Acts chapter 10 holds several important lessons for those who want a better understanding of the scriptures. But I would like for us to focus on just one of these lessons in this article.
When one reads this chapter you quickly come to realize a major shift in the direction of the preaching of the gospel that has occurred up to this time. Previously, all of the audiences of the apostles have been Jews. But this shift is not a result of a change in plans by God. It is not an alternate plan resulting from a failed attempt in converting the Jews.
Jesus Himself alluded to God’s plan for all mankind when He was still teaching and preaching on this earth. We can look back to John chapter 10 in His sermon about He being the “good shepherd." Picking up the reading in verse 14 we read, “I am the good shepherd and I know My sheep, and am known by My own. As the Father knows Me, even so I know the Father and I lay down My life for the sheep. And other sheep I have which are not of this fold; them also I must bring and they will hear My voice and there will be one flock and one shepherd. “ The other fold that Jesus was referring to are Gentiles, or non-Jews. He too is their good shepherd.
Old Testament prophecy also shows us that God had always intended to share His blessings of
salvation to all. In Isaiah 2:2 we read, “Now it shall come to pass in the latter days that the
mountain of the LORD's house shall be established on the top of the mountains, and shall be
exalted above the hills; and all nations shall flow to it. Many people shall come and say,
"Come, and let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob; He will
teach us His ways, and we shall walk in His paths. For out of Zion shall go forth the law, and
the word of the LORD from Jerusalem. “
It is evident that even the apostles had a difficult time in understanding this by the fact that it took three attempts with a vision plus a visit by Cornelius’ servants (Acts 10:10-19). We see that Peter eventually understands that the gospel is for all mankind from his comments in verses 34-35. Additionally if we skip ahead in Acts, we can read in chapter 15 where Peter defends his preaching to Cornelius’ household as being part of God’s plan to bring the gospel to the Gentiles (Acts 15:7).
There are other important lessons from this chapter, but this encounter with Cornelius has remained for centuries as an example of the opportunity we all have for salvation. “But in every nation whoever fears Him and works righteousness is accepted by Him.”
As Acts 6 opens, we see that it didn’t take long for an issue to arise in the NT church. That should be a lesson to us today. Anytime people are involved, one can almost always expect issues and differences to arise. How issues are handled is of critical importance as Christians strive for peace in serving the Lord Jesus Christ. The fact that issues arise may not necessarily be sinful and should be to some degree expected. Again, it’s how issues are dealt with and handled that is very important.
The apostles did not want to be disturbed from, or taken away from, teaching the word of God. So they asked the group to choose proven and wise men to be put in charge of the task at hand. The plan met with approval and prayer was offered as part of this decision process. There is hardly any decision or situation we read about in the book of Acts that involves the apostles in which we don’t read of them praying to God. They prayed in Chapter 1, for example, over the decision to make Matthias an apostle. We see the important role of prayer again here in chapter 6. That is another critical example for us to follow and lesson for us to learn.
Another critical lesson for us to learn in Acts chapter 6 is the importance of having an attitude of service. Jesus Christ is the ultimate example of service. In John 13 we read where He washed the feet of the apostles. We need to have a genuine attitude of service to others in everything we do.
As the chapter concludes, we see Stephen, a man full of grace and power, working to evangelize people. But enemies of the Way bring false accusations against him, even though they knew he was correct and could not honestly argue against him (vs. 10). Not much has really changed. People still try to distort the Word of God and treat Christians badly, even though the Word cannot be denied. Christians should be prepared for this type of feedback and behavior. But they should work hard to not let it discourage them. Stephen gives us an example of bravery to follow in how to handle this situation, as we shall see in Acts chapter 7!
Even though chapter 6 is short in length, it certainly is not short on powerful lessons for us to put into practice!
In Acts chapter 6 we meet Stephen, a servant of the Lord. He is put on trial before the Jewish elders because he had been preaching the gospel. They bring in false witnesses to accuse him of blasphemy. At the beginning of chapter 7 he starts to make his defense. He gives a brief history up to David, citing many examples of the peoples’ often rocky relationship with the Lord God. He concludes by telling the men before him that they have also rejected God in a similar way by killing Jesus Christ. Then they stoned Stephen to death. In his final moments, Stephen prayed that they would not be charged with that sin.
Chapter 7 is lengthy, but it is a fascinating read. If all you know about that story is what I just told you, please take the time to study it for yourself so that you will know the details of that event. All of us should know the Word for ourselves so that we might be able to defend it like Stephen did here. One of the lessons we can learn from him is his incredible working knowledge of the scriptures. He had an intimate knowledge of the Word. It was so important to him that he shared it with others. He gives a brief Jewish history lesson to establish credibility with his audience. He also presents a pattern that has always existed with the Jews. His audience could not deny that he knew what he was talking about. They could not deny the implications and applications that came as a result.
The pattern comes back again after he finishes speaking. He showed them that they had always had a tendency to reject God if He wanted something different from what they wanted. They did it with Moses, the judges, the kings, and with Jesus, the Messiah. Their hearts were not in the right place. We need to ask ourselves if we do the same thing, or if we truly want what God desires for us to do. Examine your heart, before it becomes hardened and rejects the truth. We learn how not to react to the Word from these people.
We also learn unfortunately how some people react to the truth. They don’t want to change. So they react negatively and sometimes violently. We must be willing to do what is right no matter what hardships or complications may arise! Stephen probably didn’t think when he left the house that day that he was going to be stoned to death by his people. But I believe he was ready for that possibility because he doesn’t back down or retract his message. Stephen knew what was right and he followed it. He had confidence that if anything happened to him, he would be with the Lord. We can have that same confidence! We must persevere through difficulty and encourage each other when the work gets hard.
Stephen forgave these people for murdering him, In all honesty, I hope that I would be able to do that, but I’m not so sure. I have a hard time forgiving people for much less than murder. That’s something I need to work on. I believe we could all stand to be more forgiving. Since God has forgiven His children of a multitude of sins, they should be willing to do the same for others. Let us all learn from and follow the example of Stephen. Be bold, be right, be forgiving.
Up to this point in this book the focus of attention has been on events in the lives of Christians and in the church at Jerusalem. Beginning with Acts 8 and going through Acts 12 we see that the gospel of Christ spreads outside of Jerusalem to the outlying areas of Judea and Samaria just as Jesus said it would (Acts 1:8).
Acts 8 begins with Saul of Tarsus consenting to Stephen's death which we read about in Acts 7. Then a great persecution arose against the church at Jerusalem and Christians scattered throughout Judea and Samaria, except for the apostles (v.2). The good that came out of this persecution was that those Christians who were scattered went everywhere preaching the Word of God (v.4).
Philip, who was one of the 7 men appointed to help care for the Grecian widows who had been neglected in the daily distribution (Acts 6:5), went to Samaria to preach Christ to the people there (v.5). To confirm the Word of God that he preached, he performed miracles (v.6-7). He was able to do that because the apostles of Christ had laid their hands on him to give him that power (Acts 6:6). As a result of his preaching, Simon the sorcerer and men and women believed and were baptized in order to be saved just like Jesus said (v.12-13; Mk.16:16).
When Philip preached Christ, he preached the things concerning the kingdom of God, the name of Christ, and baptism. To preach Jesus the Man and not His plan of salvation for mankind, which includes baptism (immersion in water for the remission of sins, Acts 2:38), is not preaching Christ. Today's preachers of the gospel of Christ should imitate Philip's example in their preaching.
The reason why the apostles of Christ sent Peter and John to Samaria was to lay hands on those who were baptized so that they could perform miracles (v.14-17). Only those Christians upon whom the apostles laid their hands could perform miracles. Philip was not able to impart miraculous gifts because he was not an apostle of Christ. When the last Christian died upon whom the apostles had laid their hands to perform miracles, then the ability for someone to work miracles ceased. Since we have the confirmed, completed revelation of God today in the Bible, no miracles are needed to confirm it since they have ceased (1 Cor.13:8-10).
Simon, the former sorcerer who had become a Christian, sinned when he tried to buy apostolic power with money (v.18-25). Peter told him to repent and pray for forgiveness. From the example of Simon we learn that it is possible for a Christian to sin so as to be lost if he does not repent. The popular doctrine of "once saved, always saved," or "once in grace, always in grace" is false doctrine.
Acts 8 ends with the account of the conversion of the Ethiopian eunuch (v.26-40). He had been reading from the prophet Isaiah but he had difficulty understanding what he was reading. From Isaiah 53 Philip preached Christ to him. As a result, the eunuch believed, confessed his faith in Christ, and was baptized. He went on his way rejoicing because he was saved from his sins. He had something to be happy about! He had become a Christian.
This chapter begins with Christians lamenting Stephen's death but it ends with the eunuch going on his way rejoicing.
Is the Only Constant Change?
In American society today, a common saying in the business and healthcare world is that the “only constant is change itself”. Many of us have become familiar with this statement and the intended meaning behind it. Rules, regulations, and Governmental guidance create almost a daily change in many industries. In the most important industry of all, our spiritual Lives, the only constant cannot be change!
Undoubtedly, the apostle Paul on the road to Damascus in Acts Chapter 9 experienced great change. He went from persecuting Christians (Acts 9:1-2) to proclaiming Christ as the Son of God (Acts 9:20). WOW! I doubt any of us in just a similar short time span of several days have ever experienced such dramatic/life altering for all eternity change!
While Saul changed to Paul, one characteristic he possessed which did in fact not change was his zeal. As Saul, he was zealous to a very high degree for persecuting those who would follow our Lord and Savior. While he was Paul, he was zealous for saving lost souls in the very name of Jesus Christ.
While many things may result in significant change in our daily lives, the “fire” we have for the Lord should never waiver. What creates the “fire” in you? Many Americans are extremely emotional about sports and their teams, their hobbies, their profession, etc. Let’s dedicate ourselves to following the example of Paul in our zealousness for Jesus Christ and ensure it is always according to scriptures. Don’t let the level of our dedication and commitment to Jesus be a constant change in our lives. Let the "fire" to serve our Lord ever burn bright!
Acts 9:22; “But Saul kept increasing in strength and confounding the Jews who lived at Damascus by proving that this Jesus is the Christ.”
Luke 24:32; “They said to one another, 'Were not our hearts burning within us while He was speaking to us on the road, while He was explaining the Scriptures to us?'”
Eccl.9:10; " Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might…”