Jesus' Footprints

Archive for February 2011

After their release the apostles went back to their friends and reported to them what the chief priests and elders had said to them. When they heard it they raised their voices to God in united prayer and said, “Lord, you are God, who made heaven and earth and the sea, and all that is in them, who by the mouth of your servant David have said: ‘Why did the nations rage, and the people plot vain things? The kings of the earth took their stand, and the rulers were gathered together against the Lord and against his Christ’. For truly against your holy servant Jesus whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles and the people of Israel were gathered together to do whatever your hand and your purpose determined before to be done. Now, Lord, look on their threats, and grant to your servants that with all boldness they may speak your word, by stretching out your hand to heal, and that signs and wonders may be done through the name of your holy servant Jesus.’

When they had prayed their meeting-place was shaken; they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the Word of God fearlessly (Acts 4:23-31 Phillips).

The church offered this prayer after Peter and John were warned by the Sanhedrin not to preach the Gospel any more in Jesus’ name. 

When faced with opposition, persecution, we ought to go to God and pray for the boldness we need to stand up to the enemies of His Word.  We have the assurance that God will grant whatever we ask according to His will.  If we ask Him to give us the courage we need in our Christian walk, He will be more than happy to grant us our request.  Good News should be shared joy not fear. 

Today, ask God to give you the courage to share the Gospel that will save many lives.

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The Jewish leaders were infuriated by Stephen’s accusation, and they shook their fists in rage.  But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, gazed steadily upward into heaven and saw the glory of God, and he saw Jesus standing in the place of honor at God’s right hand.  And he told them, “Look, I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing in the place of honor at God’s right hand!”

Then they put their hands over their ears, and drowning out his voice with their shouts, they rushed at him.  They dragged him out of the city and began to stone him. The official witnesses took off their coats and laid them at the feet of a young man named Saul.

And as they stoned him, Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.”  And he fell to his knees, shouting, “Lord, don’t charge them with this sin!” And with that, he died (Acts 7:54-60).

A couple of things struck me as I read this.

While the Jewish leaders were enraged and shaking their fists at Stephen because he had spoken the truth, he was filled with the Holy Spirit and he saw the glory of God and Jesus standing beside Him.  The contrast between this man who was falsely accused of blasphemy against Moses and God and the religious leaders who claimed that God was their Father.   It was as if the devil had taken over them while Stephen was filled with the Holy Spirit.

When he told them that he saw the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing in the place of honor at God’s right hand, this set the leaders off.  They saw blood.  The words, they put their hands over their ears, and drowning out his voice with their shouts, they rushed at him literally jumped off the page at me.   They covered their ears and shouted because they didn’t want to hear his voice anymore.  It made me think of what Jesus said, “For this people’s heart is waxed gross, and [their] ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes they have closed; lest at any time they should see with [their] eyes, and hear with [their] ears, and should understand with [their] heart, and should be converted, and I should heal them” (Matthew 13:15).

The leaders didn’t want to hear anything else from Stephen.  They were determined to rid themselves of this man whose face was like the face of an angel (Acts 6:15).  They wanted him dead even though he had done nothing deserving of death.  It was history repeating itself.  They had condemned Jesus to death because they were jealous of Him and now they were condemning Stephen because he was full of faith and power, did great wonders and signs among the people and they were unable to  resist the wisdom and the Spirit by which he spoke (Acts 6:8, 10).

They dragged him out of the city and stoned him.  Stephen, the man filled with the Holy Spirit and with the mind of Christ, prayed for his murderers, fell to his knees and pleaded with God not to charge them with his murder.   Then he died.  His prayer echoed that of His Savior’s who when He hung on the cross, said, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34).

By their actions, the religious leaders showed that Jesus was right when He said, “You are of your father the devil, and the desires of your father you want to do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own resources, for he is a liar and the father of it” (John 8:44).  The Jewish leaders could not stand the truth so when Stephen accused them of being “stiff-necked and 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 foretold the coming of the Just One, of whom you now have become the betrayers and murderers,  who have received the law by the direction of angels and have not kept it,” they wanted him dead.

Jesus had warned that this would happen–His followers would be delivered up to councils, beaten in the synagogues and lose their lives.   “Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake” (Matthew 5:11). 

There will come a time when we will face persecution and people will say all kinds of things about us but we must not lose faith.  We must stand on the promises of God and hold on to our faith.

Then the high priest asked Stephen, “Are these accusations true?”

This was Stephen’s reply: “Brothers and honorable fathers, listen to me. Our glorious God appeared to our ancestor Abraham in Mesopotamia before he moved to Haran. God told him, `Leave your native land and your relatives, and come to the land that I will show you.’ So Abraham left the land of the Chaldeans and lived in Haran until his father died. Then God brought him here to the land where you now live. But God gave him no inheritance here, not even one square foot of land.

God did promise, however, that eventually the whole country would belong to Abraham and his descendants-though he had no children yet. But God also told him that his descendants would live in a foreign country where they would be mistreated as slaves for four hundred years. `But I will punish the nation that enslaves them,’ God told him, `and in the end they will come out and worship me in this place.’ God also gave Abraham the covenant of circumcision at that time. And so Isaac, Abraham’s son, was circumcised when he was eight days old. Isaac became the father of Jacob, and Jacob was the father of the twelve patriarchs of the Jewish nation.

Rather than answering the high priest’s question, Stephen gave them a little history lesson, starting with Abraham. 

Things to note:

  • God appeared to Abraham and told him to leave his home and relatives and go to a strange land.  Sometimes God calls us to do things we never thought we would do but we go forward in faith.  Abraham didn’t protest.  He left his home and family and went where God told him to go.  He moved by faith and not by sight.  He had no idea what the land looked like or even if he would like it.  All he knew was that God wanted him to go there and he went.
  • Sometimes God calls us to step out of our comfort zone—to leave the familiar for the unfamiliar but as long as we know that this is God’s will or that God is behind this, we have nothing to worry about or fear.  God would never lead us astray.
  • God promised Abraham that his descendants would inherit the land.  Abraham had no children at the time because his wife was barren.  There are times when God’s promises might seem farfetched or impossible to us but God always comes through.  God sees the overall picture.  God sees beyond our situations.  God saw an old man and his wife become parents of a son named Isaac who became the father of Jacob who had twelve sons who represented the twelve tribes of Israel.
  • God warned Abraham that his descendants would be slaves in a foreign country but He also gave him hope.  God would punish the nation that enslaved them and they would be free to worship Him in the land He gave them. 

As Stephen mentioned God gave Abraham the covenant of circumcision.  The details of this covenant are spelled out in the book of Genesis.  God said to Abraham,   “This is my covenant with you: I will make you the father of not just one nation, but a multitude of nations! What’s more, I am changing your name. It will no longer be Abram; now you will be known as Abraham, for you will be the father of many nations. I will give you millions of descendants who will represent many nations. Kings will be among them!

“I will continue this everlasting covenant between us, generation after generation. It will continue between me and your offspring forever. And I will always be your God and the God of your descendants after you. Yes, I will give all this land of Canaan to you and to your offspring forever. And I will be their God.

“Your part of the agreement,” God told Abraham, “is to obey the terms of the covenant. You and all your descendants have this continual responsibility. This is the covenant that you and your descendants must keep: Each male among you must be circumcised; the flesh of his foreskin must be cut off. This will be a sign that you and they have accepted this covenant. Every male child must be circumcised on the eighth day after his birth. This applies not only to members of your family, but also to the servants born in your household and the foreign-born servants whom you have purchased. All must be circumcised. Your bodies will thus bear the mark of my everlasting covenant. Anyone who refuses to be circumcised will be cut off from the covenant family for violating the covenant.”

God basically made a contract with Abraham.  A contract has terms that both parties must agree on.  In exchange for being the father of many nations, Abraham had to circumcise all the males who were living among him and his family and himself as a sign that they have accepted the covenant.  Anyone who refused to be circumcised was in essence saying that they didn’t agree with the terms of the covenant and didn’t want to be a part of it.

Jesus has made an agreement with His followers.  He said, “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch that doesn’t produce fruit, and he prunes the branches that do bear fruit so they will produce even more. You have already been pruned for greater fruitfulness by the message I have given you. Remain in me, and I will remain in you.  For a branch cannot produce fruit if it is severed from the vine, and you cannot be fruitful apart from me.

“Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing. Anyone who parts from me is thrown away like a useless branch and withers. Such branches are gathered into a pile to be burned. But if you stay joined to me and my words remain in you, you may ask any request you like, and it will be granted! My true disciples produce much fruit. This brings great glory to my Father.

Our fruits are a sign that we belong to Jesus.  It is a sign that His words remain in us.  It is a sign that we are applying His words to our lives.  Just as circumcision was a mark of God’s everlasting covenant, our connection to Jesus (the Vine) is a mark of everlasting life.  As long as we stay close to Him we will not perish.  As long as the Jews continued to be circumcised they were not cut off from the covenant family.

Acts 7:1-8; Genesis 17:4-14; John 15:1-8

And Stephen, full of faith and power, did great wonders and signs among the people. Then there arose some from what is called the Synagogue of the Freedmen (Cyrenians, Alexandrians, and those from Cilicia and Asia), disputing with Stephen. And they were not able to resist the wisdom and the Spirit by which he spoke. Then they secretly induced men to say, “We have heard him speak blasphemous words against Moses and God.”

And they stirred up the people, the elders, and the scribes; and they came upon him, seized him, and brought him to the council. They also set up false witnesses who said, “This man does not cease to speak blasphemous words against this holy place and the law; for we have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place and change the customs which Moses delivered to us.”

And all who sat in the council, looking steadfastly at him, saw his face as the face of an angel.

This is so reminiscent of what happened with Jesus.  The religious leaders couldn’t argue against His wisdom or the Holy Spirit who was working through Him so they got people to lie about Him.  A lot of times they tried to stump Him but He always got the better of them.  Stephen was a man filled with the Holy Spirit, faith and power.  He did many great things among the people.  It was obvious that God was with him but that stirred these men up and they began disputing with Stephen.  They couldn’t stand up against his wisdom or the Holy Spirit who spoke through him so they secretly got people to bare false witness against him.  Not satisfied with that, they got the people, elders and scribes to go against Stephen and they brought him to the council.  There the witnesses lied, accusing him of blaspheming against the temple and the law.  They accused him of speaking against Moses and God and saying that Jesus would destroy the place and change the customs Moses handed down to them. 

These men resorted to lying because they couldn’t accept Stephen’s teachings, the signs and wonders he did.  They wanted to discredit him but when they looked at him they couldn’t deny the fact that he had the face of an angel.

When we are filled with the Holy Spirit, it is obvious.  And when we belong to Christ, it is obvious.  People should look at us and see that we belong to Him.  When we have a close relationship with God it shows.  When Moses left God’s presence, his face shone so brightly that they had to cover it with a veil.  When we leave Christ’s presence, our faces should be radiant.  People should look at us and see Him.  Stephen was a godly man.  He was not of the world.  Among these devious men he stood out.  He was like a lamb among wolves.  There will come a time when some of us will face the same ordeal as Stephen but we will not be afraid because God is with us.  Like Stephen we can be convinced that “neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future,…nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Acts 6:8-15; Romans 8:38, 39

But as the believers rapidly multiplied, there were rumblings of discontent. Those who spoke Greek complained against those who spoke Hebrew, saying that their widows were being discriminated against in the daily distribution of food. So the Twelve called a meeting of all the believers.

“We apostles should spend our time preaching and teaching the word of God, not administering a food program,” they said. “Now look around among yourselves, brothers, and select seven men who are well respected and are full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom. We will put them in charge of this business. Then we can spend our time in prayer and preaching and teaching the word.”

This idea pleased the whole group, and they chose the following: Stephen (a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit), Philip, Procorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolas of Antioch (a Gentile convert to the Jewish faith, who had now become a Christian). These seven were presented to the apostles, who prayed for them as they laid their hands on them.

God’s message was preached in ever-widening circles. The number of believers greatly increased in Jerusalem, and many of the Jewish priests were converted, too.

Despite what the religious leaders tried to do to stop the preaching of God’s Word, it continued and the number of believers rapidly increased.  However as the number increased there were problems.  Those who spoke one language complained against those who spoke another, claiming that their widows were being discriminated against when it came to the daily supply of food.

This was the first sign of disunity in the church and the leaders quickly moved to resolve the situation before it got out of hand.  They decided that while they concentrated on preaching and teaching God’s word they would choose capable men to administer a food program.  They looked among the believers for seven men and then they prayed and laid their hands on them.  Among those chosen were Stephen, a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit and a newly converted Christian.

The church leaders handled the dispute quickly and effectively.  They listened to the complaints and resolved to address the concerns.  They delegated the responsibility of providing food to the widows to men of good repute.  This showed how much importance they placed on the concerns of the believers.  Everyone was satisfied.  The apostles could carry on with their evangelism while the seven men took care of the food program.  Unity among the believers was restored.  Today, when members raise complaints church leaders are encouraged to listen and to act as quickly as is possible. 

Also, Pastors and Ministers need to be free to concentrate on preaching and teaching and that is why it is good to choose capable men and women to be in charge of other functions so that the church can run smoothly.  This is what Moses did after his father-in-law Jethro suggested it.  He realized that Moses was overwhelmed because he was dealing with everything.  He advised him to get responsible men to deal with some of the issues.  Moses was relieved of a lot of stress.  As leaders of various ministries and departments, we need to delegate more instead of trying to do everything ourselves.  Jesus could have done everything by Himself but He chose twelve men to share His ministry with.

Acts 6:1-7

When they heard this, they were furious and plotted to kill them. Then one in the council stood up, a Pharisee named Gamaliel, a teacher of the law held in respect by all the people, and commanded them to put the apostles outside for a little while. And he said to them: “Men of Israel, take heed to yourselves what you intend to do regarding these men. For some time ago Theudas rose up, claiming to be somebody. A number of men, about four hundred, joined him. He was slain, and all who obeyed him were scattered and came to nothing. After this man, Judas of Galilee rose up in the days of the census, and drew away many people after him. He also perished, and all who obeyed him were dispersed. And now I say to you, keep away from these men and let them alone; for if this plan or this work is of men, it will come to nothing; but if it is of God, you cannot overthrow it–lest you even be found to fight against God.”

And they agreed with him, and when they had called for the apostles and beaten them, they commanded that they should not speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go. So they departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for His name. And daily in the temple, and in every house, they did not cease teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ.

This was very good advice which accomplished two things—the appeasement of the religious leaders and secured the release of the apostles.  If Jesus’ ministry was a sham like the others, then it would meet the same fate but it came from God, then it cannot be overthrown because it would be like fighting against God.

We shouldn’t let people who oppose us get to us because we have God on our side.  We serve a Saviour who didn’t claim to be somebody He was not.  He was exactly whom He said He was—the Messiah, Saviour, Son of God, I AM.  He was crucified but that was God’s plan.  It was the only way for us to be saved. In His own words, Jesus indicated how He was to die.  “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up; that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.  For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.” 

When the people rebelled against God, poisonous snakes bit them and many died.  Those remaining went to Moses and acknowledged that they had sinned against God and asked him to pray for them.  Moses prayed for them and God told him to put a bronze snake on a pole and when anyone who was bitten by a snake looked at it, he or she would live.  Similarly, anyone who looked to Jesus who was lifted up on the cross, believing that He could save them, would live. 

Suffice to say, the apostles were not dispersed because Christ’s ministry failed, they went to different parts because they were instructed to go to all nations and peoples and preach the Word.  To this day, people all over the world are coming to Christ because of others who are witnessing to them, conducting Bible Studies or holding evangelistic meetings.  God’s plan cannot be overthrown.  He Himself said, “So shall My word be that goes forth from My mouth; It shall not return to Me void, But it shall accomplish what I please, And it shall prosper in the thing for which I sent it.” 

Acts 5:33-42; John 3:14-17; Isaiah 55:11

But when the officers came and did not find them in the prison, they returned and reported, saying, “Indeed we found the prison shut securely, and the guards standing outside before the doors; but when we opened them, we found no one inside!” Now when the high priest, the captain of the temple, and the chief priests heard these things, they wondered what the outcome would be. So one came and told them, saying, “Look, the men whom you put in prison are standing in the temple and teaching the people!”

Then the captain went with the officers and brought them without violence, for they feared the people, lest they should be stoned. And when they had brought them, they set them before the council. And the high priest asked them, saying, “Did we not strictly command you not to teach in this name? And look, you have filled Jerusalem with your doctrine, and intend to bring this Man’s blood on us!”

But Peter and the other apostles answered and said: “We ought to obey God rather than men.  The God of our fathers raised up Jesus whom you murdered by hanging on a tree. Him God has exalted to His right hand to be Prince and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. And we are His witnesses to these things, and so also is the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey Him.”

The mere fact that the prison was securely shut with the guards posted outside and yet the cells when there apostles were held were empty should have alerted the religious leaders that this was Divine intervention.  Then when they learned that the men who had been locked up with no chance of getting out were in the temple preaching, they didn’t get it.  Instead they had them brought before them to reprimand them for preaching in Jesus’ name.  They exclaimed, “And look, you have filled Jerusalem with your doctrine, and intend to bring this Man’s blood on us.”  Interesting they should say that because when Pilate tried to free Jesus, “all the people answered and said, “His blood be on us and on our children.”  Their own words condemned them not the apostles and even though they had numerous occasions to accept the message that was being preached about Jesus, they refused to listen.  They wanted to keep God’s word from being spread.  They continued to deny Jesus. 

The apostles stood their ground.  They refused to give into pressure.  They refused to compromise.  They declared that they ought to obey God rather than men.  They made it clear that they were preaching about a Saviour who was alive because the God of their ancestors had raised Jesus up to sit at His right hand.  Jesus was the Prince and Saviour who was to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins.  The apostles were witnesses to these things and the Holy Spirit whom God gave to them because they obeyed Him. 

How can someone who witnesses something that would affect the lives of people and keep silent?  That is in essence what the religious leaders were asking the apostles to do.  They had witnessed the power of Jesus to raise people from the dead, His healing and ministry to people, bringing them to God and offering them forgiveness for their sins once they repented.  They were commissioned to do the same—share the Word with people, giving them the opportunity to repent and accept Christ as their Saviour.  We are witnesses that Jesus is the Messiah, and the Saviour of the World and that anyone who believes and accepts Him will not perish but have everlasting life.  Like the apostles, we will encounter opposition.  People will try to prevent us from witnessing to others and spreading the Gospel but we ought to stand up for Jesus.  We ought to obey God rather than men.  Our desire to see others saved should be the only thing on our minds.

Acts 5:22-32; Matthew 27:25



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