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 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 5:1-16

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 4:13-22

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.

Reflection on Acts 4:1-12

Scripture

“There is salvation in no one else! God has given no other name under heaven by which we must be saved.”

Observation

While John and Peter are talking to the people in the Temple precinct, they are confronted by some of the Jewish leaders who are disturbed by their talk of resurrection. They arrest them, but many in the crowd believe the message.

The Jewish Council questions the two disciples. Peter states boldly that the crippled man was healed by the name of Jesus who had died and rose again. There is salvation in no one else.

Application

There is just one Name by which we must be saved. That is the Name of Jesus, the most powerful name in all of creation.

The lame man was healed by the Name of Jesus. Peter and John acted and spoke in the Name of Jesus.

It is the Name of Jesus which brings salvation, and only the name of Jesus.

People like to be even handed in their unbelief. Surely it is not just the followers of Jesus who get saved. What about the Muslims, Buddhists and Hindus?

Possibly some of these will be saved, but that is not the point. Jesus alone is the Way, the Truth and the Life. He is the gate to eternal life, and if we want to be saved we must go through Him.

If you want to go into an office building, you must go through the door. Sometimes there are doors that are locked with just one door available for the use of the public.

Heaven has just one door, one gate, one entrance. Its name is Jesus.

Why the Name of Jesus? The Name represents the person. To say we are saved by the Name of Jesus is to say that all the power, all the grace, and all the glory of Jesus are summed up in the Name.

The Name of Jesus opens the way into God’s Kingdom where sinners are forgiven, captives are set free, the blind see, and the lame walk.

What a glorious Name!

Prayer

There is no other name given by which we must be saved. Lord, we don’t need any other name because the name of Jesus is the highest name. Thank you Lord. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Reflection on Acts 3:12-26

Scripture

“Repent of your sins and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped away. Then times of refreshing will come from the presence of the Lord, and he will again send you Jesus, your promised Messiah.”

Observation

Peter seizes the opportunity to preach to the crowd. He tells them the lame man was not healed by the power of John and himself. No, this is the living God, glorifying the name of Jesus whom they, the Jews had crucified.

All these things happened to fulfil all the prophets had foretold. Therefore they, the people, needed to repent and turn from their sins to receive forgiveness and refreshment from the Lord.

Application

The same Jesus whose name can heal a lame man brings forgiveness to all who will receive it.

“Repent of your sins,” the Bible says over and over. We love to hear about miracles and signs of God’s love. But first we need to leave our self-centred life behind.

We must turn to God and put Him at the centre of all things. Repentance is not just leaving sins behind but turning to pursue God.

When we do this, God promises that, because of the death of Jesus on the cross, our sins are wiped away. No more sacrifices; no religious activity; no thought of paying our own way. Forgiveness is freely given to all who repent and trust in Jesus.

Then times of refreshing come. There is something invigorating about walking with God. Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. So if we walk with Jesus we experience His Life in all its fullness. Why? Because we are living according to God’s design for us,

You can drive a car in first gear all day, but it will only reaches its full potential when driven in accordance with the designer’s intention.

Many people are living life in the fast lane with their car stuck in first gear!

Walking with God does not mean everything is always roses and sunshine. I have been though some very dark places at times, but always God has been there. Always there has been refreshment in the desert.

Prayer

Lord Jesus, thank you that you are Life. Thank you that when we walk with you, times of refreshing always come. Amen.

Reflection on Acts 2:42-47

Scripture

…all the while praising God and enjoying the goodwill of all the people. And each day, the Lord added to their fellowship those who were being saved.

Observation

The believers dedicate themselves to building a faith community based on the apostles’ teaching, fellowship, hospitality and prayer.

The apostles perform miracles, and the people share their property and possessions. They meet in large groups at the Temple and in smaller home groups, sharing meals with great joy.

They praise God, and people like them because of their generous and happy lifestyle. Every day people are being saved.

Application

One of the things that always strikes me about this passage is the sense of joy that is there. The believers were full of excitement at being saved, and outsiders wanted to join in. They enjoyed favour of all the people, and people were being saved daily.

There was no evangelism campaign or event. People in their daily lives just overflowed the love of God. People could see it in their changed lives.

There was no religious spirit here in the early church. They did “religious”things, but it was done in the context of something greater. The power of the Holy Spirit in them gave meaning and enthusiasm to the Temple rituals. The Lord’s Supper was a joyful celebration in homes, not a sombre commemoration in a cold building.

We live in a different situation but I still think that we can emulate this early community in our modern disconnected society. It is a matter of priorities.

Perhaps one night after work a family back then might g to the Temple precinct to listen to the apostles teaching. Another night they might go to a brother’s house for a family meal. Another night again they might host a group of believers and neighbours for dinner.

How did they keep it up? The Holy Spirit placed in them a love for christian community as a high priority in their hearts. They saw no burden in enjoying fellowship together.

Or culture is much more individualistic. We fear contact with other people. But when the Holy Spirit breaks through, we find that we love God’s people and the things that were burdensome are now a source of joy.

Prayer

Lord, teach me to love all your people, to find strength in community and joy in fellowship. Amen.