Saturday, October 02, 2010



After Stephen had been falsely accused, he uses the opportunity to speak one of the longest messages recorded in the Bible. He rehearses the history of God working with the people of Israel through their leaders over the centuries. When he gets to Moses, he says: 20"It was at this time that Moses was born; and he was lovely in the sight of God, and he was nurtured three months in his father's home. 21"And after he had been set outside, Pharaoh's daughter took him away and nurtured him as her own son. 22"Moses was educated in all the learning of the Egyptians, and he was a man of power in words and deeds.

23"But when he was approaching the age of forty, it entered his mind to visit his brethren, the sons of Israel. 24"And when he saw one of them being treated unjustly, he defended him and took vengeance for the oppressed by striking down the Egyptian. 25"And he supposed that his brethren understood that God was granting them deliverance through him, but they did not understand. 26"On the following day he appeared to them as they were fighting together, and he tried to reconcile them in peace, saying, 'Men, you are brethren, why do you injure one another?' 27"But the one who was injuring his neighbor pushed him away, saying, 'WHO MADE YOU A RULER AND JUDGE OVER US? 28'YOU DO NOT MEAN TO KILL ME AS YOU KILLED THE EGYPTIAN YESTERDAY, DO YOU?' 29"At this remark, MOSES FLED AND BECAME AN ALIEN IN THE LAND OF MIDIAN, where he became the father of two sons.

30"After forty years had passed, AN ANGEL APPEARED TO HIM IN THE WILDERNESS OF MOUNT Sinai, IN THE FLAME OF A BURNING THORN BUSH. 31"When Moses saw it, he marveled at the sight; and as he approached to look more closely, there came the voice of the Lord: 32'I AM THE GOD OF YOUR FATHERS, THE GOD OF ABRAHAM AND ISAAC AND JACOB.' Moses shook with fear and would not venture to look. 33"BUT THE LORD SAID TO HIM, 'TAKE OFF THE SANDALS FROM YOUR FEET, FOR THE PLACE ON WHICH YOU ARE STANDING IS HOLY GROUND. 34'I HAVE CERTAINLY SEEN THE OPPRESSION OF MY PEOPLE IN EGYPT AND HAVE HEARD THEIR GROANS, AND I HAVE COME DOWN TO RESCUE THEM; COME NOW, AND I WILL SEND YOU TO EGYPT.' 35"This Moses whom they disowned, saying, 'WHO MADE YOU A RULER AND A JUDGE?' is the one whom God sent to be both a ruler and a deliverer with the help of the angel who appeared to him in the thorn bush.

36"This man led them out, performing wonders and signs in the land of Egypt and in the Red Sea and in the wilderness for forty years. 37"This is the Moses who said to the sons of Israel, 'GOD WILL RAISE UP FOR YOU A PROPHET LIKE ME FROM YOUR BRETHREN.' 38"This is the one who was in the congregation in the wilderness together with the angel who was speaking to him on Mount Sinai, and who was with our fathers; and he received living oracles to pass on to you.

39"Our fathers were unwilling to be obedient to him, but repudiated him and in their hearts turned back to Egypt, 40SAYING TO AARON, 'MAKE FOR US GODS WHO WILL GO BEFORE US; FOR THIS MOSES WHO LED US OUT OF THE LAND OF EGYPT-WE DO NOT KNOW WHAT HAPPENED TO HIM.' 41"At that time they made a calf and brought a sacrifice to the idol, and were rejoicing in the works of their hands.

The shocking scene of the children of Israel urging Aaron to make a "god" for them, because of their impatience in waiting for Moses to come down from his meeting with God, cannot compare with the next statement Stephen shares with his hostile audience. 42"But God turned away and delivered them up to serve the host of heaven; as it is written in the book of the prophets, 'IT WAS NOT TO ME THAT YOU OFFERED VICTIMS AND SACRIFICES FORTY YEARS IN THE WILDERNESS, WAS IT, O HOUSE OF ISRAEL? 43'YOU ALSO TOOK ALONG THE TABERNACLE OF MOLOCH AND THE STAR OF THE GOD ROMPHA, THE IMAGES WHICH YOU MADE TO WORSHIP. I ALSO WILL REMOVE YOU BEYOND BABYLON.'

NOTE what is said here: The children of Israel brought along other gods to worship on the side throughout their 40 years of wandering in the wilderness. They were not single-minded in worshipping Yahweh, but included many ADD-ONS on their journey. This is precisely what we do today. We become impatient with what God is doing or not doing, then ask for some sort of god more tangible. And, in order to feel most comfortable that we've covered all our bases, we collect so many add-ons to our faith and we infuse these add-ons with great importance. ADD-ONS are normally externals or tangibles. An add-on might be a certain form of baptism, church membership, denominational affiliation, keeping a certain list of righteous acts or avoiding certain things as the most sinful. But ADD-ONS take away from the centrality of the message-the centrality of God. This is why we are so stubborn in our beliefs of JESUS PLUS NOTHING! Stephen goes on to say,

44"Our fathers had the tabernacle of testimony in the wilderness, just as He who spoke to Moses directed him to make it according to the pattern which he had seen. 45"And having received it in their turn, our fathers brought it in with Joshua upon dispossessing the nations whom God drove out before our fathers, until the time of David. 46"David found favor in God's sight, and asked that he might find a dwelling place for the God of Jacob. 47"But it was Solomon who built a house for Him. 48"However, the Most High does not dwell in houses made by human hands; as the prophet says: 49'HEAVEN IS MY THRONE, AND EARTH IS THE FOOTSTOOL OF MY FEET; WHAT KIND OF HOUSE WILL YOU BUILD FOR ME?' says the Lord, 'OR WHAT PLACE IS THERE FOR MY REPOSE? 50'WAS IT NOT MY HAND WHICH MADE ALL THESE THINGS?'

God doesn't live in our church facilities or in our altars. He is more awesome than that, can't be localized or limited in that way. Then he turns the corner and goes directly at them with: 51"You men who are stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears are always resisting the Holy Spirit; you are doing just as your fathers did. 52"Which one of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? They killed those who had previously announced the coming of the Righteous One, whose betrayers and murderers you have now become; 53you who received the law as ordained by angels, and yet did not keep it."

Well, they didn't like it and, as we'll see, they will actually kill Stephen over his attitude and message. This shouldn't be surprising. Jesus warned His disciples that they would be hated by the world, because of their relationship with Him. But, who is this "world" that will hate us? I've always been liked by the world. The only trouble I've experienced has been with the religious world. After reading John 15:18-27 where Jesus speaks of this, it is clear that the "world" He is referring to is the religious world. Jesus never made the non-synagogued world unhappy, but all His trouble came from the people of the synagogue (the church).

There's nothing more lethal and ugly than a group of religious people with a passionate anger and a Bible verse.



Here in chapter 6 a problem occurs and the early fellowship responds to it: 1Now at this time while the disciples were increasing in number, a complaint arose on the part of the Hellenistic Jews against the native Hebrews, because their widows were being overlooked in the daily serving of food. 2So the twelve summoned the congregation of the disciples and said, "It is not desirable for us to neglect the word of God in order to serve tables. 3"Therefore, brethren, select from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may put in charge of this task. 4"But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word." 5The statement found approval with the whole congregation; and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit, and Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas and Nicolas, a proselyte from Antioch. 6And these they brought before the apostles; and after praying, they laid their hands on them.

A practical problem arises within the fellowship and immediately a practical solution is put in motion. NOTE that the congregation of disciples were gathered together to figure out a solution. They didn't call a meeting of all of the church members, but a meeting of the disciples. There were no church members, only disciples. The solution was to place 7 men into a service-kind of ministry. Some call them deacons or ministers. You see, this service ministry was needed not only to solve the problem at hand, but it freed the disciple leadership to do two things. 1. To devote themselves to prayer. 2. To devote themselves to the ministry of the word.

This is a picture of pure fellowship and ministry in action. The top leader-disciples devoted themselves to prayer and the ministry of the word while the service ministry disciples handled more of the administrative responsibilities. These seem to be the two basic functions of leadership within the fellowship. And when the fellowship is simply functioning in this way, the growth will be inevitable both in quantity and quality. 7The word of God kept on spreading; and the number of the disciples continued to increase greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests were becoming obedient to the faith.

Now here is what blows my mind as far as how these service ministry disciples functioned. They were not just administrators; they were the disciples who worked in the trenches from house to house. NOTE verse 8: 8And Stephen, full of grace and power, was performing great wonders and signs among the people.

Did you get that? Stephen was full of grace and power and performed great wonders and signs among the people. This level of leadership spent their lives right in the middle of ministering to the needs of the fellowship. We'll see more of this later in Acts.

So, here's what we have here in the early fellowship: 1. Leaders who devoted themselves to prayer and the ministry of the word of God. We might call them elders. 2. Leaders who did the work of the ministry in the trenches of life. We might call them deacons and deaconesses.

So, where are the committees? Where is the board of trustees? Where is the senior pastor? Where is the Sunday School? Where is the youth ministry pastor or the music pastor? Where's the missions pastor, the small groups pastor or the program pastor? Are these really necessary within the fellowship of believers or are they necessary "evils"?

It seems the more pastors and leadership heads you have, the greater the distance is between leadership and the people. In fact, if you are becoming so large and so organized, you may run the risk of being too cumbersome or find yourself putting all your energies into making your "service" most attractive for the many spectators you will inevitably be producing. Maybe the early fellowship was on to something after all. Maybe this simplicity of leadership is at the core of why the early fellowship grew so fast and did so in multiples.

Two major questions come up for me here: FIRST-Do you know any pastors who are able to devote themselves to prayer and the ministry of the word? Or, are your pastors too busy in meetings, making decisions that really don't matter in the eternal scheme of things?

SECOND-Do you know any deacons who are going house to house performing miracles among the people? Or, do your deacons spend most of their time in meetings, making decisions that really don't matter in the eternal scheme of things?

So, wouldn't it be better for us to get back to the simple ways of the early fellowship around Jesus-where the Jesus-fellowship itself is the attraction and not the entertaining show. Where we function in a dynamic, lively organism rather than a dull, dead organization that must be continually pumped up. Where we are into the vibrant movement of the Acts of Jesus rather than building more monuments? Jesus said, "I will build My church." I think what Jesus is looking for is for us to give up building the church and spend our time and energy BEING THE CHURCH.



Let's move past the Ananias and Sapphira story that is in direct contrast to that of Barnabas and see what was happening in the fellowship.

12At the hands of the apostles many signs and wonders were taking place among the people; and they were all with one accord in Solomon's portico. 13But none of the rest dared to associate with them; however, the people held them in high esteem. 14And all the more believers in the Lord, multitudes of men and women, were constantly added to their number, 17But the high priest rose up, along with all his associates (that is the sect of the Sadducees), and they were filled with jealousy. 18They laid hands on the apostles and put them in a public jail. 19But during the night an angel of the Lord opened the gates of the prison, and taking them out he said, 20"Go, stand and speak to the people in the temple the whole message of this Life."

The disciples of Jesus weren't able to be locked up, because the message of this life must be shared! So after they were freed by God from the jail, they went back into the Temple to continue teaching about Jesus. The jail-break and the freedom the disciples felt to continue to lift up the NAME OF JESUS embarrassed the religious leadership. So, they brought them back in, giving them strict orders not to speak in the NAME.

Peter responded to this: "We must obey God rather than men". This infuriated these leaders badly enough that they intended to put them to death! Then God used a Pharisee by the name of Gamaliel, who was a teacher of the Law, highly respected by all the people. Gamaliel was one of Paul's teachers, too.

"Men of Israel, take care what you propose to do with these men. 36"For some time ago Theudas rose up, claiming to be somebody, and a group of about four hundred men joined up with him. But he was killed, and all who followed him were dispersed and came to nothing. 37"After this man, Judas of Galilee rose up in the days of the census and drew away some people after him; he too perished, and all those who followed him were scattered. 38"So in the present case, I say to you, stay away from these men and let them alone, for if this plan or action is of men, it will be overthrown; 39but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them; or else you may even be found fighting against God."

NOTE this very carefully. The Lord uses here a religious leader to calm the angry leaders down and to put everything into perspective. Who was this man? 1. He was a well-respected man. 2. He was a God-fearing man. 3. He didn't have all the answers. 4. He was willing for God to demonstrate Himself by the fruit of the situation.

Gamaliel seems to have a heart bent toward the Lord, seeking His will and ways. You know, there are lots of people like Gamaliel out there, who may not be the "right" denomination or hold to the "right" doctrines and beliefs as you believe you do. Who was it that God used to gather the people of Nineveh to hear Jonah preach? It was the king! You see, our Lord is greater than our denominational or non-denominational affiliation and more awesome than our finite doctrinal boxes we have established. HE IS THE GOD OF GODS! So, be careful to keep out of His way, when He has a plan to raise up a leader that doesn't quite fit your list of "righteous" people.

NOTE the continuation of the movement: 42And every day, in the temple and from house to house, they kept right on teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ.

This is how it works! It's not only in Jerusalem, but the teaching and preaching of Jesus as God's Messiah is going on continually throughout the world! God continues to open doors that no man can shut and shut doors that no man can open! He is awesome!



1As they were speaking to the people, the priests and the captain of the temple guard and the Sadducees came up to them, 2being greatly disturbed because they were teaching the people and proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection from the dead. 3And they laid hands on them and put them in jail until the next day, for it was already evening. 4But many of those who had heard the message believed; and the number of the men came to be about five thousand. 5On the next day, their rulers and elders and scribes were gathered together in Jerusalem; 6and Annas the high priest was there, and Caiaphas and John and Alexander, and all who were of high-priestly descent. 7When they had placed them in the center, they began to inquire, "By what power, or in what name, have you done this?" 8Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, "Rulers and elders of the people, 9if we are on trial today for a benefit done to a sick man, as to how this man has been made well, 10let it be known to all of you and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead--by this name this man stands here before you in good health. Think of it. 5000 believed!

NOTE the disciples were asked IN WHAT NAME HAVE YOU DONE THIS? Then Peter has the opportunity to clarify it once more: BY THE NAME OF JESUS CHRIST, THE NAZARENE, BY THIS NAME THIS MAN STANDS HERE BEFORE YOU IN GOOD HEALTH. And then Peter goes on to elaborate on this NAME: 12"And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved." As a practicing Buddhist once said to me, "Jesus seems to trump everything else!" IN THE POWERFUL NAME OF JESUS.

Now we come to a most interesting observation that is encouraging to all of us. 13Now as they observed the confidence of Peter and John and understood that they were uneducated and untrained men, they were amazed, and began to recognize them as having been with Jesus. These normal, uneducated men were amazing as they spoke, because it was evident that they had been hanging out with Jesus.

The most compelling thing to all who were watching the happenings was the lame man, himself. It's possible to argue with someone about who Jesus is on an intellectual basis, but when it comes to the reality of a lame man being miraculously healed, this was overwhelming! I call it the LAME MAN PRINCIPLE! It's so much more powerful to hear from the healed lame man than the agents of healing. This is the highest credibility and most persuasive evidence of all to everyone! You see this in verse 14: 14And seeing the man who had been healed standing with them, they had nothing to say in reply.

18And when they had summoned them, they commanded them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. 19But Peter and John answered and said to them, "Whether it is right in the sight of God to give heed to you rather than to God, you be the judge; 20for we cannot stop speaking about what we have seen and heard." 21When they had threatened them further, they let them go (finding no basis on which to punish them) on account of the people, because they were all glorifying God for what had happened; 22for the man was more than forty years old on whom this miracle of healing had been performed.

One more thing here in chapter 4: 32And the congregation of those who believed were of one heart and soul; and not one of them claimed that anything belonging to him was his own, but all things were common property to them. 33And with great power the apostles were giving testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and abundant grace was upon them all. 34For there was not a needy person among them, for all who were owners of land or houses would sell them and bring the proceeds of the sales 35and lay them at the apostles' feet, and they would be distributed to each as any had need. 36Now Joseph, a Levite of Cyprian birth, who was also called Barnabas by the apostles (which translated means Son of Encouragement), 37and who owned a tract of land, sold it and brought the money and laid it at the apostles' feet.

I've noticed that every ministry where Jesus is dynamically working within a fellowship there is always a few who become unusually committed to the point of great generosity. These few are used of God to literally launch a ministry to a whole new level. This was the case of Barnabas. And even his name says it all. The meaning of Barnabas is SON OF ENCOURAGEMENT. His example of selling a property he owned and giving it all to the local fellowship must have been a real encouragement to the young fellowship in Jerusalem. Later in this study we'll see others who step forward-many business men and women-to underwrite the needs of the fellowship.

So, there you have it. God uses ordinary people, even uneducated and untrained, in unusual ways to do wonderful things! But the most effective thing in being persuasive about Jesus is to use the LAME MAN PRINCIPLE.

Who are the "lame men" in your life-the people in whom you have invested your life, those fellow followers of Jesus who have experienced Jesus because of you? When they share their stories, people listen!

By the way, this is at the core of what Jesus meant when He said that His disciples will do greater works than He did. The NAME OF JESUS is powerful all by itself, but there is nothing more attractive than the powerful NAME OF JESUS transforming someone's life-forever!



1Now Peter and John were going up to the temple at the ninth hour, the hour of prayer. 2And a man who had been lame from his mother's womb was being carried along, whom they used to set down every day at the gate of the temple which is called Beautiful, in order to beg alms of those who were entering the temple. 3When he saw Peter and John about to go into the temple, he began asking to receive alms. 4But Peter, along with John, fixed his gaze on him and said, "Look at us!" 5And he began to give them his attention, expecting to receive something from them. 6But Peter said, "I do not possess silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you: In the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene-walk!" 7And seizing him by the right hand, he raised him up; and immediately his feet and his ankles were strengthened. 8With a leap he stood upright and began to walk; and he entered the temple with them, walking and leaping and praising God.

Like most of us, this man who had been lame from birth, was confused about what he really needed. He wanted something from them-money-that was not going to bring healing to his core problem. He was willing to "settle" for something less than he needed. Yet God had a different idea as He always does. The Lord used Peter and John to bring real healing to his problem.

9And all the people saw him walking and praising God; 10and they were taking note of him as being the one who used to sit at the Beautiful Gate of the temple to beg alms, and they were filled with wonder and amazement at what had happened to him.

NOTE when all the people saw the lame man walking and praising God, they recognized him as being the same man who had sat at this gate, begging for years! They were in shock over it all.

Even though the people were impressed with what had happened through Peter and John, Peter made it clear that this was not done by their own man-made power: 11While he was clinging to Peter and John, all the people ran together to them at the so-called portico of Solomon, full of amazement. 12But when Peter saw this, he replied to the people, "Men of Israel, why are you amazed at this, or why do you gaze at us, as if by our own power or piety we had made him walk?

Then Peter clearly declares that this healing occurred by faith in the NAME of Jesus, 16And on the basis of faith in His name, it is the name of Jesus which has strengthened this man whom you see and know; and the faith which comes through Him has given him this perfect health in the presence of you all.

NOTE that the power for this miraculous healing came through the NAME OF JESUS. I like the song we sing: Jesus, Jesus, Jesus;There's just something about that name! Master, Savior, Jesus, Like the fragrance after the rain; Jesus, Jesus, Jesus; Let all heaven and earth proclaim; Kings and kingdoms will all pass away, But there's something about that name!

There is something about that name and we're going to see the power of the name of Jesus unfold throughout this book study. In the meantime, do everything you can to embrace the teachings and principles of Jesus. His name will become more real and dynamic to you as we walk through this book.