Problems and Progress – Acts 14. RBT Notes, 16th March

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Today we see a three-fold pattern of radical, apostolic ministry. “Radical” is, of course, a vastly overused word today, especially when it comes to ministry. Neverthless, look at what these men are doing, and the pattern that their work lays down for us; what other word would you want to use?

So here’s the pattern, and in it the prescription for our ministries:

 

  1. When persecuted, carry on preaching the Gospel                 vv.1-7

Effective preaching and evangelism always get reactions. Here in Iconium there is belief as well as fury (vv.1-2). Notice that it’s the latter which convinces Paul and Barnabas to stay in the city, since they know that their message is getting through (v.3)! That doesn’t mean, though, that the apostles are seeking a quick promotion to heaven. They’ve proved that they’re no cowards, but reason that they’re more useful to the Lord alive than dead, so take news of further persecution as a sign to leave. Just so, the Holy Spirit makes us brave, and persevering, as well as wise. And there is no such thing as persevering without persecution!

 

  1. When misunderstood, carry on preaching the Gospel          vv.8-20

We quickly get discouraged when people don’t understand the Gospel, and are tempted to give up. Here, deep into pagan territory, misunderstandings were almost inevitable when the Bible’s message is opened up, so when a man is healed by God’s power through Paul, these pagans almost inevitably think that they’ve had a visit from a First Century divine version of Batman and Robin, and prepare sacrifices in their honour (vv.8-13).

Embarrassing; comical? Yes, both; but also a great opportunity, in all the mess, for preaching the Gospel. So here’s God’s truth in Jesus, skilfully presented for pagan ears. Luke either doesn’t give us the full address, or Paul got cut off in the furore before he could open up God’s grace in Jesus. Certainly, the Jews who came into the town knew that the apostles had a message about Jesus for everyone, and they didn’t want any more converts. Again, they come with zeal, and leave with shed blood. They’ll soon learn that their policy is futile: the Gospel and its servants, will carry on – and triumph.

 

  1. When you’ve done your share of the work, carry on preaching the Gospel         vv.21-28

Of course, that’s a misnomer. We have no ‘share’ of the work, if that means we’ve got permission to leave the battle because we’ve wielded the Gospel sword for a while. The Apostles return to places of success as well as hardship, and they carry on their ministry there, preaching, praying, and establishing leadership in the churches. What is the mark of a Christian? We keep on keeping on, believing, serving, preaching Christ.

 

A Prayer to Pray

Lord of the church, thankyou for the lives which blaze across the Book of Acts, modelling Christ and testifying to His truth. Father, I just long that You will use my life, and empower me to spend it proclaiming the majesty of Your grace. May I never waste a day, and may Your Spirit keep me trusting, serving and sacrificing til Christ comes or calls. Amen.

 

 

All the Ends of the Earth – Acts 10. RBT Notes, 11th March

Who is the Gospel for? Who did Jesus die for? Luke knows that we’re in for a shock, as we trace the story in this chapter: not only is the Roman Centurion Cornelius a Gentile, a pagan far from the covenant love of God, he is, well, a Roman, a member of the hated occupying force. And yet, like so many around the Roman Empire, he was a man who knew that his empire wasn’t so glorious, but was actually quite rotten, and he was seeking Israel’s God. What he discovers is that he would become the first-fruit of God’s intended harvest of the pagan world. Jesus’s blood was shed for the lost of every nation, to bring them to God. Cornelius and Peter, and we too, have quite a discovery to make.

 

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Peter is praying. Hungry as he is, he lapses into a strange state, and has an even stranger vision; and then the voice from the Lord comes (vv.9-15). He has no idea that this bizarre image – bacon rolls, prawn sandwiches and everything else he wouldn’t dream of touching – has everything to do with a man who has also encountered God, Cornelius (vv.1-8). Cornelius’ servants’ unclean, pagan feet are just about to muddy Peter’s carpet, and take him into a whole new world, where Peter discovers just how universal saving grace must be.

 

When these two leaders meet, you can hear the reserve in Peter’s voice: he doesn’t do parties with pagans, and still doesn’t know what this meeting’s for (vv.27-29). What he hears from Cornelius shatters him (vv.30-35): the gospel penny drops, and Peter realises that Jesus is for pagans. At last!

 

But before we sneer, we need to look at ourselves. How often do we feel that the Gospel is for certain people, and not others? How often does our effective prejudice hold us back from people who are different from us? And how patient is God, as He gently teaches us and leads us into experiences where our wrong notions are blown away? Sometimes it’s we Christians who most need grace, before we can ever share the Gospel of grace with others.

 

And share Peter does. He preaches Christ, and in a real Gentile Pentecost, the Spirit is given, tongues and all (vv.39-46). As the Lord’s they must be baptised. And in those three days’ fellowship and ministry, we have the first taste of the truly international church (vv.47-48). Hallelujah!

 

 

A Prayer to Pray

 

God of the nations, thankyou for this beautiful, funny, dramatic and moving account of Your glorious beginning of reaching the whole world for You Son. Please show me where my heart is prejudiced against others, and so against You. Teach me true Gospel faith, and give me a new Gospel-sharing heart. Amen.