Reflection on Acts 7:1-19

Scripture

This was Stephen’s reply: “Brothers and fathers, listen to me. Our glorious God appeared to our ancestor Abraham in Mesopotamia before he settled in Haran.”

Observation

Stephen has been accused of blaspheming against the Temple and the Law of Moses.

He starts his testimony by reminding the council of their ancestors. The patriarch Abraham was called by God to leave his home and come to the land of promise.

God gave Abraham the covenant of circumcision which has continued down the generations. Joseph was sold into slavery but became the saviour of his family and of the nation.

Application

At first glance, this seems like an odd way of defending oneself on a charge of blasphemy. But by reciting the history of Israel, or at least part of it, Stephen is saying that he is a part of the story. He is a descendant of Abraham just as the members of the council are.

He reminds the council that God appeared to Abraham long before there was a Temple and a Law. In fact, Abraham’s first encounter with the Lord was outside of Israel. Much of Israel’s history in fact was spent outside the land.

I think the message Stephen is trying to get across is that the Lord is sovereign. He often does things we don’t expect. The latest of these unexpected things for Stephen was the death and resurrection of the Messiah.

The difference between the truly spiritual person and the religious person is humility. The religious person constantly tries to control God, to keep Him safely contained in a box. But God refuses to be contained or controlled by people.

Humility lies in knowing that God is bigger than we are, that He is in control and this is a good thing.

Prayer

Heavenly Father, thank you for the knowledge that you are everywhere and not contained in a building. You have called me to follow you. Please help me to do this in humility, always letting you direct my paths. Amen.

Reflection on Acts 6:1-15

Scripture

So brothers, select seven men who are well respected and are full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom. We will give them this responsibility.

Observation

As the church rapidly grows, there are rumblings of discontent. The Greek-speaking widows believe that the Hebrew- speaking widows are getting preference in the food distribution. The Twelve call a meeting of the church and say, “This should not be our responsibility. We need to teach and to pray. Select seven men who are full of the Holy Spirit and of wisdom to oversee this.”

The seven are chosen, and the church continues to grow.

Then some men who are jealous of Stephen’s miracles and the wisdom with which he speaks, lie about his words and have him brought before the high council. They repeat their false testimony, but Stephen’s face is transformed as bright as an angel as he begins his defence.

Application

The food distribution program was at the heart of the church’s active care. One group of widows came to believe that they were being discriminated against, and so a potential conflict arose.

The apostles knew that their calling was to pray and teach and to steer the church as it grew like crazy. They had no time to run a food program.

They delegated this role to men with these qualifications:

  • well-respected
  • full of the Holy Spirit
  • full of wisdom

Often the church delegates the hands-on roles to the less spiritual people. If you have a heartbeat you can do the job, regardless of spiritual maturity.

The apostles saw that this was not just a food program, but a genuine ministry of reconciliation at a critical time. The Hebrew speakers and the Greek speakers could have allowed the resentment and bitterness to build up to such a peak that a church split would happen.

This was a spiritual issue because the power of the church lay in them being of “one heart and mind.”

When we think about who does what in the church, often it is not enough to call for volunteers. Sometimes we need to stop, pray and look for the people who are “full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom.”

Prayer

Lord, bring wisdom to your church. May we all be men and women who are full of the Holy Spirit and of wisdom, so that all things are done your way and to your glory. Amen.

Reflection on Acts 5:26-41

Scripture

The apostles left the high council rejoicing that God had counted them worthy to suffer disgrace for the name of Jesus.

Observation

The guards go and collect the apostles, bringing them before the council. The high priest says, “We ordered you not to teach in the name of Jesus.” Peter replies, “We must obey God, not man.”

The high council decides to kill them, but Gamaliel urges caution. He tells them to leave the men alone. If it is just a thing born out of people, it will be overthrown, but if they oppose it they could be opposing God.

The council has the apostles flogged. They leave rejoicing that God counted them worthy to suffer disgrace for the name of Jesus.

Application

In the west, we have a phenomenon called “Consumer Christianity.” This describes an attitude where people come to church expecting their needs and desires to be met.

This is so different to the attitudes of the apostles who counted suffering as something to be celebrated.

I can’t imagine the pain of being flogged. We do all that we can to avoid pain. I don’t like having blood samples taken much less being attacked by someone wanting to inflict pain.

What do the apostles think of this?

They rejoice! No self-pity here! They see something in the spiritual realm that corrects a purely physical perception.

They rejoice that God counts them worthy to suffer for the name of Jesus. The spiritual elite are the people who suffer for the name of Jesus. We might be impressed by preachers who live in big houses and fly private jets. God is impressed by those who are strong enough to thrive in suffering for His sake.

On earth money and influence mark the powerful.

In heaven humility and suffering mark the spiritual.

In all things, God’s standards are at odds with those of the world. There will always be a conflict in values.

Who will I let define my value systems?

Prayer

Lord I see that your followers must see things differently to the world. May I become one who rejoices in suffering, should that be necessary. Amen.

Reflection on Acts 5:17-25

Scripture

Then he told them, “Go to the Temple and give the people this message of life.”

Observation

Filled with jealousy, the High Priest has the apostles put in jail. An angel comes at night and sets them free, telling them to go and give the people the message of life.

The High Priest then convenes the Council, but when they send for the apostles, they are told that they are not in the jail. Then a report comes that the men are preaching in the Temple.

Application

Christians can always be certain to have enemies. There are people around who do not like the idea that there is a God who judges and forgives sin.

The angel gives a commission to the apostles as they are liberated from the jail: go to the Temple and give the people the message of life.

The Gospel is Good News because it brings life- real life, abundant life, eternal life.

The Gospel is about real life because it connects us to God, the source of life. Most people live a half-death in which their bodies function and their brains work, but their spirit is dead. When the Holy Spirit comes in, our human spirit is born again and, connected to our power source, we live life as it was intended.

The Gospel is about abundant life or life in all its fullness. As I write this, the coronavirus is wreaking havoc right across the world. The Australian economy has partly shut down, and tens of thousands of workers are suddenly unemployed. People who believed in the power of money to provide meaning to their lives suddenly find their whole existence is under threat. God gives us so much more than coffee and avocado on toast.

The Gospel is about eternal life. Eternity is life without end, life without limitations. We will live with God forever, and that gives (or should give) christians confidence, peace and joy in every situation.

This is the message of life. Our Saviour who lived without sin took our sin on His body and put it to death. Death is dead, and we are alive!

Prayer

Thank you Father for this “message of life” bu which we experience fullness of life. Amen.

Reflection on Acts 5:1-16

Scripture

But no one dared to join them, even though all the people had high regard for them. Yet more and more people believed and were brought to the Lord- crowds of both men and women.

Observation

Ananias and Sapphira sell some land and bring some of the money to the apostles, claiming it is the full amount. First Ananias and then Sapphira are struck down dead by the Holy Spirit. Great fear grips the church and those who hear of it.

The apostles perform many signs and wonders, and all the believers gather regularly in the Temple area. No one else dares to join them, even though they respect the christians, but more and more people are getting saved.

Application

The experience of Ananias and Sapphira reminds us that God is holy and He will not be mocked. Often we take God somewhat for granted.

The result of this episode is a great conundrum. Everyone gets on with being the church, and its strength as a community increases. The awe of God’s judgement sobers the people and those outside, and everyone is too scared to join the church.

Despite this, people are getting saved- both men and women.

People are afraid to be drawn in. But, like moths to the flame, they some in anyway.

Our Lord is both loving and holy.

I wonder what would happen if our worship was so dynamic that is attracted the manifest presence of God. I wonder what kind of miracles we could experience. And what kind of judgement also.

Is the current coronavirus pandemic a part of this? Have we, the church, been too comfortable for too long? Are we so much like the world that we are no longer any use as salt in the world?

There is very little awe in the church or in the world for what God is able to do in and through His people. I have a sense that God is about to change this. Whether that is through our current adversity, I cannot say, but I do know that whatever signs and wonders we currently experience, they are nothing compared to what is coming.

Prayer

Father, your love is like a hurricane- wild and uncontrollable. Help me to cultivate that sense of awe in your presence. Amen.

Reflection on Acts 4:23-37

Scripture

After this prayer, the meeting place shook, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit. Then they preached the word of God with boldness.

Observation

After Peter and John are freed, they return to the believers. They all lift their voices to God. They marvel that the attacks they might expect to come from the Gentiles are happening in Jerusalem. They call on God to send more healing power, more signs and wonders.

Application

I have never been in a prayer meeting where the building shook and all the people are filled or re-filled with the Holy Spirit. This sounds like a kind of mini-Pentecost. Whenever christians gather to pray there should be manifestations of the Holy Spirit.

So what is the prayer that triggered this response?

1. It was united. All the believers were already one in heart, mind, and purpose. The Body of Christ showed no disharmony.

2. It was a response to growing persecution. The believers were surprised that the Jewish leaders continued to reject Jesus as Messiah, despite the strong testimonies concerning the resurrection by those who had walked with Him.

3. Prayer for boldness in preaching. They didn’t want to step back from their confident proclamation that Jesus is Lord and He has conquered sin and death.

4. Prayer for healing power, for signs and wonders. They did not want a theoretical faith, an intellectual ideology. They wanted a God who is real, experiential, and working in the world.

This is the prayer they prayed, and they received an immediate answer- they were filled with the Holy Spirit and went out to preach the word boldly.

At a time when the world is falling apart in fear and panic, the church needs to keep on stepping forward with peace and power. We need to be praying hard for God to heal people. We need to demonstrate that God is still in control. We need to speak boldly to people’s hearts- Jesus died for their sins and He is alive.

Prayer

Come and shake the building, Lord. Fill your people. Give me boldness to preach your word. Amen.

Reflection on Acts 4:13-22

Scripture

When they saw the courage of Peter and John, and realised that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished, and they took note that these men had been with Jesus.

Observation

When the members of the Council see the courage of Peter and John, they are amazed. The formerly lame man is now with them as evidence of the miracle that had been done in Jesus’ name.

The Council orders Peter and John to stop speaking in the name of Jesus. Peter replies, “Judge for yourselves whether we should obey you or obey God.”

The Council is thrown into confusion, and they let them go.

Application

The strength of Peter and John’s testimony lay in the fact that they had been with Jesus.

The men and women who change the world are not always the most educated or the so-called elite.

In this case, it was two men who were unschooled. They did not use big words, and probably pronounced words wrong. They were from Galilee, out in the sticks.

They were ordinary men; self-employed fishermen. They were hardly influential, and yet here they were healing people and preaching a message about God’s kingdom.

The Council members noted that Peter and John had been with Jesus. This is the key to their power and their effectiveness.

They had been with Jesus and had learned the ways of God’s Kingdom. They knew that the name of Jesus could bring great miracles in the world and had expressed faith enough to see a lame man healed.

An ordinary person, with no training or high connections, can become a world changer through being with Jesus.

We spend time learning from Him, praying, seeking His presence. Then, in the power of our being in Him and He in us, things happen. People are healed, relationships are restored, power is shifted.

Time in the presence of Jesus can give us insight into His plans for us, our mission and purpose. That might be a big thing that shakes world history, or a more limited thing that changes one person’s story. Regardless, we find our purpose and meaning in Jesus.

Prayer

Lord Jesus, help me to know you more. May I become a person whose reputation is “this person has been with Jesus.” Amen.