THE STORY OF THE EARLY CHURCH
Verses preaching the "Gospel of Jesus"
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32.1 PETER SPEAKS TO JEWS VISITING JERUSALEM FOR PENTECOST
- In this first recorded sermon, the apostle Peter explains to Jews visiting Jerusalem, how the followers of the crucified Jesus are able to speak to them in their own foreign languages. As foretold by the Old Testament prophet Joel, they are filled with the Holy Spirit, promised by Jesus after his death and resurrection:
Acts 2:14-36 - Then Peter, with the eleven (apostles) standing by him, raised his voice and addressed them: "Fellow Jews, and all who are living in Jerusalem, listen carefully to what I say while I explain to you what has happened! These men are not drunk as you suppose - it is after all only nine o'clock in the morning of this great feast day. No, this is something which was predicted by the prophet Joel (of Judah, c 800BC, in his Book of that name),
'And it shall come to pass in the last days, says God, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your young men shall see visions, your old men shall dream dreams. And on my menservants and on my maidservants I will pour out my Spirit in those days and they shall prophesy. I will show wonders in heaven above and signs in the earth beneath: blood and fire and vapour of smoke. The sun shall be turned into darkness and the moon into blood, before the coming of the great and notable day of the Lord. And it shall come to pass that whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.' (Joel 2:28-32)
"Men of Israel, I beg you to listen to my words. Jesus of Nazareth was a man proved to you by God himself through the works of power, the miracles and the signs which God showed through him here amongst you - as you very well know. This man, who was put into your power by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed up and murdered, and you used for your purpose men without the Law (the Gentile Romans)! But God would not allow the bitter pains of death to touch him. He raised him to life again - and indeed there was nothing by which death could hold such a man. When (King) David speaks about him he says,
'I foresaw the Lord always before my face, for he is at my right hand, that I may not be shaken; therefore my heart rejoiced, and my tongue was glad; moreover my flesh will also rest in hope, because you will not leave my soul in Hades (hell or the grave), nor will you allow your holy one to see corruption. You have made known to me the ways of life; you will make me full of joy in your presence.' (Psalm 16:8-11)
"Men and brother-Jews, I can surely speak freely to you about the patriarch David (the psalmist and King of Israel). There is no doubt that he (David) died and was buried, and his grave is here among us (in Jerusalem) to this day. But while he was alive he was a prophet. He knew that God had given him a most solemn promise that he would place one of his descendants upon his throne. He foresaw the resurrection of Christ, and it is this of which he is speaking. Christ was not deserted in death and his body was never destroyed. 'Christ is the man Jesus, whom God raised up - a fact of which all of us are eye-witnesses!' He has been raised to the right hand of God; he has received from the Father and poured out upon us the promised Holy Spirit - that is what you now see and hear! David never ascended to Heaven, but he certainly said,
'The Lord said to my Lord, Sit at my right hand, till I make your enemies your footstool'. (Psalm 110:1)
"Now therefore the whole nation of Israel must know beyond the shadow of a doubt that this Jesus, whom you crucified, God has declared to be both Lord and Christ (the promised Messiah of the Jewish people)."
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32.2 PETER SPEAKS AFTER HEALING THE CRIPPLED MAN
- Outside the Jerusalem Temple in his second recorded sermon, Peter explains to the crowd how the crippled man was healed in the name of the risen Jesus. He is the Christ foretold by the prophets, and through whom God wants all people to repent of their sins:
Acts 3:12-26 - When Peter saw this (the excited reaction to the healing) he spoke to the crowd. "Men of Israel, why are you so surprised at this, and why are you staring at us as though we had made this man walk through some power or piety of our own? It is the God of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob, the God of our fathers, who has done this thing to honour his servant Jesus - the man whom you betrayed and denied in the presence of Pilate, even when he had decided to let him go. But you disowned the holy and righteous one, and begged to be granted instead a man (Barabbas) who was a murderer! You killed the prince of life, but God raised him from the dead - a fact of which we are eye-witnesses. It is the name of this same Jesus, it is faith in that name, which has cured this man whom you see and recognise. Yes, it was faith in Christ which gave this man perfect health and strength in full view of you all.
Peter explains ancient prophecy
"Now of course I know, my brothers, that you had no idea what you were doing any more than your leaders had. But God had foretold through all his prophets that his Christ must suffer and this was how his words came true. Now you must repent and turn to God so that your sins may be wiped out, that time after time your souls may know the refreshment that comes from the presence of God. Then he will send you Jesus, your long-heralded Christ (or Messiah), although for the time he must remain in Heaven until that universal restoration of which God spoke in ancient times through all his holy prophets. For Moses said,
'The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from your brethren. Him you shall hear in all things, whatever he says to you. And it shall come to pass that every soul who will not hear that prophet shall be utterly destroyed from among the people.' (Deuteronomy 18:15,18,19)
Indeed, all the prophets from Samuel (c 1100BC, the Judge and prophet who appointed Saul and David to be the first kings of Israel) onwards who have spoken at all have foretold these days. You are the sons of the prophets and heirs of the agreement which God made with our fathers when he said to Abraham,
'And in your seed all the families of the earth shall be blessed.' (Genesis 22:18; 26:4)
It was to you first that God sent his servant after he had raised him up, to bring you great blessing by turning every one of you away from his evil ways."
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32.3 PETER DEFENDS THE HEALING BEFORE THE SANHEDRIN
- The apostles Peter and John are under arrest. They explain to the Sanhedrin how the crippled man was healed in the name of the risen Jesus Christ, the only name in God's sight, by which men and women can be saved:
Acts 4:8-12 - At this (being asked by members of the Sanhedrin by what power and authority he had healed the man outside the Temple) Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit (the same Peter who was scared of one young woman during the trial of Jesus ....), spoke to them "Leaders of the people and elders, if we are being called in question today over the matter of a kindness done to a helpless man and as to how he was healed, it is high time that all of you and the whole people of Israel knew that it was done in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth! He is the one whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead, and it is by his power that this man at our side stands in your presence perfectly well. He is the
'stone which was rejected by you builders, which has become the chief cornerstone' (Psalm 118:22).
In no once else (other than Jesus Christ) can salvation be found. For in all the world no other name has been given to men but this, and it is by this name that we must be saved!"
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32.4 THE ARRESTED APOSTLES APPEAR BEFORE THE SANHEDRIN AGAIN
- The apostles are arrested a second time, and miraculously walk out of prison to continue speaking about Jesus in the Temple. After re-arrest, they are again brought before the Sanhedrin. They explain they must obey God, and not men ....
Acts 5:29-32 - Then Peter and the apostles answered him (the High Priest), "It is our duty to obey the orders of God rather than the orders of men. It was the God of our fathers who raised up Jesus, whom you murdered by hanging him on a cross of wood. God has raised this man to his own right hand as prince and saviour, to bring repentance and the forgiveness of sins to Israel. What is more, we are witnesses to these matters, and so is the Holy Spirit which God gives to those who obey his commands."
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32.5 STEPHEN DEFENDS HIMSELF AGAINST CHARGES OF BLASPHEMY
- Stephen, one of the first "deacons" is brought before the Sanhedrin to answer charges of blasphemy. In describing the history of Israel, he shows how the Jewish people have always rejected the prophets and disobeyed God's Law:
Acts 7:1-53 -
THE TIME OF ABRAHAM
Then the High Priest said, "Is this statement true?" (... that Jesus will destroy the Temple and change the customs of Moses.)
And Stephen answered, "My brothers and my fathers, listen to me. Our glorious God appeared to our forefather Abraham while he was in Mesopotamia (Ur of the Chaldees c 1,800BC, in present-day Iraq) before he ever came to live in Haran (the Turkish-Syrian border area), and said to him,
'Get out of your country and from your relatives, and come to a land that I will show you.' (Genesis 12:1)
That was how he came to leave the land of the Chaldeans and settle in Haran. And it was from there after his father's death that God moved him into this very land where you are living today (Judea). Yet God gave him no part of it as an inheritance, not a foot that he could call his own, and yet promised that it should eventually belong to him and his descendants - even though at the time he had no descendant at all. And this is the way in which God spoke to him: he told him that his descendants should live as strangers in a foreign land (Egypt) where they would become slaves and be ill-treated for four hundred years,
'And the nation to whom they will be in bondage I will judge,' (Genesis 15:14) said God:
'and after that they shall come out and serve me in this place.' (Exodus 3:12)
"Further, he gave him the agreement of circumcision, so that when Abraham became the father of Isaac he circumcised him on the eighth day.
"Isaac became the father of Jacob, and Jacob (later called Israel) the father of the twelve patriarchs (or tribes of Israel). Then the patriarchs in their jealousy of Joseph (of the "coat of many colours") sold him as a slave into Egypt. But God was with him and saved him from all his troubles and gave him favour and wisdom in the eyes of Pharaoh the king of Egypt. Pharaoh made him governor of Egypt and put him in charge of his own entire household.
"Then came the famine over all the land of Egypt and Canaan which caused great suffering, and our forefathers could find no food. But when Jacob heard that there was corn in Egypt he sent our forefathers out of their own country for the first time. It was on their second visit that Joseph was recognised by his brothers, and his ancestry became plain to Pharaoh. Then Joseph sent and invited to come and live with him his father and all his kinsmen, seventy-five people in all. So Jacob came down to Egypt and both he and our fathers ended their days there. After their deaths they were carried back into Shechem and laid in the tomb which Abraham had bought with silver from the sons of Hamor in Shechem.
"But as the time drew near for the fulfilment of the promise which God had made to Abraham, our people grew more and more numerous in Egypt. Finally another king came to the Egyptian throne who knew nothing of Joseph. This man cleverly victimised our race. He treated our forefathers abominably, forcing them to expose our infant children so that the race should die out.
GOD'S PROVIDENCE AND MOSES
"It was at this very time that Moses was born (c 1,300BC). He was a child of remarkable beauty, and for three months he was brought up in his father's house, and then when the time came for him to be abandoned Pharaoh's daughter adopted him and brought him up as her own son. So Moses was trained in all the wisdom of the Egyptians, and became not only an excellent speaker but a man of action as well.
Moses' first abortive attempt at rescue
"Now when he was turned forty the thought came into his mind that he should go and visit his own brothers, the sons of Israel. He saw one of them being unjustly treated, went to the rescue and paid rough justice for the man who had been ill-treated by striking down the Egyptian (and killing him). He fully imagined that his brothers would understand that God was using him to rescue them. But they did not understand. Indeed, on the very next day he came upon two of them who were quarrelling and urged them to make peace, saying, 'Men, you are brothers. What good can come from your injuring each other?' But the man who was wronging his neighbour pushed Moses aside saying,
'Who made you a ruler and judge over us? Do you want to kill me as you killed that Egyptian yesterday?' (Exodus 2:14)
At that retort Moses fled and lived as an exile in the land of Midian (the north western part of present-day Saudi Arabia), where he became the father of two sons.
Moses hears the voice of God
"It was forty years later (at the age of 80) in the desert of Mount Sinai that an angel appeared to him in the flames of a burning bush, and the sight filled Moses with wonder. As he approached to look at it more closely the voice of the Lord spoke to him, saying,
'I am the God of your fathers - the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.' (Exodus 3:6)
Then Moses trembled and was afraid to look any more. But the Lord spoke to him and said,
'Take your sandals off your feet, for the place where you stand is holy ground. I have certainly seen the oppression of my people who are in Egypt; I have heard their groaning and have come down to deliver them. And now come, I will send you to Egypt.' (Exodus 3:5,7,8,10)
But Israel rejects Moses
"So this same Moses whom they had rejected in the words, 'Who made you a ruler and a judge?' God sent to be both ruler and deliverer with the help of the angel who had appeared to him in the bush. This is the man who showed wonders and signs in Egypt and in the Red Sea, the man who led them out of Egypt and was their leader in the desert for forty years. He was Moses, the man who said to the sons of Israel,
'The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from your brethren. Him you shall hear.' (Deuteronomy 18:15)
In that church in the desert this was the man who was the mediator between the angel who used to talk with him on Mount Sinai and our fathers. This was the man who received words, living words, which were to be given to you; and this was the man to whom our forefathers turned a deaf ear! They disregarded him, and in their hearts hankered after Egypt. They said to Aaron,
'Make us gods to go before us; as for this Moses who brought us out of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.' (Exodus 32:1)
In those days they even made a (golden) calf, and offered sacrifices to their idol. They rejoiced in the work of their own hands. So God turned away from them and left them to worship the Host of Heaven, as it is written in the book of the prophets,
'Did you offer me slaughtered animals and sacrifices during forty years in the wilderness, O house of Israel? Yes, you took up the tabernacle of Moloch, and the star of your god Remphan, images which you made to worship; and I will carry you away beyond Babylon.' (Amos 5:25-27)
God's privileges to Israel
"There in the desert our forefather possessed the Tabernacle of witness made according to the pattern which Moses saw when God instructed him to build it. This Tabernacle was handed down to our forefathers, and they brought it here when the Gentiles (of Canaan) were defeated under Joshua (c 1,200BC, the successor of Moses who led the tribes of Israel into the "promised land" at the end of the Exodus, and the subject of the Book of Joshua), for God drove them out as our ancestors advanced. Here it stayed until the time of David (c 1,000BC). David won the approval of God and prayed that he might find a habitation for the God of Jacob, even though it was not he but Solomon (King David's son) who actually built a house for him. Yet of course the most high does not live in man-made houses. As the prophet says,
'Heaven is my throne. and earth is my footstool. What house will you build for me? says the Lord, or what is the place of my rest? Has my hand not made all these things?' (Isaiah 66:1,2)
Yet Israel is blind and disobedient
"You obstinate people, heathen in your thinking, heathen in the way you are listening to me now! It is always the same - you never fail to resist the Holy Spirit! Just as your fathers did so are you doing now. Can you name a single prophet whom your fathers did not persecute? They killed the men who long ago foretold the coming of the just one (the Messiah), and now in our own day you have become betrayers and his murderers. You are the men who have received (from Moses) the Law of God miraculously, by the hand of angels, and you are the men who have disobeyed it!" (... at which the listeners go wild with fury.)
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