Acts 10-12: Christians

For a whole year they met with the church, and taught a large company of people; and in Antioch the disciples were for the first time called Christians.

Acts 11:26, RSV

 

And Jesus came and said to them, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age."

Matthew 28:18-20, RSV

 

It's interesting to see just how well the teachings of the Bible fit together. In our reading for today, we come across the statement that the disciples were called Christians. But, what is a disciple? Perhaps the best definition of disciple involves terms such as "follower", "student", "adherent", etc. The idea is that a disciple is one who studies and adheres to the teaching of the one that they follow.

 

Jesus had explained this quite thoroughly when He gave his disciples the instructions we read above in Matthew 28, just prior to His departure from this world. In that instruction, Jesus revealed that disciples were made by baptizing them. In the teachings throughout the Book of Acts, we find that this baptism is always one of a believer, and it follows a confession of that belief (a calling on His name), and a repentance of sins.

 

But Jesus' instructions recorded in Matthew 28 reveal more than just how to become a disciple of Christ (which we read in the passage above is the same thing as a Christian), He also indicates how to continue to be a disciple - by observing all that He commanded. That in its essence is what the New Testament is: A teaching of everything that Jesus commanded.

 

Isn't it wonderful that the Bible is so perfectly fit together that men can understand and obey its teachings, so that we can be every bit as much a Christian today as the disciples of Christ were when the church began some 2,000 years ago!

 

The reading for these three days is Acts 10-12. This reading continues to reveal the history of the church in it's earliest time.

Acts 7-9: What Do You Do When You're Wrong About Jesus?

But Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem.

Now as he journeyed he approached Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven flashed about him. And he fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, "Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?"

And he said, "Who are you, Lord?" And he said, "I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting; but rise and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do."

Acts 9:1-6, RSV

 

Just imagine what Saul must have felt like. He was a devout Jew and he certainly believed in the promised Messiah, but he definitely didn't believe that Jesus was that Messiah that all of Israel had been looking for. Since Saul did not believe, he did everything he could to wipe out everyone who followed Jesus. He had just gotten finished helping others who did not believe in Jesus put a Christian named Stephen to death, and he was anxious to continue his purge of all who followed the one whom he believed to be a false Messiah.

 

That's when it happened! On the way to Damascus where he intended to find other followers of Jesus to have them thrown in to prison or worse, Jesus appeared to him. And His appearance was so convincing, that it was obvious to Saul that he had been wrong about Jesus all along. But, what could he do now? He already had innocent blood on his hands so surely Jesus would not want him of all people to become a disciple. But if that is what Saul was thinking, Saul was wrong.

 

You see, Saul was very sincere in his service to God, he just didn't think that Jesus was His Son. So when he found out that Jesus was indeed God's Son, Saul repented. The word "repentance" means to turn around, and that is exactly what Saul did. He turned from his error of persecuting those who followed Christ, to actually following Christ himself. In fact, it was Jesus who commanded him to do so. And Saul, who though a bit slow to realize the truth, could not deny that truth when he came face to face with it.

 

And in this story, we find out one of the most beautiful things of God's grace. Regardless of how wrong and evil we have been, He will still allow us to repent. Saul (who was soon to become the apostle Paul) did repent and the rest is history.

 

What about you?

 

One more thought: Had Saul not repented, despite the powerful effects of God's grace, Saul would have still been lost forever. For while God will allow us all to repent, as long as we have the breath to do so, He does require that repentance in order for us to be saved.

 

The reading for these three days is the 7th through the 9th chapters of Acts. They tell us all about just how much God is willing to forgive, if we will simply repent and turn back to Him.

Acts 5-6: Obeying God Rather than Man

The apostles were brought in and made to appear before the Sanhedrin to be questioned by the high priest. “We gave you strict orders not to teach in this name,” he said. “Yet you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and are determined to make us guilty of this man’s blood.”

Peter and the other apostles replied: “We must obey God rather than human beings!

Acts 5:27-29, NIV

 

Contained within this short passage is one of the most difficult predicaments that we find ourselves forced to deal with. What do you do when the proper authorities of man come into conflict with the authority of God? While the consequences may be difficult, the answer to the question is not: When our human authorities differ from the Word of God, God wins every time!

 

In the passage above, we find the apostles preaching about Jesus. They have received the command to preach from God, but the Jewish authorities (who, by the way, did have legal authority within Jerusalem given to them by the Roman government) have commanded them not to preach in the name of Jesus. The apostles stated a simple fact that is just as relevant in our day and age as it was in theirs. The principle is that when we can be in agreement with both God and men, we do so. But when we can be in agreement with only one, that "one" has to be God.

 

The reason that this is so important is becoming clearer and clearer as each day goes by. We are being given new laws concerning the worship. A disease is being blamed for these laws, but they still are increasingly coming into conflict with God's instruction concerning our meeting together on the first day of the week. In addition to this, Bible teachings on sexual immorality and purity are now being challenged by our often corrupt, and even more often immoral, court system. What are we to do?

 

Again, the answer is simple even though the penalties for abiding by that answer are often not so simple. The fact remains. When God's laws are in conflict with man's laws, only one acceptable avenue is available to Christians, and it is the same answer that Peter and the rest of the apostles gave to their wicked leadership during their day and age: "We must obey God, rather than man."

 

One more thought: The only way we can know what God commands is by being familiar with His Word. This is why we read!

 

The reading for the next two days is from Acts chapters 5 & 6. These chapters contain many straight forward truths that we must be aware of and obey, if we are to be pleasing to God.

Acts 1-4: What Must We Do to Be Saved?

The world will be celebrating Easter this Sunday. While there are no specific commands within the Bible to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus on an annual basis, we do have the clear instruction to do so on each and every first day of the week. We are commanded to do so by taking of the Lord's Supper, the elements of which - the bread and the fruit of the vine - represent the body and blood of Jesus. 

 

But, as the title of this article suggests, this is not a lesson on the death, burial and resurrection of Christ, it is one of the salvation we are offered because of Jesus dying for our sins. In Acts chapter 2, we have a number of verses that tell us what we need to do to have our sins removed and to be saved.

 

Acts 2:21 tells us that those who call on the name of the Lord will be saved. Romans 10:9-13 explains how to call on the name of the Lord, specifically, through our confession that Jesus is Lord.  The apostle John tells us in I John 4:15 that those who acknowledge that Jesus is the Son of God will live in God (and He will live in them), and Acts 22:16 relates the command to Paul to be baptized and to call on His name.

 

Speaking of baptism's role, Acts 2:38 contains the command to repent and be baptized in order to have our sins removed, and I Peter 3:21 confirms the requirement of baptism, telling us that it is this baptism that now saves us.

 

Finally, Acts 2:41 reveals the necessity of belief, for we are told that those who accepted the message were baptized. John 3:16 also tells us of the absolute requirement of belief in Jesus for salvation.

 

All of the commands contained in Acts 2 - belief, repentance, baptism, calling on His name (our confession of belief) - all hinge on the need to hear the word, which we are also told will save us, if we hold fast to the Word. Add this to the role that God played - grace, the part that Jesus took - his death, burial and resurrection, and the role of the Holy Spirit - His sanctifying works, and we have Gods plan of salvation.

 

Of course, we must remain faithful to the Word and live the Christian life that God has commanded if we are to continue in our salvation, but this life of faithfulness should be viewed as the blessing that it is, rather than the curse that the world makes it out to be. In fact, Acts 2:42 tells us the elements of this new life by revealing that the new Christians devoted themselves to the Apostle's teaching (the Word), to the fellowship (their meeting together),  to the breaking of bread (the Lord's Supper), and to prayer.

 

One more thing: Without Jesus' sacrifice and resurrection, we would not even have a chance. Is it any wonder, then, that God commands us to commemorate the death, burial and resurrection for not just one special day a year, but every first day of the week!

 

The reading for these four days is Acts 1-4. It gives us a great basis for salvation and the rest of our lives in God and Christ's service.

 

John 19-21: A Second Chance

When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, "Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?" He said to him, "Yes, Lord; you know that I love you." He said to him, "Feed my lambs."

A second time he said to him, "Simon, son of John, do you love me?" He said to him, "Yes, Lord; you know that I love you." He said to him, "Tend my sheep."

He said to him the third time, "Simon, son of John, do you love me?" Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, "Do you love me?" And he said to him, "Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you." Jesus said to him, "Feed my sheep.

John 21:15-17, RSV

 

Have you ever thought how beautiful this passage truly is? It occurred after Jesus had risen from the dead, and therefore after Peter had denied Jesus three times on the eve of His crucifixion. I imagine Peter would still have been devastated at the thought of having denied his Lord and Savior and friend. After Peter had the courage to stand side by side with Jesus, sword in hand, in the garden, he had then run for his life. Then, when he had finally worked up the courage to go and see what was to become of Jesus, he denied even knowing him, not once, but three times.

 

You can only imagine how low Peter must have felt, even after Jesus had risen from the dead. For though we know he was overjoyed at the knowledge that Jesus lived, he still must have had tremendous shame at his having abandoned and denied the One whom he had so boldly promised he would never deny.

 

And then we find this scene: Jesus asks Peter, not once, but three times, "Do you love me?" And Peter is given three opportunities, the same number of times he had denied, to now affirm his love for his friend and savior. And Jesus lets Peter know that he is welcomed back into His service by being told to feed his sheep.

 

And Peter takes this second chance by doing this very thing for the rest of his life.

 

When you think about it, we have all been given a second chance. What will we do with ours?

 

The reading for the 87th - 89th days of reading through the New Testament one chapter a day is from John chapters 19-21. It tells us all about that second chance.