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Archive for October 2014

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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Glimpses 27

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Church Birth Pains

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G'day and welcome to Partake! We are now on day 27 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! The birth of the church has come! The Holy Spirit has come to live within believers in Jesus Christ as the Messiah as part of the fulfilment of the New Covenant we have looked at. The early church was dynamic and seen to be exercising the authority of Jesus Christ.  But a couple of problems arise, just as Jesus warned about, which could have caused the early church to die young.

1. Prejudice!

Let's read Acts 6v1 "But as the believers rapidly multiplied, there were rumblings of discontent. The Greek-speaking believers complained about the Hebrew-speaking believers, saying that their widows were being discriminated against in the daily distribution of food."

So there is good news and bad news!

  • Good news - they were growing!
  • Bad news - but this had caused a problem as some widows were not being cared for!

Hebraic Jews had always lived in the then nation of Israel, spoke mainly Aramaic and some Hebraic.  They would have been well used to life in a Jewish society, the Temple and avoiding those who were not Jews: the Gentiles. Grecian or Hellenistic Jews were part of the Jewish Diaspora, born elsewhere within the known world and had returned to Jerusalem.  These mainly spoke Greek, and were well used to working with Gentiles.

Widows were and are important to God, God loves justice and mercy.  The Apostles would have known about God caring for the widows and in Jesus teaching about justice for the poor and the oppressed.  We know this because earlier in Acts 2 and 4, people were selling and sharing possessions and ensuring that people within the Christian community were being looked after and cared for.  Somehow, unintentional or not, this group of widows were missing out. How was this crisis solved?

The Solution

The solution can be seen in Acts 6v2-4

So the Twelve called a meeting of all the believers. They said, "We apostles should spend our time teaching the word of God, not running a food program. And so, brothers, select seven men who are well respected and are full of the Spirit and wisdom. We will give them this responsibility. Then we apostles can spend our time in prayer and teaching the word."

Transformation!

It's not stated explicitly, but a transformation had taken place! Only a short time ago, the disciples of Jesus had refused to wash feet as an act of service (Peter) and some had wanted positions of power and greatness (James & John).  But as they are transformed by the indwelling Holy Spirit, they react much more righteously and judiciously - just as Jesus Christ would have done. WOW!

All together now!

Then they gathered all the believers together for a church meeting.  They gave their opinion or judgment if you like, that their ministry or time would be better spent doing what God had called them to do - to be leaders of the Church, praying, preaching, evangelizing and discerning how best to apply the 3 years of teaching that they had had when travelling with Jesus Christ before His ascension.  Note also that the Apostles didn't say their work was more important than serving. Other people in the church gathering, who had a ministry of service and overseeing the food distribution, could spend their time doing that!

The Result

Acts 6v7 - So God's message continued to spread. The number of believers greatly increased in Jerusalem, and many of the Jewish priests were converted, too.

The result was even greater growth now! This growth was where the word of God increased in its effectiveness in the lives of those unbelievers who would listen to the gospel.  This growth was not merely addition but multiplication! So explosive was this growth, that even former enemies such as Jewish priests were becoming converts and started to believe in the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ.  The church was preaching one thing and acting upon it.  There was no hypocrisy within the church. The church was transparent - it lived as it believed.  The church was seen as transformative and servant-like.  Transformation and change alone would not have been the catalyst for growth, without the reasoning behind it. Instead of being a withdrawn people filled with fear of retribution from the Roman government and Jewish leaders, they became a people filled with boldness and joy - serving God and others, just as Jesus Christ did.

But there was one further problem and it was just as Jesus had warned them the night before His own crucifixion and had prayed for them!

2. Persecution Arises!

But a true crisis soon appears which almost caused the growing body of believers, the only church in existence at the time, to implode and die! All the power and passion of the early church, however, had a cost.  The early church endured persecution from the Jewish authorities, keen to exercise authoritarian rule.  The early church was persecuted for Jesus as the Messiah.  What was the result of this persecution?  The world was changing, particularly for the Jewish people.  For centuries they had been expectant of a Messiah or Saviour.  When the Messiah, Jesus Christ, did come - they missed Him.  They had misunderstood what the Messiah was to do.  The Messiah was not to lead a political revolution as they thought, but rather lead a spiritual revolution, bring people back into relationship with God.  Just as we saw in the Old Testament Covenants. The worldview of the Jewish people needed to be changed and when worldviews need wholesale change of focus, problems arise.  The embryonic church, was soon to feel pressure to revert back to old ways of thinking.

It is not long into the book of Acts, and therefore the history of the church, that persecution arises.  We see the first stages of this persecution in Acts 4v1-4. While Peter and John were speaking to the people, they were confronted by the priests, the captain of the Temple guard, and some of the Sadducees. These leaders were very disturbed that Peter and John were teaching the people that through Jesus there is a resurrection of the dead. They arrested them and, since it was already evening, put them in jail until morning.

However somewhat surprisingly we then read in verse 4 that "But many of the people who heard their message believed it, so the number of believers now totalled about 5,000 men, not counting women and children."

And we read in chapter 5v29, the response of the Apostles to this persecution and harassment: "We must obey God rather than any human authority.

The early church was not going to just give up their beliefs! One example of this persecution is from Acts 6-7 and the first Christian martyr: Stephen.  Stephen had reminded these Jewish leaders that God did not dwell in buildings made from stone, as in the Temple.  For God had also been with his people in various places, such as Mesopotamia, Palestine and Egypt!  Stephen reminded them also of how the Jews had always rejected God's messengers and now finally, they had killed God's Son, the Messiah, Jesus Christ.  He also reminded them that what made somebody a person after God's own heart was not the physical circumcision but a circumcision of the heart.  It was a spiritual revolution that occurred when a people were in relationship with the Living God, not just the outward appearance. His persecutors were livid with rage at this!

Stoning is an awful and excruciating way to die.  While Jesus had prayed to the Father in his dying moments, Stephen prayed to - Jesus!  Stephen, sees Jesus in all his magnificent, glorious and heavenly majesty, and can only cry out to Him in such a way!  Then finally he asks Jesus to forgive those who have killed him. We see in Stephen's final words, the reaction of a man full of faith and filled with the Spirit undergoing pressure.  We see his love and faith put into practise when he exclaimed as his last words before dying, Acts 7v59 "don't hold this sin against them!" Looking on was the leader of his persecutors, Saul.

If the New Testament church had known that Jesus did not rise from the dead physically, would the church have grown like it has over 2000 years?  Would people like Stephen, have knowingly died, or undergone systematic persecution, for a known lie or mistruth?

Our study next time, we will look at how King Jesus makes a brief re-appearance, the church moves on from these "problems" and commences fulfilling the command of Jesus to go to all nations with the good news about Him. Thank you!

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Glimpses 26

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Church Birthday

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G'day and welcome to Partake! We are now on day 26 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! Jesus has died, rose again from the dead, ascended back to the right hand of the Father - all just as he said he would. The physical resurrection of Jesus Christ was the catalyst for the beginning of the church but the empowerment was to come, as promised by Jesus! Since his resurrection he has given his disciples instructions, including the command to go make disciples of all nations with the message he gave them! Then he told them to wait in Jerusalem! But for who? Remember they were still hopeful of Jesus returning to defeat the Roman Empire and install a political kingdom of God! But they were wrong and soon found out they were wrong! So they waited, but for what, or rather, who?

Waiting!

Acts1:12-14 Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mountain called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a Sabbath day's journey away. When they had come in, they went up into the upper room, where they were staying; that is Peter, John, James, Andrew, Philip, Thomas, Bartholomew, Matthew, James the son of Alphaeus, Simon the Zealot, and Judas the son of James. All these with one accord continued steadfastly in prayer and supplication, along with the women, and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers.

Acts 2:1-2  Now when the day of Pentecost had come, they were all with one accord in one place.   Suddenly there came from the sky a sound like the rushing of a mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting.

As we saw last time, Jesus has ascended back to the right hand of the Father.  The 12 apostles are now back in Jerusalem and waiting for the Holy Spirit to come as promised by Jesus.  More about Him later in this podcast! It was now the time of the Shavuot in the Jewish calendar - 50 days after Passover (remember that from Jesus' last night!)

Pentecost derives itself from the Old Testament festival known as the Jewish Feast of Weeks or Shavuot.  This feast consisted of the first-fruits of the wheat harvest and selected animals were sacrificed, all as an act of thanksgiving to God, according to the Law given to Moses (Leviticus 23:15-20).  But it was soon to change its meaning under the New Covenant. It became Pentecost, the Greek word for ‘50 days', and marks the birthday of the church! What is the birthday of the church? That is the day when the Holy Spirit came down and empowered the disciples for service! The day now known as Pentecost celebrates the day when, as promised by Jesus, as part of the New Covenant (remember that), the Holy Spirit came down to live inside the disciples of Jesus Christ, and empower and transform them!

Empowered!

Take Peter for an example! Just a few days earlier he had rejected Jesus Christ and openly defied Him by trying to stop Jesus going to the cross.  This Peter, who was dejected and defeated because he had put everything into following this Jesus.  In the early chapters of the bible Book of Acts, we see all disciples being transformed. Some were affected in amazingly spectacular ways and others in more placid ways.  Let us concentrate on Peter for a good example of this.  This is now a new Peter, transformed by the indwelling Holy Spirit, who speaks with the authority Jesus gave the disciples.

Peter, given impetus by the Holy Spirit, preaches a sermon and 3000 people are added to the church in one day (Acts 2v41). This Peter, who when passing by a man who couldn't walk, told him to get up and walk - and he did (Acts 3v1-11)! A WOW moment for sure! Peter was allowing himself to be controlled by the Holy Spirit and doing some of the things that were synonymous with Jesus' earthly ministry.

Transformed!

What is the difference between this Peter and the Peter before Jesus' resurrection?  It was only the Holy Spirit, the empowerment and the difference He made to Peter.  Peter, by submitting himself to the authority and power of the Holy Spirit, was allowing the Holy Spirit to control him and guide him.  This Peter, who we know from the Gospel accounts, had no self-control, yet now had self-control because he submitted to the Holy Spirit.  The greatest evidence of the Holy Spirit living inside of humans, is the transformation of the individual into the image of Jesus - as demonstrated by our example, Peter.

This Peter who allowed the Holy Spirit's power to heal people also administered church discipline as in the case of Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5v10).  But it wasn't just Peter who was empowered.  As Acts 5v12-16 shows us, all the followers of Jesus, not just the twelve apostles, filled and controlled by the Holy Spirit, were able to do healings and other miracles. Not just those more spectacular gifts of healing, miracles etc but also gifts such as mercy, generosity, helps and service.

The Holy Spirit, living inside and empowering all believers, for service of Jesus Christ, not just the original 12 apostles or disciples. That is one of the reasons the early church grew phenomenally and more about that growth later on in this series!

Who is the Holy Spirit?

But who is the Holy Spirit? Good question! In the Old Testament the Spirit makes appearances but only comes on one person at a time during that time. David is a good example of that!  There was to be a time when He would live inside all believers in God through the Messiah! That's under the terms of the New Covenant as This is part of the fulfilment of the New Covenant, where the Almighty and All-powerful God would indwell those who follow him. Throughout his ministry Jesus had often talked about how after he departed back to the Father, that the Holy Spirit would come.

The Holy Spirit is spoken of as God (1 Corinthians 3v16). The attributes of God are ascribed to the Holy Spirit - life (Romans 8v2), truth (John 16v13) and love (Romans 15v30). The Holy Spirit is also a Person and is always referred to as ‘He' in the New Testament (John 16v14). He relates to humanity as a person for he lives inside the believer as comforter, guide and teacher (John 14). He can be blasphemed against and be grieved (Ephesians 4v30). Wherever the Holy Spirit is, the Father and Son are also present. (John 14v18-23).

Throughout the Book of Acts and in the other New Testament writings we discover more about the Holy Spirit.  We see His prime role to glorify Jesus Christ as the Son of God (John 16v13-14), to testify for Jesus Christ (John 15v26) and witness for Jesus Christ (Acts 1v8) to humans.  The Holy Spirit is involved with ministering to members of the church, as Jesus would be if He were there physically. There is more about the Holy Spirit if you search on this website!

With all this, the Holy Spirit also equipped all the followers of Jesus for service, to will and to act accordingly to those purposes. We see in the rest of the Book of Acts, how the Holy Spirit empowered the early church and gave them impetus.

Transformation and service are the key working practises of the Holy Spirit and we will His handiwork in our next episode as we see the Church begin! The Pharisees and Sadducees are long gone.  The Roman Empire collapsed. But... But... But... Jesus' church still stands, is still growing, and will one day be joined with Jesus in eternity, to the praise, honour and glory of Him who will return in majesty, just as He promised! More about that later on in this series! So that's the birthday of the church! What happened next is what we talk about tomorrow! Thank you!

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Glimpses 25

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King Ascends and a Final Command!

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G'day and welcome to Partake! We are now on day 25 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! Jesus has died, just as he said he would. And what's more, He rose again from the dead, again, just as he said he would.  Appearing to both individuals and groups of people, at various times of the day, engaging in conversations and even eating! Today we look at what happened next!

Reading Matthew 28v16-20 - Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. Then Jesus came to them and said, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age."

Jesus' resurrection is the catalyst for the mission of the church, beginning with the disciples and throughout history. Jesus Christ was the fulfilment of the Old Testament covenants we looked at! His mission to earth is coming to an end and shortly He will be returning to the right hand of the Father. Before He does so though, He has some more words to say to His disciples.

King's Authority

Throughout the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus' authority is a major theme. Where Matthew records Jesus doing miracles, this is to highlight Jesus authority in action and not just merely in words. Matthew records Jesus' authority to forgive sins (Matthew 9v6) and he imparted authority to his disciples for a short time when they went on a mission in Matthew 10. Jesus has authority (Matthew 28v18) over all things, all people, all circumstances and happenings. Jesus has authority over all spiritual beings, whether angels or demons. Jesus has authority over all nations, ideologies, religions, governments and rulers. Jesus has authority over all earthly and spiritual authorities. Jesus has the authority over sexuality and personality. Jesus has the authority over all things! This means regardless of what ever the disciples encounter, Jesus is in control. Therefore, his disciples were to obey him without fear of retribution from those who would seek to harm us. It means obeying him regardless of the circumstances. It would be a great comfort to know, that he is in control of everything!! Through his death on the cross and his rising from the dead, Jesus has conquered all enemies. Now sometimes authority is confused with authoritarian. Authoritarian means severe, rigidity and a dictator. None of these applies to Jesus. His disciples, should choose to exercise free will to obey him and live a life worthy of him.

King's Last Command - You Go

If Jesus had not risen from the dead, then the disciples would not have had a story to tell. But Jesus had indeed risen from the dead, and the early church exploded numerically as the twelve disciples exercised Jesus' authority and His power. We read about the growth of the early church in the Book of Acts and more of that to come later in the series.

Ever since Genesis 3 and the fall of man, God has been on a mission to bring and call people back to himself. We saw that mission in this series through the covenants made between God and humanity. That was the purpose of the nation of Israel, to be a light to all nations of the goodness and glory of God! That was purpose when God, who is outside of time and space, entered human history taking on human flesh and restricted himself in a human body as the man we know as Jesus Christ. Jesus' whole mission was one of calling people back to life in God.  Now Jesus is leaving his disciples once more. Jesus has died and come back to life again, thereby defeating death. But he now tells his disciples he is leaving to return to the Father and the job is up to them to spread this good news about the kingdom of God, he has initiated! He tells them to make other disciples, to baptize them just as they were baptized and teach those people what Jesus had taught them himself! But how were they to do this?

King Ascends

Reading Acts 1v3-11 During the forty days after his crucifixion, he appeared to the disciples from time to time, and he proved to them in many ways that he was actually alive. And he talked to them about the Kingdom of God.  Once when Jesus was eating with his disciples, he commanded them, "Do not leave Jerusalem until the Father sends you the gift he promised, as I told you before. John baptized with] water, but in just a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit."

So when the disciples were with Jesus, they kept asking him, "Lord, has the time come for you to free Israel and restore our kingdom?"

He replied, "The Father alone has the authority to set those dates and times, and they are not for you to know. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. And you will be my witnesses, telling people about me everywhere-in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth."

After saying this, he was taken up into a cloud while they were watching, and they could no longer see him. As they strained to see him rising into heaven, two white-robed men suddenly stood among them. "Men of Galilee," they said, "why are you standing here staring into heaven? Jesus has been taken from you into heaven, but someday he will return from heaven in the same way you saw him go!"

Mark 16:14-19, Luke 24:50-51 and Acts 1v1-12, we read about Jesus physically ascending into the heavens.  He is returning, as He said he would do, to the right hand of the Father.  During their last discussion with Jesus, the disciples were still expecting him to lead a revolution against the Romans (Acts 1v6).  Despite all Jesus had said to them in the previous 3 years, they still did not understand that Jesus had come to lead a spiritual kingdom and not a political kingdom.  Hence He tells them to go back to Jerusalem, with for the Holy Spirit and then go tell others the Good News about Him!  Then Jesus ascends into the sky! Some doubt the authenticity of this account by Luke. But what else could have happened? No other alternative is viable, particularly given what Jesus himself has said in John 16v5-7 "But now I am going away to the One who sent me, and not one of you is asking where I am going. Instead, you grieve because of what I've told you.  But in fact, it is best for you that I go away, because if I don't the Holy Spirit won't come. If I do go away, then I will send him to you."

And even after Jesus had vanished into the clouds, the disciples still gathered around looking into the sky for Him to return!  So two angels came and said to the disciples in Acts 1v11 "You men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into the sky? This Jesus, who was received up from you into the sky will come back in the same way as you saw him going into the sky." From there the disciples returned to Jerusalem and waited.  They didn't have to wait long! Only 10 days! Then the Holy Spirit came, filled them and started living within them as part of the fulfilment of the New Covenant we have talked about.

Just as it was for those 12 disciples, so it is with all believers down through history. But more about that - next time on Partake!

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