New Testament

Jesus and Children

Jesus and Children

In his ministry, Jesus showed striking interest in and love for children. To the surprise of his disciples, he often including them in his teaching: “Then children were brought to him that he might lay his hands on them and pray. The disciples rebuked the people, but Jesus said, ‘Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven’” (Matt 19:13–14). When the disciples came to Jesus asking him which one of them was going to be the greatest in Christ’s kingdom, Jesus called a child to himself (Matt. 18:2) and said, “whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven” (Matt 18:4). Jesus went on, telling his followers that part of their duty is to receive little children: “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me” (Matt. 18:5).

In Mark 10, Jesus upholds childlike faith as admirable: “Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it” (Mark 10:15; cf. Luke 18:17).

Jesus wants his followers to honor, protect, and care for those among them who are small and vulnerable, especially children. Part of Jesus’ ministry on earth involved healing children. In Mark 5:39, Jesus came into the house of a ruler of the synagogue, whose daughter had just died. Jesus said that she was not dead, but only sleeping. After they laughed at him, Jesus said to the child, “Little girl, I say to you, arise” (Mark 5:41; cf. Luke 8:54). Mark recounts what happened next: “And immediately the girl got up and began walking (for she was twelve years of age), and they were immediately overcome with amazement” (Mark 5:42). Similarly, in Mark 9, Jesus encounters a young boy who had been having demonic attacks. Jesus commanded the unclean spirit to come out of him (Mark 9:25) and the boy fell down as if he were dead. Jesus took him by the hand and he was healed (Mark 9:27). Jesus, who calls himself “the resurrection and the life” (John 11:25), brings life and healing to children.

The tenderness and care Jesus showed for children is an expression of God’s heart toward the small, the weak, and the vulnerable. Judith Gundry-Volf, also points out the ways Jesus’ teaching and practice highlighted the importance and significance of children:

  1. “He blesses the children brought to him and teaches that the reign of God belongs to them.”
  2. “He makes children models of entering the reign of God.”
  3. “He makes children models of greatness in the reign of God.”
  4. “He calls his disciples to welcome little children as he does and turns the service of children into a sign of greatness in the reign of God.”
  5. “He gives the service of children ultimate significance as a way of receiving himself and by implication the One who sent him.”
  6. “He is acclaimed by children as the ‘Son of David.’”

Jesus’ love, honor, and care for children leads us to imitate his care for children and take action to protect them from those who try to harm them.

GMMcover

Pre-order our children’s book: God Made All of Me: A Book to Help Children Protect Their Bodies.

Pentecost

Pentecost

This Sunday is Pentecost Sunday, which is the commemoration and celebration of the receiving of the Holy Spirit by the early church as recorded in Acts 2.

In Acts 2, Jesus’ promise of the Spirit becomes a reality as the Spirit descends on the disciples at Pentecost. The disciples “began to speak in other tongues” (2:4), and devout Jews from many nations were amazed, “because each one was hearing them speak in his own language” (v. 6). God shows that the gospel is breaking through linguistic barriers and going to all nations, and then Peter stands up and, in the first recorded sermon in Acts, explains how Pentecost is the glorious and long-anticipated fulfillment of God’s work of redemption since the beginning. Through Peter’s sermon we see the most prominent theme of Acts: the gospel of Jesus will go out to the nations, through the witness of his disciples and the enabling of the Holy Spirit.

God Initiates

When the celebration of Pentecost comes, Acts 2:1, 5 places 120 of the disciples (1:15) together in Jerusalem. Acts 2:2 then says “and suddenly there came from heaven.” The direction of agency is important. While often in religion humans must first do the equivalent of speaking in other tongues (mysterious incantations, complicated rites, elaborately altered behavior) in order to lure the gods into visitation, at Pentecost God’s Spirit rushes into the scene of his own accord: the apostles are just waiting. Pentecost illustrates the fact that God is the initiator of our salvation; he comes to us independent of our control.

Babel

Since the time of Babel, the nations of the earth were divided by language, unable to come together as a result of their rebellion against God (Gen. 11:1–9). Even in God’s redemptive acts of the Old Testament, he singled out the Jewish nation in order to mediate blessing to the nations (Gen. 12:1–3; Ex. 19:6). The good news of God’s grace was only communicated in the Hebrew language. With the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, the curse of Babel begins to unravel. No longer is the gospel confined to the Hebrew language; it is available directly to all nations and all languages. The restored order of God’s kingdom begins to break into the dark and confused world of sin. Pentecost is, in a sense, a magnificent reversal of Babel.

The Coming of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:1–13)      

Since the time of Babel (Gen. 11:1–9), the nations of the earth were divided by language, unable to come together as a result of their rebellion against God. Even in God’s redemptive acts of the Old Testament, he singled out the Jewish nation in order to mediate blessing to the nations. The good news of God’s grace was only communicated in the Hebrew language.

With the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, the curse of Babel begins to unravel. No longer is the gospel confined to the Hebrew language, but is available directly to all nations and all languages. The restored order of God’s kingdom begins to break into the dark and confused world of sin.

This gives us hope today. The gospel of Jesus Christ triumphs in a world that is still groaning under the curse of sin (Rom. 8:22). One day his reign will be fully realized, and the effects of sin that plague us will fall away completely.

While often in religion humans must first do the equivalent of speaking in other tongues (mysterious incantations, complicated rites, elaborately-altered behavior) in order to lure the gods into visitation, at Pentecost God’s Spirit rushes into the scene of his own accord: the apostles are just waiting. Pentecost illustrates the fact that God is the initiator of our salvation; he comes to us independent of our control.

The experience of the Spirit at Pentecost is a fulfillment of the prophecy of John the Baptist concerning the one—Jesus—who would baptize in the Holy Spirit (Matt 3:11, Mark 1:6, Luke 3:16, and John 1:33). This promise is also repeated by Jesus Christ in Acts 1:5. The coming of the Spirit at Pentecost has a specific purpose in redemptive history: to show that God’s salvation is now flowing out to people from every nation, tribe, and language. This is repeated in the three outpourings of the Spirit that follow in Acts 8, 10–11, and 19.

Pentecost is a climactic event in salvation history for the whole Church. Luke’s focus in Acts 2 is on the fulfillment of prophecy, not on paradigms for personal experience. Luke is introducing the expanding gospel ministry of the Holy Spirit as the gospel is beginning to spread.

The story in Acts is also our story, because we are participating in God’s story. The descent of the Spirit on these apostles who looked like crazy drunk men is really our birth story, for those in Christ. While we think of our lives in terms of our own births, upbringing, education, families, line of work, and so on, there is another story that has been happening parallel to these things, actually it has weaved its way through these things. And it begins here with the descent of the Holy Spirit who fills these believers. If this had never happened, if God had not looked on Christ’s work on the cross and said, “It is good,” then raised him from the dead and set him at his right side, pouring out his Spirit on his people to take the message of his gospel of grace to the nations, we would still be in our sins. We would still be lost and without hope.

Peter’s Sermon at Pentecost (Acts 2:14–41)

Peter begins his famous Pentecost sermon with an extensive reference to the Old Testament, a citation from the prophet Joel, who predicted that God’s Spirit would be poured out in the last days, the days before the final judgment (the “day of the Lord”). According to Peter, the last days have begun. This “new religion” is actually the continuation of what God has been doing through Israel all along. Better yet, this God made promises years ago that these “last days” would come, and at Pentecost God is demonstrating that he is faithful and powerful to keep his promises. As he promised, God is pouring out his Spirit on all flesh—men and women, young and old, Jew and Gentile. God is mercifully and joyfully calling all people to salvation.

In Peter’s first sermon, the essence of gospel proclamation is clear: “Jesus is Lord” (v. 36). This simple statement poses a fundamental challenge both to the Jews (with their strict monotheism) and to the Romans (with their religious-political system founded on the supremacy of Caesar as Lord). The resurrection is also one of the core elements throughout the gospel presentations in the book of Acts. After setting current events in redemptive history, here Peter quotes from the Psalms to show that the resurrection (Ps 16:8–11) was God’s intention along. The crucifixion of Christ was part of God’s plan, and he followed it by raising Jesus from the dead. Peter shows that this is all promised in Scripture. God’s grace breaks through the walls of the worst of human rebellion.

Just as Jesus promised that the gospel would spread to the end of the earth, Peter proclaims that “the promise is … for all who are far off”. The gospel is not confined by geographical boundaries, but is universal in scope. But “far off” is not just geographical: by his death and resurrection, Jesus Christ has reconciled to himself all of us who were formerly “far off” from God and one another. No one is so far removed that God cannot redeem them.

The Fellowship of the Believers (Acts 2:42–47)

The Holy Spirit brings forth a devotion to the apostles’ teaching, fellowship, community, and prayer. Notice also the unity of mind and heart of these first believers. When God is present by his Spirit, unity happens. This shows us what the Holy Spirit does when he works in us individually and collectively. He brings forth love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Gal 5:22–23).

The Spirit’s ministry also brings forth conversions and numerical growth to the church, as we see that “the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved” (v. 47). The Spirit produces not only inward spiritual growth, but also expansion and growth of the church. Gospel-fueled, Spirit-empowered growth is a repeated theme that runs throughout the rest of Acts, as we see that “more than ever believers were added to the Lord, multitudes of both men and women” (Acts 5:14) and “the churches were strengthened in the faith, and they increased in numbers daily” (Acts 16:5; see also Acts 6:7; 9:31; 12:24; 13:49; 19:20). The Spirit continues to testify through the church to the grace of God in Jesus, bringing about growth in love and in numbers. The grace of God is fruitful and effective, and we see God taking the initiative to spread his grace to ever-expanding numbers of people.

 

This post is adapted from my book, Acts: A 12-Week Study, and my notes on Acts in the Gospel Transformation Bible.

No One Is Lost Beyond Hope

No One Is Lost Beyond Hope

“But Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. Now as he went on his way, he approached Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven shone around him.” -Acts 9:1-9

In the book of Acts, God’s gospel not only overcomes formidable ethnic and geographical barriers but also breaks through the most formidable barrier of all: human sin. Saul learns firsthand how closely Jesus identifies with his church, here described as “the Way.” In persecuting those of the Way, Saul was persecuting Christ himself. In response to the question, “Who are you?” Saul would have preferred any response to the one he receives: “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.” In opposing God’s people, Saul has opposed God himself (cf. 5:38–39).

Saul is blinded by the magnificence of this appearance of Christ, and his physical blindness allows him to see himself truly. He finally recognizes his own powerlessness and weakness, and accepts his blindness in humility. Before commissioning Saul to take the gospel to the Gentiles, God tears down his reliance on his religious zeal. Only after being brought to a position of abject humility is Saul ready for the uplifting gospel of Jesus Christ. “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble” (James 4:6).

Saul was at his worst, overseeing the murder of men and women in the church, with no sign of repentance, when Jesus met him on the Damascus road. Here again we are admonished against condemning anyone as lost beyond hope, and this includes ourselves. God will reach to his farthest-out enemies, he will defeat the uttermost human rebellion, but in doing so he does not crush these rebels but loves and converts them into chosen instruments of the good news (Acts 9:15). In Saul we see a rebel against God, an enemy of the long-promised Messiah. Yet Saul is reconciled to God through Jesus and is called God’s ambassador, through whom God makes his appeal to the entire world (2 Cor. 5:20).

This post was adapted from my notes in the ESV Gospel Transformation Bible. For more on Acts, you can get my book Acts: A 12-Week Study.

Why Study the Book of Acts?

Why Study the Book of Acts?

In addition to writing the notes on Acts for the Gospel Transformation Bible, I also wrote Acts: A 12-Week Study.

Author and Purpose

Acts is a sequel to the Gospel of Luke. Both were written by Luke, a physician who traveled with the apostle Paul. Luke’s purpose for writing his Gospel (see Luke 1:3–4) applies to Acts as well: to give an “orderly” account of the early church after Christ’s resurrection. Acts is a historical account of how the resurrection of Jesus changes everything through the birth of the early church.

Geographical Expansion 

Acts is the story of God’s grace flooding out to the world. Nothing 
is more prominent in Acts than the spread of the gospel. Jesus promises
a geographic expansion at the outset (1:8), and Acts follows the news of his death and resurrection as it spreads from Jerusalem to Judea, Samaria, and the faraway capital of Rome.

This is why Acts 1:8 is a key verse to understanding all of Acts: “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”

Preaching

The preaching of Jesus’ death and resurrection is central in Acts. The Greek verb for “preach the gospel” (euangelizo) occurs more in this book than in any other in the New Testament. About a third of the book of Acts consists of speeches, and most of these are speeches of Peter or Paul proclaiming the gospel. The good news of the salvation accomplished in Christ and applied by the Holy Spirit extends to the “ends of the earth” through preaching.

God is central to the gospel’s expansion. He is at the heart of the gospel message, the news that reconciliation with the Father is now possible through Jesus Christ. God the Holy Spirit is responsible for the growth of the church and its remarkable expansion.

God’s Passionate Pursuit

In Acts, “grace” is a parallel for “the gospel” or “salvation.” Jesus’ message is summarized as “the word of his grace,” believers are said to have received “grace” or to be “full of grace,” and they are challenged to continue in “grace.” The missionaries in Acts proclaim the grace of God, and it is through this grace that people are able to respond with faith.

Acts reveals God’s passionate pursuit of his people, beginning with his followers in Jerusalem, expanding to Samaria, then to the rest of the world. By the end of the book we see Paul living in Rome “proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness and without hindrance” (Acts 28:31).

The gospel draws people in, constitutes them as the church centered on the grace of Jesus, and then sends them out in mission to the world. The new group of believers is marked by the Holy Spirit, who creates such a distinctive community that others are drawn in, experiencing God’s grace. At the same time, they take the gospel message to new people and new lands, making God’s grace known to the ends of the earth.

Barriers, Weakness, Opposition, and Persecution

The gospel spreads despite barriers of geography, ethnicity, culture, gender, and wealth. Many of these barriers appear so inviolable that when the gospel is preached to a new segment of society, riots ensue. But Luke makes clear that no one is beyond the scope of God’s saving power, nor is anyone exempt from the need for God’s redeeming grace.

In Acts, the gospel expands not through human strength, but through weakness, opposition, and persecution. Demonic forces, worldly powers and authorities, governmental opposition, language and cultural barriers, intense suffering and bloody persecution, unjust imprisonment, unbelief, internal disunity, and even shipwrecks and snakes all threaten to slow down the gospel’s advance. But opposition and suffering do not thwart the spread of Jesus’ grace; rather, they only fuel it.

Acts and the Rest of the Bible

Acts shows that the new Christian movement is not a fringe sect, but the culmination of God’s plan of redemption. What was seen only as shadows in the Old Testament, God reveals finally and fully through Jesus Christ. The book of Acts does not primarily provide us with human patterns to emulate or avoid. Instead, it repeatedly calls us to reflect upon the work of God, fulfilled in Jesus Christ, establishing the church by the power of the Holy Spirit.

The gospel’s expansion is the culmination of what God has been doing since the beginning. Acts consistently grounds salvation in the ancient purpose of God, which comes to fruition at God’s own initiative. This reveals God to be the great benefactor who pours out blessings on all people. Even the opportunity to repent is God’s gift.

God’s Hospitality

God’s Hospitality

I was recently a special guest on the White Horse Inn podcast for a four-week series, God’s Hospitality. We explored the them of feasting from Genesis to Revelation. After eating the forbidden fruit, humanity was cast into sin and death. As Scripture unfolds, we discover God’s gracious plan of redemption that culminates in the great feast at the end of the ages. We who were strangers and enemies of God are welcomed to the wedding feast of the Lamb.

  1. God’s Hospitality
  2. Avoiding the Feast
  3. Feasting with God
  4. Sharing in God’s Hospitality
Why Don’t We See Miracles Like the Apostles Did?

Why Don’t We See Miracles Like the Apostles Did?

Many contemporary Christians feel disconnected from the vibrant, Spirit-filled ministries of the prophets and apostles described in the Bible. In the Old Testament, God seemingly took the people of Israel through miraculous event after miraculous event. In the New Testament, those who watched the ministry of Jesus were seized with amazement (cf. Luke 5:25) at the miracles he performed, and the apostles in the early church regularly performed signs and wonders among the people (Acts 5:12).

Yet today, such miraculous events seem rare and, when we do hear reports of miracles, many Christians are skeptical. At the very least, Christians feel that there is something different about the way God worked in the Old and New Testament periods and the way he works today. This raises a valid question: Why don’t we experience today the miracles we read about in the New Testament?

To answer that question, we need to understand not only how God works through providence and common grace [link to previous standalone post on miracles and providence], but we must also understand the purpose of miracles in the Bible.

 

The Purpose of Miracles in Scripture

Miracles in Scripture are acts of God that proclaim his sovereign power over creation as well as his commitment to the good of his people. Miracles are often significant because they serve a larger purpose in God’s redemptive plan, giving evidence of the authenticity of God’s messengers who bring his revelation to humanity. This is one of the primary functions of miracles in the Scriptural narratives: “When miracles occur, they give evidence that God is truly at work and so serve to advance the gospel.”[1] Miracles serve as an authentication of God’s message and his messengers.

In the Old Testament, Moses did miracles to attest to his authority as God’s spokesman (Exod. 4:1–9). Similarly, the prophets were given words to speak from God, and in order to verify their authority God granted them the ability to perform miracles (1 Kings 17:17–24, 18:36–39, 2 Kings 1:10).

Whereas “the miracles of the Old Testament age authenticated Moses and the prophets as men of God…the miracles of the New Testament age authenticated in turn Christ and his apostles.”[2] Nicodemus, for example, recognized that God was with Jesus because of the miracles he did (John 3:2). Luke records approximately 20 of Jesus’ miracles and four—all healings—are unique to only Luke. Jesus’ miracles authenticate his authoritative role in the divine plan that brings salvation (Luke 7:22). In fact, the scope of Jesus’ healings shows the breadth of his authority. He heals the sick, casts out evil spirits, and cures a variety of specific conditions: a flow of blood, a withered hand, blindness, deafness, paralysis, epilepsy, leprosy, dropsy, and fever. He resuscitates the dead and exercises power over nature.

Miracles also point to God’s kingdom and the restoration of creation. John calls the miracles of Jesus “signs” (John 4:54, 6:15), and Jesus suggests that his miraculous works verify that the kingdom of God has come (Luke 11:14-23). Jesus performed healings, exorcisms, and “nature” miracles (such as turning water into wine and multiplying food) as a sign that the kingdom of God had come to earth. As Grudem puts it, the one of the purposes of miracles was “to bear witness to the fact that the kingdom of God has come and has begun to expand its beneficial results into people’s lives.”[3] This is exactly the point of what Jesus says in Matthew 12:28: “But if it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.” Because of Jesus’ miraculous works, those who saw him knew that the God of Israel was once again acting in their midst.

Tim Keller points out that miracles

“lead not simply to cognitive belief, but to worship, to awe and wonder. Jesus’s miracles in particular were never magic tricks, designed only to impress and coerce…Instead, he used miraculous power to heal the sick, feed the hungry, and raise the dead. Why? We modern people think of miracles as the suspension of the natural order, but Jesus meant them to be the restoration of the natural order.”[4]

Jesus’ miracles reveal his divine identity—an identity that calls for worship. This is the response of the disciples after Jesus walks on the water: “Truly you are the Son of God” (Matt. 14:33). When asked whether he was the “one who is to come” (Luke 7:19) Jesus, instead of answering with a word testifying that he is the Messiah, points to his miracles. Luke’s portrayal of Jesus is focused on his authority and the promise he brings. Jesus’ saving work inaugurates the kingdom of God, delivers sinners, secures forgiveness of sin, and provides the Spirit.

Grudem’s description of miracles in the Old and New Testaments is worth quoting:

“It seems to be a characteristic of the New Testament church that miracles occur. In the Old Testament, miracles seemed to occur primarily in connection with one prominent leader at a time, such as Moses or Elijah or Elisha. In the New Testament, there is a sudden and unprecedented increase in the miracles when Jesus begins his ministry (Luke 4:36–37, 40–41). However, contrary to the pattern of the Old Testament, the authority to work miracles and to cast out demons was not confined to Jesus himself, nor did miracles die out when Jesus returned to heaven. Even during his ministry, Jesus gave authority to heal the sick and to cast out demons not only to the Twelve, but also to seventy of his disciples (Luke 10:1, 9, 17–19; cf. Matt. 10:8; Luke 9:49–50).”[5]

The miracles of the early church, then, served an immediately relevant purpose in redemptive history: verifying the authenticity of God’s revelation and signaling the coming of the new eschatological age among God’s people.

Consider the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15. One of the largest disputes in the early church concerned whether or not Gentile converts to Christianity had to keep the Old Testament Law and be circumcised. It became such an issue of dispute that Paul, Peter, and Barnabas met with the leaders of the Jewish Christians in Jerusalem to debate the issue. What is interesting is that, as Acts 15:12 says, “all the assembly fell silent, and they listened to Barnabas and Paul as they related what signs and wonders God had done through them among the Gentiles.” Here the miraculous works of God served as evidence to the Jewish Christians that God was in fact working in a new and unique way among the Gentiles as well.

 

Miracles Today

How should Christians think about miracles today? First, we must realize that the sheer volume and close proximity of the countless miracles in the Old and New Testaments served significant purposes in God’s redemptive plan at the time. However, this does not mean that God does not still do miracles today. Indeed, as Wayne Grudem notes, “There is nothing inappropriate in seeking miracles for the proper purposes for which they are given by God: to confirm the truthfulness of the gospel message, to bring help to those in need, to remove hindrances to people’s ministries, and to bring glory to God.”[6] Miracles still happen, and Christians should avoid the two extremes of seeing everything as a miracle and seeing nothing as a miracle.

Second, Christians need to expand their understanding of God’s action to include both his providential sustaining in daily affairs and his miraculous works of redemption in the church. For example, in John 14:12, Jesus says “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father.” But it is not immediately clear what Jesus means when he says that those coming after him will do “greater works.” Some may think that these “greater works” refer to more miracles and other such events. However, D. A. Carson’s insights here are helpful:

Greater works…cannot simply mean more works—i.e. the church will do more things than Jesus did, since it embraces so many people over such a long period of time—since there are perfectly good Greek ways of saying ‘more,’ and since in any case the meaning would then be unbearably trite. Nor can greater works mean ‘more spectacular’ or ‘more supernatural’ works: it is hard to imagine works that are more spectacular or supernatural than the raising of Lazarus from the dead, the multiplication of bread and the turning of water into wine.”[7]

Instead, Carson says that the “greater works” done by those coming after Jesus point primarily to the new eschatological order established by Christ’s death, resurrection, and ascension.

The ‘signs’ and ‘works’ Jesus performed during his ministry could not fully accomplish their true end until after Jesus had risen from the dead and been exalted. Only at that point could they be seen for what they were. By contrast, the works believers are given to do through the power of the eschatological Spirit, after Jesus’ glorification, will be set in the framework of Jesus’ death and triumph, and will therefore more immediately and truly reveal the Son. Thus greater things is constrained by salvation-historical realities.[8]

And while these works certainly included the signs and wonders done by the early church in the Spirit’s power, they are not limited to those miraculous deeds. Instead, they also included the “mystery” of Gentiles being included into the one new people of God, to which Paul referred in Ephesians and Colossians. God’s miraculous works in the church include the forgiveness of sins and the inclusion of those who were formerly far off into God’s one new people. Healings, signs, and wonders are extraordinary, but no more extraordinary than the redemption accomplished by Christ.

What this means, ultimately, is that just because we do not frequently see any extraordinary miraculous events happening around us, it does not mean that God is inactive. Rather, we should recognize (a) that God is active in the regular (natural) processes we see every day; (b) that God is miraculously calling people to himself as his church grows and expands; and (c) that people are experiencing God work in miraculous supernatural ways in their lives in other parts of the country or world. To miss this is to miss the scope and significance of God’s action described in Scripture.

Whether or not we are privileged to witness obviously miraculous, supernatural events, Christians can be confident that God is actively at work in the world, bringing people to himself, bringing glory to Jesus, and building his church (Matt. 16:18).



[1] Grudem, Systematic Theology, 360.

[2] Robert L. Reymond, A New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith, 2nd ed. (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 1998), 412.

[3] Grudem, Systematic Theology, 360.

[4] Timothy Keller, The Reason for God, 95–96.

[5] Grudem, Systematic Theology, 359.

[6] Grudem, 371.

[7] D. A. Carson, The Gospel According to John, Pillar New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1991), 495.

[8] Carson, John, 496.

Introduction to Acts

Introduction to Acts

I had the privilege of writing the notes on Acts for the Gospel Transformation Bible, which features all-new book introductions and gospel-illuminating  notes written to help readers see Christ in all of Scripture and grace for all of life.

Below is the introduction I wrote, which is included in the free sample. You can find out more here and get a copy here.


 

Author and Date

Acts is a sequel to the Gospel of Luke. Both were written by Luke, a physi- cian who traveled with the apostle Paul. Acts ends with Paul under house arrest, awaiting trial before Caesar, c. a.d. 62. Many scholars assume Acts was written then because it does not record Paul’s defense, release, and further gospel preaching. Luke’s purpose for writing his Gospel (see Luke 1:3–4) applies to Acts as well: to give an “orderly” account of the early church after Christ’s resurrection.

The Gospel in Acts

Acts is the story of God’s grace flooding out to the world, from the cross and resurrection of Jesus in Jerusalem to the ends of the earth. Nothing is more prominent in Acts than the spread of the gospel. Jesus promises a geographic expansion at the outset (1:8), and Acts follows the news of his death and resurrection as it spreads from Jerusalem to Judea, Samaria, and the faraway capital of Rome.

The preaching of Jesus’ death and resurrection is central in Acts. The Greek verb for “preach the gospel” (euangelizo) occurs more in this book than in any other in the New Testament. About a third of the book of Acts consists of speeches, and most of these are speeches of Peter or Paul proclaiming the gospel. The good news of the salvation accomplished in Christ and applied by the Holy Spirit extends to the “ends of the earth” through preaching.

In Acts, “grace” is a parallel for “the gospel” or “salvation.” Jesus’ message is summarized as “the word of his grace” (20:32), believers are said to have received “grace” or to be “full of grace” (6:8), and they are challenged to continue in grace. The missionaries in Acts proclaim the grace of God, and it is through this grace that people are able to respond with faith.

Acts reveals God’s passionate pursuit of his people, beginning with his followers in Jerusalem, expanding to Samaria, then to the rest of the world. By the end of the book we see Paul living in Rome, “proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ with all bold- ness and without hindrance” (28:31). The gospel draws people in, consti- tutes them as the church centered on the grace of Jesus, and then sends them out in mission to the world. The new group of believers is marked by the Holy Spirit, who creates such a distinctive community that others are drawn in, experiencing God’s grace. At the same time, they take the gospel message to new people and new lands, making God’s grace known to the ends of the earth.

The gospel’s expansion is the culmination of what God has been doing since the beginning. Luke consistently grounds salvation in the ancient purpose of God, which comes to fruition at God’s own initiative. Acts shows that the new Christian movement is not a fringe sect but the culmination of God’s plan of redemption. What was seen only as shadows in the Old Testament God reveals finally and fully through Jesus Christ. The book of Acts does not primarily provide human patterns to emulate or avoid. Instead, it repeatedly calls us to reflect upon the work of God, fulfilled in Jesus Christ, establishing the church by the power of the Holy Spirit. We are invited to enter and participate in a story that is much bigger than we are.

In Acts, the gospel expands not through human strength, but through weakness, opposition, and persecution. Demonic forces, worldly powers and authorities, governmental opposition, language and cultural barriers, intense suffering and bloody persecution, unjust imprisonment, unbelief, internal disunity, and even shipwrecks and snakes all threaten to slow down the gospel’s advance. But opposition and suffering do not thwart the spread of Jesus’ grace; rather, they fuel it.

The gospel spreads despite barriers of geography, ethnicity, culture, gender, and wealth. Many of these barriers appear so inviolable that when the gospel is preached to a new segment of society, riots ensue. But Luke makes clear that no one is beyond the scope of God’s saving power, nor is anyone exempt from the need for God’s redeeming grace.

All people receive the grace of God through one man, Jesus Christ. Jesus’ gospel goes out to all places and all types of people, because Jesus is Lord of all.

Outline

I. Preparation for Witness (1:1–2:13)
II. The Witness in Jerusalem (2:14–5:42)
III. The Witness beyond Jerusalem (6:1–12:25)
IV. The Witness in Cyprus and Southern Galatia (13:1–14:28)
V. The Jerusalem Council (15:1–35)
VI. The Witness in Greece (15:36–18:22)VII. The Witness in Ephesus (18:23–21:16)
VIII. The Arrest in Jerusalem (21:17–23:35)
IX. The Witness in Caesarea (24:1–26:32)
X. The Witness in Rome (27:1–28:31)
Why You Can Trust Your Bible

Why You Can Trust Your Bible

Critics who doubt the reliability and trustworthiness of the biblical accounts of Jesus’ life have issued a make-or-break challenge to the church. They ask us: “How can we be sure the Bible can be trusted as accurate?”

It’s common to see the argument that the Scriptures we have today aren’t the same as what was written by the apostles in the first century. Such arguments attempt to portray the Bible as unreliable and therefore irrelevant. As we will see, however, these challenges do not stand up to scrutiny.

What About Textual Variants?

The Gospels—Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John—were probably written during the second half of the first century. We don’t actually have any of the original documents (called autographs) in our possession today. Instead, we have copies, often handwritten by scribes to preserve and circulate the words of the apostles so they could be passed around and used in worship services. The fact the original manuscripts were copied shows how important these writings were to local congregations. However, in the process of copying the manuscripts, scribes often made small changes, some of them unintentional and others intentional.

For example, early copies of the Greek New Testament were composed in an ancient style in which words were written in all capital letters with no spaces, punctuation, or paragraph divisions. A classic illustration of this style is the phrase “GODISNOWHERE.” A copyist would have to decide whether the phrase meant “God is now here” or “God is nowhere.” Context would determine the meaning of the phrase, so it’s not surprising a scribe could occasionally get things wrong. Furthermore, scribes sometimes misspelled words, wrote the same word twice when it should have been written once, or skipped over sections of text because the same words occurred later down the page. These are all examples of unintentional changes.

Other times, however, scribes changed the texts they were copying on purpose. This happened for a variety of reasons. They might make grammatical improvements or liturgical changes (such as adding a doxology), or they might eliminate apparent discrepancies, harmonize passages, or make doctrinal changes. However, even Bart Ehrman, a New Testament scholar who argues against the reliability of the Bible, recognizes, “Most of the changes found in our early Christian manuscripts have nothing to do with theology or ideology. Far and away the most changes are the result of mistakes, pure and simple—slips of the pen, accidental omissions, inadvertent additions, misspelled words, blunders of one sort or another.”

Because of the large number of variations in New Testament manuscripts, some argue the words of the New Testament are unreliable. But in fact, the vast number of New Testament manuscripts actually enables us to figure out what the originals said with a great deal of certainty. As Mark Roberts puts it, “Having many manuscripts actually increases the likelihood of our getting back to the original text.” Scholars can compare the various manuscripts containing the same passages of Scripture and determine, on the basis of internal and external evidence, which of the manuscripts most likely get the original wording right.

How Does the New Testament Compare to Other Ancient Documents?

The earliest manuscripts of the works of first-century historians such as Josephus, Tacitus, and Suetonius are dated from the 9th to 11th centuries—more than 800 years after the originals were written. In terms of the number of surviving manuscripts, there are 200 for Suetonius, 133 for Josephus, and 75 for Herodotus.

When we compare these ancient texts to the New Testament, the difference astonishes. For instance, the earliest New Testament manuscript is from around AD 125, while significant portions of the Gospels are represented in manuscripts from the late 2nd to early 3rd century. Whereas the best ancient historical works have 500 to 800 years between the actual date the work was written and the date of the earliest surviving manuscript, there is less than a 100-year gap between the writing of the Gospels and the manuscripts we possess. This difference cannot be overstated.

In addition, the sheer number of Gospel manuscripts we’ve found is staggering in comparison to other ancient works. As Mark Roberts notes, “The number of Gospel manuscripts in existence is about 20 times larger than the average number of extant manuscripts of comparable writings.” This figure doesn’t even represent the hundreds of thousands of quotes from the Gospels in the writings of the early church fathers. With nearly 2,000 manuscripts of the Gospels in hand, it becomes clear that to doubt the reliability of the Gospels is to doubt the reliability of nearly every ancient text ever found.

Scripture Is Trustworthy and Reliable

Because of who God is, and because of what God has done to preserve his Word, we have confidence the events described in Scripture are accurate and historical. This is important because Christianity, unique among world religions, depends on historical events: particularly Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. As J. Gresham Machen writes, “Christianity is based upon an account of something that happened, and the Christian worker is primarily a witness.” Scripture tell us this account, revealing Christianity’s climax—its central, historical, and verifiable event: God’s gracious act of bringing salvation through the cross of Jesus Christ.

9 Types of Leaders in Scripture

9 Types of Leaders in Scripture

Though it does not focus on leadership development methods or offer lists of strategies for being a great leader, the Bible is filled with numerous examples of leaders, both good and bad. There is a lot to be learned simply by examining the various leaders in Scripture.

1. The Prototype

Moses stands as the prototype of a leader in the Old Testament. He served the people of Israel as a prophet, a judge, a king, and a priest. He brought the word of the Lord both to Israel and to Pharaoh (Exod. 3–11), he heard Israel’s complaints (Num. 27:1–4), he led the nation out of Egypt (Exod. 12:31–15:21) and ran military campaigns (Exod. 17:8–16), and he officiated the first Passover (Exod. 12).

Moses can easily be viewed as an example of good leadership. In fact, the stark contrast between a good and a bad leader is clear in the difference between Moses and his brother, Aaron, who gives in to the people’s demands for a golden calf (Exod. 32:4) and shifts the blame to the people and away from himself (Exod. 32:22).

Yet even Moses, the prototypical leader, experienced failure. When Israel complained to him concerning their lack of water in the wilderness, Moses went before the Lord, who told him to speak to a rock from which God would pour forth a stream of water (Num. 20:1–8). However, Moses, in his frustration, struck the rock and was prohibited from entering the promised land because of his disobedience (Num. 20:9–12).

2. Prophets

Prophets functioned in Scripture as God’s mouthpiece: they spoke judgment (Ezek. 13), encouragement (Mic. 4:1–5), exhortation (Mal. 2:1–9), and hope of restoration (Isa. 40–66). God’s word was spoken with integrity by prophets such as Huldah (2 Kings 22:14) and Jeremiah (Jer. 36). In the New Testament, John the Baptizer functioned as a prophet, leading Israel to repentance and telling Israel of deliverance in the person of Jesus (cf. Matt. 3:1–12; Mark 1:1–8).

3. Priests

Priests, also serving as leaders, were responsible for teaching the law (cf. Ezra in Neh. 8–9; 2 Chron. 17:8, 9). They led in sacrifice (Lev. 1–7), atonement (Lev. 16:29–34), cleansing (Lev. 13), and feasts (Lev. 23). However, priests often failed by setting up idols (Jer. 2:8), leading people astray (Ezek. 7:26), loving money (Jer. 6:13), and embracing corruption (Jer. 18:18). Jesus goes so far as to tell a parable against the priests (Matt. 21:33–46), and Paul says that the wrath of God came upon the Jewish leadership because they killed Jesus (1 Thess. 2:14–16).

4. Kings

Understandably, the kings in Israel’s history were leaders, for better or for worse. In fact, if anything becomes clear in the narrative of Israel’s history, it is that the kings were dispensable and fleeting: they can be conquered (2 Kings 25:7), become mentally ill (Dan. 4:33), randomly get shot by an arrow (2 Chron. 18:33), or be silently assassinated (1 Kings 16:16). As Proverbs 21:1 puts it, “The king’s heart is in the hand of the Lord; he directs it like a watercourse wherever he pleases.” God appoints leaders when and where he will, and their destinies are in his hands.

5. Judges

God raised up judges (better translated as “leaders” or “governors”) in Israel’s midst when things had become disorganized and needed fixing. As Judges 3:9 says, “When the people of Israel cried out to the Lord, the Lord raised up a deliverer for the people of Israel, who saved them.” This deliverer was a judge, a leader. What is interesting about the judges is that quite frequently they have no previous experience and were looked upon by outsiders as unfit for the job (such as Samson).

6. The Wise Man

The wise man is another type of leader in Scripture, and Solomon is a good example. He asks God for the ability to govern and lead his people wisely, and God grants his request, as seen in Solomon’s discernment in judging wisely between the two women who contended for a child (1 Kings 3:16–28).

7. Apostles

Within the church, God has ordained several different categories of leaders who are to guide and lead his church in the way of truth. Apostles are those who spent time with Jesus (Mark 3:14; 1 Cor. 9:1) and witnessed his resurrection (Acts 1:22; 2:32; 3:15; 13:31) so that they could pass on their knowledge and lead the church in its initial development. Apostles were directly commissioned by Jesus (Mark 3:14; Acts 10:39–42; John 20:21–23), assisted by the Holy Spirit (John 14:25–26; 15:26; 16:13), wrote about their own and others’ letters (2 Thess. 2:15; 2 Pet. 3:15–16), wrote as continuation of their preaching (Luke 1:1–4), and intended that their letters be read in church (Col. 4:16). For a teaching to be an apostolic, one in the early church meant that it could be traced directly back to Jesus’s own teaching and carried by those who learned from him.

8. Elders

While an “elder” in general terms is an aged person with enough life experiences to lead a group of people wisely (cf. the body of elders in Deut. 19:12, 21:2, and 22:15 and the “elders of Israel” in 1 Sam. 8:4; Exod. 3:16), elders in Scripture are the specially equipped leaders of the church. The disciples called themselves elders (1 Pet. 5:1; 2 John 1; 3 John 1), and their primary responsibility was to pass on the teaching they received to others (1 Cor. 11:21; 15:1, 3; 2 Thess. 2:15; 3:6; 2 Tim. 2:2). Elders in the church are expected to teach (1 Tim. 5:17; Titus 1:9) and act as judges (Acts 15:2, 6, 22–29); leading not politically, but pastorally (Acts 20:17, 28; 1 Tim. 5:17; James 5:14; 1 Pet. 5:1–4; Eph. 4:11).

Elders are required to have wisdom in leading the church well, for they are responsible for determining sound from false doctrine. To determine whether they are capable of leadership, elders have a special set of guidelines by which their abilities are to be judged. The office of elder is a noble one (1 Tim. 3:1), and the one who aspires to it must be “above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church? He must not be a recent convert . . . he must be well thought of by outsiders” (1 Tim. 3:2–7). Leadership in the church requires that one be a good example.

9. Deacons

So that elders can devote their time and energy to shepherding and leading God’s people, God instituted another category of leader: the office of deacon. The word deacon means “servant,” and while the whole church is supposed to be servants of God, there are certain qualifications for the technical office of deacon (Rom. 12:7; 1 Pet. 4:11). Deacons are to be dignified, not double-tongued, not addicted to wine, not greedy, faithful (both to the gospel and their spouses), not slanderers, sober-minded, and tested (1 Tim. 3:8–11). Originally, deacons were appointed by the 12 disciples to distribute food to the widows in need (Acts 6), and they now serve the church in leading others as servants in a variety of tasks.

Leaders Depend on Grace

God used and continues to use a diverse group of people to lead his own people. However, the successful leaders in Scripture depended on God, while those who failed tried to stand on their own. If one thread holds together the theology of leadership throughout the pages of Scripture, it is the fact that even good leaders fail and stand in need of God’s grace.