Church in action

Acts session 7 Church in action
So far in Acts; Jesus has risen to heaven, at Pentecost the first leaders received The Holy Spirit, wonder, signs & healing were now common place, thousands had accepted Jesus as their Lord, The Temple leaders were trying to discredit belief in Jesus but after failing with Peter and John they targeted Stephen and it was Saul who saw him stoned becoming the first Christian Martyr and it is at this point we take up the story.

Acts – 8:1 The Church Persecuted and Scattered
Led by Saul the church in Jerusalem was then persecution, apart from the apostles the men and women were dragged from their homes and put in prison, the followers scattered throughout Judea and Samaria preaching the word wherever they went. Philip went to a city in Samaria, when the crowds witnessed the healings they listen avidly while he proclaimed the Messiah and the good news of the kingdom of God and in the name of Jesus they Messaih both men and women were baptized. When Peter and John were told they went there their placed their hands on them so they received the Holy Spirit.

Jews were flocking to know Jesus and it was no wonder with signs, wonders and healing being done and it was all happening when the Christian were being persecuted. God can create a greater certainty of faith when evil starts to gain the upper hand. Followers fled Jerusalem and homes were found for his people away from the trouble and they continued witnessing for Jesus showing real courage

More and more people came to know the word of God and the church grew away from Jerusalem. It was in Samaria where Jesus had already done some work that Philip became the first missionary and when he recognised more help was needed he called in Peter & John to assist him. This is our first lesson since we often need to admit we can’t do it all ourselves. We need to share the load, ask for help, and if we are asked to help then we need to be willing to give any help. We find here that Peter and John baptized both men and women so at the very start of the Christian Church women were being treated equally for The Holy Spirit was given to all who came to follow Jesus.

8:9 Simon the Sorcerer
The sorcery Simon, amazed the people of Samaria with what they thought were great Powers of God. He followed Philip everywhere astonished at the miracles he saw, and on becoming a believer was baptized. When he witnessed the Holy Spirit being given by the apostles’ he offered them money saying, “Give me this ability so those I lay my hands on will receive the Holy Spirit.” Peter answered: “You cannot buy the gifts of God with money, because you thought you could may you and your money perish together, for your heart is not right before God therefore you cannot share in this ministry. Repent and pray to the Lord in the hope that he may forgive you.”
Simon replied, “Pray to the Lord for me so what you said won’t happen to me.”

Now-a-days we know performing magic is a very clever way to fool someone, but if we didn’t know it was trickery then we might well think the tricks had a power beyond us. Making a coin appear from someone’s ear, a person vanishing from a box, cutting someone in half and putting them back again, is astounding and awesome but to someone who sees peoples being healed from all sorts of illnesses then those miracles are truly overwhelming. God’s gifts being used; knowledge, discernment, wisdom, healing people, speak in other languages, prophesies really do speak to people for they can then see God working through people.

It is no surprise that the sorcerer Simon wanted to have the power to give The Holy Spirit and in his mind something valuable needs to be paid for, but his problem was he didn’t understand the giving of God’s gift was done freely. The Spirit of God is given in love as a gift, a gift to be used in conjunction with God Ways and not to be used for one’s own benefit and certainly not for money or profit

8:26 Philip and the Ethiopian
An angel told Philip to go and meet an Ethiopian eunuch, an important official in charge of his queen’s treasury. He found him in his chariot and heard the man reading from Isaiah: He was led like a sheep to the slaughter and was silent; he was deprived of justice and humiliated. He had no descendants for he was killed.”
“Do you understand what you’re reading?” Philip asked.
Inviting Philip to join him the eunuch asked, “How can I, unless someone explains it to me? Who is the prophet talking about?” Philip using the passage, spoke about the good news of Jesus. Coming to some water and the eunuch asked, “What can stand in the way of me being baptized?” then Philip baptized him.

Philip our first missionary had proved himself in Samaria and so God gives him a different type of task, a one-2-one with a top financial politician, it was made easier because the man was already searching for answers and Philip knew what they were. Our role is that of Philip, to go where God wants us to go and trust his Spirit to do the things he wants us to do, so when the opportunity arises let us be prepared to answer people’s questions

I expect Philip told the eunuch about the Life of Jesus, what he did, his death and his resurrection, stating the best way to live one’s life, is in God’s way. Having a purpose, using God’s Spirit for confidence, joy, peace, hope and love and if in our witnessing someone wants to commit themselves to Jesus be they man, woman or eunuch then we have a duty to help bring them to Jesus who we know will accept them.

Link this with Matthew 19:12 and one’s sexual orientation shouldn’t matter for what does matter is that we live our lives according to God ways. When someone is led to make Jesus their Lord then we should be in a position to help them, even be prepared to baptize them ourselves if appropriate. If we’re put into a situation where we feel it is right to witness, then God has put us there as he feels we’re worthy to do it, and therefore we must be worthy

9:1 Saul’s Conversion
Meanwhile, Saul was near Damascus with orders to arrest any man or woman who belonged to the Way. A light flashed around him he fell to the ground and heard, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?”
“Who are you, Lord?” Saul asked,
“I’m Jesus, whom you are persecuting, go to the city then you’ll be told what to do.”
Saul was blinded and had to be led into the city, for three days he didn’t eat or drink.
The Lord told Ananias, “Go to Judas’ house, ask for Saul, he’s praying, place your hands on him and restore his sight.”
Ananias replied, “Lord, this man is here to arrest us.”
The Lord said, “Go! I have chosen him to proclaim my name the Gentiles, their kings and to the people of Israel.”
Ananias went and placing his hands on Saul, said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you, has sent me so that you may see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” scales fell from Saul’s eyes, and he could see again. He was baptized and after eating, he regained his strength.

Never forget when reading this that Saul loved God, Loved him with all his heart, soul, mind and strength, in persecuting Christians he truly believed he was doing right, doing God’s will. Led by the leadership of the Temple, he thought the High Priests must be right for they were in prayerful contact with God, know his Word and his ways, but like many people in a position of power these priests forget God’s Ways. They put they own views forward, interpreted God ways wrongly for they were unable accept Jesus as the Messiah. Jesus couldn’t let Saul carry on being misled and do the opposite of God’s wishes and this is why Jesus spoke directly to Saul adding proof by making him blind for three days.

Saul was left in no doubt the Jesus was responsible was what was happening to him, maybe seeing parallels between other prophets who rejected God wishes and thinking of himself like Balaam and Jonah in straying from the path God had set, or when Isaiah in a vision saw God, realised he was not doing what God wanted and with his sin being atoned for, his felt his guilt was taken away. It was then Saul recognised what he had been doing was not after all God’s will. He had sinned, but with the atonement this time done by Jesus, now his saviour. Looking back on his service I think he must have been amazed with the task he had been given, chosen to proclaim Jesus to the Gentiles, their kings and to the people of Israel.

We can see that this task drove Saul in whatever he did, giving him the confidence to preach Jesus wherever he went, challenge whoever he felt was not fulfilling God’s ways. We can’t know but I do wonder if he was one of the Pharisees who Jesus had met at some time, did Saul hear him teach in the Temple and then come to believe all he heard

Saul the changed man first in Damascus and then in Jerusalem
Saul preached in the Damascus synagogues proving Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God which led to the Jews planning to kill him. Saul escaped by being lowered in a basket over the city wall, he then travelled to Jerusalem to join the disciples but they were not prepared to believe him. Barnabas told them how The Lord had spoken to Saul and how he preached fearlessly in the name of Jesus, so Saul stayed with the apostles going freely in Jerusalem, speaking boldly in the name of the Lord. He debated with the Greek speaking Jews, then they too tried to kill him so he was sent to Tarsus.

The enthusiasm of Saul in those first days of telling people about Jesus never waned. Not surprising when told you have been chosen to do something directly by The Son of God, after that you simply go and do it. Surely if Jesus came and told us to go and witness him to the world. I’m sure we would. But wait he has already has.

Barnabas who sold everything and gave it to the church comes back into the story, for he is now a trusted member of the church and the disciples treat him as an equal. He shows that members sometimes need to guide their leaders, which of course shows that sometimes our leaders need to accept advice from their members. We like the early church need to work as a team, with everyone doing the things that would please God

We can also learn once again from this passage that Preaching Jesus will make real enemies as well as bringing people to Jesus and friends to us. We need to look out for our fellow Christians and if need be, protect them. Saul was plotted against twice, because he had changed sides and being such a good witness for Jesus the priests wanted him killed. For someone of Saul’s standing, who was a Pharisee, taught by Gamaliel and was now teaching Jesus had risen, and had appeared to him and was their Messiah, this was someone who had to be stopped and not allowed to challenge the temple priests.

9:32 Aeneas and Dorcas
In a time of peace and encouraged by the Holy Spirit the followers numbers increased. Peter visited the church in Lydda, and met Aeneas, (e-ne-us) who was paralyzed and bedridden for eight years. Peter told him, “Jesus Christ heals you. Get up and roll up your mat.” Aeneas (e-ne-us) stood straight up and because of this many there turned to the Lord.
In Joppa there was a disciple named Tabitha who was always doing good and helping the poor. She became sick and died, the disciples knowing Peter was close by urged him to come quickly, when he arrived he was taken to her room and shown all the things Tabitha had made. Peter sent everyone away, got to his knees and prayed, then said, “Tabitha, get up.” She opened her eyes, and seeing Peter sat up. Many people believed in the Lord when this became known.

The church continued to grow because the followers were doing extraordinary things, they were using the gifts of Healing and doing miracles so it is not surprising it grew. Now our question is, why don’t we see these gifts of The Spirit being used freely today and the answer has to be that Christians in general have lost their depth of faith, as seemingly these gifts can only be used by people having the faith to use them,

This means we need to look for leaders who are able to use the Gifts of the Spirit, able to teach and encourage those they lead into using the Holy Spirit’s gifts. Then men and women will step out in faith and use the gifts of the Spirit, to search for knowledge, using it in the wisdom of doing what pleases God, able to discern truth and see the right way ahead, with the assurance to do God’s work shown in doing healings and miracles. We need to remember Jesus said he expects us to do greater things than him so such leaders will then bring the confidence to others to do the same. It is then we will see signs and wonders happening again, bringing people to Jesus and to His and our Heavenly Father.

To do this we need God’s presence each passing hour, making God’s Spirit our guide and encourager.