A Vanishing God

Guest blogger – Frank Viola

Jesus often comes to us in unexpected ways and unexpected means.

Think about how He came to Earth. For centuries, Israel had waited for a political Messiah. They expected Him to lead a rebellion and free Israel from Roman oppression. But how did the Messiah make His entrance? He came in a way that made it easy for His own people to reject Him. He came as a frail baby, born in a feeding room for animals. There He was. The promised Messiah who was expected to overthrow the Roman Empire and set Israel free from oppression. A needy Nazarene born in a manger.

When Jesus grew up, He ate and drank in their presence and taught in their streets (Luke 13:26). Yet they didn’t recognize Him. He was unassumingly modest. A mere craftsman; the son of a craftsman. He grew up in the despised city of Nazareth, fraternizing with the despised and oppressed. But more startling, He befriended sinners (Luke 7:34). As such, the people of God didn’t recognize Him. Why? Because He came in a way that made it easy for them to reject Him. And what about the disciples?

Read the story again. Jesus continued to break out of their expectations. He couldn’t be pinned down, figured out or boxed in. The Twelve were constantly confounded by Him. His teachings were offensive. His actions scandalous. His reactions baffling.

But the greatest offense of all was the cross. It offended everyone—both Jew and Gentile. The only crown the promised Messiah-King would accept was a crown of thorns. Look at Him again. A suffering Messiah, a defeated King. It’s easy to reject Him.

One of the Lord’s most faithful disciples teaches us this principle well. Mary Magdalene was the first person to see Jesus after His death and resurrection. Do you remember what she did as soon as she recognized Him? She grabbed Him, and she wouldn’t stop clinging to Him. Jesus responded, “Stop clinging to me” (see John 20:17, Greek text). Why did Jesus tell Mary to stop clinging to Him? Because Jesus had somewhere to go. He was on the move. Jesus was poised to go to Galilee to see the other disciples and then to ascend to His Father.

Note the principle: He was moving forward, but she was clinging to Him. Jesus was in effect saying to her: “Mary, stop holding on to me. There’s a new way to know me that’s different from what you’ve experienced thus far. Let me go. I must move on.” Do you remember the disciples who walked on the road to Emmaus?

Their hopes were shattered by Jesus’ horrible death. Suddenly, the resurrected Christ began walking beside them, yet their eyes were blinded from recognizing Him. However, when He engaged in the very simple gesture of breaking bread (something He had done frequently before them), their eyes were opened. He then quickly disappeared from their sight.

These stories hold a critical insight. You cannot cling to the Christ you know today. He will vanish from your midst. Jesus Christ is an elusive Lover. Seeking Him is a progressive engagement that never ends. He doesn’t dance to our music. He doesn’t sing to our tune.

Perhaps He will in the beginning when He woos us, but that season will eventually end. Just when you think you’ve laid hold of Him, He will slip out of your grasp. He will appear to you as a stranger. But on second glance, we’ll discover He’s no stranger at all. Emmaus will be repeated.

We all wish to cling to the Lord who we know now. We all wish to hold on to the Christ who has been revealed to us today.

But mark my words: He will come to us in a way we do not expect—through people we’re prone to ignore and inclined to write off. Perhaps they don’t talk our religious language. Perhaps they aren’t theologically sophisticated. Perhaps they don’t use our vocabulary. Perhaps they don’t share our insider knowledge nor parrot our religious idioms.

So we cling fast to the Lord we recognize—receiving only those who talk our language, use our jargon and employ our catchphrases—and all along we end up turning the Lord Jesus Christ away.

What, then, does Jesus do after we fail to receive Him when He comes to us in an unexpected way? He moves on. And the revelation we have of Him ceases to grow. Jesus Christ is richer, larger and more glorious than any of us could ever imagine. And He comes to us in ways that make it tempting to reject Him.

When Peter, James and John saw the transfigured Lord on the holy mountain, Peter wanted to build a tabernacle for Jesus, Moses and Elijah and remain on the mountain to enjoy the encounter. But God would not allow it (Matthew 17:1-13).

There is something in our fallen nature that, like Peter, wishes to build a monument around a spiritual encounter with God and remain there. But the Lord will not have it. He will always break free from our frail attempts to pin Him down, box Him up and hold Him in place. And He does so by coming to us in new and unexpected ways.

Excerpted from REVISE US AGAIN, Chapter 10, Your Christ is Too Small

Published in Relevant Sept/Oct 2010

Neglecting God’s Word

The purpose of the Bible is for you to come to know God – the Author of the Word. All other books are read so that you can come to know more information and when you are finished reading it you will not know the author as that is not why you were reading it. But, the Bible is read so that you can come to know the Author and not just more information. Information is not as important as experiencing and coming to know God through His Word and then being transformed.

2 Timothy 3:16-17 states that “All Scripture is given by God so that the people of God may be complete and equipped.” This means that the Scriptures were given so that we can come to know God and become like Him (“complete”) and able to do what Jesus did (equipped). This is the purpose of the Bible. It helps you to know God, become like God, so that you can do what Jesus (God in human flesh) did.

So, are you reading the Bible on a regular basis? Are you reading it for the right reason and with the right motive? Are you being transformed by what you are reading? Are you learning and growing becoming more skilled in doing the supernatural work of the Lord and thus fulfilling the call of God on His people and on the Church? If not, then you are simply like the Pharisees in the time of Jesus who really did not “know the Scriptures nor the power of God” (Matthew 22:29) in spite of all their memorization, knowledge, and information gathering from God’s Word.

So, as we approach the end of another year and the start of 2013 it might just be time to take a look at your Bible reading or the lack of it. And, make a quality decision to do better and to actually use the Bible for the reasons it was written and for nothing else. Let’s decide to come to know the Author better than ever before – to become like Him (“complete”) and to do what Jesus did (“equipped”) as we are His Body on the earth today.

Risk-Taking Or Walking By Faith

Last Sunday, the 22nd of August, in the series of teachings on THE BASICS of the faith I spoke on faith and the need to step out and walk by faith. Only then will each of us, as believers, accomplish God’s plans and purpose for our individual lives.

Regretfully the live recording did not record correctly – so the audio copy has to be redone. As I am in the province of Quebec and the state of Vermont for the next while it will not be posted until the 6th of September. However, the written copy of the teaching is already posted on our main web site (www.ralphhoweministries.com).

I told people that with God all things are possible and whatever God has spoken – biblically and prophetically – for us to do for and with Him will come to pass if we believe and walk in obedience.

Since then I found the folllowing which I believe is worth sharing and which tells each of us why we can believe that God will use us to powerfully impact lives.

Why I Believe You Can Do Exactly What God Has Called You To Do!

I believe you can do exactly what God has called you to do!

We serve a God who is a MASTER at calling those who are not “qualified” to do things that seem “impossible!”

I believe that when a person becomes obsessed with the character of God by reading the Word of God and then gets empowered by the Spirit of God…that person is unstoppable and his/her potential is unlimited as long as they will dare to continually follow Jesus and refuse to play it safe! (See Zechariah 4:6-7)

(A quick note on this…you’ve GOT to make sure you’ve heard from God and are not simply getting ready to do something and then begging Him to work!)

I believe God puts dreams and visions in our hearts that are so HUGE that it causes great desperation for HIM and HIS power…thus leading to the world seeing what HE can do through us rather than what we can do “for Him!” (The bigger the revelation the greater the desperation!)

I believe we are all GIFTED to make an impact on the world and NOT simply sit and watch it pass us by.

I believe we are ALL EMPOWERED to make a difference…that fear and timidity does not come from Him, but the power and discipline to execute what He has called us to does. (2 Timothy 1:7)

I believe that YOU are NOT an accident…that He created you with a divine design in mind…that His plans for your life are GREATER than you could imagine, and that by surrendering to HIS plans is the GREATEST freedom on the planet.

I believe that they KEY to discovering what it is that God wants for us is found in Proverbs 3:5-6, that we’ve got to trust Him with EVERYTHING…and if we “hold out on Him” we are actually holding out on ourselves.

I believe God’s plan for your life will not always be easy…but He will always be with you. (Isaiah 43:1-3)

So…what is it that God is calling you to do? OR…put another way, “What would you be willing to attempt for God if you knew you could not fail?”

Life is short…we should get to the end of it with NO REGRETS…so…GO FOR IT!!!

The Day That Death Died

Good Friday has come and for most people in my neighbourhood it is simply a day off and a great excuse for a long weekend. In fact, as I write this, it is Good Friday morning and “not a creature is stirring, not even a mouse” (Whoopse – wrong holiday).

Good Friday is God’s Friday for it was totally within His perfect will that His Son Jesus die on the Cross of Calvary on a garbage dump outside of the city of Jerusalem. It was and is God’s way to re-establish fellowship with His creation – humankind. Fellowship with us is impossible because our sin separates us from our Father Creator (Isaiah 59:1-2). So, Jesus made a way (He is The Way) for humankind to once again have fellowship by taking our penalty upon Himself – He died so we would not have to. And, by the shedding of His blood, we can now receive forgiveness and have this precious gift of eternal life which is a relationship with God the Father and His Son Jesus empowered and enabled by the Holy Spirit (John 17:3). All because of Good Friday – which is more than another day off or part of an April long weekend.

We could say that Good Friday is the day that death died. Death was born in the Garden of Eden when the (first) Adam disobeyed the Lord and did what he had been told he must not do. He disobeyed the Word of the Lord and took all of mankind into spiritual darkness. This day death was born and allowed to roam free upon the face of the planet we call Earth. On God’s Friday Jesus died on the Cross and then, on the first Easter Sunday, rose bodily from the dead and is alive even today. He defeated death. He is the “Second Adam”. Easter is the day that death died.

The Holy Spirit, through Paul, writes… “Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” For sin is the sting that results in death, and the law gives sin its power. How we thank God, who gives us victory over sin and death through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (1 Corinthians 15:54b-57)

In other words – Easter Sunday is the day that death died after holding people in the grip of fear about death and life-after-death for thousands of years. It is no longer our enemy as death has died and we now have the wonderful gift of abundant life now and life forever into an endless eternity .

Spiritual Warfare

There is a great verse in the first letter of John which I discovered many, many years ago. It has given stability to my Christian beliefs and freedom to walk in faith and do what I hear the Lord telling me to do – at least to the best of my ability.

1 John 5:18 We know that those who have become part of God’s family do not make a practice of sinning, for God’s Son holds them securely, and the evil one cannot get his hands on them.

Jesus holds us securely. He purchased us with His blood and is very capable of “keeping” that which He has died on the Cross to redeem. He holds us tight and the Devil can not “get his hands on them”. Unless, of course, you chose to live contrary to God’s Word and/or walk away from your relationship with God. Then, by your own free will you have have chosen to place yourself where the devil can get his hands on you as you have left the protection and care of the Great Shepherd of the sheep.

Here’s what happened when you were saved or born again. The Holy Spirit came to live inside of you and like all good house guests he brought a house warming gift. This gift is called ‘eternal life’. We find this fact in Romans 6:23b which states, “and the gift of God is eternal life”. The definition of eternal life is found in the Gospel according to John, chapter 17 and verse 3, “This is eternal life: that you may know (have an intimate relationship with) God the Father and Jesus Christ whom He sent…”

When this took place we were literally taken from the domain of darkness and transferred into the Kingdom of Light (Colossians 1:13) and the devil could not stop that transfer. He was powerless as he has been totally defeated by the blood of Jesus shed upon the cross of Calvary for the forgiveness of sins and the healing of our bodies. His defeat remains and he cannot touch us or harm us unless we open a door through disobedience or decide to walk away from our daily relationship with the lord Jesus Christ.

So, this brings me to my point. I believe there is too much emphasis on spiritual warfare today in the Church in general and in the life of the believer. I just don’t see that type of focus in the New Testament and in the early Church. Instead, I see them focused on what the Lord has accomplished and on what He has called the Church to do – “go into all the world and make disciples in all nations…” (Matthew 28:18-20).

As they did this there was, of course, opposition. Some of it was from the devil. However, they simply preached the “power of God unto salvation” and continued to stay focused on the Lord and their task -instead of being side-tracked into fighting every little DEFEATED demon of hell.

I am also of the opinion that then, like now, most of the opposition to the pure Gospel of salvation and the offer of Jesus Christ of eternal life comes from the flesh and not from the devil. He gets blamed for much too much in today’s world. The greatest opposition to people getting saved or born again is not the devil – it is man’s will and the flesh.

Guy Chevreau in his book “Spiritual Warfare Sideways” states, “Short of the end times, there is no New Testament use of either polemos or strateia for the spiritual war that engages believers directly with the demonic. As pervasive as the tern “spiritual warfare” has become over the last two decades, the phrase itself is not found in the Scriptures.”

He goes on to state, “Further, neither Satan nor the demonic receive any extended discourse anywhere in the scriptures. He and his horde are given only passing references. In the gospels there are a mere seventeen separate references to the devil, however he is named” (page 77).

Could not agree more. We need to take out focus off of what the devil might be doing at he was defeated on the Cross of Calvary and is still a defeated and conquered enemy today. He only has as much power in our lives as we let him have – which should be absolutely none. We need, instead, to deal with our own flesh and “man’s will” which is most often the greatest hindrance to walking closely with the Lord and enjoying intimate fellowship with Him and the Father daily.

I am excited with the change in focus that I sense has begun to happen in the Church – but also sense a need to state that when you take your eyes off of the things the devil might be doing you need to focus on Jesus (Hebrews 12:1-3) and not on angels and the “cloud of witnesses” or anything else that has now apparently come galloping in to take the place of the devil and his demons in our direct line of vision.

The Bible states: Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily hinders our progress. And let us run with endurance the race that God has set before us. We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, on whom our faith depends from start to finish. He was willing to die a shameful death on the cross because of the joy he knew would be his afterward. Now he is seated in the place of highest honor beside God’s throne in heaven. Think about all he endured when sinful people did such terrible things to him, so that you don’t become weary and give up.

It is a full-time job keeping up with all the exciting things that the Lord is currently doing and what He is asking us to become involved in. We should not have time for anything else.

The Greatest Sacrifice of Love

The greatest sacrifice of love in history occurred in Christ’s death on the cross. God allowed His only Son to become mortal—Word made flesh—and then to endure the most excruciatingly painful and publicly humiliating death possible: crucifixion.

God’s love for us is truly incomprehensible. Our love has limits, but God’s love has none. It’s completely unconditional, no strings attached.

God’s sacrifice reminds me of the story of a man who operated a drawbridge over a bay in a small ocean town. Every day he would walk up to the office next to the drawbridge, where he could control the lever. He would pull up the lever, the drawbridge with the train track on it would rise, and enormous ships would glide through. Then he would push the lever down, and the drawbridge would lower so the train could cross safely.

Almost every day his little boy would go to work with him—he loved to watch his dad raise and lower the drawbridge. One day when they were there together, the dad was radioed that a nonscheduled train was on its way and he needed to lower the drawbridge. He glanced out the window just as he was touching the lever, and he saw his little boy outside playing in the huge gears of the drawbridge next to the shore. He yelled for him, but his son couldn’t hear him with all the commotion and noise near the water.

The man raced out of the office and ran toward his son to try to grab him and pull him to safety but then the horrible truth struck him. If he didn’t push down that lever right away, the train would plunge into the sea, and hundreds of passengers would die. But if he lowered the bridge, his son would be killed. At the last possible second he made his terrible decision, raced back to his station, and pulled down the lever, falling to his knees in agony as his little boy was crushed to death.

With tears streaming down his cheeks, he looked out and saw the train racing safely over the bridge. He could see in the window of one of the dining cars that people were eating, drinking, and laughing, totally oblivious to the great sacrifice he had just made so they could live.

Most of us are totally oblivious to the great sacrifice God has made. He gave His only Son, who came to this earth and died for us to forgive us of our past guilt, to give us purpose in the present, and to give us a future that includes heaven. As you think about what it means to give sacrificially to those around you, maybe you should first think about how much God has sacrificed for you.

Born Again Unto Living Hope

There is apparently a lack of hope in North America today. It should be expected due to the economic downturn and the rising unemployment rates in both Canada and the United States – and all over the world for that matter. However, statistics are not in for the last six months as of yet. So we don’t yet know what this worldwide economic downturn and “disaster” is doing in this whole area of hope for the future.

However, even without taking the current economic situation into account the statistics show that we are a generation that has increasing less and less hope. There is a lack of hope. In fact, there has been a 5% increase in the U.S. suicide rate since 1999 and a 16% increase in the U.S. suicide rate among those ages 40 to 64. This, of course, is just the tip of the iceberg as many suicidal deaths do not get officially recorded as “suicide” and many others attempt to commit suicide, fail and thus live. The statistics for those suffering from various forms of depression are, well, depressing.

Here is where the Church should speak up. When we were born again and began a relationship with the Father and His Son (Romans 6:23b and John 17:3) we were born again into a “living hope”. That is what 1 Peter 1:3 states: “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.”

We have been born again into a living hope! The living hope is eternal life – a relationship with God now and forever into an endless eternity. This gives the believer, who is now a ‘new creature in Christ’ a new perspective – God’s perspective – on daily life. The believer now has a “bigger picture” and so can see daily events and happenings in light of eternity. This always brings hope as we see that there is a light at the end of the tunnel and it is not a fast moving train.

This “living hope” gives us CONFIDENT OPTIMISM. Let’s look at what we received when we were born again into this living hope.

1> It comes from God as we focus on Him and not the circumstances
Psalm 43:5 Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.

2> It is a gift of grace
2 Thessalonians 2:16 May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and by his grace gave us eternal encouragement and good hope

3> It is a result of knowing and believing the scriptures and thus being encouraged
Romans 15:4 For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.

4> It is a reasonable reality
1 Peter 3:15 “But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.”

5> This hope is secured by the resurrection of Jesus bodily from the dead
John 11:25-26 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?”

John 14:19 Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live.

1 Corinthians 15:17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins.

But He has been raised from the dead and so we can live in a living, eternal hope of our own resurrection from the dead and a life with Him forever.

6> This hope is confirmed in the believer by the Holy Spirit
Romans 15:13 May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.

7> It is also confirmed through the trials we go through in life
Romans 5:3-4 Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.

8> Hope defends the Christian against Satan’s attack
1 Thessalonians 5:8 But since we belong to the day, let us be self-controlled, putting on faith and love as a breastplate, and the hope of salvation as a helmet.

9> This hope produces joy
Psalm 146:5 Blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the LORD his God

10> This hope will find fulfillment in Christ’s return
Titus 2:13 while we wait for the blessed hope – the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ

Hope is precious and important and we, as Christians, are to walk in this hope and share it with others. Again Peter comments on this (1 Peter 3:15): “But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.”

My prayer is that today you will do just that – walk in hope and tell others why you do.

Jesus Is Our King

Jesus had no servants, yet they called Him Master
He had no degree, yet they called Him Teacher
He had no medicines, yet they called Him Healer
He had no army, yet kings feared Him
He won no military battles, yet He conquered the world
He committed no crime, yet they crucified Him
He was buried in a tomb, yet He lives today
We feel honored to serve such a Leader who loves us.

Thanks to Holy Life Tabernacle, Brookings, S.D. – Pastor David Kaufman

Toss It Out If… – Bible Blog #15

The Scripture:

One day Peter and John were going up to the temple at the time of prayer – at three in the afternoon. Now a man crippled from birth was being carried to the temple gate called Beautiful, where he was put every day to beg from those going into the temple courts. When he saw Peter and John about to enter, he asked them for money. Peter looked straight at him, as did John. Then Peter said, “Look at us!” So the man gave them his attention, expecting to get something from them. Then Peter said, “Silver or gold I do not have, but what I have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk.” Taking him by the right hand, he helped him up, and instantly the man’s feet and ankles became strong. He jumped to his feet and began to walk. Then he went with them into the temple courts, walking and jumping, and praising God. When all the people saw him walking and praising God, they recognized him as the same man who used to sit begging at the temple gate called Beautiful, and they were filled with wonder and amazement at what had happened to him.

The Commentary:

The Jewish work day began at 6:00 a.m. and ended at 6:00 p.m. During this 12 hour stretch devout male Jews whould pray three times – basically morning, noon and night. They could pray anywhere but believed that their prayers were more precious and effective if offered in the Temple. They believed God answered prayer!

It is interesting that they were, as Jewish Christians – Jewish by ethic group and birth and Christian by belief and faith – still holding to the customs and traditions in which they were raised and trained. It should be stated that Jesus was not against tradition as if it was, in itself, a bad thing. He was against any tradition that took the focus off of God and in any way denied the real power of the Word of God. If a tradition robbed God of His position or His power Jesus would speak against it.

It seems apparent that the disciples and first apostles recognized and knew that the new faith and the old disciplines could walk hand-in-hand.

The beggars would sit at the entrance to the Temple because it was a good place to beg alms (money for them because they were poor and unable to work). Those coming to pray and worship came to impress God with their pious good works – so a lucrative place to beg for funds.

The miracle of the healing of the beggar was quite a miracle because he had been lame from birth and so had never walked. And, it was a terrific and instant testimony because every Jewish male would know who he was having seen him three times a day as they entered the Temple courts to pray. God knows how to make an impression.

APPLICATION:

It was obvious throughout the Gospels that Jesus upheld the Jewish traditions. He did, however, speak against any man-made tradition that took people away from their focus on God or that eliminated the power of God as found in faith and the Word of God (example: Matthew 15:6).

I believe that what is most important in our walk with God as found and given to us through Jesus Christ is to have His life (zoe) flowing through us. Whatever helps that life to flow (daily prayer, Bible reading, corporate worship services) should be encouraged and anything that takes life away or does nothing to keep life flowing needs to be removed.

When a baby is conceived there is no structure just life in the mother’s womb.As the life grows then structure comes along to help that life thrive and continue to exist – hands, feet, toes, a nose. Structure supports and encourages life.

When the structure is no longer needed to support life it is dismantled and removed. Otherwise the tendency is to focus on the structure to maintain it and not to flow with the life. As a result – you would have dead traditions.

So, when a baby is born the cord that attaches it to his or her mother – that has fed the baby for 9 months and kept it alive – is no longer needed. So, this structure is now removed (cut). If it is not – then it endangers the life of the child.

Any tradition or structure that supports the flow and grow of spiritual life should be maintained and is good. Any tradition or structure that does not support the continued growth and flow of life needs to be removed and thrown away as something that was once ‘of God’ and beneficial but no longer needed.

It might be a good time to examine the things we do as routine (tradition) on a daily basis in our spiritual walk to see if they are still supporting and encouraging “life” or whether they are now simply nice traditions that either are neutral or that actually harm the life flow in the Spirit. If the latter then we need to remove them as these ‘traditions’ are harmful to your relationship with God.

The Christian Faith – Crucial and Costly- Bible Blog #13

The Scripture:

Acts 2:37-42 Now when they heard this, they were pierced to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brethren, what shall we do?” Peter said to them, “Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. “For the promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off, as many as the Lord our God will call to Himself.” And with many other words he solemnly testified and kept on exhorting them, saying, “Be saved from this perverse generation!” So then, those who had received his word were baptized; and that day there were added about three thousand souls. They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.

Commentary:

Peter is preaching from the prophet Joel about the key truth of the Christian faith – the resurrection of Jesus as Messiah – Lord and Christ.

The result of this short first sermon of the Christian Church is that those listening were “pierced to the heart” The Greek here means stabbed – so it was sudden, unexpected and they were simply stunned that they had killed Messiah. Connected to this word ‘pierced’ is the idea of grief, remorse, and intense spiritual conviction. This was definitely a supernatural encounter with the living God for those in Peter’s audience.

They ask Peter a question: “What shall we do?” When the Word is preached people must repond to it as James states that we must be hearers and doers, not just hearing it and walking away.

The answer: Repent“. In the Greek this means to have a change of mind and thus a change of purpose that literally turns a person from sin and towards God. The book of Proverbs states that “as a man thinks, so is he”. (Proverbs 23:7) and 1 Thessalonians 1:9b states that when they are truly repentant – “how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God…”

Genuine repentance means:

1> You recognize the evil of sin
2> You realize that you must forsake all sin
3> You embrace the person and work of Christ totally

If there is no genuine repentance then there is no genuine conversion. So, people who just say a sinner’s prayer without godly sorrow and repentance are not saved – just deceived.

So, Peter tells them they must repent. And, secondly, that they must be baptized by immersion in water. He is following the direct instructions of Jesus who told His disciples that they were “to go into all the world, make disciples…baptizing them…” (Matthew 28:18-20). Baptism is important as a first step of obedience because in baptism by immersion you are identifying with the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Those being baptized would understand the signifigance of the act. They may have already personally experienced John’s baptism as the disciples in Acts 19 had. Some most certainly would have seen gentile converts to the Jewish faith (proselytes) baptized.

To be baptized “in Jesus name” was very crucial for the early Church as they tried to differentiate themselves from the Jewish faith – for many considered them simply another sect within the Jewish religion. As well, baptism was costly – as this public declaration of faith in Jesus Christ often cost them their lives.

Peter says you “are baptized for the forgiveness of sins”. This is not theologically correct. Really, you get baptized because of the forgiveness of your sins. Forgiveness does not come through baptism but through accepting Jesus Christ as personal Lord and Saviour at which point your sins are forgiven. The act of baptism does not forgive nor cleanse. It is simply a public recognition of the forgiveness and cleansing that has already taken place (1 John 1:9). Paul writes and tells us that genuine repentance (see above for the definition of repent) brings forgiveness. “In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace” (Ephesians 1:7).

When you repent and are forgiven – thus born again – the Holy Spirit is given to you as a gift. This is what Peter is saying when talking about “the gift of the Holy Spirit”. This gift and promise is not just for those listening to Peter but for those “afar off”. I believe that refers to generations still to come. Some think Peter is referring to the Gentiles. If this were correct then there would be no need of Peter and Cornelius in Acts 10 where it finally dawns on Peter that non-Jews are accpted into the Kingdom. If those who believe this were right there would also be no need for the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15 when they struggle with how to intergrate Gentile believers into what had been, up till this point, a Jewish religion. Peter is commenting that this gift of salvation and the Holy Spirit is available now and for generations to come.

Those hearing Peter preach reacted to what he was saying. Some walked away in disbelief. Others (3,000) received forgiveness and new life and were baptized. The baptisms could have taken place in a nearby river or in the Jewish mikvahs which were the ritual baths built right into the sides of the temple court.

This section of scripture ends with Luke telling us what these newly baptized believers did. They became involved in four things:

1> Learning the apostle’s doctrines (foundational to the Church)
2> Fellowship
3> Breaking of bread – eating together ansd celebrating the Lord’s Supper
4> Prayer – private and corporate.

All of these activities would have been dangerous to be participating in as the Roman Empire and the Jewish religion were not in favour of this new movement that was beginning with quite an explosion.