Welcome to Miller Avenue Baptist Church, an Evangelical* and Reformed Congregationdually aligned with American and Southern Baptists. We are a small congregation, always have been, and always will be. Our focus is on bold proclamation of the word of grace, the Gospel, and the discipling of followers of Jesus. Pastor Philpott thinks of himself as an old time Gospel preacher and Bible teacher. We have a Reformed theology—not rigid or legalistic—but grace oriented. *We claim the original, non-political, Biblical meaning of “Gospel Proclamation”
Our sermons are mostly verse by verse preaching from the Scripture. We are fairly liturgical in our worship, including the reciting of the Shema (Deuteronomy 6:4), the Apostles’ Creed, and the Collect of the Day (a prayer said by Christians around the world every Sunday), with one or two sermons and receiving “Jesus in the Bread and the Cup” each Sunday morning. We like the old hymns and have no concern to be contemporary, but we do have guitars, singing, and piano playing of two Jesus People type choruses at each morning service, as well as a choir piece, usually in the Black Gospel genre.
First: A man had two sons and asked each one to work in his vineyard. The first said no but later went to work. The second said yes but did not go to work. Which one did the will of God? The first. Jesus then says that tax collectors and prostitutes believed John the Baptist and went into the kingdom of God while the religious did not believe John and thus rejected entering into the kingdom of God.
Second: A king gave a wedding feast for his son and sent out his servants to invite everyone to come. Many refused, so the king sent others out to invite anyone they could find. Finally, the wedding hall was filled. The king finds a guest without a wedding garment. (It was customary for such a personage to provide garments for the attendees.) The king ordered the usurper to be bound and cast into “outer darkness,” a phrase meaning hell. Jesus concludes with, “For many are called, but few are chosen.”
The master of a vineyard sends a series of workers into his vineyard to collect the harvest. He hires workers all day long, even some who work only one hour. Nevertheless, gives all, and beginning with those who worked only one hour, the exact amount, one denarius. Those who worked all day long were paid last and they grumbled that though they did the heavy work they received no more than those who worked one hour. The point is that God will do what He will and we should not begrudge His generosity.
The first parable begins with Peter asking how many times it is necessary to forgive someone who sins against us. Jesus tells a parable about a servant who is forgiven a large sum by his master. This same servant chokes and then imprisons a fellow servant who owed him a modest sum. Others saw this and informed the master, who then threw this unforgiving servant into prison. The point: We are to forgive others their trespasses against us, and without limit.
Second: there is a widow who has been wronged and repeatedly seeks justice, but the judge ignores her. Finally, after the widow continues to press the issue, the unjust judge gives the widow her request. The point: We are to pray and God will give us justice. This continually praying is a sign of faith.
“Lost” is the key word. A shepherd with 100 sheep loses one, searches for it, finds it, and returns home with it. Then he holds a big celebration. A woman loses one silver coin of ten, which might have been her dowry. She searches diligently for it until she finds it, then celebrates. A father loses his younger son when the young man squanders his inheritance through “reckless” living. When the young man realizes he is “lost” and returns home. His father sees him, rushes to him, and welcomes him home. His older brother begrudges the ensuing celebration. The point of all three parables: this is how the Father is; He searches for the lost and celebrates when they are found.
Jesus earlier, in Mark 11:12-14, had cursed a fig tree because it bore no fruit (metaphor for Israel). Now, after describing events leading up to the end of the age, Jesus speaks of a fig tree that puts out its leaves since summer is near. As with the fig tree, when Jesus’ followers see the events He had described in Mark 13:1-28 taking place, they would know that the end of the age was near. Then Jesus makes it clear that no one knows the day or hour of the final great event. But like the servants of a man who leaves on a journey do not know when he will return, nevertheless they continue to work faithfully. And the servants must stay awake, even they do not know when their master will return.
Jesus uses childhood games to speak to the attitudes of the scribes and Pharisees. Kids played a wedding and a funeral game but no one danced to the wedding music or mourned at a funeral—fickle kids—and Jesus said this is what the Jewish leaders were doing with both He and John the Baptist. But, in time this behavior would be shown to be error. Then, the contrast between the self-righteous Pharisee and a tax collector, who both went to the temple to pray at the same time. No one was lower in the Jewish community than a man who sold out to the Romans and cheated his own people out of money. The tax collector who prayed, “Lord, be merciful to me a sinner” was forgiven and justified rather than the boastful Pharisee.
Jesus’ hearers would be familiar with foreigners owning large tracts of land and then bringing others in to manage the land and its products, in this case, grapes. A certain owner planted grape vines, put up walls, a tower, and a wine press then retired to his home. When it came time for a percentage of the crop to be given to the owner, the tenants treated the owner’s servants very badly. Finally the owner sent his beloved son to collect his due, but the tenants conspired with malice aforethought to kill the son, ignoring obvious consequences. Then the owner of the vineyard destroyed those tenants. The Jewish leaders who heard the parable understood Jesus was speaking directly about them, but fearing the people they did not react against Jesus at this point.
The parables of the Hidden Treasure and the Pearl of Great Value are similar in meaning. When the treasure or pearl is found, nothing else compares in value, and all else is counted as loss. Here the treasure or pearl is Jesus Himself and the salvation that is in Him alone. The Net parable has to do with God Himself being the Judge at the end of the age; Christians are not to attempt to make judgment themselves. New and Old Treasures are the great revelations of both the Old—the Hebrew Bible—and the new—the Greek Bible or the words of Jesus, and both inform the preachers of the Gospel.
Appearances are deceiving. The tiny mustard seed yields a tree large enough for birds to nest in it. A small lump of yeast will cause even a large amount of dough to rise. Jesus’ hearers would know about this. The message to His disciples is: what looks like very little will yet be useful. Large or small is not what counts, a lesson of comfort for many Christians. Jesus affirms that His followers are to prophecy (proclaim or preach) and depend on the work of the Holy Spirit to bring faith.
In the field of the sower will be weeds growing up alongside the wheat. Some might think that it would be proper to tear out the weeds. But Jesus says no, let the wheat and the weeds grow up together. Pulling out the weeds might mean some wheat would also be lost. That we must wait is the teaching; let the angels of God, under His direction, do the work of harvesting. The meaning of this parable will help His followers minimize their concern about the weeds. “Let it be” is the answer.
A sower/farmer scatters seeds everywhere, and some fall on a path, some on rocky soil, some among thorns, and some on good soil. Four different soils, but only the seed upon good soil bears a crop. Jesus points out that in the case of the seed on the path and rocky ground, nothing happens at all. In the case of soil with thorns, there is a plant but no fruit. Jesus is preparing His followers, in that day and this, how it will be when His great commission to present the Gospel is undertaken. No surprises, but there will be a harvest.
Parables were used by some of Israel’s prophets, like Ezekiel. They usually had one primary point and were more easily remembered. Jesus explains in Matthew 13:10-17 why He speaks in parables, and surprisingly, he quotes Isiah 6:9-10, where in commissioning Isaiah to his prophetic ministry, God tells him that people would not understand what he was saying nor listen to him. Jesus wants His disciples, whom he is sending out to evangelize, that their hearers would not understand the message.
End of October, Paul and all on board survive a shipwreck. While gathering sticks for a fire, Paul is bitten by a snake but survives. The locals expect him to die, but when he does not, they think he is a deity. Later Paul prays for the leader Publius’ father, who is made well. Paul and company are treated royally as a result. Little by little Paul arrives in Rome. He is in a sort of house arrest, and leaders of the Roman Jewish community come to visit him. Some believe, but many do not. Paul supposedly writes Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon while here. Luke ends his account with Paul in Rome. (This is the last in the series on the Book of Acts.)
Luke gives us an eye witness account of a sea voyage from Palestine to Rome during late Spring and early Fall. The year is AD 59. Paul and companions are aboard a “coasting ship” at first, then a large grain boat whose destination is Rome. Julius, a Roman centurion, is in charge and sees to Paul’s needs. Paul is assured by God that all will reach shore safely despite the “northeaster” that descended upon them. Though the boat is broken apart, all (2)76 persons on board survive the ordeal.
Before King Agrippa and his sister Bernice at Governor Festus’ headquarters in Caesarea, Paul recounts, for the third time in Acts, his conversion while traveling to Damascus to persecute the followers of Jesus there. Paul’s message is most penetrating and convicting, to the point that Agrippa stops him by asking, “Do you think to make me a Christian is so short a time?” Here is the first time the word “Christian” is used for followers of Jesus. Agrippa and Festus agree that Paul could be released from custody had he not appealed to Caesar.
Before governor Festus at Caesarea, Paul avoids a group of assassins by appealing to be tried in Rome by the emperor. One of the Herodian family, Agrippa and his sister Bernice arrive in Caesarea to welcome Festus, the newly appointed governor. Agrippa wants to hear from Paul himself and so opens an opportunity for Paul to speak of Jesus and the resurrection. Paul proceeds to tell the story of his encounter with Jesus while traveling to Damascus.
The testimony cannot be ignored; it must be silenced. Very zealous religious men vow to kill Paul at all costs. The plot becomes known to Paul via his nephew, who informs the tribune, so Paul is sent away under heavy guard to Caesarea, where the Roman governor Felix resides. Once again the attempts of Paul’s and the Way’s enemies are frustrated, and Paul has the opportunity to present the Gospel message to a combined audience of Jews and Romans. His focus is on the reality of a coming judgment day and the resurrection of both the just and the unjust, echoing Daniel 12:2.
The tribune is ready to scourge Paul as a form of examination, but he desists after Paul informs him he is a Roman citizen. The tribune then brings Paul before a meeting with the Council, or Sanhedrin, presided over by Ananias, the high priest. As Paul begins, the high priest orders someone to strike a vicious blow to Paul’s mouth. Paul, temporarily angered, seems to rebuke the high priest. Later, Jesus comes to Paul and assures him he will finally reach Rome.
After being beaten by an outraged mob in the Temple, Paul is rescued and arrested by the Roman tribune quartered with his troops in the Fortress of Antonio. After being carried by soldiers up the steps of the fortress to the barracks and reaching a landing, Paul asks permission to speak to the crowds below. The tribune had thought Paul was a notorious rebel, but finding otherwise allows Paul to speak. Paul addresses the crowd respectfully, they quiet down, and Paul begins an apology or defense wherein he describes his conversion.
Paul and company travel to Jerusalem, mostly by boat. Along the way Paul is warned that he will be made captive there, but that does not thwart him. Upon arrival in Jerusalem he visits James and the elders who are concerned about his presence as there are those who will not accept him. The elders and James want Paul to pay the expenses of four men under a vow so that their opponents will know Paul has not ceased being an observant Jew. However, when Paul enters the court of Israel they think he has brought a Gentile, one of Paul’s companions named Trophemus into the sacred part of the temple and a riot erupts. This results in Paul’s arrest by the Roman tribune.
Paul arrived at Miletus from Troas and invited the Ephesian elders to join him; it was a two day 30 mile trip to the Ephesian harbor of Miletus. There Paul delivers his only sermon to Christians, a most magnificent message. Paul is committed to the work of evangelism; his goal is to present the Word of grace, synonym for Gospel, as broadly as possible. He does so in a most humble manner. He says twice that he did not “shrink” from declaring to them the whole counsel of God. When Paul’s very moving sermon is concluded, he bids farewell to the Ephesian elders, overseers, and pastors who are saddened that they will not see him again and express warmly their love for him.
Ephesian merchants sold silver images of the goddess Artemis (Diana in Greek). A silversmith guild leader, Demetrius, organizes opposition to Paul and the Christians. Ephesian authorities calm an almost riot, which allows Paul to set out for Macedonia, heading east across the Aegean Sea. Paul travels from place to place, until he comes to Troas, at the northwestern part of Asia. Paul speaks to the Christians there in a home with a third story. Long into the night, on the first day of the week, a Sunday, the believers have gathered to “break bread.” Paul preaches on and on, and a young man between the age of seven and fourteen falls out a window and is killed. Paul comes down to him, and says he is alive. This young man is Eutycus, and the church there rejoice
Extraordinary miracles are occurring, and the city of Ephesus is stirred up. Jewish exorcists, who used magical formulas to exorcise evil spirits, see Paul and try to copy him. Whether the sons of Sceva were directly related to a member of the high priestly family is not known, but the covenant name of God, from Exodus 3, was thought to have power which a high priestly person might know. In their attempts to “adjure” a person with demons, they failed and they were beaten up and fled. The result was that many Ephesians turned from magical practices and brought their books of secret chants and rituals together and burned them, worth about 50,000 silver drachmas. The word of God grew rapidly as a result.
Paul is now on the western edge of the Roman province of Asia (modern day Turkey), in the great city of Ephesus. Paul encounters twelve “disciples” who only had been baptized with John the Baptist’s baptism. They had not even heard there was a Holy Spirit. Paul begins to teach them the rest of the story. While speaking to them, the Holy Spirit falls upon them, and they begin speaking in tongues and prophesying. This is now the fourth “Pentecost” recorded by Luke in Acts. First Jerusalem, then Samaritan, followed by the Caesarean Pentecost. Paul, as usual, goes into the synagogue and boldly proclaims Jesus.
With Priscilla and Aquila, Paul travels to his home church, Antioch of Syria, thus ending his 2nd missionary journey. Before reaching Antioch, he arrives at Ephesus where he leaves the couple, and as always, he goes to the synagogue and speaks there. They want Paul to remain, but he leaves, saying he will return. Paul then goes to Jerusalem, then on to Antioch for a short time, after which he then leaves to visit the Churches in Galatia and Phrygia.
Luke now speaks of Apollo who was in Ephesus. Though a powerful preacher for Jesus, he does not know the full story. Priscilla and Aquila contact him, take him aside and more fully instruct him. Apollo leaves Ephesus and goes to Corinth where he continues boldly declaring Jesus.
Leaving Athens, Paul travels on to Corinth where he encounters a Jewish couple, Aquila and Priscilla, who had been forced to leave Rome due to an edict by the emperor Claudius. The three are all leather workers, and Paul stayed with them. Paul speaks in the synagogue as usual. Also as usual, Paul runs into trouble, yet many believe and are baptized. In the midst of the turmoil, Paul has a vision wherein Jesus encourages him to continue with the work and that he will be protected. Troubles continue, and Paul is brought before the Roman governor who refuses to engage in the charges made against him.
Paul politely addresses the “men of Athens” and calls attention to one shrine dedicated “To the unknown god.” This God Paul proceeds to describe as the Creator of all things, who does not live in temples made by humans, and is sovereign over all things. And this God of Paul’s is not distant but present, and humans are his offspring. Thus God cannot be represented by means of gold and silver. However, Paul announces that the days of ignorance God has overlooked and now calls for all people to repent or change their mind about just who God is. Some mock Paul, others want to hear more later, and some believe.
Alone in Athens—the home of Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle—Paul is both grieved and amazed at shrines and temples of gods and goddesses. Historians say about 30,000 of these dotted the city. He speaks in the synagogue at first and is then invited to the Areopagus to present his “philosophy.” Those belonging to the Epicureans and Stoics are especially interested in Paul’s presentation, since he speaks of Jesus and the resurrection (anastasia in Greek), which they misinterpret to be two different gods.
Paul and company continue to run into both political and religious opposition. A church is begun in Thessalonica despite it all. (Paul will soon write a letter to this fledgling church, and we know it as 1 Thessalonians). Berea is about 50 miles from Thessalonica. Apparently, joining Paul and Silas there is Timothy, whom Paul sends back to Thessalonica to care for the new gathering of believers in Jesus there. The Bereans are serious Bible students who realize the Scripture, here the Old Testament, is of great value and study it to determine if what they are hearing about Jesus is true. Those who opposed Paul and Silas in Thessalonica soon hear that the missionaries are in Berea and travel there to once again stir up trouble. Paul is forced to flee again, this time to Athens. Silas and Timothy remain in Berea.
Still in the second missionary journey, Paul and Silas leave Philippi and walk about 95 miles to Thessalonica, which is a city of about 200,000 people and is the capital of Macedonia. As was their custom, they visit a synagogue, and Paul presents the essential gospel message. Some listeners are converted and join with Paul and Silas, (about AD 51) which provokes jealousy from those who do not trust that Jesus was the Messiah, and they stir up trouble. Those who feel threatened by the message of the apostles seize Jason, with whom Paul and company are likely staying. They force Jason to post a bond, which he will forfeit unless he sends the missionaries on their way. The brand-new followers of Jesus think it best to send them away under the cover of darkness, and they travel to Berea.
With no thought of escape, Paul and Silas are in pain and discomfort in the darkness, yet they are singing and praying—joyous despite the misery. The jailer, who lives above the prison with his entire household, hears the missionaries. An earthquake suddenly strikes, which open the doors of the prison and snap the restraints of the prisoners. Miracle or natural event? Nothing is said as to the cause, but the jailer rushes into the inner prison and is about to kill himself, since he would have to be executed according to Roman law if a prisoner escaped, when Paul calls out to him that no one has escaped. Overwhelmed, the jailer comes to Paul and Silas and asks that he might be saved, and Paul tells him to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ. The miracle of conversion occurs, and the jailer, along with his household who had certainly also heard the preaching, is baptized. The magistrates, those in power, determine that Paul and Silas should be sent on their way in silence. Paul refuses to simply leave and wants these leaders themselves to come to them and see to their departure.
Philippi in Macedonia, named for Alexander the Great’s father Philip, is the first city the missionaries visit in Europe. There was no synagogue there, but some women gather on the Sabbath beside the Gangites River for prayers. Lydia from Thyatira in Asia (modern day Turkey) hears Paul speak, and God “open[s] her heart.” She is baptized along with her household, who were likely there by the river and heard the gospel message. At some later point, Paul and Silas encounter a slave girl who gives fortunes and brings much gain to her masters. Paul casts a demon out of her, which ends her ability to fell fortunes. Her owners then cause a commotion the result of which lands both Paul and Silas in prison after a terrible beating. They are placed into tight security, with their feet in stocks.
The second missionary journey, now by the team of Paul and Silas, begins by revisiting new churches that were begun on the first journey. Silas is a leader in the Jerusalem church and is described as a prophet, a preacher, a leader, a Roman citizen—perfect to connect with Gentiles. Likely in Derbe, Timothy joins with Paul and Silas (see 2 Tim. 1:3-5). For strategic reasons, Paul has Timothy circumcised, though he knows neither circumcision or uncircumcision count for anything (see 1 Cor. 7:19). As the missionaries continue, they deliver the proclamation from the Jerusalem church that Gentiles are not required to be circumcised. Then, in a dream, Paul sees a man whom he determines is a Macedonian (from the northern part of Greece), who calls out for the missionaries to help them. Now for the first time, the Gospel will be presented in Europe.
The leaders of the Jerusalem church then decided that James’ points be written up and sent to other churches newly formed in Gentile areas. The letter encourages compliance only and does not demand it. The point seems to be that if Gentiles do observe certain activities that the Jewish believers, and all Jews, found repugnant, then fellowship between Jewish and Gentile Christians would be possible. Cultural considerations are therefore important. It must be noted that pagan practices common in the Graeco/Roman world were unholy and against the Scripture. The issue seemingly settled, Paul and Barnabas propose a new evangelistic venture. Barnabas wants to take his cousin Mark along, Paul protests, and there is a falling out between the two Christian brothers.
Following Peter’s narration of how Gentiles had been converted, Paul and Barnabas do the same. They describe how, by signs and wonders of the Holy Spirit, Gentiles had been saved. James, the half brother of Jesus, acting as would the president of a synagogue, now the leading authority figure in the church in Jerusalem, speaks in support of what Peter, Paul, and Barnabas said about Gentiles coming to faith in Jesus. James quotes Amos 9:11-15, which included “and all the Gentiles who are called by my name,” thereby showing the intent of God. James concludes then that Gentiles who were believing in Jesus should not be troubled but advises that Gentiles should avoid four things: food sacrificed to idols, sexual immorality, meat strangled, and from blood.
Some brothers from the Jerusalem church travelled to Antioch of Syria and were teaching that Gentiles needed to be circumcised in order to be saved. Paul and Barnabas debated the issue. The church at Antioch gathered to address it, and Peter related how the Roman Cornelius had been converted by the power of the Holy Spirit just as Jews had been. Peter’s conclusion is that Gentiles will be saved just as they all had been
Peace in the Bible means both the absence of conflict between nations, tribes, and individuals AND the reconciled relationship between individuals and God made possible by the work of Christ Jesus on the cross.
What is joy, actually? See 1 Peter 1:8–9 “Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.” Joy is not always what we think it is.
Throughout John’s gospel, chapters 14–16, Jesus speaks to his disciples about who he is and what he came to do. He says, “Let not your hearts be troubled,” “I am the way, the truth, and the life,” “No one comes to the Father except by me,” etc. Jesus is the way to the Father. He is our reconciler and mediator.
Christ was prophesied by OT prophets of Israel. We discuss 20 of the prophesies fulfilled by Jesus, including the virgin birth, the seed of Abraham and Judah and David, born in Bethlehem, the suffering servant of Isaiah 53, the year predicted in Daniel 9, the flight to Egypt from Hosea 11, the slaughter of the innocents from Jeremiah 31, John the Baptist as forerunner from Malachi 3, the Son of God from Psalm 2, his Galilean ministry from Isaiah 9, the triumphal entry from Zechariah 9, etc.
Lystra was the home of Timothy (perhaps Timothy is converted now), and there is no synagogue there. Paul and Barnabas come across a man who is disabled, never able to walk, and he is healed. Local legends had it that Zeus and Hermes, two chief Greek gods (Jupiter and Mercury in the Roman Latin) had done something similar, and as a result, the people of Lystra begin to honor the two as Zeus and Hermes. In Lystras were shrines to these gods, and the head priest of Zeus prepared to offer sacrifices, a bull decorated with wool garlands, but the apostles rush about to abort that attempt. Paul then presents a sermon unlike one he would preach to a Jewish audience, which is focused on the grace of God in the creation. Opponents from Antioch and Iconium arrive and stir up the crowds. Paul is stoned, recovers (not sure if it is a resurrection from the dead or not), and the apostles leave Lystra and head to Derbe, 60 miles away. After some period of preaching there, they return the way they had come and appoint elders in the churches in Lystra, Iconium, and Antioch.
Iconium is 80 miles from Antioch of Pisidia in the Roman province of Galatia. (Paul’s first letter, about AD 49 will be written to the churches in Galatia) The apostles are not discouraged, though forced out of Antioch. They take the Roman road to Iconium. As usual, they go first to the synagogue and speak in such a way that many believe in Jesus as Messiah. Opposition arises again. Still they remain for a considerable period of time and boldly presented the Gospel. Hearing of a plot to abuse, even stone them, the apostles flee Lystra and Derby, cities of Lycaonia. On their way, they continue to preach.
That next Sabbath Day (Saturday morning about 9am) a large crowd gathers to hear the apostles, although opposition arose during the week, out of Jealousy Luke tells us. They present the message with boldness despite the dangers. This now prepares the way for the Gospel message to be preached to Gentiles, predicted in Isaiah 49:6. Paul always went to his Jewish brethren first then to the Gentiles, as we see in Romans 1:16. On hearing the gospel the Gentiles rejoice and “as many as were appointed to eternal life believed.” More and more then hear the Gospel message around that region, which provokes more opposition. Still, the new believers are filled with “joy and the Holy Spirit.”
Paul is speaking to a predominately Jewish audience and is able to quote from the Hebrew Bible passages that speak of resurrection: Psalm 2, Isaiah 53:3, and Psalm 16:10. David died and saw corruption (of his body), but Jesus rose from the dead, and His body did not experience corruption. And in Jesus there is forgiveness of sin, which forms the core of Paul’s message. The Law of Moses serves to show us our condition, which is hopeless. The power of the Holy Spirit is present as the hearers “beg” to hear more.
Some unknown time after the conversion of Sergius Paulus, Luke says that “Paul and his companions” left Cyprus and arrived at Perga, in Pamphylia (modern day Turkey) and from Perga they went to Antioch in Pisidia. John did not make this trip but returned to Jerusalem. The missionaries visit the synagogue in Antioch and are invited to speak. Paul then proceeds to preach a sermon quite similar to the one Peter preached on the Day of Pentecost, a message that the Jewish listeners would be able to follow and appreciate. Paul is bold to show how the Old Testament looked forward to someone in the line of David to be the Savior/Messiah. Paul shows that John the Baptist, who was widely considered a prophet, pointed to Jesus as the long awaited Savior. He shows how, according to Scripture, this one from God would be killed on a tree, but that God raised him for the dead. This “good news” Paul proclaims to his fellow Jews.
At the church at Antioch were prophets and teachers, five of whom are named. The first one mentioned is Barnabas, the last is Saul. Of the other three, one is likely a black man from North Africa, another perhaps an Arab, and the third a Roman; thus we see the diversity of the early church. The Holy Spirit, in a way that is unknown, calls for the setting apart of Barnabas and Saul to that which “I have called them.” Off the two go to Cyprus, which is Barnabas’ native country, and in the city of Salamis the first missionaries run into a Jewish false prophet named Bar Jesus and Elymas. Elymas means magician. He had gotten attached to the proconsul Sergius Paulus who wanted to hear the “word of God” from Barnabas and Saul. The magician opposes this, and Saul miraculously causes the magician to go blind. This event has a major impact on Sergius Paulus, and Luke reports that he “believed.”
It was meant to be Peter’s last night alive, but an angel of the Lord rescues Peter without the sixteen Roman guards even being aware of it. Peter heads for the home of Mary where believers are present. A servant girl, Rhoda, hears banging on the gate of the large home, so she goes to it. Peter announces himself, but she is so excited, she does not open the door, but runs up to the gathering and announces that Peter is at the entrance to the house. The believers think she is mad, despite their praying, but eventually Peter is brought in. Peter requests that “James and the brothers” be told about what happened then leaves to parts unknown. Then follows the story of Herod, who falls prey to a terrible illness, only described as “eaten by worms,” a common idiom meaning dying badly due to an invasive disease.
“Herod the King” born in 10 BC is Herod Agrippa 1, son of Aristobulus and grandson of Herod the Great; he ruled from AD 41–44. His mother Mariamne was Jewish and her son considered himself Jewish and attended the morning and evening sacrifices at the temple in Jerusalem regularly. His desire to please the Jews resulted in his persecution of the followers of Jesus in Jerusalem. He killed the apostle, James Zebedee, with “the sword,” meaning he had James beheaded. This met with approval, so Herod proceeded to arrest Peter as well. Peter was placed in ‘maximum’ security with 16 soldiers guarding. This happened at the time of Passover/Unleavened Bread, a 7–day feast, and it was necessary that nothing happen to Peter until the holiday was completed. Meanwhile the “church” was praying for him.
Luke now goes back to a time after the scattering of believers following the death of Stephen, some of whom had travelled to Phoenicia, Cyprus, and Antioch. Some of those who went to Antioch preached Jesus to Gentiles, and a great number of them believed. This event was reported to the Church in Jerusalem which then sent Barnabas to Antioch. Barnabas, the encourager, did encourage the growing number of new converts to Christ. Barnabas then went north to Tarsus to find Paul to bring him to Antioch to help disciple the new Christians. It was in Antioch that followers of Jesus were first named “Christian.”
It was not long before the “apostles and brothers” in Jerusalem heard that Gentiles had received the “word of God.” Upon Peter’s return to Jerusalem the “circumcision party” criticizes him for fraternizing with Gentiles, thus provoking a defense and explanation from Peter. His focus is on the falling of the Holy Spirit upon the Gentiles at the home of Cornelius. Peter had heard Jesus say that the Holy Spirit would baptize, and obviously this very thing had happened for Gentiles. What then could Peter do but baptize them in water, which Jesus had also commanded. The Church in Jerusalem rejoices at this report.
Peter’s brief but succinct preaching is interrupted by the action of the Holy Spirit “fallen” upon the Gentile hearers. This amazes the Jewish contingent who had accompanied Peter from Joppa, but this was unmistakable, since this is what had been experienced in the Upper Room in Jerusalem, when the disciples began speaking in tongues and extolling God. The evidence of he work of the Spirit is so evident that Peter knows these new believers should be baptized, and in the “name of Jesus Christ” they are. Peter now remains some days in Caesarea with the new Gentile followers of Jesus.
Following the vision the men sent by Cornelius arrive at Simon the Tanner’s home in Joppa. The Spirit prepares Peter to do as the men will request. The following day Peter and six others make the journey to Caesarea and find upon arrival that Cornelius has assembled a number of people. Cornelius explains to Peter how it came to be that he sent for him. Peter now preaches the first message of Jesus to a Gentile audience. Peter presents the core Gospel message concluding with the surety of forgiveness of sin.
In Caesarea, a Gentile but God-fearing Roman centurion named Cornelius has a vision in which he is told to send for Peter who is staying in Joppa. As he prays before the noon meal, Peter also has a vision, the substance of which is God saying to him that no animal is unclean, much after the fashion of what Jesus taught in Mark 5. Peter is now prepared for the arrival of the centurion’s servants already sent to bring Peter to Caesarea.
Peter, continuing his work, travels to Lydda, which is NW of Jerusalem on the road to Joppa. There he encounters a paralyzed man, Aeneas, to whom he announces that Jesus Christ has healed him. Many are converted as the news about the healing spreads. A dear saint named Dorcas dies at Lydda, and her friends send for Peter, who is staying three hours away in Joppa. When he arrives, he sends them outside the upper room where the body is placed, and once again, like Jesus did with the daughter of Jairus (see Mark 5), Peter says, “Tabitha arise.” And once again, the news of the miraculous healing causes many to believe in Jesus.
Saul, still Saul and not Paul, boldly preaches Jesus as the Son of God in the synagogues in Damascus, shocking everyone, since he was widely known to be a persecutor of those who believed in Jesus. Many are stirred to anger towards Saul and he escapes the city with the help of “his disciples.” He attempts to join the believers in Jerusalem but they are yet fearful of him. Barnabas endorses Saul and once again Saul goes about preaching, and in a sense continues the ministry of Stephen with the Hellenistic synagogues in the city. The church, no longer threatened, grows throughout the regions of Judea, Samaria, and Galilee.
Paul, in his mad rush to crush those who believe in Jesus as Son of God and Messiah, goes to the high priest of Israel and receives warrant to extradite followers of Jesus in Damascus back to Jerusalem to place them in prison. On the road to that city, Jesus appears to him in a most dramatic manner. Paul asks, “Who are you, Lord?” The answer is, “I am Jesus,” and Jesus tells him that he, Paul, is persecuting Him. Then Jesus tells Paul what to do next.
Suddenly the Spirit calls Philip away to make contact with an Ethiopian official who is returning to his homeland after traveling to Jerusalem to worship. As Philip comes upon him, the eunuch is reading from the prophet Isaiah’s passage about the suffering servant of Israel. Philip is invited to join the eunuch in his chariot and explains the passage and much more. Coming to a wadi, a course of water in the desert, the eunuch requests baptism. Philip complies, then suddenly disappears while the eunuch goes on his way rejoicing.
Philip, one of the seven chosen to "serve tables” as was Stephen, heads north to Samaria and encounters a popular magician named Simon for whom the people in Samaria had high regard. Simon hears the message of Jesus from Philip and is baptized. The Jerusalem Church, hearing of the events in Samaria, send Peter and John to Samaria. They “lay hands on” the new believers, and the Holy Spirit falls on them. Seeing this, Simon asks for this power. Peter admonishes him, understanding that Simon is unconverted after all and invites him to repent. Peter and John return to Jerusalem, going south and preaching all through that area of Samaria.
After the death of Stephen prosecution breaks out against the fledgling church. Stephen is buried, and Saul goes house to house throwing men and women into prison. While the Twelve apostles remain in Jerusalem, many Christians are scattered about, preaching the Word all the while. Some go to Judea and Samaria, and these areas are evangelized with accompanying signs and wonders including the casting out of demons. “Great joy” came to those who heard the good news of Jesus.
After Stephen’s reply to the Sanhedrin and after the blasphemy trial is complete, an enraged council takes him out of the city to be stoned to death. Stephen is “filled with the Holy Spirit” and reports that he sees Jesus standing in heaven and refers to Jesus as the “Son of Man,” a Messianic title. Stephen commits himself to Jesus, falls on his knees, and his last sentence is “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.”
Stephen recounts the building of the “tent of witness” or the tabernacle. This tent was brought by Joshua into the land promised to Abraham. David wanted to establish a dwelling place for God, but it would be Solomon who oversaw the erection of the temple in Jerusalem. However, Stephen points out, God does not dwell in a house made by hands, as the prophet Amos testified. Stephen now castigates the religious elders and refers to them as “stiff-necked” and “uncircumcised” and who resist the Holy Spirit. He asks which of God’s prophets they did not reject and kill. Then he finally accuses them of killing the Righteous One, a messianic term, and he obviously means that this is Jesus whom they had betrayed and murdered.
Stephen continues his summary of the history of Israel with Moses’ killing of an Egyptian and his subsequent flight to Midian, where he is married and has two sons. After another 40 years, Moses meets God in the burning bush and is commissioned to lead God’s people out of Israel. Moses, a type of Christ, is rejected by his own people, but ends up leading the now large population of Israel out of slavery and into the wilderness of Sinai. While Moses is on Mt. Sinai the people of Israel make idols and the hearts turn back to Egypt, another rejection of God, which typifies the people of Israel and eventually causes them being sent into exile.
Once accused and charged, Stephen has the opportunity to defend himself, and this he does beginning with an inclusion and polite, “Brothers and fathers, hear me.” He then summarizes the history of the nation of Israel beginning with Abraham, his calling, the selling of Joseph into slavery in Egypt, his rise to a place of authority in Egypt, and the rescuing of Jacob’s family from the famine in that part of the world. Joseph, as depicted by Stephen, is a type of Christ, in that he was rejected by his own people and experienced a kind of death and resurrection, which resulted in his “saving” those whom God had chosen. Then Stephen introduces Moses, who is a second type of Christ, and briefly details Moses’ life up to age 40.
The deacon Stephen was a powerful preacher and was doing signs and wonders among the people as well. This attracted the attention of the Hellenized Jews attending synagogues in Jerusalem where Stephen must have been attending. Using false witnesses they accused Stephen of speaking blasphemous words against “Moses and God.” The result was that Stephen was apprehended by the religious authorities and brought before the Council of Israel, the Sanhedrin. The prime accusation was that Stephen was preaching that Jesus of Nazareth had said He would destroy the temple and change their religion.
The church of that period, and the passage of time is unknown, maybe some months after the resurrection, or maybe even a year or two or more, a problem arose involving the distribution of food. That Church had a mixture of Hebrews, mostly from Judea, and Greek speakers, or Hellenists, from other parts of the Roman Empire. Here then were side by side differences in language and culture. The Greek widows, those who needed care as there was no “safety net” available, were being neglected in the daily food distribution. To solve this, the apostles asked the church to appoint seven men of good repute, filled with the Spirit and wisdom, to take care of this “service”—and it is from this Greek word we translate as service that the word “deacon” comes from. The apostles would then be free to focus on their essential work, that is, prayer and the ministry (service) of the word.
Gamaliel, grandson of the noted Rabbi Hillel, and the rabbinical teacher of the Apostle Paul, prevails upon the Council to be patient with the Apostles after he witnessed the murderous rage generated among that Council following Peter’s defense. The anger subsides and the apostles are freed and suffering a flogging, 40 stripes less one, and which would leave permanent scarring on the chest and the back. The punishment was intended to serve as marks of disgrace but the Twelve saw these an stripes of honor and were thankful they were counted worthy to experience that.
The city of Jerusalem was filled with excitement concerning the preaching of Jesus as the Messiah and miracles done by the apostles. The religious authorities were monitoring the situation and decided to arrest the Twelve. Over night, an angel of the Lord set them free, miraculously, they returned to preaching at the temple. When it was discovered by the Council of this, the apostles were brought before the tribunal again. After being reminded by the high priest that they were not to proclaim Jesus, Peter delivers a short and powerful message of the core of the gospel to the entire Sanhedrin.
Healings, casting out of demons—miracles done by the Twelve apostles attracted much attention at the temple and across Jerusalem. There was an element of fear however on the part of those who witnessed the miracles and whether this was due to the deaths of Ananias and Sapphira or fear of exclusion by the religious authorities is unknown. This was an extraordinary time of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, a continuation of the original outpouring on the Day of Pentecost. As evident in the Book of Acts, it would not always be this way.
Chapter 5 begins with “But” and presents an event that is in sharp contrast with what happened with Barnabas. A man named Ananias and his wife Sapphira conspired to deceive the Church about a sale of a piece of property, the reason for this not given by Luke. Both die suddenly, right in front of Peter. One is reminded of Jesus’ statement that no one can serve both God and money (see Matthew 6:24). However dreadful one might think the deaths of Ananias and Sapphira were, the story likely has served the well being of many over the centuries.
In Jerusalem at least several thousand people had become believers, and likely many remained there during those exhilarating days. Voluntarily, not under compulsion, those with some assets brought them to be distributed to those in need. Luke now introduces the reader to Barnabas, a Levite who brought the proceeds from the sale of a field to the apostles. He would later go on with Paul on his first missionary journey.
Upon their release from custody, Peter and John return to their friends. The first recorded prayer of the Church is now made, which begins with, “Sovereign Lord.” Those founding fathers and mothers of the Church are not intimidated but rather ask the Father for boldness to proclaim Jesus as the Messiah of Israel.
The Council realizes that, however lacking in education and authority, the two men (Peter and John) had been with Jesus. Their bold proclamation reveals this. The Council finds nothing with which to charge or hold the two and thus release them with the admonition not to preach Jesus any more.
Due to the uproar taking place in the temple, the High Priests’ guard arrest Peter and John and take them before a portion of the Sanhedrin, the Council of Israel, but not before many of the hearers come to faith in Jesus. The next day Peter and John appear before the full Council. During his defense in Acts 4:12, Peter issues one of the most important verses in the Bible.
Peter states that those who were responsible for Jesus’ death acted in ignorance—they did not understand who He really was: the Messiah. Peter proceeds to give them an opportunity to repent, that is, to confess that Jesus is the Messiah of Israel.
The Portico, or Porch of Solomon, cedar roofed, 27 feet high, with 162 columns set in 3 rows, is the site of Peter’s second sermon. Peter lays out the factual events of what happened to Jesus—His crucifixion and resurrection. Peter wants his hearers to know that it was this Jesus who had healed the lame man.
On their way into the temple for the evening sacrifice at 3 p.m., Peter and John encounter a man lame from birth asking for alms. Without money, they give what they have, and in the name of Jesus the man is healed. All who witnessed the event were amazed.
Acts 2:42 describes how the early Church members conducted themselves and is one of the most important statements in the Bible. They continued steadfastly in the apostles’ teaching (background to the four gospels), fellowship, breaking of the bread, and the prayers. The true Christian Church continues in this tradition.
In the first part of the sermon Peter quoted Old Testament prophets who spoke of the coming of the Holy Spirit. Now he turns his attention to Jesus, His death on the cross, and His resurrection.
This is not only the Apostle Peter’s first sermon, it is the first sermon ever preached by a follower of Jesus. A crowd had gathered, and this likely takes place at Solomon’s Porch in the temple, where Peter stands and delivers.
The disciples did as Jesus had instructed them and waited in Jerusalem. Ten days after Jesus’ ascension, the disciples were gathered together, and for the first time in history the Holy Spirit was poured out on people in power.
Jesus had originally selected 12 men to be in His “School of Disciples.” With Judas the betrayer gone, the number of disciples was only 11. It seemed proper to chose someone to replace Judas by lot, and Matthias, one who had been with them from the beginning, was selected. We never hear another word about him in the New Testament.
Forty days after the Crucifixion and ten days prior to the Day of Pentecost, Jesus meets with His disciples for the last time and instructs them to wait for the Promise of the Father, the coming of the Holy Spirit, then departs from them in clouds of glory.
Kent continues to introduce Luke's Book of Acts: Whose acts? the apostles? the Holy Spirit? Jesus? the Church? and other pertinent issues.
Who wrote the Book of Acts in the New Testament? Why? To whom? When? Kent Philpott asks and answers these and other pertinent questions. Stay tuned for Acts 002, Introduction, Part 2. This series will likely continue for two years.