Category Archives: Acts: Church on Fire


When Christians are falsely accused for their beliefs in court and the public arena it is predictable that persecution is coming.  The fact that the accusations have to be made up means that there is no credible evidence that they can use.  The anger focused upon believers is not logical; it is emotional.

It was just another day serving Grecian widows and their families mixed with a healing there, another sign or wonder here when suddenly Stephen found himself falsely accused.  Suddenly dragged  before the Sanhedrin court in full assembly, Stephen would be challenged to explain the charges against him.  


  1. He blasphemes against Moses and God (Acts 6:11).
  2. He incessantly speaks against the Temple and the Law (vs. 13).
  3. He says Jesus will destroy the temple and the Law of Moses (vs. 14).

Of course, none of these accusations were true.  They had used them before when Jesus was standing in front of them during Passover week.  The charges were based upon teachings of Jesus that they had twisted into crazy falsehoods.

Same song, second verse.

Like Moses before (Exodus 34:29-35), Stephen’s face began to glow (Acts 6:15) as though he had been standing in God’s presence.  This would be confirmed just before his death when he sees Jesus standing at God’s right hand in heaven (Acts 7:55).  Did anyone pause to check themselves at such a sight?  I wonder….

What transpires between the accusations at the end of Acts 6 and his death by stoning at the end of chapter 7 is an incredible speech; the longest in the book of Acts.  This one event would unleash a persecution of the church in Jerusalem that would send the Christian community scattering for safety as the whole city seemed to turn against them (Acts 8:1-3). 

This would be a significant speech (Acts 7) that Luke felt his audience needed to hear in detail.  Every Christian needs to know the stories of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, etc.


Stephen could have spent his time defending himself, denying ever having taught such silly teachings.  He could have spent time trying to explain what the lies were based upon.

Instead, Stephen chose to strategically speak of the great characters of Israel’s history with which every member of the Sanhedrin would have been very familiar.  In the process he reveals the characteristic rebellion of the Israelites to God and His messengers in order to bring the inescapable point home to the religious leaders: 

“…you who have received the law that was given through angels but have not obeyed it.”

Acts 7:53 (NIV)
The phrase often used today is “he spoke truth to power.” 


So far in Acts we have seen the religious authorities allied against the believers of the early church in Jerusalem.  At the same time we never hear of Peter and the 11 organizing an insurrection or rebellion of any kind.  What we do read of is acts of kindness, generosity and love in the face of false accusations.  When given the opportunity Jesus’ followers will speak truth to power and to anyone else who will listen.

This simple observation tells us one simple thing.  When Christians come under persecution they act the same ways and according to the same principles and values that they live by every single day.  This way their testimony will be consistent with their lifestyle when they are given the opportunity to speak. 

Of course, the result may be false accusations because they cannot file a legitimate complaint.  It’s ok.  You are in good company.  That’s what they have always done to God’s messengers.


Choosing is a fact of life.   We make choices every day almost unconsciously.  Whether to go right or left at the light; or to be early, on time or fashionably late for an appointment; to have cold cereal or hot oatmeal for breakfast.

Some choices are hard.  Other decisions are easy.  Caught in between two difficult choices we often find ourselves wrestling with indecision; so, we elect to procrastinate until we must decide.

There is no free pass that rids us of the task of choosing except one: death.  Every living being must make choices.  It is inevitable and necessary.


The explosively expanding church of Jerusalem had begun with the 11 apostles  (Acts 1:12-14).  Within days the number of new Christians grew to 120 (Acts 1:15) to 3,000 (Acts 2:41) and then to at least 5,000 men (Acts 4:4 – plus women and children!).  Many of those new members were foreigners (Acts 2:5-12) who had stayed over to hear the eyewitness accounts of Jesus and to connect the dots between the Old Testament prophecies and the Passover’s events of only a couple of months before.

Taking care of all of these born-again foreigners as well as the Christian residents of Jerusalem must have been a huge task!  Food was being delivered to needy families on a daily basis (Acts 6:2) so it should be no surprise that someone would be overlooked.  Whether or not it was intentional, someone had to make a choice about how to correct the matter of feeding the foreign widows of their number.


Stated simply, when the apostles were informed that the Grecian widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food they began making choices to navigate this unique situation.  There were many ways they could have responded, among which might have included:

  1. Taking care of it themselves;
  2. Ignoring the problem;
  3. Pushing it off on someone else to figure out how to fix the problem; or
  4. Blaming someone else for the problem.

What would the apostles do?  They began making choices based upon what Jesus had taught them about leadership in Luke 22:24-26.

24 A dispute also arose among them as to which of them was considered to be greatest. 25 Jesus said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who exercise authority over them call themselves Benefactors. 26 But you are not to be like that. Instead, the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves.

Luke 22:24-26

Here is what they did (Acts 6:1-7):

  1. The Grecian Jews chose to bring their situation to the attention of the apostles.
  2. The apostles chose to take their concern seriously.
  3. The apostles chose to clarify their role.
  4. The apostles chose to specify the qualifications of those who would take care of this immediate challenge.
  5. The apostles chose to let the congregation choose the men who would serve this need.
  6. The congregation responded and chose (somehow) the men and presented them to the apostles.
  7. The apostles chose to pray over the congregation’s selection and to commission them to get to work by laying on hands of blessing upon the seven men.


Gravitating to the leadership options of doing the job ourselves, ignoring problems, pushing them off or blaming is easy to do.  Alternatively, the apostles chose to empower the congregation to take care of the challenge of the Grecian widows themselves. 

First, it  allowed the apostles to stay focused upon the important things instead of the urgent problem. Second, it gave the congregation a sense of ownership and participation.  Third. it recognized leaders in the congregation for future leadership opportunities. Finally, it made it clear that “serving tables” (Acts 6:2) and “ministry of the word” (Acts 6:4 – same Greek root word used later to describe deacons) was not a hierarchical chain of command but, rather, fellow servants with differing calls to service.  


The principles that governed the apostles’ ability to chose to apply should also inspire leaders in churches today:

1.Trust God’s People

2.Empower God’s People

3.Keep Focus On Responsibilities

4.Clarify The Responsibilities of the Congregation

5.Bless The Congregation’s Decision


Being worthy in our culture usually means that a person has achieved something, surpassed a goal, or accomplished a task.  As a reward, the achieving person is considered to be worthy for whatever reward is given.  The minimum requirements have been met.  Therefore, the person receives the gift as a way to recognize their accomplishment.

So, Luke tells us that after the apostles had been flogged, they went away, “…rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name” (Acts 5:41, NIV).  Worthy of suffering.

The points we make today are so important to us today.

  1. God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit is Worthy.
  2. We are not worthy.
  3. Christ has made us worthy by taking our place.
  4. We are now worthy because of what Christ has done for us.

To be counted worthy to suffer is only acknowledging that the apostles were made worthy by the blood of Christ.  Therefore, they are already made worthy.  Because of this, they are able to share in the honor of suffering in a  way that He suffered for them.

10 I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.

-Philippians 3:10


‘Keeping up appearances’ is an expression we use when we are trying to impress others.  We want people to see us favorably, hiding the things about us that we don’t want others to see.  We keep up appearances.

Words like ‘fake’, ‘phony’, and ‘hypocrite’ seem to be  suitable labels when we see the masks of others…until we take a moment to look in the mirror.  Other adjectives seem more appropriate when we look at ourselves.

We innocently keep up appearances in small, barely detectable ways.  We tell people we are doing fine when we are not and we fake a smile when we’re having a bad day.


At times we can tell when someone is really faking it.  On the other hand,  some people are really good at it.  Like actors who are expected to present their assigned character and not themselves, we can be impressed with such skill.

Appearances can be deceiving; that’s why we try to keep them up. Show our best side.  Make a good first impression.


Somewhere along the line, however, is a threshold that warns us that we have gone from innocent fudging to outright lying and deliberate deceit.

The incident of Ananias and Saphira in Acts 5:1-11 is anchored in the closing verses of Acts 4:32-37.  They wanted to appear benevolent and generous towards the poor like Barnabas.  They anticipated the same recognition and celebration that would emerge once they laid their ‘gift’ at the apostles’ feet.  This became the motivation for their gift, leading them to lie about it.

The chilling effect that their sudden deaths had upon the first church in Jerusalem (see Acts 5:13) is not lost on us today.  Becoming a follower of Christ is not the same as joining the good-old-boys-club down the street.  This is serious stuff!


Gifts freely given out of the pure heart described by Jesus in the sermon on the mount (see Matthew 5:8) open the door to experiencing the generosity of God in new and wonderful ways.  Conversely, gifts given with hidden agendas or deceitful intentions are deadly, underlining the central importance of the heart.


When someone speaks with boldness we want to trust them; but, we know better.  Deceived by their confidence, we believed them when we should have been skeptical.  We hear the words, “If it’s too good to be true, it probably is too good to be true” but we choose to trust anyway because the ones we trusted seemed to know what they were talking about.  Skepticism is born out of the accumulation of these experiences.  Burned enough we finally reach a tipping point where it is almost impossible to trust others.


Just because someone seems to know what they are talking about does not necessarily mean that they actually do know what they are talking about.  History is littered with failed nations that followed their leaders blindly into oblivion.

Confident leadership does not necessarily mean  that the leader is wise, informed and strategic.  Sometimes it can mean the opposite requiring further deceit and cover-ups to mask their incompetence.

Good salespersons speak boldly, confidently and with authority about their products.  Following the purchase, the customer then decides whether or not the bold salesperson spoke truthfully.  They also make a decision about whether or not to trust that salesperson–or any other salesperson–again.

Life teaches us that boldness alone does not verify anything without some kind of proof.  Boldness points to a confident assurance of knowing what is true.  No doubts.  No second-guessing.  This is the kind of boldness we read about in Acts.


The ability to publicly perform miraculous signs confirms the likelihood that the bold claims are, indeed, true.  Confirmation may also be added by pointing to the ancient, trusted texts of Scripture that predicted the things about which the speaker is being bold.  Finally, multiple eyewitness accounts from believers, non-believers and the undecided further corroborate that the boldness is justified.  Peter appeals to all of these sources as he presents the gospel message to his listening audiences in Acts 3-4.


Boldness characterized the emergence of the first church in first century Jerusalem.  In Acts 3, Peter spoke boldly to the 40 year old man who had never been able to walk, commanding him, “In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk” (Acts 3:6).  He spoke with boldness to the crowd that had gathered to witness the miracle.  When the religious rulers met to challenge them in the same court in which they had condemned Jesus to death–even before the same people–Peter accused them with boldness.  The rulers were impressed by their boldness, noting that they had been with Jesus.  When they were told to stop speaking about Jesus Peter and John boldly asserted,

“Which is right in God’s eyes: to listen to you, or to him? You be the judges! As for us, we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.”

-Acts 4:19-20

When they went back to their fellow Christians they all prayed for more boldness.  The affirmation of their supplication came with an earthquake, another manifestation of the Holy Spirit and, as one might expect, more boldness!  They had prayed for the right thing!


There were many things for which the early church could have prayed.  No doubt, they did pray that the religious rulers would accept the good news, that God would protect them from further persecution, that no one would suffer for their faith.  These persistent prayers were encouraged by Christ (Luke 18:1-8).  We understand that these supplications are met with three possible answers by God: “Yes!”, “No!”, or “Maybe.”

But, what happens when we pray for the right things, for example, like boldness.  I believe that the answer is always going to be ‘Yes.’  Is this not the very point that Paul is making in 2 Corinthians 1:12-24?  The message of the gospel itself is authored by God Himself, and anchored in people, places and things that can be trusted with verified confidence and assurance.

Therefore, to ask God to be able to share the gospel with boldness is not a yes, no, maybe kind of request.  The answer is always going to be, “Yes!” The only question becomes one of consistency: will I act upon what God has freely given me or will I choose to go on my way  in timidity and fear?  This was Paul’s appeal to Timothy in 2 Timothy 1:6-12.

 For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline. So do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord or of me his prisoner. Rather, join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God.

2 Timothy 1:7-8


Our world is changing so rapidly that it is hard to know where to set our anchors to find truth, meaning and purpose.  We yearn for seasoned experience and authentic truths to help us set our compasses for life’s challenges and opportunities.


When we choose to receive God’s grace through His Son, Jesus Christ, He anchors us to an ancient history of God’s chosen people, Israel.  Their history reaches back more than 3,500 years to the times of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and beyond.  Their sacred texts record God’s interactions with them.  At the same time, those same texts point forward to a Savior, a cross and beyond.

The apostle Paul pointed to their rich heritage (Romans 9:1-5).  He  also spoke to the desperate circumstances of those who did not share their history (Ephesians 2:11-12).  The contrast between these two peoples–Jews versus non-Jews–created a barrier between them.  Many have attempted to eliminate this barrier by genocide of the Jewish people over the years.  They have all failed.


Only one effort to remove this barrier between peoples has been successful.  The apostle Paul makes this point clear in Ephesians 2:11-22.  It is the cross of Christ that has removed this barrier between the chosen people of God and the rest of the world.

 For Christ himself has brought peace to us. He united Jews and Gentiles into one people when, in his own body on the cross, he broke down the wall of hostility that separated us.

Ephesians 2:14 (NLV)

The result is a new definition of God’s chosen people so that all who respond to the gospel message now share in a history and a heritage.

19 So now you Gentiles [non-Jews] are no longer strangers and foreigners. You are citizens along with all of God’s holy people. You are members of God’s family. 20 Together, we are his house, built on the foundation of the apostles and the prophets. And the cornerstone is Christ Jesus himself.21 We are carefully joined together in him, becoming a holy temple for the Lord. 22 Through him you Gentiles are also being made part of this dwelling where God lives by his Spirit.

Ephesians 2:19-22 (NLV)

Now the anchors of the Jewish people pointed towards the anchor for everyone found in the cross of Jesus Christ and His sacrifice.  This truth is bearing fruit as non-Jews realize their rich heritage in the God of ancient Israel.  Conversely, this truth is also being realized as more and more of today’s Jewish people see the fulfillment of prophecies in their Messiah, Jesus Christ.


I believe that Luke, a non-Jew, is writing to a primary audience of non-Jews.  He strove to connect the dots between the Jewish Scriptures and the cross and the early church.  While he could have glossed over them, he preserved these references to their ancient prophets, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, Moses and Samuel in Peter’s sermon (Acts 3:12-26).   He preserved them for our instruction and affirmation as the new Israel that shares in the heritage and history of God’s chosen people from their very beginning.


Talk about how to grow a church!  3,000 new converts in one day, soon to grow to more than 5,000 with at least 16 dialects represented. Many were from far-away places like Italy, Northern Africa, Asia Minor and beyond.  Most would be the only Christians when they return to their native regions.


How would the apostles prepare them to return home to remain faithful and to plant new churches?


Acts 2:42-47 – They focused on the Apostles’ teaching, fellowship, sharing meals and communion, and prayer.  They provided for each other’s needs and did good works.  They met in the temple courts and in each other’s homes (i.e., large, medium and small groups).

What a great way to grow a church spiritually while they were growing “as the Lord added to their number” (Acts 2:47).  As these ‘last days’ continue until Jesus returns, it was the apostles themselves who gave us the template for coming together as the body of Christ.

This is what we do.  This is who we are.


The Gospel: Acts 2:12-41

After Jesus’ ascension into the sky, the angels told the apostles that He would return the same way (Acts 1:11). The first Gospel Sermon introduces ‘these last days’ with the core message of salvation through Jesus Christ.

It’s Pentecost Day and the apostle Peter is presenting the Gospel for the very first time.  The prophet Joel had prophesied about this day with a glimpse of the future (Joel 2:28-32).  Now, in ‘these last days’ Peter introduces the gospel message that will stand until Jesus returns.  This is the ‘Good News’ and it is echoed repeatedly in the remainder of the New Testament.


As Peter said, “Each of you must repent of your sins and turn to God, and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. Then you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.  This promise is to you, to your children, and to those far away—all who have been called by the Lord our God” (Acts 2:38, NLT).

Above is the Youtube posting of the music video entitled “The Gospel” by Ryan Stevenson.  The video can be purchased and downloaded at Worship House Media.


God’s Fire would mark major events in the days of Israel. God’s Presence was marked by fire with Moses and the children of Israel (Exodus 3; 19-20; Deuteronomy 4), Elijah  (1 Kings 18:16-46), and Solomon ( 2 Chronicles 7).  John the Baptist had announced that the Messiah would come with the Holy Spirit and with fire (Matthew 3:1-12; Luke 3:15-18).  Now the Holy Spirit announces His presence with tongues of Fire (Acts 2:1-4).


Luke continues the crescendo of activity of Jesus and the Holy Spirit as God’s unfolding kingdom takes on new dimensions.  Thus begins church.  Indeed, preparations for the Day of Pentecost began with the coming of Christ.  After His death, burial and resurrection He  spends 40 days with His disciples.  Then, Jesus ascends back to heaven.  Now, a mighty wind is heard in Jerusalem and tongues of fire confirm God’s presence through His Spirit.


Suddenly equipped to speak languages to the different people-groups there in Jerusalem, the apostles begin the process of ‘speaking the wonders of God in our own tongues’ (Acts 2:11).  Of what wonders did they speak in advance of Peter’s sermon?

Today, we pray for the wind of the Holy Spirit and His fire in our hearts.  We pray for the ability to speak of God’s wonders as well by our lives, our words and our actions.

Church on Fire – Introduction

In this Introduction to a “Church on Fire” we note two significant bookends that will mark the beginning and end of our study in Acts.


The first of two bookends begins in Luke 23 when Herod Antipas places his royal robe on Jesus while mocking and ridiculing Him.  Jesus, of course is silent.  The second of the two bookends is found in Acts 12:20-23 where Herod Antipas appears before an audience who proclaim him to be like a god.  Luke tells us that because Herod accepted the people’s worship instead of giving glory to God (vs. 23) he was consumed by worms and died.

Herod Antipas

Josephus is a helpful with more detail of this event, noting that Herod’s robe was woven with silver and that in the bright sun his image was radiant.    Further, he observes that Herod’s death was both excruciating and lasted for five days (Josephus, Jewish Antiquities, Book XIX, 343-352).

In Acts 13 Paul’s first missionary journey begins and so does Luke’s chronicle of the Gospel as it spreads beyond the borders of Jerusalem, Judea, and Samaria (Acts 1:8).  So, these two bookends inform the scope and sequence of our studies in Acts.


Luke 23 walks us through the trial, execution and burial of Jesus with special notice given to not only the Jews but also to Jewish women and non-Jews as they witness the events of that day.  The 3-hour darkening of the noon-day sun, the tearing of the curtain of the temple and the death of Jesus conclude with specific mention of the reaction of the crowd who “went home beating their breasts” (Luke 23:48).  It is as though they leave the scene of the cross asking themselves, “What have we done?!”  As two religious rulers quietly take Jesus’ body from the cross and lay it in a grave, the women are watching to see where Jesus’ body is interred so they can return, after the Sabbath, to lay the spices beside Him.

With this observation, I believe, Luke describes a pall that falls across the land as people reflect upon the events of the day, contemplating the possibility that they themselves had, indeed, murdered their own Messiah! A perfect setting for the unfolding story as we begin Luke 24 with an empty tomb, the men on the road to Emmaus, Jesus’ appearances to the disciples, and His ascension.  Acts 1 picks up the story from there, then, and Luke describes the explosive crescendo of events of Acts 2 that will carry us through Acts 12 and beyond.