Acts

The First Forty Days

Monday: God’s Plan for History

Acts is the second volume of a two-volume history. The first volume is the Gospel according to Luke, written by the companion of the apostle Paul, and this is the second volume. Sometimes scholars refer to these books as “Luke/Acts.” We know they belong together, because the introductions link them. Luke begins by a dedication to a man whom he calls “most excellent Theophilus” (Luke 1:1-4), and Acts mentions Theophilus again, referring also to Luke’s “former book” (Acts 1:1).

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The First Forty Days

Tuesday: Historical Facts

We begin with Acts 1:1-11, verses that deal with the forty days between the resurrection of Jesus Christ and His ascension. These were important days, and Luke emphasizes important things as he reviews them. First, there is an emphasis upon the historical basis of Christianity. Luke tells Theophilus, to whom he is writing, that he is a historian and that he is going to continue the history that he began in his Gospel. In that earlier book he said that he had investigated the details of the life of Jesus Christ quite carefully and had written them down only after this investigation. Luke wants to continue that procedure in this volume. The things he wrote concern “all that Jesus began to do and to teach until the day he was taken up to heaven” (Acts 1:1). These things obviously are going to continue in the church by the power of the Holy Spirit. 

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The First Forty Days

Wednesday: The Living Christ

Thomas was the greatest of the skeptics. Even after the resurrection, when the other disciples had seen Christ and had come to Thomas to proclaim the resurrection, Thomas said, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe it” (John 20:25). But when Jesus appeared to Thomas this alone was sufficient to dispel all this doubter’s doubt. He fell before him with the confession, “My Lord and my God” (v. 28). This and other similar experiences are what Luke had in mind when he wrote of “convincing proofs.” He was saying, “I am going to chart the spread of Christianity. But I want you to know at the very beginning that this is a religion based upon historical facts, including even the amazing matter of the resurrection. The resurrection has been demonstrated by many convincing proofs, and it is proof of everything else that needs proving.”

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The First Forty Days

Thursday: Our Missionary Mandate

The disciples who were with Jesus in the days between His resurrection and ascension still had old-fashioned ideas, and one of these, as we know from the Gospels, was that the Kingdom of God was going to be established by political, earthly power. Their idea of the Messiah was a soldier like Judas Maccabeus (Judas the Hammer), who was going to be strong enough to drive out any occupying military forces. In these days, the land was occupied by Romans. So they were looking for a Messiah who would expel the Romans and set up the earthly kingdom of David. 

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The First Forty Days

Friday: Working Until the Lord’s Return

t the end of these verses we find a fourth principle for Christian living in this age. It is the expectation of the return of the Lord. This is the passage that tells of Christ’s ascension into heaven. During these days He had been appearing to the disciples on unanticipated occasions to teach them spiritual things. If that had continued, they might have thought, “Well, that’s the way it’s going to be forever. Every so often, Jesus will just be here to give us the kind of instruction we need.” That would have been their mentality. Jesus had to teach them that this phase of His work was ending. So there came the moment when Jesus bid them good-bye and then ascended visibly into heaven and disappeared from sight. 

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World Christians

Monday: To the Ends of the Earth

There are four geographical references in verse 8: Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and the ends of the earth. In the New International Version, the middle terms are combined by the verse’s punctuation so that there is a three-part progression: Jerusalem (comma), Judea and Samaria (comma), and the ends of the earth. This is because in the Greek text, the word “Samaria” does not have a definite article before it. The article occurs before “Judea,” which suggests that Judea and Samaria belong together, and this makes a three-part outline for the book. Acts 1-11 deals with the preaching of the Gospel in Jerusalem. In Acts 8-12 the gospel expands beyond Jerusalem into Judea and Samaria. Acts 13-28 records the expansion of the Gospel throughout the Roman world. 

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World Christians

Tuesday: The Kingdom Misunderstood

Acts 1:7-8 also corrects a misconception of the Lord’s plan by the disciples. Jesus told them that they would be empowered by the Holy Spirit, but the disciples were not thinking about spiritual things at this time. They were thinking about earthly kingdoms, and they asked Jesus, apparently just before His ascension, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” (v. 6). Their country was occupied by the Romans, and their chief desire was for a Messiah who would drive the Romans out.

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World Christians

Wednesday: A Spiritually Powerful Kingdom

We concluded yesterday’s study with our present task: We are to go out into the world and proclaim a kingdom that Jesus established by His death and resurrection. We need to examine this a bit further. I have already pointed out that the kingdom the disciples were expecting was a political kingdom that was ethnically and geographically restricted. Against that background, notice what Jesus Christ taught about the nature of the kingdom. 

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World Christians

Thursday: A Kingdom of Truth

Several years ago, the brilliant French writer Jacques Ellul wrote a book called The Political Illusion. It is a brilliant book, because it examines and exposes the mystique of political power. Ellul calls political power an illusion created by politicians, because they want to be thought powerful, and by the media, who feed on it. This is not the same thing as saying that the state is unimportant. God established the state to protect the innocent, secure the just punishment of the guilty, and defend its citizens against oppression—both from within and without. This involves power. But there is an illusion surrounding the political process, and it is this illusion of power which Ellul is debunking: the illusion that because a person possesses political office, somehow he or she can control events, change things and produce reformation in the world. Many people believe that, but it is not where true significant power is located. Otherwise, politicians would not be so sensitive to public opinion. 

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World Christians

Friday: Worldwide Kingdom

There is another error into which some are falling today, and this is the error of thinking that the kingdom of God is advanced by the “miraculous” or by what those who argue for it sometimes call “signs and wonders.” The argument is that where the Holy Spirit is active, there signs and wonders follow. According to exponents of this view, we should seek healings and miraculous demonstrations of God’s power in the church today. If that is what we are looking for, we are in error, because that is not what Jesus taught. Jesus taught that when we receive the power of the Holy Spirit, the result will not be miracles, signs or healings, but witnessing. 

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Preparing for Growth

Monday: Learning to Wait

The second half of Acts 1 deals with a period of waiting on the part of the disciples prior to the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, which is described in chapter 2. It lasted ten days. We know that it was ten days because the Holy Spirit came at Pentecost. Pentecost refers to the Feast of Weeks, which was held fifty days after Passover. Since the Lord was taken back to heaven forty days after the resurrection, there must have been a ten-day period in which the disciples waited in Jerusalem. 

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Preparing for Growth

Tuesday: Practicing Obedience

The first thing we see for the early Christians is that this ten-day period was a time to practice obedience. If we compare verse 12 with verse 4, we find that what the disciples did in verse 12 was a direct response to what the Lord Jesus Christ told them they were to do earlier. Earlier Jesus had said, “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about.” In verse 12, we find that this is precisely what they were doing. 

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Preparing for Growth

Wednesday: Being Constant in Prayer

What do you suppose they prayed for? We sometimes talk about prayer in terms of the “ACTS” acrostic: “A” for adoration, “C” for confession, “T” for thanksgiving and “S” for supplication. I can imagine that they did each of these four things, certainly adoration. After all, God had worked among them in a great way. God had sent the Lord Jesus Christ to die for their sins and then rise again from the dead. When they prayed in those days, they must have praised God for the wisdom, love, power and grace by which He had accomplished such a great plan of salvation in their time. 

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Preparing for Growth

Thursday: The Necessity of Bible Study

I notice that when Peter spoke about the need to replace Judas, he began to quote Scripture: “Brothers, the Scripture had to be fulfilled which the Holy Spirit spoke long ago through the mouth of David concerning Judas….” (v. 16). Later he quoted two specific passages: Psalm 69:25 (“May his place be deserted; let there be no one to dwell in it”) and Psalm 109:8 (“May another take his place of leadership”). This must mean that Peter was studying the Bible in those days and, probably, that the other disciples had been studying it too. 

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Preparing for Growth

Friday: Praying for Revival

The last thing the disciples did which is mentioned in these verses is that they recognized the need for leadership and took steps to supply it. In their case, it involved the election of Matthias to fill Judas’ place. 

Some people have been critical of the disciples at this point. They have suggested that because the disciples chose Matthias by lot—that is, as we would say, by drawing straws—they were acting like pagans, since this was a pagan way of doing things. Others have argued that since we never hear of Matthias again, he must not have been God’s choice to fill the vacancy. Some have looked at Paul and have concluded that he, rather than this relatively unknown man, must have been God’s choice to be the twelfth apostle.1

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Fellowship

Monday: Wind and Fire

Acts is short for “The Acts of the Apostles.” Yet when we look at the book closely, as we are doing—thinking not just of the historical flow of events and those through whom the Gospel was preached, but also about what was happening theologically—it is evident that Acts is actually a record of the activity of the Holy Spirit in spreading the Gospel through men and women of His choice, so that it could more properly be called “The Acts of the Holy Spirit through the Church.”

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Fellowship

Tuesday: The Breath of God

With yesterday’s discussion of “spirit” in mind we can go back to the Old Testament and find some interesting things. For example, at the very beginning of the Bible, Genesis 1:1-2 says, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.” In English the choice of words does not mean a whole lot. We think perhaps of the Holy Spirit as a dove somehow skimming over the waters that were covering the earth at that time. But that is not the idea at all. Rather the Holy Spirit of God is portrayed as God’s breath—as the creative, moving, dynamic breath of God. This breath—this divine, life-giving wind—is what is blowing across the waters at the beginning.

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Fellowship

Wednesday: Filled with the Spirit

When we put our previous discussions of “spirit” together we begin to get a sense of why the image of wind is so important in Acts 2. The text says, “Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting” (v. 2). That sounds very much like the story of the Spirit of God hovering over the waters of the earth at creation. So the suggestion is that here, in Acts, we have a new creation as important (more important in many ways) than the original creation of the heavens and the earth. That heaven and earth are destined to pass away, but what is done by the Spirit at Pentecost is eternal and will thereafter last forever.

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Fellowship

Thursday: Fire’s Light

Apart from God’s self-revelation men and women have no more than a faint idea of who God is. But when the Gospel comes there is light. People can see as they could not see before. They can see who God is and what the Gospel is. Perhaps as significant as anything, they can see what they are apart from Jesus Christ and what they can be in Him.

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Fellowship

Friday: Fire’s Warmth

The point is that, when the Holy Spirit comes in power, what we are to have is not some particularly intense experience—speaking in tongues, for example, so that in a miraculous way everybody will hear our words in his or her language—but rather a widespread speaking about Jesus. The point is that everyone will hear as the Gospel spreads through the testimony of those who are obeying the Great Commission. That is what you and I are called upon to do. That is the task to which the Lord Jesus Christ sends us.

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The Seromn that Won 3000 souls

Monday: Peter’s Model Sermon

Jesus had told His disciples that they were going to receive power and that after they had received it they were going to be His witnesses. They were going to begin at Jerusalem, and then they were going to go out from there into all the known world. This is what happened as the Holy Spirit came upon the disciples and Peter preached in Jerusalem.

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The Seromn that Won 3000 souls

Wednesday: A Christ-Centered Sermon

Second, the sermon is Christ-centered. This follows from the first point. If the sermon is biblical and if the Bible is about Jesus Christ, if He is its heart and substance, then a biblical sermon is inevitably a Christ-centered sermon.

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The Seromn that Won 3000 souls

Thursday: The Heart of Apostolic Preaching

It is interesting to notice what Peter had to say about Jesus. This part of the sermon begins at verse 22, after he has cited the text about Pentecost, and it continues to nearly the end. What is missing in these words, that we might have expected Peter as one who had accompanied Jesus through the three years of his active earthly ministry to have included, is Christ’s teachings. We might have expected Peter to have said, “The Lord Jesus Christ taught this or that or this other thing.” But Peter does not do it. He does not include the teachings.

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The Seromn that Won 3000 souls

Friday: Fearless and Reasonable

I have spent a great deal of time on the first two points of Peter’s sermon, that it was centered on the Bible and centered on Christ. They are of great importance. But let me mention two more things about Peter’s preaching.

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A Model Church

Monday: The Apostles Teaching

In this chapter we need to look at some of the things that are said about this model church. The key verse is verse 42: “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.”

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A Model Church

Tuesday: A Bible-Studying Church

How is it possible for us to focus on the apostolic teaching? The answer is obvious. These men gave us the New Testament. This is the deposit of their teaching. When it came time to collect the books that were to become our New Testament, the criterion by which that was done was whether they came from the apostles or bore the apostolic blessing. Moreover, the fact that we have our New Testament is a fulfillment of what Jesus Christ said He would do through these apostles. In order for us to copy the New Testament church at this point, as we should, we are to study the book these men have left us. It is in the New Testament that the authentic teaching of the Lord Jesus Christ is to be found.

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A Model Church

Wednesday: Devoted to Fellowship

As we saw in yesterday’s study, an evangelical, Spirit-filled, Bible-oriented church should offer many ways for people to get to know the Bible, but primarily through preaching. The second thing we need is fellowship. Not only did they devote themselves to the apostles’ teaching, the early church also devoted itself to fellowship at many levels.

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A Model Church

Thursday: A Worshiping Church

But if we are followers of Jesus Christ, if we have learned from Him, then we know that “a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions” (Luke 12:15), and that “it is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35). The standard set before us is the standard not of being served, but of serving. So our obligation is to use what we have for others, which is what the early church did. It is one measure of a Christian’s sanctification and maturity.

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A Model Church

Friday: A Witnessing Church

There is one other characteristic of the church mentioned in this paragraph. It was a witnessing or evangelizing church. That is why we find as we get to the end of the paragraph that the Lord added “to their number daily those who [were] being saved” (v. 47). This does not say specifically that they were out witnessing. But we know that the way God reaches people is through the spoken word and that when the Holy Spirit came at Pentecost, what happened is that those who received the Spirit immediately began to speak about Jesus.

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Monday: A Miraculous Sign

At the beginning we have some miracles, the first in Acts 3. There is a bridge here to what we were told in the previous chapter, because there Luke described the early fellowship of believers by saying, “Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles” (v. 43). In that chapter Luke does not give us any indication as to what those miraculous signs may have been. But now, when we come to chapter 3, we have the account of at least one of them.

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Tuesday: A Christ-Centered Sermon

It is worth studying this sermon carefully, just as we did the sermon in Acts 2. When we compare that sermon with this, we find that there are some differences. Yet there are similarities too, because, regardless of the circumstances, Peter was trying to do the same thing here as on the earlier occasion. That is, he was trying to point his listeners to Jesus as the Savior of the world.

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Wednesday: Pointing Out Sin

When you think about Christianity, do you think primarily about Jesus Christ? And do you understand who Jesus is by the words and doctrines of the Bible? There is a lot more that Christians talk about, of course. But properly understood, those other things all relate to Jesus in some measure. Without Jesus you do not have Christianity, and the Jesus of Christianity is the Bible’s Jesus. To be a Christian is to have a personal relationship with Him. Therefore Peter was preaching about Him in this sermon.

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Thursday: Making an Appeal

We need to realize that we are all to blame for the death of Christ in one way or another. Even though we were not there at the time Jesus was arrested, tried, and crucified, it was our sins that took Him there. And if Jesus were here today, we would spurn Him today just as the masses of Israel spurned Him in Jerusalem long ago.

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No Other Name

Monday: Opposition

In the fourth chapter of Acts we have a record of the first persecution. I do not know if, on this occasion, Peter remembered what the Lord Jesus Christ had said about persecution. But it might be that when he was dragged before the Sanhedrin he recalled that Jesus had prophesied persecution for all who followed Him.

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No Other Name

Tuesday: The Apostles’ Teaching

In opposition to the early Christians we know that the priests and their families, the police force, and the Sadducees were all part of the opposition. But it is not only these who were involved. In verse 5, Luke lists other people as well, three more categories: 1) “the rulers,” 2) “the elders,” and 3) “the teachers of the law.”

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No Other Name

Wednesday: The World’s Methods

It is interesting to notice the methods the authorities used in their offensive against the disciples. They used the world’s methods. That is, they used force or power, because naked power is the only weapon the world really has.

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No Other Name

Friday: Jesus, the Only Way

As we have already seen, at Peter’s arrest he did not merely try to defend himself. He used the opportunity to witness to Jesus Christ. There were four points to his sermon. We have already looked in detail at the first two points: 1) their guilt in crucifying Jesus, and 2) the fact of Jesus’ resurrection. In today’s study we continue with the second two.

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Civil Disobedience

Monday: In Jesus’ Name

God had used Peter and John to heal a crippled beggar, and the leaders of Israel were unhappy with the miracle. So they arrested the disciples and brought them before the Sanhedrin. “By what power or what name did you do this?” they demanded. “Name” stands for authority. So they were actually asking, “By what authority did you accomplish this miracle?” The disciples answered, “It is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified.” This sentence is the theme of the chapter, and it carries us into this new section. There is a fourfold sequence.

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Civil Disobedience

Tuesday: The Sanhedrin’s Authority

The only thing that ever really changes the world is not laws enforced by arms, but moral renewal in the lives of normal citizens. And that comes from God alone. That is why the only profound changes that come into the world are in periods of revival, as God works in His people in such a powerful way that they are changed. Then because they have been changed, the moral climate of the country is changed, too, and good laws follow. Change must come first, then laws. You never achieve change merely by passing laws, because laws do not change people.

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Civil Disobedience

Wednesday: God and Caesar

We tend to rebel easily. We rebel when we should clearly submit. But this is not the same thing as saying that we must obey the state at all times and in all circumstances.

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Civil Disobedience

Thursday: When Caesar Goes Too Far

We concluded yesterday’s study with the important point that the state is responsible to God for what it does. Incidentally, this is also what gives limits to the civil authorities. We see one of these limits in the story. When the state tells us that we cannot preach the Gospel, that is an overextension of its authority. It is an illegitimate use of its legitimate authority and we must resist it.

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Civil Disobedience

Friday: Citizens of the Kingdom

Only the kingdom of God will never pass away. It is eternal. The important question is “What kingdom do you belong to?” Where is your ultimate allegiance? Do we have allegiance to the state? Yes, we are to have a certain measure of that. We’re called to give honor where honor is due, taxes where taxes are due, all of that. But most of all, we are called to be citizens of the kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ and live for Him.

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The Church at Worship and at Work

Monday: A Window into the Early Church

Do you enjoy getting missionary letters? In this age of voluminous and many times worthless communications, I suppose there are Christians who get missionary letters and simply throw them away, the way they throw away many worthless advertisements. But for my part, I enjoy missionary letters. I enjoy them because, by reading them, I feel that a window has been opened for me into Christian work in some other portion of the world, and I am interested in that. I am encouraged to learn what God is doing there.

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The Church at Worship and at Work

Tuesday: Prayer and Scripture

When God’s people worship God, they always do two things: 1) they pray, and 2) they reflect on the Scriptures. Prayer is our talking to God; the Scriptures are God’s talking to us, and the two always go together. You pray in a right way when you pray scripturally. You study the Scriptures in a right way when you study prayerfully. This is what the church was doing. They had been reflecting on the Scriptures. Now, as they began to pray, the Scriptures, as it were, rose up in them, and they found themselves talking to God in God’s own words, the words of Scripture.

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The Church at Worship and at Work

Wednesday: Three Great Openings

The minds of these early Christians were being scripturally transformed, because, although in a certain sense, being devout Jews, they already knew the Scriptures, before this they had not understood them. They had read the Old Testament. They had heard it in the synagogues. I am sure they had even memorized important passages. But they did not really understand them. It was only after Jesus died and had risen again and the Holy Spirit had come, that their eyes were opened and they saw the Old Testament in its true light.

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The Church at Worship and at Work

Thursday: The Importance of Psalm 2

The verses that came to the minds of the Christians in this important worship service were from Psalm 2. Psalm 2 is a great Messianic psalm, but this is the first time its words have appeared in Acts. The psalm is a record of human rebellion against God and God’s response to it, but it is the verses dealing with the rebellion itself that they cite: “Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth take their stand and the rulers gather together against the Lord and against his anointed One” (Acts 4:25-26).

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The Church at Worship and at Work

Friday: Unity of Mind and Action

We come then to the second half of this last section of Acts 4, and here we see a vignette reflecting on the life and work of the church in those days. It was a bit like living in Eden. True, the church was composed of sinful people. We are going to see a pair of them in the very next chapter. But still it was a glorious time. We are told three things about them.

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Two Whom God Struck Dead

Monday: Church Purity

We cannot begin chapter 5 without looking back a few verses to the end of chapter 4. This is because there is a contrast between chapter 5, which tells of a great sin, and the earlier chapter, which speaks of a time of particularly sweet harmony in the church.

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Two Whom God Struck Dead

Tuesday: Differences of the Heart

There is no perfect church, not even the church of the apostles. I read Acts 4:32, where it says, “All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they shared everything they had,” and I think, “Ah, there’s the perfect church.” But it wasn’t. Even this church had Ananias and Sapphira in it.

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Two Whom God Struck Dead

Wednesday: Satan’s Work

Satan is a limited being. He is not omniscient, as God is. He does not know everything. He is not omnipotent, as God is. Only God is all-powerful. He is not omnipresent, as God is. He is not everywhere, though he certainly gets around, “roaming up and down in the earth,” as he said of himself in Job (Job 1:7; 2:2). No, Satan is not the equivalent of God. But he is powerful. He is a very formidable enemy.

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Two Whom God Struck Dead

Thursday: The Importance of Your Choices

Perhaps because of this incident, or perhaps because of other things that happened to him later in his life, Peter, when he wrote his first letter, said, “Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith” (1 Pet. 5:8-9).

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Two Whom God Struck Dead

Friday: The Seriousness of Sin

The last part of the story concerns Sapphira, Ananias’ wife. It is important not to forget her, because she bore a full measure of guilt and responsibility. Luke points out her guilt in two ways. In verse 2, he adds the phrase, “with his wife’s full knowledge.” Then, after Ananias had been judged, he notes that she repeated her husband’s lie.

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An Easter Sermon for Unbelievers by James Montgomery Boice

Monday: What the Resurrection Proves

There are various ways Christians think about the resurrection of Jesus Christ, which is right since the Bible itself presents Christ’s resurrection in these lights. The resurrection is evidence that God has accepted Jesus’ sacrifice for sin on our behalf, for instance. Paul was thinking about this in Romans when he wrote that Jesus “was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification” (Rom. 4:25).

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An Easter Sermon for Unbelievers by James Montgomery Boice

Tuesday: The Athenian Philosophers

What do you suppose the reactions of Paul were as he came to Athens on his second missionary journey? He himself had been trained in Tarsus, one of the great university centers, where he had been born and grew up. The fact that Paul seemed perfectly at home in the intellectual setting of Athens reveals something of his background. He came from a distinguished university. He was visiting a distinguished university. Yet Paul was disturbed as he interacted with the Athenian philosophers. Luke tells us that they were Epicureans and Stoics, the two great schools of thought in Paul’s day.

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An Easter Sermon for Unbelievers by James Montgomery Boice

Wednesday: Our Creator and Sustainer

Paul’s address begins in verse 22. When you write a formal address or sermon, you generally begin with an introduction, have three or four main points, and then a good conclusion. This is exactly what Paul does here. He has a short introduction, followed by four clear points: 1) that God is the Creator of all things; 2) that God is the sustainer of all things; 3) that God is the ordainer of all things; and 4) that we should seek Him. After this there is a conclusion which says that we should repent since we have not sought God as we should, to which he appends three inducements. It is here, at the very end, that his warning about Christ’s resurrection comes in.

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An Easter Sermon for Unbelievers by James Montgomery Boice

Thursday: Our Need to Seek God

Third, Paul says that God not only sustains the universe but that He also guides the affairs of men. Verse 26 says, “From one man he made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live.”

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An Easter Sermon for Unbelievers by James Montgomery Boice

Friday: Repent!

Paul’s exact words were, “He [God] has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to all men by raising him from the dead” (v. 31). The resurrection of Jesus is what we remember especially on Easter Sunday when we see it as proof of all those good things that pertain to Christian people. But we find here that it is also a great warning. For it is evidence that God does not ignore sin, that justice will be meted out, and that Jesus Himself will be our judge at that day— if we will not have him as our Savior now.

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Suffering Disgrace

Monday: Two Important Realities

We have advanced far enough in our study of Acts to see Luke’s pattern in these chapters. His plan is simple. Luke alternates between a picture of the church by itself—a portrait of the believers alone in their fellowship, in which he talks about their life, witness, and joy—and a portrait of the church as it exists in its relationship to the world. This second portrait increasingly deals with persecution.

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Suffering Disgrace

Tuesday: Renewed Persecution

The third and major section of this chapter shows that the blessing described in verses 12-16 was accompanied by a time of renewed persecution (vv. 17-42). It begins, as the last chapter did, with the frustration of the Jewish leaders. Christianity was beginning to spread. Thousands were responding to the Gospel. Those who were in charge of the religious and political life of the nation were justifiably distressed at what was going on in the city and were afraid it might disrupt the stable social order they were enjoying and their place in it. Three things bothered them.

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Suffering Disgrace

Wednesday: Unrighteous Anger

The leaders moved against the apostles again, only this time more forcefully than before. The first time they hauled them in and made threats. They said, “Don’t preach anymore. If you do, you’re going to get in trouble.” The disciples continued to preach about Jesus. The next thing they did was arrest them again and unleash a proceeding that eventually ended in the apostles being beaten. What else could they do? They had no options, only force. That is why a procedure like this almost always leads to an attempt to kill people who are not liked. If it were simply a matter of truth contending with falsehood, the result would be a free and open debate. That is not what was going on. This was hatred born of jealousy.

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Suffering Disgrace

Thursday: The Basic Christian Message

As we concluded yesterday’s study we saw the Sanhedrin had the disciples arrested again, despite the fact that they had already escaped prison. The leaders began their accusations again, although this time the accusations go a step further.

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Suffering Disgrace

Friday: Responding Rightly to Jesus

If you are on the side of the Sanhedrin, saying, “Well, that is kind of interesting, this religious business, but I certainly am not going to submit my life to Jesus of Nazareth,” let me say that there is a stronger case for the truth of Christianity today than there was then. Millions have believed on Jesus. His Gospel has spread throughout the world. Everywhere you go there are Christians who are bearing faithful witness to His name.

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The First Deacons

Monday: A Practical Problem

In chapter 6, we have a different kind of problem. This was not a case of anybody being particularly evil, lying to the Holy Spirit or something of that nature. It is a question of administration, resulting from the church’s growing pains.

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The First Deacons

Tuesday: What the Apostles Didn’t Do

How were the apostles to deal with this problem? I find it interesting that on this occasion there was apparently no divine revelation, which is what had happened in the case of Ananias and Sapphira. We do not even find that the apostles held a prayer meeting, though I am sure they did pray about the situation. What we have is an administrative decision.

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The First Deacons

Wednesday: Principles for Church Leadership

The church got together and elected the first deacons, seven of them. The significant thing about their choice is that every one of these men, to judge from their names, was a Greek-speaking Christian. The Greeks were the ones who were complaining that their widows were neglected. So the church as a whole (and I would imagine there were more Aramaic-speaking Christians in the church than there were Greek-speaking Christians) said, “Let’s elect Greek-speaking leaders.”

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The First Deacons

Thursday: Spiritual Qualifications

The early church’s selection of deacons gives us important principles for sound church leadership. In yesterday’s study we looked at the first principle, which was a division of responsibility.

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The First Deacons

Friday: True Greatness

If you want to be great in God’s sight, try serving people. Be a true deacon. If you want to be even greater in God’s sight, serve even more people. And that includes doing things for them that the world would call “menial.”

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Stephen: The First Martyr

Monday: Stephen’s Speech

Stephen was the first Christian martyr. A martyr is a person who dies for his beliefs, and a Christian martyr is a person who is killed because of his or her witness to Jesus Christ, which is what the word “martyr” actually refers to. Martyr comes from the Greek word martys, which means “a witness” or “one who bears a testimony.” Stephen was an outstanding witness for Jesus Christ, and it was because of his witness that he was put to death.

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Stephen: The First Martyr

Tuesday: An Appeal to Abraham

The first section of Stephen’s speech deals with Abraham. It is found in verses 1-8. There were many things that Stephen could have said about Abraham, since a very long section of Genesis is given to Abraham’s story. But Stephen is selective. It is important to notice what he emphasizes.

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Stephen: The First Martyr

Wednesday: Moses’ Rejection

When Stephen begins to talk about Moses, it is much the same thing. Only he deals with the story of Moses at greater length because Moses was the one the Sanhedrin was chiefly concerned about. Moses was the one through whom God had given the law, and these leaders had built their whole lives around keeping the law of Moses.

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Stephen: The First Martyr

Thursday: The True Temple

The temple of Herod was the glory of Jerusalem at this time. Much of it was covered with gold. So as a person drew near Jerusalem, he saw it shining against the skyline. The temple had never been as glorious as it was in that day, and the priests, like priests who serve in cathedrals everywhere, loved the temple and could not see beyond it.

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Stephen: The First Martyr

Friday: Final Verdict

At the end of his sermon (vv. 51-52) Stephen applied what he said in true prophetic fashion. In doing so he made three accusations against the religious leaders: 1) they were resisting the Holy Spirit, as they had always done; 2) they were persecuting and killing the prophets, as they had always done; and 3) they were breaking the law of Moses, as they had always done. At that last point, their anger against Stephen reached such a heat that they would not hear him anymore and rushed him outside and stoned him.

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Samaria the Widening Stream

Monday: Increasing Persecution

Yet something significant had happened between Peter’s arrest and the persecution recounted in Acts 8. The Gospel had spread among the Hellenists, Greek-speaking persons who were Jews in the sense that they were sympathetic with Judaism and worshiped the God of the Jews in a Jewish way, but who were Gentiles by birth. They were now becoming Christians.

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Samaria the Widening Stream

Tuesday: The Results of Scattering

The trouble Saul and the others were making was ineffective in the end. Saul was setting out to destroy the church. He focused the persecution. But the more he did it, the more the Gospel spread. This was because those who were persecuted, and thus scattered throughout Judea and Samaria, planted the seeds of the Gospel everywhere.

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Samaria the Widening Stream

Wednesday: Preaching and Testifying

It is important to notice that when Philip began his ministry in this new area, we find him doing exactly what the apostles and other evangelists had been doing before him. Verse 4 said of those others: “Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went.” Now verse 5 declares, giving a specific example of one who did this: “Philip went down to a city in Samaria and proclaimed the Christ there.” In other words, he preached the Gospel. The Gospel was centered in Jesus Christ, and they had all been preaching Jesus all along.

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Samaria the Widening Stream

Thursday: Real Revival

When God really blesses His church, when revival sweeps over God’s people, it is generally in unexpected ways and never linked to how much money they have. God just chooses to do it. His Spirit moves. His people are revived. Then, from beyond the walls of the church, people hear what is happening and the Holy Spirit draws them in.

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Samaria the Widening Stream

Friday: Forgiveness and Conversion

One of the things we have to understand when we are dealing with the doctrine of the Holy Spirit is that the Holy Spirit is not an “it.” The Holy Spirit is a Person. He is God. When we get that clearly in mind, then we can see that the object of our relationship to the Holy Spirit is not that we might have more of Him so that we can use Him, but rather that He might have more of us and use us.

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Philip & the Ethiopian

Monday: Philip the Evangelist

Now Philip is on the scene, and he is another great man. He well earned the title of evangelist, because when the church was scattered, he made his way north to Samaria where he preached Jesus. Acts 8 contains two stories about him: 1) the impact of his preaching on Simon, the magician, which we looked at in last week’s study; and 2) his witness to the Ethiopian eunuch, who had been to Jerusalem to worship and was on his way home when God sent Philip to him.

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Philip & the Ethiopian

Tuesday: When God Acts

Yesterday we looked at how God called Philip to evangelize to the Ethiopian, and how Philip responded in obedience to God. That is because Philip knew something that we need to know and which will be very helpful in our lives if we know it: God’s ways are not our ways, his thoughts are not our thoughts. How do we know this? We know it because God tells us (Isa. 55:8).

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Philip & the Ethiopian

Wednesday: The Ethiopian Eunuch’s Trip

On the road to Gaza Philip came upon an Ethiopian eunuch. Ethiopia is a name which in ancient times was given to a large area of Africa south of Egypt. Today that land is more limited: it is a smaller country to the southeast of Egypt. But in that day it referred to the whole region of the upper Nile, approximately from Aswan to Khartoum. I press this because it is the area from which the Queen of Sheba came in the days of King Solomon. In other words, there had already been a link between that area of the world and Judaism.

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Philip & the Ethiopian

Thursday: What the Ethiopian Needed

We are not given the whole conversation between the Ethiopian and Philip. But I imagine that Philip gave a friendly greeting, and the man in the chariot gave a greeting back. Philip had already heard him reading from Isaiah—in those days people generally read everything out loud—so he asked, “Do you understand what you are reading?” (v. 30). It was a good question—inoffensive, yet a subtle but gracious offer to explain the passage if the Ethiopian official was interested in receiving one.

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Philip & the Ethiopian

Friday: The Gospel in Isaiah 53

So there in the desert, in the presence of the treasurer’s entourage, this high-ranking official of the Court of Candace, the queen of the Ethiopians, was baptized, coming to God not as the treasurer of the Ethiopians, not as an important man, but as a sinner availing himself of the blood of Jesus Christ, who had died in his place.

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Monday: A Watershed Event

The ninth chapter of Acts contains Luke’s account of the conversion of his friend Saul. But the story is told twice more, once in chapter 22 and again in chapter 26. These later accounts are not mere summaries of Saul’s conversion. They are full accounts, each with its own particular emphasis. It is significant in so short a book—yet one attempting to cover the large story of the expansion of Christianity from its small beginnings in Jerusalem shortly after the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ to a religion that filled the whole empire—that the tale of one man’s conversion should be so greatly emphasized.

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Tuesday:  Saul’s View of Christianity

What would Paul have thought of Christianity before he met Jesus? He would have thought that it was wrong, of course. That is clear enough. He was a monotheistic Jew. Christians were claiming that Jesus was God. He would have regarded that as polytheism. If Jesus is God and if Jehovah is God, there must be two gods at least. Christianity would have been incompatible with Judaism, as he understood it.

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Wednesday: Stephen’s Witness

We must recall that Saul must have thought not only that the Christians were wrong, but that they were deceivers. Yet in the trial and martyrdom of Stephen, for the first time in his life Saul must actually have come face to face with a true and articulate Christian.

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Thursday: When Saul Met Jesus

Unless Saul was hallucinating, the appearance of Jesus proved that Jesus was alive and that Jesus was God. For this was a theophany. This was not just like merely meeting a man walking along the road. This was a voice from heaven. Moreover, this Jesus who was God was identifying Himself with the very people Saul was persecuting.

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Friday: True Conversion

Has God worked in your life? Has Jesus Christ made Himself known to you, producing His life in you, calling you by name so that you become His and say, as the Apostle Paul and the other ambassadors of the cross undoubtedly said, “I would rather die than deny what Jesus did for me?” If that is the case, then you belong to that great company of God’s people. If not, you need to seek out Jesus while He may be found.

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Saul's First Preaching

Monday: Two Important Questions

It is sometimes helpful to compare parallel accounts of Bible stories. This is because parallel accounts are generally not quite identical, and the variations usually throw light on one another or on the meaning of the passage in which each occurs. That is the case with the stories of Paul’s conversion. There are three of these accounts in Acts—in chapters 9, 22 and 26—and Luke, the author, makes different points in each one.

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Saul's First Preaching

Tuesday: Paul’s New Birth

The new birth is a lot like physical birth, and physical birth is used in the Bible as an illustration of what the new birth is like. What happens in physical birth? First of all, new life is created within the womb of the mother. In physical terms, there is a combination of the sperm and the egg. Until that happens there is no life. But once that union takes place, life begins to grow. It grows for nine months. Then the moment of birth comes, the baby cries, and everyone is pleased with the cry because it is a sign of a healthy baby. It is the same spiritually.

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Saul's First Preaching

Wednesday: Paul’s Great Confessions

Knowledge of spiritual things is based upon the identity of Jesus Christ as God. Why? Because if Jesus is the Son of God, then Jesus is God. God does not err; if Jesus is God, Jesus does not err. Everything Jesus tells us can be trusted. If He tells us God is a certain kind of God, we can believe it because he is God Himself and speaks truthfully. If He tells us, as He does, that the Bible can be trusted—that it comes from God, that heaven and earth will pass away but the Word of God, being divine in nature, will never pass away—then we can trust the Bible.

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Saul's First Preaching

Thursday: Suffering for Christ

When Paul had returned from his time in Arabia, “the Jews conspired to kill him” (v. 23). He needed to leave the city, but his enemies were keeping a twenty-four-hour watch on the gates and a normal exit was impossible. Fortunately, the disciples in Damascus were resourceful. They knew of a place—perhaps it was a window in the home of one of them—where there was an opening in the wall. They put Saul in a basket and lowered him down. In this way he escaped by night and so foiled this first plot against his life.

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Saul's First Preaching

Friday: Seeing God at Work

God is never in a hurry. His ways are always perfect. So do not give up. Keep your eyes on the Lord. Learn all you can. And while you are waiting and learning, do not forget that Jesus is still the Son of God and the Messiah. Make sure you tell that to others.

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In the Steps and Power of the Lord

Monday: Peter and Paul

The last section of Acts 9 contains two new stories about Peter (vv. 32-43), but it is a bit surprising to find stories about Peter at this point. We are going to see more of him, of course, in chapters 10-12. But we have just had the story of Paul’s conversion, and we might have expected the continuation of Paul’s story here. Instead, we do not have it until chapter 13. What is going on in this portion of the book? When we analyze Acts, we find that the first twelve chapters are mostly about Peter. Beginning with chapter 13, Paul becomes the central figure. What we have in chapters 9-12 is a blending. As Peter recedes, Paul comes forward.

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In the Steps and Power of the Lord

Friday: Serving Jesus Until He Comes

Let me give a few observations on Peter’s story. The first is how fast the Gospel had spread in these early days. It was not very long into what we call “the Christian era,” but already Christianity had spread south to Ethiopia, north to Samaria and Damascus, and now west to the coast of the Mediterranean. Moreover, Paul had gone back to Turkey and had undoubtedly begun to preach there. Why was this happening? It is because the Gospel spreads.

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No Favorites With God

Monday: A Pivotal Event

In one way or another this story is told twice and perhaps even three times. First, the Lord gives Peter a vision meant to show him that the Gospel is not to be restricted to Jews but is for Gentiles too—Gentiles who may come to Christ not as Jews first, but as Gentiles. Second, Peter repeats the lesson he had received to Cornelius, perhaps even telling the vision of the sheet, though Luke does not include that specifically. Finally in chapter 11, when Peter arrived back in Jerusalem, he explained what had happened to that audience (vv. 4-17). Obviously, Luke is saying that this event is pivotal.

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No Favorites With God

Tuesday: Who Was Cornelius?

What an interesting man Cornelius is. He is a Gentile, first of all. This is the matter of chief importance, because this is an account of the opening of the door of the Gospel to the Gentiles. He is also a centurion. A centurion was a Roman military officer who had command of one hundred men. Cornelius’ group was called “the Italian Regiment.” It is interesting to note that this is not the only place in the New Testament where we are introduced to a centurion.

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No Favorites With God

Thursday: Peter Meets Cornelius

While he was puzzling over the vision (v. 17), the men Cornelius had sent arrived in Joppa. Joppa was to the south. Caesarea was to the north. It was a three-day journey between them, and the men had arrived in the south hunting for the house of Simon the tanner and for Simon Peter, who was staying there. God told Peter to go down and welcome the three men.

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No Favorites With God

Friday: The Gospel of Grace

Whenever you see yourself, not as the clean animal but the unclean animal, not as the attractive beast but as the creeping thing—the thing that is despised—that has no hope whatsoever as one who by the grace of God got into that sheet and is pronounced clean by the sheer grace of God in Jesus Christ, then you are ready to open your heart and arms to other people. And it does not make any difference who they are. God does not show favorites. If you got in, the Gospel must be for everybody.

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Even Gentiles

Monday: An Important Chapter

The tenth chapter of Acts is one of the most important chapters in Acts—perhaps also one of the most important chapters in the Bible—because it tells how a Gospel which was originally thought of in exclusively Jewish terms came by the intervention and revelation of God to be practically as well as theoretically a Gospel for the whole world.

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Even Gentiles

Tuesday: The Basic Gospel

When Gentiles arrived at Peter’s door, he understood rightly that God was about to do something new. Then, when he arrived at the house of Cornelius and found the centurion and his household waiting eagerly to hear God’s message for them, Peter said, “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism.”

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Even Gentiles

Thursday: Concluding Essentials

The central item in this list of essentials is the crucifixion of Jesus. Peter mentions it only briefly, perhaps because it was so well-known: “They killed him by hanging him on a tree” (v. 39). We may rightly suppose, however, that as questions were asked, this is the chief thing Peter would have spoken about.

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Even Gentiles

Friday: For Everyone Who Believes

When Peter got to the end of this sermon he gave what I would call an application or invitation, though he does so cautiously and even indirectly. Peter said, “All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name” (v. 43).

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No Further Objections

Monday: For Gentiles Also

The story we find in Acts 10 and 11 was of great importance to Luke because he tells it three times, twice in chapter 10 (once briefly) and again in chapter 11, the chapter we are to study now. Luke was composing under the direct influence and guidance of the Holy Spirit. So we know that the story of Peter’s preaching to the household of the centurion Cornelius was not only important to him but is important to God also.

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No Further Objections

Tuesday: Knowing the Will of God

It is interesting how Peter handled this controversy. Peter could have said, perhaps rightly, “I am an apostle; God speaks to me and through me. God told me that going to the house of these Gentiles was all right. So if you don’t like it, you can just leave my church.” Some Christian leaders do handle controversy in that way. But I notice that Peter did not do that. Peter was an apostle, but he did not flaunt his apostolic authority. Instead he began with a humble recitation of what happened. The Greek makes this particularly clear. It indicates that Peter began at the beginning and explained everything precisely—a very strong word—precisely as it happened.

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No Further Objections

Friday: Accepted by God

When Peter began to preach to them, the Gentiles heard the message and believed it, and God showed their acceptance with Him by sending the Holy Spirit, just as He had sent the Holy Spirit upon the apostles on the Day of Pentecost.

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Antioch

Monday: Christianity’s Expansion

Acts 11 continues the story of the expansion of Christianity to the Gentiles that began in chapter 8. Acts 8:4 read, “Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went.” Now Acts 11:19 says almost the same thing: “Now those who had been scattered by the persecution in connection with Stephen traveled as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus, and Antioch, telling the message….”

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Antioch

Friday: Being Imitators of Christ

It is at this point, where God had established the church at Antioch, a church of many races, and had raised up the dual ministry of Paul and Barnabas to lead it—a church that is closer to today’s churches than any that we have seen so far in Acts—that for the first time the disciples of Jesus Christ were called “Christians.” The text says, “The disciples were first called Christians at Antioch” (v. 26).

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Monday: Peter’s Arrest

The church had suffered relatively little persecution since the period of persecution that followed the death of Stephen. But in chapter 12 we read about another: “It was about this time that King Herod arrested some who belonged to the church, intending to persecute them” (v. 1). As a result of the last persecution, the Christians were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria and carried the Gospel to those areas. At this point the church will begin to expand again, this time by the missionary journeys of Paul which we are told about beginning with chapter 13. We are to understand that, however intently the church is persecuted, the result is always the extension of the faith into new areas.

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Wednesday: The Church in Prayer

After leaving prison, Peter was now out on the streets of Jerusalem in the middle of the night. He had been delivered from prison, but he knew that he would have to leave the city since those who had arrested him would certainly arrest him again. Should he leave at once? Peter was unwilling to leave without relating his deliverance to those he knew would be concerned for him.

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Thursday: How to Pray

What is involved in this particular example of prayer is not individual prayer, important as that may be, but what we would call “united prayer,” Christian people meeting together to pray in harmony. There is great value in that! The value is in the unity of mind and spirit that corporate prayer brings.

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The Death of Herod

Monday: Herod’s Dynasty

The twelfth chapter of Acts brings us to the end of the second major section of this book, but in a strange way. It tells of the death of King Herod, and our reaction is likely to be, “So what?” The death of a king is not remarkable. In fact, most deaths are not.

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The Death of Herod

Tuesday: Herod Agrippa I

Herod Agrippa I, the Herod of Acts 12, had an interesting career. He was raised in Rome, and while he was there he became a friend of Gaius Caligula. That was not a great honor. Caligula turned out to be shockingly corrupt even in a shockingly corrupt age. But Herod got to know him, and when Caligula came to the throne, he appointed Herod to a prominent position. In A.D. 39 Herod was in Rome, contributed to the fall of Herod Antipas and received his tetrarchy as a result. After the ascension of Claudius in A.D. 41, Herod also received Judea and Samaria and therefore ruled at last over all the territory of his grandfather.

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The Death of Herod

Wednesday: An Enemy of the Cross

When I read the story of Herod’s death I think of a similar one in the Old Testament, the story of Nebuchadnezzar. The fourth chapter of Daniel tells of the time Nebuchadnezzar stood on the roof of his great palace in Babylon, looked out over the famous hanging gardens and said, “Is not this the great Babylon I have built as the royal residence, by my mighty power and for the glory of my majesty?” (Dan. 4:30). It was a classical statement of what we call secular humanism, the persuasion that everything in life is of man, by man and for man’s glory.

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The Death of Herod

Thursday: Why the Gospel Spreads

We concluded yesterday’s study by asking, “Why is it that the Gospel continues to spread when so many other messages flounder and become relics of the past?” Let’s answer that question with four reasons.

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The Death of Herod

Friday: Human Channels

I think of those who have tried to oppose the Gospel over the centuries. There were times when Christ’s enemies tried to oppose the expansion of the Word of God by the sword, just as Herod did when he executed James. The powerful said, “If you continue to preach this Gospel, we will take away your lives.” And they did. There have been countless martyrs in the history of the Church. Yet the Word of God has not been bound. The more the enemies of Christ have killed His followers, the more the Gospel has spread outward like ripples on a pond.

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The Start of the Missionary Era

Monday: The Church at Antioch

As we study this chapter, we need to see a number of important things. First, we need to see the church base from which this missionary outreach was conducted. Second, we need to think of the work of the Holy Spirit in calling, equipping, sending and blessing the missionaries. Third, we need to see the nature of the task, as it is illustrated in the work that took place on Cyprus, the first missionary target of the church in the Roman Empire.

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The Start of the Missionary Era

Wednesday: A Church’s Spiritual Disciplines

The Holy Spirit is not a power for us to use. He is a Person, the third Person of the Trinity. So rather than thinking of the Holy Spirit being a power which we are somehow to seize and use, we are to think of Him as a person whose job it is to use us. Acts gives us this contrast. In chapter 8 we have Simon wanting to get and use the Holy Spirit, but in chapter 13 we have the Holy Spirit getting hold of and using Barnabas and Saul.

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The Start of the Missionary Era

Thursday: Sent by the Spirit

When the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me,” the people He chose were the two most gifted leaders in the church. Saul was the most effective person in the extension of the Christian message to the Gentiles, and Barnabas must have been right there with him. This shows the importance God puts on world missions.

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One Sabbath in Antioch

Tuesday: Going to the Synagogues

If these men had trouble in their work, we should not be too shocked if we have trouble too. We sometimes talk as if everything in the Christian’s life should go smoothly, that nothing bad should enter. We expect total and unmitigated blessings. But Jesus did not promise us smooth sailing as His disciples. He promised suffering.

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One Sabbath in Antioch

Wednesday: Reviewing Old Testament History

Paul’s sermon has an introduction, four main points, and a conclusion. All good sermons have an introduction—some long, some short. This sermon has a brief introduction. It might be the case that Paul actually gave a much longer speech with a longer introduction and that Luke is merely summarizing here. But we have the drift of it.

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One Sabbath in Antioch

Thursday: New Testament Preaching

The second part of Paul’s sermon is a continuation of the first. Just as he has spoken of the Old Testament kerygma, so now does he also speak of God’s acts in what we refer to as the New Testament period.

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One Sabbath in Antioch

Friday: Biblical Fulfillment in Jesus

I said earlier that Paul’s sermon is not only like that of Stephen before the Sanhedrin in its review of Old Testament history. It is also like that of Peter at Pentecost in its citation of Old Testament texts. This is what Paul does in the third part of the sermon, beginning in verse 32.

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Another Sabbath in Antioch

Monday: Planting a Church

Antioch was chiefly a Gentile city, but like many Gentile cities in those days it had a Jewish community. The Jews had a synagogue, and that is where Paul preached first. However, the Word of God spread quickly among the Gentiles. So when Paul and Barnabas came to the synagogue on the second Sabbath to preach again the place was packed by Gentiles—people who probably had not set foot inside the door of the synagogue previously.

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Another Sabbath in Antioch

Tuesday: “To Hear the Word of the Lord”

Paul and Barnabas did not have anything novel to say, nor did they make some new or striking presentation. According to the text, the curiosity of the people of Antioch was provoked by “the Word of God.” That is said four times in this short section.

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Another Sabbath in Antioch

Wednesday: Clinging to the Law

Paul was trying to point out, as he did on every occasion and as he does in his epistles, that we are justified by the work of Christ and through faith in him only. The Jews who were listening must have construed that as preaching against the law of Moses.

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Another Sabbath in Antioch

Thursday: Going to the Gentiles

Paul now made an important decision, establishing a principle that he was to follow from this time on in virtually every city where he preached. He said to the Jews who were resisting him, “We had to speak the Word of God to you first. Since you reject it and do not consider yourselves worthy of eternal life, we now turn to the Gentiles. For this is what the Lord has commanded us, ‘I have made you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth’” (vv. 46-47).

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Another Sabbath in Antioch

Friday: The Gentiles Believe

The wonderful thing about this is that when the Gospel was proclaimed to the Gentiles, they believed it. We are told a number of important things about their response.

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Monday: The Ministry Pattern

Acts 14 contains a repetition of the missionary pattern. We have already seen this pattern worked out at Antioch. Now we see it in each of these three cities of Galatia. Luke suggests this by his use of the words “as usual” in verse 1. “As usual” suggests a pattern. It is worth reviewing this pattern, because we are going to see it again and again.

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Tuesday: Division at Iconium

I have outlined four parts to this basic ministry pattern: preaching, division, persecution, and growth. But when we come to the story of Paul’s work in Iconium, what is emphasized chiefly is the division, which ends in persecution. The division is explained carefully: “The Jews who refused to believe stirred up the Gentiles and poisoned their minds against the brothers” (v. 2). We should not be surprised at this, of course, because the Lord Himself said this would happen.

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Wednesday: The Accuracy of Scripture

At the end of yesterday’s study, we said there was a puzzle over where an ancient boundary marker seemed to lie compared with what Luke had written in Acts. It was thought that the ancient marker was between the cities of Lystra and Derbe, which would have put them in a different province. And yet, Luke indicated a different boundary. Today we begin by looking at this puzzle.

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Thursday: Preaching to Pagans

We ought to compare this sermon with the one in chapter 13, which was spoken to a largely Jewish audience. In that chapter Paul quotes the Old Testament frequently, rehearsing God’s great acts in the Old Testament and in Jesus Christ. That is not the case here. Here Paul is speaking to a Gentile or pagan audience that had no knowledge of the Scriptures whatever. He couldn’t have told these people about God’s great acts in the Old Testament period, because they would not have known what he was talking about.

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Friday: Strengthening the Churches

After the people tried to kill Paul, it was a good time to leave Lystra. The missionaries went on to Derbe. Luke does not tell us much about the ministry there, saying only in verse 21: “They preached the good news in that city and won a large number of disciples.” If in the earlier story the emphasis was upon division and the resulting persecution, here it is on the results.

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The First Church Council

Monday: Salvation by Grace Alone

The hardest of all ideas for human beings to grasp is the doctrine of salvation by grace alone. This is because we all always want to add something to it. This is a serious matter, because if a person is trying to add anything to the work of Christ for salvation, that person is not saved and is operating under a fatal misunderstanding.

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The First Church Council

Tuesday: The Issues at Stake

Many of the “circumcision party” were no doubt honest and even spiritual men. Paul was not so charitable when he spoke of them in Galatians. He regarded their view as heresy, as indeed it is, and he considered those who were advancing it to be subverters of the church and God’s enemies.

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The First Church Council

Wednesday: Behind the Scenes

If you have ever been in church circles, you know how it is. There is an issue to be decided. But there are people who are afraid of offending those who are on the wrong side. These therefore always try to work out a compromise that will satisfy everyone but actually satisfies no one. That must have happened in Jerusalem.

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The First Church Council

Thursday: Speakers at the Council

Luke reports the speeches of three people—four, if we count Paul and Barnabas separately. The first whose words he reports is Peter, but there were many who had spoken before him. Verse 7 says that it was “after much discussion” that Peter made his speech. This means that there were pros and cons, and that Peter, Paul, Barnabas, James and the others let them air their positions.

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The First Church Council

Friday: Results of the Council

James was wise too, in his own way. He understood that the people to be won over to the right position were not the Gentiles. Probably not many of them were present at the meeting. It was not the Gentiles who needed to be persuaded. It was the Jews. So James began by referring not to Paul, who was the apostle to the Gentiles—that may have been a sticking point in itself—but by referring to Peter.

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Come Over and Help Us

Monday: Paul and Barnabas Separate

The account of the second missionary journey begins at Acts 15:36 with the report of a disagreement between Paul and Barnabas. These two men had traveled together on the first trip, taking Barnabas’ relative John Mark with them. It had been the first official missionary journey in which a church actually supported a team of workers, and it had taken the workers themselves to previously untouched areas. The second journey was to prove even greater. On the second trip, Paul got to several of the great cities of the ancient world, among them Philippi, Thessalonica, Athens, Corinth and Ephesus.

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Come Over and Help Us

Tuesday: Ministry Realignment

Barnabas—these two great missionaries, apostles, the kind of people you might bring into a pulpit on a missionary Sunday and say to the people, “This is what you should be like”—these two great men disagreed so violently that they actually went separate ways. Imagine that! Barnabas took Mark and went to Cyprus, where the missionaries had gone first on the first journey. We do not hear any more about Barnabas and Mark on Cyprus, but tradition says that Barnabas stayed on Cyprus and died there as an old man. Mark eventually was called by Paul to go to Rome. As far as the other missionary team was concerned, Paul took Silas, another leader in the church at Antioch, in place of Barnabas, and the two of them set out overland to visit the churches of Asia Minor.

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Come Over and Help Us

Wednesday: Timothy Joins the Team

In the first paragraph of chapter 16, we find a new worker coming on the scene. There is already one new worker, of course. That is Silas, whom Paul took in place of Barnabas. Here we find one that Paul and Silas discovered on their journey and invited to go along. His name was Timothy. This is the first place in the New Testament that Timothy is mentioned.

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Come Over and Help Us

Thursday: Paul’s New Direction

At this point, with a new missionary team and new workers, Paul received a new vision for his service. It concerns his vision of a man of Macedonia, who challenged Paul to “Come over to Macedonia and help us” (v. 9).

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Come Over and Help Us

Friday: Going to the Needy

In yesterday’s study we looked at two reasons to engage in world missions: 1) Jesus Christ told us to do it; and 2) Christ’s love constrains us. Let’s look at one other vital lesson.

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A Straight Question and Answer

Monday: Demonic Deliverance

When Paul knew that God was directing him to Europe, he responded at once by taking his small missionary party across the Hellespont from Asia into Macedonia. The party included the following people: Paul and Silas, who had started out together; Timothy, who had been added along the way; and Luke, who indicates his presence by use of the first-person plural pronoun “we.” This was the first entry of the Gospel into Europe. From this momentous crossing the Gospel spread across Europe and eventually reached ourselves.

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A Straight Question and Answer

Tuesday: Paul and Silas in Prison

The girl’s owners were upset when Paul cast out the girl’s demon, of course, because they had now lost their means of making money. They were so upset by it that they went to the authorities, saying, “These men are Jews, and are throwing our city into an uproar by advocating customs unlawful for us Romans to accept or practice” (vv. 20-21). It is interesting that the accusation they made was not the real reason for their being upset. They were angry that the source of their income had been taken away, that Paul had damaged their business.

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A Straight Question and Answer

Wednesday: The Philippian Jailer’s Question

As Paul and Silas sang and praised God, the other prisoners who might have been complaining beforehand became quiet, just as the believing thief who was crucified on the cross next to Jesus did. In the quietness, as they listened, they began to learn something about the God who had sent Paul and Silas.

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A Straight Question and Answer

Thursday: “Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ”

The man was asking about salvation, and the apostle replied directly: “Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved—you and your household.” Did the jailer understand what that meant? He must have understood some of it, because he believed and was baptized. Did he understand all of what it meant? Probably not. I am not sure we do, even with all the teaching we have received. But what he did know he believed, and Jesus saved him. Besides, not only was he converted. In the course of the evening his entire family was converted, too.

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A Straight Question and Answer

Friday: The Church Encouraged

The story ends by saying that after they had been brought out of prison Paul and Silas went back to Lydia’s house where they met with the brothers “and encouraged them” (v. 40). We might think under those circumstances that Lydia and the others should have encouraged Paul and Silas, but it was the other way around. They were the leaders God had sent to Philippi. So they encouraged the little church they left behind.

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Two More Cities

Monday: Establishing Contact

The seventeenth chapter of Acts is best known for the sermon Paul preached on Mars Hill in Athens. But that is only in the second half of the chapter. In the first half of chapter 17 we find Paul not in Athens but in two other Greek cities: Thessalonica in the north, and Berea on the way from Thessalonica south toward Athens.

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Two More Cities

Tuesday: Presenting the Scripture

The second thing I notice about Paul’s method is that, having made contact with people through the synagogue, he then began to reason with them from the Scriptures. That is what it says in the case of Thessalonica: “He reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and proving that the Christ had to suffer and rise from the dead” (v. 3).

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Two More Cities

Wednesday: Preaching Christ

The result of Paul’s method is what I have been speaking of all along, namely, that a church was established in these cities. In Thessalonica we are told that “some of the Jews…joined Paul and Silas, as did a large number of God-fearing Greeks and not a few prominent women” (v. 4). The next paragraph tells us that the name of one of them was Jason.

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Two More Cities

Thursday: What Happened in Thessalonica

The church Paul founded in Thessalonica soon experienced persecution. Those who did not believe were jealous and moved to round up certain bad characters—the kind you find hanging around on street corners everywhere—and with these started a riot in the city. They went to Jason’s house because that is where Paul and Silas were staying. They did not find them. They found Jason and a few other brothers instead. So they dragged them before the city officials, shouting, “These men who have caused trouble all over the world have come here, and Jason has welcomed them into his house. They are defying Caesar’s decrees, saying that there is another king, one called Jesus” (vv. 6-7).

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The Unknown God

Monday: Epicureans

Paul’s late missionary efforts centered on the cities of his world. At the beginning, when he first set out with Barnabas, he passed through Cyprus from one end to the other, and we are told almost nothing about any specific ministry in towns. But after he went to Asia Minor, which we call Turkey, he worked in some cities there, small ones at first, then larger cities. At last, when he came to Europe, his ministry was focused almost entirely on the great cities: Philippi, Thessalonica, Berea, and now, in this chapter on Athens, the greatest city of them all.

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The Unknown God

Tuesday: Stoics

In yesterday’s study we read about one type of philosophy Paul encountered in Athens, which was Epicureanism. In today’s lesson we encounter a second type.

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The Unknown God

Wednesday: Paul’s Athenian Address

Paul’s address begins in verse 22. It is a classic. When you write a formal address or sermon, you generally begin with an introduction, have three or four main points and then a good conclusion. This is exactly what Paul does here. He has a short but brilliant introduction, followed by four clear points. His first point is that God is the Creator of all things. His second point is that God is the sustainer of all things. His third point is that God is the ordainer of all things. His fourth point is that we should seek Him. Then there is a conclusion, which says that we should repent since we have not sought God as we should. To this he appends three sharp inducements.

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The Unknown God

Thursday: Seek God While He May Be Found

Third, Paul says that God not only sustains the universe but that he also guides the affairs of men. Verse 26: “From one man he made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live.”

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Monday: Paul in Corinth

In the eighteenth chapter of Acts, we find Paul working for a year and a half in Corinth. Corinth was not like Athens. In fact, it was different from most other cities Paul had visited. Yet it was receptive to the Gospel, and Paul spent the first long period of his missionary career in this city. Later he would spend a similarly long time in Ephesus.

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Wednesday: Troubles in the City

We can learn a great deal about Paul’s condition if we read the chapter carefully. I think, too, that it was not only the experiences that he had before he came to Corinth that must have weighed upon him, but also the difficulties once he was there.

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Thursday: When God Encourages

Paul had ample cause to be discouraged and no doubt was, just as we have causes to be discouraged and are. But now comes the good news. At this very point, when Paul was most discouraged, God intervened in several important ways to encourage him.

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More Laborers for the Field

Monday: A New Mission Field

One of the great things about closed doors is that they are not always closed forever. Sometimes God uses a closed door to send us in a contrary direction. But then, as we go on in the Christian life, we find that God later opens that very door. We have an example of this in Acts 18.

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More Laborers for the Field

Tuesday: Priscilla and Aquila

Priscilla and Aquila were what we would call “working people.” They were tentmakers, which probably means that they worked in leather since tents were usually made of skins. They were not from the upper classes, certainly. They were probably not particularly well educated. In addition, we know that they were Jews, and had been living in Rome. But when the Emperor Claudius issued his well-known edict banishing the Jews from Rome, Priscilla and Aquila left the capital of the empire and went to Corinth.

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More Laborers for the Field

Thursday: Further Instruction for Apollos

What do you do with someone like Apollos? Here was a man of eloquence and ability, apparently even being greatly used by God since, as we are told, he went to the synagogues and argued effectively with the Jews and other people. Should he have been rebuked? Opposed? Refuted? What actually happened was quite different and very important.

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The Church in Ephesus

Monday: Paul’s Basic Strategy

Not only did Paul have a message, which was a message of repentance and faith in Jesus Christ as the Savior, and not only did he establish churches consisting of those who heard his message and believed it, but once he had established churches he also drew them into his missionary strategy by using them as bases for the extension of the Gospel into the surrounding neighborhoods and the world.

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The Church in Ephesus

Tuesday: Establishing Contact

Ephesus was so strategic that it is surprising that Paul had not gone there before, especially since he had already been in the Roman province of Asia, where Ephesus was located. The reason, as we have already seen, is that the Holy Spirit had stopped him from doing so, having had other work for him to do first.

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The Church in Ephesus

Wednesday: Working with Other Christians

A second element in Paul’s strategy is that he worked with or cooperated with other Christians. He had what we would call a multiple or pluralistic ministry. We have already seen that Paul followed this strategy on his missionary journeys in general, always taking along two or more additional workers. In Ephesus the ground was being prepared and the work was being carried forward by Priscilla and Aquila, and Apollos.

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The Riot in Ephesus

Monday: Opposition

In last week’s study we saw the remarkable success Paul’s preaching had at Ephesus. He stayed there for two years, and he taught every day. As a result of this effort, the Word of God spread from Ephesus throughout the entire Roman province of Asia. But it was not without opposition. In the second half of Acts 19, we see how opposition developed in Ephesus because of all that was being accomplished through Paul’s preaching.

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The Riot in Ephesus

Tuesday: The Gospel’s Success

The riot in Ephesus, described in Acts 19:23-41, was a proof of Paul’s success. If Paul had come to the city and had simply made a tiny, little beginning, with only a few people meeting perhaps somewhere in a home, none of this would have happened. A movement like that would have had no impact on Ephesian society. But the fact that there was a riot and so many people got stirred up in defense of Artemis is proof of how successful the preaching of the Gospel had been.

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The Riot in Ephesus

Wednesday: Appealing to Numbers

There are two spirited defenses of Artemis in this chapter. Demetrius gave his first. We have his speech in the first paragraph, that is, in verses 23 to 27. Then, beginning in verse 35, the town clerk does much the same thing. By this time, he was already quieting the uproar, but he gives many of the same arguments Demetrius used, though in different language.

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The Riot in Ephesus

Thursday: Appealing to Emotions

As we have seen, the appeal to numbers was the argument used at Ephesus. Demetrius said, “Everybody worships Artemis.” Not everybody did, of course. Paul and the other Christians did not. But even if everybody else did, that alone did not make Artemis a true goddess nor her worshipers right. Just because you are told, “Nobody believes that anymore” (or the reverse, “Everybody does it”) doesn’t mean you should be part of the majority.

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The Riot in Ephesus

Friday: Christian Impact in the World

What was the outcome at Ephesus? For one thing, the Christians were vindicated. Paul was not attacked, and he was eventually able to leave Ephesus, seemingly without any trouble. To us that may seem somewhat incidental, but it was not incidental to Luke since he records in detail (as he did at Corinth, where Gallio would not listen to the accusations brought against Paul) how Paul and the Christians were vindicated. Those who were in charge said, “These people have done nothing wrong.”

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Monday: Changes in Paul’s Ministry

The first verses of Acts 20 give details of Paul’s final tour of the mission field. They tell how he went back to the churches of Macedonia and Greece, no doubt strengthening them, teaching them, dealing with problems, training their leadership, and establishing them so that they might prosper when he was no longer able to come to them.

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Tuesday: Concern for the Church in Corinth

Luke begins chapter 20 by telling us that Paul left Ephesus and went to Macedonia. He does not give much detail. But when we read what Paul has written in his letters, we find that this was a period of great agony on Paul’s part. His chief concern at this time was the situation in the church at Corinth.

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Wednesday: Paul’s Fellow Workers

We are told at this point about a team of church workers that joined Paul to go together with him to Jerusalem. It was an impressive group of people: Sopater from Berea; Aristarchus and Secundus from Thessalonica; Gaius from Derbe; Tychicus and Trophimus from Asia; and Timothy.

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Thursday: Sunday Bible Teaching

Before Luke describes the departure of this group for Jerusalem, he gives a glimpse into a normal day of worship of the church at Troas. Paul was delayed there seven days, probably because the winds were unfavorable or the ship was taking on cargo and couldn’t go. Whatever the reason, during those seven days the first day of the week, Sunday, rolled around, and the Christians got together. I find in the account of this day not only a glimpse into the worship of the people of this city, but also an indication of the importance of this day as well as of the elements that should generally be present in all Christian worship.

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Monday: Humble Service

To anybody who has an interest in Paul as a person, the twentieth chapter of Acts is a delight. This is because we see him in two different but very important lights. We see him in public at Troas, leading the worship of the church. Then we see him in a private setting, meeting with the Ephesian elders at Miletus, a little town about twenty or thirty miles south of the Asian capital. The section is known as “Paul’s farewell to the Ephesian elders,” and it has three parts. The first concerns Paul himself. It contains Paul’s personal testimony before the elders. The second part is his specific charge to them. Finally, at the very end of the chapter and in much briefer language, we have a reference to his prayer on their behalf.

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