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January 18, 2011

An event puts the Apostles in conflict with the religious authorities: Acts 3

Filed under: biblical studies — Petros @ 9:58 pm
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On our first evening of the 9th of December, we noticed that there were many points of comparison between the Christians in the Acts 1 and us.   They were losing their leader; they needed to wait and to depend on the Holy Spirit; they were dealing with religious authorities who were acting in disobedience to God; they were living in highly chaotic times; they would be empowered for mission.   Then last week, we saw how God used the special event of the Day of Pentecost when Jewish pilgrims from all around the world came to Jerusalem to worship—perhaps the only time in their lives to make this special trip.  That was the day when the Holy Spirit animated the believers to each speak in the different languages of the Diaspora Jews.  That day 3000 Jewish people from all over the inhabited world came to accept Jesus as the messiah and the church had its first big growth spurt—from 120 to 3120.  As an investor that’s pretty good growth (26x).  But it is just about the right size for a group of 12 leaders–each apostle would be responsible for a congregation of 260.  We focused upon Luke’s description of the Spirit-filled community as characterized by signs and wonders, unity, fellowship, breaking of bread, generosity, prayer and adherence to apostles teaching.  The Holy Spirit caused these believers to study, conserve, and obey the apostles’ teaching, unlike the claim of the false bishop Gene Robinson, who said in an article in the Washington Post, that the Holy Spirit causes us to accept the homosexual lifestyle.  No, the Holy Spirit teaches us to remember Jesus’ teaching as it was preserved by the apostles.

In our passage today we see Peter and John entering the temple, passing a beggar.  Thus, for the moment, the apostles remained in a quiet mode.  They continue to worship in the Temple; indeed, they are observing a standard hour of prayer, the ninth hour (3:00 pm) which was also the moment of the evening sacrifice; and thus it appears that they continued tacitly to obey the leadership which had just condemned Jesus to the Romans to be crucified.  Perhaps we too can live in tacit obedience to the authorities, for a time.

Now the man whom God healed was visible to all who entered the Temple.  But now they do something that will put them again into conflict with authorities by powerfully healing a lame man.  This healing put the disciples in a confrontation with the officials of the Judaism, the Sanhedrin.  My question for Emmanuel Church is this:  When should we make our move?  When do we confront the Diocese and what form should our protest take?  When is it clear that the leadership has gone too far and their corruption is intolerable to God?

I was inspired by a story that I read in the American Thinker about a Pastor Walter Hoy; this man has gone to jail violating a bubble zone around an abortion facilty.  Chuck Colson writes (Breakpoint, Jan 14, 2011):

When Dr. King wrote his letter, From a Birmingham Jail, he addressed those who thought his civil rights activities unwise and untimely. In his speeches, Hoy also addresses those who say that his cause is worthy and just but that he should just wait. “I can’t wait.” Hoy says. “You see, my people are dying.”

Since 1973, he notes, over 14.5 million black babies have been killed by abortion. Every, single day, 1,200 black babies are put to death in abortion facilities, making abortion the leading cause of death among African Americans! Nearly half of all black babies concieved [sic] die in abortion chambers today. Hoy says this means that a black child is safer on the streets of the worst neighborhoods in American than in his mother’s womb.

Hoy notes that between 1882 and 1968, 3,446 blacks were lynched by the Ku Klux Klan. Today, abortion kills more black Americans in less than three days than the Klan killed in 86 years! Think of it.

American blacks make up twelve percent of the U.S. population, yet thirty-seven percent of all abortions are performed on black women. This is because eugenic-minded pro-abortion forces target American blacks by putting abortion clinics in black neighborhoods, according to Hoy.

The Rev. Hoy argues that there is a time to stand up to injustice; when is that?  When my people are dying.  But is it the time to stand up to the Diocese of Toronto?  Perhaps so.  When the church no longer upholds the teaching of the Apostles, then the result will be that people will no longer be able to hear the truth of the Gospel—the Gospel says simply this:  We are sinners estranged from the God who created us, and we need forgiveness from God.  God calls us to accept Jesus sacrifice for our sins and to turn back to him and away from our sins.  If people do not realize that they have sinned, then they are living in death.  And they will die; not a death of their body but the death of their spirit.  Our situation is every bit as grave as the genocide of black babies in the US.  Our passage says that God sent Jesus as the fulfillment of prophecy, to bless us.  But how?  By turning us from our wicked ways (Acts 3.26).  Not by accepting us as we are, and calling our sins not sin.  The Anglican church wants to bless homosexual couples.  Why not bless adulterous couples?  Why not bless murders and idolaters?  These are all things that the Bible forbids?  How can a Bishop begin to bless what the Bible calls a sin?   That is absurd.  God blesses us by turning us away from our wickedness, not by blessing what the Bible calls wicked.  Say I am thief or greedy.  Does God bless my thievery or my greed?  No!  He calls me out of my sin, so that I can be restored to God.  But do you think that the Anglican church even has a concept of sin anymore.  Or don’t you think rather that the Anglican church expects us to bless people in their sins?  My people are dying, lost without God and they don’t even know it because the church is unwilling to teach repentance.

So perhaps we need to follow the example of the Walter Hoy and say enough is enough.  Thus, maybe we should stand in disobedience to the wicked leadership of the Diocese.  Or perhaps we should take the quiet approach of the disciples and continue to worship in the Temple.  But I think that in either case, we need to prayer that God’s Spirit will act: to do signs and wonders and to draw attention to who is standing on the side of the right.

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The Descent of the Holy Spirit: Acts 2

Last week, I brought out several points of comparison between the Christians in the Acts 1 and us.  They were losing their leader; they needed to wait and to depend on the Holy Spirit; they were dealing with religious authorities who were acting in disobedience to God; they were living in highly chaotic times; they would be empowered for mission.  Now we see that after 40 days of waiting the Holy Spirit descend upon them, they speak in tongues—languages known to the many hundreds of visitors who had come from Diaspora of the Jews for the feast of Pentecost and 3000 people became Christians

What are the results of the descent of the Spirit in Acts 2?  Should we expect the same today?

1. Speaking in tongues: an extraordinary prophetic gift wherein the disciples spoke in the language of others.  This event took place in the temple, probably in the court of the Gentiles: a large area where many people even Gentiles would be permitted to gather.

A. Emmanuel church belongs to the Charismatic Movement in which the gift of tongues played an important role:  I could recommend some books on speaking in tongues:  Bill and Elisabeth Sherrill, They speak with other tongues; Dennis and Rita Bennet, The Holy Spirit and You.  The experience of speaking in tongues was exciting and helped people to become more focused on God and to deepen their faith.

B.  The gift of tongues in Acts 2 serves the specific purpose of getting the attention of Diaspora Jews who were in Jerusalem for the feast.  The Bible required that they come every year, but many of these people lived so far away that perhaps this was their first and only pilgrimage for a life time.  So the Holy Spirit chose the gift of tongues to do an amazing gift.

C. As a personal devotional language Tongues are far less dramatic.  Paul downplays it in favor of intelligible speech while in church (see 1 Cor 12-14).  But in private devotion, he says not to forbid tongues.

2. Mission and evangelism—The Spirit’s descent on the community immediately resulted in the addition of 3000 new members, mostly from the Diaspora.  The Temples was the likely arena for Peter’s preaching.

3. The Holy Spirit descent created a newly expanded of the Christian community was characterized by: unity, sharing, adherence to the Apostles’ teaching, generosity, breaking of bread and prayer, even signs and wonders.  Many of these meetings took place in homes where meals could be served and not in the temple, though large groups could be taught at Solomon’s portico (Acts 3.11).

Some Anglicans leaders believe that the apostles were wrong and that their teaching needs to be revised.  Recently, Gene Robinson, the homosexual bishop in the US Episcopal church, says that the Holy Spirit is teaching us to accept homosexuality as ok with God.  Here is a quote from his article in the Washington Post:

I do NOT believe that God stopped revealing God’s self with the closing of the canon (officially sanctioned as “holy” and official) of Scripture. Some would argue that God said everything God needed and wanted to say by the end of the first century … They would posit a God who, when the scriptures were “finished” bid the world a fond farewell and went off to some beautiful part of God’s creation (the Bahamas, Patagonia, Nepal?!!), leaving us to our own devices, given that everything had been said that needed to be said. I don’t believe that.

In John’s Gospel, which is largely made up of the conversation Jesus has with his disciples at the Last Supper, Jesus says: “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth.” (John 16: 12-13a) I take this to mean that Jesus is saying to the disciples, “Look, for a bunch of uneducated and rough fishermen, you haven’t done too badly. In fact, you will do amazing things with the rest of your lives. But don’t think for a minute that God is done with you – or done with believers who will come after you. There is much more that God wants to teach you, but you cannot handle it right now. So, I will send the Holy Spirit who will lead you into that new Truth.”

So Robinson believes that the role of the Holy Spirit is to lead us into “new truth”, truth that the disciples themselves couldn’t handle at the time.  But we see from Acts 2, that when the Holy Spirit causes people to adhere to the apostles teaching.  And what did the apostles teach:  they taught what Jesus taught and commanded (Acts 1.8; Matt 28.19), and they taught from Scriptures (several are quoted by Peter).  Here is a statement from the apostles about homosexuality (1 Cor 6.9-11):

9 Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders 10 nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. 11 And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.

Most attempts to say that Christians must accept homosexuals have to dismiss in some manner what the apostles taught and what Jesus taught.  But Jesus said the Holy Spirit came to remind the disciples about what he had taught:  “But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you” (John 14.26).  It is not a new truth, as Gene Robinson suggests.  But the same old truth, that Jesus and the apostles taught.

So in conclusion, I think what we can say is that the Spirit-filled community experiences unity—with fellowship and breaking of bread, adherence to apostolic teaching, evangelism and mission with numerical growth.  If we are not experiencing these things, we should pray that God would once again fill our community with his Holy Spirit and renew our faith.

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How we are like the Christians in Acts 1

Filed under: biblical studies — Petros @ 9:37 pm
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Preface:  the following series of meditations on Acts are set within the backdrop of my own church, Emmanuel Anglican.  We have had the recent privilege of seeing our own priest promoted to the position of professor at a local seminary.  But now, bereft of our minister who has guided us through the murky waters of the controversy within the Anglican church we face a new crisis of leadership.  The Bishop Colin Johnson has ordained a lesbian living with her partner to the priesthood.  Now, we must without our priest’s wisdom navigate this storm.  So in response, my wife Cathy and I have chosen to lead a Bible study in Acts on Sunday nights, 7:00 – 8:30 pm, along with worship of God and prayer for our church community–how we might best respond this crisis of leadership.  On December 12, 2010, we met for the first time, and this is the meditation that I offered.

(1) We are about to lose our leader.

The disciples had watched the Roman authorities take Jesus and crucify him–one of the most ignoble ways ever invented to kill someone.  But they rejoiced when he appeared to them alive and physically intact.  Now Jesus had appeared to them and taught them during 40 days was about to leave again.  So they asked, aren’t you going to bring the Kingdom now?  They expected Jesus, the Risen King, to establish his Kingdom.  Instead, he said “Wait for the the Holy Spirit”.  So even though he was not at this point going to establish his physical Kingdom, he was sending them out with the power of the Holy Spirit to be witnesses in the world.

At Emmanuel we stand at the brink of losing our leader, Peter, who is going on to another task.  But God isn’t leaving us alone.  We still have the Holy Spirit, and as we look to find a successor to Peter, we must remember that the church doesn’t belong to the priest but to God.  Our task remains the same as for the early Christians, to go out and be witnesses for Jesus to the end of the world.

(2) We are dealing with a religious hierarchy which many of us believe is no longer obeying God.

The early Christians were Jews subject to both religious and political hierarchies.  The Romans were in political power, but they ruled through the intermediary of the high priests and the Sanhedrin.  It is with these very authorities that Jesus and the early Christian came into severe conflict.  In Acts chapter 5, we will see that the Sanhedrin even orders them to stop preaching in Jesus’ name.  The choosing of the apostle to take Judas is significant:  For the number twelve is significant. They believed they were choosing twelve person to take leadership over the twelve tribes of Israel.

The Anglican Church of Canada is in the process of changing 2000 years of Christian teaching by ordaining homosexuals and insisting upon the blessing of same sex relationships.  If we stand up to this because of conscience (as Luther, “Here I stand I can do no other—God help me, Amen!”), we would be following in the footsteps of the disciples when they said:  “We must obey God rather than men”(Acts 5.29).  We know that we must remain faithful to God and obey him rather than to obey man.  Therefore, we expect that God will appoint new leadership where the old leadership is failing.

(3) We are facing a time of serious chaos and upheaval

Since the time of the beginning of Roman rule, the Jewish people benefited from Pax Romana.  But high taxation threatened the livelihood of the people and poverty was rampant.  Thus, Pax Romana thus came with a price.   The four decades following the Ascension of Jesus would be a time of serious upheaval to the Jewish nation

We have enjoyed peace on American and Canadian soil for a long time–our wars have been fought largely on the extremities of the our world, just as in the Roman world until the Jewish Revolt.  But can this peace last?  Are we Christian ready for what the future might bring?  We are on the brink of of economic disaster.

(4) Jesus calls on us to wait for and depend on the Holy Spirit.

Jesus instructed the early Christians to wait for the Holy Spirit.  The Holy Spirit would guide them and empower them in the mission.  God knows the future.  So what better guide could we have than the Spirit?  He can even inform us when disaster is about to strike, as God informed the prophets in Acts of the impending famine (cf. Acts 11.28).

If we wait on the Holy Spirit as a community we can expect his guidance for the future:  (1) what minister we should choose; (2) how we may prepare ourselves for impending financial calamities that may come; (3) how we should respond to the religious authorities (4) and political events coming in the future.

(5) We will be empowered for mission.

The main purpose of the empowerment of the Holy Spirit was not merely the survival and edification of the community but mission.  A rag tag group of fishermen, a zealot, a tax collector, a doubter (Thomas)—but all uneducated by worldly standards, not one of these men had a “PHD”.  Jesus called them to be witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and to the end of the earth.  And by the last chapter of Acts, we see that Rome had a vibrant community of Christians even before Paul’s arrival there.  Within a century or two the Roman world had been transformed, and the seeds of church had been planted everywhere.

What is our mission as a church community?  How will we transform our world?  Often our focus as a community has been survival—rather than mission.  We look upon the dying embers of the Anglican church as it’s fire wanes.  How shall we respond?  Is it time to quit because God is abandoning the church?  Is it time to fight the fight within the church itself?  How shall we respond?

What I’d like to do over the coming weeks, if its ok with you, is to study the book of Acts and reflect on how the teaching and experiences of the early Christians can inform us in overcoming and thriving in our present set of difficult circumstances.  How do they respond to religious and political authorities?  How did they maintain an honest and faithful witness to God?

Discussion

How we are like the Christians in Acts 1?

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