Readings for this week
Monday: Acts 8
Tuesday: Acts 9
Wednesday: Acts 10
Thursday: Acts 11
Friday: Acts 12
Saturday: Acts 13
Sunday: Acts 14
Introduction to Acts 8-14
After the murder of Stephen, a great persecution broke out against the church in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria. Saul began to destroy the church, and went from house to house dragging people to prison.
Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went.
Philip (one the table-waiters) went down to a city in Samaria and proclaimed the Messiah there. When the crowds heard Philip and saw the signs he performed, they all paid close attention to what he said. Now for some time a man named Simon had practiced sorcery in the city and amazed all the people of Samaria. But when they heard Philip, they believed him instead, and everyone was baptized… even Simon the Sorcerer.
When the apostles in Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God, they sent Peter and John to Samaria. When they arrived, Peter and John placed their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit. Simon then offers Peter money in exchange for the power to fill people with the Spirit, but Peter says, “You and your money be damned! …Repent of this wickedness… for I see that you are full of bitterness and captive to sin.” Then Simon asked Peter to pray for him.
Peter and John returned to Jerusalem, after preaching the gospel in many Samaritan villages.
Philip was later told by an angel to go to the road from Jerusalem to Gaza, and there he met the Ethiopian eunuch. He had been to Jerusalem to worship, and was returning home. The eunuch was sitting in his chariot reading the Book of Isaiah, and had come to Isaiah 53:7-8, the passage about the suffering servant who was punished for the sin of his people and led like a sheep to the slaughter. Philip asked the Ethiopian, "Do you understand what you are reading?" He said, "How can I understand unless I have a teacher to teach me?"
So Philip became his teacher, and told him the Gospel of Jesus, and the Ethiopian asked to be baptized. They went down into some water and Philip baptized him. Some later manuscripts also have the Ethiopian say, “I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God" (verse 37), but this is absent in the earlier versions. After this, Philip is suddenly taken away by the Spirit of the Lord (almost like God tele-ported him away), and the eunuch “went on his way rejoicing.” According to tradition, the eunuch returned to Ethiopia, where he converted Queen Candace, and founded what would later become the Ethiopian Orthodox Church.
Saul was on his way from Jerusalem for Syrian Damascus to arrest followers of Jesus, with the intention of returning them to Jerusalem as prisoners for questioning and possible execution. The journey is interrupted when Saul sees a blinding light, and communicates directly with a divine voice, which says to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” Saul asks, “Who are you, Lord?” And the voice says, "I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.”
The men traveling with Saul 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.
The account continues with a description of Ananias of Damascus receiving a divine revelation instructing him to visit Saul at the house of Judas on Straight Street and there lay hands on him to restore his sight. Ananias is initially reluctant, having heard about Saul's persecution, but obeys the divine command. He places his hands on Saul and immediately, Saul receives the Holy Spirit, and something like scales fall from Saul’s eyes, and he can see again, and he is baptized.
Saul spent several days with the disciples in Damascus and he began to preach in the synagogues that Jesus is the Son of God, and he grew more and more powerful and baffled the Jews living in Damascus by proving that Jesus is the Messiah. Later, the Jews plotted to kill him, but Saul learned of their plan. They waited at the city gates in order to kill him, but his followers took him by night and lowered him in a basket through an opening in the wall.
When he came to Jerusalem, he tried to join the disciples, but they were all afraid of him, not believing that he really was a disciple. But Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles. So Saul stayed with them and moved about freely in Jerusalem, speaking boldly in the name of the Lord. He talked and debated with the Hellenistic Jews, but they tried to kill him. When the believers learned of this, they sent him off to Tarsus. Then the church throughout Judea, Galilee and Samaria enjoyed a time of peace and was strengthened.
Later, Peter visits the believers in Lydda. He finds a man named Aeneas, who had been paralyzed for eight years. Peter says to him, “Jesus Christ heals you. Get up and roll up your mat.” Immediately Aeneas got up, and all those who lived in Lydda and Sharon saw him and turned to the Lord.
In Joppa there was a disciple named Tabitha 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 get him.
All the widows stood around him, crying and showing him the robes and other clothing that she had made. 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 for the believers, especially 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.
Cornelius was a centurion who was stationed in Caesarea. He is depicted as a God-fearing man who always prayed and was full of good works and deeds of alms. Cornelius receives a vision in which an angel of God tells him that his prayers have been heard. The angel then instructs Cornelius to send the men of his household to Joppa, where they will find Simon Peter, who is residing with a tanner by the name of Simon.
The conversion of Cornelius comes after a separate vision given to Simon Peter himself. In the vision, Simon Peter sees all manner of beasts and fowl being lowered from Heaven in a sheet. A voice commands Simon Peter to eat. When he objects to eating those animals that are unclean according to Mosaic Law, the voice tells him not to call unclean that which God has cleansed. When Cornelius' men arrive, Simon Peter understands that through this vision the Lord commanded the Apostle to preach the Word of God to the Gentiles.
Peter accompanies Cornelius' men back to Caesarea. When Cornelius meets Simon Peter, he falls at Peter's feet. Simon Peter raises the centurion and the two men share their visions. Simon Peter tells of Jesus' ministry and the Resurrection, and the Holy Spirit descends on everyone at the gathering. The Jews among the group are amazed that Cornelius and other uncircumcised should begin speaking in tongues, praising God. Thereupon Simon Peter commands that Cornelius and his followers be baptized. And Peter presents the Gospel Message to them.
Gospel Message Topics Mentioned:
Jesus’ life: 1
Jesus’ death: 1
Jesus’ resurrection: 2
Jesus’ lordship: 2
When Peter went back to Jerusalem, the circumcised believers criticized him and said, “You went into the house of uncircumcised men and ate with them.” Starting from the beginning, Peter told them the whole story. He ends the story by saying, “So if God gave them the same gift he gave us who believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I to think that I could stand in God’s way?” When they heard this, they had no further objections and praised God, saying, “So then, even to Gentiles God has granted repentance that leads to life.”
Those who had been scattered after the death of Stephen had been spreading the word of Jesus to the Jews who lived throughout the Roman Empire, but now, some of them went to Antioch and began to speak to the Greeks as well. When the Jerusalem church learned about the Greek believers in Antioch, they sent a man named Barnabas to go check out what was going on and to encourage the new believers to continue with their faith. Barnabas’s name means “son of encouragement.”
After this, Barnabas goes to Tarsus to pick up Saul, and Saul goes with him back to Antioch where they begin working together. The text says that Antioch was the first place where the believers were called “Christians.” During this time some prophets came down from Jerusalem to Antioch. One of them, named Agabus, stood up and through the Spirit predicted that a severe famine would spread over the entire Roman world. Luke then tells his reader that this happened during the reign of Claudius. The disciples decided to provide help for the brothers and sisters living in Judea. They had Barnabas and Saul take donations back to the elders at the Jerusalem church.
King Herod had James executed by sword. He is the only apostle whose martyrdom is recorded in the New Testament and is traditionally believed to be the first of the twelve apostles martyred for his faith.
Also, Peter was put into prison by King Herod, but the night before his trial an angel appeared to him, and told him to leave. Peter's chains fell off, and he followed the angel out of prison, thinking it was a vision. The prison doors opened of their own accord, and the angel led Peter into the city. When the angel suddenly left him, Peter came to himself and returned to the house of Mary, the mother of John Mark. A servant girl called Rhoda came to answer the door, and when she heard Peter's voice she was so overjoyed that she rushed to tell the others, and forgot to open the door for Peter. Eventually Peter is let in and describes "how the Lord had brought him out of prison." When his escape is discovered, Herod orders the guards put to death.
Then Herod went to Caesarea to meet with the people of Tyre and Sidon because he had been quarreling with them. They asked for peace, because they depended on the king’s country for their food supply. Herod, wearing his royal robes, sat on his throne and delivered a public address to the people, and the people worshiped him. But suddenly, an angel struck him down, and he was eaten by worms and died.
But the word of God continued to spread and flourish.
When Barnabas and Saul had finished their mission, they returned from Jerusalem, taking with them John Mark.
Now in the church at Antioch there were prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon, Lucius, Manaen, and Saul. While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” So after they had fasted and prayed, they placed their hands on them and sent them off.
Saul and Barnabas take a ship from Seleucia to the island of Cyprus. They went to the city of Salamis and proclaimed the word of God the Jews at the synagogue. The text says that John Mark was there with them as their helper.
They traveled through the whole island until they came to the city of Paphos. They met a Jewish sorcerer named Bar-Jesus who worked for the Roman governor Sergius Paulus. Sergius Paulus wanted to hear the Gospel from Saul and Barnabas, but the sorcerer tried to turn him against the message. But Saul calls him a child of the devil and immediately, Bar-Jesus goes blind, and Sergius Paulus becomes a believer. Saul also renames himself to Paul, or “Paulus” in Greek, after the surname of his very first convert.
Paul and Barnabas then set sail and head to Pisidian Antioch, which was the place where Sergius Paulus was originally from. On the way, John Mark left them to go back to Jerusalem. Also, this area produced many high ranking Roman officials over the years, including emperors like Nero. So it would seem that Paul from the very beginning was trying to see the big man, Caesar himself. They went into the synagogue and sat down. At the end of the service, the people wanted to hear if they had anything to say. So Paul stood up and made a speech, summing up Israel’s history, and ending with a proclamation that Jesus was the Messiah they had all been waiting for. No one was offended by this and instead wanted to hear more, and so Paul presents the Gospel message to them.
Gospel Message Topics Mentioned:
Jesus’ life: 1
Jesus’ death: 1
Jesus’ resurrection: 4
Jesus’ lordship: 2
But eventually the Jews became jealous when they saw that all of the Gentiles were flocking to hear what Paul had to say, so they stirred up trouble and started slandering them. The Jews kicked Paul and Barnabas out of town, but not before many Gentiles had become followers of Jesus.
Paul and Barnabas go to Iconium and teach in the Jewish synagogue, and many Jews and Greeks become believers. But there were others who plotted to stone them, so they fled to Lystra and Derbe and spread the Gospel there.
Paul preached the gospel in Lystra. Paul also healed a man lame from birth. The man leaped up and began to walk and thus so impressed the crowd that they took Paul for the god Hermes, because he was the "chief speaker," and his companion Barnabas for the god Zeus. The crowd spoke in the local Lycaonian language and wanted to offer sacrifices to them, but Paul and Barnabas tore their clothes in dismay and shouted that they were merely men. They used this opportunity to tell the Lystrans of the Creator God. Soon, however, through the influence of the Jewish leaders from Antioch, Pisidia and Iconium, they stoned Paul and left him for dead. As the disciples gathered around him, Paul stood on his feet and went back into the town.
The next day, he and Barnabas left for Derbe; but on the return part of their journey, they stopped once more at Lystra, encouraging the disciples there to steadfastness. As they traveled through Lystra, Iconium and Antioch, they said to the believers “We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God.” Paul and Barnabas appointed elders for them in each church.
After going through Pisidia, they came into Pamphylia, and when they had preached the word in Perga, they went down to Attalia. From Attalia they sailed back to Antioch. On arriving there, they gathered the church together and reported all that God had done through them and how he had opened a door of faith to the Gentiles. And they stayed there a long time with the disciples.