In today’s Bible reading, Paul and Silas come to Phillipi. On the Sabbath, they search out a place where people gathered to worship. Evidently, there wasn’t a synagogue there, but they found some women who had gathered to pray. One of the women was Lydia, a local businesswoman who sold purple goods. We know that she worshipped God.
Dr. Luke brings out something interesting that we cannot overlook. “The Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul.” (Acts 16:14) She believes and is baptized, along with her household.
We don’t know if Lydia is a Jew or a God-fearing Gentile. But Dr. Luke seems to indicate that she isn’t saved.
Going to church will not save you. Only believing in Jesus and trusting His sacrificial death as the payment for your sin will save you.
As you talk with people whom you think may not be believers, ask God to open their hearts to pay attention to what He would say through you. Unless God opens their heart, they will not hear, believe, and trust in Christ. And they will not experience God’s transforming power.
When you talk with people about Jesus, remember that praying for God to move in their hearts and minds is more important than saying the right things. Absolutely share your faith with everyone you can. But don’t worry about getting the words right. Trust God to be sovereign over their salvation, just as He was sovereign over yours. And speak the truth in love.
I want to bring out a couple of things from today’s Bible reading.
First, in Acts 8:9-25, we see the miracles performed through the hands of Philip. In addition to many others, Simon the Sorcerer (a man who got his magical power from the occult/demonic influence) was saved. When Simon saw that people received the Holy Spirit when Peter and John laid hands on them, Simon offered money for the power to do the same thing. That was a very wrong thing to do. Philip rebuked him and said, “May your silver perish with you, because you thought you could obtain the gift of God with money! You have neither part nor lot in this matter, for your heart is not right before God. Repent, therefore, of this wickedness of yours, and pray to the Lord that, if possible, the intent of your heart may be forgiven you. For I see that you are in the gall of bitterness and in the bond of iniquity.” And Simon answered, “Pray for me to the Lord, that nothing of what you have said may come upon me.”
The second thing I’d like to point out is in Acts 8:26-40. Philip comes across a very important man from Ethiopia. He’s the Queen’s Secretary of the Treasury. He’s reading from a scroll that contains the Old Testament book of Isaiah. Philip asks if he understands what he’s reading. The man responds, “How can I, unless someone guides me?” And he invited Philip to come up and sit with him. (Acts 8:31) Philip climbs into the chariot and explains that the Scriptures in question (Isaiah 53:7-8) address Jesus as the sacrificial Lamb of God.
The first application point is for Acts 8:9-25: You can’t buy God’s anointing. And trying to reveals corrupt motives and a dark heart. Granted, Simon was a brand new Believer. New Believers don’t know what you can and can’t do. But look at his response in Acts 8:24: “Pray for me to the Lord, that nothing of what you have said may come upon me.” His response reveals that the Holy Spirit was doing a work in his heart. He begged for God’s grace and forgiveness. He didn’t want to incur the judgment of believing in a transactional religion.
Transactional religion haunts many of us in Western Culture. It’s the belief that you can make a deal with God. You do this and God will do that. You put some coins in God’s vending machine and the machine will give you the blessings that you select.
But God doesn’t practice transactional religion. God doesn’t make deals. In fact, making deals with God reveals that you really don’t understand the concept of grace. Grace is favor that God gives despite our unworthiness. If God only gave based on our worthiness, He wouldn’t be in the grace business; He’d be in the wages business. Grace is undeserved. Wages are deserved/earned.
The second application point concerns Acts 8:26-40. Unless someone explains the Gospel to someone, they will not understand it. In our fallen state, we have no desire for spiritual things. Oh, we may be involved in an intellectual pursuit of spiritual concepts, but unless God does a miraculous work in our hearts, we won’t come to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. We won’t because we can’t.
Lost people need you and me to be available. Lost people need you and me to pray for God to work in their hearts. And lost people need you and me to always be ready to tell people about Jesus. (1 Peter 3:15)
Who are you praying for? Who do you need to tell about Jesus? If no one tells them about Jesus’ offer of grace, they’ll never know. Are you prepared to tell them?
Preachers are always concerned about how their sermons will be received. We agonize over the Biblical text, wanting so much to be true to what God says. We want our hearers to receive the Word as good soil. (Matthew 13:23)
In today’s Bible reading, Stephen (one of the Seven who were chosen to serve tables) recounts the history of the people of Israel, the physical children of Abraham. He begins with God’s call to Abraham to leave everything familiar to him to go to a land he didn’t know about. The trip would take a couple of months, traveling up to twenty miles a day with his family, his servants, and his livestock. Stephen continues through Moses’ call to lead the Hebrew people out of their slavery in Egypt. So far, so good. Finally, he quotes Isaiah 66:1-2 and then makes his application:
“You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you always resist the Holy Spirit. As your fathers did, so do you. Which of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? And they killed those who announced beforehand the coming of the Righteous One, whom you have now betrayed and murdered, you who received the law as delivered by angels and did not keep it.” (Acts 7:51–53 ESV)
Now, if a preacher was trying to attract new convert with a “seeker-sensitive” sermon, he definitely wouldn’t have concluded his message with those three verses!
But Stephen was true to God’s Word. He applied it to his hearers in such a way that they stoned him to death. They understood his message. They rejected his message. So Stephen became the first Christian martyr.
The Greek word for martyr means “witness”. Stephen was a witness and shared the Good News with these religious leaders. But before you can get to the Good News, must understand the implications of the Bad News. And that makes the Good News all the more attractive. Unfortunately, much of modern preaching and evangelism overlooks the Bad News and its implications. Instead, it offers an incomplete Good News message and cheap grace without the mention of sin and our need of repentance.
We (all of us, not just the ordained, but also the ordinary) need to follow Stephen’s example and be willing to be the witness/martyr that he was. Stephen was unfazed as his audience picked up stones to kill him. He continued to bear witness to the glories of heaven.
Being a witness for Jesus may cost your life. But isn’t that what we’re called to do? A call to salvation is a call to come and die. (Luke 9:23)
In today’s Bible reading, we see how people respond to the miraculous signs and wonders they witness at the hands of the Apostles. “They even carried out the sick into the streets and laid them on cots and mats, that as Peter came by at least his shadow might fall on some of them.” (Acts 5:15 ESV)
Any time we see a mighty move of God, we all want to get in on what God’s doing. But at the same time, we need to be careful with our response. It’s easy for our emotions to get ahead of our brains. And that’s what it sounds like Luke reports in Acts 5:15. Verse 16 seems to indicate that being in the path of Peter’s shadow actually caused people to be healed.
But notice that Luke is describing what happened. That’s the nature of the history genre, the type of writing of Acts. History describes what happened. And Dr. Luke was careful in both his Gospel and in Acts to faithfully describe what he learned in his investigation. (Luke 1:1-4; Acts 1:1-2)
Amazing things were happening in the early days of the life of the church. God did some incredible things. But note that Luke doesn’t say that these things happened at any other time throughout the rest of Acts. Now, I’m not saying that God couldn’t keep on working these miracles. But it’s clear that Luke doesn’t mention it again after these two verses. (Acts 5:15-16)
It’s also important to note that no other New Testament writer mentions it anywhere in their writings either. Also absent is any instruction (even in Acts) which prescribes that people should try to arrange the infirmed so that Peter’s shadow could grace them and heal them.
Before I go any further, let me say definitively that I believe that God is God and I’m not. God can do whatever He wants, whenever He wants, wherever He wants. I believe that the only expiration date God has placed on His gifts is the return of Jesus. (1 Corinthians 13:8–12 [note that we haven’t yet seen him “face to face”])
Now, having said that, I’ll add that when we read history, like Acts, we must remember that we’re reading descriptions (what happened), not prescriptions (how things are supposed to happen).
I hope you can see that we could get into a lot of trouble if we insist that all you need to do is go to a faith healing crusade and sit in the faith healer’s shadow to be healed. To do that is to force a meaning on the Bible text that simply isn’t there. And to do that is to put vulnerable people in very vulnerable situations where if they don’t get what they’re promised, they blame God. God is not honored by someone’s misuse and twisting of the Bible.
Can God heal and do miraculous things today? Absolutely! Can God use doctors and medicine? Absolutely. We’ll see when we get to Acts 28 that it’s wise to pray and seek medical help. Does God always heal and do miraculous things? Yes, but not on our timetable and not on our dictates.
God has not obligated Himself to do anything in response to our requests. We must always remember that God is God. And we aren’t.
In today’s Bible reading, we see Peter and John approach the Temple to worship. They are approached by a lame beggar — we aren’t given his name — who asks for a donation. The only other thing we know about this man is that he has never walked; he was lame from birth. And because he has been lame from birth, he’s completely dependent on someone to carry him to the Temple and place him where he can receive gifts from the worshipers. (Acts 3:2)
Perhaps this nameless beggar has sat at this same spot for decades. If so, many Jews have passed by this man on their way to worship. Occasionally, they will throw him a few coins. But this day is different. What happens this day changes his life.
Peter and John tell the man that they don’t have any money to give him. But they do have something better than money. They command him to get up and walk. And reaching out, they help him stand to his feet. But he doesn’t just stand. He walks. He runs. He leaps.
And for the very first time in his life,
he is able to enter the Temple and worship God.
Imagine for a moment being able to go to the Temple every day for all of your life. But you aren’t able to go into the Temple to worship God because you can’t walk. (Leviticus 21:18) Because of no fault of your own, you aren’t welcome to enter and worship God. Your only knowledge of what goes on in worship is what people tell you because you can’t experience it for yourself.
And then one day, someone tells you to stand up. As they lift you to your feet, your muscles, ligaments, and tendons begin to strengthen. You can stand! You can walk! And you can go in and worship!
I think we don’t consider how fortunate we are as Christians in Western Society. For his entire life, this poor man couldn’t go worship God. As much as he may have wanted to, he wasn’t permitted.
In the Twenty-First Century in Western Society, we are able to go to church to worship with our friends and family. But just because we are able doesn’t mean that we do.
Because of the (literal) sacrifices of many who lived hundreds of years ago, many of us have multiple copies of the Bible in various English translations. We have access to even more translations through our phones and computers. But just because we can doesn’t mean that we do. Or even that we want to. And yet there are still many people worldwide who do not have any access to a Bible in their native language. Many don’t have access to a New Testament in their native language. And many don’t have a copy of the Gospel of John in their native language. They don’t have a Bible, New Testament, or Gospel of John, not because they haven’t been given one. They don’t have access to God’s Word because it hasn’t been translated into their native language. There’s not a Bible to give them. There’s not a New Testament to give to them. There’s not even a single verse for someone to read to them!
You may have all of the blessings of multiple modern translations in your native language, but if you don’t regularly read your Bible, study your Bible, and memorize Bible verses, you have no real advantages over those who don’t have a single verse in their native language.
Spend some time today thanking God that He preserved His Word through the ages and blessed scholars who could faithfully translate His Word so you could read it. And study it. And memorize it. And share it.
Here’s another application point: Prayerfully consider partnering with the Illuminations Project to help translate the Bible for every people group on the planet in the next thirteen years. Ten Bible translation organizations are coordinating their efforts to eradicate Bible poverty in this generation.