Posts Tagged With: early church

The Man Who Bore the Stigmata

YOU are poetry personified.

A living, breathing, warm-blooded, lyrically beautiful poem.

Want proof? Here’s proof:

His name is Saul of Tarsus.

To us, he will forever be memorialized as the celebrated Apostle Paul. Though, as you will hear in this PODCAST, he would reject out of hand that lofty adjective “celebrated.”

We celebrate Paul because we owe to him more than we could ever hope to repay. For starters, thirteen epistles preserved as New Testament Scripture. Which, when taken together, form 23% of NT.

It is true that our old friend Luke was actually the more prolific of the two—Luke wrote slightly more of the New Testament in terms of word count, 27%. (And BTW, in case you are interested, the Apostle John gets the bronze medal—John’s Gospel, 3 epistles, Revelation combine for 20% of the New Testament.)

It is to Luke we owe a huge debt of gratitude for his compelling biography of Jesus and his gripping history of the ancestors in our faith, in whose glow we bask each week as we study this great book of Acts.

But it is really Paul who more than any other biblical writer lays for us theological foundation for our faith.

So while we do indeed, and for good reason, celebrate the vaunted apostle, he would describe himself as the least—λχιστος (a superlative, “less than the least”)—of all the apostles (1 Cor. 15:9). And Eph 3:8, “less than the least of all God’s people.”

This was not false modesty on Paul’s part. Not at all. This was a guy who was abundantly self-aware. He knew the roots from which he sprang. He knew that his very first mention in the New Testament places him at scene of, and makes him complicit in, the stoning of Stephen. Not Paul’s finest hour by any stretch.

Paul understood that all that he was was do solely and singularly to God’s amazing grace. The chorus of which he sung regularly and repeatedly.

So much for us to learn and know and appreciate and to emulate in this marvelous man. Let’s meet him now.

Please remember that depending upon your web browser and connection speed, it may take up to 60 seconds for this podcast to begin to play.

God bless you richly as you listen.

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Pivot-Point

I LOVE meeting new friends.

As you are about to hear in this PODCAST, we have the privilege of meeting yet-another. A standout individual. A stellar human being. Though given his humility, I am sure that he would not be comfortable with my characterization.

His name is Stephanos. Significantly, a Greek name. (As we learned last week, a not-so-trivial factoid.)

A man affectionately known to us as Stephen.

A name that means “crown.” In Stephen’s case, a well-deserved crown that he is no doubt wearing in Heaven as we speak.

A man who stood as—and at—pivot-point of history.

There haven’t been many of those throughout human history. But the event about which you will hear certainly rises to that level of an event after which our world, let alone our lives, would never be the same again.

Please remember that depending upon your web browser and connection speed, it may take up to 60 seconds for this podcast to begin to play.

God bless you richly as you listen.

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THE Man who was God’s Reward

He is the unsung hero of Church History.

As you will hear in this PODCAST, I would not be overstating the case to suggest that if it wasn’t for this individual, there would be no Church History.

Indeed, if it wasn’t for him, all twelve apostles would have been executed, summarily stoned to death on the spot.

Hear it for yourself in Acts 5:33, “When they heard this, the high council was furious and decided to kill the apostles.”

And they surely Would.Have.Killed the apostles—all of the apostles—if it wasn’t for this one man. This one man who wasn’t even a believer in Jesus. This one man who stood as a buffer between the High Priest and the Apostles.

His name was Gamaliel. And whether you have heard of him before or not, he factors prominently in the development of the New Testament Church in multiple ways.

Gamaliel, a man who certainly lived up to the meaning of his legendary name: “The Reward of God.” For God surely rewarded the faithful obedience of the twelve apostles by sovereignly superintending Gamaliel to be an honorable member of the dishonorable High Council.

Please remember that depending upon your web browser and connection speed, it may take up to 60 seconds for this podcast to begin to play.

God bless you richly as you listen.

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A Fury Unleashed

“The apostles (rejoiced that) God had counted them worthy to suffer disgrace for the name of Jesus.”

As you will hear in this PODCAST, a most-interesting word, “disgrace.” Both the NKJV and the NASB translate it “worthy to suffer shame for the name of Jesus.” In the ESV? “Worthy to suffer dishonor for the name of Jesus.

It’s a word that means to render infamous through insult, innuendo, and/or intimidation; to strip someone of their honor and dignity; to sully one’s name and reputation.

This is the exact same pattern that we saw with Jesus—a gradual escalation of opposition against Him, that we are now seeing intensify against the Apostles.

In Acts 4, Peter and John were arrested, imprisoned, warned, and threatened.

Here in Acts 5, all twelve Apostles were arrested, imprisoned, and flogged. They were publicly disgraced, purposefully stripped of their honor as well as their skin, insulted, rendered infamous, their reputations sullied before the watching world.

It should therefore come as no surprise that come Acts 7, the situation will have escalated to the point to where Stephen will be stoned to death.

So what happened now to cause this next step in the escalation of opposition and intimidation? Fact is, it’s really quite a story! One that give to us a heartwarming insight into the thinking and feelings of this first generation of committed Christ-followers. A window both into their world and into their souls.

Please remember that depending upon your web browser and connection speed, it may take up to 60 seconds for this podcast to begin to play.

God bless you richly as you listen.

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A Sin Unto Death

Acts 5:1(NLT)—“But there was a certain man named Ananias who, with his wife, Sapphira, sold some property.” Hmmm…

Just try to imagine for a second this otherwise unimaginable scenario, as related in this PODCAST:

A highly-respected individual walks into the cozy confines of Safe Haven, only to drop dead on the spot.

Some time later, his unsuspecting wife walks in, and she too keels over, stone-cold dead.

That is exactly what happened here in Acts 5, one of the most mysterious and misunderstood narratives in all of the Bible.

For starters: That word “But,” δ—as in “But there was a certain man named Ananias who, with his wife, Sapphira, sold some property”—is ominous in the extreme.

In the technical grammar of the passage, δ is an adversative particle, signaling something that could be translated: “On the other hand”; or, “Contrary to what you just read”; or, “By way of a startling, scandalous, and jaw-dropping contrast”…

Alerted by that pesky particle, I can tell you that we are about to hear a strange story, a sobering saga, a troubling tale that sounds totally out of character as far as God is concerned.

Or is it?

A head-turning happening that prompts us to ask three questions:

1. Why did this happen?

2. Could this happen today?

3. What does it all mean for us?

Since context is everything, let me begin by first giving you the backstory.

Please remember that depending upon your web browser and connection speed, it may take up to 60 seconds for this podcast to begin to play.

God bless you richly as you listen.

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Your God-Given Prayer Language

As you will hear in this PODCAST, I stand in awe of our ancestors in the faith, the very first community of Christ-followers ever to walk this planet.

By way of introduction, do you remember when, so very long ago, we studied the Sermon on the Mount?

Let me remind you that Jesus introduced His signature sermon with 8 pronouncements of God’s blessing—We call them the Beatitudes. The most enigmatic of the 8 being Beatitude #3 that goes like this:

“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth” (Matthew 5:5).

You are about to see in full color, in High Definition, exactly what meek looks like, courtesy of our earliest brothers and sisters in the faith.

Before we get to that, there is one additional Beatitude to which I want to direct your attention. It happens to be Beatitude #8, the last of Jesus’ pronouncements of God’s blessing. It reads:

“Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Matthew 5:10).

Did you know that the words persecute/persecution/persecuted occur in the Bible a combined 142 times? In the minds of the biblical writers, it was a foregone conclusion that they and all of God’s people would be persecuted for our faith.

Jesus certainly understood this, He being the ultimate example of someone who was continuously hounded, hunted, and finally executed—persecuted—for His faith.

Persecution, Jesus repeatedly reminded His disciples, was the price tag for becoming one of His followers.

Perscute—to pursue in a hostile manner, to harass, to trouble, to molest, to mistreat.

Well, Jesus’ many warnings were now coming true for these very first committed Christ-followers. Indeed, what we are about to learn here in Acts 4 was only the beginning.

Please remember that depending upon your web browser and connection speed, it may take up to 60 seconds for this podcast to begin to play.

God bless you richly as you listen.

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A Dazzling Day of Astonishing Amazement

“For more than forty years.”

As you will hear in this PODCAST, five simple words, easily missed if we hastily read the account as recorded for us by Dr. Luke.

Five astonishing words that unlock this entire episode in the life of the first early church in Jerusalem.

“For more than forty years.”

For more than forty years, everywhere this man went someone had to carry him.

For more than forty years this man never knew the simple pleasure of standing on his own two feet.

For more than forty years this man knew nothing of the joys of going for a walk, let alone a jog.

For more than forty years he could never once kick a soccer ball, hit a baseball, throw a football, or run through the waves as they lapped upon the shore of the Mediterranean.

For more than forty years this man never knew a healthy day—never knew for even a minute what it would be like to have two legs that weren’t as limp as dishrags.

For more than forty years this man had in his legs no feeling, no movement, no sensations of any kind.

For more than forty years this man could go up to the Temple courts to beg, but never into Temple to worship since he was prohibited from doing so in Leviticus 21.

For more than forty years this man knew nothing but the prospect of yet another day spent stretching out his arms, reaching out his hands, and begging for alms.

For more than forty years he was forced to endure being ignored, refused, looked down upon, and judged as a sinner.

Such was the life of one man for more than forty years.

This poor beggar, bereft of health, robbed of any hope of self-respect, devoid of any semblance of a life.

Until this day when Peter and John showed up.

Please remember that depending upon your web browser and connection speed, it may take up to 60 seconds for this podcast to begin to play.

God bless you richly as you listen.

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