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I am me but am concerned about YOUR eternity. If you don't buy into such religious underpinnings, that is called a choice. If I am wrong, I end up just as you hope will happen to you. If you are wrong, we end up in very different places. You guess which one is playing it safe.

Acts 10 – an Italian Band?

Acts 10 – an Italian Band?

Act 10:1  “There was a certain man in Caesarea called Cornelius, a centurion of the band called the Italian band,…” (KJV)

This most likely is not the band that comes to mind when we read this verse. Cornelius was the (Greek) hekatontarchēs or captain of a hundred so in a sense he was the “band” director.

He was a devout or eusebēs man; one who took his responsibilities seriously. He was also a strong follower and believer in God (the Father), as in the God of Judaism even though he was Greek. He gave alms; prayed often but had not heard about The Way or Jesus. Now he needs to learn that Jesus is the “resurrection and the life” so God gave him a vision and an angel to explain his need for instruction per salvation.

Cornelius’ everyday living in respect of God were about to be rewarded by God.

Acts 10:4 (ERV) “God has heard your prayers and has seen your gifts to the poor. He remembers you and all you have done…”

There is a two-fold scenario or situation in chapter 10. We have the Greek-Roman-Italian centurion and a skeptical Peter who needs a better understanding of Jesus who came into this world in hopes that ALL may be saved; not just the Jews. Recall from previous articles that Paul welcomed the Greek (non-Jew) but Peter seemed to think Judaism practices juxtaposed with the New Testament salvation message. This is how both scenarios play out then become one.

Centurion: He was a faith-believer. He practiced his belief in God daily. He did not yet know about Jesus and the salvation message as he was still old school. This comes later in chapter 10 and the reason Peter gets involved. But first, God needs to deal with Peter’s prejudices and narrow sightedness of for just whom did Jesus come to redeem.

The centurion has a close household and apparently some faithful troops under his command. We read this later on in chapter 10. His Godliness is not hidden from either his family or his troops. In verses 5 – 8 Cornelius encounters an angel. What a moment that must have been for him; an angel in front of him and seemingly out of nowhere. No wonder he trembled.

Peter: Beginning with verse 9b, Peter now enters this chapter commentary. As those sent from Cornelius neared the city of Joppa where Simon Peter is lodging, Peter is going up on the roof top to pray. It is amazing. Many times in life people have begun to pray about something and the answer is just around the corner; i.e. already on the way. The danger is thankfulness or the lack of it; the answer brushed off as simply a welcomed coincidence. This chapter is a great one for dealing with things we too often chalk off as chance. This is also why scripture tells us in I Thessalonians 5:18 “Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”. Peter is about to learn a big lesson and it is about to knock at the gate of where he is then residing.

Peter is hungry. He is praying and focusing on the God above. He personally knew Jesus but was a traitor of sorts at Jesus’ trial and crucifixion. We might call this moment Peter’s prayer closet on the roof of a house. Does he feel closer to God up on the roof or might it be the lack of distractions? Whatever it is, this is where we find him.

He falls into a concentration level called a trance in scripture. The word trance is ekstasis in the Greek. It means “a throwing of the mind out of its normal state.”  This could be daydreaming or a total blanking out of one’s immediate surroundings. All of one’s five senses are overridden and open to some internal or external stimuli. It is when one turns within him or herself to concentrate deeply on but one thing. In Peter’s (prayer) situation, he is open to the guidance and voice of the Holy Spirit. So should we when praying.

This Peter-moment in Acts 10 takes us back to Exodus 3 and Moses confronting the fiery bush that did not burn up. It did not burn but was on fire. It probably did not produce heat either. We aren’t told but it was God’s fire; not the type we sense around a fireplace, camp fire or forest fire. Moses was totally involved with this mystery when God tells him to remove his shoes for not only is this Holy Ground, but a Holy Moment. Peter is in a similar situation in Acts 10:11.

JIV NOTE: When hungry one cannot think much about other issues in life. Peter being hungry was looking internally to his physical needs. God was about to help him look within himself and his real spiritual need to understand how the cross and resurrection made a change in the culture of Judaism and any other worship of God.

A sheet (vessel in some translations) of four legged animals, crawling, flying, and wild beasts descended from heaven…three different times. God told Peter to kill and eat. He refused each time as his traditional/customary practice of rejecting certain foods per the Law of Moses trumped his hunger. Some of the creatures of food he saw were what had traditionally been called unclean. We cannot question Peter’s devotion but we can question his traditional practice of a man-made law through Moses, even though at that time it was ordained of God.

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AHA MOMENT

Simple aha moment asks, can God change his mind? Obviously it is yes. What was once ordained of him per unclean foods is no longer the point. The real issue was Peter’s attitude about keeping Jewish customs a part of The Way since the cross of Calvary. In Hebrew tradtion, since Peter was one, it is a matter of Minhag versus Halacha; i.e. customs versus law. The rejection of unclean foods was more of a MINHAG (Jewish custom) versus HALACHA (God’s law). We could go into the Apostolic Age and the Council in Jerusalem around 50 A.D. per this discussion but his would be a distraction…for nowJ

Peter is told by a voice out of heaven to kill, prepare and eat of this food; any of the creatures within the sheet that descended from heaven. It is a challenge to his devotion to customs versus a new standard. In short, God is teaching Peter that there is no difference between Jewish souls and Gentile souls when it comes to faith, worship, group participation and/or customs once applicable to only the Israelites. This very same Jesus that Peter professes and teaches about is nonpartisan. This is in preparation for what he was about to be commanded to do when he shortly meets with Captain Cornelius; a gentile believer.

keyOne of the key and insightful verses is Acts 10:17

Peter wondered what this vision meant. (at the same time) The men Cornelius sent had found Simon’s house. They were standing at the door (seeking Peter).

While Peter was still trying to figure out what had just happened, coincidently (doubtful) or by the hand of God the men sent by Captain Cornelius arrive at the house where Peter is staying. Then the Spirit (capital “S”) tells Peter that there are three men there looking for him. Do as they request.

It is a bit odd that the voice from above that told him to eat of the animals in the vessel/sheet from heaven and while Peter is still without food and without explanation of his vision, the voice from heaven tells him to go with the three visitors without question. He does.

Acts 10:24 is another key verse. When this entourage from Joppa, the three sent by Cornelius, Peter and a few other believers from Joppa arrived at the home of Cornelius, not only is he there waiting but so is his family and others. Peter almost immediately points out that it is against Jewish Judaism custom and law to go into the home of a non-Jew.

It is then that he states why the vision he had on the roof top of what was customarily considered as unclean or common foods not fit for the Jews to eat but its implication and message was to Jew and Gentile. Cornelius explains why he sent for Peter and now wants to hear the message God deemed necessary for him to gain knowledge and understand.

In Acts 10:35 through the end of the chapter, Peter finally gets it and expresses that fact. Jesus came for all and is not exclusive to some and not others. This should address some of today’s “Christian denominations” who think exclusivity of being the elect is to them and not all mankind. Cornelius gets the entire salvation message through Peter from crucifixion to resurrection.

Acts 10:42 and 43 explains something else per the end time. Peter tells Cornelius that this very same Jesus will one time judge both the living and the dead; i.e. the Bema Seat Judgment of believers and the Great White Throne Judgment of nonbelievers. This is the living and the dead; no exceptions.

The final instruction of Peter to this group in Caesarea but given to those disciples who accompanied Peter out of Joppa:

V48: Peter told them to baptize Cornelius and his relatives and friends in the name of Jesus Christ.

cropped-minijim1Dr.JStark

September, 2018

Acts 9 –The Way?

Can one be totally dedicated to a cause not knowing s/he is on the wrong side? This is Saul in the first couple verses of Acts 9. He witnessed the stoning of Stephen in chapter 8. Now he sets out with a mission of destruction to what verse 2 in Acts 9 calls members of (ESV) The Way.

one way

There is only ONE WAY!

He goes to the Chief Priest asking for what we would call in today’s language, warrants to arrest any Jews who proclaim Christ as Savior. The Jewish Sanhedrin had no jurisdiction over Gentiles or Gentile believers but if a Jew, one would fall under the Roman authorized and supported Jewish (Judaism) leadership and the Sanhedrin. This seems odd for a power like Rome to defer to another authority within its own domain. Especially after the trouble the Jews caused for them. This, in fact all changes in 70 A.D. when the Romans finally destroy the Temple and Jewish independence; about 30 years from this point in Acts 9.

Oddly as it may seem, Saul, soon to be evangelist Paul, the one seeking authority to destroy The Way (Christians), is one of the primary reasons Rome turns on both the Jews and the Christians. This chapter in Acts is known as The Damascus Road chapter. Saul sees a bright light from heaven as he travels to Damascus with warrants in hand. His accompanying comrades or Temple Police witness the voice event but see nothing or no one. “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me? (Acts 9:4 – ESV)

Saul replies “Who are you, Lord?” The fact is the word he used in the Greek, LORD (kurios) means “supreme being.” Saul already knew the answer to his own question. Jesus simply takes him to a moment or reality…”I am Jesus, the one you persecute.”

JIV: This is a moment of past, present and future per those who call upon the name of the Lord as Christians. Saul knew well of the crucifixion of Jesus only a few years earlier. He is now talking to the same one he in spirit helped to kill.  Saul saw Christianity as a great threat to Judaism. We now move from God (Old Testament) to Jesus (New Testament); one and the same but a change from Judaism to Christianity…another way of defining this moment.

Paul is told by The Voice of The Way to continue on to Damascus, but he is now blind. There is great symbolism in him being blind. John 9:25 reads…”I was blind but now I see.” This passage reports a miracle of Jesus. There is something of huge value in temporarily retreating to this passage in John 9. Jesus is asked by his disciples “why is this man blind? What sin did he do that blinded him? HERE IS THE KEY VERSE: (ESV) “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him.” This man had a difficulty or birth defect for one purpose…so that “the works of God (be shown) through his healing.” Why am I diseased? Why am I a cripple? Why do I have cancer? Why is it such a young person died? Why does God let this or that happen? So that the works of God may be shown (given opportunity) to show through him or her. It may not always be an earthly healing we see, but we do see the “works of God” manifesting in his or her life.

Amazingly, a leadership of Judaism, this time the Pharisees, questioned the blind man’s healing. He claims it was Jesus. As it states in verse 9, some tried to convince themselves it was a look-a-like person who was now seeing. The blind guy must have stepped off the face of the map because such a thing cannot be done…so they thought (see Acts 9:28)

The Pharisees cry that since it was the Sabbath it couldn’t be of God. It was traditionally a day of peace and rest. By Jewish Law work was forbidden on the Sabbath. This reminds us of Colossians 2:16…” Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath.” …or what day one calls his or her Sabbath? Man-made tradition and rules!!!! We have so many man-made rules we don’t know the difference between what scriptures actually tell us and what some theologian or denominational doctrine tell us is as much gospel as the Gospels themselves. How will we understand if we do not know? How will we know or have true knowledge if we are not personally aware of bible facts by study?

In desperation, verses 18 and 23, the Pharisees call the healed man’s parents to testify if this is really their “from birth” blind son? They say YES but in fear of the authority of the Sanhedrin, they defer to their son saying, “Ask him. He is of age.”

In Acts 9:22 the finality of being sanctioned from the synagogue or as in Catholicism, excommunicated, was foremost in his parents’ mind. As a Jew, to say Jesus was the Christ (Messiah), was fatal. They passed the buck to their healed son. This reminds us of the End Time reference found in Luke 12:53; Father against son, son against father; mother against daughter, daughter against mother. See below copy of ancient fragments discovered in the Dead Sea Scrolls.

This fragment states of a time yet to come when such will be fact!

It actually addresses a time when the sons of light will battle with the sons of darkness. By implication we can deduce this will be a time of great distress and no one trusting another.

Now the Pharisees get religious. In verses 24, 25 they tell him to give glory to God for this man (Jesus) is a sinner for having worked on their Sabbath. The healed man simply says, whether he is a sinner of not I do not know. But, once I was blind and now I see.

Here is a point too often missed from the pulpit or the Sunday Bible study hour. He healed man says “whether Jesus was a sinner or not, he did not know.” Hmmmm?

Now it gets real interesting. The Pharisees question him again but the healed man gets frustrated with their persistence. He tells them, I already answered your questions. What is wrong with you? In essence, what is it you don’t understand about me being healed? Do you wish to become his disciples (learners)? The Pharisees make a fatal statement…(V28) “And they reviled him, saying, “’You are his disciple, but we are disciples of Moses’.” They don’t even claim to be disciples of the God they had just ordered the healed man to give glory (v24). They are students of Moses whom they never personally knew from 1,500 years earlier in Hebrew history. Jesus they can see at this time.

Then the Pharisees get totally outwitted by the healed man and “cast him out” of their presence (9:34).

Just above in this article you should have read a hmmmmm statement. The healed man did not know if his healer (Jesus) was a sinner or not. Now we find the answer. Recall that Jesus mudded the eyes of the man commanding him to go to the Pool of Salome to wash off the mud. He did NOT KNOW what Jesus looked like as his previous contact with him was when he was still blind. His faith did not heal him and he knew not Jesus.

Beginning at Acts 9:35, we must read the conversation that followed when the healed man was cast out of the presence of the Pharisees.

Joh 9:35  Jesus heard that they had cast him out, and having found him he said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?”

Joh 9:36  He answered, “And who is he, sir, that I may believe in him?”

Joh 9:37  Jesus said to him, “You have seen him, and it is he who is speaking to you.”

Joh 9:38  He said, “Lord, I believe,” and he worshiped him.

Joh 9:39  Jesus said, “For judgment I came into this world, that those who do not see may see, and those who see may become blind.”

Joh 9:40  Some of the Pharisees near him heard these things, and said to him, “Are we also blind?”

Joh 9:41  Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would have no guilt; but now that you say, ‘We see,’ your guilt remains.

Jesus finds the man a second time and asks him if he is aware of who is “the Son of Man?” He says no but I want to believe. Who is he? Jesus tells him, “It is I who stands in front of you.” So often, in fact too often we hear that JESUS IS LOVE without hearing the rest of the detail (story as Paul Harvey once proclaimed on radio). Jesus said he came to judge (v39). The only reason that the Pharisees had any sense of guilt is the closing verse. In simplified English, if you were not aware you would not know or understand. But now that you are aware, you are guilty.

cropped-minijim1Rev. Dr. Jstark
August 2018

Acts 8

Why???? Why did the Jews persecute just the church? There is no record of them doing the same thing to other religious, in their minds, demagogues? Even more significant, why did the Roman government allow this sect of people to operate a government and court system within the Romans established? Was not the Roman authority there to govern the people?

At this time in history Christianity in the eyes of the Romans came out of Judaism. Jesus was a Jew. The disciples were Jews. Jerusalem was predominantly Jews. Christianity mistakenly was viewed by Rome as a sect of Judaism. The Jews were allowed a certain amount of autonomy in keeping their own people in line making it easier for the Roman authorities, so they believed. We must recall though, the crucifixion of Jesus required the blessing or permission of the Roman authorities. The Romans saw Christianity (first to the Jew) as a sect or subdivision of Judaism. The first Christians were all Jews. The entire Bible is written by someone who was an Israeli (mistakenly called Jews). We do have instances where even in the life of Paul Jews might hold Roman citizenship. It was a crime for Sanhedrin authorities to judge or criminally punish those of Roman citizenry (Acts 25:10).

Saul witnessed the execution of Stephen in Acts 7. He was a Jew, a member of the Sanhedrin, a Pharisee of the most stringent group, well-educated under Gamaliel, adherent to the “Law of Yahweh.” Saul (Paul) was so dedicated to his persecution and arresting of Christians, Acts 8:3 the (ERV) “all believers but the Apostles LEFT JERUSALEM for other parts of Judea and Samaria.” The Jews of Germany tried to flee their country prior to WWII for the same reasons of persecution by another Saul (Hitler); same fervor; same dedication; same goal.

Acts 8:4 states that where ever these Christians fled they took the good news of Christ with them and shared it with fellow Jews. We get a very odd introduction to Phillip, one of the seven chosen to “wait tables.” Luke simply tells us in verse 5 that “Phillip goes to Samaria.” We can probably safely assume it was Paul’s persecution that chased even Phillip out of town. For better understanding and since verse 3 states that all but the Apostles (the 12) fled Jerusalem, we must understand that there are two prominent “Phillips” in the Bible. One is Phillip the Apostle. The other is Phillip the Evangelist; waiter of tables. This Phillip in Acts is the evangelist, not the Phillip the Apostle. No contradiction of scripture!!!! Two different men.

Phillip is an example of a message spread, thanks to Saul who chased Christians like Phillip out of Jerusalem in the first place. People in Samaria witnessed the works of Phillip ((table waiter) and believed in his Messiah. Evil spirits were driven out; cripples were healed; as verse 8 puts it in the ERV…”What a happy day this was for that city.”  The King James says there was great joy in the city. This is the same city Jesus healed the ten lepers. It was the second capital of the Northern Kingdom of Israel and eventually its name became synonymous with the Ten Tribe Kingdom of Israel. Sargon II of Assyrian conquered and renamed it Samerina. Today it is the West Bank but still a former territory of Israel B.C.

Phillip the evangelist encounters a well-known local sorcerer named Simon. According to the ERV he bewitched the people of Samaria with his magic. Verse 11 says he had been a practicing sorcery for a long time in this area. Amazingly or perhaps half-heartedly, Simon heard the message of Phillip and his cohorts and claimed to be a believer.

JIV: this part of scripture gets sticky but facts are facts. We teach – You Decide

Simon was truly impressed with the miracles of Phillip and his associates in Samaria. SO much so he claimed to become a believer. The theological question raised here; did Simon believe in the God of these miracles or did he believe these miracles to be a new kind of magic? Which belief was it? He believed in God and Jesus or the obvious miracle magic of Phillip.

The answer is alluded to when Simon witnesses Phillip’s laying on of hands for baptism of the Holy Spirit in new believers (Acts 8:18-24). He didn’t ask for the baptism of the Holy Spirit. He asked for the skill and power to do this thing he saw as a great magic. He was willing to pay for it. Phillip in verse 23 tells him to REPENT. This is our insight to the heart of Simon. He wanted the power but by not seeking to be baptized in the Holy Spirit he did not want to “live” as a Christian. His motive for asking was for himself. It had nothing to do with living a life in Christ.

JIV NOTE: This is still true today. People claim belief in Christ but often as fire insurance instead of eternal assurance. I want to be, one thinks in his or her heart, but not conform and live as a believer. Our churches, pulpits, and pew dwellers are full of these people. No action or desire beyond hiring a preacher to do it for them.

In verse 24 Simon begs Phillip to “pray for me so that these bad things you just said (verse 22) won’t happen.” Here is a classic example of wondering about someone requesting prayer but no willing to humble him or herself to the point of seeking forgiveness directly instead of through a third person. 1 John 1:9 reads if“if you confess your sin” leaves no room to ask someone else to do it for you. It should shed light on what it actually means to pray for someone but it certainly does not mean to pray as a substitute. Simon KNEW (YADDA) what he was told by Phillip to personally do! Acts 8:22 …PRAY & REPENT!

JIV: This passage in scripture is why at times when someone asks for prayer I assure them that I will but after s/he seeks God him or herself first. I can pray for your understanding of scripture but I cannot pray, as no one else can, in absentee. 1 Timothy 2:3, 4 is specific. Even Jesus can’t do it unless we first seek him. He wants all to be saved but cannot make that free-will decision for anyone. He paid the price but we must seek its rewards.

At this point in Acts 8, Luke immediately changes topics. Phillip does not tell the man to quote the Lord’s Prayer or that they put hands on him to pray for him. It all abruptly stops at verse 24. Verse 25 finds them witnessing on their way back to Jerusalem.

What follows is one of those amazing facts that one is unlikely to hear from any other source. The information is there but seldom seen or put together. 1,000 years earlier in the Old Testament we find King Solomon on the throne of Israel. His wisdom is widely known. Many  many seek counsel with him.

In the Bible we are introduced to an unnamed queen from the land of Sheba who travels to Jerusalem to meet King Solomon (see 1 Kings 10; 2 Chronicles 9). Accompanied by many attendants and camels, the Queen of Sheba brings a large quantity of spices, gold and precious stones with her. She is drawn to Jerusalem because of Solomon’s fame, and she tests the king with hard questions. Solomon is able to answer them all. In return King Solomon gives the Queen of Sheba gifts and “every desire that she expressed” (1 Kings 10:13). After receiving these gifts, the queen returns to the land of Sheba with her retinue.ark.jpg

Is this the final resting place of the Ark of the Covenant? Many Ethiopians believe that the Ark of the Covenant resides within the “Chapel of the Tablet” next to the Church of Maryam Tsion in Aksum, Ethiopia. They believe that the Ark traveled with Solomon’s firstborn son, Menelik, from Jerusalem to the land of Sheba. Where is the land of Sheba? According to the *Kebra Nagast, it is ancient Ethiopia.

* The Kebra Nagast is a 14th-century account written in Ge’ez, an ancient South Semitic language that originated in Ethiopia and Eritrea.

Need more understanding as to the question “is it possible Menelik was the son of Sheba and Solomon? His name means “son of the wise king.” Ethiopians claim the Queen of Sheba as part of their heritage, and through her union with King Solomon, Ethiopians today claim a connection between their kings and the Davidic monarchy of Israel. Judaism was for centuries the dominant religion of the Kingdom of Ethiopia. It spanned the Horn of Africa and across the Red Sea to Yemen territories of today. Haile Selassie (1930 to 1974) claimed to be a descendant of Sheba and Solomon. Emperor Menelik to Haile Selassie is 225 generations of continual rule in Ethiopia.

Now for the 1,000 year connection between Old Testament  King Solomon, Queen Makeda of Sheba, New Testament Phillip and the Ethiopian leaving Jerusalem on the “desert road” with Judaism scrolls he did not understand (Acts 8:30-34). After the Queen Makeda returned to Ethiopia Judaism became their national religion. See the previous page picture of “Chapel of the Tablet” in Ethiopia. Genesis 49:10 states the scepter will not depart from the lineage of Judah.

JIV NOTE: The Bible never states the scepter won’t leave the Land of Judah. It says that it will not leave the lineage of Judah until Christ, himself a descendent of the Tribe of Judah, returns to earth with the New Jerusalem and His Millennial Reign.

The Ethiopian Eunuch, a royal member of the Ethiopian kingdom, was in Jerusalem seeking scrolls of Judaism scripture. Phillip was told of God to take the Desert Road out of Jerusalem but not told why (Acts 8:26). This is the same road the Ethiopian was taking to return to Ethiopia. Here Phillip and the Ethiopian cross paths. Phillip climbs into the royal chariot and explains the scripture to him about how the savior was “lead to the slaughter like a lamb.” Then Phillip introduces the Ethiopian to Christ the promised Messiah. He becomes a believer, is baptized and returns to Ethiopia to bring this good news to his people.epthopia

Fact: Today Ethiopia is one of two African nations where Christianity is still the dominant religion. Ethiopia is surrounded by nations that are over 95% Muslim yet it remains Christian. Judaism played a dominant role in Ethiopia since 950 B.C. In the 1st century A.D. Christianity became their dominant religion. All because of King Solomon, Queen of Sheba and a 1,000 years later, the “table waiter” Phillip and an Ethiopian dignitary. These are the facts. What do they add up to? A direct connection between the Queen of Sheba giving birth to Solomon’s first son (Menelik) who was the first Emperor of Ethiopia and his lineage continuing until 1974; almost 3,000 years.

PS; The name Haile Selassie means: The Trinity. 

This is the Imperial standard of Ethiopia up to the recent past. Note the Lion of the Tribe of Judah as its center piece. 

cropped-minijim1Rev. Dr. Jstark
August, 2018

 

Acts Chapter 7

He knew it would be his death speech! Although this is somewhat speculation, it is what came of it. Stephen, one of the 7 selected to “wait tables” discussed in Acts 6 (first few verses) was doing a lot more than WAITING TABLES to be dragged before the Sanhedrin Council. A problem we sometimes run into in reading scripture is that all languages do not have direct translations of many original manuscript words or wording meaning. Sometimes we don’t even have a word into which to translate a word or two from scripture. In a sense, this is one of those times. To “wait tables” takes most of us to a restaurant scenario where the host or hostess waits on our table. This is NOT what Luke means per “wait tables” (Acts 6:2) (see end of article comment).

Stephen, one of the seven selected to “wait tables” was not brought before the Sanhedrim for being a bad waiter. His role in “waiting tables” included his testimony and street ministry seeking the lost with the message of the cross. He begins his message to the Sanhedrin in Acts 6:8-10. In short the wise guys in the Jewish sect of Judaism could not argue or dispute his rebuttals to all of their charges. This more than disturbed them…it perturbed them. Stephen was “waiting their tables” with ‘servings of’ truth and actuality they could not defend against.

The setting and charges against Stephen is found it Acts 6:13, 14…

“This man never ceases to speak words against this holy place and the law, for we have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place and will change the customs that Moses delivered to us.”

Holy place? Their Hebrew Law of Moses? Destroy this place? Change the customs or traditions of their way? It is obvious that even these religious leaders of Judaism could not find a charge against Stephen and his views of God. The closest they come to anything set in worshiping is when they say “this Holy place.” We experience this too much today. We have tried to make the church building or sanctuary by creating rules for its use; no coffee or beverages allowed, no running in the sanctuary, take you chatter outside, etc. We have heard these claims but where does the purpose of worship fit into the mix? Far too many so-called church denominations are bent on bible compromise leaving the Holy Spirit outside knocking on a window hoping HE might come in during their worship(?) service.

A church sanctuary as we identify it is not a Holy Place; now and it never was. The only place God identified as a Holy Place was the inner workings of the Temple (Tabernacle during the Wilderness experience) called the Holy of holies (Habakkuk 1; Hebrews 9; Matthew 27:50-51). It is the body of believers that is to be holy, not the building. When someone is more concerned about the carpet in the building than the soul next to him/her or the person carrying a bottle of water either into the building or walking the streets, are we like them or unequally yoked with semi-believers or religious nonbelievers in a less than worship attitude?

pointingStephen was up against this when his accusers were defending the building, their traditions, customs, and their man made laws, not the spiritual concerns of individuals and the former nation of Israel’s relationship with their one true God. God’s purpose for creating man never enters Stephen’s appearance before the Sanhedrin. (JIV NOTE: Neither is God mentioned by Jewish leadership when any of the Apostles were dragged before this “holier than thou” bunch of priests, Scribes, Pharisees, Sadducees, and other related individuals).

Acts 7 is Stephen’s defense (witness) to the charges against him and in actuality, God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit. In Acts 7:1 the High Priest asks Stephen, “Are these things (charges) so?” In verse 2 Stephen immediately takes them back to the historical root of their problem. It begins with God speaking to Abraham some 2000 years earlier. Stephen takes those who were judging him from the beginning of their Israeli identity to their point in time.

Before we give you the short version and sequential history of Israel, as did Stephen before the Sanhedrin in Acts 7:2-53, let’s pause at one line in Acts 7:43. It reads:

You took up the tent of Moloch and the star of your god Rephan, the images that you made to worship; and I will send you into exile beyond Babylon.’

I will send you into exile BEYOND Babylon. At this point in Stephen’s reciting of their history they hadn’t yet entered the Promised Land. Here is a now fulfilled prophecy hidden within Stephen’s review of their history as a people; a house of Israel. The Sanhedrin members, as did all of Israel, knew that by now, 800 years later, they were dispersed amongst other nations; no longer a nation themselves. In essence, Stephen was pointing out that their authority was limited by proximity, not national domain. He pointed out that they were stuck in the past and no longer were in touch or reality with their modern times under Roman authority. This is very similar to many church groups today. They fight to defend their customs and traditions but haven’t a clue how to lead someone to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ.

Acts 7:49… Stephen points out that God is no longer in their Temple as it was made by hands of man. Heaven is HIS throne. Earth itself is but a foot stool of God. What kind of “house” can one build for a God of this nature? Their sanctuary meant nothing to God anymore. The veil had been rent or torn in two.  Their temple then, as are our churches today are man-made.

Acts 7:50… Did your hands create any or even a part of creation? This verse is ripe for the picking and could be a message or article in and of itself…but not here. (sorry)

Acts 7:51… Why do you always (yes, always! ἀεί) resist the Holy Spirit as did your fathers in the past? ἀεί means to resist change or accept anything that suggests change. What in actuality Stephen is pointing out the Sanhedrin’s inability to recognize the Holy Spirit. They had a god, mostly of their making by this time, and refused to be influence by HIM. They are “stiff-necked and uncircumcised.” A stiff-necked person refuses to look left or right staying focused on the trail they have chosen, not one God has chosen for them. Their heart is uncircumcised meaning covered over… a form of remaining in the dark rather than exposed to the light of day.

In Acts 7:53 Stephen hits hard. His judges and (false) accusers want to judge by the Law (of Moses) but only selectively living by it. This does it. They rush upon him dragging him out of the city to be stoned. Enter stage left…Saul, soon to be known as the Apostle Paul.

As said earlier on in this article per chapter 7, who was actually on trial here; Stephen or the Sanhedrin?

Review of Stephen’s history of Israel.

  1. Abraham told by God to leave his country.
  2. Abraham sojourns to the “future” Promised Land of Israel
  3. God did not give any of this land to Abraham (Lot) but promised it to a future generation
  4. Abraham told his future GREAT-grand kids would live and multiply in a “different” land (Egypt)
  5. This future generation will be mistreated in Egypt living there for 400 years.
  6. A deliverer will be sent to retrieve these people from Egypt. In this Promised Land they will worship me. A prophecyof the New Jerusalem as would be their dispersion after Babylon.
  7. Circumcision becomes a symbol of Israeli descendants. (Ishmael at 13; Isaac at 8 days old)
  8. The jealousy of 11 brothers against Joseph and sold to those in a caravan heading to Egypt
  9. Joseph finds great favor in the eyes of Egypt and he is made 2nd in command of this land.
  10. A great famine comes over Egypt, Canaan and surrounding lands in the westerly Middle East
  11. Jacob with his 75 member household hear that there is grain to be purchased in Egypt
  12. The brothers minus Benjamin are sent to Egypt to purchase grain.
  13. A second time they are sent to Egypt for grain and Joseph finally reveals to them who he is.
  14. Pharaoh meets Joseph’s father and ‘some’ of his brothers. Gad is not introduced by Joseph.
  15. 75 of Joseph’s (Jacob’s) clan move to prime land in Egypt as shepherds in Goshen.
  16. Jacob dies in Egypt but is buried in Shechem where Abraham had purchased land years earlier
  17. The descendants of Jacob multiple greatly in Goshen, Egypt to a point of outnumbering locals
  18. A NEW PHARAOH who knew not about Joseph takes the throne of Egypt; a foreign ruler
  19. He subjects the Israelis to hard labor lest they overthrow him due to their population numbers
  20. Moses is born when the new Pharaoh fears this large number of Israelites inside his kingdom
  21. Babies of Israeli DNA are slaughtered but Moses is saved and raised in Pharaoh’s household
  22. 40 years Moses is instructed in the cultural ways of the Egyptians and warfare
  23. At 40 years of age he decides to visit his Israeli brethren unannounced.
  24. Moses sees one of his brethren being abused by an Egyptian slave master and kills the Egyptian
  25. Moses assumed his brethren would accept him as their redeemer/rescuer. NOT!
  26. Moses visits his people finding them quarreling. He steps in to act as a facilitator, ruler, judge
  27. The fight turns against Moses and he is told he is a murderer. If they know, so does Pharaoh
  28. Moses flees Egypt to Media for 40 years for fear of the wrath of the Pharaoh
  29. He has two sons (not mentioned here but they are Gershon and Eliezer – Exodus 18:3,4
  30. Mt Sinai, angel, voice of God, burning bush, ordered to return to Egypt and rescue his people
  31. Moses is to rescue the very same people who rejected him 40 years earlier (He is 80 years old)
  32. Moses redeems his own DNA and the Red Sea incident in history
  33. 40 more years he spends ruling and judging the people of Israel in the Wilderness
  34. Moses receives the oracles (10 commandments) on Mt. Sinai
  35. Israelis’ turn against Moses and God and in their hearts wish to return to the old world Egypt
  36. Aaron make an image of gold for Moses has seemingly vanished; they are now leaderless
  37. God condemns these people for they turned to god’s made by man
  38. God warns them of a far distant future when they will be dispersed as a people first by the Assyrians, 720 B.C. then by the Babylonians in 597, 587, and again in 582 B.C.
  39. Stephen’s Sanhedrin judges and accusers are reminded of the Wilderness Tabernacle designed by God and how Israel took this architecture with them into the Promised Land
  40. The Tent Tabernacle exists until the time of King David. King Solomon builds the first Temple
  41. The Most High God does not live in houses built by human hands” (Acts 7:49)
  42. Stephen accuses the Jewish leaders of being self-righteous refusing to give hearts to the God
  43. “You are always against what the Holy Spirit wants you to do. That’s how your ancestors were, and you are just like them!” (Acts 7:51b)
  44. The prophets they rejected in their past. Now they reject the answer to this promised Messiah
  45. They received God’s Law through Moses but personally reject it in their personal daily living; in a real sense, they use it to their advantage, not as a way of life.steven stoned.jpg

It is at this point the Sanhedrin falls into a great rage dragging Stephen from the court room to stone him. Stephen see heaven open with “the Son of man” seated next to the God creator of all things.

cropped-minijim1Rev. Dr. Jstark
August 2018

PS; Yes, Stephen was appointed to “wait tables.” He knew exactly what the Sanhedrin bunch needed for their lunch and he delivered it to them. A large portion of truth!

Acts 6

Acts Chapter 6

In our previous article discussing Acts 5 we mentioned that there was trouble within the ranks of the early Christians. The Hellenist widowed new believers felt that the Hebrew or Jerusalem widowed new believers were favored in church welfare. According to the very first verse in chapter 6, the Hellenists widows were not getting any food or financial help from the body of believers called The Way (church):

Now in these days when the disciples were increasing in number, a complaint by the Hellenists arose against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution. (ESV)

The Hellenists (Greek speaking Jews converted to Christianity) were those outside of Jerusalem or Israel proper. Their ancestry had been dispersed from Israel (Northern Kingdom) to the “hinterlands” over 700 years earlier by the Assyrians. The Assyrians as a power were no longer a factor. By now it is Romans in charge; previously Greek (Alexander the Great), and prior to that the Persians. Going backwards it is Rome, Greek (conquered lands left to Alexander’s Generals), Persian, Assyrian, Israel divided into two kingdoms.

The Twelve apostle/disciples were perplexed at this issue. Must they leave their pulpit and street ministries (missionaries) to police the Christian Church treasuries and food program? This verse alone (V2) should immediately take a bible student to the Gifts of the Spirit. All Spirit given gifts (functions) are needed in the function of the church as a body of believers but a hand is not an eye.chapter 6 pic

JIV: Far too many self-claiming Christians want to make this a right to eternal security but deny the power of the Gift of the Holy Spirit within them; one that is given to EVERY new believer to help the church body function as a whole. See Ephesians 4:16. If one is just a pew spectator, is s/he part of the functioning body of the Christ?

For a good article on Spiritual Gift effectiveness go to https://bible.org/seriespage/6-spiritual-gifts-1-corinthians-121-11 and read the article by Robert L. Deffinbaugh.

Word of caution: Do not accept or dupe one’s self into believing that verse 3 of Acts 6 is an excuse for only a few to be involved in the function of any assembly of believers we mistakenly identify as a church member and not a functioning part of the body.

Verse five identifies these seven men as chosen to work in the capacity of administration of supplying to the needy. This did not mean they were excused from witnessing and evangelism. Philip, one of the seven chosen, is a prime example of this when he meets the Ethiopian Eunuch later on in chapter 8 of Acts.

JIV NOTE: Acts 8 is an astounding event of how God controls even after 1,000 years, King Solomon, the Queen of Sheba then, now Philip. Stay tuned. You will be enlightened to something there is a great chance you never heard from any pulpit or Sunday Study.

Acts 6 then goes into the how and why Stephen, one of the seven chosen to “serve the tables” (Acts 6:8-15) was stoned (Acts 7:54-8:2). It is significant to note that in 6:7 there were a “great number of priests” who became believers. It is not recorded and to some, a chagrin that we do not have recorded history as to what these priests of Judaism did with their Temple responsibilities and their new found faith in Christ.

Make a good mental note that even though Stephen was chosen as one of the seven to “serve tables” according to Acts 6:8 he was also an evangelist. Accordingly we cannot excuse our “church responsibilities and attendance” as good enough or a valid replacement for witnessing and sharing the gospel.

In a previous article we discussed what it means to be unequally yoked under any circumstances, not isolated to marriage. Since Acts 6 is a short chapter let me expound on this unequally yoked comment. We teach – You Decide.

2 Corinthians 6:14 ESV Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness?

1 Corinthians 15:33 ESV Do not be deceived: “Bad company ruins good morals.”courrupt

2 John 1:9-11  ESV  Everyone who does not abide in the teaching of Christ, does not have God. Whoever abides in the teaching has both the Father and the Son.

If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your *house or give him any greeting, for whoever greets him takes part in his wicked works.

*House is oy-kee’-ah in the Greek: “an abode, a house of worship (family of believers)…”

cropped-minijim1Dr. Jstark

August 2018

Acts Chapter 5

puzzleThere is more to knowing and understanding the historical record of Ananias and Sapphira as is usually preached from Acts 5. If one is not familiar with this passage, the apostles were collecting funds as needed and volunteered by other believers to feed their widowed. There was an issue between the Hellenist Jews and the Jerusalem Jews where one group seemed to be getting more than the other. We will address this in chapter six of the Book of Acts article. For now it is Ananias and Sapphira.

In agreement with each other, this couple sold some property for the expressed purpose of contributing to the “widow Fund.” It seems that they had an ulterior motive; to look good amongst their fellow believers per contribution. In a real sense this is reflected per an attitude in Mark 12:38-44.

(In brief) In His teaching Jesus was saying: “Beware of the scribes who like to walk around in long robes, and like respectful greetings in the market places, and chief seats in the synagogues and places of honor at banquets… and for appearance’s sake offer long prayers; these will receive greater condemnation. They made much ado about dropping their tithe in to the collection box. The noisier the better and greater likelihood others will make note of their abundance in generosity.”

This is what is usually pointed out in lessons and preaching; the fact that Ananias and Sapphira wanted all to know they gave so much to this cause of widow funds. Peter challenged Ananias as to whether or not the amount he gave was the same as for what he sold his property? He said yes. He died on the spot as it was not so. He wanted to deceive those in witness regarding his generosity by confirming that the amount given was the amount collected.honest

Three hours later his wife came looking for him. She must have wondered what was holding him up. Perhaps he was being celebrated for such generosity and she wanted her fair share of the attention. Peter asked if the amount her husband had given as an offering and as he had claimed was the price of the property sold. As previously agreed with Ananias, she also said yes. Sapphira also died on the spot.

This is the content of Acts 5:1-10 but the context is more than the historical facts recorded in the bible per Peter, widows, Ananias, and Sapphira. It is what this meant and remains true today per our relationship with others and the Holy Spirit. It may not be directly connected but keep in thought that “blasphemy of the Holy Spirit” is the one unforgivable sin.

Matthew 12:31-32

“Therefore I say to you, any sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven people, but blasphemy against the Spirit shall not be forgiven. “Whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man, it shall be forgiven him; but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit, it shall not be forgiven him, either in this age or in the age to come.

Luke 12:10

“And everyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man, it will be forgiven him; but he who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit, it will not be forgiven him.

Acts 5:3 & 9 are too often given little attention in a Sunday School lesson or from the pulpit. We lie to each other in order to deceive. But, the same sin is not a deception of the Holy Spirit but a blatant lie. In other words, we can deceive each other but not the Holy Spirit. He is part of the trinity God-head; all knowing, ever present, and all knowledgeable. What fool thinks a deception of other humans is also a possibility with God? We deceive each other but can only lie to the Holy Spirit.

Acts 5:13 is of particular note. It reads… (ESV) “and more than ever believers were added to the Lord…men and women.” The word “believers” is pisteuō in the Greek. It means to put one’s confidence in. It is more than acknowledging something to be true, it is putting one’s trust and life (living) in it; a new way of life. To be a true believer is to accept and to live out one’s faith of confidence.

Beginning at verse 17 the true heart of the Jewish (religion) leaders is exposed. Verse 17 says that the leaders were “jealous.” They see their Judaism flock flooding to Peter consequently putting him in the public spot light and not them. It isn’t that Peter wants the spot light, but the Sanhedrin bunch sure wish it. So what do they do? Arrest Peter and company in the name of their self-proclaiming righteous positions inside the Jewish community.

In short, Peter and his companions are under lock, key and guard. What happens next is amazing. Verse 19: (ASV) “But the angel of the Lord by night opened the prison doors and brought them out…” Two great mysteries are found here per this angelic prison escape. We find both in verse 23 of Acts 5. The prison doors were found soundly locked the next morning, and two, the prison guards were still standing at the prison doors unaware of any “escape.” Peter and his co-conspirators per the Sanhedrin, walked out of prison unnoticed and without unlocking the doors.

JIV: (Jim’s Introspective View) The Greek word for ‘open’, as in the passage where the Angel of the Lord opens the prison doors, is anoigō. It can be used literally or figuratively. Either the prison guards were made total unaware of their surroundings and blinded to the actuality of the event or they made consciously blind and Peter along with the angel of the Lord simply walked through the ‘door’ way open or figuratively speaking.

What a shock it had to be the next morning when the Sanhedrin assembled to ‘judge’ these Jesus preaching individuals, seeking them in their prison cells but found them in the Temple witnessing just as they were doing previous to their in initial arrests (verse 25). But in verse 24 we read that the Jewish leadership and captain of the guard were “perplexed.” This means they were trying to find a rational explanation to this unexplainable event. Even in full view of this miracle, they refused to see the truth. This is one of Satan’s most powerful tools of deception.

Acts 5:28 supports this self-deception of the Sanhedrin and guards. The Jewish legal system peaceably gather Peter and company from the Temple a second time and tell them to basically…don’t do that or this again; we forbid it.” Following this warning we find in verse 30, Peter points out that they must follow God not the whims of religious dictums. He also reminds this Sanhedrin bunch, many being the very same people who had condemned Jesus but a few years earlier, that it was them who crucified Christ Jesus. He put the blame right at their feet. This reminder, plus their efforts to forget the crucifixion made them want to kill them on the spot. Gamaliel, one of their own Sanhedrin members, cautioned them that this is either not of God and will go away on its own or if of God, they must not kill again adding to their guilt of crucifying Jesus.

What an example of to be and to live a life in Christ. Verse 42 specifies that Peter and his entourage kept witnessing door to door and teaching in the Temple. At no time did Peter invite unbelievers to join in the fellowship and worship of believers. He went to them. Has the modern day evangelical church got it wrong? ABSOLUTELY!

cropped-minijim1Rev. Dr. James Stark
August 2018

Acts 4

jerusalem-331381__340

Is the bible simply a series of well written stories­­ or is it historical? This question surfaces because we, the church of bible believers keep reinforcing the facts of the bible as “stories.” In our study of the Book of Acts we do find archaeological and written records that verify its actuality; not someone’s misgiven perception.

The Book of Acts has three messages:

  1. The original church and its way of conducting worship and taking a stand for Jesus Christ plus the warning of those who wish traditional Judaism.
  2. The influence of Peter on the Jews and their Messianic or Judaism worship. NOTE: Messianic simply means “of or following the Messiah;” i.e. Jews for Jesus.
  3. The Apostle Paul and his missionary travels addressing both the Jew and the Gentile building assemblies of believers throughout the Near East.

In Acts chapter 4, we continue this study of the book of Acts and the original church body. Keep in mind that the Book of Acts is the book of the original church or believers. The body of believers is not a building. It is the believers that make up what Peter and Paul refer to as The Church. Just like the opening paragraph points out that we as believers must understand when one refers to the Bible Stories it is real events. However, the word “story” might suggest to the unbeliever “lie, fib, untruth, falsehood, tale, yarn, legend, fairy-tale, rumor, gossip, hearsay, unsupported or documented, one’s perception adjusted for inflation;”  all synonyms to the phrase we recklessly use as Bible story.” By the way, are we unequally yoked in church with religious non-believers?

storyThe Merriam-Webster, Oxford, Britannica, Americana, and American Collegiate dictionaries list more negative synonyms than positives in reference to the word “stories.”  Yet from childhood it is kids Bible Stories. No wonder they don’t have a strong faith as they get older. They don’t see the bible as historical fact so when they get older, what is there to help them understand that these stories are facts of history.

Archaeological inscriptions and other independent sources show that Acts contains accurate details of 1st century society, specifically with regard to titles of officials, administrative divisions, town assemblies, and rules of the Jewish temple in Jerusalem. (Acts of the Apostles)

The Free Encyclopedia Wikipedia has not helped even though it is a popular research web site. They have continually “adjusted” their so-called facts by adding statements like: most theologians now believe, records seem to be in conflict with each other in the bible, however recent beliefs have changed… all adding doubt to the unrelenting accuracy of bible facts. What once was a fairly reliable research tool has become more like the fake news. They add undocumented comments which lead the learning researcher to conclude it may only be an unfounded story.

If you wish to read it for yourself and feel well founded in bible history, go to https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Historical_reliability_of_the_Acts_of_the_Apostles#Acts_10:1:_Roman_troops_in_Caesarea and read how slanted or the raising of doubt is being done in what was once a fairly unbiased web site account of history and the bible facts. I do NOT RECOMMEND anyone who is in doubt of the infallibility of the bible to go there. If one does not know the truth, how will s/he distinguish mining the facts or undermining them? (Rev. Dr. Jstark)

Acts 4:1-4

This portion of Acts shows the hatred of the Jewish establishment for those who were by now called “The Way.” These are followers of the resurrected Jesus. This is of particular concern per the Sadducees. Most Jewish Chief Priests were Sadducees. As opposed to the Pharisees, the Sadducees did not then and nor do they today believe in an afterlife or a resurrection. They fell upon Apostle Peter and John tossing them into jail.

JIV NOTE: Don’t confuse Acts chapter 2 where about 3,000 men accepted Christ as their Savior and future messiah with Acts 4 that now states 5,000. This is the accumulated total; not a new bunch of believers meaning 3,000 plus 5,000.

John and Peter are brought before the Jewish ruling court called the Sanhedrin. Accused of what; healing a life-long cripple? Talk about putting legs to the gospel! Shy Peter, the one who denied he was a follower of Jesus during Jesus trial before the courts, was now a bold speaker. He even accused, no, pointed out the fact that it was many of these very same Sanhedrin people who but a few years earlier had crucified Jesus Christ. The real question here is “who is actually on trial.” Is it Peter and John or the Sanhedrin?

The Sanhedrin demands to know “by what power have they healed this lame man and given the message of salvation/resurrection to the Jews.” This is an early example of what happens when one is “filled with the Holy Spirit.” Even the Sanhedrin realized that these Jesus witnesses were mere Galileans. They were mere fishermen. From where might come their eloquence of tongue? They even prophecy about a future yet to happen and accuse the Sanhedrin of crimes against God.

To find this answer we must turn to Mark 13:5-11… (Begin at verse 9)

“…You will be brought before rulers and kings for My sake, for a testimony to them. And the gospel must first be preached to all the nations. But when they arrest you and deliver you up, do not worry beforehand, *or premeditate what you will speak. But whatever is given you in that hour, speak that; for it is not you who speak, but the Holy Spirit.” It is by the power given to them through the Holy Spirit. This is the power through which healing, ministry, witness, and seeing scripture clearly from which understanding must come.

*JIV: Sadly, this is too often the approach thousands of ministers, youth leaders, bible studies leaders and Sunday school teachers use in delivering their weekly message or lesson to a given congregation, youth group or study group. This verse is NOT AN EXCUSE to be unprepared. Yes, these very same congregants and youth will, in their heart, cast a judgment upon you, but this verse in Mark is court time; not lesson time.

It must be pointed out for those who wish to believe that upon Peter the rock was the church to be built (Matthew 16:18). It is plainly stated in Acts 4:11 that JESUS is the corner stone that the builders (Jews) rejected. In a sense this is what the Catholic Church has done. They have rejected Jesus as the chief cornerstone and substituted Peter in its stead. Be aware, gain knowledge, then seek understanding (2 Timothy 3:7).

So what about the end results per chapter 4 of Acts? The Sanhedrin realized according to verses 13-22 that these men were uneducated yet spoke with such power. Besides this, the man who had been a cripple from birth was standing next to them praising the resurrected Jesus. When the elephant in the room is too obvious to dismiss, they could only warn these Apostle to knock it off and stop with this preaching stuff. It undermined the authority of the Jewish leadership.

cropped-minijim1Rev. Dr. Jstark (August 2018)

PS: Acts 4:23-31 is the only prayer the bible states was recited in unison.

The Bridegroom & Bride

relationshipA few years ago a Russian newspaper reported a light-hearted poll of 100 Soviet households. In 90 of the homes, the wife described herself as the head of the family–and the husband agreed. In nine families the husband said he was head of the household, but the wife disagreed. The only husband whose wife named him as head of the family was told by the newspaper that he had won an award. When asked to select his prize, he turned to his wife and asked: “What shall I choose, Maria?”

If Christ is the groom, then who is his bride? The synoptic Gospels don’t really answer that question, but the rest of the New Testament does. And the answer probably doesn’t offer much help to people hoping Jesus’ marital status could shift the debates over women in ministry or the definition of marriage in a contemporary society where political correctness is accepted and God’s commands are debated. In Ephesians 5 (one of the more controversial passages of the Bible), the apostle Paul tells his readers, “For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior.” Christ’s wife, at least according to Paul, is the church; all believers—not an individual human woman.

That the church is Jesus’ bride gets confirmed in Revelation, the final book of the Bible, which serves as a prophecy for the end of the world. In this apocalyptic vision, Jerusalem, a proxy for God’s people as a whole, is described as “a bride beautifully dressed for her husband.” Later the narrator says, “One of the seven angels who had the seven bowls full of the seven last plagues came and said to me, ‘Come, I will show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb.'” Here, the wife is again Jerusalem, and the Lamb is Jesus.

The image of Christ as groom and the church as bride infuses Christian theology and writing. Pastor and best-selling author Timothy Keller preaches frequently on the topic, including a sermon called “The True Bridegroom,” where he compares God to a husband whose wife (the church) is constantly challenging on him. A classic hymn includes these lines in its opening verse:

The church’s one foundation is Jesus Christ her Lord / She is his new creation by water and the word. / From heaven He came and sought her to be his holy bride.” Countless books have been written meditating on what the Bible means when it calls Christ a groom and the church his bride.

The answer is in a simple Ephesians 5 text but our culture does not want to accept it. So does that make God wrong and political-culture persuasiveness correct?

Political correctness and political party jockeying for votes want all differences between men and women eliminated. Stay at home dad and working mom is more readily accepted then the centuries old norm of mom at home and dad works to pay the bills and maintain the family standard of living.

Why does the Word of God even mention Ephesians 5:21- e.o.c. if it is so hotly debated in so many cultures; the exception being Islam? Why is not that previous of verses 15 – 21 included in this discussion? Are they distinctly different context than 21 forward? A different chapter but mismarked in our translations? Topics too confusing? Instructions that no longer apply?

I am going to make this somewhat simple for all of us and let your own knowledge and understanding take on it be the dominant factor: it is significant that the Bible never says, “Husbands, get your wives to submit to you.” That is not your responsibility, men! It never commands the husband to be the head of his household. Rather, it states it as a fact in the course of discussing the wife’s role. What God’s Word says to the wife is her responsibility.

In other words, it is not God’s responsibility to get individual humans to submit to Jesus as head of the body (church) or the church to submit itself to Jesus as the head of the church. It is up to us as individuals and the church as a God-centered part of the body of Christ to do as it commands. If it was God’s job to force submission, then Israel never would have gone astray. If it was up to Jesus to force submission of his church, then there never would have been the 7 churches discussed in Revelation 1, 2, 3.

“Submission” in English is only a shadow of the Greek and Aramaic definition. One of its synonym’s is “to be open minded.” I close with Isaiah 55:8…The LORD says: “My thoughts and my ways are not like yours…”

Dr. JStarkcropped-minijim1

 

The Letter Writer

paul letter writerPerhaps an aha-moment for some if not each of us today…

Luke wrote Acts as did he the Book of Luke. But do we know how to identify the books Paul wrote? Following are hints in the opening words of each of his books:

Romans 1:1  Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God,

1Cor 1:1  Paul, called by the will of God to be an apostle of Christ Jesus, and our brother Sosthenes,

1Cor 1:2  To the church of God that is in Corinth,

2Cor 1:1  Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother, To the church of God that is at Corinth, with all the saints who are in the whole of Achaia:

2Cor 1:2  Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Php 1:1  Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus, To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are at Philippi, with the overseers and deacons:

Php 1:2  Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Gal 1:1  Paul, an apostle—not from men nor through man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead—

Gal 1:2  and all the brothers who are with me, To the churches of Galatia:

Eph 1:1  Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, To the saints who are in Ephesus, and are faithful in Christ Jesus:

Eph 1:2  Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Php 1:1  Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus, To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are at Philippi, with the overseers and deacons:

Php 1:2  Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

1Thes 1:1  Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy, To the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ: Grace to you and peace.

2Thes 1:1  Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy, To the church of the Thessalonians in God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ:

2Thes 1:2  Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

1Tim 1:1  Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by command of God our Savior and of Christ Jesus our hope,

1Tim 1:2  To Timothy, my true child in the faith: Grace, mercy, and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord.

2Tim 1:1  Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God according to the promise of the life that is in Christ Jesus,

2Ti 1:2  To Timothy, my beloved child: Grace, mercy, and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord.

Titus 1:1  Paul, a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ, for the sake of the faith of God’s elect and their knowledge of the truth, which accords with godliness,

Tit 1:2  in hope of eternal life, which God, who never lies, promised before the ages began

Philemon 1:1  Paul, a prisoner for Christ Jesus, and Timothy our brother, To Philemon our beloved fellow worker

Phm 1:2  and Apphia our sister and Archippus our fellow soldier, and the church in your house:

Phm 1:3  Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

cropped-minijim1Dr. jStark

July 2018

The Final Straw

­­

SCBActs 18:6 (the final straw between Paul and the Jewish opposition to him)

But when they opposed Paul and became abusive, he shook out his clothes in protest and said to them, “Your blood be on your own heads! I am innocent of it. From now on I will go to the Gentiles.”

It is obvious in our studies that almost without fail Jewish leaders harassed Paul even following him after leaving a particular synagogue or town. As soon as those Jews in a previous town heard he had moved on to another synagogue in another part of the country or world, they sent men to disrupt his activities and Christianization of those in that town. ­­Emperor Claudius also had an issue with this Jewish trait of kicking a horse after it was down in order to force it to go a few more inches.

Somehow these Jewish Synagogue oppressors of Paul could start riots anywhere they went as long as the people in these other areas were also entrenched in Synagogue traditions and rules. How they did it is a matter of history… they accused him and accurately so of violating “the way it had always been;” i.e. traditional worship and way of life.

When Paul “gave up on his fellow Israelites” and the Sanhedrin bunch, he set a precedent for us today. Our job is NOT to convert or force others to take action. As we know from the Learning Pyramid (background on this page), the best one can do is take another up to the point of knowledge and hopefully understanding. The BIG BUT is that the listener must make a choice; accept this new knowledge and desire a change or reject it leaving it behind, and as in Paul’s life, try to destroy the messenger. Paul walked away shaking the dust from his garment hem and sandals; i.e. Acts 18:6.

Jews “oppose and blaspheme” the gospel and the Lord Jesus Christ, who is at its center. In an acted out parable or demonstration of “shaking the dust off out his robes,” Paul disassociates himself from the Jews for several reasons. He wants to be clear per the eventual judgment from God that their blasphemy will incur. He wants them to know that their rejection of the message places them in the same position as unbelieving Gentiles; facing the same justice and judgment of God in the final days of the world as we now know it. He wants to declare his freedom from any further responsibility for their eternal destiny (Nehemiah 5:13; Luke 9:5; 10:10-11; Acts 13:46, 51). He cannot act as their conscience and elicit conviction or a better understanding. Using Old Testament phraseology (2 Sam 1:16; compare Mt 27:24-25), Paul’s declaration of “I can do no more” says as much. Their guilt and coming punishment are their own responsibility. This is true of all mankind once we stand at the Great White Throne Judgement.

This however does not mean Paul will (or you and me as be-lievers) should cease trying or actively sharing the gospel. Paul changes locations and target markets (switching from targeting Jews to the Greeks/Gentiles) but does not change the message. God is the same regardless of location. In light of the vision of Revelation 5:9-10 and 7:9-10–“a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb”–it is right for us today to claim the promises and obey the commands of Acts 18:9-10.

Paul was in trip #2 of his three missionary journeys. Somewhere between 44 A.D. and 51 A.D. Emperor Claudius had ordered all of the Jews in Italy to “leave the country.” This is very true of Aquila and Priscilla. Paul meets this couple from Italy and is immediately sees their love of God. They, as was Paul, were tent-makers (Acts 18:1-3). This missionary couple from Italy is mentioned 6 different times in scripture. Acts 18 is the first time we hear of them but always named as a couple. Perhaps 15 or 16 years later, when Paul is near death and writing his final letter to Timothy in Ephesus, he urges Timothy, “Greet Priscila and Aquila” (2 Tim 4:19). They were still active missionaries of the church and alive.

dodgeEmperor Claudius had issued his “get out of Dodge” (Italy) order specifically because Jews had an overwhelming tendency to be trouble makers. Paul had experienced this several times during his journeys. Just as their traditional religious adherence issues with Paul, they couldn’t leave it alone. Wherever these traditionalists went, trouble-making was their sole purpose. One might say they pursued it. They followed Paul from Synagogue to Synagogue causing riots in each city that resulted in Paul being stoned or escaping with his life at night.

In Acts 18:12 through verse 17 Paul is hauled before a secular court of Gallio by the Synagogue leaders for teaching a way of worshiping God that is contrary to Judaism. “It is against our laws”…traditions if read carefully. Gallio was the governor of this Roman province therefore the judicial branch of their court system. We read that they forced Paul in front of *Gallio.

*JIV: This to me means or supports a somewhat partial view of separation of church and State. Lucius Junius Gallio Annaeanus or Gallio was a Roman senator, governor of Achaia and brother of the famous writer Seneca. He is best known in secular histories for his impartial judgment of a legal case involving Paul the Apostle in Corinth. Since Gallio’s tenure as Governor of this territory can be traced to around 52/53 A.D., we can also date Paul to this same date.

JIV NOTE: One should also understand that the Titius mentioned in Acts 18:7 should not be confused with the Titus to which Paul later wrote the Book (letter to) Titus. Another confusion can be the mentioning of Crispus (v8) and Sosthenes (v17) as the Chief Ruler in that Synagogue. Some historians suggest that Crispus, who accepted Christ through Paul’s ministry, was later replaced by Sosthenes as Chief Priest. After all, Paul remained in Corinth for about 18 months. Here are the options due to the mentioning of Sosthenes in 1 Corinthians 1:1 as joining the Apostle Paul. Here are the options. Crispus is mentioned once again again in 1 Corinthians 1:14. We teach – You Decide

  1. Crispus was replaced by Sosthenes as the chief priest after Crispus accepted Jesus as the Messiah.
  2. Crispus and Sosthenes are one and the same person.

Fascinating as a point of knowledge… since 1 Corinthians 1:1 identifies Paul and Sosthenes as sending greetings to the church in Corinth, one might also suggest Sosthenes co-authored at least part of the letter to the Corinthian church. They both hailed from Corinth and the new church established there.

 

cropped-minijim1Dr. Jstark

June, 2018