself is a missionary God. Ever since Genesis 3 and the fall of man, God has been on a mission to bring and call people back to Himself. That was the purpose of the nation of Israel, to be a light to all nations of the goodness and glory of God! That was purpose when God, who is outside of time and space, entered human history taking on human flesh and restricted Himself in a human body as the man we know as Jesus Christ. Jesus whole mission was one of calling people back to life in God. As followers of Jesus Christ, all Christian Disciples are to evangelize. Evangelism is showing and telling others of God’s message of reconciliation to all people of all time. It is not forcing people to adopt Church standards (1 Corinthians 5v12) and nor is it simply a message of join the church as a symbol of good works (Ephesians 2vv8-10).

Why evangelize?

The prime motivation for evangelism is out of gratitude for what God has done, in that we love because He loved us first. Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 5v14, “For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died.” As His servants we are to tell and live of God’s reconciling message

As I said before, we are all to do the work of an evangelist (2 Timothy 4v5). In these last words of Matthew’s Gospel, all Christian Disciples are to make disciples throughout the whole earth! Making disciples is not just evangelism but ensuring that guidance and care is given to new Christian disciples. How is this achieved? How can the Christian Disciple exhibit Jesus’ authority and power in evangelism? Who gives the impetus for Christian Disciples? That is part of the role of the Holy Spirit, whom Jesus said would come once He had ascended back to the right hand of God the Father.

Jesus Ascends

Mark 16:14-19, Luke 24:50-51 and Acts 1v1-12, we read about Jesus physically ascending into the heavens. He is returning, as He said he would do, to the right hand of the Father. During their last discussion with Jesus, the disciples were still expecting him to lead a revolution against the Romans (Acts 1v6). Despite all Jesus had said to them in the previous 3 years, they still did not understand that Jesus had come to lead a spiritual kingdom and not a political kingdom. Hence He tells them to go back to Jerusalem, with for the Holy Spirit and then go tell others the Good News about Him! And even after Jesus had vanished into the clouds, the disciples still gathered around looking into the sky for Him to return! So two angels came and 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 1v11) From there the disciples returned to Jerusalem and waited. They didn’t have to wait long, 10 days, until the Holy Spirit came, filled them and started living with them.

The Holy Spirit is coming

This is in fulfilment of Ezekiel 36v27 “And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.” where Almighty and All-powerful God will indwell those who follow Him. Throughout His ministry Jesus had talked about how after He was to depart, and that the Holy Spirit would come (John 15v26).

We know from the other writings in the New Testament who the Holy Spirit is and what His ministry is.

The Holy Spirit is spoken of as God (1 Corinthians 3v16). The attributes of God are ascribed to the Holy Spirit life (Romans 8v2), truth (John 16v13) and love (Romans 15v30).

The Holy Spirit is also a Person and is always referred to as ‘He’ in the New Testament (John 16v14). He relates to us as a person for He is comforter, guide and teacher (John 14). He can be blasphemed against and be grieved (Ephesians 4v30), and wherever the Holy Spirit is, the Father and Son are also present because they are one. (John 14v18-23).

Throughout the Book of Acts and in the other New Testament writings we discover more about the Holy Spirit. We see that His prime role to to glorify Jesus Christ the Son of God is praised and glorified (John 16v13-14). He will testify for Jesus Christ (John 15v26). He will witness for Jesus Christ (Acts 1v8). The Holy Spirit is involved with ministering to members of the church, as Jesus would be to us if He were here. The Holy Spirit declares God’s Word, interpreting and illuminating it. He convicts of sin, transforms, indwells, fills, baptizes and seals the believer. With all this, the Holy Spirit also equips for service. God is at work in His body the church, to will and to act accordingly to his purpose (Phil. 2v13), to be my witnesses (Acts 1v8). This is evident in the book of Acts and the other New Testament writings.

How is the Spirit seen? The Spirit’s work is in evidence, where people’s lives become more holy and more like Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 12v3; 2 Corinthians 13v7). Sometimes the Holy Spirit works also in powerful ways, with miracles. But He also equips Christian Disciples for service, through the giving of spiritual gifts. Not just the so called more spectacular gifts of healing, miracles etc but also gifts such as mercy, generosity, helps and service.

We see in the rest of the Book of Acts, how the Holy Spirit empowered the early church and because of the impetus He gave them, the church is still growing and expanding throughout the world 2000 years later. In this series of studies in Acts, we will look at some of the key events in the life of the New Testament church, as recorded by Luke in the Book of Acts.

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A Prayer of Joy – Psalm 66

ASIF 22nd November 1995

Psalm 66 – A Prayer of Joy

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Tonight we are to study Psalm 66, which is a prayer of joy. The reason for this is, because where ever hope can be found, there is always joy. This is particularly true of the Christian life. As christians, our great hope is knowing that through the Lord Jesus Christ we will have salvation. Salvation is freedom. Freedom from injustice, freedom from sin. It is freedom from our prison of looking after our self, to a new life of entrance into self-forgetful worship & service to God. It is freedom from the limits of pain, decay, death, and entrance into a new world of life, immortality, beauty and joy without end. That is the hope of the Christian, and that is why we can have joy as Christians. But joy, is not just for the future. Joy is also for the present, for the here and now. But, what is joy, and what place should joy take in our life today. But first we will look at Psalm 66, and see where joy fitted into the life of the Psalmist.

1. Psalm 66 and joy

a. Joy and the Earth (vs. 1-4)
Listen again from another translation to that beginning! ” Make a joyful shout to God, all the earth! Sing to the glory of his name! Offer glory and praise! “. The majority of scribes and leaders of Israel normally only gave praise to God silently and in meditation. This was of course acceptable to God. But here among a great number of peoples the whole earth is encouraged to shout with great joy to God. This also was acceptable to God, and it is quite natural for great crowds of people to shout in harmony. If praise is to be widespread, it must be vocal; joyful sounds stir the soul and cause great thanksgiving spread throughout the people.

God is to be praised with both the voice and the heart. Oh, great joy when all the earth will worship God in joyful harmony. One day, all the earth will sing the praises of God, in every language. The whole earth, everyone, is encouraged to sing of the glory and power of God. The psalmist encourages the worshipers to turn their praises to God. The honour of God should be the focus of our praises. It is our glory to give God glory. We turn in joy and admiration to a God who one day will cause all the earth to fear and tremble before him. One day all the earth will bow down to worship God. For those who are enemies of God, who have never believed in him, they too will be forced into submitting worship to Him They are forced to worship Him out of His power and submission, not because they choose to. But their worship will not be like the saints. The worship of the saints, of those who truly believe in Him, will be of truth, love and pure joy and service. The joy of the earth will be to praise God.

b. Joy and the nation of Israel (vs. 5-12). After the selah, possibly a brief pause in the song, the psalmist now exhorts joy because of what God has done for Israel. He has done mighty works for his people the nation of Israel. Did not God start the nation from Genesis 12 and Abraham? Did not God lead His people out of the Egyptian exile by parting the Red Sea with His mighty hand so that his people could walk to freedom? Does not God rule forever by his mighty power? God watched over that nation of Israel, making covenants with Abraham, Moses and David promising that He will be their God and they will be His people.

The people of Israel were people of joy, because they could look and see what God had done for them, and have a sure hope of what He will do for them in the future. God took Israel through hard trials and exiles. The psalmist here continues to encourage the people to loud praise and joyful noise of God because silver and gold do not become pure without some refining, without being put through fire. God kept the feet of Israel from slipping, even though they turned their back on him. God always kept a remnant of believers for himself. In Israel, God sent them into exile to their enemies for punishment of their rebellion against him, but finally He led them into the promised land, flowing with milk and honey (v 12). That is why Israel could have joy, because of the hope they had in their God.

c. Joy and the psalmist (vs. 13 -20) The psalmist’s joy starts with a sacrifice. Something that cost him. A sacrifice of vows and burnt offerings. What he said he would do, he will do. He gave God promises, and he wants to fulfil his promises before God. Because of his great joy, the psalmist tells others of the source of his joy. He gives testimony to the love of God: how he confessed his sins to God, and how God had listened to him and answered his prayers. The Psalmist told the people to come and hear his story. Listen to what God has done for me. They had all seen God’s work, but they also needed to hear that He was a gracious god, So the joy of the psalmist involves sacrifice, testimony and praise,

2. Applying it to ourselves.

As we have just seen the psalmist’s joy involved sacrifice, testimony and praise, So how can we apply these things to ourselves,

a. Sacrifice – As christians we should always give our best to God. The psalmist never presents a starving goat to God as a sacrifice, but well fed animals (v 15) of the best fields, Of all we have, whether small or large, we are actively encouraged to give God the best of it. It was not a waste to burn the fat upon the altar of God, nor to pour out the precious ointment upon the head of Jesus. Sacrifices show our heart love to God. Making sacrifices, shows gratitude to God in action, Joy comes from giving to God.

b. Testimony, – Giving our testimony to people should cause us to have great joy. Telling people what God has done for us, should cause everyone of us to have even greater joy than we have already. Telling others of God’s mercy, grace and love is all part of our joy. When we lead someone to Jesus for the very first time, not only do they feel great joy and peace in their heart, but we feel great joy inside of us. The joy of God bubbles up inside of us and demands that we praise our God the Father.

c. Praise, – Praising God lifts our heart, soul and spirit when we are feeling down. The whole earth one day will praise Him and have great joy; the nation of Israel praised Him for the things He had done for them and had given them much joy, The psalmist praised God, and there was great joy in his heart. He had many reasons to praise God, God listened to His prayers, took his sacrifices and worship, forgave him when he had confessed his sins, God had not withheld his love from him. Surely the praise of God’s people causes great joy to be spread amongst them.

Now that is all very well you may be thinking, but just what is joy? Is joy happiness, or is it more? Here are what some people have said of joy. “We are all strings in the concert of God’s joy” – Leon Bloy. “The joy that Jesus gives is the result of our being at one with Him” – Oswald Chambers. Many people, including some Christians confuse joy with happiness, however there is a vast difference. As C.S. Lewis once wrote: “Joy is never in our power, and pleasure is. I doubt whether anyone who has tasted joy would ever, if both were in his power, exchange it for all the pleasure in the world.”

As humans we only feel happiness or pleasure depending on our circumstances, while joy is always separate from our circumstances. Happiness is a surface emotional response to good things; while joy is a deep-down heartfelt response that endures whether good or bad things happen to us. The world says happiness is looking out for number one and negotiating your personal good in all you do. The greatest good is their own happiness, however the happiness doesn’t last long so the search for happiness continues in its circle.

Joy however, is the result of sacrificial love. It is for the good of others, not for ourselves, which is to be our judge of joy. When we give away our will, for the sake of others, we receive the joy that Jesus desired for us. Happiness and joy are radically different. In his autobiography, Surprised by Joy, C.S. Lewis described his pursuit of joy. He tried to find it in humanism, communism, eroticism, and lots of other human philosophies and searches. But they only led him to places where joy had already been. He did not find joy for himself until he realised that joy would come only as a result of putting Christ first in his life. Joy, unlike happiness, is never an end in itself. It is only as we make Christ our overwhelming first priority that joy, almost without our knowing it, comes. If we seek joy, we will lose it, because it cannot be caught. People of the world seeks happiness not joy. Joy is given only by Christ and serving him. Hebrews 12:2 says, “Let us fix our eyes upon Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” Jesus had the endurance to go through the pain and suffering because he had the end in view. He was affirming his purpose for the redemption of the world, and so he never lost sight of the joy that was set before him. Joy would come to him out of suffering because he gave himself for the redemption of mankind.

Jesus prayed that his disciples would have joy: “I say these things while I am still in the world, so that they (his disciples) may have the full measure of my joy within them.” (John 17:13). The joy of Christ is transferred to us as we go about the task of serving him in this world. Joy is the second fruit of the Spirit. Joy is to be a quality about us just as it was a quality of the Lord Jesus Christ.

However, sometimes we don’t feel as if joy is part of us. We begin to ask ourselves if we have lost the joy of our Christian lives. We look around at the world we live in and see all the misery and injustices; we see the waste of human life in cancer and HIV Aids, and we don’t feel very joyful. But when we do that, we are confusing happiness and joy. If we have lost the joy of our Christian life, we need to put back into perspective what God is calling us to do and consider if Christ is still truly first in our lives. Joy is Jesus Over Yourself. We can never truly lose joy, but we can misplace it if our priorities get out of line. Joy is not something to be worked at or toward. It is not a goal to be reached, nor is it an end in itself. Joy is the result of our relationship with Christ. A relationship of Jesus Over Yourself. Joy was sacrifice, testimony and praise to the Psalmist. It is for us too in the last days before His coming again.

As this is now the night before Easter week, let us end with that comment from the writer to the book of Hebrews in regards to Jesus and joy. “Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising its shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” As E. Underhill said: “This is the secret and meaning of joy, We shall no longer strive for our own way; but commit ourselves, to God’s way, submit to His will, and in doing so find joy and peace, -.

Go out with joy, today!

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Prayer Of Trust – Psalm 62

ASIF – 13th September 1995

A Prayer Of Trust – Psalm 62

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Psalm 62

1 My soul rests in God alone. My salvation is from him.

2 He alone is my rock and my salvation, my fortress– I will never be greatly shaken.

3 How long will you assault a man, would all of you throw him down, Like a leaning wall, like a tottering fence?

4 They fully intend to throw him down from his lofty place. They delight in lies. They bless with their mouth, but they curse inwardly.

Selah.

5 My soul, wait in silence for God alone, for my expectation is from him.

6 He alone is my rock and my salvation, my fortress. I will not be shaken.

7 With God is my salvation and my honor. The rock of my strength, and my refuge, is in God.

8 Trust in him at all times, you people. Pour out your heart before him. God is a refuge for us.

Selah.

9 Surely men of low degree are just a breath, and men of high degree are a lie. In the balances they will go up. They are together lighter than a breath.

10 Don’t trust in oppression. Don’t become vain in robbery. If riches increase, don’t set your heart on them.

11 God has spoken once; twice I have heard this, that power belongs to God.

12 Also to you, Lord, belongs loving kindness, for you reward every man according to his work.

I wonder what you trust in? We all know that you can’t trust the London Underground, unless you are trusting them not to be on time. And you can trust the bus, but only to come in a group of twos or threes after you’ve waited for them for half an hour. You can’t even trust modern technology! The latest computers used to do your work, more often than not will break down yjust when you need them most. Then you have to trust your computer manager to fix the problem for you. And you can’t even trust him to fix the problem because some part is broken, so you have to call out the repair person to come and replace the part that is broken. And wouldn’t you know it? He’s had to go to the doctor, because he’s got some problem with his knees and has had to go have emergency surgery, and all the other repair people are far too busy to fix your computer so that you can get the urgent report out to prove to your boss, that he can trust you!

Trust in the world today, is a missing ingredient. The one thing that most people today will say they trust in, is themselves. The world says to trust yourself, don’t rely on anything else. The world says that all other things are totally unreliable and the only object you can trust is yourself, because you know what you can do, and you should only ask for help if your really desperate for it.

It is like a refreshing breath of clean air, that we come to Psalm 62. Living in a world which cynically says trust only yourself, Psalm 62 reflects like a mirror the thoughts of God to our minds and hearts. When God says “Trust me!” – he is totally trustworthy. This man, King David knew that God was like that. Through out his life, except for when he sinned, he trusted in God. David trusted God when he hid in the mountains and caves from Saul, Absalom and all others that were after him. Psalm 62 tells us that David’s only hope, honour, refuge, rest and salvation was in God. This Psalm contains phrases that can be found in other Psalms such as Psalm 18 or even in 2 Samuel 22:1-51 where David sung and prayed when he was in trouble and need rescuing.

In these 12 verses of Psalm 62, we can see the things that David trusted in God for throughout his life. David trusted in God for his salvation (both physically and spiritually) (vs. 1-2, 5-7). He did not trust in anything or anyone else (vs. 3-4, 9-10) and knew that God would show His justice and mercy to both himself and his enemies (vs. 11-12). We know from the book of 1 Chronicles that Jeduthun was one of the Chief musicians appointed by David to lead the music (1 Chr. 16:41; 25:1-3).

We don’t know exactly when Psalm 62 was written, but it was probably written while he was under extreme pressure as indicated in v.3). However it seems to impress upon us that David is growing in confidence as he writes the thoughts of his heart, and the secret of finding rest and trust in God alone. It has the style of being written in a great hurry; of a prayer waiting for God to answer and of a conviction that grows renewed, firmer and ever deeper. David goes progressively from trusting God for his life; to trusting God to show mercy and justice to him and his enemies.

Psalm 62 can be divided into 3 topics, all based on trust, with 2 positives and 1 negative.. 1. God’s trustworthy salvation. 2. Not trusting in ungodly desires and objects. 3. God’s trustworthy justice and mercy. In each section, there are some questions for you to meditate upon and answer. Then you can share with your spouse or a close friend and pray over any issues together.

Section 1. Gods trustworthy salvation. (vs. 1-2; 5-8)

Q1. From where does David’s salvation, rest, refuge, hope and honour come from? Why do you think that David attributes these to God, and how can we be seen to be doing these same things?

Q2. Why do you think that David thought of God as his rock of salvation? Do you think that as David had hidden in rocks and caves from enemies that this would have been on his mind when he wrote these words? We know today that Jesus Christ is the rock of salvation, but why do you think that God can be described and trusted as a rock of salvation?

Section 2. No trust in other things for hope, salvation, honour, refuge or rest (vs. 3-4, 9-10)

Q3. What do the ungodly take delight in and why? What is suggested that godly people do not desire?

Q4. Is it only the ungodly who are hypocrites (v. 4). How can Christians be hypocritical, and if so, is it because of lack of trust in God?

Section 3. Trust in Gods justice and mercy (vs. 11-12).

Q5. At first glance, v. 12 suggests God’s justice, but is it also about God’s mercy? How can justice and mercy be combined like that? (Refer to Romans 2:6)

Q6. How is God strong and loving towards you today?

Finally, if you are not a Christian and after hearing this would like to become one, then it is very easy. If you want to turn to God there is no need for delay. He is ready and willing to take you as His own right now. You only have to ask Him to forgive you and to give you help on the journey ahead. It is a partnership between God and yourself – a relationship. The act of deciding to change course in mid-life, is what is called conversion, or deciding to be a Christian. When you place your faith in Jesus, becoming utterly dependent upon Him, you turn to God. You don’t need to do or change anything to become a follower of Jesus!

However, once you have made that decision, you leave behind your spiritual isolation and rebellion against Him. As you live each day, becoming more involved with Jesus day by day, you will find yourself changing. You will stop doing those things that separated you from Him. You will find yourself doing things that please Jesus and develop your relationship with Him.

How do you develop this relationship? Sin, or what alienates you from God, controls your rebellion against Him in your attitudes and your activities. God asks that you accept his guidance and management of your life. His point of view and His strength become your point of view and your source of strength. You turn your mind, will and heart to Him for all you do.

If you want to become a Christian there are three simple steps to follow: Firstly, admit that you have done wrong against God and His ways.

Secondly, believe and trust in Jesus Christ. Call on Him, receive, trust, obey and worship Him, recognizing Him for who He is and what He has done.

Lastly, confess Jesus as your Lord and Saviour. Once sin has been confessed, and Jesus is believed in and trusted as Saviour, then you are a Christian. Now you are ready as Peter writes in the Bible, “to grow in grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3v18). Welcome to the family of God. God has chosen you; Jesus has paid for you and He has put His mark within you through His Spirit. Like King David and countless people today, you are trusting only in God for your salvation! If you have taken this step, please do contact us at Partake Ministries.

Thank you

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