The Old Preacher

Viewing the World through God's Word

Category: Jesus Christ (page 2 of 3)

The Meaning of History

P.AllanMonday of Holy Week dawns.  Holy Week:  from Sunday when Jesus “triumphantly”  entered Jerusalem through Good Friday when Jesus was crucified, climaxing  Sunday when he rose from the dead.

The events of Holy Week happened in “the real world”.  Our world.  Here where we live. That’s such an elementary truth I often forget it.  This isn’t a once-upon-a-time-story.  It is  historical events recorded in writing.  Jesus entered a real city–Jerusalem–about 30 A.D.   He was nailed to a cross of wood from a real tree at a real crossroads just outside the city.  All the week’s events belong to authentic human history.  They’re not part of a hidden, spiritual revelation mysteriously whispered to one man in a desert.

They happened here.

Jesus came for all to see.  Breathed our air.  Walked on our dirt.  Touched our people.  Was buried in our tomb.  Rose again in the grayness of our pre-dawn.

Which brings me to the most-amazing thing I’m thinking about today:  all human history–including the history of Holy Week –has meaning It’s not just a pointless succession of events.  Of course, given the state of the world, one could be excused for assuming that.  Take politics, for example.  Another presidential election cycle.  “Unprecedented” say the pundits.  No.  We’ve had our share of “crazies” before.  Or take the Middle East.  Chaotically violent for as long as I can remember.  One war.  Then another war.  Then another.  Peace summits.  Peace meetings.  Nothing much changes.  Follow the news, read history and you know why Solomon (or whoever wrote Ecclesiastes) brooded,

The words of the Teacher, son of David, king in Jerusalem:
‘Meaningless! Meaningless!’ says the Teacher. ‘Utterly meaningless!
Everything is meaningless'” (Ecclesiastes 1:1,2).

Was he right?  Is there no reason for life?  Does history have no purpose?  Was Holy Week nothing more than a collection of random events that ended with another Jew crucified, then rumored to have risen?

In his book, The Bible and the Future, Anthony Hoekema, a professor of systematic theology at Calvin Theological Seminary until his death in 1988, argued that history has meaning.  He explained that the Christian (biblical) view of history has five main features . . .

First, history is a working out of God’s purposes.  God works, not in some ethereal realm removed from this time-space world, but in history.  And he works to work out his purposes.  That means that the political and moral state of America at the moment is somehow the working out of God’s purposes.  It means that all the events of Holy Week from the triumphal entry to the tomb, and all the hostile debates with Jewish leaders in between, were also the working out of God’s purposes.

Second, God is the Lord of history.  This means God not only works in history to work out his purposes but in the same way he uses “bad” things for “good” to those who love him (Romans 8:28).  It means that God reigns over and governs history.  God’s kingdom rules over all (Psalm 103:19).  Hoekema writes, “God overrules even the evil deeds of men so as to make them serve his purpose.  No more breathtaking example of that exists than Jesus’ crucifixion on Good Friday.  The apostles prayed . . .

“Indeed Herod and Pontius Pilate met together with the Gentiles
and the people of Israel in this city to conspire against your holy
servant Jesus, whom you anointed.  They did what your power
and will had decided beforehand should happen” (Acts 4:27,28).

Third, Christ is the center of history.  History books are thick.  In fact, a complete history of the world would require, not a big book, but a library.  Think of all the dates and people and events you had to learn in just one history class!  Add to that all the other history classes.  Imagine every significant event that’s occurred from the beginning until now.  And the radical Christian claim is that Christ is the center of history.  Oscar Cullmann, a 20th century Lutheran theologian, wrote that in this central event “not only is all that goes before fulfilled but also all that is future is decided.”  Thus each event of Holy Week–even Jesus washing the disciples’ feet in an unknown upper room–was a main scene in the center of history.

Fourth, the new age has already been ushered in.  The Bible sees two ages:  the present age from creation until Christ’s return and the age to come from Christ’s return on into eternity.  In Colossians 1:13, Paul writes,

“He (Christ) has delivered us from the domain of darkness
(i.e., this present evil age–Galatians 1:4) and transferred us
to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption,
the forgiveness of sins.”

Already, we who have trusted our lives to Jesus Christ have started to enjoy a taste of the eternal kingdom in the age to come!  This is because Jesus in his person inaugurated the new age.  Jesus said . . .

” . . . the kingdom of God is in the midst of you” (Luke 17:21).

When Jesus died, he opened the way to the age to come.  And when he rose again, it rose on earth in him.

Fifth, all history is moving toward a goal:  the new heavens and the new earth.  God is taking this creation somewhere—to the new creation.  As Karl Lowith, a 20th century German philosopher, wrote, “The ultimate meaning of a transcendent purpose is focused in an expected future.  Such an expectation was most alive among the Hebrew prophets; it did not exist among the Greek philosophers.”  Jesus’ resurrection was eventually followed by his ascension.  And at his ascension two men in white robes stood by the apostles and said . . .

“Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven?
This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven,
will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”
(Acts 1:11).

This prompted Paul to write . . .

“For I consider that the sufferings of this present time
are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed to us.
. . . For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly,
but because of him who subjected it,
in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption
and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.”
(Romans 8:18,20,21).

A flaming consequence of this Christian view of history:  HOPE!  Political progressives preach it.  Presidential candidates promise a better future.  Yet even high school history students know  that all human “progress” is marred with corruption, disappointment and death.  Our phones connect the Internet and deliver tons of information about ancient Greece or the latest hit movie.  But innocent civilians are still dying in Middle East wars.  We Jesus followers, however, “look forward to a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness” (2 Peter 3:10).  Our hope is righteous and amazing beyond imagination (Ephesians 3:20,21).

Holy Week isn’t a commemoration of random events.  Holy Week has deep, transforming, eternal meaning.  Because of that, God is doing his saving work in the world today leading toward the fulfillment of his beyond-imagination purpose.  And when we see that purpose climaxed, we will bow and worship  . . .

The Lord of history.
The One in whom all history reaches its climax.
The Holy One before whom we stand in awe!

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Critical Council

O PreacherToday the majority of the world’s Christians live in South America, Africa, and Asia,   Nowhere is this global shift from the north and west more stunning than in Africa.  In 1900, less than 10% of Africans were Christians; today more than 50% are.  With this southward and eastward shift come changes.  For example, generally theology is more conservative and worship style more charismatic. The shift raises questions, too.  What is the role of ancestors in Christianity?  Can indigenous music be used in worship?  What about exorcising demons and ecstatic worship experiences?  (Source:,

And since communications have made the world “smaller”, what effect might this shift have on the shrinking church in Europe and the leveled-off church in America?

In 48 A.D. (15-18 years after Christ’s resurrection), the church faced a critical theological dispute due to the demographic shift of the church from entirely Jewish to mostly Gentile . . .

The Dispute.

From their missions trip, Paul and Barnabas had returned to the Antioch, Syria church.  There “they declared all that God had done with them, and how he had opened the door of faith to the Gentiles” (Acts 14:27). Then ” . . . some men came down from Judea and were teaching the brothers, ‘Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved'” (Acts 15:1).  At that, “Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and debate with them” (Acts 15:2).  Unable to resolve the matter, the church appointed Paul and Barnabas and others to consult with the apostles and elders in Jerusalem.

The Danger.

For Paul, adding circumcision to faith in Christ was no small thing.  Circumcision signified one was taking on the obligation to keep the Mosaic (Old Testament) Law.  Here’s how Paul warned the Galatians (the people to whom he and Barnabas had just brought the gospel in Pisidian, Antioch, Iconium, Lystra and Derbe).   “Look:  I, Paul, say to you that if you accept circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you.  I testify again to every man who accepts circumcision that he is obligated to keep the whole law.  You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace” (Galatians 5:2-4).

Earlier he had argued for justification by faith like this.   “Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for ‘The righteous shall live by faith’ (from Habakkuk 2:4) . . . Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us–for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree’ –so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith” (Galatians 3:11-14).

The danger, then, was the loss of the very heart of the Gospel–the loss of Christ himself as the way to justification (not guilty before God for one’s sin; being declared right with God) which comes through faith.

The Debate.

At the Council in Jerusalem the Christian Pharisees stated their position:  “The Gentiles must be circumcised and required to obey the law of Moses” (Acts 15:5).  Peter explained the apostles’ view, illustrated by his own experience with Cornelius (Acts 10). “Brothers, you know that some time ago God made a choice among you that the Gentiles might hear from my lips the message of the gospel and believe. God, who knows the heart, showed that he accepted them by giving the Holy Spirit to them, just as he did to us.  He made no distinction between us and them, for he purified their hearts by faith.  Now then, why do you try to test God by putting on the necks of the disciples a yoke that neither we nor our fathers have been able to bear?  No! We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved, just as they are” (Acts 15: 7-11).

When God gave Cornelius’ Gentile household the Holy Spirit, that signified he “made no distinction between” Gentiles and Jews.  Peter’s conclusion:  if the church now yoked Gentiles with the Jewish law they would be testing God.  Salvation for Jew and Gentile comes through the grace of the Lord Jesus and is received by faith alone!

The Decision.

Finally James, Jesus’ half-brother, chief elder and chair of the meeting, gave his conclusion.  “Brothers, listen to me.  Simon has described to us how God at first showed his concern by taking from the Gentiles a people for himself.  The words of the prophets are in agreement with this, as it is written:  ‘After this I will return and rebuild David’s fallen tent. Its ruins I will rebuild, and I will restore it,  that the remnant of men may seek the Lord, and all the Gentiles who bear my name, says the Lord, who does these things that have been known for ages.’  It is my judgment, therefore, that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God.  Instead we should write to them, telling them to abstain from food polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from the meat of strangled animals and from blood.  For Moses has been preached in every city from the earliest times and is read in the synagogues on every Sabbath” (Acts 15:13-21).

James understood Peter’s experience with Cornelius was a major event in God’s saving work. He referred to it as God “taking from the Gentiles a people for himself”, as God had done with Israel (Exodus 19:5).  He asserted that this Gentile inclusion fulfilled Amos’ prophecy from the Lord . . .

“After this I will return and rebuild David’s fallen tent.
Its ruins I will rebuild, and I will restore it,
that the remnant of men may seek the Lord,
and all the Gentiles who bear my name,
says the Lord, who does these things,
that have been known for ages.”
(Acts 15:16.17)

According to James, “David’s tent” refers to Israel restored through Jesus Christ, so that God might begin his mission to the Gentiles through them.  Jews and Gentiles, without surrendering their ethnicity, become God’s one people through faith in Jesus Christ.  This has been God’s plan all along.

“Gather together and come; assemble,
you fugitives from the nations.
Ignorant are those who carry about idols of wood,
who pray to gods that cannot save.
Declare what is to be, present it–
let them take counsel together.
Who foretold this long ago,
who declared it from the distant past?
Was it not I, the LORD?
And there is no God apart from me,
a righteous God and a Savior;
there is none but me.
Turn to me and be saved, all you ends of the earth;
for I am God, and there is no other.
By myself I have sworn,
my mouth has uttered in all integrity
a word that will not be revoked:
Before me every knee will bow; by me every tongue will swear.”
((Isaiah 45:20-23))

James also calls for four”abstentions” from the Gentile believers.  Three (“abstain from things polluted by idols . . . and from what has been strangled and from blood”) are intended to promote meal-fellowship between Gentile converts and Jewish Christians with their dietary laws.  The fourth (“abstain from sexual immorality”) addresses Jewish concerns about Gentile low ethical and moral standards.  But no surrender of their freedom in Christ is even implied.  Rather, these two ethnic groups as one people are to serve one another in love (Galatians 5:13).

The Delivery.

James has the last word.  With that historical decision made, some men from the Jerusalem church are chosen to join Paul and Barnabas to communicate the council’s decision to Antioch.  When the people there received the letter they were “glad for its encouraging message” (Acts 15:31).  The visitors from Jerusalem eventually returned home.  “But Paul and Barnabas remained in Antioch, where they and many others taught and preached the word of the Lord” (Acts 15:36).

The Doctrine.

Salvation comes by grace alone through faith alone!  The Jerusalem Council “wrote that in stone” and today we must stand resolutely on it.  That doctrine is to die for.  We’ve got to fight for it against every ideology and erroneous theology that would allow us to add even the feeblest of our own efforts to God’s saving work finished in Christ.  That is the Good News!

However, not all issues carry that weight.  In the years that lie ahead, we can expect positions and practices from the churches in the Global South to influence us.  How we respond will call for divine discernment, not because those influences will be inherently wrong, but because they will be ethnically different.  A few we may reject, deeming them contrary to God’s Word.  Most, hopefully, we’ll accept, even if they are different, because we count them as enriching the one Body of Christ—and because God in Christ is calling people for the glory of his name “from every tribe and language and people and nation” (Revelation 5:9).

But whatever changes may come,
this refrain we must never change:
“Nothing in my hand I bring; simply to Thy cross I cling.”



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Level Ground at the Cross

O Preacher(Please play video at end.)  The existence of an organization like “Black Lives Matter” ( only one indicator of America’s racial divide.  How can we ever bridge it?  If we think about it, we realize racial schism stems from a deeper divide–the one between us and God.  Today’s text, the fourth sermon in “The Acts Eight”, speaks to both.

Accompanied by fellow-believers from Joppa, along with Cornelius’ three
messengers, Peter has arrived at Caesarea.   The Roman centurion has invited
family and friends to hear what Peter has to say.  We should note that God
called this meeting.  Remember how he gave visions to Cornelius (Acts 10:3-6)
and Peter (Acts 10:10-16)?   (See has orchestrated this unusual encounter.

Then Peter began to speak: “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts men from every nation who fear him and do what is right” (10:34,35).

Peter admits he now understands his “zoo” vision.  God doesn’t play favorites.  We shouldn’t skim over Peter’s admission.  It’s as mind-blowing as a religious white supremacist realizing God accepts the loudest Black Lives Matter protester!  For long rabbis had taught what the Old Testament didn’t–that Gentiles (all non-Jews) were “unclean”.   On this day God is righting racism by the gospel of peace through Jesus Christ . . .

You know the message God sent to the people of Israel, telling the good news of peace through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all.  You know what has happened throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John preached . . . (10:36,37).

Peter knows Cornelius knows about current events, but he’ll review them anyway.

God sent a message to Israel . . .  The message is the good news of peace.  Peace here isn’t a serene feeling, but the state of reconciliation with God . . . God told this message of peace through Jesus Christ (that is, Jesus Messiah, God’s Anointed One, long-promised by the prophets) . . . Jesus Christ is Lord (Master, Ruler, Sovereign) of all.  He’s not a parochial deity:  he is Lord of all.  His gospel of peace is for Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria, and the end of the earth (Acts 1:8).

Having summarized Jesus’ identity and message, Peter now turns to Jesus’ actions . . .

–how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and how he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him.  “We are witnesses of everything he did in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They killed him by hanging him on a tree,  but God raised him from the dead on the third day and caused him to be seen.  He was not seen by all the people, but by witnesses whom God had already chosen– by us who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead (10:38-41).

Jesus clearly possessed power–power to do good and to heal people dominated by the devil.  The source of that power was God the Holy Spirit.  “We (the apostles)”, says Peter, “saw it all.”  Peter isn’t telling a passed-around story; he’s testifying to what he saw with his own eyes.  That included Jesus’ death at the hand of the Jews.  And–this is the heart of apostolic preaching–“God raised him from the dead . . . ”  God had previously chosen witnesses–those who ate and drank with him alive after the grave–so they could verify Jesus-in-the-flesh was back from the grave.

He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one whom God appointed as judge of the living and the dead.  All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name” (10:36-43).

Peter sees himself (as do the other apostles) as a man under command:  To testify to a double-sided truth.  One, Jesus is the God-appointed judge of the living and the dead.  Everyone must stand in his courtroom and answer to him.  Every human who has  ever lived must give an account of himself/herself to the Risen Lord of All.

Two, (and here Peter points back to what the prophets told about Messiah):  “everyone who believes in [the Lord Jesus Christ, crucified and risen] receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”  This is the gospel of peace, the gospel of reconciliation with God.

The Holy Spirit Falls.

Peter gets no chance to lead his hearers in “the sinner’s prayer”.  Instead, God the Holy Spirit interrupts.  Why this extraordinary intervention?  Because these are Gentiles.  People counted “unclean” by the rabbis.  Romans who stand outside the promises of God.  But on this day in this house, a frontier has been crossed.  A Jew has preached the gospel of God’s peace through Jesus Christ to non-Jews.  And God wants to show his approval.

While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message.  The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astonished that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles.  For they heard them speaking in tongues and praising God. Then Peter said,  “Can anyone keep these people from being baptized with water? They have received the Holy Spirit just as we have.”  So he ordered that they be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked Peter to stay with them for a few days (10:44-48).

* * *

The ground is level at the foot of the cross.  No one—regardless of race, gender or politics—is barred from coming to God through Jesus Christ’s gospel of peace.  And at the cross, everyone is the same.  Race is secondary.  Gender is secondary.  Politics are secondary.  Jesus Christ is all in all.













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I Surrender

P.AllanI remember growing up in church often singing this hymn.  Because of the words, simple though they are, it was always a sacred few moments.

Many of our songs rightly give praise to our Lord.  Many of our songs joyfully celebrate who he is and what he’s done.  Many of our hymns properly proclaim sound doctrine, truth to stand on and live by.  Few of our songs plumb the depths of our soul as this one does.  The plain-word line is almost daring to sing:  “I surrender all . . . “

Here’s what I suggest.  Turn off your phone.  Take a moment to be still before the Lord.  Click on the song.  Close your eyes and ignore the words on the screen.  Imagine yourself before Jesus.  Either sing along or, better, listen and let the words flow through you to Him.

Jesus, come meet with us.
Keep us in these moments from asking You to give to us.
Give us grace to give ourselves to You.
May these next moments be holy in Your presence
as we offer to You the little we are.
Make our lives a sanctified living sacrifice to You.

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Is Jesus Back?

O PreacherSeemed like Jesus was back in Judea, even though at least five years had passed since his death.

Jesus heals the Paralytic Aeneas (Acts 9:32-35).

As Peter traveled about the country, he went to visit the saints in Lydda.    There he found a man named Aeneas, a paralytic who had been bedridden for eight years.  “Aeneas,” Peter said to him, “Jesus Christ heals you.   Get                   
up and take care of your mat.” Immediately Aeneas got up.  All those who lived in Lydda and Sharon saw him and turned to the Lord  (Acts 9:32-35).

We last saw Peter preaching  the Gospel in Samaria (9:25).  He’s now traveled south to a town called Lydda in Judea.  The “saints” he visits are believers in Jesus having been converted either at Pentecost (Acts 2:1-41) or from Philip’s preaching in that area (Acts 8:40).

The miracle here is quite similar to author Luke’s account of Jesus healing a paralytic in Capernaum.  The paralytic’s  friends had lowered him through the roof into a crowded house.  When Jesus told him his sins were forgiven, the Pharisees silently condemned him for blaspheming.  To prove he had authority to forgive sins, Jesus said to the paralytic, “I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home.”  When he did, “Everyone was amazed and gave praise to God.  They were filled with awe and said, ‘We have seen remarkable things today'” (Luke 5:18-26).

Here are similarities.  Both the paralytic in Luke 5 and Aeneas in Acts 9 suffered the same ailment.  Both immediately got up when spoken to.  Both had a mat to pick up.  In Luke 5 the people were “amazed and gave praise to God.”  In Acts 9 they “turned to the Lord.”  And in both cases Jesus did the healing.  In Luke 5, Jesus did it in person.  In Acts 9 Jesus did it through Peter.  Peter said to Aeneas, “Jesus Christ heals you.”  Anyone who had known of Jesus’ healing the paralytic in Capernaum would have been reminded of that at Aeneas’ healing in Lydda.  Seemed like Jesus was back in Judea.

Jesus Raises the Dead Woman Tabitha (Acts 9:36-43).

 In Joppa there was a disciple named Tabitha (which, when translated, is Dorcas), who was always doing good and helping the poor. About that time she became sick and died, and her body was washed and placed in an upstairs room.  Lydda was near Joppa; so when the disciples heard that Peter was in Lydda, they sent two men to him and urged him, “Please come at once!”  Peter went with them, and when he arrived he was taken upstairs to the room. All the widows stood around him, crying and showing him the robes and other clothing that Dorcas had made while she was still with them.  Peter sent them all out of the room; then he got down on his knees and prayed. Turning toward the dead woman, he said, “Tabitha, get up.” She opened her eyes, and seeing Peter she sat up.  He took her by the hand and helped her to her feet. Then he called the believers and the widows and presented her to them alive.  This became known all over Joppa, and many people believed in the Lord.  Peter stayed in Joppa for some time with a tanner named Simon (Acts 9:36-43).

Joppa lay about 11 miles northwest of Lydda.  Close enough to be considered near, yet far enough in time for Tabitha to have truly died.  We don’t know what the disciples (a term author Luke typically uses of believers in Jesus) expected Peter to do; but Peter immediately knew what he would do.  This is the only account of an apostle raising someone from the dead.

This miracle is much like Mark’s account of Jesus raising Jairus’ daughter from the dead . . .

When they (Jesus, Peter, James and John) came to the home of the synagogue ruler, Jesus saw a commotion, with people crying and wailing loudly.  He went in and said to them, “Why all this commotion and wailing? The child is not dead but asleep.”  But they laughed at him. After he put them all out, he took the child’s father and mother and the disciples who were with him, and went in where the child was.  He took her by the hand and said to her, “Talitha koum!” (which means, “Little girl, I say to you, get up!”).  Immediately the girl stood up and walked around (she was twelve years old). At this they were completely astonished.  He gave strict orders not to let anyone know about this, and told them to give her something to eat (Mark 5:38-43)..

Note the similarities.  In both cases people were crying and wailing at the death.  In both cases the crowd was removed from the dead person’s room.  In both cases the dead person was directly addressed with virtually the same words:  “Tabitha, get up” (Acts 9:40) and “Little girl, I say to you, get up!” (Mark 5:41).  In both cases the dead person got up.  Not surprisingly, reactions were similar.  In the case of Jairus’ daughter, “they were completely astonished” (Mark 5:42).  And in Tabitha’s case, “This became known all over Joppa, and many people believed in the Lord” (Acts 9:43).  Anyone present at both miracles might very well have thought Jesus was back in Judea.

Jesus Still Doing (Acts 1:1).

I’ve noted this before, but it bears repeating.  Author Luke opened Acts with these words:  “In my former book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach . . . ”

” . . . all that Jesus began to do and to teach . . . ”  Luke declares that his Gospel writing was the record of what Jesus began to do and teach.  And by those words Luke implies that his Acts’ writing is the record of what Jesus continued to do and teach.  This is Trinitarian theology.  The Spirit of the Risen Christ—God the Holy Spirit—was continuing in Acts what Christ had begun in the Gospel.

That leads to this question:  Is Jesus still doing today? 

In his book Miracles, Eric Metaxas tells story after story of miracles today.  One short one is about his own grandmother . . .

I remember my own grandmother telling me how she had prayed for her own leg, which was hurting, and “felt a sizzling” and was instantly healed.  This was in the 1970s.  My mother was at work and my grandmother was taking care of my brother and me over summer vacation.  She told me that she spoke to God, saying, “I can’t take care of these children today unless you heal me,” and as she was talking to God . . . she felt a warmth in her leg and it was healed, just like that.

I’ve also come across a lengthy “Christianity Today” article from 2012.  There’s probably at least one thing in this that many people will question or outright dismiss as being “too charismatic.”  But, since “Christianity Today” is a middle-of-the-theological-read magazine and since the couple involved seem genuinely sacrificial givers for Christ’s sake, I came away believing the miracles are real.  You can read it here . . .\
Miracles in Mozambique: How Mama Heidi Reaches the AbandonedIs Jesus “back”?
If so, we have reason to hope for signs and wonders
that will glorify him and fill us with great joy!






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Lightning Strike

P.Allan“I used to believe that I ought to do everything I could to oppose the followers of Jesus of Nazareth.  Authorized by the leading priests, I caused many of the believers in Jerusalem to be sent to prison. And I cast my vote against them when they were condemned to death.   Many times I had them whipped in the synagogues to try to get them to curse Christ. I was so violently opposed to them that I even hounded them in distant cities of foreign lands” (Acts 26:9-11).

That’s Paul’s confession about his opposition to Christian Jews.  He was known then as Saul (“Paul” his Roman name).  He was perhaps the fiercest zealot in the great persecution that erupted against the church in Jerusalem (Acts 8:2)—“Saul was ravaging the church, and entering house after house, he dragged off men and women and committed them to prison” (Acts 8:3).  Like a rampaging wild beast, he roamed the city  hunting Jews who believed in Jesus as  Messiah.  How many suffered and died at his hand no one knows.  He believed he was defending the sanctity of Israel’s God.

How ironic, then, today’s text!

Meanwhile, Saul was still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples. He went to the high priest  and asked him for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found any there who belonged to the Way, whether men or women, he might take them as prisoners to Jerusalem.  As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him.  He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?”  “Who are you, Lord?” Saul asked. “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,” he replied.  “Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.”  The men traveling with Saul stood there speechless; they heard the sound but did not see anyone.  Saul got up from the ground, but when he opened his eyes he could see nothing. So they led him by the hand into Damascus. For three days he was blind, and did not eat or drink anything. 

In Damascus there was a disciple named Ananias. The Lord called to him in a vision, “Ananias!” “Yes, Lord,” he answered.  The Lord told him, “Go to the house of Judas on Straight Street and ask for a man from Tarsus named Saul, for he is praying.  In a vision he has seen a man named Ananias come and place his hands on him to restore his sight.”  “Lord,” Ananias answered, “I have heard many reports about this man and all the harm he has done to your saints in Jerusalem.  And he has come here with authority from the chief priests to arrest all who call on your name.”  But the Lord said to Ananias, “Go! This man is my chosen instrument to carry my name before the Gentiles and their kings and before the people of Israel.  I will show him how much he must suffer for my name.”  Then Ananias went to the house and entered it. Placing his hands on Saul, he said, “Brother Saul, the Lord– Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you were coming here– has sent me so that you may see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit.”  Immediately, something like scales fell from Saul’s eyes, and he could see again. He got up and was baptized,  and after taking some food, he regained his strength. Saul spent several days with the disciples in Damascus (Acts 9:1-19).

Saul was born about 5 A.D. in Tarsus (a city in today’s Turkey) to Jewish parents who possessed coveted Roman citizenship.  Apparently about 10 A.D. the family moved to Jerusalem where 10 to 15 years later Saul began his Hebrew Scriptures and Law study under the famous Rabbi Gamaliel.

Now, perhaps in his mid-30’s, the zealous rabbi-to-be, is not content to “purify” Judaism in Jerusalem.  He seeks authorization from  the high priest Caiaphas to arrest any wayward Jews in Damascus synagogues.  Midday he and his fellow-travelers (perhaps a few Jewish guards and others making the 140-mile trip from Jerusalem to Damascus, Syria—travelers journeyed together for safety) are nearing the city.  Descending Mount Hermon to the plain on which Damascus lay (an area known for lightning storms), a blinding bolt struck.  Whether it was God-timed lightning or a phenomenon directly from God matters little.

Saul falls to the ground, hears a voice identifying himself as Jesus, who orders him to enter the city.  There he’ll be given his next command.  Saul, unseeing, stumbles to his feet.  The feared persecutor has to be led by the hand like a child.

In another, calmer vision, the Lord appears to Ananias and sends him to Judas’ house on Straight street to a man called Saul.  Ananias is told Saul himself has seen a vision of Ananias praying that he might see again.  Saul’s reputation worries Ananias.  But  the Lord explains:  “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel.  For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.”  Ananias obeys.  Subsequently,  Saul is healed, filled with the Holy Spirit and baptized.

What can we take away from this spectacular conversion?

First, God has a sense of humor Whom does he choose to take the Gospel to the Gentiles?  Jesus’ raging enemy!  And he starts the training process by plunging Saul into physical darkness with the glory of his Son, a physical darkness akin to the spiritual darkness in which Saul lived.

Second, God revealed himself in visionsHe primarily reveals himself to us today in his written Word.  But have you read missionary reports?  One can hardly read any without seeing how the Lord revealed himself to someone in a vision.  God’s “hands” aren’t tied by “closed countries” or our failed efforts to reach a people for himself.

There are other take-aways, but I think this is the weightiest:  No one is beyond the Lord’s saving mercy.  The last person anyone thought would be converted was Saul.  That’s why the Christians had trouble trusting him (Acts 9:21).  The disciples especially didn’t believe it (Acts 9:26).

I shouldn’t assume that, because you’re reading this, you’re a believer in Jesus.  And, if you’re not, maybe you’re sure your past is too messed up for him to welcome you.  It’s not.  If he could save the murderer Saul, he can give you a new, eternal life.  Just admit your sin and ask Jesus to be your Lord and Savior.

Finally, since no one is beyond the Lord’s saving mercy, that person you’re praying for isn’t either.  We can be encouraged by the Lord converting Saul, that he can convert the most disinterested, hardened disbeliever.

“The voice of the LORD (still) strikes with flashes of lightning” (Psalm 29:7).

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Whose Son Died?

O PreacherJust saw this powerful illustration from Don Carson at the Bethlehem College and Seminary Pastor’s Conference.  Carson is research professor of New Testament at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Illinois. He is a founding member and currently president of The Gospel Coalition.

In this video Carson corrects misconceptions about “the intensity of faith” and redirects us to the object of our faith.  You can listen to the whole sermon here.  Special thanks to Bethlehem for making this available.



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The Living Church

O PreacherIn 1973 we planted a church in New Jersey.  Named it “The Living Church.”  The local Episcopal priest (half?) joked, “I guess that means the rest of us are dead.”  Ours was alive, yet nowhere near the “alive-level” of the Jerusalem church in her exhilarating early days.  Makes me long for what they had.

In this series of posts, I’m focusing on “The Acts Eight”—eight sermons scattered throughout the book.  To see them in context we ‘re following the narrative.  It’s taking more time than I anticipated.  I hope the Lord uses it for good.

In Acts 5:12-16 author Luke writes a third summary  (see 2:42-47 and 4:32-37 for the first two) of church life, as she marched through her early months and years.  This summary intoxicates . . .

Alive with the Spirit’s Power

The apostles performed many miraculous signs and wonders among the people. And all the believers used to meet together in Solomon’s Colonnade.  No one else dared join them, even though they were highly regarded by the people.  Nevertheless, more and more men and women believed in the Lord and were added to their number.  As a result, people brought the sick into the streets and laid them on beds and mats so that at least Peter’s shadow might fall on some of them as he passed by.  Crowds gathered also from the towns around Jerusalem, bringing their sick and those tormented by evil spirits, and all of them were healed.

“Seeing” the scene helps—so an explanation.  Solomon’s Colonnade was a porch-like walkway running along much of the eastern side of the temple courtyard.  They met in homes, but this was the public place believers gathered.  Outsiders kept their distance.  (Memories of Ananias and Sapphira?) Yet more came to faith; numbers surged.  Miraculous healings were regular.  Crowds came from outside the city with their sick.  Like the days of Jesus.

A clarification.  The NIV says,  “The apostles performed many miraculous signs and wonders”.   An unfortunate translation, because it makes the apostles the actors.  More faithful to the original Greek is the ESV translation: “Now many signs and wonders were regularly done . . . by the hands of the apostles.”  This makes the apostles the means, not the source. 

That church, that was The Living Church.  Alive with the Spirit’s power.

But such dynamic success instigated opposition  . . .

Advance Despite the Court’s Clout

Then the high priest and all his associates, who were members of the party of the Sadducees, were filled with jealousy. They arrested the apostles and put them in the public jail.  But during the night an angel of the Lord opened the doors of the jail and brought them out.  “Go, stand in the temple courts,” he said, “and tell the people the full message of this new life.”  At daybreak they entered the temple courts, as they had been told, and began to teach the people. When the high priest and his associates arrived, they called together the Sanhedrin– the full assembly of the elders of Israel– and sent to the jail for the apostles.  But on arriving at the jail, the officers did not find them there. So they went back and reported,  “We found the jail securely locked, with the guards standing at the doors; but when we opened them, we found no one inside.”  On hearing this report, the captain of the temple guard and the chief priests were puzzled, wondering what would come of this.  Then someone came and said, “Look! The men you put in jail are standing in the temple courts teaching the people.”  At that, the captain went with his officers and brought the apostles. They did not use force, because they feared that the people would stone them. Having brought the apostles, they made them appear before the Sanhedrin to be questioned by the high priest.  “We gave you strict orders not to teach in this name,” he said. “Yet you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and are determined to make us guilty of this man’s blood.”  Peter and the other apostles replied: “We must obey God rather than men.  The God of our fathers raised Jesus from the dead– whom you had killed by hanging him on a tree.  God exalted him to his own right hand as Prince and Savior that he might give repentance and forgiveness of sins to Israel.  We are witnesses of these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him.”  When they heard this, they were furious and wanted to put them to death.

But a Pharisee named Gamaliel, a teacher of the law, who was honored by all the people, stood up in the Sanhedrin and ordered that the men be put outside for a little while.  Then he addressed them: “Men of Israel, consider carefully what you intend to do to these men.   Some time ago Theudas appeared, claiming to be somebody, and about four hundred men rallied to him. He was killed, all his followers were dispersed, and it all came to nothing.  After him, Judas the Galilean appeared in the days of the census and led a band of people in revolt. He too was killed, and all his followers were scattered.  Therefore, in the present case I advise you: Leave these men alone! Let them go! For if their purpose or activity is of human origin, it will fail.  But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop these men; you will only find yourselves fighting against God.”  His speech persuaded them. They called the apostles in and had them flogged. Then they ordered them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go. 

The apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name.  Day after day, in the temple courts and from house to house, they never stopped teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Christ (Acts 5:17-42).

This text, too, beats with the Spirit’s life.  First, the miraculous “prison break”, noted almost matter-of-factly.  Second, the bold “defense” of the apostles, which Peter attributes to the power of the Spirit.  Third, the rejoicing by the bloodied apostles.  And finally their unstopping good-news-proclaiming.

Speaking of “the bloodied apostles”,  it’s significant to note that the flogging may well have been the traditional 39 lashes with bone-filled straps.  That they rejoiced having been “counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name”, and that they continued spreading the Gospel knowing the cost, points to the transforming presence of the Holy Spirit in them.

In fact, it’s quite remarkable how unflinchingly they declared Jesus to be the One . . .

  • raised from the dead by the God of their fathers.  Thus they connected Jesus to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
  • the Court had killed by crucifixion.  Thus declaring their unquestioned guilt before God.
  • God exalted to the place of ultimate authority (“exalted to his own right hand”).
  • who is now “Prince (Greek arkaygos–leader, prince, pioneer) and Savior”.
  • whose exaltation is for the purpose of giving repentance and forgiveness of sins.  Thus giving the Court opportunity to repent and be forgiven.
  • whom the apostles saw alive again with their own eyes.

So again, as before (4:1-22), the “optics” for the Court aren’t good.  Despite their best efforts, they look powerless and inept,  as the bloodied apostles leave rejoicing and persistently spread the word.

Aberrant Today?

Question:  Is Acts only a history of the church or a model?  If model, then from my (admittedly limited) view, we’re not matching up well.  What is happening among us that can be attributed only to the Holy Spirit?   When was the last time people came because they heard how the Lord was miraculously changing lives among us?  Are we in danger of persecution because our words and works threaten powerful people?

Maybe we should pray desperately for what we’re missing from the model . . .


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Chutzpah Prayer

P.Allan“Chutzpah” is a Yiddish word which American humorist Leo Rosten defined as “that quality enshrined in a man who, having killed his mother and father, throws himself on the mercy of the court because he is an orphan.”

“Chutzpah” has a negative connotation as the synonyms “brazenness” and “arrogance” suggest.  But it has a positive connotation too as the synonyms “boldness, confidence, gutsiness” suggest.  Positive “chutzpah” is the kind believers displayed in their prayer after Peter and John were released by the authorities having been arrested and tried for preaching in the name of the resurrected Christ (see ).

On their release, Peter and John went back to their own people and reported all that the chief priests and elders had said to them.  When they heard this, they raised their voices together in prayer to God. “Sovereign Lord,” they said, “you made the heaven and the earth and the sea, and everything in them.  You spoke by the Holy Spirit through the mouth of your servant, our father David: “‘Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain?  The kings of the earth take their stand and the rulers gather together against the Lord and against his Anointed One.’  Indeed Herod and Pontius Pilate met together with the Gentiles and the people of Israel in this city to conspire against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed.  They did what your power and will had decided beforehand should happen.  Now, Lord, consider their threats and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness.  Stretch out your hand to heal and perform miraculous signs and wonders through the name of your holy servant Jesus.”  After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly (Acts 4:23-31).

Today we continue following the Acts narrative leading up to Acts 7:1-53, sermon #3 of “The Acts Eight”.  The narrative today is almost entirely a prayer.

Whom They Address. 

Sovereign Lord  (Greek despotays), you made the heaven and the earth and the sea, and everything in them”   (4:24).  By addressing God this way they affirm God’s total authority over his servants, all of his creation, and even over the Sanhedrin opposing them. Thus they encourage themselves that the God they serve is in control of all things.

What They Remember the Sovereign Lord Said. 

You spoke by the Holy Spirit through the mouth of your servant, our father David: ‘Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain?  The kings of the earth take their stand and the rulers gather together against the Lord and against his Anointed One'” (4:25,26).  This God spoke by the Holy Spirit through the mouth of David.  As Francis Schaffer entitled one of his books:  “He Is There And He Is Not Silent.”  And what did God say?  The early believers quote from Psalm 2, a psalm of David considered by the Jews to be messianic.

How They Apply What the Sovereign Lord Said. 

Indeed Herod and Pontius Pilate met together with the Gentiles and the people of Israel in this city to conspire against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed.  They did what your power and will had decided beforehand should happen (Acts 4:27,28).  Knowing that the Lord is sovereign and remembering what he said in David’s psalm, they conclude that Herod, Pilate, the Gentiles and the people of Israel “did what your power and will had decided beforehand should happen”.  Each of these anti-Lord people chose to “conspire against [God’s] holy servant Jesus”.  Yet their choice was what he had decided beforehand should take place.

What They Ask the Sovereign Lord For. 

Now, Lord, consider their threats and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness.  Stretch out your hand to heal and perform miraculous signs and wonders through the name of your holy servant Jesus” (Acts 4:29,30).  Remarkably, they don’t pray for protection.  While they ask the Lord to pay attention to the threats of their enemies (implying how he may or may not act is up to him), their only concern is that the Lord enable them to carry out their mission “with great boldness.” 

The NIV incorrectly breaks 4:29 and 4:30 into two sentences.  The ESV translation captures the meaning of the Greek:  “And now, Lord, look upon their threats and grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness, while you stretch out your hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of your holy servant Jesus.”  In other words,  the believers assume Jesus will continue to do the miraculous works he started (as recorded in the Gospel—Acts 1:1) as they speak his word.

Here’s the heart of the “chutzpah” prayer.  No one thinks the cost of spreading the Gospel too great.  No one gives up the fight and goes home.  Jesus is alive.  He is Sovereign Lord.  They are his witnesses empowered by the Holy Spirit to make him known to Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria, and the ends of the earth.

How the Sovereign Lord Answered. 

After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly (4:31).  The Holy Spirit is the divine Enabler.  On Pentecost they had been filled (2:4).  Here they’re filled again.  This reminds us that the filling of the Holy Spirit is not a one-time “trophy” experience, as some Pentecostals seem to think.  It also tells us this filling isn’t the object of the prayer—empowerment for bearing witness of Christ is, especially in an environment officially hostile to their message.  But as church father Chrysostom observed about the place being shaken: “and that made them the more unshaken” (Homily on the Acts of the Apostles 11).  May the Lord’s answer to our praying also make us unshaken by whatever opposition or suffering we face!

* * * * *

Many of us who read this blog live in nations without overt opposition to the Gospel—though even in America and West European nations hostility is growing.  Some of us who read this live in nations where opposition is overt and dangerous, as it was for these early believers.

All of us, however, should see this prayer as a model.   All of us can be Yiddish in praying.  “Yiddish” was the language of Central and Eastern European Jews until the mid-20th century.  We could all do with a little Yiddish chuztpah, couldn’t we!

Sovereign Lord, you made the heavens, the earth, the sea,
and everything in them.
You own it all and you rule it all—even the people opposed to you.
As you spoke long ago,
what your Son endured was your will,
so today nothing happens outside your will.
You know the opposition we face to making
Jesus known,
some of it from outside, some from within ourselves.
Take note of those threats, Lord,
and enable us as your servants to speak your word with great boldness,
—with chutzpah, unmoved by resistance or rejection or dread—
while you heal and do miraculous signs and wonders
through the name of your holy servant Jesus.
In his name we pray.  Amen.”


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Interruption Malfunction

P.AllanWant to know why “the One enthroned in heaven laughs” at rulers who gather against him (Psalm 2:4)?  Look no further than this “interruption malfunction.”

Sermon Interrupted.

The priests and the captain of the temple guard and the Sadducees came up to Peter and John while they were speaking to the people.  They were greatly disturbed because the apostles were teaching the people and proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection of the dead.  They seized Peter and John, and because it was evening, they put them in jail until the next day.  But many who heard the message believed, and the number of men grew to about five thousand (Acts 4:1-4).

The healing of a cripple ( drawn a few thousand astonished spectators.  Peter and John are telling how God’s glorified servant Jesus had worked that miracle.  A commotion grows as a troop of Jewish authorities come stomping through the crowd.

They’re outraged that “the apostles were teaching the people and proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection of the dead.”  Getting Jesus crucified hadn’t made his name go away!  They throw Peter and John in the Jerusalem jail overnight.  Even so, about 2,000 men believe.  (Hear the Lord laughing?)

Court Crippled.

By the end of this next scene, it’s apparent that the powerful Jewish Court has been crippled by two “unschooled, ordinary” prisoners.

The next day the rulers, elders and teachers of the law met in Jerusalem.  Annas the high priest was there, and so were Caiaphas, John, Alexander and the other men of the high priest’s family.  They had Peter and John brought before them and began to question them: “By what power or what name did you do this?”  Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them: “Rulers and elders of the people!  If we are being called to account today for an act of kindness shown to a cripple and are asked how he was healed,  then know this, you and all the people of Israel: It is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead, that this man stands before you healed.   He is “‘the stone you builders rejected, which has become the capstone.’  Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.”   (Acts 4:5-12).

Luke’s list of Court members indicates that this is the same body that less than two months ago decided Jesus deserved death.  From the start the Court has a big problem on its hands:  clearly a miracle had been performed (“By what power or what name did you do this?”  ” . . . since they could see the man who had been healed standing there with them . . ., “) 

How is this common fisherman able to answer so boldly and wisely?  Peter was “filled with the Spirit.”  (Someone has suggested that The Acts of the Apostles should be called The Acts of the Holy Spirit!)

Peter says, “Are you kidding me?  Are you putting us on trial ‘for an act of kindness shown to the cripple”?  Here’s how it was done, he says.  “It is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead, that this man stands before you healed.” 

Luke begins Acts with these words:  “In the first book (the Gospel According to Luke), O Theophilus, I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach . . . ” (1:1).  Implication:  in Acts Jesus continues to do and teach.  This is what Peter proclaims.  ” . . . Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead [did this]!”  . . . ”   In other words, “Jesus is alive!  And he healed this cripple when we called on his name!”

Peter’s defense turns prosecution.  He  quotes Psalm 188:22 and declares Jesus is the stone they rejected.  Jesus  is the cornerstone of the new “temple” God is building.  Jesus is the only name by whom salvation can be found.  It’s a powerful testimony that leaves the Court with its collective mouth hanging open and silent.

 Apostles Win.

When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus.  But since they could see the man who had been healed standing there with them, there was nothing they could say.   So they ordered them to withdraw from the Sanhedrin and then conferred together.  “What are we going to do with these men?” they asked. “Everybody living in Jerusalem knows they have done an outstanding miracle, and we cannot deny it.  But to stop this thing from spreading any further among the people, we must warn these men to speak no longer to anyone in this name.”  Then they called them in again and commanded them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus.  But Peter and John replied, “Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God’s sight to obey you rather than God.  For we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.”  After further threats they let them go. They could not decide how to punish them, because all the people were praising God for what had happened.  For the man who was miraculously healed was over forty years old (Acts 4:13-26).

The Jerusalem jail, even for one night, was no luxury resort.  Knowing what this Court did to Jesus must have frightened the two apostles.  But above it all the Lord must have been laughing at the persecutors.   What can they do?  They can’t deny the miracle; everybody’s seen it.  But they can’t let this insidious conduct continue.  But when they command them to stop preaching in Jesus’ name, the two refuse to obey; they must obey God and tell what they’ve seen and heard.  The Court’s clout is reduced to threats.

Meanwhile the people are praising God for the miracle they’ve seen.  And the Lord, I’m sure, is laughing.

Laughing Lord,
as the psalmist wrote, You have set your Anointed King on Your holy hill.
Rebellion against You and resistance to You are equally futile.
This “Interruption Malfunction” is only
one proof.
As it encouraged the early church, may it encourage
all Your people who are being opposed because they are Yours.
I pray especially for Your people facing abuse and persecution today.
Protect them, fill them with the Holy Spirit,
empower them to uphold Your name against those who hate it.
May they know—may we
all know—
that You lough mockingly at Your puny opposition.
And may Your hurting people be convinced
that even if they can’t laugh now
that in the end they—
and we—
will all laugh together with You forever.
In the name of the risen Lord of lords.  Amen.

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