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Peter & Cornelius – Two Lives Transformed

When we began our study of the book of Acts back in early summer, I mentioned to you that the title of this book may not be the most accurate. Of course, the author Luke didn’t name this book – it was written as a letter to a man named Theophilus. But today in most of our Bibles, this book is commonly referred to as ”The Acts of the Apostles”.

However, for the last several chapters that we’ve gone through, the story hasn’t revolved around the Apostles at all! We’ve seen God do some amazing things through the lives of guys like Stephan and Philip. These two were not apostles, but rather were administrators in the church – their job was to make sure all the widows and orphans and those in need were taken care of! But of course, that certainly didn’t discount them from sharing about Jesus wherever they went – and as we’ve seen – God used both of these guys to spread the Gospel far beyond the borders of Jerusalem!

And then last week, we were introduced to three new characters who all played a very significant role in the growth of the church! Most obviously, we saw the Holy Spirit totally transform Saul from being a murderous zealot trying to destroy the church into a passionate evangelist who would do more than most to build and strengthen the church! And in addition to Saul, we also met Barnabas & Ananias – again, not apostles, but just faithful men led by the Holy Spirit – and who played significant roles in the salvation and transformation of Saul.

So it really isn’t a book about the Acts of the Apostles – but rather it’s a book about the amazing Acts of the Holy Spirit through the Apostles and the many other faithful men and women who yielded themselves to the Spirit’s leading.

Which leads us now into today’s passage. Today the focus shifts back once again to the apostle Peter. And while we are going to see the Holy Spirit do some amazing things through Peter, perhaps more significantly, we’re going to see the Holy Spirit do some amazing things in Peter!

Because just like how Saul needed to be transformed from the inside out – so did Peter! And so do you and I!

All of us need the Holy Spirit to radically transform us to become more and more like Christ! And certainly that process had already begun for Peter some time ago, but we’re going to see another significant step in his journey towards Christ-likeness today.

We finished off last week with Saul being sent to his home town of Tarsus. He’s going to hang out there for a while – growing in his understanding of the Gospel and in his relationship with Christ – until Barnabas goes to find him in Acts chapter 11. And at that point they’ll go on to minister in Antioch and help start the first church there!

But until then, the story shifts back to follow Peter for a while. And there are three incidents in the next couple of chapters that are recorded for us from the life and ministry of Peter at this time – two shorter ones first – and then a much longer and more detailed one. 

And it initially seems like the three are just a selection of snapshots – just some random examples of the ministry that God was doing through Peter at this time. But I think Luke is doing more than just that. He’s writing about these particular events in the life & ministry of Peter for a reason. I believe he wants us to see, not only how the Holy Spirit was working in the world, but also to see how God was working in Peter’s life – transforming Him into the likeness of Christ. So let’s take a look.

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When God Calls

Since early this summer, we have been traveling through the book of Acts and today we find ourselves in Acts chapter 9. This chapter records one of the most significant events in the history of the early church – perhaps second only to the initial outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost. Very few other events have changed the course of Christianity (or even the course of history for that matter) like the event we’re going to read about today.

Today, we’re going to read about how a man named Saul came to know and follow Jesus. And while his story seems fairly dramatic and out of the ordinary, the things he experienced and the process that he went through – bringing him to faith in Christ – are actually very similar for all of us who come to acknowledge Christ as our Saviour.

There is a certain pattern – a certain sequence of events that need to happen for any of us to experience God’s salvation. Of course, the exact details and the timeline and how it all unfolds are likely different for each one of us, but the process and the pattern that God uses will be the same.

And so even before we get into the passage today, let me just give you the four-point pattern of Salvation that we’re going to see in this passage – that way, as we go through Saul’s story, looking at the process that he went through, you can see if you can identify that same process in your own life and your own story.

So really quickly, here they are. 

  1. Jesus Christ reveals himself to you. In Saul case, it’s quite a dramatic reveal – but that may not be the case of you. Your introduction to Christ might be a little more subtle. Either way, Christ makes Himself known to you and calls you to respond.
  2. You respond by acknowledging Jesus as the resurrected Son of God. This is when you begin to see Jesus for who He really is. There’s a recognition and acknowledgement there that wasn’t there before.
  3. Having acknowledged who Jesus really is, you willingly submit your life to Him and seek to be obedient to Him. As your Lord and Saviour, you want to serve and obey Him with your whole life.
  4. As a result of your trust in Christ and your willingness to be obedient to Him, God begins the process of transformation. The Holy Spirit comes to dwell within you – changing you into a new person. You are adopted in the family of God as His child, and you begin to live a new life.

And of course, as I said before, the exact details and the timeline and how this all unfolds are likely different for each one of us, but the process and the pattern that God uses is the same. He did this for Saul, and he does this for us today.

So on that note, let’s take a look at the story of Saul and see how this pattern plays out in his experience.

But before we begin, let me just quickly review what we’ve already been told about this man named Saul. Back in Acts chapter 7, we read about the stoning of Stephan – the first Christian martyr. He was the first person to be put to death for his faith in Jesus. And Acts chapter 7 verse 58 tells us that as his accusers…

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Philip’s Divine Appointment

For the last three weeks, Mike has been taking us through Acts chapter 8 – and so today, we are going to continue that tradition and will continue working through Acts chapter 8.

But before we begin, let’s just take a step back and see where we are in the overall journey through the book of Acts.

You’ll recall that this entire book is built upon Jesus’ command to his disciples in Acts 1:8. Just before Jesus ascends to Heaven, He says to them:

8 “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. And you will be my witnesses, telling people about me everywhere—in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” Acts 1:8

This entire book revolves around this verse – every chapter describes how the Holy Spirit is empowering God’s people to be his witnesses in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.

But so far, the Gospel has really only made it as far as Samaria. In fact, up until the martyr of Stephan, Christianity was really only found in Jerusalem – and really it was only the Jews who had become believers. 

However, once Saul began persecuting the church, the believers fled Jerusalem and began spreading their message throughout the land of Israel. They even went so far as to preach to their half-Jewish cousins – the Samaritans. And of course, was the focus of Mike’s messages over these last few weeks – it was all about Philip preaching to the Samaritans.

But at this point, the Gospel has not really made it past the borders of Israel. It certainly hasn’t made it “to the ends of the earth” as Jesus had commanded. Christianity is still pretty much a Jewish thing.

But that begins to change in our passage today. Today, we are going to see the baptism of the very first fully-Gentile believer in Christ.

Mike left off at about verse 25 with Peter and John returning to Jerusalem after laying hands on the new believers in Samaria – and so we’re going to start at verse 26 today to see what becomes of Philip.

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The Martyr of Stephen

Through the summer we’ve been working our way through the book of Acts – although recently, we’ve had some special speakers bring the Sunday morning message, and so it’s been a couple weeks since since we last left off.

But today we are getting back to Acts and we’re picking up the story in Acts chapter 6. We started this chapter three weeks ago and at that time, we looked at one of the first major leadership challenges faced by the church. If you were with us then, you’ll recall that as the early church grew by leaps and bounds, the pressures and demands on the Apostles grew as well – threatening to distract and derail them from preaching the Gospel – which of course, was the one, most important thing they had to do!

So to deal with this, the Apostles called for a meeting of the entire church and through some God-given wisdom, suggested that they appoint seven men to be deacons – men who would serve the church in an administrative role so that the needs of the church would be met – freeing the apostles to spend their time preaching the Word of God.

Everyone in the church agreed that this was a great idea and so they selected seven men who were well-respected, full of the Holy Spirit, and full of wisdom – and they appointed them to serve the church.

One of these men was a man named Stephen and it’s around him that our story revolves today. Well, actually, that’s not entirely true. Even though Stephen is a main character – our story continues to revolve around Christ. Although this book is called the ‘Acts of the Apostles’ – every story centers on the person of Jesus Christ and the work of the Holy Spirit – and that’s exactly what we’re going to see today.

So if you have your Bibles, let’s turn to Acts chapter 6, starting today at verse 8.

8 Stephen, a man full of God’s grace and power, performed amazing miracles and signs among the people. 9 But one day some men from the Synagogue of Freed Slaves, as it was called, started to debate with him. They were Jews from Cyrene, Alexandria, Cilicia, and the province of Asia. 10 None of them could stand against the wisdom and the Spirit with which Stephen spoke.

Acts 6:8-10

Now it’s interesting – and I pointed this out briefly in the last message – that although Stephen was appointed to serve the church in an administrative role (specifically, to oversee the daily distribution of food to those in need), here we see him doing some amazing miracles among the people – and he was very actively engaged in sharing the message of Christ with non-believers. These are normally the things that we see the Apostles doing – but here we see Stephen doing them as well. And this is a great reminder that anyone and everyone can be used by God in some incredible ways. It doesn’t matter what your ‘official’ role or title is – if you’ve surrendered your life to God, God can do amazing things through you!

In this case, Stephen was doing miracles and sharing the Gospel with his fellow Jews. You’ll remember from our last message how there were two groups of Jews in Jerusalem at this time – there were Hebrew speaking Jews who where native-born Israelites (born & raised within the borders of Israel itself) – and there were Greek-speaking Jews who had been born and raised in other parts of the world, but who had now returned to live in Jerusalem.

Based on his Greek name, Stephen is very likely one of those Greek-speaking Jews who had come to live in Jerusalem – as were these other Jews who were debating with him. It’s even possible that Stephen was a member of the Synagogue of the Freed Slaves where he was debating with these other Jews.

This synagogue would have been one of the synagogues that had been started by Greek-speaking Jews who had at one time been slaves somewhere in the Roman Empire, but had since been freed and had come to Jerusalem. So maybe Stephen was part of that group? We don’t really know.

But what we do know, is that, like many Jews in Jerusalem, these men were not eager to embrace the message of the Gospel. And so as Stephen shared the Good News of Jesus Christ, these men began to debate with him – trying to argue against his claims that Jesus was the resurrected Son of God! But as we see in verse 10 – None of them could stand against the wisdom and the Spirit with which Stephen spoke.

And that is such a huge encouragement and reminder for us as we try to share the Gospel with the people around us!

It’s not our eloquent delivery or clever words that’s going to convince people to put their faith in Jesus Christ – but rather, it’s the wisdom of God and the power of the Holy Spirit that’s going to make the difference. 

I know many Christians are terrified at the thought to trying to share the Gospel with someone. What if we muddle our words or say the wrong thing? What if they ask us questions that we can’t answer? What if we end up looking like a fool and only reinforce their beliefs that we’re a religious nut job?

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Carrying Out Your God-Given Ministry

For the last several weeks, we’ve been going through the book of Acts – following the growth and development of the early church. 

As the Apostles boldly share their testimony of the resurrection of Jesus Christ and call people to put their faith in Him for Salvation, the Holy Spirit has been at work, and crowds of people have been responding to the Gospel. The church has been growing tremendously!

But of course, with rapid growth comes growing pains – and we’ve seen a few examples of that already.

  • We’ve seen Ananias and Sapphira being put to death by the Lord after lying to the Holy Spirit.
  • We’ve seen the Apostles being thrown into prison – and then rescued by an angel who simply opened the doors and led them out.
  • We’ve seen the religious leaders command that Apostles stop preaching in the name of Jesus –  even flogging them as a warning – but the Apostles insisted that they would continue  obeying God rather than man!

And thus far, all of these growing pains have not stopped the tremendous growth of the church. But today in our passage, the church is going to face perhaps their greatest threat yet. This particular ‘growing pain’ not only has the potential to destroy or at least seriously damage the unity of the church, which is the hallmark of the followers of Christ – but it also has the potential to prevent the Apostles from faithfully preaching the Good News.

And by the way, the threats to the church that we’re going to read about here in Acts chapter 6 are equally present us for today, and so I think this will be a very relevant passage for us!

Our passage today is in Acts chapter 6 – and we’re just going to start by just reading the very first verse. It reads like this:

But as the believers rapidly multiplied, there were rumblings of discontent. The Greek-speaking believers complained about the Hebrew-speaking believers, saying that their widows were being discriminated against in the daily distribution of food.

Acts 6:1

Now right off the bat there are a couple of things that we should clarify.

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God’s Prevailing Purposes

Last Sunday, Luke, the author of the book of Acts, gave us a snapshot of life in the early church. And he gave us two contrasting examples of both the good and the bad.

First of all, Luke told us about a man named Joseph – otherwise known as Barnabas – the Son of Encouragement. Filled with the Holy Spirit and motivated by love for the church, he sold a field he owned and gave the money to the apostles to give to the needy within the church. This was a great example of the generosity and care for each other that was common within the church in those early days!

But in contrast to Barnabas, Luke then goes on to tell us about another couple – Ananias and Sapphira.  With hearts filled by Satan and motivated by pride – they also sold some land and gave the money to the apostles. However, they kept some of the money for themselves and decided to lie about it to the Apostles (and really, to the Holy Spirit) – claiming that they had given everything, when in fact, they had not. For their deception and as a strong warning to the rest of the church, the Lord stuck them both death.

Their sudden and dramatic deaths would have been quite a shock to the church, I’m sure! In fact, verse 11 tells us that…

11 Great fear gripped the entire church and everyone else who heard what had happened.

Acts 5:11

And that verse kinda sets the stage for the rest of the chapter. As we finish up Acts chapter 5 today, we’re going to see that God continues to do some amazing things in and through the church, and people just don’t know what to make of it all!

Are these followers of Jesus good or bad? Are they doing these amazing things with trickery and slight of hand or is God really behind it all? And perhaps most importantly, is their message of faith in Jesus merely empty ramblings, or is it really the Gospel truth?

Those are the questions that everyone was asking, and those are the questions that Luke wants you to consider as well!

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