4/30/16 Jesus Does More Miracles Through Peter

lydda to joppa map

Peter travels to Lydda, also called Ludd, a town not too far from Jerusalem.  A small church group has started there, and Peter goes to teach them.  A man there Aeneas has been paralyzed and bedridden for eight years.  Peter goes to him and prays over him, then says, “In the Name of Jesus Christ the Messiah, you are healed.  Get up and walk!”  Aeneas rises up in astonishment and begins to jump around joyously.  Seeing this miracle, many of the people of both Lydda and neighboring Sharon put their trust in Jesus as their Messiah.  Peter remains in town long enough to baptize the new believers and teach them a bit about what it means to be a follower of Jesus.  Philip set up the church here before Peter’s arrival, and Peter is confident that the men Philip chose to be the leaders of the church will be faithful to the true message of Jesus.  Peter is in the midst of the morning’s teaching when two messengers rush up to him with a letter.  “Are you Peter?” the first man asks.  “I am.”  “Urgent message from the church at Joppa,” the one of the messengers replies, handing Peter the letter.  This is another church set up by Philip in his travels.  Peter reads the message quietly while the messenger waits to see if there will be a reply.  Peter looks up at the group gathered around him.  They are watching him closely, wondering what the message says.  “My brothers and sisters,” Peter says to them, “I have received word that our sister in Joppa, Tabitha, or Dorcas, as she is knows by our Greek brothers and sisters, fell ill and has passed into Heaven.  The church is requesting that I go there as quickly as I can to see her.  I believe they are hoping that Jesus may heal her through me.  Please, be in prayer for the church there, for the dear woman herself, and for me, that I may do God’s will.  I will return to you when I am able.”  Peter gathers a few things and sets out for the seaside town of Joppa.  Upon his arrival, he is met by several of the church leaders.  “She is such a blessing to our whole community.  Though a widow herself, her work as a seamstress helps to provide for many of the other widows and orphans in the town.  And she is always patient, loving, and cheerful.  Her passing is a great loss to us.  Will you go to her, please?”  Peter nods, and they show him to the upstairs room where Tabitha’s body has been washed and prepared for burial.  He looks at her, lying there peacefully, then looks at the people gathered around her.  Many of the women there are widows who Tabitha has supported.  Through their tears, they beg Peter to pray for her to be sent back to them, showing him some of the clothes she has made for them.  “I will pray,” Peter tells them, “But I need you all to wait in another room.”  Weeping, they file out of the room, and Peter shuts the door behind them.  He kneels before Tabitha’s body and prays for Jesus to send her spirit back.  Feeling the leading of the Holy Spirit, he looks into her face and says, “Tabitha, get up.”  Color returns to her face as she opens her eyes and smiles.  Peter takes her hand, helps her to stand, and together they go to the group of mourners waiting for them.  Though they had hoped for this, nobody had dared to believe it could really happen.  They are astonished, and word quickly spreads through the whole town.  Everyone comes to see the woman who has returned from the dead, and stays to hear the message of Jesus’ forgiveness and love.  So many people turn their hearts to God and trust in Jesus to save them from their sins that Peter ends up staying in town for many days.  He is given a room at the home of a tanner, a fellow believer who also shares his former name, Simon.

 

Acts 9:32-43, http://dailytimewithgod.com/http://dailytimewithgod.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/2013/06/map.jpg

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4/29/16 Roman Turmoil Brings Peace For The Church

While all of this excitement is happening and the new church is growing, there is turmoil in Rome.  Emperor Tiberius is dead, and his successor, Gaius Julius Caesar, is shaking things up.  Gaius is the son of the revered army general Germanicus, Tiberius’ adopted nephew.  Although he isn’t fond of the nickname, most people in Rome know him as Caligula, which means “little boots.”  When he was a young boy, he went on campaigns with his father and wore a child size version of the uniform that Roman soldiers wore, complete with little soldier’s boots.  Though Gaius knows that the nickname was given as a term of endearment, he feels that it is not a title becoming to an emperor of Rome.  During the first six or seven months of his reign as emperor, Gaius is beloved by the people.  He reverses many of the hated laws put in place by Tiberius and brings back people that Tiberius exiled.  But then, he gets sick, and he suspects that he has been poisoned.  After his recovery, he grows suspicious of everyone and everything, and sets himself up as a living god, calling on the whole Roman world to worship him.  He earns the outrage of the entire population of Judea when he orders a life-sized statue of himself to be placed in the Temple in Jerusalem.  Even Herod Antipas fights against this abomination that flies in the face of the first commandment – “I AM the Lord your God who brought you out of slavery in Egypt, and you shall have no other gods besides Me.”  Everyone in power in Judea knows that if this is allowed to happen, it will mean mass rioting against Roman rule and the consequent slaughter of all who take part in the riots.  It will also likely mean that those currently in power will not remain in power, and after working so hard to keep their positions, they can’t allow that to happen.  Emperor Caligula doesn’t trust the Jewish people, but he doesn’t make any leadership changes in Jerusalem itself.  He does, however, remove Herod Antipas from his position as Tetrarch after Antipas is accused of and confesses to planning a rebellion against Rome.  The Emperor places his good friend Herod Agrippa in the position instead.  Between all of this uproar throughout the Roman world and Caiaphas losing Saul to the Followers of the Way, things are fairly peaceful for the church all throughout Judea, Galilee, and Samaria.  The small communities of believers grow and are strengthened through their deep faith, building up the church.  The Holy Spirit is with them and leads them in all that they do, and the apostles are able to travel to areas where new small branches of the church are forming, teaching, healing, and strengthening the small groups.

 

Acts 9:31, Exodus 20:2-3, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Caligula

4/28/16 Saul Joins The Believers In Jerusalem

As soon as the meal is finished, Saul gets up from the table and says, “Alright!  Now, show me the closest synagogue.”  Ananias eyes him warily.  Was the whole thing a trick?  Is he trying to get to the believers from the inside?  But no, Ananias heard from Jesus directly about Saul.  Judas already has his cloak on and is heading for the door, Saul right behind him.  Ananias hurries to join them, wanting to see for himself what Saul’s intentions are.  When they get to the synagogue, Saul strides purposefully towards the door, enters, and looks around.  Several people are gathered for prayer, but it seems that they have just finished.  Saul nods to them, walks to the front of the synagogue, and stand behind the bema.  “My friends, I must tell you some joyous news!”  A few of the people there know who he is, but most stare at him in confusion.  “Who are you?” someone in the back calls.  Saul laughs and says, “I am Saul of Tarsus, a student of the great Gamaliel of Jerusalem.  I am a Pharisee and I know the law better than many of the members of the Sanhedrin.  I was sent here by High Priest Caiaphas to capture anyone found in your city to be a follower of Jesus.”  Murmurs arise among the people.  Saul raises his voice a bit as he goes on, “But I can no longer perform that duty.  I have had a personal encounter with Jesus on my way here, and I am here to tell you all that He truly is the Son of God, our long-awaited Messiah!”  At that, the synagogue erupts with noise.  Saul does not stay to be confronted by these people, but walks out of the synagogue and says, “Where is the next synagogue?”  Judas and Ananias can only look at him in wonder.  This is the same man who made it his personal mission in life to hunt down and destroy all of their fellow believers?  Wow.  Saul continues going from synagogue to synagogue, proclaiming loudly that Jesus is the Son of God.  Soon, a huge crowd has grown, and they begin to challenge him.  Saul does not back down, but addresses every single one of their concerns, citing scriptures to prove every statement he makes about Jesus as their Messiah.    But most of the Jews there don’t want to hear proof.  They close their ears, hearts, and minds to his words and allow their anger and resentment to grow.  Now, the man who was their greatest ally in getting rid of the threat posed by this new group of believers has become the most outspoken member of the same group.  He must be stopped.  A plot to kill him quickly forms, and word of it reaches Saul.  He meets in private with his closest friends in the city and they decide that they only way to save him is to get him out of the city secretly.  That night, after the gates are locked and most of the city has gone to bed, a few men sneak through the city towards the wall.  Thankful for the clouds blocking the moon, they reach the wall without being seen.  Now comes the hardest part – climbing up unnoticed.  They make it to the top with a large basket and a long rope.  Saul climbs into the basket and the men lower him down to the other side.  Quietly, he runs for the road, heading back towards Jerusalem.  When he reaches the city, he goes immediately to the place where he knows that many of the believers have been living together.  He is excited to be there now, not as the man who is trying to destroy them but as a fellow believer.  But when they see him, they refuse to let him in.  They won’t even listen to his story.  Chagrined, he walks away, knowing that he brought this upon himself by his previous actions.  As he is walking, he meets Barnabas on the road.  “Barnabas, my old friend!” he calls.  Barnabas looks shocked.  Yes, the men were friends, but since Barnabas became a follower of Jesus, Saul has not wanted anything to do with him.  “Hello, Saul,” Barnabas answers, wondering what he is in for.  “I need your help,” Saul tells him.  Barnabas starts to shake his head, but Saul holds up a hand and says, “Please, hear me out.”  He tells Barnabas the whole story, from meeting Jesus on the road to Damascus all the way up to his escape from the city.  Barnabas’ eyes light up with hope.  He closes them for a moment, praying silently for Jesus to show him whether or not Saul is speaking the truth.  He feels in his heart that his old friend is not trying to trick him, and slowly nods, saying, “Alright, Saul, I will vouch for you.  Let’s go see the apostles.”  The two men go to the apostles and Barnabas explains the situation.  They agree to give Saul a chance, and soon Saul rewards their generosity with his bold preaching everywhere he goes.  But the Greek Jews, whom Saul had formerly represented as a leader in their synagogue, can’t abide this betrayal.  Again, a plot arises to kill Saul and the believers have to help him escape.  Some of the men go with Saul as far as Caesarea, then send him to Tarsus.

 

Acts 9:20-30

4/27/16 What Happened To Saul

While Philip is sharing the joyful message of the hope that Jesus died to give the world, Saul is sharing venomous threats throughout Jerusalem and the surrounding cities.  He has heard that many of the believers have escaped and scattered all over the place, some even going to other countries.  Word reaches him that there is now a large community of Followers of the Way in Damascus, Syria.  Energized with this new information, he goes to see High Priest Caiaphas.  “High Priest, I have received word that there are many of these Followers of the Way in Damascus.  Will you draw up letters for me to take with me to the synagogues in Damascus, so that I may arrest any I may find there and bring them back to face trial here?” Saul asks.  “By all means, whatever you need to do to eradicate this plague,” Caiaphas eagerly agrees, going immediately to prepare the documents.  While Caiaphas is busy with the paperwork, Saul puts a team together to accompany him.  Soon all is ready and they set out on the road to Damascus.  Suddenly, there is an excruciatingly bright light directly above them.  All the men close their eyes against the blinding light, but Saul is actually struck blind.    As he falls to the ground in agony, he hears a Voice, sounding like it is coming from Heaven, saying, “Saul, Saul, why are you hurting Me?”  Saul is confused.  But he is pretty sure he just heard the Voice of God, or at least an angel.  “Who are You, Lord?” Saul asks.  “I AM Jesus, who you are hurting.  It is hard for you to go against the will of God,” the Voice replies.  Saul begins to shake in fear.  “Wh-what do You want me to do?” he stammers.  “Get up, and have your men lead you into the city.  When you arrive, you will be told what to do,” the Voice answers.  So Saul struggles to his feet and opens his eyes, but he sees nothing.  Calling his men over to him, Saul tells them to lead him into the city.  The men are also shaken, though they only saw the bright light and did not hear the Voice.  Slowly, with faltering steps, Saul makes his way into Damascus, holding tightly to the hands of two of his men.  At the same time, a man in Damascus, a Follower of the Way named Ananias, has a vision.  “Ananias,” a Voice calls.  “Yes, Lord, I am here,” Ananias replies.  “Get up and go to Judas’ house on Straight Street.  You will find a man called Saul of Tarsus there.  He is praying.  I have given him a vision as well, of a man named Ananias laying hands on his head and praying for him to recover his sight.  Three days ago I struck him blind on the road to Damascus and now he is waiting for you to come to him.”  Ananias is afraid.  He knows exactly who Saul of Tarsus is.  He has many friends here who have just escaped from this horrible man in Jerusalem.  “But, Lord, he is threatening to kill us all!  My friends have told me about him, and how he has come here with papers giving him authority to arrest anyone who You have saved by Your sacrifice on the cross!”  “I have big plans for him,” the Voice responds.  “I have chosen him to spread my message all over the world – to Jews and Gentiles, kings and common people.  He will suffer many trials in doing so, and will be humbled.  Go to him.”  “Ok, Lord,” Ananias says with a sigh, “I will do it.  I trust You.”  Ananias gets up and leaves his house, walking over to Judas’ house on Straight Street.  He knocks on the door, and Judas answers.  “Hello, Ananias, how are you?”  “I’m not sure, but I’m trusting in the Lord to keep me safe, my friend.  I hear you have Saul of Tarsus here.  I am to lay hands on him and pray for his sight to be restored.  May I see him?”  Smiling, Judas says, “Of course.  Follow me.”  He leads Ananias to a small bedroom where Saul is kneeling in prayer.  “You see, my friend, he is already a changed man.  Go in, and do what Jesus has instructed you to do.”  Ananias enters the room and, still rather warily, places his hands on Saul’s head.  He breathes a silent prayer, asking for strength and courage, and immediately feels better.  “Brother Saul,” he begins, surprising himself with the way he has just addressed the man, “You met Jesus on the road while you were on your way here.  He has instructed me to come to you, lay my hands upon your head, and pray for you to receive your sight and also the Holy Spirit.  May I do so now?”  Saul only nods, overcome with emotion.  Ananias prays for the man and immediately Saul stands, strengthened, and opens his eyes.  The people in the small room with him watch as  something that looks like scales falls from his eyes.  Saul looks around, eyes wide, and says, “I can see more clearly now than ever before.  And not just with my eyes, but with my heart.  I thank you, my friends.  Now, where may I be baptized?”  Still slightly astonished at this complete transformation, Ananias looks at Judas.  “Come,” Judas says simply, and they go to a nearby body of water.  Saul is baptized, and then they all return to Judas’ house for a celebratory meal.

 

Acts 9:1-19

4/26/16 The Ethiopian Treasurer Believes

gaza road philip

Philip is resting the next evening, when suddenly an angel appears in front of him.  “Get up, Philip, and go south down the Gaza road towards the desert.”  Philip jumps to his feet and sets out for the road.  When he reaches the desert area, he sees a chariot in the distance.  In the chariot sits a very important Ethiopian eunuch.  This man is the treasurer for Candace, the queen of Ethiopia.  He has just come from worshipping at the Temple in Jerusalem and is now on his way back home.  Philip watches for a moment and realizes the man is reading from the book of the prophet Isaiah.  The Holy Spirit tells Philip to go to the chariot and speak to the man.  Philip runs over to him, then stands next to the chariot and listens to the man reading aloud.  “Do you understand what you are reading?” Philip asks.  The man’s face falls.  “No,” he answers sadly.  “How can I understand this, unless someone teaches me?”  Philip tells him, “I can help you.”  With a huge smile on his face, the man says, “Come!  Sit here next to me and teach me these wonderful things!”  Philip joins the man in his chariot and says, “Now, show me what you have been reading and I will explain it to you.”  The man shows him the portion of Isaiah chapter 53 that he has been struggling with.  “He was led as a sheep to the slaughter; and as a sheep before its shearer is silent, so He opened not His mouth.  In His humiliation His justice was taken away, and who will declare His generation?  For His life is taken from the earth.”  The Ethiopian asks, “Is Isaiah talking about himself or someone else here?”  Philip explains that Isaiah is talking about Jesus in this scripture, specifically about the way He was to die.  He told the man how Jesus willingly went with the soldiers, knowing He was going to His death; that He did not try to defend Himself but was silent before His interrogators.  He spoke of the way Jesus was beaten and mocked, given only a sham of a trial, and finally unjustly sentenced to die on the cross, willingly giving up His life on earth and any pleasure that He might have had here to pay the penalty for the sins of everyone in the whole world and for all of time.  From there, Philip goes on to tell the Ethiopian all about Jesus, explaining everything from His birth to His death and resurrection to his ascension to Heaven before the eyes of the apostles.  He speaks of the formation of the church and how they have been spreading Jesus’ message to everyone they meet, and baptizing all who come to accept Jesus’ sacrifice in the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  The Ethiopian listens eagerly, absorbing Philip’s words like water for a parched soul.  The chariot has continued on down the road as they have been talking, and the man looks over to see a small body of water by the side of the road.  “Look!  Water!”  he says to Philip, pointing.  “Can I be baptized?”  Philip looks at the man appraisingly and asks, “Do you believe with all your heart that Jesus is the Messiah and has died to save you from the penalty for your sins?”  “I do, sincerely, I do believe that Jesus is the Son of God,” the man replies.    The Ethiopian commands the chariot driver to stop the horses, and he and Philip jump out and enter the water.  Philip baptizes him in the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, but as the man comes up out of the water, the Holy Spirit takes Philip away.  The man looks all around but doesn’t see Philip anywhere.  Elated, he leaps back onto his chariot and starts for home again.  The spirit has taken Philip to a town called Azotus, where he begins to once again share Jesus’ message with the people, travelling and preaching from there all the way to Caesarea.

 

Acts 8:26-40, http://4.bp.blogspot.com/-c6-fR_rJqxU/T9ANk3K7jbI/AAAAAAAAEC0/DPIWHf7IUhw/s1600/acts+philip.gif

4/25/16 A Messiah For The Samaritans

map jerusalem to samaria

After much prayer, some of the apostles decide to leave Jerusalem as well.  They want to travel to other cities and make sure that Jesus’ message is being taught correctly.  Some of the believers who have just fled the community in Jerusalem are brand new to this faith, and may not have all the right information to pass on.  Guided by the Holy Spirit, Philip travels to Samaria.  He begins to share Jesus’ message with the people there, heals those who are sick, and frees many from spiritual bondage by demons, the demons protesting in loud voices as they are driven out.  It seems that the threat against the church is working to their advantage, because all the scattered believers are spreading the word everywhere they go, reaching many more people than they did in Jerusalem.  The people of Samaria who listen to Philip and see the miracles he performs eagerly accept the gift Jesus offers.  In great joy, most of the people of the city are baptized.  One man in the city, however, is not overjoyed by all that is happening to the citizens.  His name is Simon, and he has been the great sorcerer of the city.  His amazing feats have made him famous, and revered by everyone in the city as a holy man of God.  But it isn’t God who gives Simon his abilities.  Simon, clouded by jealousy, does not hear the words Philip preaches.  He only sees the people turning from him to revere a new man.  “I will say that I believe as well, and be baptized.  Then maybe some of this new power will be mine and I can regain the admiration of the people,” Simon tells himself.  And so the man professes his faith in Jesus and is baptized.  The people are very excited at this, still believing Simon to be a holy man.  Word spreads quickly through the city and beyond, even reaching Jerusalem and the apostles there, that the people of Samaria have accepted Jesus’ gift of payment for their sins.  Peter and John decide to go personally and visit with these new believers.  They travel to Samaria and celebrate with the people, but quickly learn that they have not yet received the Holy Spirit.  So Peter and John, together with Philip, lay their hands upon the heads of the people and pray over them, asking God to send the Holy Spirit to them.  As joyful as the new believers were upon being baptized into the family of the Messiah, the gift of the Holy Spirit only increases that joy.  Simon, watching from the wings, sees the opportunity he has been waiting for.  “Ah, so it’s this Holy Spirit that gives them power,” he thinks.  He walks boldly up to the apostles and says, “Gentlemen, what sum would you accept to impart this Holy Spirit to me?  I would like to be able to call the Holy Spirit to others who request it of me by laying my hands on them as you have done with my fellow citizens.”  Peter straightens up and assesses this man.  “Sir, the gift of the Holy Spirit is just that, a gift.  It cannot be bought.  And if this is how you view the gift given to you when you accepted Jesus’ sacrifice for your sins, then you have not been saved, because you have not been honest.  If you are seeking to profit from salvation, then may you die with your money!  If you have any hope of saving your own life, you had better change your heart, turn away from your wicked desires, and plead with God to forgive you!  Your heart is poisoned by greed and dishonesty.”  Simon, a bit taken aback by Peter’s blunt and forceful reply, stands there speechless for a moment.  When he finally comes to his senses, he falls to his knees, takes Peter’s hand in his, and says, “Please, pray for me.  I am everything you said, and I don’t want to die in my sins.  Will you ask God to forgive me?”  Peter does just that, because he knows that Jesus is willing to forgive any sin if the person repents of it and humbly asks for forgiveness.  Peter, John, and Philip remain in the city for a few days, teaching the people, then travel on to other Samaritan villages, spreading Jesus’ message, healing, and releasing people from demons.

 

Acts 8:4-25, https://blogs.thegospelcoalition.org/justintaylor/files/2011/08/map-40-01.jpg

4/24/16 Run! Saul Is Coming For You!

first persecution map

The outrage doesn’t end with the death of Stephen.  The Sanhedrin members and many of the members of those two synagogues are still burning with fury.  The new church is in danger.  A few of the men from the community of believers, known generally as Followers of The Way, because Jesus taught that He is the only way to complete forgiveness of sin and assurance of eternal life in Heaven, were there when Stephen made his final speech, and witnessed the stoning that followed.  As soon as the shock of seeing their dear friend murdered before their eyes abated, they went to him and carried him away for burial, deeply mourning the loss of this wonderfully faithful and courageous man.  But though their thoughts center on Stephen, they can’t help overhearing bits of conversations around them.  “They are a threat to our very way of life!  They must be eradicated, now, before this lunacy spreads any further!”  “Arrest them all, and hand them over to the Romans to be crucified.  Every single one of them.”  “Have you heard there are even some of these Followers of the Way in other countries?  I can’t believe it’s spread so far so fast.”  “Whatever it takes, we must stop them.”  Chills run down the men’s spines at these words.  They glance at each other, apprehension written on their faces, and pick up their pace.  They need to bury Stephen quickly and rush back to warn the rest of the community.  Who knew how long they would have before trouble came to visit them with a vengeance?  Heartbroken, they lay Stephen’s body in a tomb, say a quick prayer, and hurry home.  As soon as they arrive, they find the apostles and request an immediate community meeting.  “The Sanhedrin is rallying people in the city to destroy us!  They will be here soon, and they are talking about imprisoning and killing us.  They want to hand us over to the Romans for crucifixion after they round us all up.  We must get everyone out before it’s too late,” the men tell the people.  Peter quickly stands and raises his hands, calling for the believers to be silent and hear him.  “No panicking, please.  That will do more harm than good.  We will pray, and then everyone should gather only what they can easily carry with them and will need on their journey.  Go in many separate directions, so that it will be harder for them to follow and capture you.  We twelve will remain in the city, and will be in constant prayer for you all.”  With that, he bows his head and launches into a fervent prayer for their safety, then dismisses the group to begin preparations for a mass exodus.  The people leave in small groups in the night, scattering in every direction.  Many go to other areas of Judea, Galilee, and even Samaria, and some go farther on towards Alexandria in Egypt and Damascus in Syria.  Meanwhile, Saul of Tarsus has formed a group of men to hunt them down.  Leading the group, he goes from house to house throughout the city, thoroughly searching each one and interrogating everyone as to the whereabouts of these Followers of the Way, especially the twelve apostles.  Whenever he even suspects that anyone may be a member of the group, or knows something about them, Saul arrests them and has them imprisoned.  He is ruthless in his zeal to rid the city, and then the world, of these people.

 

Acts 8:1-3, http://www.generationword.com/devotions/photos-diagrams/diagrams/april-digrams/7b-87_map_mediterranean_sea_antioch.jpg

4/23/16 Stephen Is Martyred For His Faith

Pure outrage.  Where before, they felt it necessary to pay people to provide false testimony of Stephen’s blasphemous words, now they have it straight from the horse’s mouth.  Most of Stephen’s speech could have been well received, because he did speak of Moses as the revered prophet of God that he was.  But Stephen’s words at the end sealed his doom.  Just about every person in the room is now calling for his immediate death.  Stephen remains calm, though.  He looks up, and an expression of peace and awe crosses his face.  God is smiling down on him, praising him for his faithfulness by giving him a glimpse into the land he is about to enter.  “Look!” he cries out, “I see Heaven opened, our Messiah standing at God’s right hand!”  These words just add to the fury in the room, like throwing another pile of kindling onto a raging bonfire.  The men in the room can’t take it anymore.  They put their fingers in their ears to stop themselves from hearing any more traitorous words from Stephen’s mouth.  They rush at him, the force of their anger sweeping him out of the building and down the street, until they have pushed him completely out of the city.  Once Stephen is safely out of Jerusalem they begin to pelt him with the stones they have scooped up along the way.  As he is enduring the torturous death, Stephen looks up to Heaven and cries out, “Lord, Jesus, take my spirit.”  Kneeling, his final words before succumbing to death are, “Lord, don’t blame them for this.”  Only one man in the frenzied group abstains from the stoning.  Saul of Tarsus, the prize student of Gamaliel, stands off to the side and holds the cloaks of the men wielding the stones.  The expression on the man’s face is not one of disgust, but of satisfaction.  Though not partaking, he definitely approves.

Acts 7:54-60, 8:1

4/22/16 The Sanhedrin Likened To The Children Of Israel Under Moses

Stephen goes on to say, “This same man, Moses, told his people that in the future God was going to send them a Messiah, and this Messiah must be heard and obeyed, or the people could not be saved.  Moses is the one who led a community of believers – a preview of what we currently enjoy in our own community, almost the first church – in the desert.  God’s Angel gave Moses directions and Moses in turn told the people what God’s expectations were of them.  But the people would not listen to Moses.  They turned away from him and from God in order to follow their hard, stubborn, deceived hearts.  They asked to go back and be slaves again in Egypt.  They asked Moses’ brother Aaron to make new gods for them out of metal and stone, saying, ‘We don’t know where this Moses guy went.  We’re on our own now, and we could use some new gods to help us out.’  They made a calf out of gold and proclaimed it their new god, worshipping a thing they had made with their own hands, instead of the One who created them and the whole universe.  When God saw this, He let them have their own way so that they could see the destruction the path they chose would cause.  God spoke to the children of Israel, and gave the same words to the prophet Amos to be recorded for future generations to see.  He said, ‘Did you offer me slaughtered animals and sacrifices during forty years in the wilderness, O house of Israel?  You also took up the tabernacle of Moloch, and the star of your god Remphan, images which you made to worship; and I will carry you away beyond Babylon.’  When our ancestors were living in the desert for those forty years, they had the tent of meeting, the tabernacle designed by God Himself as a precursor to His Holy Temple.  This tabernacle was entrusted to Joshua and to the leaders of our ancestors after Moses’ death, and they brought it with them into the new land that they inherited.  It was with them as our ancestors fought and defeated the Gentile groups who were living in the land at that time, and stayed with them until King David designed and King Solomon built the first Temple.  Even then, there could not be anything built by human hands that could contain God, as spoken by the prophet Isaiah, who wrote, ‘Heaven is My throne, and earth is My footstool.  What house will you build for Me, says the Lord, or what is the place of My rest?  Has My hand not built all these things?’  Now you are just as stubborn and hard hearted as our ancestors were.  The Holy Spirit moves among you and you turn your faces away, refusing Him entry into your hearts.  All of the prophets sent to our ancestors by God were abused by them, and the ones who spoke of the coming of the Messiah were killed for their efforts!  Now He has come, and you yourselves have killed Him, you who, though you have not obeyed it, claim to know the law better than any common people, and to have received it directly from the angels of God Himself!”

 

Acts 7:37-53, Deuteronomy 18:15, Exodus 32:1, 23; Amos 5:25-27; Isaiah 66:1-2

4/21/16 Moses Was The Preview Of The Messiah

Stephen continues, “Over the course of the next four hundred years, those seventy-five people in Jacob’s family grew to thousands.  But the pharaoh in power at that time knew nothing about Joseph and what he did for Egypt.  All he knew was that there were thousands of Hebrews he could use for slaves in his land.  Although the pharaoh liked having all those slaves to do his building projects for him, he was afraid that if the population kept growing they would overrun the Egyptians and they would be in trouble.  So he put forth an edict that any male babies born to the Hebrews would have to be killed.  It was right at this time that Moses was born.  His parents were able to shield him, hiding him in their home, for three months, but then they had to get him out to save him.  His mother made a basket out of reeds and painted it with tar.  She put him in the basket and set the basket in the river.  Pharaoh’s daughter came upon the basket, and finding the baby inside, she decided to adopt him and raise him as her own.  For forty years, Moses lived in Pharaoh’s household as one of his grandsons.  He received the best education and all the finest things in Egypt.  But when he was forty years old, he began to really look at what was happening to the Hebrews, his own people.  One day he saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew.  He killed the Egyptian to rescue the Hebrew, but instead of gratitude, he was shunned by the Hebrews for his actions.  They didn’t know that he was to be their rescuer.  He went out the next day and saw two Hebrews fighting.  He asked them, ‘Why are you fighting among yourselves?  Don’t the Egyptians oppress you enough?’  But the man who was fighting the other said, ‘Who made you our judge?  You’re not Pharaoh, you have no power over us.  Are you going to kill us like you killed that Egyptian yesterday?’  Moses was taken aback by this response, and he realized that he had to get out of Egypt before both the Hebrews and the Egyptians tried to kill him.  He ran to the country of Midian, where he lived for the next forty years as a shepherd.  He married a Midianite woman and had two sons with her.  When Moses was eighty years old, he saw a bush burning with flames while he was tending his sheep in a desert region of Mt. Sinai, and thought it very odd that the bush did not burn up.  When he went to investigate, he heard the voice of God speaking to him.  ‘I AM the Lord your God, the God of your ancestors Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  Take off your sandals, because you are standing on holy ground.’  Moses was terrified and could not look at the bush.  He did as instructed, and God said to him, ‘I have seen the enslavement of My people.  I have listened to their cries for help and will now send you back to Egypt to rescue them in My Name.’  This was the same Moses who the Hebrews turned their backs on, wanting nothing to do with him.  But he was to be their rescuer, their savior.  He went back to Egypt, did miracles in God’s name to show the power of the One who had sent him, and led his people out.  He saved them from their enslavement and brought them, after forty years of wandering in the desert, to the land God had promised to give to Abraham’s ancestors.”

 

Acts 7:17-36, Exodus 2:14, 3:5-8, 10, 15