Study Notes 7-14-13: Judgment is Inaugurated

Here are the study notes for John 12:31-26

12:31-33 Now is the judgment of this world; now will the ruler of this world be cast out. [32] And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” [33] He said this to show by what kind of death he was going to die.

God rest ye merry Gentlemen let nothing you dismay,

Remember Christ our Savior was born on Christmas day,

To save us all from Satan’s power when we had gone astray,

Oh tidings of comfort and joy, comfort and joy, oh tidings of comfort and joy!

An Answer to the Greeks?

Verse 31 is a crucial verse for understanding Christ’s mission here on earth. His whole flow of thought here is really interesting. He sees the Jews hailing Him, but for the wrong reasons, then the Greeks come to seek Him and this sets off a red flag in His mind, so He tells those around Him that His time has come to be glorified, to be die so that many will live (the seed image), and to be lifted up and glorified on the cross, and that He will crush the head of the serpent (Gen. 3:15). So while He doesn’t seem to answer Andrew and Philip who have come to Him with this report of the Greeks seeking Him, in a way He does. Their message kicks off a series of theological points here in these verses that all have to do with the salvation of humanity – note that He wraps up by saying that He “will draw all people to myself.” Not just Jews, but “all people” from every tribe tongue and nation!

The Judgment of this World

The first thing Jesus says in verse 31 would be odd if we hadn’t already looked at this in chapter three a little bit. He says that “Now is the judgment of this world.”  Well what does He mean by “judgment” is “now”?  As Ryle points out, this in undoubtedly a difficult saying, and I think there is perhaps some nuance to it that can easily be missed.  But in order to understand it we must understand the context.  If we don’t see that Christ is talking about several things during this short discourse, including the salvation of men from outside of the Jewish race, the triumph and shame of the cross, the difficulty of the task of the cross and the anguish of Christ’s soul, and the glory of the Lord Jesus Christ and His desire for the glory of God.

Because of this context and the fact that the discourse has been set off originally by some gentiles wishing to Jesus, it is thought by some that “judgment” refers to the fact that Christ has judged the Jews and found them unfaithful and is therefore offering salvation to “all men.”  But this also misses a larger plot line, and the close tie to Christ’s declaration of coming victory of Satan and his power over all mankind (we will see how this relates to the larger redemptive plotline in a moment).  And so because of the fact that he is talking about a much larger plotline here, referring to Satan, to “all men”, and because the conversation could be seen as His reaction to the Gentiles seeking to talk with Him in the first place, I think it is reasonable to say that He is here referring to all men/mankind and their enslavement to sin.  It is worth looking at Carson’s comments on how this is so:

Judgment is in one sense reserved for the end of the age, for the ‘last judgment’. But the texts just cited also show that judgment begins with the first coming of Christ, climaxing in his passion. As the light of the world, Jesus forces a division between those whose evil deeds are exposed by his brilliance, and those whose deeds prompt them to embrace the light in order to testify that what they have done ‘has been done through God’ (3:19-21).

Perhaps the greatest example of an earlier text in which the metaphor of the light and darkness is given is indeed that passage Carson cites from chapter three:

And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. [20] For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. [21] But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.” (John 3:19-21 ESV)

This is a passage that I’ve referred back to probably more often than any other passage we’ve studied thus far in this gospel. I think the reason for this is that it explains so much of who we are, and who He is in contrast. We are creatures who love the darkness, and when the light shines into the world, we scurry away like cockroaches.  We not only hate the light, we love the darkness. We love our sin. But there is more to the analogy than simply who we are. There is also who He is. He is the light. And the light has immediate and unavoidable consequences when it enters a place of darkness. Separation occurs immediately, and that is the judgment. It is apparent and obvious and unavoidable. It simply occurs because of His presence on this earth: His light separates the good from the evil, but on the final day of judgment it will be God’s voice booming from the throne and His holy angels who will conduct that final separation between the “sheep and the goats.”

Crushing the Head of the Serpent

Now we need to continue on and examine the second part of verse 31 that states that the “ruler of this world” and his defeat.  Ryle says that, “there can be no doubt that Satan is meant by the ‘prince of this world.’”

First we assume by this comment that, at least in a certain sense, Satan’s work had been largely unhindered. He had been roaming freely on the world and deceiving the nations as he pleased. When Christ came is signaled the beginning of the end of his kingdom. In a recent book by Alistair Begg and Sinclair Ferguson the noted theologians say that one of the manifestations of the plotline of history thickening and Satan getting ready for a final fight was the presence of so many demons on earth tormenting people (which we read about in the gospels).  Whether or not this is so, it is evident that Scripture tells us that when Christ came and died He won a significant victory – a victory that had been anticipated for thousands of years.

We see the first proclamation of this victory in Genesis 3:15:

I will put enmity between you and the woman,

and between your offspring and her offspring;

he shall bruise your head,

and you shall bruise his heel. 

These words were spoken to Satan. The prediction here is that one day in the future the seed of Eve will land a death blow to Satan.  That day that God foretold and Moses recorded is the same day Christ here has His eyes fixed upon. Jesus knew that He would be the seed of Eve that dies in order to bear much fruit and in order to bruise the head of the Serpent.

Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.  (John 12:24)

In so doing, Christ is gaining the victory. Paul explains further in Colossians, as does the author of Hebrews:

And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him. (Colossians 2:13-15 ESV)

And…

Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery. (Hebrews 2:14-15 ESV)

When Christ died on the cross He did so in order that “he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil.” This devil has been “cast out” and has been “disarmed” and “put to open shame.”

The irony of it all must not have been too enjoyable for Satan. Carson’s comments are insightful:

Although the cross might seem like Satan’s triumph, it is in fact his defeat. In one sense Satan was defeated by the outbreaking power of the kingdom of God even within the ministry of Jesus (Luke 10:18). But the fundamental smashing of his reign of tyranny takes place in the death/exaltation of Jesus.

But What Does this Mean For Us Today?

Well what does this all mean in light of the fact that we still battle the Evil One, and that we still live in a fallen world?

It means that when Christ died and rose again He began the death sentence on Satan. The same way in which God told Adam that the day he ate of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil he would surely die (Gen. 2:17). Did Adam die on that day? No he didn’t die directly, but it he was as good as dead on that day because from that day onward his doom was sealed. He would no longer live out his days in peace with God, he would no longer walk in the cool of the garden, and he would one day see the deterioration of his physical body. In this same way, Satan’s doom was sealed the day Christ rose from the grave.

As D.A. Carson remarks, “When Jesus was glorified, ‘lifted up’ to heaven by means of the cross, enthroned, then too was Satan dethroned. What residual power the prince of this world enjoys is further curtailed by the Holy Spirit, the Counselor.”

We live in times where Satan’s death and final destruction have been assured. While he is still a great danger to us, he is also a man marked for death. His time is waning.

All People

In the latter part of verse 32 Christ tells us that He will draw “all people” to Himself if He is lifted up. And so here again we have that mysterious word “all.” We must look at the context once again to understand what Christ is saying, and to look at all of Scripture’s teaching on salvation.

If we believe that “all” mean includes every man anywhere for all time, then we are Universalists and not gospel believing Christians. Nor is this “drawing” here of an ineffective kind, as some would say – those who might use the word “woo” for the behavior of Christ toward His elect. Does Christ “woo” all people to Himself?  Well obviously no.  There are many men and women who have not heard the gospel and are not drawn to Christ, and many others who hear and reject the gospel. And therefore Christ’s words “draw” and “all people” are not compatible with the Armenian viewpoint of “wooing.”

But if we understand the word “all people” in the context of Christ’s response to the gentiles (as well as the Jews who were listening to Him), as well as the larger context of the redemptive metanarrative Jesus has been addressing in His pronouncement of judgment on the world, and on Satan, then we will see that “all people” is meant to be “all people from every tribe tongue and nation” (as in Rev. 7:9).

12:34-36 So the crowd answered him, “We have heard from the Law that the Christ remains forever. How can you say that the Son of Man must be lifted up? Who is this Son of Man?” [35] So Jesus said to them, “The light is among you for a little while longer. Walk while you have the light, lest darkness overtake you. The one who walks in the darkness does not know where he is going. [36] While you have the light, believe in the light, that you may become sons of light.” When Jesus had said these things, he departed and hid himself from them.

Who is this Son of Man?

What the crowd was really saying here is not “who is this Son of Man” but “what kind of person is this Son of Man?”  They were confused about the role of the Messiah, as we’ve discussed before.  They had an odd conglomerate of ideas as to what the Messiah would be and do, but interestingly none of those ideas included the sacrificial death of their great hope!

Lifted Up

Now, as we look at the crowd’s reaction to Christ’s sayings we ought to note that earlier in John’s gospel Jesus has mentioned being “lifted up” – it’s during His discourse with Nicodemus (chapter 3). After telling Nicodemus that he must be “born again” in order to see the kingdom of God, He goes on to tell him “heavenly things”:

If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things? [13] No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. [14] And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, [15] that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. (John 3:12-15 ESV)

The moment in history Jesus was making reference to is recounted for us in Numbers:

From Mount Hor they set out by the way to the Red Sea, to go around the land of Edom. And the people became impatient on the way. [5] And the people spoke against God and against Moses, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and we loathe this worthless food.” [6] Then the LORD sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people, so that many people of Israel died. [7] And the people came to Moses and said, “We have sinned, for we have spoken against the LORD and against you. Pray to the LORD, that he take away the serpents from us.” So Moses prayed for the people. [8] And the LORD said to Moses, “Make a fiery serpent and set it on a pole, and everyone who is bitten, when he sees it, shall live.” [9] So Moses made a bronze serpent and set it on a pole. And if a serpent bit anyone, he would look at the bronze serpent and live. (Numbers 21:4-9 ESV)

Interesting that when the people were being bitten by serpents they thought it was a decent idea to look up at the bronze serpent, but by the time we arrive at this moment in history God’s chosen people were so hardened in their hearts that the serpent was no longer simply an enemy but their leader (see John 8)!  Besides, they didn’t need to look up to heaven for help, they had their laws and their moralism and they were just fine working things out on their own. Sound familiar?  We often don’t deign to lift our eyes to heaven for help and beg for mercy, nor do we trust that it is through the spectacle of the crucified Christ that we find our hope and strength. We would much rather work things out on our own, we would much rather plunge into Canaan on our own. But God will not be with us that way. Only through surrender is there safety for our souls.

Walk in the Light or Darkness will Close in…

During the time that Christ walked upon the earth, people from all over had the opportunity to listen to Him and repent, but few did that. Not until His resurrection and the sending of the Spirit and proclamation of the gospel did many millions of souls come to faith in Him.

Yet His call is not simply for those within earshot but for us as well. We all can guess at what it means to walk in the light, but we may easily miss what Jesus says in verse 35, “Walk while you have the light, lest darkness overtake you.”  The presumption here is that without the help of Christ, there is no hope. When the light is gone we cannot manufacture light on our own! No amount of moralism or good deeds will bring you safely across the threshold of eternity. No amount of self-generated piety will create light enough for you to see your way through the darkness of the death that surrounds you.

In short, without Jesus’ light you are damned to the darkness of this world, and of Hell after you die. Outside of Jesus there is no light and there is no life.

Look how Paul describes people who are searching for God during his discourse at Mars Hill:

And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us, (Acts 17:26-27 ESV)

These people were searching around, feeling with their hands for the light switch. But it was not far from them…

Listen to what Christ stated in chapter eight of John’s gospel:

“Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, ‘I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.’” (John 8:12)

And so let us not presume that we can generate a life outside of the life Christ gives us that is worth living. All “life” outside of Christ is darkness and a life of living death. It is a life of darkness, insecurity and eternal peril. Furthermore, if we have been given this light, why would we seek to turn off the light switch and live in darkness? Let us walk as people who can actually see their steps, and not trip over things we see very well but others do not. Let us walk in a manner worthy of our calling. As Paul says:

Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel, (Phil. 1:27)

Suffering Yields Hope

Kate and I have been working to memorize Romans chapter five. The exercise has been most refreshing, and it has led me to really meditate on the greatness of the gospel – but also how upside-down gospel-thinking is to the way we normally think.

This hit me hard this morning as I read through the first five verses of the chapter:

Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. (Romans 5:1-5 ESV)

Verse 3 is perhaps my favorite verse, and it’s the one I think would be most enigmatic for the neophyte who hadn’t walked in the shoes of Bunyan’s Christian, for Paul tells us here that he rejoices in his sufferings. What? How can he do that?? Is he living the life I am living?! Well, if we read 2 Corinthians 12 we will find he is not – Paul’s life was much harder!

Yet through this Paul saw what trials yielded: Joy and Hope. Hope begets joy and the Spirit affirms (Rom. 8:16) that we are right to hope – he whispers to us that we won’t be disappointed in what our Father has planned for us!

This may seem like a leap – but that’s why Paul carefully explained the sequence: first trials, then endurance, then character, and then hope. Think about that closely and it makes sense. If you’ve been going through the exercise of running, you will gradually gain more and more endurance – such is the case with trials in this life.

The same is true of character. We develop a depth of maturity when we have endured. We’ve been there. We know what to expect, and our minds are prepared. We have character – worn from years of first hand experience.

Character begets hope because the man or woman with character is wise, they have knowledge combined with wisdom and therefore know where to place their confidence. They’ve seen life’s transient and fleeting nature, and they know what the real stuff of life consists of (so to speak). This long view is more than earthly wisdom earned by grey hairs, it’s spiritual wisdom banked by miles of suffering and character forming. It’s the experience of the Potter’s clay who (personified) looks down on the shop floor with knowing glances at the discarded mud that used to hang upon its ever winnowed cylindrical frame.

And because He is the one forming us, we can have confidence not to be ashamed – for he also looked forward to the joy of Heaven (Hebrews 12:2) and endured the pain and the cross (Phil. 2:6-10) and thereby set for us not only the example of suffering, but of how to suffer: in joyful hope for a future which will not be worthy to be compared to this present age.

That is what is meant when Paul ends that paragraph by saying, “hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” This pouring of love into our hearts is God’s down payment on our eternal joy, and it is a taste of the kingdom of our Lord Jesus!


Acts 13:1-12 Notes

We had a great small group study last night on the first 12 verses in Acts 13.  This is the beginning of Paul’s first missionary journey.  The shift from Luke’s focus on Peter to his focus on Paul will lead us through the end of the book of Acts.  In this first section of the chapter we see Paul really coming into his own as a leader in the church – we will also see the last time that Luke uses Paul’s old name “Saul” to describe him.

These are brief notes, but hopefully helpful.  Enjoy!

Chapter 13

Now there were in the church at Antioch prophets and teachers, Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen a lifelong friend of Herod the tetrarch, and Saul.

In the New Testament church there’s a distinction made between prophets and teachers.  Paul says as much in 1 Corinthians 12.  The difference, from what I can discern, is that prophets are ones who preach the word of God and teachers are ones who instruct in the word of God. Alistair Begg says that preaching is teaching plus exhortations, “preaching is directive”, he says, “its not a lecture.”

The ESV Study Notes have an interesting explanation as to why Simeon was called “Niger”:

Niger is Latin for “black,” indicating he likely came from Africa, as did the Cyrenean Lucius. (Cyrene was the capital city of Cyrene [sometimes called Cyrenaica], a Roman province in Libya, on the north coast of Africa; see Acts 2:10.)

Lastly, the Herod mentioned here as “Herod the tetrarch” is Herod Antipas according to the ESV notes, and this was the third of five Herods to rule over Palestine.  James Boice describes Antipas in this way:

After the removal of Archelaus, Judea was governed for a time by Roman procurators. But the line of Herod the Great continued through another of his sons who reigned in Galilee until his banishment to Gaul in AD 39. His name was Herod Antipas, and he is the Herod who killed John the Baptist. He emerged in a cameo role at the trial of Jesus Christ.

Each of these men come from different backgrounds, and level of society.  They range from princes/important people like Manaen, to missionaries like Lucius to men of Africa like Simeon. This was a diverse collection of men and women from around the known world.

What is most fascinating to me is how Manaen, who grew up with Herod, went such a different way in life than Herod.  The ESV Study Notes tell us that “Lifelong friend translates Greek syntrophos, indicating that Manaen was a close friend of Herod Antipas and had been brought up with him from childhood.”

This reminds me of how Moses was raised in Pharaoh’s courts, but became the antithesis to everything Pharaoh stood for.  An amazing change in him, and story of two divergent lives, which eventually clashed in a major way. The lives of men are in the hands of God, and surely He steers all things in the direction of His sovereign will and pleasure. He takes men from noble birth and from nothing at all and makes them adopted sons of the kingdom of God.

13:2-3 While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” Then after fasting and praying they laid their hands on them and sent them off.

The role of the Spirit here is complete sovereignty over the entire situation.  He is seen as the one who sets them apart and then sends them (vs. 4).  This is the same Spirit which lives in us today, and He is not silent.  The ages of time have not silenced our God.

The role of men here is four-fold:

–       Fasting
–       Prayer
–       Laying on of hands (like a missionary commissioning)
–       Obedience to the Spirit of God

13:4-5 So, being sent out by the Holy Spirit, they went down to Seleucia, and from there they sailed to Cyprus. When they arrived at Salamis, they proclaimed the word of God in the synagogues of the Jews. And they had John to assist them.

One of the things I really like about this section is that there is organization in the ways of God. God is not a God of confusion, but of order. Note that it is the Spirit that is sending them out, and as a result, we know that they are following God’s instructions in this mission.  Note also that Paul is proclaiming the word to the Jews first. Lastly, look at the fact that, as I mentioned earlier, John is assisting them – they had an organizational approach that involved more than just one or two people. Everyone pitched in. James Boice says this, “We have fallen away from that principle in our time through a pattern of organization in which churches are usually in the hands of just one minister. The people think, ‘Well, he’s the minister. It’s his job to do the Christian work. Let him do it.’  Such churches are weaker as a result.”

13:6 -7 When they had gone through the whole island as far as Paphos, they came upon a certain magician, a Jewish false prophet named Bar-Jesus. He was with the proconsul, Sergius Paulus, a man of intelligence, who summoned Barnabas and Saul and sought to hear the word of God.

This man Paulus was Proconsul. A Proconsul was a one-year appointed position.  The Roman Senate made the appointment, and only those who had previously served as Consul were eligible to serve as Proconsul. Proconsuls were governors of territories, not usually too large from what I can tell. Consuls on the other hand, used to be the most powerful position in the Empire. When Rome was a Republic (before the emperor took over full control) there would be two elected Consuls who would serve at the same time for one year and had veto power over each other. They were elected by the Senate. Consuls stayed as a position under the Emperor, but their power was just limited – essentially figureheads.

13:8-11 But Elymas the magician (for that is the meaning of his name) opposed them, seeking to turn the proconsul away from the faith. But Saul, who was also called Paul, filled with the Holy Spirit, looked intently at him and said, “You son of the devil, you enemy of all righteousness, full of all deceit and villainy, will you not stop making crooked the straight paths of the Lord? And now, behold, the hand of the Lord is upon you, and you will be blind and unable to see the sun for a time.” Immediately mist and darkness fell upon him, and he went about seeking people to lead him by the hand.

The meaning of names and their significance is seen throughout the Old and New Testaments.  The fact that this man was called Bar-Jesus, which means “son of salvation” was an affront to the message of the gospel.  That is why Paul contrasts his name with what he really is, namely a “son of the devil.”

Sproul makes the humorous point that obviously Paul didn’t read Dale Carnegie’s famous book ‘How to Win Friends and Influence People’!  But he goes on to point out that when Christ addressed the proud religious “experts” He did the same thing.  For instance, here is Christ’s interaction with the Pharisees in John 8:

Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot bear to hear my word. You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies. But because I tell the truth, you do not believe me. (John 8:43-45 ESV)

Because of this magician’s positional reality as a son of Satan, he was necessarily also an “enemy of all righteousness” because if we are not with God we are against Him.  Christ makes that clear as well when He tells His disciples, “Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters” (Matt. 12:30).

The natural outgrowth of being under the slavery of sin and the Devil (see Rom. 6) is that you will mimic your leader.  For Satan is the Father of lies (Jn. 8:44).  That is why it says this magician was full of “deceit.”

Lastly, note that he is full of “villainy” as well.  Villainy seems to indicate a sort of strategic approval of evil.  It reminds me of what Paul says at the end of Romans 1 about those with a debased mind:

Though they know God’s righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them. (Romans 1:32 ESV)

13:12 Then the proconsul believed, when he saw what had occurred, for he was astonished at the teaching of the Lord.

This gentile believing is the beginning of the fulfillment of what Jesus told Paul – that he would stand before kings and princes and proclaim the gospel (find that scripture earlier in acts 9 or so).  It is also the beginning of the fulfillment of both Christ’s words to the disciples in chapter 1 and the Abramatic covenant to bless all the nations in the world.  The following verses are great references:

But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” (Acts 1:8, ESV)

And all the prophets who have spoken, from Samuel and those who came after him, also proclaimed these days. You are the sons of the prophets and of the covenant that God made with your fathers, saying to Abraham, ‘And in your offspring shall all the families of the earth be blessed.’ God, having raised up his servant, sent him to you first, to bless you by turning every one of you from your wickedness.” (Acts 3:24-26 ESV)

Lastly, notice that it isn’t the Miracles alone that lead to belief – God knows who and when to use these for his glory, but it is the preaching of the Word that leads to conversion.  This reminds me of when Jesus was preaching and healing during His earthly ministry and people were seeing the miracles, but they were equally amazed at His words:

        And many more believed because of his word. (John 4:41 ESV)

The officers then came to the chief priests and Pharisees, who said to them, “Why did you not bring him?” [46] The officers answered, “No one ever spoke like this man!” (John 7:45-46 ESV)

10,000 Reasons to Celebrate this Morning

Tomorrow we celebrate Good Friday, the day God appointed before creation that His beloved Son would pay the price for a humanity He hadn’t even created yet.  From all eternity He had this plan in mind.  It pleased Him to crush His Son on our behalf. The depths of this really can’t be fully understood, but I’m glad with all my soul it is the truth.

Listen to the glorious words of Paul as you meditate on His goodness this morning:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory. In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory. (Ephesians 1:3-14)

For that reason we have 10,000 reasons to worship our great God and Savior. Enjoy some worship time with Matt Redman’s song today as you contemplate with awe and reverence the lengths to which He went to pluck you from the grave.

Humble as He was Humble

We have just wrapped up the second week of our study on revival, and tomorrow we’ll discuss this in class. But what we’ll specifically focus on is not the examples given in our workbook, but rather the example of Christ. In an effort to focus on Christ, we’ll be closely examining Philippians 2:3-11. My notes on the passage are below.

Philippians 2:3-11

2:3-4 Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.

The phrase here “selfish ambition” is eritheia in the Greek, which has the meaning of “electioneering or intriguing for office, apparently, in the NT a courting distinction, a desire to put one’s self forward, a partisan and fractious spirit which does not disdain low arts.”

I was drawn to this definition because it reflects something I’m familiar with – politics! In fact a secondary definition according to the Blue Letter Bible is “partisanship, fractiousness.”

In politics it is often necessary to put aside the needs and cares of others in order to advance one’s own agenda. To be partisan is to be highly committed to one’s own vision and agenda – without compromising with others. The way Paul speaks of it here is as the self-centered agenda of one who is only concerned with his or her own cares and well-being.

While it seems obvious that we are to not be “selfish”, it is much less obvious how our actions and thoughts are often self-centered instead of Christ-centered or focused on the well-being of others.

Paul goes on to say that we are to “count others more significant” that ourselves. How do we do this? Paul says to do it “in humility.” That means that accomplishing this will require an attitude that is humble. It might seem then, at first blush, that humility is defined as counting others more important than ourselves…but there’s more to it than that as we’ll see later, there’s also a component to humility that not simply puts others first, but has a more broad understanding of our place in relation to God.

Christian, are you above following in the footsteps of your Lord? Are you too good to do as He did? What He is calling for here is the opposite of all human inclination, namely the attitude of pride. We naturally want only to think of ourselves, while Christ urges us to follow His example, have His mind, and have a mind set on others for the sake of His name.

2:5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus,

The beautiful thing about the Christian life is that God does not leave us to guess how we are to behave and obey. But not only does He give us the example of Christ, but His Holy Spirit applies that example to our hearts and minds. That is why He can command us to “have this mind” because He intends to fulfill in us the impossible – through the reading of His word, and prayer, and the power of the Holy Spirit, God transforms our minds. Our role in this is to not quench the Spirit’s work in our lives and to read and pray. We are to obey.

This is an impossible command without the help of the Spirit. For how can you oh man “have the mind of Christ”? How are you to know what that is? How do you transform your thoughts to match His? Only the Spirit knows what this means precisely, and only the Spirit has the power to enact this transformational process in our lives.

Let us each pray for that powerful work of the Spirit, and for the help to obey and have our minds renewed day by day.

2:6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped,

The Incarnation

There is so much doctrine in verses 6-8 that James Montgomery Boice says that in them we learn about “the divinity of Christ, he preexistence, his equality with God the Father, his incarnation and true humanity, his voluntary death on the cross, the certainty of his ultimate triumph over evil, and the permanence of his reign.”

One of the most important doctrines that we get from verse six is that Christ was before He was born as a human: the incarnation. He existed before time began, and He was on a plane (an equal plane) with God. As Alistair Begg says, “In eternity, the Father, the Son, and the Spirit shared coequally in all God is. The Son who was about to become incarnate was possessed of the glory of God, indeed, everything that makes God God. Everything that caused the angels to adore God was there in the Lord Jesus Christ. When we begin there, the impact of what follows is staggering.”

John McArthur says that, “In a simple, brief, yet extraordinarily profound way, it describes the condescension of the second Person of the Trinity to be born, to live, and to die in human form to provide redemption for fallen mankind.”

Other versions of the verse say, “He existed in the form of God…” and MacArthur says the word ‘existed’ “denotes the continuance of a previous state or existence. It stresses the essence of a person’s nature, that which is absolutely unalterable, inalienable, and unchangeable.” He goes on to note that the word ‘form’ is ‘morphe’ which “refers to the outward manifestations of an inner reality. The idea is that before the incarnation, from all eternity past, Jesus preexisted in the divine form of God, equal with God the Father in every way. By His very nature and innate being, Jesus Christ is, always has been, and will forever be fully divine.”

Boice also gives us some good cross references for verse six, pointing out that Christ talked about His equality with God the Father when he mentioned in His high priestly prayer, “the glory I had with you before the world began” (John 17:5). Even at the beginning of the book of John we see how this doctrine is laid out very plain for us, namely, that Christ has existed “in the beginning” and that he was “with God, and…was God.” Another great reference is Colossians 1:15-17 which states, “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.” And my favorite reference, John 8:58, which says, “Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.”

Boice further sets the scene in heaven for us and has us imagine what must have been the reaction in heaven at the condescension of Christ (something I have long set my thoughts on in other writings). He says, “We must imagine, therefore, that something like rumors of Christ’s descent to earth had been in circulation around heaven and that for weeks the angels had been contemplating the form in which Christ would enter human history. Would he appear in a blaze of light bursting into the night of the Palestinian countryside, dazzling all who beheld him? Perhaps he would appear as a mighty general marching into pagan Rome as Caesar did when he crossed the Rubicon. Perhaps he would come as the wisest of the Greek philosophers, putting the wisdom of Plato and Socrates to foolishness by a supernatural display of intellect. But what is this? There is no display of glory, no pomp, no marching of the feet of the heavenly legions! Instead Christ lays his robes aside, the glory that was his from eternity. He steps down from the heavenly throne and becomes a baby in the arms of a mother in a far eastern colony of the Roman empire. At this display of divine condescension the angels are amazed, and they burst into such a crescendo of song that the shepherds hear them on the hills of Bethlehem.”

Not Grasping Supreme Power

When Scripture says that He “did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped” we must understand what this means. It means that Jesus, while still having all of the power and qualities of the immutable 2nd Person of the Godhead, chose to not use them. He set them aside in that He did not choose to be omnipresent, or omnipotent. He in essence still was those things, but did not use tap into their characteristics. MacArthur says, “In becoming man, Jesus did not in any way forfeit or diminish His absolute equality with God.”

I find this term “to be grasped” a difficult one because my mind always runs to using the word “grasped” as a synonym of “understood.” MacArthur does a wonderful job of explaining this word, which is the Greek noun harpagmos (which means to be seized or carried off by force) when he says in his commentary that, “Because Jesus already possessed equality with God, the meaning of ‘to be grasped’ is not taking hold of but of holding on to, or clinging to. He had all the rights and privileges of God, which He could never lose. Yet He refused to selfishly cling to His favored position as the divine Son of God nor view it as a prized possession to be used for Himself.”

That the God of all the universe would humble Himself, and take the form of a “servant” (that is a man – for all men are servants of their creator in the natural order of things), is what dazzled the angels, and what dazzles us still to this day. Oh how deep are the riches and love of Christ and the infinite wisdom and condescension of God the Trinity. How far beyond all measure are His plans and His thoughts. Who can say “I know the mind of God” or “I know His exact will for this and that”? For who can fathom or even deign to identify with the deepness, the fullness, of His love and mercy. He has not only taken on the sinfulness of flesh as an outer garment, He has taken on the sins of the world so that we can have peace with Him. No other way was possible, save this one. No other plan so radical could have been devised by the minds of humanity. No man would or could ever have thought “let’s continue to disobey and sin and as God to become a man and be our sacrifice. Yes, let’s ask the Almighty to die for us.” Such thoughts seem inconceivable, irreverent, and impossible. Yet, that is exactly what Christ did for us.

2:7 but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.

Bearing the Likeness of Men

Perhaps no one better describes what this means than Alistair Begg who, in an article called ‘Wrapped in Humility’, says that what humbled Christ was not what He left behind, but rather what He took on – namely the form of a servant:

“It is not by a diminution that He makes Himself nothing. It is by an addition that He makes Himself nothing. He has not ceased to be who He is. But by wearing the overalls – by pouring Himself into them – He constitutes a completely different entity. HE who is a somebody in His own right has become a nobody in order that HE might serve others. Jesus did not approach the incarnation asking, ‘what’s in it for me, what do I get out of it?’ In coming to earth He said, ‘I don’t matter.’

Jesus, you’re going to be laid in a manger. ‘It doesn’t matter.’

Jesus, you will have nowhere to lay your head. ‘It doesn’t matter.’

Jesus, you will be an outcast and a stranger. ‘It doesn’t matter.’

Jesus, they will nail you to a cross and your followers will all desert you. And Jesus says, ‘That’s okay.’

That is what it means. He ‘made Himself nothing, taking on the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.’”

We also are to be servants. I think of the passage from John 13 where Christ was washing the feet of the disciples:

Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going back to God, [4] rose from supper. He laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around his waist. [5] Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around him. [6] He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, do you wash my feet?” [7] Jesus answered him, “What I am doing you do not understand now, but afterward you will understand.” [8] Peter said to him, “You shall never wash my feet.” Jesus answered him, “If I do not wash you, you have no share with me.” [9] Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!” [10] Jesus said to him, “The one who has bathed does not need to wash, except for his feet, but is completely clean. And you are clean, but not every one of you.” [11] For he knew who was to betray him; that was why he said, “Not all of you are clean.”

[12] When he had washed their feet and put on his outer garments and resumed his place, he said to them, “Do you understand what I have done to you? [13] You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. [14] If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. [15] For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you. [16] Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. [17] If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them. [18] I am not speaking of all of you; I know whom I have chosen. But the Scripture will be fulfilled, ‘He who ate my bread has lifted his heel against me.’ (John 13:3-18 ESV)

Surely this remarkable passage speaks for itself. Christ not only laid aside His glory, but He took on the form of a servant, a humble position which we often don’t desire to emulate. Yet if the Lord of glory can bow Himself to this level of humility and servanthood, surely we can follow His example with the help of the Spirit.

Laying Aside His Glory

I believe there is great value in understanding that Christ had laid aside His glory for us. Boice talks about how there are two ideas of glory being conveyed in this passage. The first is a description of His inward character; the second is His outward appearance, which He set-aside during the incarnation. It is this outward appearance that He set aside – the Shekinah – while maintaining the inward character of God.

Boice goes on to talk about how Paul (in 2 Corinthians) compares the shining of Moses’ face with the way we now display the glory of God. He says, “In Him you see God’s glory, which means you see God’s character. As you see it, you are changed into the same likeness by the presence of His Spirit in you.”

Jesus Chris became like us in order that we might become like Him”, Boice states in chapter 20 of his commentary on Philippians. I simply cannot get over how much depth there is in these verses and how much truth. It’s a difficult thing to rightly divide so much truth and so much wisdom. It almost seems impossible that Christ would put Himself in such a sinful state, but that’s exactly what He did for us (2 Corinthians 8:9 says He humbled Himself so that through His poverty we would become rich).

2:8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.

There’s certainly a specific comparative example here. One is that of death, and the other is that of death on a “cross.” The latter is a death that was not unfamiliar to the men and women of the ancient near east, and was a form of punishment that the Romans perfected during their rule over a massive portion of God’s earth.

In the verses before us we read that the very same God who is God of the universe has condescended to take up the form of a creature, a human. God’s most splendid creature is the human being, and yet humanity has been poisoned. For thousands of years our sinfulness has rotted away the pure nature of our first parents. Through one man sin entered the world, and here we are some 4000 years after that first event and Christ is pouring His holy nature into an unholy, imperfect, poisoned creation. This is the state of our surroundings.

Paul said that Christ finds Himself in this state of humanity, and what is His reaction? Does He burst forth in radiance and glory and allow the throngs of adoring angels to declare His majesty night and day? No. Instead He does the opposite of what His human nature must have told Him to do. He humbled Himself. He obeyed. And by humbly obeying He did the one thing that fallen humanity has failed to do time and again for thousands of previous years. In the beginning of His humanity, throughout His humanity, and the conclusion of His humanity He did one thing we seem to never be able to do: He obeyed God. He did not obey so that He would be rewarded with land, with money, with promotion, with worldly possessions or love. He obeyed because He lived to please the Father, and to bring glory and honor to YHWY. He lived a perfect, obedient life, rejecting the cursing call of sin that His cloth of humanity constantly tempted Him with. He won the battle over sin, and did not give way on the path to Jerusalem, on the Via Dolorosa, on the steps of Golgotha, on the cross itself. As His hands were nailed to the wood, He nailed the final victory and the deathblow to death itself and once and for all in a grand, humble, horrible moment of mercy conquered humanity’s sin and its hold over man’s destiny.

Now, if Christ did not put himself above obedience, dear Christian, shall we? Do we say within ourselves “I am going to obey all that I can, but there are just some things that I can’t commit to doing.” Christ, the very Son of God, the One true authority on this planet, did not have this attitude. Paul is calling us to submit our entire lives to obedience. This is so radical, so hard, and so difficult for me to do. There is nothing I want more (humanly speaking) than to please and obey myself. I want to do what I want to do. Sound familiar?

Therefore my prayer for you and for myself is that we ask for God’s help in surrendering in brokenness and humility to what it is He wants us to do. I pray that we emulate our Lord Jesus Christ and love others more than ourselves, and to love the Lord with all of our hearts, minds, and souls.

2:9-11 Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

This is the reward of Christ, and in it we have our own reward and hope. This is the end of the narrative that started out in verses 6-8 so bleak. In the end, Christ is raised from the dead, and glorified. This speaks not only of the past and current situation of Christ’s reign, but also of His future reign when it says “every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.” We know that right now this is not the case. Millions rebel against God and His Son. Yet we see here that eventually all will either serve Him willingly and joyfully, or be made to acknowledge Him in shame.

I love what Spurgeon says about this passage, he says, “this is a very bottle of cordial to the lip of the weary Christian, that Christ, after all, is glorified.”

Hebrews 2 speaks volumes on this front:

[8] putting everything in subjection under his feet.” Now in putting everything in subjection to him, he left nothing outside his control. At present, we do not yet see everything in subjection to him. [9] But we see him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone. [10] For it was fitting that he, for whom and by whom all things exist, in bringing many sons to glory, should make the founder of their salvation perfect through suffering. [11] For he who sanctifies and those who are sanctified all have one source. That is why he is not ashamed to call them brothers, (Hebrews 2:8-11 ESV)

Therefore what is the “end game” of all of this humility? What is the point? What is the purpose? The purpose for Christ was the bring glory to God the Father – the thing God cares most about, perhaps, is His own magnificent glory. And because we are to love that which Christ loves and hate that which He hates, we must therefore turn our minds toward valuing the glory of God more than we do now, which means we must value the reputation of God while we are here on earth.

The Reputation of Christ on this earth has been maligned more than any other public figure in the history of creation. Yet it is this reputation, this man, that we are called to identify with. We are not to be ashamed of Christ or His Gospel (Romans 1:16) because it is He who changed us, who saved us, and who called us from darkness into His marvelous light. Peter puts it this way:

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. (1 Peter 2:9 ESV)

The great triumph of this verse is the articulation of the reality that even though Christ humbled Himself during His incarnation, He will one day be seen for the glorious king His is. One day those who spat among Him, and those who continue to do so now, will bow their knee and be forced to acknowledge His kingship.

Therefore humility will one day give way to public exaltation.

We see a shadow of this principle in the proverbs and other parts of Scripture where we are told that if we humble ourselves God will exalt us. What does it mean to be exalted? It means to take our rightful place beside Christ in His glory. It means to be identified with the glorious Son of God.

Sometimes exaltation leads to suffering in this life because we are identifying with Him and the world hates Him, so they will cause us to suffer. But take heart, He has overcome the world (John 16) and our exaltation will be public and in Him.

We can no rejoice in the reality of this truth, and the fact that one day He will bring all things to a close, all of history and all of sorrow, all of pride and all of sin. In that day, we will be publically exalted with Christ.

Simon Magus and the Samaritan Pentecost

Last night our Thursday night Bible study group looked at the first 25 verses in Acts 8.  It was a great time of fellowship and study.  The big challenge that came out of the study was this: Philip shows us that loving the Samaritans by sharing the gospel with them is what God would also have us do.  Are we loving the “unlovable” people in our lives, or are we simply ignoring them and talking with our same circle of friends?

Here are my notes from last night…

PJW

8:1 And Saul approved of his execution. And there arose on that day a great persecution against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles.

This is an example of one of the greatest miscalculations in history.  Satan has recently been completely flummoxed by the amazing triumph of Christ:

He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him. (Col. 2:15)

And here we see that far from that triumph being a momentary one, Jesus has sent His Spirit to indwell His followers, and instead of persecution squelching the fire of the gospel it only serves to fan its flames. And by the killing of Stephen, we see that Satan’s strategy of annihilation – a strategy that was predicted in Gen. 3 – has backfired, and caused men and women to leave their homes and flee…and take their new found lives and passion for the gospel of Jesus to the utter most parts of the world.

From the perspective of those new Christians this must have seemed like a tremendous setback at the least and a scary and dangerous situation for their families.

 

8:2-3 Devout men buried Stephen and made great lamentation over him. [3] But Saul was ravaging the church, and entering house after house, he dragged off men and women and committed them to prison.

This word “ravaging” is an amazing word describing Saul’s actions.  In the Greek it means literally, “to treat shamefully or with injury, to ravage, devastate, ruin.” John Stott puts it colorfully, “The verb lumaino expresses a brutal and sadistic cruelty.”

This is quite a characterization – one that enables us to understand more of Paul’s words when he says:

 

The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. (1 Tim. 1:15)

 

Note the force of the description, that he “dragged” them off to prison. Oh how zealous he was for doing the right thing in the name of his religion…

 

8:4-8 Now those who were scattered went about preaching the word. [5] Philip went down to the city of Samaria and proclaimed to them the Christ. [6] And the crowds with one accord paid attention to what was being said by Philip when they heard him and saw the signs that he did. [7] For unclean spirits, crying out with a loud voice, came out of many who had them, and many who were paralyzed or lame were healed. [8] So there was much joy in that city.

And here we get to see the results of the proclamation of the gospel.  The strife that these new Christ followers encountered when one of their own was murdered has been turned into joy for many many people – starting with people of Samaria.

We also see no clearer example of what it means to both love your enemy and love your neighbor.  For the Samaritans and the Jews had “no dealings” with one another.  But there were neighbors, and Christ had instructed His disciples to go and proclaim the good news to them and all the ends of the earth.  Here is the first partial fulfilling of the great commission of Christ.

I also can’t help but smirk with delight at the reaction of the demons.  Thus far this chapter is a record of the defeat and embarrassment of Satan.  For thousands of years he had been able to “roam to and fro” on the earth (Job 1), but now his power had been severely limited by the dynamic spreading in of the kingdom of God.  You see, Christ ushering in the kingdom didn’t simply mean that He would be reigning from heaven, it also meant that He would be expanding His kingdom on the earth and using His disciples to do that! His renewed image-bearers would now be adopted and sent on a mission empowered by His Holy Spirit. What an amazing paradigm shift!           

 

8:9-11 But there was a man named Simon, who had previously practiced magic in the city and amazed the people of Samaria, saying that he himself was somebody great. [10] They all paid attention to him, from the least to the greatest, saying, “This man is the power of God that is called Great.” [11] And they paid attention to him because for a long time he had amazed them with his magic.

One can’t help notice when reading this passage that Simon’s entire life revolved around himself. His goal was to be noticed and to proclaim to others how “great” he was.  So quickly we get a character sketch of a man who practiced magic, and went around telling all who would listen how wonderful he was. He sounded like a huckster…but the sad thing is that his magic tricks were convincing enough to have fooled many into believing him.  But all of that was about to change…

8:12-13 But when they believed Philip as he preached good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women. [13] Even Simon himself believed, and after being baptized he continued with Philip. And seeing signs and great miracles performed, he was amazed.

When Philip came to town the power of God overwhelmed those who had previously been impressed by Simon’s amateur magic show. The contrast between the supernatural power of the Holy Spirit and the shallow tricks of a conjurer couldn’t have been more pronounced to these people, and it changed them forever.

In the second part of the passage we see that “even Simon himself believed” and then was baptized.  There has been a great deal of speculation as to whether or not this man was ever truly converted, it is my opinion from the context clues we read in the text, that he was not genuinely converted, but rather “amazed” into believing these guys were something great – maybe even greater than himself!

After all, he was a magician, and he looked on admiringly at the abilities these apostles had to heal the sick, raise the dead, and cast out demons.  He probably thought they were in the same line of work, and that he’d stumbled on some “real pros!”

8:14-18 Now when the apostles at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent to them Peter and John, [15] who came down and prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit, [16] for he had not yet fallen on any of them, but they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. [17] Then they laid their hands on them and they received the Holy Spirit. [18] 

This is one of the most difficult passages in the New Testament, some might say.  The difficulty arises in that we see here another instance in which the Holy Spirit doesn’t yet fall on these Samaritans despite their believe in Christ.  They have apparently been made alive from the dead, but have not yet been permanently indwelled by the Holy Spirit.  The reason this is so odd is that it is not the usual operation of the Spirit today.  For as we know, it is the usual practice for the Spirit to immediately come to live within those whose hearts have been quickened by His power and confess the name of Christ in belief.

Some have wondered why Peter and John came themselves to lay hands on them.  Why would the great pillars of the early church need to be there for this to happen?  It isn’t as though God needed their help to give these people His Spirit. In fact we see no other instance in which it requires an apostle to be present for the Spirit to “fall” on someone.

There are all kinds of suggestions about why this is, but from what I have read and can discern, the most plausible is that the purpose for the event to have occurred this way would be so that God’s work of redemption for the Samaritans would be widely spread, and a matter of public knowledge.  God is proclaiming that His salvation is not simply for the Jews alone, but for all who will believe, and He uses His apostles to confirm the fact that He is working in the Samaritans.

Later Peter will travel to the God-fearers, and the gentiles and the Spirit will fall on them to the great amazement of the church in Jerusalem.  In fact, it’s probably safe to say that had Peter not reported his eye witness account of the Spirit falling on the house of Cornelius that many would not have believed. But Peter’s presence confirms for the church that God is working in a way in which they had previously thought impossible.

God is still showing these people that He is a God who is steadfast and keeps His promises.  He is fulfilling His promise to Abraham that in him the nations would be blessed.

8:18b-19 Now when Simon saw that the Spirit was given through the laying on of the apostles’ hands, he offered them money, [19] saying, “Give me this power also, so that anyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit.”

If it wasn’t obvious that Simon’s confession/belief wasn’t genuine before, it ought to be now.  He simply sees that the apostles have something that he doesn’t, and wants it for his own.  He wants to use the power of God for his own gain.  Frankly, I don’t think he fully understood what he was asking, or else he wouldn’t have been so overt in his request.

Today we have a saying/term for those who try to use money to gain the favor of the church or the blessing of God – we call it “Simony.”

8:20-24 But Peter said to him, “May your silver perish with you, because you thought you could obtain the gift of God with money! [21] You have neither part nor lot in this matter, for your heart is not right before God. [22] Repent, therefore, of this wickedness of yours, and pray to the Lord that, if possible, the intent of your heart may be forgiven you. [23] For I see that you are in the gall of bitterness and in the bond of iniquity.” [24] And Simon answered, “Pray for me to the Lord, that nothing of what you have said may come upon me.”

These are strong words from Peter.  He says that Simon is in the “gall of bitterness” and the “bond of iniquity.”  These are the words that confirm to many scholars that Simon was never saved in the first place.  Being in the “bond” of iniquity is not what characterizes Christians, for listen to what Paul says in Romans:

But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, [18] and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness. (Romans 6:17-18 ESV)

What I see here is a man who is still enslaved to sin and needs to repent. But what is his reaction to Peter’s rebuke?  It is a desire to avoid the punishment, not to repent.

Simon is like a wretched characterization of so many people in this world who want all the blessing of God, but do not want to truly repent of their sins. They want to be in heaven, but they’re hoping Jesus isn’t there!

Secondly look at what Peter says “You have neither part nor lot in this matter.” I think he says this because that’s exactly what Simon wanted – he wanted to be a part of getting the “credit.” Obviously that’s not what the focus on ministry is all about.  It’s not about the minister its about the One he represents.

8:25 Now when they had testified and spoken the word of the Lord, they returned to Jerusalem, preaching the gospel to many villages of the Samaritans.

Despite the run in with Simon that didn’t stop their mission, they kept on preaching the gospel. This verse seems like an afterthought, a tidy conclusion to the incident with Simon and the amazing Pentecost that just occurred in Samaria.  But its far more than that, it’s a testimony to the faithfulness of God.

Think about it, when you encounter a difficulty spiritually or emotionally, its easy to get depressed or to allow that incident to consume your thoughts. We sometimes get weighed down in the paralysis of emotion while we turn the incident over again and again in our minds.

But God offers us a greater grace to get past these trials and continue to do the work He has laid out for us. That is the faithfulness of God – to secure our hearts and comfort us by giving us the peace that passes all understanding.

So more than just an afterthought, this is a record of the faithfulness of God – even in the small things.  He will not allow one man to disrupt the spreading of the gospel.

Reprobation and Predestination (Justice and Mercy)

Reprobation and Salvation

During last week’s class, near the end, I got a question as to why some people are saved and not others. The question was framed in the context of creation: “why would God create some people who He knew would never accept His gospel, and therefore go to Hell”?  The question is more bluntly put, “if God is the One sovereignly quickening us (bringing us alive from the dead), then why would He even create others who were not going to be saved?”

This question hits on a few important doctrines: predestination and reprobation.

Reprobation is defined in this way by the Westminster Dictionary of Theological Terms, “God’s action of leaving some persons in a state of their own sinfulness so that they do not receive salvation but eternal punishment.”

Predestination is defined in this way, “A term for the view that God predestines or elections some to salvation by means of a positive decree while those who are not saved condemn themselves because of their sin  (also: “God’s gracious initiation of salvation for those who believe in Jesus Christ”).”

But before I go to scripture to explain these doctrines, particularly that of reprobation, let me first say that there are certain things that we can know, and other things that we cannot know, and will not be able to figure out.  This is not a cop-out, but rather an understanding of the fact that God is greater and His ways are deeper than our minds can fathom (Is. 55:6-11).

Do Not Pry into His Eternal Council

But not only are there things our minds were not made to comprehend, but there are things which we must not pry – the sovereign council of God. There is a limit not only to our understanding, but to what God will allow us to search out – most particularly in arrogance (which is the attitude we humans tend put on when exploring big questions of the unknowable). Job found this out first hand when he questioned God’s purpose in his life.  What was God’s reaction to Job?  This is what He said:

Then the LORD answered Job out of the whirlwind and said: “Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge? Dress for action like a man; I will question you, and you make it known to me. “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding. Who determined its measurements—surely you know! Or who stretched the line upon it? On what were its bases sunk, or who laid its cornerstone, when the morning stars sang together and all the sons of God shouted for joy?

He challenges Job over and over “Have you comprehended the expanse of the earth? Declare, if you know all this…Is it by your understanding that the hawk soars and spreads his wings toward the south? Is it at your command that the eagle mounts up and makes his nest on high?

God concludes two lengthy chapters of rebuke with this “Shall a faultfinder contend with the Almighty? He who argues with God, let him answer it.”

Some are Predestined…Others Are Not

It is supposed by the question that this blog post is being addressed that we believe that indeed some are saved and others are not.  But I want to just reaffirm this great mysterious truth once again by citing some Scripture.  Ephesians 1 tells us this:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, [4] even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love [5] he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, [6] to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. [7] In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, [8] which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight [9] making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ [10] as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.

[11] In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, [12] so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory. [13] In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, [14] who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory. (Eph. 1:3-14)

What this passage clearly teaches us is that before the world began, God predestined a chosen group of people for salvation, and that all of this was “according to the counsel of his will” for a purpose.  What was the purpose? “For the praise of His glory.”  I will come back to that in a minute.

In Romans 9, the seminal passage on predestination and reprobation, Paul says this:

[6] But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel, [7] and not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring, but “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.” [8] This means that it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as offspring. [9] For this is what the promise said: “About this time next year I will return, and Sarah shall have a son.” [10] And not only so, but also when Rebekah had conceived children by one man, our forefather Isaac, [11] though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad—in order that God’s purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of him who calls—[12] she was told, “The older will serve the younger.” [13] As it is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.”

[14] What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God’s part? By no means! [15] For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” [16] So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy. [17] For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.” [18] So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills.

[19] You will say to me then, “Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?” [20] But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, “Why have you made me like this?” [21] Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use? [22] What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, [23] in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory (Romans 9:6-23 ESV)

Paul uses the example of Jacob and Esau, God loved Jacob and not Esau, in other words, God chose Jacob for salvation and for His work of redemption and not Esau.  Why did He choose one and not the other? Paul answers: “In order that God’s purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of him who calls.”

Therefore the choosing is all of God.  Can the passage be anymore plain? He alone is sovereign and soverignly chooses whom He wills.  This is why Christ can confidently say in John 10 that His sheep know His voice and follow Him.  His sheep are discriminatory.  Why?  Because He has chosen them. His Spirit has quickened them. He has plucked them as brands from the burning to be the objects of His affection, and they have been given to Him as a gift from the Father to the glory and enjoyment of the Son.

Now in verse 19 Paul anticipates the same objections I received in class.  He knows that some will object.  He knows some will say, “that’s not fair!”  But how does he answer them?  God says, speaking through Paul, something similar to what He said thousands of years prior to Job:

But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, “Why have you made me like this?” Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use?

Wayne Grudem says this about the text, “…we must remember that it would be perfectly fair for God not to save anyone, just as He did with the angels: ‘God did not spare the angels when they sinned, but cast them into hell and committed them to pits of nether gloom to be kept until the judgment’ (2 Peter 2:4). What would be perfectly fair for God would be to do with human beings as He did with angels, that is, to save none of those who sinned and rebelled against Him. But if He does save some at all, then this is a demonstration of grace that goes far beyond the requirements of fairness and justice.”

Then Grudem gets into the objection specifically raised in class:

But at a deeper level this objection would say that it is not fair for God to create some people who knew would sin and be eternally condemned, and whom He would not redeem. Paul raises this objection in Romans 9 (citation of the passage). Here is the heart of the “unfairness” objection against the doctrine of election. If each person’s ultimate destiny is determined by God, not by the person himself or herself (that is, even when people make willing choices that determine whether they will be saved or not, if God is actually behind those choices somehow causing them to occur), then how can this be fair?  Paul’s response is not one that appeals to our pride, nor does he attempt to give a philosophical explanation of why this is just. He simply calls on God’s rights as the omnipotent Creator (Romans 9:20-24)…there is a point beyond which we cannot answer back to God or question His justice. He has done what He has done according to His sovereign will. He is the Creator; we are the creatures, and we ultimately have no basis from which to accuse Him of unfairness or injustice.

Furthermore, this troubles us greatly because not only does it say that we can’t always understand His purposes or question His great purposes, but it goes further…that God is actually glorified in all of this.  Certainly He does not desire anyone to go to Hell (1 Tim. 2:4) but He is glorified in His actions because they magnify His perfect holy character.  Reprobation magnifies His justice, and salvation magnifies His mercy.

Why?

There is a certain point beyond which we may not pry, as I mentioned above, and as Paul alludes to when he says, “who are you, O man, to answer back to God?”  But I want us to understand that while we may not understand the eternal counsel of His will, we can still understand the basic parameters of His will and His actions, and these parameters have to do with His pleasure, His honor, and His glory.

Look at what that Ephesians passage said about the reason for predestination.  Verses 6 and 12 both said this was for “the praise of His glory” or “His glorious grace.”

Then look at what Romans says about the reason for reprobation. Verse 23 says this was “in order to make known the riches of His glory.”

In other words, all things work together not only for our good (Romans 8:28), but they will all eventually work together for His glory.  Indeed all of human history will culminate in Christ’s receiving the glory that is due Him.  No matter what the issue, we can be certain that God does it because He finds pleasure in His plan, and wants to receive glory in and through that plan.

The Example of Christ and Our Response

Perhaps the most grueling and baffling example of predestination was the plan set forth from before creation for the death of Jesus Christ. God predestined Jesus to die a horrific death on the cross. This plan was forged before He even made the world! He could have said, “No I am not going to do this act of creation because ultimately my Son will have to die.” But that is not what He did.  According to His own pleasure and plan to the glory of His son and the praise of His name, He created the world and all that is in it, and He did so with the full knowledge that one day He would send His Son to die for the sins of the world.

This is a great mystery. We ask, “Why would He create some whom He does not save?” When we ought to ask, “Why would God choose to send His Son to die for me even before He created a single solitary speck of earth?”  Asking the former appeals to our pride, asking the latter calls us to search out the depths of the love of God – love that is so unsearchable that we cannot understand or fathom it. We simply respond with Job:

“I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted. ‘Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?’ Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know. ‘Hear, and I will speak; I will question you, and you make it known to me.’ I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you; therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes.” (Job 42:1-6 ESV)

Introduction to Acts

This past Thursday our small group began a study on the book of Acts.  Derek Stone, Parris Payden, and myself (PJ Wenzel) will be teaching through the book verse by verse over the course of the next 10-12 months.  I’m thrilled to be starting this study, and look forward to many wonderful months of in-depth learning and growth for everyone.

In that spirit, I wanted to post my introductory notes for week one.  Enjoy!

Introduction to Acts

The Author

Very few people contend that Luke was not the author of this book.  His detailed account of things, and his reference to Theophilus early on in the both books are just two of the internal evidences that show he was the author Acts.

One of the internal evidences that Luke wrote this book and was actually a traveling companion of Paul can be found in the “we” passages of the book (16:10-17; 20:2-21:18; 27:1-28:16) where MacArthur notes that “the writer switches to the first person plural, showing he was present.”

In addition to being a follower of Christ, and one of Paul’s travel companions, Luke was also a doctor, and a man of education.  His Greek is some of the most eloquent that we find in the New Testament, and his precision when it comes to details has earned this book praise – even among critical secular scholars.

Both MacArthur and Sproul tell of the account of British Archeologist William Ramsay, who was a doubter of Christianity and decided to retrace the accounts of Luke step by step to show his inaccuracies.  What started as a de-bunking mission, ended up being a verification process of all that Luke had written.  Here’s what Ramsay said, “It was gradually borne in upon me that in various details the narrative showed marvelous truth” (cf. MacArthur’s commentary, pg. 5).

MacArthur notes further, “…he was a remarkably accurate historian. Acts shows familiarity with Roman law and the privileges of Roman citizens, gives the correct titles of various provincial rulers, and accurately describes various geographical locations.”

Luke also was very thorough in his research.  “According to tradition, Luke personally interviewed Mary, the mother of Jesus, to get her perspective on all the events surrounding the annunciation and the Nativity” (Sproul, pg. 20).

The Context

The first thing we must realize from a contextual perspective, is that Acts is really the second volume of a two-volume set written by Luke.

F.F. Bruce explains, “The Acts of the Apostles is the name given since the second century A.D. to the second volume of a History of Christian Origins composed by a first century Christian and dedicated to a certain Theophilus.  The earlier volume of this History is also extant as one of the 27 documents ultimately included in the New Testament canon: it is the work ordinarily known to us as the Gospel according to Luke.

Because of this, we need to realize that the introduction to the Gospel of Luke is really the introduction to both books (such was the custom in the ancient world).  John Stott comments, “it was the custom in antiquity, whenever it work was divided into more than one volume, to prefix to the first a preface for the whole.”  Therefore, it is important to first examine the beginning of Luke’s Gospel which states the following:

Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things that have been accomplished among us, [2] just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word have delivered them to us, [3] it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, [4] that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught. (Luke 1:1-4)

Sproul and MacArthur say much the same thing.  Sproul comments, “In antiquity, that standard length of a book written in this manner (scrolls) was about 35 feet long. The scrolls were then rolled up and carefully preserved as they were read and passed from church to church. Initially Luke penned two volumes on separate scolls, on, the gospel account of Christ, and the second, which was carried along with the first, the book of Acts.

The Timeframe

There are basically two schools of thought on when this book was written.  Some say that it was written during the end of Paul’s lifetime, while others say that it was written after the fall of Jerusalem (70AD).  John MacArthur lays out some great reasons to believe this book was written before Paul died, and before 70AD:

  1. It best explains the abrupt ending for the book of acts.  The book ends by saying, “He lived there (Rome) two whole years at his own expense, and welcomed all who came to him, proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness and without hindrance.” Luke doesn’t talk about Paul’s death, something that I think would have been important to note.
  2. The Roman officials in Acts were friendly, if not favorable, to Christians.  This wasn’t the case later on.
  3. Luke doesn’t talk about the violent persecution of Christians during the reign of Nero.  Given the other persecution that Luke mentions (like the stoning of Stephen), it would not have made sense to leave such an important thing out.
  4. There’s not mention of the fall of Jerusalem.  Given all the disputes about Judaizers, and the way Luke documented the Council of Jerusalem, surely he would have written about a momentous event like the fall of the temple, and the city.  The temple was central in the life of Jews until 70AD, and Christ’s coming signaled the end of its physical significance.
  5. The subject mater of Acts is really more focused on early church disputes about the new covenant, and how to deal with the law, and the dietary elements of the law etc.  Whereas later in the first century, most of the debate turned to more theological matters.
  6. Acts doesn’t reflect any theological familiarity with Paul’s epistles.
  7. There’s not one mention of Paul’s travels after his second imprisonment, even though Luke was with him during this time.  If the book was written later, it would have made no sense to leave out those other great ministry stories from Paul’s travels.

The Purpose of the Book

I think we find this laid out in Luke’s preface to his gospel, which states, “it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught.”  So I think we see here that first of all, Luke wanted to put together an “orderly account” of what had happened.

The second, and more central purpose is what he says to Theophilus “that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught.”

MacArthur comments, “…Luke’s primary purpose is to show the spread of Christianity empowered and energized by the Holy Spirit, throughout the Roman world (1:8).”

Sproul comments, “Luke’s agenda was not only to verify that Paul was obedient to the heavenly vision but to remind his readers of the commandments that Jesus gave just before he ascended. What follows is the rest of Acts is a drama of the highest magnitude – the drama of the obedience of the early church to the mission that Christ had given to it.”

The Meta-Narrative – The Kingdom of God has “come upon you”

R.C. Sproul ends the first chapter of his commentary on Acts this way:

A whole new chapter of world history began with the ministry of Christ and with his ascension to the right hand of the father, where He is enthroned as the King. One of the worst distortions of theology that plagues the Evangelical world is the idea that the kingdom of God is something completely future. That view completely destroys the biblical testimony of the breakthrough of the kingdom of God in the ministry of Jesus, especially in his ascension. Yes, the consummation of the kingdom is still in the future, but the reality of the kingdom is now. The mission of the early church was to bear witness to the reality of that kingdom in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and the uttermost part of the earth.

The grand scope of redemptive history has seen an ushering in of a new chapter – an entirely new epic is birthed in the book of Acts.  This book was written to remind us to, and bear witness to itself, the fact that Jesus had ushered in the Kingdom of God.

For thousands of years mankind had been living in darkness.  We had gone astray, we had failed to keep the law of God.  We had failed to live in love toward each other, and we had failed to love the Lord our God with all of our hearts and minds.

The time for a rescuer had come.  The long-appointed time for the recue plan had finally arrived, and Jesus had been victorious over even death itself.  Now, as He was wrapping up His earthly ministry, He wanted to ensure that we had closely understood all that He had come to teach us.  We were to be His witnesses to the entire world.  What were we bearing witness to?  Answer: To the reality of His kingdom.

Jesus is reigning in glory now, and has left us to carry on the work of expanding His kingdom through the power of the Holy Spirit.  We are to be obedient to that calling as Paul was – and the book of Acts tells us how this began.  That is why Acts is an important book.  It is showing us how the early church took on the mission that we carry out to this day.

In order to understand the importance of this book, we need to understand the historical importance of the time in which it was written.  The life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ is like a mile marker that divides all of human history.  By His birth we even measure time to this day.  So when we read through the book of Acts, keep in mind that reality, and the fact that this was really the beginning of an entirely new epoch in history, as well as an entirely new spiritual reality in that Jesus had ushered in His spiritual kingdom.

Lastly, we need to remember as we read this book that so much of what is written in here emphasizes the work of the Holy Spirit. Both Sproul and MacArthur rightly comment that the book of Acts could rightly be called “Acts of the Holy Spirit through His Apostles.”  The Spirit is mentioned over 50 times in this book, and its clear that the events in this book were guided by Him.  Also, since He is the writer of all sacred scripture, we must realize that as we study this book, what is included in these pages is not a comprehensive history, but rather what God wanted us to know about this time.  It is quite literally God’s own commentary on the events as they unfolded in the early days of the church.

Overview of Each Chapter

Chapter 1

Jesus promises the Holy Spirit, remains with the disciples for 40 days, and ascends into heaven.  Then the apostles chose Matthias to replace Judas as the 12th apostle.

Chapter 2

The Holy Spirit is given by God at the first Pentecost (there are four in the book of Acts), Peter gives a bold sermon that leads thousands to give their lives to Christ, and Luke details for us the harmony of the early church.

Chapter 3

Peter and John heal a lame man in the temple and give a rousing testament to the live and death of Jesus Christ, boldly sharing the gospel in the middle of the temple in Solomon’s Portico.

Chapter 4

Peter and John go before the council and speak with such bold clarity that the Sanhedrin are completely stumped and decided to chide them and release them.  Once released the church prayed for even more boldness and the entire building was shaken.  Luke tells us that they had “all things in common.”

Chapter 5

Ananias and Saphira die for lying to the Holy Spirit, Peter and John are arrested and speak before the council, but the council decides to let them go again because, under the Gamaliel, they thought it better to let the political situation play out…and they didn’t want to be “caught” on the wrong side of what God might be doing…they never thought about testing what the disciples of Christ were actually saying against what Scripture attested to.

Chapter 6

The apostles and early church members were getting overrun with work, and some were being neglected, so 7 men were chosen to lead a special service effort – similar to what our church deacons do today.  One of the seven men was a man named Stephen.  Stephen was especially bold in his preaching and was a man “full of the Holy Spirit.” Because of this, the Pharisees brought him before the council under arrest.

Chapter 7

Stephen details the historical meta-narrative of Scripture leading up to Jesus Christ.  The end of his testimony concludes with a stinging rebuke against the Pharisees for putting the “Lord of Glory” to death.  This is one of the richest historical narratives in Acts.  The chapter ends with Stephen being stoned to death and Saul standing by approving of the execution.

Chapter 8

Saul ravages the church and drags many to jail. Meanwhile, Phillip is evangelizing from city to city and having great success.  Here we learn about a false convert named Simon, and the end of the chapter details how Phillip shared the gospel with an important officer from Ethiopia. So the gospel is now going to go south to Africa!

Chapter 9

Chapter 9 details the dramatic Damascus road conversion of Paul where he is struck blind from a light from heaven.  Later we learn that Paul immediately proclaims the name of Jesus and is baptized, and even has to escape from Damascus in a basket. After a period of about 3 years, Luke tells us that Paul went back to Jerusalem to meet up with the apostles.  Meanwhile, amazing miracles were still going on. Peter healed a blind man and even raised a lady, Dorcus, to life again.  Amazing stuff.

Chapter 10

Then Luke goes back to focusing on Peter and details how Peter was given a vision from God that related to the kinds of food that Jews were used to eating – specifically God was explaining the end of the ceremonial law to Peter. The famous line from this section is that “what God has made clean, do not call common.”  At the end of this important chapter, the Holy Spirit falls on the gentiles in an amazing show of grace from God to those outside of the physical Jewish heritage.

Chapter 11

Peter describes everything that happened in chapter ten to the Christians in Jerusalem, and Luke details how the church has been spreading abroad because of the persecution and martyrdom of Stephen.  Luke also tells us of a thriving early church in Antioch where the followers of Jesus were first called “Christians.”

Chapter 12

Then Luke turns to the dramatic rescue of Peter, and the death of James.  Peter was imprisoned and freed by an angel.  God is glorified by this amazing rescue, and counter to what most would think Peter would do after this, he obeys God and goes right back to the temple the next day and begins to preach the gospel. At the end of the chapter we learn of the death of Herod.  So time is moving right along here.

Chapter 13

A major shift occurs in chapter 13.  Luke is now going to focus mostly on the mission of Paul, who, along with Barnabas, is sent off on his first missionary journey by the Holy Spirit.  This chapter also details for us Paul’s first preaching in public, and like Stephen, he makes an appeal to history, and to Scripture and shares the gospel with boldness.

Chapter 14

Paul then moves on to Iconium and Lystra and ends up facing many hurdles – the end of the chapter concludes with Paul nearly dying by getting stoned by the people in Lystra! After that they returned to Antioch and shared about how God had opened a door to the gentile world for the gospel.

Chapter 15

This chapter is details the first ecumenical council in Jerusalem where the issue of the Judaizers needed to be dealt with – men who said that the gentile believers needed to adhere to the dietary restrictions of the OT and also be circumcised.  The council finds this to be incorrect, and sends a letter of clarification to the gentile churches.  Unfortunately the chapter also ends with a dispute between Barnabas and Paul, which leads them to separate and go different paths.

Chapter 16

In chapter 16 Timothy joins Paul and Paul receives the call to the people in Macedonia.  Whereupon he sails immediately to that region and begins to preach the gospel.  But they encounter resistance and are jailed.  During their stay in jail they began singing hymns and songs of praise to God and the entire jail is shaken by an earthquake that unleashes their bonds.  But they don’t leave, instead witnessing to the Jailer in charge of their protection.  This man is saved and the leaders of the city let them go (once they learn of Paul’s roman citizenship).

Chapter 17

Next Paul goes to Thessalonica and his teaching persuades some but other form a mob against them uttering the famous words, “These men who have turned the world upside down have come here also.” They escape to Berea, and find a lot more willingness among these people to learn and seach out what the Scriptures have to say about the Christ. Then they go to Athens where Paul addresses the city in the Areopagus and gives his gospel message using the reasoning style and citations of the Greeks.

Chapter 18

Next Paul went to Corinth and where we meet Pricilla and Aquila who were Jews scattered by the Diaspora (the Jewish dispersion). The local Jews in Corinth were so reviling in their reception of Paul that he said “from now on I will go to the Gentiles”, signifying a significant shift in his strategy for sharing the gospel.  The local Jews are so violent that they bring Paul before the roman proconsul who dismisses their charges out of pettiness.  So Paul returns to Antioch and Luke concludes the chapter by introducing us to a man named Apollos who was a great speaker and a great witness for Christ.

Chapter 19

Paul then goes to Ephesus and finds disciples who have not yet received the Spirit, and Luke details yet another Pentecost for these god fearing men and women who received the Spirit and were believers. Luke also takes time to tell us of the amazing miracles that Paul was working – even allowing people to take his handkerchief to the sick to be cured.  The amazing chapter ends with Luke telling of a riot in Ephesus over the preaching of the gospel.  The entire town – led by the silversmiths who made gods for a living – was in an uproar and a mob formed to deal with these Christians.  Fortunately, the town leaders dismissed the gathering and no one was hurt ad Paul was able to leave in safety.

Chapter 20

Paul then leaves Ephesus for Macedonia again, but the Jews plot his demise, so he sailed to Troas and preached there for 7 days during which he raised a young man from the dead who had fallen out of a window during his preaching.  Then Luke tells us that Paul sent for the Ephesian church elders and had them meet him so he could give them some last instructions before he went down to Jerusalem again.

Chapter 21-22

Luke details Paul’s trip to Jerusalem and his meeting with James where he gave a report of all that had been accomplished among the gentiles.  Then Paul went to the temple but was mobbed and for his own safety was detained by the roman tribune who allowed him to give his defense to the people – which they rejected.  The Tribune wasn’t going to keep a roman citizen bound in detention so he called for the Jewish Sanhedrin council to meet and hear Paul’s matter from there.

Chapter 23

Paul gives his testimony before the Jewish council and because of their dissension the Romans keep him in custody for his own safety.  During this time some Jews hatch a plot to kill Paul but its found out and they end up moving him to the care and protection of Felix the Governor of the area until a safe court date can be set with Paul’s Jewish accusers coming before Felix as well.

Chapter 24

Paul’s accusers arrive and lay their case before Felix who Luke tells us has a “Rather accurate knowledge/understanding of the Way” – probably because his wife was Jewish – and so Felix put them off and said he’d decide the case later.  But eventually two years passed and he did nothing until Festus succeeded him.  Festus left Paul in prison for the meantime to do the Jews a political favor.

Chapter 25

In chapter 25 we see more court maneuvering by the Romans.  Now Paul is sent to Caesarea and appears before Festus and the Jewish leaders as well as before Agrippa the king and his wife Bernice. They heart initial statements and concluded that Paul couldn’t have done anything to deserve death.  But Paul had made an appeal to the Caesar – which he was lawfully allowed to do due to his Roman citizenship, so the leadership locally couldn’t simply dismiss him now.

Chapter 26

In chapter 26 Paul gives his defense and testimony before Agrippa and it’s an amazing recounting of what we heard about in Acts 9.  Paul’s testimony is so powerful that Agrippa asked Paul if “in such a short time” he would have him become a Christian.  Paul’s answer is great: “And Paul said, ‘Whether short or long, I would to God that not only you but also all who hear me this day might become such as I am—except for these chains.’” At the end of the defense all the authorities agreed that Paul seemed innocent enough to them, but they were forced to send him to Rome.

Chapter 27-28

So Paul is put with a bunch of other prisoners and sets sail for Rome.  In the middle of the trip they encounter a storm at sea and are shipwrecked but swim to safety on the Island of Malta where Paul is bitten by a snake with no affect on him, and then goes on to heal many of sickness and disease.

After three months of sailing and being shipwrecked, they finally arrive in Rome where Paul is greeted by other believers and placed under house arrest.  Paul preached the gospel to the Jewish leaders in Rome right after he arrived.  Luke ends the book by saying that “He lived there two whole years at his own expense, and welcomed all who came to him, proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness and without hindrance.”