Good Morning, Siblings!
Today’s readings are Acts 14-15
I must decrease – so that He can increase. John 3:30
I want to begin my notes today by addressing what some of you may be feeling. When we read the Word of YHWH from start to finish, we find that it is, more often than not, a different book than what we thought it was. However, it can be a great comfort to see that contradictions we once quietly struggled with aren’t really contradictions after all. To see the God we love be true to His word, from start to finish, to read of his steadfast love and mercy, to see Grace from the very beginning of time – strengthens our resolve and deepens our love.
But with that awakening to the whole truth of His word comes conviction. It is impossible to read the Word with the guidance of the Holy Spirit and not be convicted. We will inevitably see things in us that create an unnecessary divide between us and the Father. We will find parts of our character that are not representative of Him and must be altered. We will find things in our lives that have been slowly pulling us away from Him and we must let them go. We will mourn during this process. We will grieve that we allowed these behaviors or things in our lives to begin with and yet, at the same time, we will grieve that we have to let them go. We have all been there and if you haven’t, get ready for it because it is coming.
I wanted to share this with you so that you know you are not alone. This is the refiner’s fire.
And Y’all, as I’ve said time and again, it is a process – and what a process it can be! Just remember, when you’re passing through that refiner’s fire, you’re also being held in the refiner’s hand. No matter how hot the flames, there is no better place to be. Let us show grace and love to one another as the Father continues to work on us.
And with that, I wanted to remind you of this verse:
10 “See that you do not despise one of these little ones. For I tell you that in heaven their angels always see the face of my Father who is in heaven. 12 What do you think? If a man has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go in search of the one that went astray? 13 And if he finds it, truly, I say to you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine that never went astray. 14 So it is not the will of my Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish. Matthew 18:1-14
Precious siblings, each one of us has been or will be that lost sheep. If you’re feeling out of the fold a bit right now, I want to remind you that our Shepherd has such love for you that He will leave the 99 to find you and bring you back as He has for each of us.
He left the 99 to find me. If you feel like you’re lost right now, cry out to Him, because the Shepherd is coming to rescue you as well.
Let’s dive in:
Acts 14:1-6 We need to pay special attention to the language here. In Acts 14:1 it tells us that a great multitude of the Jews and Greeks believed, but then in the next statement it tells us that the unbelieving Jews stirred up problems with the Gentiles. This is that same broad stroke translation brush that denigrates the Jews as a whole when, in reality, it is likely that this should have noted that a smaller portion of the Jews were stirring up problems. With careful reading of 14:1 we can infer that. Good thing we’re carefully reading now!
Keep in mind that the men preaching the Gospel were, themselves, Jews as well. We have to be mindful not to create an even greater “Jews Vs Christians” narrative in what we read, because that is a trap we have fallen into for far too long. This Jews Vs Christians narrative contradicts YHWH’s word, His character, and intent. We go on to read in Acts 14:5 that the group causing trouble consisted of Jews and Gentiles. I just wanted to point this out to help us notice little things like this and be more aware as we dig into and study the Word.
Acts 14:9-10 This was a very powerful scene for me. I’ve done a good bit of public speaking and from time to time, as you are speaking and looking out over the audience, you make a distinct connection with an audience member. There is something about their gaze, you lock eyes with them, and you just know. Every time this has happened to me that has been a person who was there for a purpose. They had something very special to share with me or a deep question to ask that I realize the Father had brought me there to point them to the answer. So when I read this scene, I feel like I know a little of what Paul felt. The tension in the air, that contact and recognition of contact made. Paul’s confidence in the Holy Spirit is on full display when he stops what he is doing and boldly calls out for the man to be healed.
When the people started crying out and shouting that Paul and Barnabas were gods, the immediate grief and horror that Paul and Barnabas felt tore at my heart! Their response reminded me of Moses’ response at the start of the rebellion of Korah (Numbers 16). They immediately tore at their clothes and began crying out trying to correct the people. The apostles knew full well the grave sin the people were committing and they immediately saw the horror of this error.
I wonder what that conversation was like later that night, once they were safely away from almost being held up as golden calfs. I imagine they went over and over each moment of the teaching, seeking a way to avoid coming even close to being seen in such a way in the future. I can only begin to imagine how they praised and thanked the Father for having escaped that! I’m relieved just reading about it. Whew! That was close!
Acts 14:19 offers us but a single line telling us that Paul was stoned. To be stoned was a brutal punishment and this was so severe that Paul was dragged out of town and presumed dead so we know he was stoned to the point of unconsciousness. The next day, he got back to work for the Father, preaching the gospel and encouraging believers. Wow.
This is a stand alone statement that needs no explanation at this point. So I’ll just share it, knowing that it will make your heart smile as it did mine:
And when they arrived and gathered the church (ekklesia) together, they declared all that God had done with them, and how he had opened a door of faith to the Gentiles. Acts 14:27
Interesting note: Have you been noticing how many times Paul has observed Sabbath in our reading so far? The book of Acts alone records the Apostles keeping Sabbath 84 times.
Acts 15:1-31 It is important to take into account the fullness of this conversation and what, exactly, is being said here.
There is a debate going on about the Gentiles and what all they have to do in order to come “into the faith”. Keep in mind, this is not a new faith but one that was established at the beginning of time. The Pharisees and others feel the Gentiles must immediately begin to observe all that the Jews observe, keeping all of the laws of YHWH immediately. This is kind of like us moving to a foreign country and being expected to know the language on day 2, having never heard it spoken or even known it existed before day 1.
Now, keep in mind that the Jews were raised being taught the law, being immersed in the law, and in communities where the law was, well, the law.
Does the law of YHWH seem overbearing? Well, when you consider that the United States has well over 25,000 laws (so many that we can’t even get an accurate count) and the whole of YHWH’s law – many of which only apply to very specific groups- has an estimated 613 laws, in reality YHWH’s was, is, and remains the easiest, simplest, and of course, best.
A famous pastor once said “The reason we have 17,000 pages on our law books is because we can’t follow ten lines written on tablets of stone.” How true, but I digress.
So the Jews want them to immediately transition to following all of YHWH’s ways but the apostles realize that this is a pretty tall order expected in such a short amount of time. And so they debate, and James finally decrees:
“Therefore it is my judgement that we should not trouble those of the gentiles who turn to YHWH. But should write to them to abstain from the things polluted by idols and from sexual immorality and from what has been strangled, and from blood.” Acts 15:19-20
Okay, got it, those are the basics, but the next sentence is key to understanding what he is saying here and it is often overlooked so don’t shut the book just yet:
“For from ancient generations Moses has had in every city those who proclaim him, for he is read every Sabbath in the synagogues. “ This was Acts 15:19-31
THIS is the key. James is saying (paraphrase) “Let’s start them out with the basics, just some basic ground rules to build on because they are in our synagogues every Sabbath where the books of Moses (Torah= Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy) are being read and if we just give them the foundations to start with they will continue to learn the word of YHWH, growing as Believers, and coming more and more in line with living according to YHWH’s wisdom, commandments, and teachings.”
ACTS 15:32 further expounds upon this with:
“And Judas and Silas, who were themselves prophets, encouraged and strengthened the brothers with many words.” Acts 15:32
“But Paul and Barnabas remained in Antioch, teaching and preaching the Word of YHWH, with many others also.” Acts 15:35
We see that folks are taking these new converts from idol worshipping and showing them how to follow the one true God. They are teaching them the Word, encouraging them in their walk, and building them up!
Do you see why that sentence was key?
That was the “because” portion of the statement saying “Let’s just tell the Gentiles to do this”. It wasn’t a “Lets just have them do these things only” but a “lets start them here” statement.
If Acts 15:19-20 was all the Gentiles would be expected to do that means the ten commandments are out the door! They can commit adultery, murder, steal, etc. This exposes the fallacy that we are somehow exempt from what the Father clearly stated was for all those who would call themselves by His name.
The same law shall apply to both the native and the foreigner who resides among you.” Exodus 12:49
Y’all, whenever ANYONE gives you a verse, take a chapter.
And always read the verses before and after any verses you are trying to learn from.
Regarding what we’ve just discussed in Acts 15:19-20: Note that these basic ground rules which the apostles established for new believers are often referred to as the Noahide Laws, so named by our Jewish brethren in their Talmud*. To this day most Jews believe these rules are all a Gentile is required – or even allowed – to keep with regards to YHWH’s law. The Bible, however, says “BUT WAIT! There’s more!”. They are certainly a good foundational start but they don’t even cover the Ten Commandments fully. Remember that James said this is a start only and that they would pick up the rest over time.
*The Talmud basically is the additional set of laws held by our Jewish brethren. It is kinda like their version of our “church doctrine”. Both are a set of extra-biblical teachings which are held up as equal to or in some cases even weightier than the word of YHWH. Think the church doesn’t do that? I challenge you to ask YHWH to show you how it does.
So back to the (approximately) 613 laws, did you know that most practicing Christians today actually keep almost all of these laws that apply to us? It’s amazing how close Christianity is to being in complete obedience to YHWH’s Word. If only we turn to Him with a heart for full obedience.
WARNING HUMOR AHEAD:
I can’t help it, I really love this part. I don’t know what your translation says but in Acts 16:16-18 my primary Bible says:
16 As we were going to the place of prayer, we were met by a slave girl who had a spirit of divination and brought her owners much gain by fortune-telling. 17 She followed Paul and us, crying out, “These men are servants of the Most High God, who proclaim to you the way of salvation.” 18 And this she kept doing for many days. Paul, having become greatly annoyed, turned and said to the spirit, “I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her.” And it came out that very hour.
Paul, having become greatly annoyed. Paul, In 2020 I can often so relate to you here. That was my chuckle for today so I’ll stop here.
Test everything, hold tight to what is good.~ 1 Thess 5:21
We are saved by Grace alone: Obedience is not the root of our salvation, it is the fruit!
May YHWH bless the reading of His Word!