Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Who should we obey?

Act 5:17-42 NASB - "17 But the high priest rose up, along with all his associates (that is the sect of the Sadducees), and they were filled with jealousy. 18 They laid hands on the apostles and put them in a public jail.

19 But during the night an angel of the Lord opened the gates of the prison, and taking them out he said, 20 "Go, stand and speak to the people in the temple the whole message of this Life."

21 Upon hearing this, they entered into the temple about daybreak and began to teach. Now when the high priest and his associates came, they called the Council together, even all the Senate of the sons of Israel, and sent orders to the prison house for them to be brought. 22 But the officers who came did not find them in the prison; and they returned and reported back, 23 saying, "We found the prison house locked quite securely and the guards standing at the doors; but when we had opened up, we found no one inside." 24 Now when the captain of the temple guard and the chief priests heard these words, they were greatly perplexed about them as to what would come of this.

25 But someone came and reported to them, "The men whom you put in prison are standing in the temple and teaching the people!"

26 Then the captain went along with the officers and proceeded to bring them back without violence (for they were afraid of the people, that they might be stoned). 27 When they had brought them, they stood them before the Council. The high priest questioned them, 28 saying, "We gave you strict orders not to continue teaching in this name, and yet, you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and intend to bring this man's blood upon us."

29 But Peter and the apostles answered, "We must obey God rather than men. 30 "The God of our fathers raised up Jesus, whom you had put to death by hanging Him on a cross. 31 "He is the one whom God exalted to His right hand as a Prince and a Savior, to grant repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins. 32 "And we are witnesses of these things; and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey Him."

33 But when they heard this, they were cut to the quick and intended to kill them. 34 But a Pharisee named Gamaliel, a teacher of the Law, respected by all the people, stood up in the Council and gave orders to put the men outside for a short time.

35 And he said to them, "Men of Israel, take care what you propose to do with these men. 36 "For some time ago Theudas rose up, claiming to be somebody, and a group of about four hundred men joined up with him. But he was killed, and all who followed him were dispersed and came to nothing. 37 "After this man, Judas of Galilee rose up in the days of the census and drew away some people after him; he too perished, and all those who followed him were scattered. 38 "So in the present case, I say to you, stay away from these men and let them alone, for if this plan or action is of men, it will be overthrown; 39 but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them; or else you may even be found fighting against God."

40 They took his advice; and after calling the apostles in, they flogged them and ordered them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and then released them.

41 So they went on their way from the presence of the Council, rejoicing that they had been considered worthy to suffer shame for His name. 42 And every day, in the temple and from house to house, they kept right on teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ."

Pondering on the passage

The Apostles demonstrated here an example of “civil and ecclesiastical disobedience” in obeying the will of God in sharing the gospel of the Messiah Jesus.  The Romans allowed limited local rule and the High Priest and Sanhedrin represented part of that rule with Herod also acting as a type of ‘king of the Jews”.   So you have here a type of blending in which Jews are not only under the authority of Rome but also of their religious rulers who also have a police force, jails, and the right to administer punishment such as flogging.  Normally, godly people are called upon to obey rulers who have been given such a position by God himself.  This is something that was taught to them by the Messiah Jesus. 

Matthew 23:2-3 NASB - "2 saying: "The scribes and the Pharisees have seated themselves in the chair of Moses; 3 therefore all that they tell you, do and observe, but do not do according to their deeds; for they say things and do not do them."

The Apostle Peter continues to teach this principle later in his ministry.

1Peter 2:13-14 NASB - "13 Submit yourselves for the Lord's sake to every human institution, whether to a king as the one in authority, 14 or to governors as sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and the praise of those who do right."

Yet it is Apostle Peter and the others who are now disobeying the authorities.  Why would they do such a thing?  The reason is that to obey God is a greater responsibility than to obey human authorities.  When human authorities have forbidden what God has commanded then to obey them is to disobey God, then clearly their authority is less than God’s authority. 

The leaders of the Jews at this point are facing many different problems.  One their actions have been motivated by jealousy and not a passion to do God’s will.  At their most honest moments they may have been able to recognize that this was not their best hour. 

In addition they are now facing a miracle of some type for the men who they thought they had in prison are now preaching.  Most of the times if people escape from prison they hide and instead in a way they do not understand these men have escaped but now do the very preaching publically that had put them in jail facing torturous death in the first place.   Clearly they were facing men who believed strongly in what they did and would be willing to suffer for it.  Their power to stop the activity now is very limited since there is no fear in these men.

The people are responding well to their message.  The soldiers sent to fetch the Apostles have to do so with no violence because they fear that if they did the crowd would become a mob and stone the soldiers.  The hearts of the people were not on the side of the authorities but with the Apostles at this moment.  They had to fear the opinion polls as well.

So they found themselves in a very complicated situation.

As Peter tells them that under their rule of the Jewish people they were the ones that organized the execution of God’s Messiah and that HIS resurrection and their witness was proof that they had failed to obey God as a critical moment of decision.  They were being called upon to repent of that course of action but the Apostle’s would not repeat their mistake by refusing now to preach about Jesus, regardless of what they did.   This open defiance both convicted them and angered them.  They just wanted to kill them now for their jealousy had become rage.

But the Lord has sent a cool head.   A very respected rabbi named Gamaliel removed the Apostles so that he could talk to other leaders privately.  This man was the main mentor of Saul who would become Paul (Acts 22:3).   

Now we know that Gamaliel was a real person who had leadership at this time among the Jews.  At some point it appears he will become the head (nasi) of the Sanhedrin.  The New World Encyclopedia has this information about him:

Gamaliel the Elder, or Gamaliel I, was the leading Jewish teacher of his day in the first half of the first century C.E. He was the grandson of the great rabbi Hillel the Elder and a high authority in the Sanhedrin in the mid-first century. His son Shimon ben Gamaliel was one of the leaders of the Jewish rebellion against Rome, and his grandson, Gamaliel II, was an even more famous Sanhedrin leader than Gamaliel I himself. Gamaliel I died around 54 C.E. One of his most famous sayings is "Secure a teacher for thyself."

So this is real history taking place in real space and time.  If they had cameras there this could have all been filmed and recorded.  This is not just a religious myth but actual events that occurred.

His counsel at this time also makes appeal to God’s sovereign authority.  There are two aspects of God ruling over human beings.  One is our need to obey God’s commands. 

This is the argument of the Apostles.   They have received God’s command to preach about Messiah Jesus and are going to obey it even if this leads to their deaths.  So they must obey God, even if it means they must disobey human authority. 

It would be hard to doubt their sincerity at this moment since they continued to preach knowing that they would be delivered to the rulers and face their punishment and wrath.  Now sincerity does not prove truth but it does demonstrate that the person has integrity over what he or she believes.  People don’t suffer prison, torture, and death for something they know is lie.  The Apostles sincerely believe that Jesus is the Messiah and has been raised from the dead by God.  There can be little doubt of this now.

But Moses taught there were two aspects of God’s will (Deuteronomy 29:29).  The one an ethical requirement for all human beings to obey what God has revealed concerning how they ought to live.  The second however is the secret will of God working in the middle of history.  Gamaliel points out that this is not the first group of people who believed in a “Messiah” and in every case God worked out events in history that ended the groups since their leaders were false messiahs and not sent from God. 

So if the followers of the Jesus are wrong then God will stop them.  There is no real chance they will succeed for God will stop them. 

But, if they execute them, and they are really sent by God to preach about Jesus, then the Jewish leadership itself will be fighting God and failing in their moral obligations to lead the nation wisely.  The only real risk here then is to execute them since this may place the Jewish leadership under God’s wrath. 

So this argument is used to save the lives of the Apostles.  But clearly it is not fully followed for they are still flogged which was no small matter.   What was flogging?

The following is excerpted from The Expositors Bible Commentary (Volume 8, pages 775-780, Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1984.)

“The Romans first stripped the victim and tied his hands to a post above his head. The whip (flagellum) was made of several pieces of leather with pieces of bone and lead embedded near the ends. Two men, one on each side of the victim, usually did the flogging. The Jews mercifully limited flogging to a maximum of forty stripes; the Romans had no such limitation”

So the Apostles were stripped naked, tied up, and whips shred their backs perhaps up to 39 times.  They left this event alive but near death. 

Yet, they rejoice.  They believe the Sermon on the Mount that said “blessed are you when they persecute you for my sake.”  They had come to believe so much in the Messiah Jesus that they could look at such pain and torture as being part of God’s plan as much as the crucifixion of Jesus.  This is a very deep and profound faith. 

So faith in God’s sovereign will is at the heart of this passage.  We have the need to ultimately obey God as sovereign ruler over all human authorities.  We also have the need to trust that God is sovereign over all the affairs of human beings and will guide history in the direction HE wills it.  Therefore, if bad things happen we need to believe that they are part of God’s plan as well.  We must believe this even when the events will include our own personal suffering.

How should we then live?

Has the Lord commanded you to share your faith about Messiah Jesus to someone today? 

What hinders you from obeying this command? 

Do you trust that God is able to control the outcome of events to stop evil and establish HIS kingdom?  

What could you do to prepare yourself for being persecuted for Messiah Jesus today?

How can you make your faith stronger so that you might be willing to suffer persecution?

As we talk about obedience we must remember to guard ourselves both against legalism and lawlessness.  As brother Bonheoffer summarized.

“‘Only those who believe obey’ is what we say to that part of a believer’s soul which obeys, and ‘only those who obey believe’ is what we say to that part of the soul of the obedient which believes. If the first half of the proposition stands alone, the believer is exposed to the danger of cheap grace, which is another word for damnation. If the second half stands alone, the believer is exposed to the danger of salvation through works, which is also another word for damnation.

(Bonhoeffer, Dietrich (2011-08-16). The Cost of Discipleship (SCM Classics) (Kindle Locations 963-966). Hymns Ancient and Modern Ltd. Kindle Edition.)

May our faith in Messiah Jesus lead us to joyful obedience free of self-righteous legalism and pride.  Amen.


Lord, give us the boldness we need to share the gospel in word and deed to people.  Help us be able to see divine appointments for sharing the gospel with others in love.  Overcome our fears and provide us a conviction that people need to have a relationship with you.  Lord revive our faith, reform our doctrine, and renew our vision of your love and kingdom.  Amen

Monday, September 28, 2015

Lord save us from false worship!

Act 5:1-15 NASB - "1 But a man named Ananias, with his wife Sapphira, sold a piece of property, 2 and kept back some of the price for himself, with his wife's full knowledge, and bringing a portion of it, he laid it at the apostles' feet.

3 But Peter said, "Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back some of the price of the land? 4 "While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not under your control? Why is it that you have conceived this deed in your heart? You have not lied to men but to God." 5 And as he heard these words, Ananias fell down and breathed his last; and great fear came over all who heard of it. 6 The young men got up and covered him up, and after carrying him out, they buried him.

7 Now there elapsed an interval of about three hours, and his wife came in, not knowing what had happened. 8 And Peter responded to her, "Tell me whether you sold the land for such and such a price?" And she said, "Yes, that was the price." 9 Then Peter said to her, "Why is it that you have agreed together to put the Spirit of the Lord to the test? Behold, the feet of those who have buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out as well." 10 And immediately she fell at his feet and breathed her last, and the young men came in and found her dead, and they carried her out and buried her beside her husband.

11 And great fear came over the whole church, and over all who heard of these things.

12 At the hands of the apostles many signs and wonders were taking place among the people; and they were all with one accord in Solomon's portico. 13 But none of the rest dared to associate with them; however, the people held them in high esteem. 1

4 And all the more believers in the Lord, multitudes of men and women, were constantly added to their number, 15 to such an extent that they even carried the sick out into the streets and laid them on cots and pallets, so that when Peter came by at least his shadow might fall on any one of them."

East of Eden, things don’t go well for long.  Ananias and Sapphira desire to look as good as Barnabas before the watching church.  The desire to the praise of human beings in how we give is a common human temptation and the root of much religious hypocrisy.  The Lord Jesus warns:

Gospel according to Matthew 6:1 NASB - "1 "Beware of practicing your righteousness before men to be noticed by them; otherwise you have no reward with your Father who is in heaven."

Ananias and Sapphira had a “secular” view of giving.  It was only of this time and did not include how God might look at it.  They were after the praise of human beings and not God’s glory in their giving to the church.  

Now behind this wrong thinking was Satan himself.  The liar had promoted and encouraged such wrong thinking in the hearts of Ananias and Sapphira.   There was no forced socialism here.  They were free to give nothing or everything without moral failure.  They were not free to lie. 

Now the lying was to the Holy Spirit.  How was this a lie to the Holy Spirit? 

Because the Holy Spirit dwells in the Church as the new temple, therefore to lie to the Church is to lie to the Holy Spirit that now abides in the Church.   This does prove the Holy Spirit is a person and not only an impersonal power since you cannot lie to electricity.  This is important when we seek confirmation of the doctrine of the Trinity.

God has a tendency to warn HIS people of the need to keep their worship pure at the beginning of it being established.  When the Sabbath was first established those who violated it were put to death.

Numbers 15:32, 36 NASB - "32 Now while the sons of Israel were in the wilderness, they found a man gathering wood on the sabbath day. ... 36 So all the congregation brought him outside the camp and stoned him to death with stones, just as the LORD had commanded Moses."

Now many would violate the Sabbath after this and not all of them were put to death.  But God is attempting to demonstrate and warn us how important it is not to play around with worship of HIM for our own purposes and plans.

Leviticus 10:1-2 NASB - "1 Now Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, took their respective firepans, and after putting fire in them, placed incense on it and offered strange fire before the LORD, which He had not commanded them. 2 And fire came out from the presence of the LORD and consumed them, and they died before the LORD."

It is hard for us to understand that the purity of worship is so important to God.  As Americans we feel we are doing God a favor by going to church on Sunday.  The reality God favors us by allowing us to worship HIM in Spirit, Truth, passion, and integrity. 

It is a high and horrible sin when our worship falls short of this ideal.   We must therefore worship under the blood of Christ so that we will be justified by grace and at the same time strive in everyway to avoid any “strange fire” as we worship.  May God have mercy on us and teach us to worship in a way that honors HIM.

This story was not given to make us feel more righteous than Ananias and Sapphira.   It was not the intention for us to say to ourselves we would never do anything like what they did.  The story is not told to make us self-righteous. 

Instead, its purpose was to put the fear of God into us.  The purpose was to gain recognition that there can be consequences for ungodly and immoral actions.   We are called to take God and HIS worship seriously even when we may also encourage joyfulness in us.  God wants HIS church to have healthy relationships with each other and us.  

Another purpose was to make sure we are praying against the temptations and traps of Satan.   The devil is able to get the greatest of saints to sin and hurt the entire body of Christ.  Knowing that God will chasten HIS people the lord of darkness and lies is more than ready to lead us into deception and false understandings.  Sometimes these lies are simple and sometimes complex.  We need God to guard our hearts and minds from wrong thoughts, attitudes, and motives.  

We need to doing in-depth confession so that we are examining every aspect of our words, deeds, and attitudes least we also be deceived even as this Christian couple. 

How should we then live?

Lord, keep us from lying to the Holy Spirit by playing church games and seeking the praise of people over your glory.  Save us from self-justification and self-righteousness.   Give us hearts that desire to worship you in Spirit, Truth, passion, and integrity.  Save us from “strange fire”.  Amen

Prayer:  Lord, help us have a healthy fear of hypocrisy and lifeless worship.  Give us a desire to be joyful givers to your kingdom and the poor.  For those who give to the poor, lend to the Lord.  Give us such hearts in holy sincerity.   Forgive us from falling so short of right worship.  Amen

Friday, September 25, 2015

What does a gospel community look like?

Transforming Devotions in Acts

Act 4:32-37 NASB - "32 And the congregation of those who believed were of one heart and soul; and not one of them claimed that anything belonging to him was his own, but all things were common property to them. 33 And with great power the apostles were giving testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and abundant grace was upon them all. 34 For there was not a needy person among them, for all who were owners of land or houses would sell them and bring the proceeds of the sales 35 and lay them at the apostles' feet, and they would be distributed to each as any had need. 36 Now Joseph, a Levite of Cyprian birth, who was also called Barnabas by the apostles (which translated means Son of Encouragement), 37 and who owned a tract of land, sold it and brought the money and laid it at the apostles' feet."


What does is mean when a congregation is of “one heart and soul”.  It means that they think alike on the big issues and can agree to disagree in an agreeable manner on areas of disagreement.  They found their unity in the gospel of the Messiah Jesus and the teaching of the apostles.  In this they were all united and they considered these two sources of truth to be at the center of their outlook on life.  They were all passionate about learning, worshiping, praying, and being a community.   The resurrected Christ was at the center of their community as its head.  They were a community of grace that was saved by grace.

Part of what happened here were that those with financial resources sold them and this allowed the poor to be cared for by the church.  It appears that a good percentage of the brothers and sisters who were saved were economically challenged while others may have been among the “1%”.  The teaching that they were to love each other even as Christ loved them practically meant that sacrifices needed to be made to make sure no one was without food, clothing, and lodging.  Barnabas, the son of encouragement, is one of these wealthy people who sells property to equip the church with the ability to care for the poor. 

This was a type of simple volunteer communalism.  Some would have argued that Barnabas would have been wiser to provide jobs for people and keep the land since it would have continued to produce a profit year after year.  It is likely that the early church is thinking the return of Messiah Jesus would be soon and therefore were not planning strategically.  One could argue the Lord Jesus would have encouraged them to do just that in HIS parables (Matthew 25:14-30). [1] Christians have attempted things many times, often in imitation of what we read here.   Sometimes these groups became cults and many struggled financially.   One of the most famous of these groups would be the Amish.  This pattern was not followed in all the New Testament communities so was an optional arrangement not one demanded as a standard of life.   

What is not optional is that every Christian community has to be dedicated to caring for the physical needs as well as the spiritual needs of everyone in the community.  Care for the poor is the one of the best illustrations and examples of the gospel lived out since Christ became poor for us by leaving heaven and paying for our sins.  It is light of this great sacrifice that now we sacrifice for others (James 2). 

How should we then live?

What could we do to become of “one heart and soul” with those we go to church with?

What causes us to not be able to feel very close to those that we worship with weekly?

How could we make caring for the poor a greater priority and do it as an illustration of the gospel?


Lord, help us learn to love each other as you have loved us.  Make us one in you and know the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace found in the gospel.  Allow us to seek ways to help each other physically and spiritually so that the world would see in us a community of great mercy, grace, harmony, and peace.  Amen