Daily Bible Study Tips –
Acts, Chapters 9 – 17
Overview of Acts
Comments on Acts Chapters 1 – 2
Comments on Acts Chapters 3 – 8
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Jesus had many disciples, but only 12 apostles. After the death of Judas, the eleven met to choose a replacement, one Matthias, who had been with them from the beginning. Matthias dropped out of sight, but the Lord chose his own replacement – a fire-breathing, anti-Christian zealot, trained in the Law, a stiff-necked Jew who was most likely a member of the Sanhedrin: Saul. With a little work, Jesus turned Saul into the great apostle Paul.
Paul's conversion was dramatic. Not content to persecute Christians only in Jerusalem, he got arrest warrants and headed for Damascus. On the road, the Lord appeared to him in a blinding vision. Meantime, the Lord told Ananias to go to Saul and restore his sight. Ananias answered, in effect, "Are you sure? Are we talking about the same person?" But the Lord said, "Yeah, I can use a man like him!" If Saul could be transformed, so can we – as Paul himself said on a number of occasions.
and the Epistles present not only Christian theology but also guidelines for Christian behavior. The early Christians were like us: they wanted to know how to apply the teachings of Jesus in their daily lives. Like Jesus, the apostles taught both by example and by "lecture" how Christians should react to the various trials and difficulties of life. Particularly in the letters, they reasoned by analogy: Our lives should be Christlike; therefore if Jesus did not revile those who beat him, neither should his followers revile those who beat them. I often hear folks complain that the Bible doesn't tell us how to act in this or that situation in the modern world. Yes, it does. Technology changes, but people don't, and the apostles and other NT writers were asked about every conceivable human situation. So if you want to know how to act when you are behind the wheel of your car, consult the Bible. See also 1 Peter 2:19-25.
Acts 10:44-47 (5/11/09)
All of the earliest Christians were Jews. Although the enormous crowds that had followed him everywhere often contained people who were not Jewish (e.g., Luke 6:17), and Jesus had spent a few days in a Samaritan village (John 4) and had worked miracles for Jew and Gentile alike (Luke 17:16-17), the foreigners just didn't register with Jesus' earliest followers. Now, to be fair, the Jews had gotten into a great deal of trouble over a long period of time by associating with pagans. By the time they got back from the Exile, they were extremely clear on the concept of not worshipping foreign gods. The easiest way to avoid worshipping foreign gods was to avoid foreigners altogether, and they were pretty good at that. Although they did make some allowances for foreigners who attended synagogue and worshipped God (without actually converting), it never really occurred to the early Christians that Christianity was not just for the Jews.
After some trouble in Jerusalem, the disciples and the other early Christians spread out. Peter was in Joppa, and there he saw a puzzling vision on the theme of "What God has made clean, don't you call unclean." Right away, some messengers came to Peter from one of these foreign God-worshippers. Peter went with them and preached the Gospel to the entire household. The results were astonishing.
Christians argue a lot about baptism. Believer's baptism or infant baptism? Sprinkle or dunk? Is a United Methodist Church baptism good in churches everywhere? (No.) Are the baptisms of churches everywhere good in the UMC? (Yes.) Do you have to be baptized to take communion? To be married? The New Testament is actually very clear: be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ.
Back in the bad old days when I worked for a living, there was a poster going around called "idea killers" or some such title. One of the idea killers was "We've never done it that way before." God presented Peter with a new idea: "Let's preach the good news to the Gentiles!" Peter's immediate reaction was "We've never done it ... etc." But when some Gentiles showed up at the door he thought over and decided, "Well, okay, I'll give it a try." It worked out great. Today's passage tells what happened next. When the word got around, the first reaction among many church members was, "We've never ... etc." After Peter explained, they thought it over and said, "Huh! Maybe it's okay after all." How often do we kill God's new ideas with, "We've never done it that way before"? Maybe we should think it over!
Acts 11:1-18; Luke 4:16-30 (10/5/11)
I have it on good authority, from the director of music ministries, that there are no grouchy people at St. John’s. All I can say is, have I
If we make the generous assumption that Matt is correct, then St. John’s is probably unique in the history of the Church. People in Jesus’ home church in Nazareth tried to throw him off a cliff. A whole group of people in the church at Jerusalem got mad at Peter for sharing the Gospel with the Gentiles. One or two grouchy people in a church is the rule, not the exception.
This month, let’s try not to be the grouchy people in our own churches. And let’s try to be especially nice to the rest of the grouchy ones, because God loves them. Let’s be like Peter: who are we to stand in God’s way?
Acts 15:13-29 (6/14/2010)
In the dark ages before email, there was a form of communication called
"letters." More than 20 of the books of the New Testament were originally written as letters
(Romans through Jude). There are quite a few other letters contained within the other books
of the Old and New Testaments, as well. The first letter in the New Testament is found in
the book of Acts.
The first Christians were Jews, and they kept on being Jews. They (along with the Roman
government, but that's another story) viewed Christianity as a type of Judaism. The first
crisis in the Church came about when huge numbers of Gentiles started becoming Christians.
There was a sharp dispute about whether these Gentile Christians were the real thing in the
absence of conversion to Judaism. After Peter's vision and his experience in the house of
Cornelius (see Acts 10) some of Jewish Christians started coming around to Paul's position,
which was that circumcision and the Law didn't save the Jewish Christians, and it wouldn't
save Gentile Christians, either.
After a huge pow-wow, James – the brother of the Lord and leader of the Church in Jerusalem,
a man of immense rectitude – decided that the Gentiles would only have to follow four rules
that were most central to the Judeo-Christian religious tradition, and his decision was put
into a letter to the Gentiles.
Reader Question about Gentile Converts
Random Walk in a Gallery of Religious Art, Step 29: Acts 16:1-12, Map – Journeys of Paul (4/10/15)
Paul was a traveler and a letter writer, and his companion Luke was a traveler and a book writer. The other apostles, not so much. In consequence, we know many details of Paul’s travels and very little about the travels of other apostles. Christian tradition identifies the tombs of Peter in Rome, Andrew in Greece, John in Ephesus, Thomas in India, Bartholomew (Nathaniel) in Turkey. How did any of these saints get to those places? We have no clue from the scriptures. James son of Zebedee has traditionally been said to be buried in Spain, although I have to wonder how, since in his case scripture does say that he was martyred by Herod (Acts 12:2), presumably in Palestine. But we know a lot about Paul, so the next time you’re reading Acts or the letters of Paul, refer to this map whenever you come to a place name.
Previous Step Next Step.
Our passage from Acts is interesting for two reasons. It is one of the so-called "we" passages, where Luke shifts from telling what other people did to telling what "we" did. Luke traveled quite a bit with Paul, and even if there's no other indication that he was on a trip, the "we" passages would tell us.
Paul always made a point of being self-supporting. He did not want to burden his established churches or his new converts with the costs of his missions, so wherever he went, he normally worked as a tent-maker to support himself and his assistants. Lydia is one of the very few converts that Paul allowed to support him financially. She must have been ... assertive.
Paul and Silas (and Luke? – see vs. 16) were in Philippi when the events described in today's scripture passage occurred. To understand what's going on, you need a brief course in Roman law. Verse 21 says that Paul and the others were advocating something contrary to Roman law. What was that? In the Roman empire, you could worship any gods you wanted to, as long as you worshipped the Emperor. The Jews refused to do this, and they were such a pain in the neck about it that they got an exemption – as long as they didn't try to convert anyone. Christianity was regarded by the Romans as a Jewish sect. So in trying to convert people to Christianity, Paul and Silas probably were breaking Roman law. In verse 27, the jailer is about to kill himself because he thinks the prisoners have escaped. A jailer was a personally responsible for ensuring that a criminal penalty was paid – if the prisoner wasn't available, the jailer paid. For example, if a prisoner was about to be executed and then escaped, the jailer was executed in place of the prisoner. Apparently Paul's jailer didn't like the penalty someone was about to pay. When Paul stops him by telling him that all the prisoners are there, he is so impressed that he immediately wishes to become like Paul and the others, and he and his whole household are baptized as Christians.
The apostle Paul established churches just about everywhere he went. One of the notable exceptions was Athens. Apparently only a few people became converts, and no church grew there.
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