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Archive for the 'Glimpses' Category

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Why I am a Christian?

1 John 5:9-12 - "We accept man's testimony, but God's testimony is greater because it is the testimony of God, which he has given about his Son. Anyone who believes in the Son of God has this testimony in his heart. Anyone who does not believe God has made him out to be a liar, because he has not believed the testimony God has given about his Son. And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life."

Why Is It So?

A testimony is an assertion offering firsthand authentication of a fact. For the Christian Disciple, classically it is generally expressed as how they became a Christian Disciple. But I think it is more than just how, and should expressly include why you are a Christian Disciple. I wonder what is your testimony about how you became a Christian Disciple? When was the last time you thanked our God for your testimony? Have you even thought about your testimony of how you became a Christian Disciple? I am sure you have all heard kids in the supermarket yelling out "Why?" to their parents. We all have, I am sure, questions we want to know the answer to. Why? The question I am often asked is "You are a Christian. Why is it so?" My father, was and remained throughout his life a convinced agnostic and in the few conversations we had about religion and Christianity, he could never understand why it was, that I could not just admit that I would never know if God existed or not, far less a God who was personally interested in me. My reply as ever, was that the very question "Why is it so?" needed to be answered, in order for me to be satisfied.

Why I am a Christian?

Now I could say that at the age of 12, we moved to a town on the coast of Australia, and was invited along to a local youth group and several weeks later, gave my life to Christ and became a Christian. Of course that is partly true. I can't even claim to be a Christian because I was raised in a Christian country. Australia was and is probably the second most secular country on this planet. Sure Australia has its moral base grounded in historic Christianity, but for the latter part of its history, Australia has been thoroughly secular and non-religious. Even if I had been raised in a country such as England, with Christian parents, that would also, only be partly true and I could have rejected Christianity as many people do. The reason that I am a Christian is not because I chased God, but rather He chased me. Unknown to me at the time, God was chasing me and following my every path with the urgency of a lover after the beloved, just as described in the Song of Songs 2:2-14.

God had been pursuing me

This piece of poetic Scripture speaks about the love that God has for his people, and the energy He puts in to calling his people to Himself. He is always reaching out, for all to return to His arms. As for me, it wasn't until I was a 12 year old that I heard that I needed to accept Jesus as my Lord and Saviour. Before that I didn't know I had to do anything with this Jesus. Jesus was only a curse word for me at the time. That or was just someone or something that the RE teachers bored me with at school.

We are primarily Christians, not because we come to church services or just happened to have been born in a supposedly Christian country. We are primarily Christians, because God first chased and harried us into His arms. We are Christians, if you are one, because God first loved you. And as a tremendous lover, He beckons and calls people all the time to respond to His call, and back to Him.

How does He chase us with His love? He chases each person differently, just as each Christian testimony is different. Take for instance the Apostle Paul in Acts 8 & 9. God chased him through Paul's mind and his religious upbringing and education. Paul had known about God from his childhood. Paul was a righteous Pharisee who saw persecuting these ‘Christians' as his religious duty, so that he may somehow find favour with God. As Paul was gloating over the death of the martyr Stephen, God was pursuing Him, probably raising doubts in Paul's mind as to why Stephen would say at the point of death "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit and forgive them for what they do" (Acts 7:54-60). Surely doubts must have been raised in Paul's mind as he approved of this death (Acts 8v1). Paul was also wrestling with his conscience. Externally he was a righteous man, a Pharisee of Pharisees. Yet when he internally examined himself and his heart, he found himself failing regarding covetousness, which is the last of the Ten Commandments. Then finally, Jesus himself makes a sudden and dramatic appearance before Paul and confronts him directly, "Why are you kicking against me? Why are you rejecting my advances?" (Acts 9) Paul's conversion to Christianity is often described as being sudden. But the only thing sudden about his conversion was this climatic appearance of Jesus.

Just as that was true of Paul, it is true of me, just as it is true of all those who profess to call themselves a Christian Disciple. I am a Christian Disciple not because of anything I have done, but rather because He first chased me, and because He first loved me. Jesus himself said "I came to seek and to save the lost" (Luke 19:10).

If you are a Christian today, it is not because of anything you have done. It is because of the events at Christmas and Easter that you are a Christian, when God entered this world as a human baby and took all the necessary steps so that all people could have the choice to be His people or not. In my more smug moments I used to congratulate myself for being a Christian. How proud I was that I, was a Christian and that God was a jolly lucky God that I had decided to follow Him. It was during one of my less self-deluded moments, that I examined myself and I found God pricking my conscience and correcting me, and I read the New Testament "For the Son of Man came, not to be served but to give His life as a ransom for many" (Mark10:45).

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Glimpses 56

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Glimpses 56 -

Donna from Detroit, Michigan

This is the story of Donna, from Detroit sharing about her encounter with Jesus! Come and hear!

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Glimpses 57-

Stephen from Bournemouth

This is the story of Stephen. He lives in Bournemouth and he shares how an encounter with Jesus changed is life from hatred, violence, cruelty and drug addiction... Come and hear!

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Glimpses 30

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King Jesus Returns

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G'day and welcome to Partake! We are now on day 30 of our series "Glimpses", looking at the story of the Bible in 30 days - from the time of creation through to the time of the fullness of redemption!  Today we conclude this series, looking at when, as King Jesus Himself promised, that He would "come again". For believers in Jesus Christ, living almost 2000 years after Jesus spoke these words in Revelation 22v7, "Behold, I am coming soon", this is their hope.

When will King Jesus come?

Jesus frequently said during his earthly life, things like "I will come back and take you to be with me" (John 14v3). The angels after Jesus' ascension said to the disciples "Jesus will come back the same way He went to heaven" (Acts 1v11). When will this occur? No-one knows (Matthew 24v36) but we do know it will be unexpected (1 Thessalonians 5v1-3), that there will be events preceding His coming (Matthew 24) and occur after the gospel has been preached in the whole world (Matthew 24v14). What we also know is that believers are to be alert, ready, waiting, watching and working for God's kingdom (Matthew 24v42-44).  His people, His church of all believers, are to be alert, self-controlled and encouraging each other (1 Thessalonians 5v6-8, 11)!

Why will King Jesus return?

  • He will come to judge the antichrist and his followers (Revelation 16v12-16, 19v11-16)! Jesus will come to bind Satan (Revelation 20v1-3).
  • He will come to judge all of humanity (Matthew 25v31-46; Joel 3v11-17)
  • Finally, Jesus Christ will come and set up an earthly kingdom for 1,000 years (Revelation 20v2-7).

Two Different Views

Unsurprisingly there are many different views about this event, but there are two main schools of thought. They are Amillenialism & Premillenialism.

Amillenial View - Primarily a figurative/spiritual interpretation. This view sees the Old Testament promises to Israel are being fulfilled in the church. The Millennium is the reign of Christ in the Church - the new Israel. The Church is already experiencing tribulation.

Premillenial View - Christ will return to set up His kingdom on earth for 1000 years (Revelation 19v1-7). God promises to Israel of restoration, a future king and temple will await fulfilment. God has a separate programme for the Church. His coming is when Jesus Christ returns to take His people to be with Him (1 Thessalonians 4v16). The dead in Christ are raised and the living are changed (1 Corinthians 15v51-54) His coming to Earth will be to the Mount of Olives (Zechariah 14v4; Acts 1v11) with power and glory (Matthew 24v30) and everyone will see Him.

What does Church History say?

The view of the church for the first 200 years was that of a literal return of Jesus Christ, 1000 years after the coming of the Holy Spirit. Early church leaders such as Papias, Irenaeus and Justin Martyr taught this, and these men were not far removed from the Apostle John. Origen promoted the figurative (spiritual) method of interpretation and Augustine developed an Amillenial view, identifying the Church with the fulfilment of the Old Testament promises to Israel and this became official Roman Catholic doctrine. Many scholars later returned to the Premillenial (literal) view after the Reformation.

Resurrection!

King Jesus will come suddenly, bringing destruction while people are saying ‘peace and safety' (1 Thessalonians 5v1-3). The bodily resurrection of the dead, both believers and unbelievers, is clearly taught in the Bible (John 5v28-29; Acts 24v15). Jesus' own resurrection is the guarantee of the resurrection of believers (1 Corinthians 15v20-22)

At their resurrection, believers will have bodies changed into those like Jesus' glorious body (1 Corinthians 15v49; Philippians 3v21; 1 John 3v2), that wont be made of flesh and blood (1 Corinthians 15v50ff) and not just partly spiritual (Luke 24v39; 1 Corinthians 15v42, 53)! For those who are unbelievers, they will be resurrected (John 5v28-29) and cast into the lake of fire!

What is the timing of these two resurrections? The first Resurrection will occur when Jesus Christ comes in the air to take his believers and followers (1 Corinthians 15v23; 1 Thessalonians 4v16). The second Resurrection, will be of the unsaved and unbelievers (Revelation 20v5, 11-13). Both believers and unbelievers will face judgement!

Judgment Comes!

There is a certainty of judgment for all people and King Jesus will judge the whole world with justice and mercy (Acts 17v31). Every human who has ever lived is destined to die once and after that to face judgment (Hebrews 9v27).

Who is the Judge? - God is the judge of all the earth (Hebrews 12v23) and God the Father has given all judgment to Jesus Christ, God the Son (John 5v22-27)

Judgment of believers: Believers and followers of King Jesus will not be judged for their sin, because that has been judged (Isaiah 53v4-6; 1 Peter 2v24) when they started believing in Jesus as the Messiah and King! They will be judged for their works and have to give an account to God (Romans 14v10) of what they have done with what they were given (2 Corinthians 5v10). The quality of work will be tested (1 Corinthians 3v11-15) and motives will be exposed - either things were done for God's glory (1 Corinthians 4v4-5) or for their own glory. Rewards may be gained or lost (1 Corinthians 3v14-15) and includes various crowns! There is the incorruptible crown (1 Corinthians 9v25), the crown of glory (1 Peter 5v4) the crown of righteousness (2 Timothy 4v8) the crown of rejoicing (1 Thessalonians 2v19) and finally the crown of life (James 1v12)

Judgment of unbelievers: These people will stand before The Great White Throne of Judgment (Revelation 20v11-15) and as they didn't respond to Jesus' call of salvation, they will be cast into the lake of fire with satan and his angels (Revelation 20v15; Matthew 25v41). This punishment is everlasting (Matthew 25v46).

Heaven and Hell

Then there is talk of two places: heaven and hell. What are heaven and hell like? Both are physical places where every person will be in one or the other.  It is either heaven or hell. King Jesus spoke of the reality of a literal hell more than anybody else!

1. Hell

Characteristics

  • Everlasting fire and punishment (Matthew 25v41-46)
  • Constant and outer darkness (Matthew 8v12)
  • Everlasting destruction (2 Thessalonians 1v9)
  • Lakes of fire (Revelation 19v20)

It is prepared for Satan and his demons (Matthew 25v41; 2 Peter 2v4); the wicked (Revelation 21v8) and the disobedient (Romans 2v8-9).  It is for all those who openly rejected Jesus Christ during their earthly life (Matthew 10v14-15).

2. Heaven

As opposed to this place of Hell,  there is Heaven!

Characteristic of heaven will be: Joy (Luke 15v7-10), Rest (Revelation 14v13), Peace (Luke 16v19-25), Righteousness (2 Peter 3v12), Service (Revelation 7v15), Reward (Matthew 5v11-12), Inheritance (1 Peter 1v4), Glory (Romans 8v17-18)! Martin Luther exclaimed that heaven is "full of laughter!"

This is prepared for all believers in Jesus Christ and therefore have their names recorded in the Book of Life (Malachi 3v16-18; Philippians 4v3) as they will be declared righteous (Matthew 5v20), obedient (Revelation 22v14) and holy (Revelation 19v8)

Heaven is described as a House (John 14v2), a Kingdom (Matthew 25v34) a Paradise (2 Corinthians 12v2-4) and a Holy City (Revelation 21v2)

There will be a new heaven and a new earth to replace the old heaven and old earth! This is the fullness of redemption, the whole story of the Bible that we have been looking at in this series. Do you know where you stand? Are you a believer or unbeliever?

What now?

If you are not yet a believer, you can respond to King Jesus today and then you will not be without an excuse when it comes your time to face Him as your judge! He is ready and willing to take you as His own - right now. If you want to become a Christian believer right now, there are three simple steps to follow.

Firstly, admit that you have done wrong against God and His ways.

Secondly, believe and trust in Jesus.  Call on Him, receive, trust, obey and worship Him, recognizing Him for who He is and what He has done.

Lastly, confess Jesus as your Lord and Saviour.   Once sin has been confessed, and Jesus is believed in and trusted as Saviour, then you are a Christian believer. Now you are ready as Peter writes in the Bible, "to grow in grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ" (2 Peter 3:18).

Welcome to the family of God. Let us know if you have taken this step! Thank you!

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Glimpses 29

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Church Expands

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G'day and welcome to Partake! We are now on day 29 of our series "Glimpses", looking at the story of the Bible in 30 days - from the time of creation through to the time of the fullness of redemption! We saw last time Jesus making a sudden reappearance which resulted in the conversion of one of the main persecutors of the church - Saul, who later changed his name to Paul. We saw also a problem to be solved, it was done so judiciously and it was decided that salvation was by grace alone through Jesus' death on the cross and through the Holy Spirit alone.

The church had begun to spread throughout the Roman Empire from its birthplace in Jerusalem. Remember back to the day of Pentecost and the Holy Spirit first came? The people there had gone back to their own countries and cities: places such as : Egypt, Arabia, Libya, Italy, Greece, Judea, Elam, Media, Mesopotamia, Cappadocia, Pontus, Pamphylia, Phrygia, Asia, Crete, Cyrene and Crete, parts of the Parthian Empire and of course even the headquarters of the Roman Empire, Rome!

As far as we know, from the Bible record, the most effective missionary was Paul, and that's because most of what we call the New Testament consists of letters written by him. Here are the places he and his various teams of people visited on what we call his missionary journeys. You can read about them in the book of Acts.

Paul's First Missionary Journey

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The first journey was to places such as: Antioch (Acts 13:4), Seleucia and sailed to Cyprus. From there they went to Salamis and Paphos (Acts 13:4-6). Then onwards to Perga in Pamphylia, which is now southern Turkey. At Antioch in Pisidia, Paul deliberately plans to take the gospel to the Gentiles (Acts 13:46). Then Iconium (Acts 14:3), Lystra (Acts 14:19), and Derbe. Where they went back to Lystra, Iconium, and Antioch (in Pisidia) (Acts 14:21), before going throughout Pisidia, Pamphylia, then to Perga, Attalia, and returning to Antioch in Syria (Acts 14:24-26).

Paul's Second Missionary Journey

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The second journey begins, Paul goes through Syria and Cilicia (now southeastern Turkey), coming to Derbe and Lystra, and then onto Phrygia and Galatia, before passing through Mysia to Troas, the island of Samothracia, and then to Neapolis in Macedonia (now northern Greece) and Philippi (Acts 16:14-34). Passing through Amphipolis and Appolonia, they came to Thessalonica. After teaching in Berea, Paul departed into Achaia (now southern Greece), to Athens (Acts 17:14-15). Then Paul then makes his first visit to Corinth (Acts 18:5)! Paul leaves Corinth to go to Cenchrea and then across to Ephesus and Caesarea, before finishing up in Antioch in Syria.

Paul's Third Missionary Journey

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Paul's third journey begins in Galatia (central region of Turkey) and then to Phrygia (Acts 18:23) before arriving in Ephesus where he stayed for 3 years (Acts 20:31). Paul then went to Troas and continued to Macedonia (2 Corinthians 2:12-13 and 7:5). After going through Macedonia (northern Greece), Paul came to Achaia (southern Greece) (Acts 20:2-3), makes a third visit to Corinth before headed back to Macedonia (Acts 20:1) and onto Philippi  (Acts 20:6). Following this, Paul went to Troas, Assos, Mitylene, Chios, Samos, Trogylium, Miletus (now in southwestern Turkey), Coos, Rhodes, Patara, Tyre (in Lebanon), Ptolemais and to Caesarea before finishing back in Jerusalem.

Paul's final journey

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Paul in Jerusalem, is beaten by the Jewish authorities (Acts 22) and taken to trial before them. Many Jews wanted to kill him (Acts 23:12) for his service to Jesus Christ.  Paul is taken before the Roman Governor Felix at Caesarea (Acts 24:10) and when the reign of Portius Felix begins, Paul appeals to Caesar in Rome! Paul was a Roman citizen, he was innocent of the crimes bought against him and it was his right to appeal to the Roman emperor! So He did and Paul's final journey starts in Acts 25:11. The boat sails to Sidon, Myra (now southern Turkey) and on to Crete (Acts 27:7-13), Melita, near Sicily, Syracuse, Rhegium (southern tip of Italy), then to Puteoli (on the western coast of Italy). Finally, Paul ends up in Rome (Acts 28:30)!

During all these journeys, Paul has endured persecution, beatings, stonings, whippings, imprisonment, mock trials and shipwrecks! In 2 Corinthians 11 you can read all that Paul endured and he sums it up 2 Corinthians 12:10 "That is why, for Christ's sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong." Paul was an amazing man!

Issues in the Churches of the Bible

Lets look now at some of the issues of the churches at that time, and we see this best by looking very briefly at some of the letters of the New Testament, written by Paul, Peter, John, James and Jude.

Romans: Paul's letter to the church in Rome presents God's plan of salvation, which sees it extended to all of humanity based solely on Jesus Christ' work on the cross and received by an individual's faith in Him alone.

1 Corinthians: At Corinth, the church was an established church, taught by Paul, yet they were not living he had taught by him.  Members of the church were living improper lives and Paul wrote to correct them, with the love of a pastoral heart.

2 Corinthians: here due to people doubting his integrity and authority, Paul presents his authority, message, sufferings, disappointments, responsibilities, blessings, and hope.

Ephesians: Paul discusses the position of Christian believers before God - that they are now children of God! He then goes on to discuss the daily function of the Christian, including living a life worthy of Jesus Christ, supremely by serving others.

1 Thessalonians: Paul is unable to revisit this new group of believers who are under attack and persecution.  He commences with some personal reflections and continues on to teach, stabilize, console and to encourage them in their Christian walk.

2 Thessalonians: The Thessalonian church is still enduring persecution.  Central to this letter is Paul's concern for them regarding the coming again of the Lord, where some believed it had already occurred.

1 Timothy: Paul the apostle delegates authority to Timothy, his personal representative in Ephesus. His instructions include Timothy's life and ministry as an apostolic representative and about the organization, function, and edification of the church. This includes countering all kinds of false teaching about Jesus the Christ.

James: James writes to scattered and leaderless Jewish believers who still met at a synagogue and were enduring hardship.  James urges them to keep going and develop an active working faith that is actively working and to live a morally and ethically correct life.

1 Peter: Peter writes to believers undergoing suffering & persecution. He instructs them toward Christian stability, and the proper expression of this stability and growth. Peter stresses a hope that is alive, glorious and certain, and because of that can endure persecution and suffering.

2 Peter: Peter is dying as he writes this letter to a group of believers who are enduring trials and being confronted with false teachers. He also clarifies teaching about the Last Days.

1 John: John writes about fellowship which comes through obedience to the Word of God and through confession of sin when sin is committed. John also writes to tackle false Gnostic teachers who were challenging the  teachings of Jesus' apostles..

Jude: Jude writes warning against apostasy, which is giving up and abandoning a belief in Jesus and going back to old ways. . He urges his readers to recognize the problem and fight for the faith.

Through these letters of the New Testament, we see the early church dealing with issues of doctrine and teaching, countering false teachings about salvation and Jesus' return, warning against apostasy and encouraging wholesome living and service as believers in Jesus Christ. The church has grown and spread throughout most of the known world in obedience to Jesus' last command to go to all nations. This growth of the church is the greatest evidence of Jesus' bodily resurrection from the dead. His resurrection was the catalyst to turn 11 frightened men, his disciples, into the leaders of the early church. But Jesus also promised that He would come back again and that's what we will look at next time, in our final part of Glimpses! Thank you.

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Glimpses 28

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Church Matures

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G'day and welcome to Partake! We are now on day 28 of our series "Glimpses", looking at the story of the Bible in 30 days - from the time of creation through to the time of the fullness of redemption! We saw last time that the church has experienced some crises but overcame them with guidance from the Holy Spirit, prayer and wisdom. They would need that again, in another 2 events we look at tonight!

King Jesus Makes An Appearance to Saul!

Reading from Acts 9 ‘But Saul, still breathing threats and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord, got close to Damascus, and suddenly a light from the sky shone around him. He fell on the earth, and heard a voice saying to him, "Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?" He said, "Who are you, Lord?"  The Lord said, "I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.  But rise up, and enter into the city, and you will be told what you must do."'

Paul's conversion is perhaps the most famous throughout the history of the Church. Known as Saul, he had led systematic persecution of Christians, including the death of Stephen we looked at last time.. The only possible cause for his conversion is the beautiful sovereign grace of God. Why did Paul hate the believers so much? Because, To his mind at the time, to him a dead Messiah was no Messiah at all and how could the Saviour of the Jews, the Messiah, die on a cross and be cursed by God. No, no. Paul considered it his duty as a man zealous for the law, to eradicate all those who were followers of this man.

Carrying letters from the High Priest in Jerusalem, he set out for Damascus in a bid to stop these Christians. He would arrive in Damascus, a proud and pompous man, bent on ridding the city of its followers of Jesus. But Jesus appears suddenly to Paul and speaks to him! God arrested Paul, shone his light upon him, the mercy of God overflowed upon him and the grace of God through Jesus overwhelmed him!

Leading to his conversion, Paul had his sub-conscious doubts about Jesus amidst the stories of Jesus being raised from the dead! The witness of Stephen as Paul watched him die and pray to Jesus asking the Lord to forgive his enemies - for as the church father, Augustine comments "If Stephen had not prayed, the Church would not have had Paul!" The inadequacy of the Old Covenant and Law to save! He knew that his thoughts & attitudes were not clean for example his sin of covetousness. Therefore he had no inner power or peace!

But what were the consequences of this conversion? His name was changed from Saul to Paul (Acts 13)! His attitudes, character & relationships with God, fellow believers and the unbelieving world were utterly transformed with the Holy Spirit now living inside him. Instead of arriving in Damascus full of pride & bravery, as a self confident enemy of Jesus, Paul entered Damascus as a prisoner of Jesus, humbled and blinded.

But his conversion was initially met with doubt! The first person to minister to him was Ananias who was hesitant to do so but was persuaded by the Lord to do so! Other believers in Damascus also doubted Paul's conversion, but they were won over by the Holy Spirit and Paul's transformation.

Paul Sent

Jesus appointed Paul to be 3 things: a servant of God; a witness for God to the world, and also an apostle engaged in pioneer work to the Gentiles.  Jesus confirmed this to Ananias that Paul was a 'chosen instrument', and Ananias passed this onto Paul (v15).

Four things Paul would do:

  • His witness was centred on Jesus Christ..
  • His witness was powered by the Holy Spirit
  • His witness was courageous in Damascus, the synagogues and in Jerusalem where the Sanhedrin met. He also debated with the Hellenists
  • His witness was costly. His life was often threatened and throughout his life he was persecuted against.

Paul's experience of rejection in Damascus repeated itself in Jerusalem. When he tried to join the Apostles and Christian believers, they were afraid and doubted he really was a believer. But this time Barnabas to the others about him and his changed life. Paul was eventually accepted by them into the community of believers.

We see the maturing church has now five characteristics -

  • peace - free from outside interference
  • strength - confirming its position
  • encouragement - comforted by the Holy Spirit
  • growth - multiplying numerically
  • godliness - living in the fear of the Lord.

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However soon after this, another problem - a matter concern doctrine!

Doctrinal Issues Arise

In Acts 15v1 we read  "Some men came down from Judea and taught the brothers, "Unless you are circumcised after the custom of Moses, you can't be saved."

At its beginning, the apostolic church was one church under the unitary leadership of the apostles.  However a new problem arose! This problem arose because some men from Judea came to Antioch and promoted the view that circumcision was necessary for salvation and that certain regulations of the Old Testament law be required of non-Jewish converts as prerequisites for their recognition as members of the church of Jesus Christ. They were opposed by Paul and Barnabas, and as there was no final resolution, help was sought from the church in Jerusalem, still at this point the heartland of the Christian church.

On arriving at Jerusalem, the delegates from Antioch were welcomed by 'the church and the apostles and elders, to whom they reported everything God had done through them', This gathering evidently consisted of the leadership (apostles and elders) and many of the membership, including those convened were putting forward the requirement that Gentiles 'must be circumcised and required to obey the law of Moses' (Acts 15v5-6). This was the context for discussion of the issue.

There was free debate and no papering over differences. The apostles let the elders speak before they joined in and it is clear that their goal was to know the mind of the Holy Spirit in the matter (Acts 15v28). The Apostle Peter rose after much discussion, and proceeded to demolish the Judaist viewpoint with arguments drawn from his own experience of ministry to Gentiles. He first described the conversion of the Gentiles as the work of God (Acts 15v 7-9) as they were filled with the Holy Spirit just as Jewish believers in Jesus were! This was proved by the Gentile Christians' faith, which was no different from their own (Acts 15v9)!

Rising to a glorious crescendo, the Apostle Peter declared emphatically the very heart of the gospel: that salvation is by grace alone, both for Jews and Gentiles (Acts 15v11). Now doubt he reflected on the words of Jesus who said 'my yoke is easy and my burden is light' (Matthew 11v30).

James, the brother of Jesus delivered the coup-de-grace to the Judaism argument with a direct appeal to the Word of God. God had already spoken on the matter! Quoting Amos 9v11-12, James reminded them that the prophet had declared that 'David's fallen tent' was be restored and that this would involve the in gathering of all the Gentiles who bear the Lord's name' (Acts 15v16-18). This is fulfilled, James says, in all that Peter had described (Acts 15:14). The church of Jesus Christ was all along intended to encompass both Jew and Gentile and, one by one without discrimination, they are brought to the same faith by the same Lord. This, James showed, was 'the mind of God", in the Scripture'.

A proposal

There was a definitive doctrinal proposal:  'We should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God' (Acts 15v19). It told the Judaizing party in the gentlest possible way that what they were asking for was not the Lord's will for the church, and contrary to the gospel of God's free grace in Christ by faith alone.

Then in Acts 15v20 there was a practical 4 point proposal to foster church unity by asking the Gentile Christians to take particular care to distance themselves from their former manner of life.

Leave Alone: Gentiles were to examine critically their old habits and give no cause to anyone to accuse them of their old sins. They were also encouraged to be graciously accommodating to Jewish dietary sensitivities. For their part, Jewish believers needed to understand that Gentiles were not to be required to observe the Mosaic ceremonial law.

Grace Alone: The apostles clearly taught that salvation was by the free and sovereign grace of God through faith in Christ alone. Council of Jerusalem held that line and closed the door on further discussion.

Spirit Alone: They emphasised that the decision 'seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to the church' (Acts 15v28). Jesus had promised that the Holy Spirit would lead them into all truth (John 14v26; 16v13).

Standing Alone: The council's four 'requirements', highlight the necessity and the blessing of the separated life for Christians and to "stand alone" from the world, whilst living in the world. 'You will do well to avoid these things' (Acts 15v29).

The conversion of Paul and the Council of Jerusalem, led to the church maturing, going forward in unity and returning to the expansion of the Kingdom of Jesus Christ. But that is our topic for next time! Thank you!

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