This Week’s Reading Schedule
Tuesday’s (today’s) Bible Reading is Acts 6-11
Wednesday, Mar. 28: Acts 12-17
Thursday, Mar. 29: Acts 18-23
Friday, Mar. 30: Acts 24-28
The overall year’s plan is here.
The reference to the Hellenistic Jews and the Hebrews is a reference to Jewish families that formerly lived in Roman cities outside of Israel itself. The apostle Paul, for example, was raised in Tarsus, a Roman city. This meant that he spoke Greek as a native tongue.
One of the most important part of the Jewish heritage was the land. Their land was "the promised land." Living off the land or not having Hebrew—actually, the dialect Aramaic would have been the vernacular at the time—as a native language was sometimes looked down upon.
The church was sharing all things, and that meant that they were taking care of true widows. If a widow had a family, then her family was expected to take care of her (1 Tim. 5:3-4). If she did not, the church provided daily meals for the widows.
The Greek-speaking Jews were complaining that their widows were being overlooked in preference of the Hebrew-speaking widows.
Apparently, the apostles were still taking care of everything themselves. When people sold their possessions and gave to the church, it was laid at the apostles’ feet.
The apostles finally said, "This is too much. We can’t do everything."
They had the people choose seven men "full of the Spirit and wisdom" to set over the task of taking care of the widows.
Were these the first official "deacons"? The word "deacon" is just the Greek word for servant. So whether or not these men actually had such a title, they were "servants."
This is a notable verse. How does the Word of God flourish (HCSB), spread (NASB), or increase (KJV)?
This is not a reference to Scripture, which cannot "increase" unless someone writes more Scripture. This is a reference to the Word of God inside of the disciples. The more disciples there are, the more the Word of God has "grown" and "multiplied" (Acts 12:24; 19:20).
For the first time, we hear about someone besides the apostles preaching the Gospel. Stephen is debating the Scriptures concerning Christ at a synagogue for Greek-speaking Jews, and no one can resist his Spirit and wisdom.
At this point, we only know that the church is meeting daily and sharing meals together. There is no reason to suppose that Jewish believers left the synagogues until they were forced out. Paul went first to the synagogues, and here we find Stephen still attending synagogue.
Later, we will find that the apostles in Jerusalem, and even Paul himself, are still using the sacrificial system for vows (Acts 21:22-25).
I have always wondered if one of the main reasons that the early Christian churches met on Sunday is not just because it was the day on which our Lord rose from the dead, but also because the Saturdays of the Jewish Christians, the Jewish Sabbath, were taken up with synagogue and related activities.
Stephen pays a high price for his boldness. He is accused before the Sanhedrin of speaking against Moses and the temple. He begins his defense by telling Moses’ entire story in a way that must have pleased his accusers.
The end of the story did not. "The Most High doesn’t live in temples made with hands," he tells them, and then he accuses them of being as hard of heart as their fathers, even murdering "the Righteous One."
They are so angry that they stone Stephen to death.
It is to be noted that when Stephen saw a vision of Jesus as he died, Jesus was not sitting, but standing, at the right hand of God. Jesus stood to receive the first martyr home and perhaps each one after.
Finally, Luke takes this opportunity to introduce us to young Saul, who will become possibly the most famous Christian in history.
Luke gives us a picture of Saul’s zeal to stop the Christians, throwing every one in prison that he could. Then, he pauses to introduce us to the ministry of one more of "the seven," who were chosen in Acts 6.
This is another big verse not to be missed. So far, only the apostles and Stephen have been said to preach the Gospel. Saul’s persecution causes some Christians to flee, and wherever they go, they are "preaching the Word" (NASB).
Jesus had told the apostles that they would be his witnesses throughout Judea, Samaria, and to the uttermost parts of the world. Here it’s happening, but not through the apostles, who would come along only to confirm the spread of the Gospel, not to instigate it.
This is the story of the Philip converting Samaria. God does not give the Holy Spirit to any of these converts until the apostles show up. There has been much debate about why this is so, but there is no doubt that it is so.
We also find the story of Simon here, who was converted, but when he saw the converts receiving the Spirit, he wanted the power to give the Spirit rather than wanting to submit himself to God. He tried to buy the power from the apostles—perhaps he thought it was a magic trick?—but he is sharply rebuked by Peter and told he has no part in what’s going on.
He asks for prayer, but tradition holds that not only did he not repent, but he became the founder of the first sect of the gnostics that would be a thorn in the side of the church for over a century.
What was it that Simon saw that caused him to want to buy the gift of God? We are not told.
Philip is then sent by God into the wilderness, where he is used to bring a powerful eunuch to Christ.
There is some question about about whether v. 37 is original to Luke or added later, but with or without that verse, we see once more that baptism is the entrance rite to the Christian faith and the New Covenant.
Philip is snatched away by the Spirit of the Lord as soon as he comes out of the water with the eunuch, and he travels some more, preaching wherever he goes. Later, he will be known as Philip the evangelist (Acts 21:8).
The conversion of Saul the persecutor to Paul the apostle is a well-known story. It is told here by Luke, and it is retold by Paul in chapter 22.
I just want to make a couple points.
On the road to Damascus, Paul is in a perfect position to be converted the modern way. He is calling Jesus Lord, and he is asking what to do. He can actually see Jesus, either in a vision or in reality.
What better situation for a sinner’s prayer?
Jesus, however, sends Paul to the church. It is only three days later, when Ananias is sent to Paul, that his sight is restored, he receives the Holy Spirit (v. 18), and his sins are washed away in baptism (22:16).
Today, we want to send new converts to the invisible head of the church in heaven. In the Scriptures, however, we read that the head of the church sent Saul to the visible body on earth, to whom he had given baptism for the forgiveness of sins and the laying on of hands for the Spirit.
As far as we know, Ananias was not an apostle. He is not mentioned again in the Scriptures or church history. It is probable that he was one of the leading brothers in what could only have been a brand new church in Damascus, but we don’t even know that for certain.
Here we get the rest of the beginning of Paul’s story. Like Stephen, he speaks up in the synagogues. He has to flee persecution. He speaks up in Jerusalem, too, is persecuted there, and he ends up going to his home town of Tarsus.
We’ll pick up his story tomorrow.
The apostles have not been inactive. We’ve seen them follow up Philip’s ministry in Samaria, but it’s clear here that at least Peter is traveling all over the area strengthening and establishing the disciples. Healings were still happening, and a couple notable stories are told.
Acts 10 is the story of the conversion of the Gentiles. Let’s make sure a few things don’t get missed.
Despite all that Jesus said during his time on earth, Peter and the rest of the apostles did not realize that the door had been thrown open to the Gentiles. "The Law and the Prophets were until John. Since then the kingdom of God is preached, and all men are pressing into it" (Luke 16:16).
God uses visions, which suggest that he has cleansed all foods, and a messenger to get Peter to go to the house of the Gentile Cornelius anyway.
Peter feels free enough to acknowledge that God accepts men from every nation who "fear him and do what is right" (v.35).
Peter then preaches Christ—once again ignoring the atonement, the sinfulness of men, and heaven as a free gift—to Cornelius, performing his duty as a witness of the resurrection (v. 41).
The Holy Spirit falls on Cornelius and his family while Peter is still speaking. Peter then says something very telling:
Surely no one can refuse the water for these to be baptized, who have received the Holy Spirit just as we did, can he? (v. 47)
This question, along with the reaction from the brothers in Jerusalem that begins the next chapter, makes it clear that had these Gentiles not received the Spirit, it would have been considered inappropriate to baptize them, despite the fact that Jesus had commissioned the apostles to preach and baptize all nations (Matt. 28:19).
Cornelius did receive the Holy Spirit, however, speaking with languages and exalting God just as the apostles had at Pentecost. So Peter and those with them baptized the Gentiles.
Amazingly, Peter’s news is not received with joy in Jerusalem. He is called to task for eating with Gentiles!
Peter’s answer to this accusation is not based on Scripture. He does not appeal to the things Jesus said. He simply tells the story of what God did, and the "apostles and brothers" are appeased, finally agreeing that "God has granted the Gentiles the repentance that leads to life" (v. 18).
It’s been said that we shouldn’t base our theology on experience, but only on Scripture. In this case, the apostles apparently missed what Scripture had to say, and it is experience that brought the truth of Scripture to the forefront.
We should be somewhat less afraid of experience, and we should be much more afraid of our confident interpretations of Scripture, lest we become like the Pharisees who ignored the Son of God standing in front of them because of the results of searching the Scriptures (Jn. 5:38-40). Jesus did say to judge a prophet by his fruit (Matt. 7:15-20).
Note that the Gospel itself is given a general description as "the repentance that leads to life" (NASB). Strangely enough, whole books have been written by "Christian" ministers suggesting that repentance is not necessary to salvation. Hopefully, as you’ve been reading through this first few chapters of Acts, you can see the central role of repentance.
This doesn’t change when Paul starts going to the Gentiles. He has an interesting summation of his Gospel in Acts 26:20.
Here we are introduced to the church at Antioch, which would become Paul’s home base until he went to Rome, and we are told how Barnabas and Saul (later Paul) ended up there.
It has always fascinated me that the apostles sent Barnabas to Antioch to check on what was happening there (v. 22), but Barnabas didn’t return with news. Instead, he made a side trip to Tarsus to get Saul so that he could stay and help with the work.
Of course, Barnabas did eventually return, bringing a gift to Jerusalem to help against the famine that Agabus had predicted.