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8 Now Stephen, full of grace and power, was performing great wonders and signs among the people. 9 Opposition arose, however, from some members of the Freedmen’s Synagogue, composed of both Cyrenians and Alexandrians, and some from Cilicia and Asia, and they began to argue with Stephen. 10 But they were unable to stand up against his wisdom and the Spirit by whom he was speaking.
11 Then they secretly persuaded some men to say, “We heard him speaking blasphemous words against Moses and God.” 12 They stirred up the people, the elders, and the scribes; so they came, seized him, and took him to the Sanhedrin. 13 They also presented false witnesses who said, “This man never stops speaking against this holy place and the law. 14 For we heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place and change the customs that Moses handed down to us.” 15 And all who were sitting in the Sanhedrin looked intently at him and saw that his face was like the face of an angel.
7- 1 “Are these things true?” the high priest asked.
2 “Brothers and fathers,” he replied, “listen: The God of glory appeared to our father Abraham when he was in Mesopotamia, before he settled in Haran, 3 and said to him: Leave your country and relatives, and come to the land that I will show you.
4 “Then he left the land of the Chaldeans and settled in Haran. From there, after his father died, God had him move to this land in which you are now living. 5 He didn’t give him an inheritance in it—not even a foot of ground—but he promised to give it to him as a possession, and to his descendants after him, even though he was childless. 6 God spoke in this way: His descendants would be strangers in a foreign country, and they would enslave and oppress them for four hundred years. 7 I will judge the nation that they will serve as slaves, God said. After this, they will come out and worship me in this place. 8 And so he gave Abraham the covenant of circumcision. After this, he fathered Isaac and circumcised him on the eighth day. Isaac became the father of Jacob, and Jacob became the father of the twelve patriarchs.
9 “The patriarchs became jealous of Joseph and sold him into Egypt, but God was with him 10 and rescued him out of all his troubles. He gave him favor and wisdom in the sight of Pharaoh, king of Egypt, who appointed him ruler over Egypt and over his whole household. 11 Now a famine and great suffering came over all of Egypt and Canaan, and our ancestors could find no food. 12 When Jacob heard there was grain in Egypt, he sent our ancestors there the first time. 13 The second time, Joseph revealed himself to his brothers, and Joseph’s family became known to Pharaoh. 14 Joseph invited his father Jacob and all his relatives, seventy-five people in all, 15 and Jacob went down to Egypt. He and our ancestors died there,16 were carried back to Shechem, and were placed in the tomb that Abraham had bought for a sum of silver from the sons of Hamor in Shechem.
17 “As the time was approaching to fulfill the promise that God had made to Abraham, the people flourished and multiplied in Egypt 18 until a different king who did not know Joseph ruled over Egypt. 19 He dealt deceitfully with our race and oppressed our ancestors by making them abandon their infants outside so that they wouldn’t survive. 20 At this time Moses was born, and he was beautiful in God’s sight. He was cared for in his father’s home for three months. 21 When he was put outside, Pharaoh’s daughter adopted and raised him as her own son.22 So Moses was educated in all the wisdom of the Egyptians and was powerful in his speech and actions.
23 “When he was forty years old, he decided to visit his own people, the Israelites. 24 When he saw one of them being mistreated, he came to his rescue and avenged the oppressed man by striking down the Egyptian. 25 He assumed his people would understand that God would give them deliverance through him, but they did not understand. 26 The next day he showed up while they were fighting and tried to reconcile them peacefully, saying, ‘Men, you are brothers. Why are you mistreating each other?’
27 “But the one who was mistreating his neighbor pushed Moses aside, saying: Who appointed you a ruler and a judge over us? 28 Do you want to kill me, the same way you killed the Egyptian yesterday?
29 “When he heard this, Moses fled and became an exile in the land of Midian, where he became the father of two sons. 30 After forty years had passed, an angelappeared to him in the wilderness of Mount Sinai, in the flame of a burning bush. 31 When Moses saw it, he was amazed at the sight. As he was approaching to look at it, the voice of the Lord came: 32 I am the God of your ancestors—the God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob. Moses began to tremble and did not dare to look.
33 “The Lord said to him: Take off the sandals from your feet, because the place where you are standing is holy ground. 34 I have certainly seen the oppression of my people in Egypt; I have heard their groaning and have come down to set them free. And now, come, I will send you to Egypt.
35 “This Moses, whom they rejected when they said, Who appointed you a ruler and a judge?—this one God sent as a ruler and a deliverer through the angel who appeared to him in the bush. 36 This man led them out and performed wonders and signs in the land of Egypt, at the Red Sea, and in the wilderness for forty years.
37 “This is the Moses who said to the Israelites: God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your brothers and sisters. 38 He is the one who was in the assembly in the wilderness, with the angel who spoke to him on Mount Sinai, and with our ancestors. He received living oracles to give to us. 39 Our ancestors were unwilling to obey him. Instead, they pushed him aside, and in their hearts turned back to Egypt. 40 They told Aaron: Make us gods who will go before us. As for this Moses who brought us out of the land of Egypt, we don’t know what’s happened to him. 41 They even made a calf in those days, offered sacrifice to the idol, and were celebrating what their hands had made.42 God turned away and gave them up to worship the stars of heaven, as it is written in the book of the prophets:
House of Israel, did you bring me offerings and sacrifices
for forty years in the wilderness?
43 You took up the tent of Moloch
and the star of your god Rephan,
the images that you made to worship.
So I will send you into exile beyond Babylon.
44 “Our ancestors had the tabernacle of the testimony in the wilderness, just as he who spoke to Moses commanded him to make it according to the pattern he had seen. 45 Our ancestors in turn received it and with Joshua brought it in when they dispossessed the nations that God drove out before them, until the days of David. 46 He found favor in God’s sight and asked that he might provide a dwelling place for the God of Jacob. 47 It was Solomon, rather, who built him a house, 48 but the Most High does not dwell in sanctuaries made with hands, as the prophet says:
49 Heaven is my throne,
and the earth my footstool.
What sort of house will you build for me?
says the Lord,
or what will be my resting place?
50 Did not my hand make all these things?
51 “You stiff-necked people with uncircumcised hearts and ears! You are always resisting the Holy Spirit. As your ancestors did, you do also. 52 Which of the prophets did your ancestors not persecute? They even killed those who foretold the coming of the Righteous One, whose betrayers and murderers you have now become. 53 You received the law under the direction of angels and yet have not kept it.”
54 When they heard these things, they were enraged and gnashed their teeth at him. 55 Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven. He saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. 56 He said, “Look, I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!”
57 They yelled at the top of their voices, covered their ears, and together rushed against him. 58 They dragged him out of the city and began to stone him. And the witnesses laid their garments at the feet of a young man named Saul. 59 While they were stoning Stephen, he called out: “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit!” 60 He knelt down and cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them!” And after saying this, he died.
REACH: The hostilities between the religious leaders and this new movement sweeping through Jerusalem had reached an impasse. Now, not only were Peter and John and the apostles filling the streets of Jerusalem with this teaching, others, like Stephen, had gotten involved. In his case, the opposition desperately attempted to suppress his teaching, yet “they were unable to stand up against his wisdom and the Spirit by whom he was speaking” (6:10). All persecution attempts to silence witness, but his witness could not be silenced.
They falsely charged Stephen with blasphemy, and his extended defense consumes most of chapter 7. In a profound reversal, Stephen took the charges leveled against him and leveraged them against his accusers. His accusers stood condemned under the crushing weight of the biblical evidence Stephen employed. This enraged the mob, so they stoned him to death. Stephen calmly, as the original states, “fell asleep” in the horrific nightmare he was enduring.
Pray: The goal of persecution is to silence witness. We don’t face the same threat Stephen faced, yet we can silence our own witness at times. Why? Pray for God to expose and take out the fear that keeps us timid in witness and small in ambition.
RESISTANCE: Fear has more of an effect on us than we often realize. Fear is that nagging false prophet who predicts harm in our future and makes us timid in the present. Fear shrinks our souls to the confines of self-preservation and narrow, self-oriented ambition.
But the Spirit expands the soul, even to embrace the costliest risk for a cause bigger than ourselves. This is what startled the ancient world about these Jesus followers. A resurrected Jesus meant death no longer threatened, and that robbed every other ruling authority of their primary method to keep control: fear. Their threatening lost its bite when death had lost its sting. Obedience to Jesus trumped everything for the church. A new fear controlled them.
Stephen illustrates the calm confidence with which we can face death, empowered by the Spirit. Is fear confining you to self-absorption? Or, is the Spirit freeing you from fear, producing both a boldness and a broadness in mission in your life?
REALITY: One striking feature of this story is Stephen’s bold confidence to face hostile opposition, despite what it cost him. Luke bookended his sermon by highlighting the source of his resolve: the Spirit (7:10, 55). But, just like the believers in Acts 4 were emboldened by the Spirit through reading Psalm 2 when opposition arose, one other facet of Stephen’s story stands out: his knowledge of Scripture. A rough calculation has Stephen quoting at least 11 passages by memory in his speech. His wisdom, cultivated by Scripture, was employed by the Spirit to embolden his resolve.
Stephen’s story illustrates how the Spirit employs Scripture in the service of boldness to give the church the backbone to endure hostile opposition. Yet, some churches across the world still do not have access to both the Old and New Testaments that forges this resolve. Beyond that, 2,184 languages in the world still do not have a portion of the Scriptures in their own language.
“Faith comes by what is heard, and what is heard comes through the message about Christ” (Romans 10:17).
Faith presupposes the message is heard. Hearing presupposes the Word is accessible.
No Scripture equals no faith. The Great Commission predicates itself on being able to teach everything Jesus taught.
Pray: Praise God for the gift of having the Scriptures in our language. Pray for the 2,184 languages left with no translated scripture. Pray for the enduring faith of the churches around the world despite not having the whole Bible in their own language.
8 1 Saul agreed with putting him to death. On that day a severe persecution broke out against the church in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout the land of Judea and Samaria.2 Devout men buried Stephen and mourned deeply over him. 3 Saul, however, was ravaging the church. He would enter house after house, drag off men and women, and put them in prison.
4 So those who were scattered went on their way preaching the word. 5 Philip went down to a city in Samaria and proclaimed the Messiah to them. 6 The crowds were all paying attention to what Philip said, as they listened and saw the signs he was performing. 7 For unclean spirits, crying out with a loud voice, came out of many who were possessed, and many who were paralyzed and lame were healed. 8 So there was great joy in that city.
9 A man named Simon had previously practiced sorcery in that city and amazed the Samaritan people, while claiming to be somebody great. 10 They all paid attention to him, from the least of them to the greatest, and they said, “This man is called the Great Power of God.” 11 They were attentive to him because he had amazed them with his sorceries for a long time. 12 But when they believed Philip, as he proclaimed the good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, both men and women were baptized. 13 Even Simon himself believed. And after he was baptized, he followed Philip everywhere and was amazed as he observed the signs and great miracles that were being performed.
14 When the apostles who were at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent Peter and John to them. 15 After they went down there, they prayed for them so the Samaritans might receive the Holy Spirit because he had not yet come down on any of them. 16 (They had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.) 17 Then Peter and John laid their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit.
18 When Simon saw that the Spirit was given through the laying on of the apostles’ hands, he offered them money, 19 saying, “Give me this power also so that anyone I lay hands on may receive the Holy Spirit.”
20 But Peter told him, “May your silver be destroyed with you, because you thought you could obtain the gift of God with money! 21 You have no part or share in this matter, because your heart is not right before God. 22 Therefore repent of this wickedness of yours, and pray to the Lord that, if possible, your heart’s intent may be forgiven. 23 For I see you are poisoned by bitterness and bound by wickedness.”
24 “Pray to the Lord for me,” Simon replied, “so that nothing you have said may happen to me.”
25 So, after they had testified and spoken the word of the Lord, they traveled back to Jerusalem, preaching the gospel in many villages of the Samaritans.
26 An angel of the Lord spoke to Philip: “Get up and go south to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” (This is the desert road.) 27 So he got up and went. There was an Ethiopian man, a eunuch and high official of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, who was in charge of her entire treasury. He had come to worship in Jerusalem 28 and was sitting in his chariot on his way home, reading the prophet Isaiah aloud.
29 The Spirit told Philip, “Go and join that chariot.”
30 When Philip ran up to it, he heard him reading the prophet Isaiah, and said, “Do you understand what you’re reading?”
31 “How can I,” he said, “unless someone guides me?” So he invited Philip to come up and sit with him. 32 Now the Scripture passage he was reading was this:
He was led like a sheep to the slaughter,
and as a lamb is silent before its shearer,
so he does not open his mouth.
33 In his humiliation justice was denied him.
Who will describe his generation?
For his life is taken from the earth.
34 The eunuch said to Philip, “I ask you, who is the prophet saying this about—himself or someone else?” 35 Philip proceeded to tell him the good news about Jesus, beginning with that Scripture.
36 As they were traveling down the road, they came to some water. The eunuch said, “Look, there’s water. What would keep me from being baptized?” 38 So he ordered the chariot to stop, and both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water, and he baptized him. 39 When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord carried Philip away, and the eunuch did not see him any longer but went on his way rejoicing. 40 Philip appeared in Azotus, and he was traveling and preaching the gospel in all the towns until he came to Caesarea.
Reach: Persecution resulted in gospel advance. The very thing man envisioned to stop kingdom growth, God employs to advance it. Philip is one example of those ordinary people who were scattered. God fueled extraordinary growth through ordinary means. Philip was not an apostle, but one of the seven chosen by the apostles to serve the neglected widows in Acts 6. He faithfully proclaimed Christ as he moved to Samaria to live (8:5). God takes roadblocks and run-of-the-mill people and forges a path forward for the gospel.
Take a moment to reflect: Do you live expecting God to use you in the ordinary and mundane? Do you live in a way that reflects your belief in a God who is supernaturally at work in your life and in the world around you?
Resistance: Two separate encounters in Philip’s journey prove the gospel overcomes divisions between those we count as unreachable and those we neglect as unworthy. The first encounter happens among the Samaritans (8:6-13). The Samaritans were an ethnically and religiously mixed people of Jewish and Gentile ancestry. Jews considered them unworthy to be a part of the people of God. God chose to send a Jewish believer to bless them with the gospel. The gospel overcomes the barriers we create.
The second encounter involves the Ethiopian eunuch, a Gentile from another land. The Spirit planted Philip beside him while he read Isaiah. God purposed to bring outsiders into the people of God, and for the gospel to go to the ends of the earth. This Ethiopian eunuch represents God’s heart to bring outsiders in.
And, He’s not done! The Spirit takes Philip to Azotus, an old Philistine city, the arch-enemies of the Jewish people. Even our enemies are the target of the gospel. God’s gospel brings joy to unworthy Samaritans, unreachable Ethiopian eunuchs, and undesirable Philistines through unlikely means.
Reality: We struggle to embrace the broadness of the gospel’s reach. Who are the unworthy? Like the Jews thought of the Samaritans – who is it that we think can’t possibly follow Christ? Who is unreachable? Like the Jews thought about the Gentiles – who is it God can’t reach because we think they are too lost? Who is undesirable? Like the Jews thought about the Philistines – who are our enemies that need to hear?
Pray: Pray for the Han church in China to engage their Hui (pray4hui.com) Muslim neighbors with the gospel. Pray that God would break down the cultural and racial barriers that exist between them. Pray for the global church and for Brook Hills to really believe the power of the gospel to save any sinner.
9 Now Saul was still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord. He went to the high priest 2 and requested letters from him to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found any men or women who belonged to the Way, he might bring them as prisoners to Jerusalem. 3 As he traveled and was nearing Damascus, a light from heaven suddenly flashed around him. 4 Falling to the ground, he heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?”
5 “Who are you, Lord?” Saul said.
“I am Jesus, the one you are persecuting,” he replied. 6 “But get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.”
7 The men who were traveling with him stood speechless, hearing the sound but seeing no one. 8 Saul got up from the ground, and though his eyes were open, he could see nothing. So they took him by the hand and led him into Damascus. 9 He was unable to see for three days and did not eat or drink.
10 There was a disciple in Damascus named Ananias, and the Lord said to him in a vision, “Ananias.”
“Here I am, Lord,” he replied.
11 “Get up and go to the street called Straight,” the Lord said to him, “to the house of Judas, and ask for a man from Tarsus named Saul, since he is praying there.12 In a vision he has seen a man named Ananias coming in and placing his hands on him so that he may regain his sight.”
13 “Lord,” Ananias answered, “I have heard from many people about this man, how much harm he has done to your saints in Jerusalem. 14 And he has authority here from the chief priests to arrest all who call on your name.”
15 But the Lord said to him, “Go, for this man is my chosen instrument to take my name to Gentiles, kings, and Israelites. 16 I will show him how much he must suffer for my name.”
17 Ananias went and entered the house. He placed his hands on him and said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on the road you were traveling, has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.”
18 At once something like scales fell from his eyes, and he regained his sight. Then he got up and was baptized. 19 And after taking some food, he regained his strength.
Saul was with the disciples in Damascus for some time. 20 Immediately he began proclaiming Jesus in the synagogues: “He is the Son of God.”
21 All who heard him were astounded and said, “Isn’t this the man in Jerusalem who was causing havoc for those who called on this name and came here for the purpose of taking them as prisoners to the chief priests?”
22 But Saul grew stronger and kept confounding the Jews who lived in Damascus by proving that Jesus is the Messiah.
23 After many days had passed, the Jews conspired to kill him, 24 but Saul learned of their plot. So they were watching the gates day and night intending to kill him,25 but his disciples took him by night and lowered him in a large basket through an opening in the wall.
26 When he arrived in Jerusalem, he tried to join the disciples, but they were all afraid of him, since they did not believe he was a disciple. 27 Barnabas, however, took him and brought him to the apostles and explained to them how Saul had seen the Lord on the road and that the Lord had talked to him, and how in Damascus he had spoken boldly in the name of Jesus. 28 Saul was coming and going with them in Jerusalem, speaking boldly in the name of the Lord. 29 He conversed and debated with the Hellenistic Jews, but they tried to kill him.30 When the brothers found out, they took him down to Caesarea and sent him off to Tarsus.
31 So the church throughout all Judea, Galilee, and Samaria had peace and was strengthened. Living in the fear of the Lord and encouraged by the Holy Spirit, it increased in numbers.
32 As Peter was traveling from place to place, he also came down to the saintswho lived in Lydda. 33 There he found a man named Aeneas, who was paralyzed and had been bedridden for eight years. 34 Peter said to him, “Aeneas, Jesus Christ heals you. Get up and make your bed,” and immediately he got up. 35 So all who lived in Lydda and Sharon saw him and turned to the Lord.
36 In Joppa there was a disciple named Tabitha (which is translated Dorcas). She was always doing good works and acts of charity. 37 About that time she became sick and died. After washing her, they placed her in a room upstairs. 38 Since Lydda was near Joppa, the disciples heard that Peter was there and sent two men to him who urged him, “Don’t delay in coming with us.” 39 Peter got up and went with them. When he arrived, they led him to the room upstairs. And all the widows approached him, weeping and showing him the robes and clothes that Dorcas had made while she was with them. 40 Peter sent them all out of the room. He knelt down, prayed, and turning toward the body said, “Tabitha, get up.” She opened her eyes, saw Peter, and sat up. 41 He gave her his hand and helped her stand up. He called the saints and widows and presented her alive. 42 This became known throughout Joppa, and many believed in the Lord. 43 Peter stayed for some time in Joppa with Simon, a leather tanner.
Reach: The greatest enemy to the gospel in Acts emerged in Chapter 8: “Saul was ravaging the church, and entering house after house, dragging off men and women and committing them to prison (8:3).” Even more, we find Saul in Acts 9, “still breathing threats and murder against the disciples.” The zealous preservation of his Jewish way of life, in which salvation came through religious achievement, necessitated persecuting those who now threatened it. Salvation by faith alone in Christ alone had to be stopped. He would stop at nothing to silence those early disciples.
In Acts 9, Saul formulated his pervasive plan to reach and persecute believers. He stretched beyond Jerusalem. His strategy reached more than a hundred miles away to Damascus, where he had to put an end to the new movement. But that day would be the last day Saul would persecute the church. Christ demonstrated His power and complete authority in a way that left Saul blind and in full submission to the Lord. Saul was an unlikely candidate for conversion by everyone’s standard. He hated Christians. He hated their message. He hated Christ. But in a unique display of power and mercy, God showed Saul and the rest of the world that His arm is not too short to save. This gospel is for all, even the chief among sinners (1 Timothy 1:15-16).
Saul immediately began proclaiming Jesus as the Son of God in the synagogues. The hinderer became the herald and a new way was opened for gospel advancement.
Resistance: We can be like Ananias. Ananias is resistant because of the danger involved in what God had called him to do. His hesitation is a display of doubt that God would save someone like Saul. Ananias even reminds the Lord of the evil Saul has done to the saints in Jerusalem (9:13).
Do we believe that God can save the most hardened of hearts? Do we live prayerfully anticipating God’s divine sovereign grace in the lives of those we know are far from him? Are we willing to risk everything, even our lives, so they might know Him?
Write down three people who you know need Christ and that are far away from him. Spend time praying for God to intervene in their lives and save them.
Reality: Luke concludes the drama of Paul’s conversion on a high note, highlighting a time of peace and multiplication as the people of God walked in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit (10:31). The gospel had reached Jerusalem, Judea, and Samaria.
There are an estimated 600 million self-identified Evangelical Christians in the world today. Globally, Evangelicalism is a predominantly non-white movement within Christianity (84% non-white) and is growing throughout Latin America, Africa, and Asia. Many countries that received missionaries are now missionary senders.
Pray: Pray for Brook Hills to walk in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit. Pray for God to multiply His church.
Pray for wisdom about how the Roots & Reach Mission Project Team can support the health and growth of the global church.
10 There was a man in Caesarea named Cornelius, a centurion of what was called the Italian Regiment. 2 He was a devout man and feared God along with his whole household. He did many charitable deeds for the Jewish people and always prayed to God. 3 About three in the afternoon he distinctly saw in a vision an angel of God who came in and said to him, “Cornelius.”
4 Staring at him in awe, he said, “What is it, Lord?”
The angel told him, “Your prayers and your acts of charity have ascended as a memorial offering before God. 5 Now send men to Joppa and call for Simon, who is also named Peter. 6 He is lodging with Simon, a tanner, whose house is by the sea.”
7 When the angel who spoke to him had gone, he called two of his household servants and a devout soldier, who was one of those who attended him. 8 After explaining everything to them, he sent them to Joppa.
9 The next day, as they were traveling and nearing the city, Peter went up to pray on the roof about noon. 10 He became hungry and wanted to eat, but while they were preparing something, he fell into a trance. 11 He saw heaven opened and an object that resembled a large sheet coming down, being lowered by its four corners to the earth. 12 In it were all the four-footed animals and reptiles of the earth, and the birds of the sky. 13 A voice said to him, “Get up, Peter; kill and eat.”
14 “No, Lord!” Peter said. “For I have never eaten anything impure and ritually unclean.”
15 Again, a second time, the voice said to him, “What God has made clean, do not call impure.” 16 This happened three times, and suddenly the object was taken up into heaven.
17 While Peter was deeply perplexed about what the vision he had seen might mean, right away the men who had been sent by Cornelius, having asked directions to Simon’s house, stood at the gate. 18 They called out, asking if Simon, who was also named Peter, was lodging there.
19 While Peter was thinking about the vision, the Spirit told him, “Three men are here looking for you. 20 Get up, go downstairs, and go with them with no doubts at all, because I have sent them.”
21 Then Peter went down to the men and said, “Here I am, the one you’re looking for. What is the reason you’re here?”
22 They said, “Cornelius, a centurion, an upright and God-fearing man, who has a good reputation with the whole Jewish nation, was divinely directed by a holy angel to call you to his house and to hear a message from you.” 23 Peter then invited them in and gave them lodging.
The next day he got up and set out with them, and some of the brothers from Joppa went with him. 24 The following day he entered Caesarea. Now Cornelius was expecting them and had called together his relatives and close friends. 25 When Peter entered, Cornelius met him, fell at his feet, and worshiped him.
26 But Peter lifted him up and said, “Stand up. I myself am also a man.” 27 While talking with him, he went in and found a large gathering of people. 28 Peter said to them, “You know it’s forbidden for a Jewish man to associate with or visit a foreigner, but God has shown me that I must not call any person impure or unclean. 29 That’s why I came without any objection when I was sent for. So may I ask why you sent for me?”
30 Cornelius replied, “Four days ago at this hour, at three in the afternoon, I waspraying in my house. Just then a man in dazzling clothing stood before me 31 and said, ‘Cornelius, your prayer has been heard, and your acts of charity have been remembered in God’s sight. 32 Therefore send someone to Joppa and invite Simon here, who is also named Peter. He is lodging in Simon the tanner’s house by the sea.’ 33 So I immediately sent for you, and it was good of you to come. So now we are all in the presence of God to hear everything you have been commanded by the Lord.”
34 Peter began to speak: “Now I truly understand that God doesn’t show favoritism, 35 but in every nation the person who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him. 36 He sent the message to the Israelites, proclaiming the good news of peace through Jesus Christ—he is Lord of all. 37 You know the events that took place throughout all Judea, beginning from Galilee after the baptism that John preached: 38 how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power, and how he went about doing good and healing all who were under the tyranny of the devil, because God was with him. 39 We ourselves are witnesses of everything he did in both the Judean country and in Jerusalem, and yet they killed him by hanging him on a tree. 40 God raised up this man on the third day and caused him to be seen, 41 not by all the people, but by us whom God appointed as witnesses, who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. 42 He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one appointed by God to be the judge of the living and the dead. 43 All the prophets testify about him that through his name everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins.”
44 While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit came down on all those who heard the message. 45 The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were amazed because the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles. 46 For they heard them speaking in other tongues and declaring the greatness of God.
Then Peter responded, 47 “Can anyone withhold water and prevent these people from being baptized, who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” 48 He commanded them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked him to stay for a few days.
Reach: The forward progress of the gospel continued to broaden beyond the Jewish community. Acts 10 confirmed that Christ came to save not just the Jew, but the Gentile as well. Cornelius, a Gentile, was seeking to find God. God heard him and intervened to bring Simon Peter to his house.
At the same time in Joppa, God gave Peter a vision to show how Gentiles are no longer considered unclean and the gospel is for all.
In response, Peter opened his mouth and proclaimed the gospel, “Truly I understand that God shows no partiality” (Acts 10:34). This changed everything for Peter and the early church. Jesus didn’t merely die for the Jewish people, but for all peoples and for all the nations. And like Cornelius, God seeks worshipers from all the people of the earth.
Resistance: God confronts Peter’s personal prejudices and limited view of Himself. Peter had to die to his personal preference so that Cornelius could hear about Christ. Our prejudices and preferences can be barriers to others hearing the gospel. They must die if we are to be effective in our witness. This event turned the church outward so that the Jewish Messiah would be known throughout the earth. From here on, the church begins to work to figure out how to make the Jewish Messiah known among all the nations and bring them into the church. We must continue to press outward today.
Pray: Ask God to help us see our personal bias toward others who are not like us. Beg God to forgive us for this sin that comes so easily and naturally to us. Pray for God to show us the barriers our personal preferences have created that exist within our relationships, our city, and the world. Ask God to destroy those barriers.
Reality: Christ is available to all and He is pursuing the nations. There are still many, many people from different nations who have little to no knowledge of the gospel. In fact, there are currently over 3,000 unengaged unreached people groups (UUPG) in the world no one is even working to reach. That number of UUPG’s represents about 239 million people who will be born, live their entire life, and die without ever hearing of the hope for salvation in Christ. Their eternity is at stake. May Brook Hills be a church that is willing to sacrifice our preferences so others can know Christ.
Click here to see where the Unreached Unengaged are in the world and pray.
11 The apostles and the brothers and sisters who were throughout Judea heard that the Gentiles had also received the word of God. 2 When Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcision party criticized him, 3 saying, “You went to uncircumcised men and ate with them.”
4 Peter began to explain to them step by step: 5 “I was in the town of Joppa praying, and I saw, in a trance, an object that resembled a large sheet coming down, being lowered by its four corners from heaven, and it came to me. 6 When I looked closely and considered it, I saw the four-footed animals of the earth, the wild beasts, the reptiles, and the birds of the sky. 7 I also heard a voice telling me, ‘Get up, Peter; kill and eat.’
8 “‘No, Lord!’ I said. ‘For nothing impure or ritually unclean has ever entered my mouth.’ 9 But a voice answered from heaven a second time, ‘What God has made clean, you must not call impure.’
10 “Now this happened three times, and everything was drawn up again into heaven. 11 At that very moment, three men who had been sent to me from Caesarea arrived at the house where we were. 12 The Spirit told me to accompany them with no doubts at all. These six brothers also accompanied me, and we went into the man’s house. 13 He reported to us how he had seen the angel standing in his house and saying, ‘Send to Joppa, and call for Simon, who is also named Peter. 14 He will speak a message to you by which you and all your household will be saved.’
15 “As I began to speak, the Holy Spirit came down on them, just as on us at the beginning. 16 I remembered the word of the Lord, how he said, ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ 17 If, then, God gave them the same gift that he also gave to us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, how could I possibly hinder God?”
18 When they heard this they became silent. And they glorified God, saying, “So then, God has given repentance resulting in life even to the Gentiles.”
19 Now those who had been scattered as a result of the persecution that started because of Stephen made their way as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus, and Antioch,speaking the word to no one except Jews. 20 But there were some of them, men from Cyprus and Cyrene, who came to Antioch and began speaking to the Greeksalso, proclaiming the good news about the Lord Jesus. 21 The Lord’s hand was with them, and a large number who believed turned to the Lord. 22 News about them reached the church in Jerusalem, and they sent out Barnabas to travel as far as Antioch. 23 When he arrived and saw the grace of God, he was glad and encouraged all of them to remain true to the Lord with devoted hearts, 24 for he was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith. And large numbers of people were added to the Lord.
25 Then he went to Tarsus to search for Saul, 26 and when he found him he brought him to Antioch. For a whole year they met with the church and taught large numbers. The disciples were first called Christians at Antioch.
27 In those days some prophets came down from Jerusalem to Antioch. 28 One of them, named Agabus, stood up and predicted by the Spirit that there would be a severe famine throughout the Roman world. This took place during the reign of Claudius. 29 Each of the disciples, according to his ability, determined to send relief to the brothers and sisters who lived in Judea. 30 They did this, sending it to the elders by means of Barnabas and Saul.
Reach: A controversy was already brewing. The news of Cornelius’ household reached the apostles in Jerusalem long before Peter ever arrived home. Peter recounted how the Holy Spirit fell on Cornelius’ household just as it had fallen on the day of Pentecost (11:15). It was the undeniable marker that God had granted repentance that leads to life to the Gentiles (11:18). The gospel was for all people. The apostles could do nothing but stand in awe and glorify God for what He had accomplished.
The apostles in Jerusalem sent Barnabas to go and confirm the things they had heard about the Gentiles. It was as if they still cannot believe it was all true. Barnabas confirmed that indeed it is true (11:23).
Paul and Barnabas remained in Antioch for a year, teaching and strengthening the believers. As the church in Antioch grew deep in the Word of God and in community with one another, they were marked with a new identity. Luke mentioned how, “in Antioch the disciples were first called Christians” (11:26). They became a new people with a new name.
Pray: Pray for God to make us a people who are deeply rooted in the Word of God. We want to be a people who love God’s Word. Pray for the Word to transform our minds, our hearts, and ultimately our lives so we become more like Christ and help others know Him more.
Resistance: At the end of Acts 11, a prophecy from Jerusalem came to the church in Antioch: a great famine was eminent. This time nature, the fallen creation, caused resistance and suffering to everyone. The Christians in Antioch reacted with determination to participate and help. Instead of hunkering down and shrinking in fear, they sacrificed what they had to bring relief to the brothers in Judea who were suffering (11:29).
Reality: Today, it is estimated that 700 million people – 11% of the world’s current population – live in extreme poverty. Over half of those are living in Sub-Saharan Africa. In the United States, the national poverty rate average is 14%. The poverty rate in the city limits of Birmingham is 28.1%.
Take a few moments to read and consider Proverbs 21:13, “Whoever closes his ear to the cry of the poor will himself call out and not be answered.” God cares about the poor and wants us to care about the poor as well. Pray for the poor today, that God would provide for them and defend them in His justice. Pray for yourself today, that your ear would not be closed to the poor. Pray for the Roots & Reach Mission Project Team as they consider ways Brook Hills can most effectively care for the poor in our city and in our world.
12 About that time King Herod violently attacked some who belonged to the church, 2 and he executed James, John’s brother, with the sword. 3 When he saw that it pleased the Jews, he proceeded to arrest Peter too, during the Festival of Unleavened Bread. 4 After the arrest, he put him in prison and assigned four squads of four soldiers each to guard him, intending to bring him out to the people after the Passover. 5 So Peter was kept in prison, but the church was praying fervently to God for him.
6 When Herod was about to bring him out for trial, that very night Peter, bound with two chains, was sleeping between two soldiers, while the sentries in front of the door guarded the prison. 7 Suddenly an angel of the Lord appeared, and a light shone in the cell. Striking Peter on the side, he woke him up and said, “Quick, get up!” And the chains fell off his wrists. 8 “Get dressed,” the angel told him, “and put on your sandals.” And he did. “Wrap your cloak around you,” he told him, “and follow me.” 9 So he went out and followed, and he did not know that what the angel did was really happening, but he thought he was seeing a vision. 10 After they passed the first and second guards, they came to the iron gate that leads into the city, which opened to them by itself. They went outside and passed one street, and suddenly the angel left him.
11 When Peter came to himself, he said, “Now I know for certain that the Lord has sent his angel and rescued me from Herod’s grasp and from all that the Jewish people expected.” 12 As soon as he realized this, he went to the house of Mary, the mother of John Mark, where many had assembled and were praying. 13 He knocked at the door of the outer gate, and a servant named Rhoda came to answer. 14 She recognized Peter’s voice, and because of her joy, she did not open the gate but ran in and announced that Peter was standing at the outer gate.
15 “You’re out of your mind!” they told her. But she kept insisting that it was true, and they said, “It’s his angel.” 16 Peter, however, kept on knocking, and when they opened the door and saw him, they were amazed.
17 Motioning to them with his hand to be silent, he described to them how the Lord had brought him out of the prison. “Tell these things to James and the brothers,” he said, and he left and went to another place.
18 At daylight, there was a great commotion among the soldiers as to what had become of Peter. 19 After Herod had searched and did not find him, he interrogated the guards and ordered their execution. Then Herod went down from Judea to Caesarea and stayed there.
20 Herod had been very angry with the people of Tyre and Sidon. Together they presented themselves before him. After winning over Blastus, who was in charge of the king’s bedroom, they asked for peace, because their country was supplied with food from the king’s country. 21 On an appointed day, dressed in royal robes and seated on the throne, Herod delivered a speech to them. 22 The assembled people began to shout, “It’s the voice of a god and not of a man!” 23 At once an angel of the Lord struck him because he did not give the glory to God, and he was eaten by worms and died.
24 But the word of God flourished and multiplied. 25 After they had completed their relief mission, Barnabas and Saul returned to Jerusalem, taking along John who was called Mark.
Reach: Luke shifted back to Jerusalem, where the church was under pressure once again by outside forces. Herod murdered James, the brother of John, and arrested Peter. Enemies that desired to destroy the gospel’s progress abounded, but nothing could stop the advancement of God’s gospel.
Instead of complaining and trying to control the situation, we find the church gathered at Mary’s house diligently praying (12:5, 12:12). Instead of panicking, we find Peter asleep the night before his trial (12:6). Anxiety was surely a reality, but both of these responses indicate their calm assurance that God was in control. He alone had the power to deliver Peter and change the situation. Their posture reflected that God could be trusted.
Reflect: When we see injustice around us or personally experience injustice at the hands of others, is it our first impulse to pray and rest confidently in the Lord?
RESISTANCE: Herod resisted the people of God. He went as far as killing James and positioned Peter for the same fate. But God is more powerful than any earthly king. God establishes and controls kingdoms and those who reign (Romans 13:1). Peter was delivered from prison despite Herod’s efforts, yet James was not. In it all, God is sovereign. Ultimately, it was Herod’s desire to be God that led to his downfall. God will not allow His glory to be shared or stifled by those who oppose Him. At the close of Acts 12, Herod died and faded into the earth as the Word of God increases and multiplies (12:24).
The gospel forged forward, unhindered.
Pray: Spend time asking God to reveal areas of pride in your own life that resist His glory. Confess those areas and ask Him to forgive you. Ask Him to make us a church that is marked by confidence in Him and not in ourselves. Ask God to help us move in faith as a people who are submitted to His authority and control.
REALITY: Acts 12 causes us to consider the cost of following Christ. James was killed. His martyrdom is a sobering reminder The Great Commission will include great risk and suffering. But eternity will prove it was worth the price.
For us, the more passionate we become about spreading the gospel to every people group, the more opposition we will suffer (Matthew 24:9-14). John Piper sums up this reality as, “When you know the truth about what happens to you after you die, and you believe it, and you are satisfied with all that God will be for you in the ages to come, that truth makes you free indeed. Free from the short, shallow, suicidal pleasures of sin, and free for the sacrifices of mission and ministry that cause people to give glory to our Father in heaven.”
Ask God to free us to live as a people who risk and sacrifice everything for the sake of others knowing Christ.
13 Now in the church at Antioch there were prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen, a close friend of Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. 2 As they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” 3 Then after they had fasted, prayed, and laid hands on them, they sent them off.
4 So being sent out by the Holy Spirit, they went down to Seleucia, and from there they sailed to Cyprus. 5 Arriving in Salamis, they proclaimed the word of God in the Jewish synagogues. They also had John as their assistant. 6 When they had traveled the whole island as far as Paphos, they came across a sorcerer, a Jewish false prophet named Bar-Jesus. 7 He was with the proconsul, Sergius Paulus, an intelligent man. This man summoned Barnabas and Saul and wanted to hear the word of God. 8 But Elymas the sorcerer (that is the meaning of his name) opposedthem and tried to turn the proconsul away from the faith.
9 But Saul—also called Paul—filled with the Holy Spirit, stared straight at Elymas 10 and said, “You are full of all kinds of deceit and trickery, you son of the devil and enemy of all that is right. Won’t you ever stop perverting the straight paths of the Lord? 11 Now, look, the Lord’s hand is against you. You are going to be blind, and will not see the sun for a time.” Immediately a mist and darkness fell on him, and he went around seeking someone to lead him by the hand.
12 Then, when he saw what happened, the proconsul believed, because he was astonished at the teaching of the Lord.
13 Paul and his companions set sail from Paphos and came to Perga in Pamphylia, but John left them and went back to Jerusalem. 14 They continued their journey from Perga and reached Pisidian Antioch. On the Sabbath day they went into the synagogue and sat down. 15 After the reading of the Law and the Prophets, the leaders of the synagogue sent word to them, saying, “Brothers, if you have any word of encouragement for the people, you can speak.”
16 Paul stood up and motioned with his hand and said: “Fellow Israelites, and you who fear God, listen! 17 The God of this people Israel chose our ancestors, made the people prosper during their stay in the land of Egypt, and led them out of it with a mighty arm. 18 And for about forty years he put up with them in the wilderness; 19 and after destroying seven nations in the land of Canaan, he gave them their land as an inheritance. 20 This all took about 450 years. After this, he gave them judges until Samuel the prophet. 21 Then they asked for a king, and God gave them Saul the son of Kish, a man of the tribe of Benjamin, for forty years. 22 After removing him, he raised up David as their king and testified about him:’ I have found David the son of Jesse to be a man after my own heart, who will carry out all my will.’
23 “From this man’s descendants, as he promised, God brought to Israel the Savior, Jesus. 24 Before his coming to public attention, John had previously proclaimed a baptism of repentance to all the people of Israel. 25 Now as John was completing his mission, he said, ‘Who do you think I am? I am not the one. But one is coming after me, and I am not worthy to untie the sandals on his feet.’
26 “Brothers and sisters, children of Abraham’s race, and those among you who fear God, it is to us that the word of this salvation has been sent. 27 Since the residents of Jerusalem and their rulers did not recognize him or the sayings of the prophets that are read every Sabbath, they have fulfilled their words by condemning him. 28 Though they found no grounds for the death sentence, they asked Pilate to have him killed. 29 When they had carried out all that had been written about him, they took him down from the tree and put him in a tomb. 30 But God raised him from the dead, 31 and he appeared for many days to those who came up with him from Galilee to Jerusalem, who are now his witnesses to the people. 32 And we ourselves proclaim to you the good news of the promise that was made to our ancestors. 33 God has fulfilled this for us, their children, by raising up Jesus, as it is written in the second Psalm:
You are my Son;
today I have become your Father.
34 As to his raising him from the dead, never to return to decay, he has spoken in this way, I will give you the holy and sure promises of David. 35 Therefore he also says in another passage, You will not let your Holy One see decay. 36 For David, after serving God’s purpose in his own generation, fell asleep, was buried with his fathers, and decayed, 37 but the one God raised up did not decay. 38 Therefore, let it be known to you, brothers and sisters, that through this man forgiveness of sins is being proclaimed to you. 39 Everyone who believes is justified through him from everything that you could not be justified from through the law of Moses. 40 So beware that what is said in the prophets does not happen to you:
41 Look, you scoffers,
marvel and vanish away,
because I am doing a work in your days,
a work that you will never believe,
even if someone were to explain it to you.”
42 As they were leaving, the people urged them to speak about these matters the following Sabbath. 43 After the synagogue had been dismissed, many of the Jews and devout converts to Judaism followed Paul and Barnabas, who were speaking with them and urging them to continue in the grace of God.
44 The following Sabbath almost the whole town assembled to hear the word of the Lord. 45 But when the Jews saw the crowds, they were filled with jealousy and began to contradict what Paul was saying, insulting him.
46 Paul and Barnabas boldly replied, “It was necessary that the word of God be spoken to you first. Since you reject it and judge yourselves unworthy of eternal life, we are turning to the Gentiles. 47 For this is what the Lord has commanded us:
I have made you
a light for the Gentiles
to bring salvation
to the end of the earth.”
48 When the Gentiles heard this, they rejoiced and honored the word of the Lord, and all who had been appointed to eternal life believed. 49 The word of the Lord spread through the whole region. 50 But the Jews incited the prominent God-fearing women and the leading men of the city. They stirred up persecution against Paul and Barnabas and expelled them from their district. 51 But Paul and Barnabas shook the dust off their feet against them and went to Iconium. 52 And the disciples were filled with joy and the Holy Spirit.
Reach: Acts 13 narrated a momentous occasion that radically shifts the scope of the mission for the church. While the believers in Antioch worshipped through fasting and prayer, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them” (Acts 13:2). The church responded with fasting, praying, and by laying hands on them to send them. God, by His Spirit set apart these men from this local church for the spread of the gospel in places where the gospel had not yet gone.
Barnabas and Saul were sent by God’s Spirit (13:4), confident in God’s Word (13:5), and supported by their home fellowship (14:26). The result was a church planting movement that changed the Roman world. Churches were established in Cyprus, Antioch of Pisidia, Iconium, Lystra, and Derbe, and people in all of these places worshiped Jesus Christ for the first time. The leaders in Antioch had no idea that prayer meeting would unleash the good news to all the world. They responded in obedience to the Holy Spirit that day, and the world has never been the same.
Pray: Our hope as The Church at Brook Hills is the same: that we would respond in obedience to the Holy Spirit and be a faithful sending base where healthy missionaries are being deployed consistently. Pray for God to engage more of our members to go to places where the gospel has not yet reached.
Resistance: God moved as the whole church gathered to worship through fasting and prayer. We must be a church who, as we worship and seek God, as we pray and fast, are continually asking, “Who from among us are you setting apart to be sent? Is it me that you are sending?” There are still places where the church does not exist and where the gospel has yet to go. He will continue to send laborers to go. We must be a people who are ready to send and ready to be sent.
Reality: The Church at Brook Hills has 22 long-term missionaries currently on the field. They live and work in 14 different countries. Pray for these men and women to be effective as they share the gospel. Pray for God to use them as he used Paul and Barnabas to establish His church among the nations. Click here to pray for our people.
There are currently over 30 individuals and families who are praying and exploring if God desires them to be sent out as missionaries. Pray for God to confirm His leading to these men and women. Pray for the Global Team as they walk alongside and equip them for the work of ministry.
14 In Iconium they entered the Jewish synagogue, as usual, and spoke in such a way that a great number of both Jews and Greeks believed. 2 But the unbelieving Jews stirred up the Gentiles and poisoned their minds against the brothers. 3 So they stayed there a long time and spoke boldly for the Lord, who testified to the message of his grace by enabling them to do signs and wonders. 4 But the people of the city were divided, some siding with the Jews and others with the apostles.5 When an attempt was made by both the Gentiles and Jews, with their rulers, to mistreat and stone them, 6 they found out about it and fled to the Lycaonian towns of Lystra and Derbe and to the surrounding countryside. 7 There they continued preaching the gospel.
8 In Lystra a man was sitting who was without strength in his feet, had never walked, and had been lame from birth. 9 He listened as Paul spoke. After looking directly at him and seeing that he had faith to be healed, 10 Paul said in a loud voice, “Stand up on your feet!” And he jumped up and began to walk around.
11 When the crowds saw what Paul had done, they shouted, saying in the Lycaonian language, “The gods have come down to us in human form!” 12 Barnabas they called Zeus, and Paul, Hermes, because he was the chief speaker. 13 The priest of Zeus, whose temple was just outside the town, brought bulls and wreaths to the gates because he intended, with the crowds, to offer sacrifice.
14 The apostles Barnabas and Paul tore their robes when they heard this and rushed into the crowd, shouting: 15 “People! Why are you doing these things? We are people also, just like you, and we are proclaiming good news to you, that you turn from these worthless things to the living God, who made the heaven, the earth, the sea, and everything in them. 16 In past generations he allowed all the nations to go their own way, 17 although he did not leave himself without a witness,since he did what is good by giving you rain from heaven and fruitful seasons and filling you with food and your hearts with joy.” 18 Even though they said these things, they barely stopped the crowds from sacrificing to them.
19 Some Jews came from Antioch and Iconium, and when they won over the crowds, they stoned Paul and dragged him out of the city, thinking he was dead.20 After the disciples gathered around him, he got up and went into the town. The next day he left with Barnabas for Derbe.
21 After they had preached the gospel in that town and made many disciples, they returned to Lystra, to Iconium, and to Antioch, 22 strengthening the disciples by encouraging them to continue in the faith and by telling them, “It is necessary to go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God.” 23 When they had appointed elders for them in every church and prayed with fasting, they committed them to the Lord in whom they had believed.
24 They passed through Pisidia and came to Pamphylia. 25 After they had spoken the word in Perga, they went down to Attalia. 26 From there they sailed back to Antioch where they had been commended to the grace of God for the work they had now completed. 27 After they arrived and gathered the church together, they reported everything God had done with them and that he had opened the door of faith to the Gentiles. 28 And they spent a considerable time with the disciples.
Reach: In the last chapter, Paul and Barnabas justified their pivot toward the Gentiles by quoting Isaiah 49:6, “I have made you a light for the Gentiles to bring salvation to the end of the earth” (Acts 13:47). Words concerning the Messiah were now fleshing out through the Messiah’s missionaries. Light was dispelling darkness. Salvation was enveloping the ends of the earth.
Iconium was engulfed by the light. There, “a great number of both Jews and Greeks believed” (14:1b). Despite harsh opposition, Paul and Barnabas “spoke boldly for the Lord” and some residents continued to welcome the message. The impending danger of death eventually necessitated Paul and Barnabas fleeing to the surrounding countryside where “they continued preaching the gospel” (14:7). Only death could keep them from declaring. That’s why the opposition picked up stones to stop them. But they were undaunted, and the gospel flowed unhindered.
The light then entered Lystra. A lame man was healed, and immediately the messengers were thrust into the spotlight, so much so that the people of Lystra were ready to sacrifice to them! Outraged, Paul and Barnabas rushed into the crowd, shouting: “People, why are you doing these things? We are people also, just like you, and we are proclaiming good news to you, that you turn from these worthless things to the living God, who made the heaven, the earth, the sea, and everything in them. In past generations He allowed all the nations to go their own way, although he did not leave himself without a witness, since he did what is good by giving you rain from heaven and fruitful seasons and filling you with food and your hearts with joy” (14:15-17). Deflecting attention to their Maker almost did not work as Luke concluded, “they barely stopped the crowds from sacrificing to them” (14:18).
Did you notice where Paul began his outline of the gospel with this Gentile audience? The creator God. Peter’s early messages of Acts began with “God of our ancestors” whereas Paul preached this message to Gentiles that began with the “living God, who made the heaven, the earth…” The implication is clear: Gentiles don’t get a pass for being far from the promise. The people of Lystra had a witness through God’s acts of creation and providence, but they needed the witnesses to Jesus’ resurrection like Paul and Barnabas. Lystra had some light but needed more than providence afforded. They needed the “light” that brought salvation. The knowledge of God through creation was enough to condemn them, but not enough to save them.
Reflect: Imagine you lived in Lystra in the first century and Paul and Barnabas never came to town. What would your earthly life look like? What would you know about God? What would your eternity look like?
Resistance: In secluded corners of this world, and even in modern urban centers, people grow up and experience God’s providential care. He gives them rain from heaven, fruitful seasons, food, and joy (14:17). These reinforce the innate trigger in everyone that God exists, and He is powerful. That knowledge, however, only suffices to render them accountable.
Everyone, from your neighbor to the most remote island on the planet, must and will give an account to the living God. No human being can receive a pass due to ignorance. Why? Because ignorance of God is impossible. That knowledge can be suppressed, as atheists do, or supplanted with created things as in all forms of idolatry. But it is the inescapable reality. We exist by Someone else’s doing and on Someone else’s terms. No one is beyond the need for the gospel because no one exists apart from the Creator. That truth undergirds the universal need of all people to hear the gospel.
We live in a pluralistic society. We can be duped into assuming the nations will be okay without ever hearing the gospel. But it is simply not true. Eternal hell awaits anyone who never believes in Jesus. Everyone is without excuse. To put it positively: everywhere we take the gospel, we will find an audience that needs the gospel.
Reality: The world is without excuse before their Maker. There is one Mediator between God and man, only one. We will be without excuse if we keep that message to ourselves.
Reflect: Gather some friends and family together and spend a few minutes watching the joy of a people group who had never had the gospel welcome it with joy: Ee-Taow: The Mouk Story.
Afterward, spend some time praying for that joy to be the fruit of the Roots & Reach Mission Projects.
Praise God for this summer season and the unique opportunities it brings for us to engage in gospel ministry. Pray for all of the Rock the Blocks that will occur in neighborhoods throughout our city, asking God to grant many opportunities for gospel conversations with neighbors and to develop deep friendships. Pray for all of our short-term trips going out over these months and ask God to use our efforts to spread His gospel, grow His kingdom, and support all of the long-term work of our partners. Pray for our campus development and our Roots & Reach Initiative and for God to multiply our resources to accomplish ministry here and mission around the world for His glory.
This week we are praying for our Love Oliver partner, Oak Tree Ministries. Oak Tree Ministries labors alongside the families of the Marks Village Housing Community to fulfill God’s promise to raise up for Himself “oak trees of righteousness” for the display of his splendor. Oak Tree Ministries (OTM) seeks to pave the way for children, teens, and adults in Marks Village to be reconciled to God and to others through Bible Club, Reading Club, Teen Hang Time, Women’s Bible Study, etc.
DAY 1: Pray for new team members as they transition into their roles at Oak Tree. Pray for unity as they grow and labor together.
DAY 2: Pray that the Lord would direct the Oak Tree team’s hearts to God’s love and Christ’s endurance (2 Thes. 3:5) as they encounter spiritual warfare.
DAY 3: Pray for many opportunities to share the gospel and spend time with families over the summer.
DAY 4: Pray for volunteers and staff as they explore the core missionary task, racial reconciliation, community development, and restorative justice. Pray that God would fill them with His wisdom and direct every step.
DAY 5: Pray that Rock the Village and other summer activities would lift high the name of Jesus and be full of joy.
DAY 6: Pray for a family of peace to be raised up who will desire to be discipled and share the gospel with their neighbors.
One of the largest unreached and unengaged people groups in Turkey are the Zaza people. This week we are praying for the Zaza people and our field partners working among them. There are close to 3 million Zaza living in Turkey, with less than 2% evangelical Christians among them. Join us as we pray for the Zaza peoples. We are also praying for our short-term teams serving in North Africa, East Asia, and Thailand.
DAY 1: The Zaza are split into two categories, the Northern Zaza and the Southern Zaza, each with it’s own distinct language. Pray for God to awaken the hearts of Zaza men and women to the truth of the gospel.
DAY 2: The primary religion of the Southern Zaza is Sunni Islam. There are only a handful of known believers among them. Pray for the workers who are actively engaging Southern Zaza people with the gospel and training the believers to do the same. Pray for God to save those that are hearing.
DAY 3: There are a few Southern Zaza men who have believed and who face regular persecution. Pray for our brothers who are faithfully living out and sharing the gospel. Pray for God to sustain them and provide for their every need. Pray for God to use our brothers to establish His church among the Zaza.
DAY 4: There are 1.5 million Northern Zaza people who are primarily Shia Muslims, but there is a small group of believers among them who need discipleship and maturing. Pray for God to grow the faith of these believers and raise up leaders and elders from among them to disciple others.
DAY 5: The Zaza people live in isolated areas of Eastern Turkey, making them not only spiritually, but also physically, one of the most unreached people groups in the world. Pray for an awakening to God to happen among the Zaza peoples. Pray for more workers to go and work among the Zaza.
DAY 6: Pray for the Lord to soften Zaza hearts and open their eyes to their need for salvation.