Monday, April 17, 2017

The Resurrected Christ's Commission (Mt.28).

This is one of the most significance stories that anyone could ever hear. (Read Matthew 28).
What I really like abot this story is that it is so shocking. Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to the tomb fully expecting to find the body of Jesus. What they didn’t expect was an ‘earthquake’. Then what was even more unexpected was a visitation from an angel from heaven who had rolled the stone away. His white clothes and lightning like appearance was so shocking to the Roman soldiers guarding the tomb that they shook with fear and fell to the ground as though dead. The women were also struck with fear after all there had been an earthquake and they’re visited by this radiant heavenly visitor. They see the Roman soldiers guarding the tomb collapse in fear and the dead body of Jesus is nowhere to be seen. But the most shocking thing of all is the claim made by the angelic visitor that Jesus is alive from the dead just as he had said.

This shocking story is also a bit ‘perplexing’. Jesus had clearly told his own disciples on a number of occasions that he would rise from the dead but none of them, including these faithful women, were expecting Jesus to be alive (See John 2:19, Matthew 12:39-40, 16:21, 17:22, 20:17-19, 21:38-39, 26:2, 12). Why were so incapable of hearing what Jesus had said and alluded to on several occasions? Now having received the shocking revelation regarding the risen Christ they are told to tell Jesus’ disciples to meet Jesus in Galilee. They leave filled with this strange combination of fear and joy. As they run to tell the others they meet the resurrected Jesus and fall at his feet and worship him. Jesus sends them on to tell his disciples to meet him in Galilee.  

The story has much to tell us about the character of men. We learn much from the various responses to this shocking revelation of the empty tomb and the angel’s message of the risen Lord. The soldiers are also filled with fear but they fall down as though dead. But what is perplexing is when they tell the high priest then they become part of a plot to cover up that has happened. The soldiers tell the religious leaders the truth of what happened but they are offered a bride to say that Jesus’ disciples stole the body at night while they were sleeping. The soldiers agree and they accept the bribe and they spread the alternative account. The high priest and the elders are not moved to repentance but seek to cover it up the truth of Jesus with their own twisted false account. What a picture of what we are all capable of apart from God’s grace. Left to ourselves we would rather lie than repent and admit the errors of our ways!
By contrast the women respond to the shocking episode by running to tell the disciples the ‘good news’. On their way they meet the resurrected Jesus and they grasp Jesus’ feet and worship him. The women tell the eleven disciples who go to a mountain in Galilee where they see the ‘resurrected Jesus’. Their response is also shocking because some worship and yet ‘some doubted!’ Perhaps they were just slow of heart to believe but maybe they were not yet able to grasp that Jesus is the appropriate object of worship and were not yet able to grasp what we know about the deity of Christ and triune nature of God.

So what does the story tell us about God and about Jesus?  The resurrection proves that Jesus really is God’s Messiah. Jesus really does fulfill all that was foretold about the Messiah who was to come. This shocking story and the varying responses to the ‘good news’ in Christ tells us that ‘genuine faith’ is the gift of God. Faith is not something that we can just conjure up in our own strength; it is God’s gracious gift to man. God must foretell, God must fulfill, God must reveal and God must grant faith and repentance and apart from his gracious intervention we simply will not believe. Then we see that God gives the resurrected Jesus (the divine Messiah) all authority in heaven and on earth so that all authority belongs to the resurrected Messiah Jesus; who is now revealed as the proper object of worship.


So what is the faithful, trusting and appropriate response to the ‘good news’ of the resurrected Jesus, who has conquered death, and who revealed himself to these first disciples; the women who grasped his feet and the eleven who meet him on the mountain? How should we respond to the one who has been given ‘all power and all authority’ in heaven and on earth? Having one’s eyes opened to the reality of the resurrected Christ should fill the heart with fear and joy. The resurrected Jesus has become the proper object of our worship. The true worshiper will worship Jesus with fear and joy even if others doubt, eve if we struggle with our own doubts. What is the appropriate response to the resurrected Jesus? We should respond with fear, with joy, with faith, and having fallen down in worship we are to get up willing to play our part in the fulfillment of the ‘great commission’. We are to respond by not being content until the nations are baptized into the name of the Triune God and are taught to obey everything Jesus has commanded. As these women clung to Jesus’ feet, we are to cling to the promise that all power and authority belong to Jesus and that Jesus will be with us even to the end of the age.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

"Good Friday?"

Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones once preached at a ‘good Friday’ service and afterwards a man came up to him and asked, “Why do you call it ‘Good’ Friday when that horrible thing happened? After a discussion Lloyd-Jones concluded that the man had misunderstood the cross! Evidently the man did not think that the cross was actually necessary.

Read Mark 8:27–33 (NIV84) So Jesus and his disciples were moving through the villages around Caesarea Philippi. Jesus asked his disciples, “Who do you say I am?” Peter answered, “You are the Christ. After warning his disciples not to tell this to people, Jesus told them how the ‘Son of Man’ MUST SUFFER many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again. But Peter rebuked Jesus, until Jesus rebuked Peter, saying, “Get behind me, Satan!
Jesus plainly told that the ‘Son of Man’ must suffer many things and that he must be killed (8:31). Jesus’ disciples didn’t understand this because to them and everyone else at that time, a Messiah who suffers and dies was a failed Messiah. Peter understood that Jesus was the Messiah but he didn’t understand the need for the cross. This is why Jesus warned them not to tell anyone about him. When Peter rebuked Jesus saying, “this will never happen to you” but Jesus rebukes Peter, saying, “Get behind me, Satan! In other words, the denial of the cross is a satanic lie. The cross is absolutely necessary! This is also seen in the story of Jesus in the ‘garden of Gethsemane’ as well (Mark 14:32-42). 
The Story of Gethsemane from Mark 14:32–42 
Jesus and his disciples went to Gethsemane, where they sat while Jesus prayed. Jesus took Peter, James and John and he told them that he was so sorrowful that he could die. They were to keep watch while Jesus went a little further and fell down and prayed. Then Jesus prayed, “Abba, Father, everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not my will, but your will be done!” Then Jesus returned to his disciples and found them sleeping. Jesus said, “Peter, couldn’t you keep watch for one hour? Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the body is weak.” Once more Jesus went away and prayed that if possible his Father might take the cup away from him, but not his will but the Father's will be done. Again Jesus returned and found his disciples sleeping and they didn’t know what to say to Jesus. Returning a third time, Jesus told his sleepy disciples that now the hour had come for him to be turned over into the hands of sinners. That the Father did not respond tells us that it was impossible to avoid the cross. Evidently the plan of God to save the world and redeem sinners required the cross and there was no other way. Almighty God could not save sinners apart from the cross!

Mark’s Crucifixion Story (Mark 15:16–39).
The whole company of soldiers gathered around Jesus. These soldiers would have resented the Jewish revolutionaries and so they must have taken their frustrations out on the powerless Jesus. They mockingly put a purple robe normally reserved for nobility and a crown of thorns on Jesus’ head. They fell on their knees saying, “Hail, king of the Jews!” They spit on him and beat him repeatedly. Then when they were done mocking him they put his clothes back on him and led Jesus out to be crucified. They forced Simon of Cyrene, a Jewish pilgrim from North Africa, to help the battered Jesus to carry the cross on which he would be crucified.  They took Jesus to Golgotha, the ‘Place of the Skull’. At nine in the morning Jesus was crucified. They offered Jesus a form of drugged wine but he refused. The soldiers stripped Jesus of his clothes and they cast lots for them. The charge written on the cross against Jesus said ‘KING OF THE JEWS’. He was crucified between two rebels, one on his right and one on his left. 

Those who passed by Jesus as he hung naked on the cross insulted him. They shook their heads claiming that if Jesus was going to destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days then he should save himself. In actuality they had misunderstood Jesus’ claims (John 2:19, Mark 13:2). Then the chief priests and the teachers of the law also insulted Jesus by acknowledging that he saved others, but that he couldn’t save himself. They claimed that if Jesus came down from the cross then they would believe that he was Israel’s king. But as the Christ he had come to conquer sin and death by embracing it on the cross. Even the thieves crucified beside Jesus hurled their insults at Jesus.

The story of the crucifixion is a sad story that is set in a dark place, Golgotha, the place of the skull. Darkness even engulfed the whole land from noon until 3 in the afternoon (Mark 15:33). The Roman battalion (600 men) mocked Jesus ‘hailing him as the king of the Jews’ while beating and spitting on him. Those in the crowd mocked him saying he claimed to destroy and rebuild the temple but that he was powerless to save himself. For the religious leaders he would have to come down from the cross and save himself if he was Israel’s true king. He was treated shamefully, and he looked like a weak and pathetic character that was ridiculed by those who were crucified beside him.  

It was a ‘sad day’ when Jesus who had been betrayed by a friend was abandoned by his disciples. Now only the women who followed him and cared for his needs were there watching from a distance. Ironically, it was only a Roman centurion who heard Jesus cry, ‘my God, my God, why have you forsaken me’ and confessed that he was ‘the son of God’. But the worst thing of all that Jesus faced was being ‘utterly forsaken’ by his own heavenly Father! Yet, despite all that he faced Jesus clung faithfully to his confession, “My God, My God”. That Friday was a dark day, it was a sad day, and it was an evil thing what happened there on that dark day! So why do we call it ‘Good Friday’? The reason we call Friday good is… SUNDAY! 

Saturday, April 8, 2017

The Power of Story (Part I).

One of the biggest lessons I learned from Africa and from Africans began when my daughter Clara was about 4 or 5 years old.My daughter Clara loves stories and she always wanted me to tell her stories. So I told her all the stories that I felt were appropriate and I ran out of stories but she wanted me to tell her more stories. Now I could have given her various statements of what the Bible teaches on a various topics with proof texts and that may have put her to sleep but I wanted to engage her with God's word. I wanted her to know God and His will for her life. So I asked myself, ‘how many Bible stories have I internalized so that I could tell them accurately and naturally in my own words?’ My answer was maybe the same as your answer to that question might be… practically none!
Now I had been teaching a class on Daniel at a Bible College in Malawi so I started telling Clara stories from the book of Daniel. She loved it so I started telling those same stories to the prisoners at Maula prison in Malawi. I will never forget what happened when I told the story from Daniel 4 where Nebuchadnezzar had a dream that frightened him. Do you know that that story?
Nebuchadnezzar was the world’s most powerful ruler but his nightmare scared him. The king called for his council of Babylonian ‘wise men’ but they failed to interpret the dream. They may have been afraid to bring the explosive king the ‘bad news’ depicted in the dream (Daniel 2:12, 3:13-15). The king would need Daniel, the exiled Jewish prophet, to discern his dream. As a subjugated Jewish exile the king referred to Daniel as Belteshazzar after the name of Nebuchadnezzar’s god. Yet, Nebuchadnezzar understood Daniel to be indwelt by the ‘spirit of the holy gods’ and capable of interpreting the dream.

Nebuchadnezzar saw a tree that touched the sky that was visible throughout the earth. The tree had beautiful leaves, abundant fruit and the birds and the beasts sheltered in it. A holy one from heaven said that the tree would be chop down, stripped of its leaves and branches, its fruit would be scattered and the birds and beasts chased from it. This superior power commands that the tree be stripped of its authority and its abundance, but the stump would remain bound with a strap of iron and bronze. The tree is depicted as having a mind that is to be changed to that of a beast for period of seven times. The reason for all this is so that all may know that Most High God rules over the kingdoms of men (4:17).

Daniel was also upset by the dream, but the king insisted that Daniel interpret the dream. Daniel was genuinely concerned and told the king and wished that the dream applied to the king’s enemies. Then Daniel freely tells Nebuchadnezzar that he is the tree that touched the sky; visible throughout the earth. The decree of the Most High God was that the king, the personalized tree, would be driven from people to live among the beasts for a period described as seven times until the king acknowledged that the Most High God rules over the kingdoms of men.

Nebuchadnezzar had risen to prominence but his rule was oppressive so he would be stripped of his kingly glory. Evidently, the king had ignored the hardships of the oppressed and now the king’s authority and prosperity would be removed from him. Nebuchadnezzar was an inhumane king who used people like beasts. Now he would be given the mind of a beast and he would live among the beasts in the bush like a beast. He would remain in this condition until the time when the king acknowledged that the Most High God rules over the kingdoms of men. The remaining stump meant that Nebuchadnezzar’s kingdom would be restored when Nebuchadnezzar acknowledged that heaven rules.  Again, concerned for the king’s welfare, Daniel exhorts the king to turn from his sins by doing what was right and by being merciful to the oppressed then the king’s prosperity might continue.

A whole year passes but Nebuchadnezzar is unchanged. We find him walking on the roof of his palace admiring his achievements. The king was boasting of the greatness of Babylon which he evidently built at the expense of the poor and oppressed. Nebuchadnezzar had urged Daniel to interpret his dream and having given the king the interpretation Daniel urged the king to change his ways. Unconcerned and unresponsive we find the boastful king is interrupted by the voice from heaven announcing the removal of Nebuchadnezzar’s kingdom. He would be driven from people to live like a beast among the beasts. This would last for a period of seven times until Nebuchadnezzar learned that the Most High rules the kingdoms of men. Nebuchadnezzar had failed to heed Daniel’s warning but now a voice from heaven tells Nebuchadnezzar directly without any symbolic imagery that his kingdom is removed and that he would be driven from people to live like a beast among the beasts. Nebuchadnezzar would remain in that beast-like condition for a period of seven times until Nebuchadnezzar learned that heaven rules.

Nebuchadnezzar was driven into the bush to live like a beast among the beasts. He was given the mind of a beast, and his hair grew as long as eagles’ feathers and his nails grew like the claws of a bird. When the period of seven times was completed, Nebuchadnezzar lifted his eyes to heaven and came to his senses. Now being found in his right mind Nebuchadnezzar acknowledges that the Most High does what he pleases with the host of heaven and the inhabitants of the earth. As was promised Nebuchadnezzar’s kingdom was restored the king praised God saying, ‘all God’s ways are just and He is able to humble the proud’. This Nebuchadnezzar knew by experience for in his arrogance he had lost his kingdom but then after confessing that ‘heaven rules’ his kingdom was restored.
Those prisoners at Maula prison loved that story. We had a great time following the telling of that story as we discussed how that story depicts the Most High God of Daniel (Daniel 4:17) as being sovereign over the kingdoms of men. The discussion was going well when one of those inmates stood up and said, “Guys, Nebuchadnezzar was the king of all the kings of his time, he had everything but he had to lose everything before he repented. Then he said this, “guys we have nothing, who are we not to repent!”


Now that relatively uneducated prison inmate really understood the implications of the difficult doctrine of the ‘Sovereignty of God’. When I taught at a Bible College in Malawi I used to tell my students what I had heard the Theologian John Frame say, ‘you don’t know or understand a doctrine until you know how that doctrine applies’. That relatively uneducated man in that Malawian prison understood the practical implications of the doctrine, the teaching of the ‘word of God’ regarding the Biblical doctrine of the ‘Sovereignty God’.  He responded to that clear and straight forward story from the Book of Daniel (Daniel 4) about the ‘Sovereignty of God’ by doing what Daniel had urged King Nebuchadnezzar to do, to turn from sins.  

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Ministry to International Student (U of Stellenbosch).

Dear Friends and Family, 
This Post is an update regarding the Stoms Family in South Africa and it highlights events surrounding the minister to Internationals student at the University of Stellenbosch at Christ Church in Stellenbosch. On Saturday, April 1st, we’ll be hosting a seminar at Christ Church with Richard Weston. Richard has 30 years of experience in pioneering international student ministry in the UK and around the world. He will discuss the role International students can play in God’s plan for the nations and how a local church can welcome International students. We pray this seminar will encourage local churches here to befriend the numerous international students living in Stellenbosch.

We had a great 2 week visit from Pastor Michael Kelly (GLPC, PNW Church-planting network). Pastor Kelly spoke at our ‘Retreat for Internationals’; where we had over 30 people representing 9 different countries from 4 continents. Everyone really worked together to make it a restful and joy-filled time. We hiked, enjoyed African and Korean meals and spent time together. Pastor Kelly presented four powerful messages on loving the church for a lifetime. The lunch for graduating international postgraduate students and their families and friends also went well. While there was some overlap, this was a different group than those at the retreat. This was a time to celebrate with family and friends of those who graduated where we presented gifts and heard another helpful message from Pastor Kelly.
The day after the luncheon the Kelly’s went on to Malawi. I stayed behind for Clara’s 12th birthday which was nice. Then I flew to Malawi where I first stayed in Lilongwe with our friends the Braseltons and met Reverend Edward Tembo, a former student. I preached at his church, Kafita CCAP, to the over 1000 worshipers there who love to sing and are eager to hear Biblical preaching. Then we visited with our friends, Dr. David and Rebecca Morton from Green Lake Church, who work at Nkhoma Hospital which is about an hour outside Lilongwe. This is the same hospital where our daughter Clara was treated for a corneal ulcer when she was 2 months old. Since then the washboard dirt road has been paved and the drive is a lot smoother and faster than back in those days.  

Pastor Kelly and I spent a day teaching the 3rd and 4th year students at JMTI Theological College (CCAP Nkhoma Synod). When these students finish at JMTI they’ll be placed in churches with plenty of people but no pastors. A former student, Rev. Gracious Madimbo, was placed in a rural church with 2000 people immediately after graduating from JMTI.  We also met with the Principle of JMTI and the Academic Dean about setting up a workshop on ‘Narrative Preaching and Biblical Storytelling’ for a future visit.

We had a great reunion with the Morton’s and Rebecca Morton took care of us and David who wasn’t feeling well. The lush green foliage surrounding their house nestled just below Nkhoma Mountain was quite a contrast to the dry Western Cape. After a nice stay in Nkhoma we returned to Lilongwe where we caught our flights back to South Africa. Back in Stellenbosch, Michael and Ian stayed below us in a furnished flat owned by the University. We showed them some of the amazing scenery around Cape Town and then they treated us to a wonderful dinner for my 56th birthday. At the end they were feeling a bit homesick and ready to return to the States and their family. 

Now with this M-Th in Homiletics and Narrative Preaching behind me, I want to get back to doing Biblical Theology through the Bible's own stories. Our goal is to story through the Bible and this is what most of our posts are all about. Special thanks to those who prayed for us; surely your prayers helped the retreat, the graduations, the luncheon, the Malawi trip, the flights, the meetings and messages during the Kelly's visit go so well. 

With Love,
Jay, Laura, Clara, Katherine and Lauren Stoms


Wednesday, December 21, 2016

'Light to Gentiles’ (Luke 2:32, Acts 9).

Luke 1:78-79 (ESV) … because of the tender mercy of our God, whereby the sunrise shall visit us from on high to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.  
Merry Christmas from South Africa 2016

Dear friends,
Zechariah, filled with the Spirit, spoke of the coming of the ultimate sunrise bringing light to those sitting in darkness, guiding into the way of peace. Later Simeon, also filled with the Spirit, would hold the baby Jesus in his arms calling him a light of ‘revelation to Gentiles’ and ‘glory for Israel’ (Luke 2:32).

We pray that you will be filled with the ‘light and peace’ of Jesus this Christmas season. This Christmas is bringing us another transition for in January we’re moving back into a University flat (apartment). We will miss having a spacious house to show hospitality to International students. I won’t miss the yellow jackets (a German invasion), the flies (we’re near a dairy farm) or the squirrel from the roof that recently got into the kitchen. Then there’s watering the garden and cleaning the pool. Yes, we had a pool but keeping it clean and free of frogs is a hassle. We’ll also miss the rental Belgian Shepherd, Maxie that came with the house.


Carol service w/ DK and Kefas.
When I walk with Maxie in the hills not far from the house we pass a house with a large German shepherd. As we pass the house the two dogs bark furiously at each other on either side of the security fence. Somehow this reminds me of the barriers between the various ethnic groups that still remain here in the 'Rainbow Nation’.  America is a different place but when I watch media clips and read Facebook posts somehow I’m reminded of those two dogs growling on either side of a dividing wall.

In South Africa there are Christian churches of every ethnicity but little interaction between them. Unfortunately it seems we in the church are just as divided ourselves. Our ‘story group’ has been working through stories from the Book of Acts and the theme of the ‘one multi-ethnic’ family of Abraham comes up again and again. The stories show how the Holy Spirit powerfully worked to form one unified people of God, the Church. The Spirit was poured out on the Samaritans at the laying on of the Apostle’s hand (Acts 8:14-17) and the Jewish believers were amazed when the Spirit was poured out even on Gentiles in the household of Cornelius the Roman centurion (Acts 10:44-48).
That God wanted one multi-ethnic people of the Messiah really hit home when we discussed the story of the conversion of Saul of Tarsus (Acts 9:1-19). While on his way to Damascus Saul was blinded by the light of the glorified Christ.  Then when Ananias placed his hands on Saul he could see again. After being baptized, Saul preached Jesus fearlessly until he had to flee for his life from Damascus through the city wall in a basket. Later Saul joined the Apostles in Jerusalem where he spoke boldly about Jesus until he was forced to flee for his life to Tarsus. We are told that the church (singular) throughout Judea, Galilee and Samaria enjoyed a time of peace and was strengthened and encouraged by the Holy Spirit (Acts 9:31).  

When Saul, the churches greatest antagonist, fled Jerusalem as a persecuted proponent the church, the church throughout Judea, Galilee and Samaria experienced a time of peace. The one unified church in Judea, Galilee and Samaria is depicted as having the presence and power of the Spirit upon and it grew in numbers (9:31). What a powerful witness of God’s new society they were! They even sold their properties to care for those in need (4:34-35) and they feed their widows daily (Acts 6:1). The one multiethnic people of God showed unity and exhibited charity before the world that Israel’s Messiah was the Lord of all the earth.
Getting to know students from Ghana, Nigeria, Kenya, Uganda, Malawi, Zambia, Zimbabwe, South Africa and South Korea over the past year has been just a small taste of the one multi-ethnic people of God. Being privileged to hear their diverse perspectives on the ‘Story and stories of God’ has been for us a taste of the ‘light and glory’ that Jesus has and is bringing to the world. Thanks so very much for your prayerful support of the ministry God has given us here in South Africa.
With Love / Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you all!
Jay, Laura, Clara (11), Katherine (10) and Lauren Stoms (7).


We invite you to partner with us in prayer. To give financially please send donations on behalf of Jay and Laura Stoms to the Africa Christian Training Institute. Your generosity is deeply appreciated. Send a tax-deductible donation in care of Jay and Laura Stoms to: PLEASE SEND SUPPORT TO: 


Africa Christian Training Institute (Stoms Ministry Fund).
P O Box 15621
Panama City FL 32406-5621

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Many Thanks 2016

Dear Friends and family,  
Lauren (7) with Maxi


The grey mountains that once held the chill and damp winter, later welcomed the spring rains and wild flowers, are now bathed in the large South African sun. The dry heat of Stellenbosch summer is settling in. The Guinea fowl have had their chicks and already left our abode for wider grasslands. The undergraduate students have finished their year, the graduate and post graduates are submitting theses and finishing reading for oral exams.  A few of the internationals we have met will go home to Zambia, Nigeria, or Korea for Christmas, while others like Gilbert from Ghana, who is about to get his Master’s in Food Science will stay through to begin his PHD. The campus can be lonely for the internationals as they feel like they are “alone” in studying at this time. With limited scholarships’, financial constraints, and often having to move to find a cheaper rent, these students carry a lot of stress and pressure to succeed. 

'Braai' for Internationals
On Sunday we hosted an international student braai (barbecue) with friends from Zambia, Nigeria, Kenya, Ghana, Korea and South Africa. We had Nigerian rice and potatoes, Korean bbq, noodles and rice, as well as some American homemade ice cream, grilled chicken and salads.  Many helped and were encouraged by the fellowship of the many nations. A Korean friend, who has taught Katherine to watercolour paint, came with her husband.  She recently had shingles just as her husband’s Masters’ thesis was due, and we had not seen them out being social in quite a while.

On January 1 we move from our rental home. On 19 January we move back to the University of Stellenbosch housing flat on the campus.  The girls and I spent a couple of weeks cleaning, sorting and getting rid of stuff (the up side of moving) as they have finished their academic year. I struggle to get our black containers out yet, as I don’t quite want to feel in complete moving mode.  Clara has begun to grieve the loss of her own room, Katherine has photographed most of the garden, and Lauren sketches many pictures of Maxi, the Belgian shepherd “rental dog”, and I am expecting big tears. Meanwhile Jay is thrilled to reduce rent, as well as his facilities management and pest control efforts (squirrels in the roof, flies, sand fleas, tics, frogs, and wasps to name a few).  We hoped to secure a three week house sit (as most South Africans like to have someone in their home to prevent robbery while away). We have a week of house sitting, then will go to a pastoral retreat center with a Korean family and finally to a “basic house” belonging to a friend’s relative located by a river leading to the sea of great white sharks. This year Katherine has really enjoyed the ballet programs and Clara is swimming 4 days a week, trained by the University coaching staff. Lauren has joined ballet with Katherine and swims once a week. Both Katherine and Lauren received piano lessons from University of Stellenbosch students as part of the students’ requirements for study.   Katherine wants two birthday parties this year, one with her international student family and one with her two special ballet friends.

Please keep us in your prayers as we prepare to move again, to care for and transition the girls, each other and to seek to improve the care and encouragement in Christ to our international friends at the University of Stellenbosch.  I've struggled to communicate our situation, but I'm sending this update with thanksgiving and gratitude to each of you. We thank God for your generosity in both prayer and financial support this past year. 

Hope you had a Happy Thanksgiving and We Wishing you a Merry Christmas Season. 
With love in Christ, Laura (on behalf of Jay, Clara, Katherine and Lauren)

Monday, October 17, 2016

'Philip an the Ethiopian' (Acts 8).

Background Story: God promised Abraham a homeland and multiple descendants to bless the world. Abraham’s descendants multiplied in Egypt but were enslavedGod delivered them ‘out of Egypt’ and called them to be a ‘kingdom of priests and a holy nation’ at Mt. Sinai. They occupied their homeland under Joshua and later God promised David a ‘perpetual kingship’ over God’s people. David’s son, Solomon, built the Temple as a dwelling for God, but Solomon introduced an idolatry that led to the destruction of the ‘Northern kingdom’ and the exile of the ‘Southern Kingdom’ in Babylon. They returned to their land but they remained under Pagan rule. Israel longed for a ‘conquering king’ and God sent Jesus. Jesus was ‘anointed by the Spirit’ at his baptism and he overcame the devil’s temptations in the wilderness. He gathered a ‘new people (12)’ around himself and after disciples recognized Jesus’ Messianic identity he was enthroned as ‘KING of the JEWS’ outside Jerusalem on a cross. He looked like a failure, but on the third day God raised him from the dead. He showed himself alive to his disciples, and then he ascended into heaven. From there he poured out his Holy Spirit empowering his disciples to be his witnesses in Jerusalem, in Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. In Jerusalem, the apostles proclaimed Jesus as Lord and Christ in Jerusalem though the religious leaders forbid they do so. When a disciple named Stephen testified how ‘Israel’s Story’ culminated in Jesus, the religious leaders had him stoned to death. Then a ‘great persecution’ scattered the believers who preached the gospel throughout Judea and Samaria. The Samaritans believed and were baptized at the preaching of another disciple, Philip, and this brings us to the story of Philip and the Ethiopian from Acts 8. You can watch the story here and read the comments below.
The Ethiopian Eunuch: As we move through the Book of Acts we see the continued works of Jesus through his Spirit-filled Church. God sends an angel to direct Philip. Then the Holy Spirit spoke to Philip and directed him to a specific person at a particular place. Philip was one of the seven selected to oversee the feeding of widows. Then when persecution scattered the disciples, Philip went and evangelized Samaria. The Lord sent an angel who told Philip to go south to the desert road from Jerusalem to Gaza. Without hesitation Philip went and there Philip met this Ethiopian man who was returning from worshiping God in Jerusalem. The Lord guided Philip both by an angel and by His Spirit. Philip was sensitive to God’s guidance and we see the gospel beginning to spread beyond Judea and Samaria.

On that desert road Philip met an Ethiopian eunuch, who was the official in charge of the treasury of the queen of the Ethiopians. This man was a worshiper of the God of Israel though he was not Jewish or even a proselyte to Judaism. He had been to Jerusalem to worship God, perhaps for one of the principle festivals, and was now returning to his home in Ethiopia. As he traveled he was seated in his chariot reading from the scroll of the prophet Isaiah.  Having been directed to the road, the Spirit of God tells Philip to go over near the Ethiopian’s chariot. The Spirit tells Philip directly to stay near a very specific chariot. We aren’t told that Philip was seeking such guidance; we only know that Philip went to Samaria in response to the ‘great persecution’ and the command of Jesus (Acts 1:8). In Samaria crowds had listened to Philip preach Christ and do miracles and the Samaritans believed and were baptized.

Philip draws near the chariot where he hears the Ethiopian official reading from Isaiah the prophet. So Philip starts by asking the Ethiopian if he understood what he was reading. However, the man said the he needed someone to explain it and so he invited Philip to sit with him in his chariot.  He had been reading in Isaiah (Isaiah 53:7-8) where it says, “He was led like a sheep to the slaughter, and as a lamb silent before the shearers, he did not open his mouth. He was deprived of justice and who can speak of his descendants? For his life was taken from him.” Philip began by asking the man what he already knew. This implies that he could have understood without Philips help. However the man asks for help and so Philip was more than willing to help the man. What he wanted to know from Philip was whether the prophet Isaiah was speaking about himself or someone else?  So Philip began with that very passage and Philip told the man the ‘good news’ about Jesus. When they came to some water the Ethiopian eunuch wanted to be baptized. They stopped the chariot and both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water and Philip baptized the eunuch. When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord took Philip away. The Ethiopian didn’t see Philip again, and we are only told that he went on his way rejoicing (Acts 8:30-39).

This Ethiopian man comes into the picture right after we find Samaria accepting the gospel which was one of the results of the Jerusalem believers being scattered. In this story we find the gospel beginning to move out from Judea and Samaria to reach an Ethiopian God-fearer. He had gone up to Jerusalem to worship the God of Israel at the temple but being both a gentile and a eunuch he was essentially an outsider. We find him reading and seeking to understand the scriptures. When the Lord directed Philip to the Ethiopian and their paths crossed the man wanted Philip to explain the passage he was reading from Isaiah. Philip started with that passage and told him about Jesus. Seeing water the man wanted Philip to baptize him. Philip did this but when they came up out of the water Philip was mysteriously taken away leaving the Ethiopian to return home ‘rejoicing’!     

This man was privileged in that he was a trusted Ethiopian official. However, in another sense the man was an outcast. He was a physically disabled Gentile and as a gentile and a eunuch—he remained an outsider who wasn’t able to fully participate in the temple worship. While reading from the prophecy of Isaiah on his way home he meets Philip and he wants Philip to explain whether Isaiah was speaking about himself or someone else (Acts 8:27, 32, Isaiah 53:7). Philip took the opportunity to explain how this prophecy and Israel’s story had recently come to a fulfillment in Jesus. The Ethiopian had been wrestling to understand the book of Isaiah, a book that offers hope to eunuchs, and when Philip told him about Jesus from the passage he wholeheartedly accepted. The story tells us the Ethiopian went home rejoicing and Church history tells us that he not only brought Christianity to his homeland but that he was responsible for the conversion of many in Ethiopia.  

Isaiah 56:3–8 (NIV84) 3 Let no foreigner who has bound himself to the Lord say, “The Lord will surely exclude me from his people.” And let not any eunuch complain, “I am only a dry tree.” 4 For this is what the Lord says: “To the eunuchs who keep my Sabbaths, who choose what pleases me and hold fast to my covenant— 5 to them I will give within my temple and its walls a memorial and a name better than sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name that will not be cut off. 6 And foreigners who bind themselves to the Lord to serve him, to love the name of the Lord, and to worship him, all who keep the Sabbath without desecrating it and who hold fast to my covenant— 7 these I will bring to my holy mountain and give them joy in my house of prayer. Their burnt offerings and sacrifices will be accepted on my altar; for my house will be called a house of prayer for all nations.” 8 The Sovereign Lord declares— he who gathers the exiles of Israel: “I will gather still others to them besides those already gathered.”


Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Philip and the Samaritans (Acts 8).


Background Story: God promised Abraham a homeland and multiple descendants to bless the world. Abraham’s descendants multiplied in Egypt but they became enslavedGod called Moses and led Israel out of Egypt to Mt. Sinai where they were formed them into a nation. Israel entered their land under Joshua and later God promised David a ‘perpetual kingship’ over God’s people. David’s son, Solomon, built the Temple as a dwelling for God. However, Solomon introduced an idolatry that led to the scattering of the ‘Northern kingdom’ by the Assyrians and the exile of the ‘Southern Kingdom’ in Babylon. The Persians conquered the Babylonians and the Jews returned to their land but they remained under Pagan rule. God’s people longed for a ‘conquering king’ and God sent Jesus, who was ‘anointed by the Spirit’ at his baptism. Jesus overcame the Devil’s temptations and gathered a ‘new people (12)’ around himself. When his disciples recognized Jesus’ Messianic identity he went to Jerusalem where he was enthroned as ‘KING of the JEWS’ on a cross. He looked like a failure, but God raised him from the dead. After Jesus showed himself to his disciples he ascended into heaven. From there Jesus poured out the Holy Spirit to empower his disciples to be his witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. The apostles proclaimed Jesus as both Lord and Christ and their message spread and the numbers increased. The religious leaders forbid that the apostles teach or preach in the name of Jesus, but Peter and John couldn’t stop speaking about Jesus. Then when a disciple named Stephen told the ‘story of Israel’ as culminating in Jesus he was stoned to death for his testimony. After this a ‘great persecution’ broke out against the church and the believers were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria. This brings us to the story of Philip in the city of Samaria from Acts 8. Watch the story here and read the comments below.
Philip and the Samaritans: Those who stoned Stephen to death placed their cloaks at the feet of the young man, Saul. So Saul approved Stephen’s death and a ‘great persecution’ broke out against the Jerusalem Church. Determined to destroy the church, Saul went from house to house, dragging off both men and women believers to prison. As a result of the persecution, all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria. The apostles stayed in Jerusalem while all the others were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria, and preached the word wherever they went. The believers fled the persecution to protect their lives but they didn’t stop doing what got them in trouble which was the preaching the word of God.

Philip, who was one of those selected to oversee the feeding of the widows (Acts 6:5) went to the city of Samaria. Crowds there gathered to hear Philip proclaiming the Christ and to see the miraculous signs he performed. Evil spirits came out of many. Many who were unable to walk were healed and there was great joy in that city. The ‘great persecution’ in the city of Jerusalem resulted in ‘great joy’ in the city of Samaria. The persecution scattered the believers who preached the gospel throughout Judea and Samaria just as Jesus had told them to do (Acts 1:8).

Now there was a man in the city of Samaria named Simon. He practiced sorcery and boasted that he was someone great. Some who were amazed by Simon’s magic followed Simon saying that he was some kind of ‘divine and great power’. When they heard Philip preaching the ‘good news about Jesus and the kingdom of God’ they believed and were baptized, this included both men and women. Simon also believed Philip and was baptized.   Simon followed Philip very closely and he was amazed by the signs and miracles that he saw Philip doing.

When they heard the news back in Jerusalem that these Samaritans had accepted the word of God, they sent the two most prominent apostles, Peter and John. Peter and John prayed for the Samaritans to receive the Holy Spirit because the Holy Spirit had not yet come upon any of them. They had simply been baptized into the name of the Lord Jesus. This seems unusual in light of Peter’s message on Pentecost where Peter said, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38).” These Samaritans believed Philip’s message about Jesus and were baptized but the Holy Spirit had not yet come upon any of them. Then when Peter and John placed their hands on these Samaritans they received the Holy Spirit.

Simon saw that the Spirit was given at the laying on of the apostles’ hands. The Holy Spirit came on those Peter and John laid their hands on and Simon wanted this ability. When Simon offered the apostles money to get it he received a harsh rebuke from the Apostle Peter. Peter said, “May your money perish with you, because you thought you could buy the gift of God with money!” Peter discerned that Simon’s heart was not right with God and that he was still full of bitterness and was captive to sin. Peter told Simon to repent and to pray to the Lord that the Lord may forgive Simon then Simon answered “Pray to the Lord that what you have said may not happen to me.” Simon boasted that he was great and who liked to exercise power over people. When Simon came across the superior power of Philip and later that of Peter and John Simon wanted this power for himself. After the rebuke Simon concern was that he didn’t lose his money and his life. After this Peter and John returned to Jerusalem and we don’t know whether Simon ever repented and was forgiven. We only learn that the apostles preached the gospel in many Samaritan villages on their way.

Did Simon really believe when he heard Philip preach the gospel? Simon believed and was baptized (8:13), but Peter described Simon as someone who had no share in the ministry of the gospel. Peter also said that Simon’s heart was not right before God and that he needed to repent of his wickedness because he was full of bitterness and captive to sin (8:20-23). Does this describe someone who has trusted Christ and has been transformed by the Holy Spirit? The Bible speaks of a faith that accepts the truth of Scripture without any spiritual transformation (Acts 26:27-28; James 2:19) and also speaks of a temporary faith, which embraces the gospel without any change of heart. It is only temporary faith (Matt. 13:20-21) because it fails to endure under trials and persecution (1 Tim.1:19-20; I John 2:19). The ‘New Covenant’ promise of the gospel was that God would cleanse from sin, replace the heart of stone with a new heart indwelt by the Holy Spirit (Ezk.36:25-27)! This story should push us to ‘examine ourselves to see whether we are in the faith’ and to realize that Christ Jesus is in us—unless, of course, we fail the test? (2Cor.13:5).

How is it that Samaritans believed and were baptized and yet they didn’t receive the Holy Spirit? They believed but they didn’t receive the Spirit until after the apostles Peter and John laid their hands on them. When Philip preached Jesus and did the miracles both men and women in Samaria believed Philip’s message and were baptized. When the apostles heard about this, they sent Peter and John who prayed that they might receive the Holy Spirit. They had only been baptized into the name of Jesus so the apostles laid hands on them and they received the Holy Spirit (8:1-17). Why the delay in the receiving of the Spirit? Hadn’t Peter previously promised the ‘gift of the Spirit’ to those who would repent (Acts 2:38)?

Unlike Simon, nothing negative is said about the faith of these Samaritans (Acts 8:20-23). Also this is the first of only two accounts of the Spirit being given at the laying on of the apostle’s hands (Acts 8:18, 19:6). Simon witnessed some visible manifestation of the Spirit, but nothing is said about the ‘speaking in tongues’ and this event is very different than what happened at Pentecost (Acts 2). In Samaria the Spirit seems to have been uniquely manifested to emphasize that there was to be only one apostolic church. It was critical that Samaritans submit to Jesus’ Jewish apostles and for the Jewish believers to accept the Samaritans in that one apostolic church! At that time, Jews and Samaritans didn’t even associate with each other (John 4:9) so the unity of the one body of Christ was at stake. This is significant for us today as our witness is hindered by the many divisions in the church (John 17:20-21).

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

'The Stoning of Stephen' (Acts 6-7).

Background Story:
God called Abraham promising him a homeland and multiple descendants to bless the world. Abraham’s descendants multiplied but they became enslaved in Egypt. God called Moses, who led Israel out of Egypt to Mt. Sinai where God formed them into the ‘Nation of Israel’. God led them into their land under Joshua and later God promised David a ‘perpetual kingship’ over God’s people. David’s son, Solomon built the Temple as a dwelling for God, but he also introduced an idolatry that led to the scattering of the ‘Northern kingdom’ by the Assyrians and the exile in Babylon of the ‘Southern Kingdom’. When the Persians conquered the Babylonians they let the Jews return to their land but they remained under Pagan rule. God’s people longed for a ‘conquering king’ and God sent Jesus. Jesus was ‘anointed by the Spirit’ at his baptism. He overcame the Devil’s temptations and proclaimed the ‘Kingdom of God’. He gathered a ‘new people (12)’ around himself and when they recognized his Messianic identity he went to Jerusalem where he was enthroned as ‘KING of the JEWS’ on a cross. Yet, God raised Jesus from the dead. Jesus showed his disciples that he was alive and then he ascended into heaven. From there Jesus poured out the Holy Spirit to empower his disciples to be his witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. 
The apostles, Peter and John, healed a crippled beggar in the temple courts and explained that the man had been healed ‘in the name of Jesus’. Peter told the religious leaders that they had crucified Jesus, but God had raised him from the dead. This message continued to spread and the number who believed continued to increase. The religious leaders forbid that the apostles teach or preach in the name of Jesus in an effort to stop the message from spreading. But Peter and John had to obey God and couldn’t stop speaking about Jesus. In the previous story we saw what happened to ‘Ananias and Sapphira’ who lied to the Holy Spirit (Acts 4-5). Now we look at the story of the ‘stoning of Stephen’ (Acts 6-7). Watch the story here and read the comments below.

Stephen tells Israel's Story:  Their numbers were increasing, and they distributed food with their widows daily. However, things were not perfect for some widows were being favored and others were being neglected. So the apostles came up with an idea but trusted the community to settle the matter. The community was to select spiritually wise representatives to distribute the food fairly. They chose Stephen, he was a man full of the Spirit and wisdom, and 6 others who the apostles laid hands on and prayed for. In this way the ‘word of God’ spread and their numbers continued to increase. The early followers of Jesus shared their resources and lived as the extended family of Abraham. They had problems for some of their widows were being neglected in the distribution of food. The apostles let the people chose seven who were known to be full of the ‘Spirit and wisdom’ to take on this responsibility. The apostles had been doing the work themselves and yet there were still problems.  The crisis served to prioritize the ministry of the ‘word of God and prayer’ for the apostles (5:20). The community chose seven who were full of the ‘Spirit and wisdom’.  This was spiritual work and apostles set them apart by laying hands on them and praying for them. In this way the ‘word of God’ spread and their numbers continued to increase (Acts 6:1-7).

One of the seven was Stephen, a man full of God’s Spirit, wisdom, grace and power. Stephen did ‘signs and wonders’ but some from a local Synagogue opposed Stephen. They couldn’t stand up to Stephen’s wisdom or to the Spirit by which he spoke so they seized Stephen and brought him before the religious authorities. They got some false witnesses to testify that Stephen never stopped speaking against the temple and the law. They also claimed that Stephen said that Jesus would destroy the temple and change the Mosaic Law. Yet, Jesus said that he came to fulfill the law and that the temple would be destroyed within a generation (Matt. 5:17, 24:2, 34). So Stephen stood without fear before the religious leaders, with his face shining like that of an angel. Stephen defended himself by telling Israel’s story beginning with God’s covenant with Abraham. Stephen retells Israel’s story showing how their fathers rejected both Joseph and Moses who God used to rescue them. Moreover, Stephen connects the Abrahamic covenant with the story of the Exodus, and his story culminates in his vision of Jesus.

Stephen emphasized how God called Abraham in Mesopotamia to leave that country and that people to go to the land God would show him.  Abraham obeyed and after his father died God sent him to the land where Stephen and his hearers were living. Abraham had no land and no children, but he had God’s promise that he and his descendants would possess the land. This would not be until after 400 years in a land not their own where they would be enslaved. Yet, God would punish their oppressors and they would return to the land to worship God. God gave Abraham the ‘covenant of circumcision’ and when Abraham became the father of Isaac and he circumcised Isaac on the eighth day. Isaac became the father of Jacob, and Jacob became the father of Israel’s twelve patriarchs. The patriarchs were Israel’s fathers but they sold their brother Joseph to be a slave in Egypt out of jealousy. However, God was with Joseph and caused the Pharaoh to put Joseph in charge of all Egypt. Then when a famine struck Egypt and Canaan, Jacob sent their fathers to Egypt to buy grain. On their second trip to Egypt, Joseph revealed his identity to his brothers. Joseph sent for his father Jacob who brought his whole family, 75 in all, down to Egypt where Joseph could take care of them. God used Joseph, who they rejected, to rescue them and preserve their family. They settled in Egypt and died there, but they were brought back and buried in Canaan in the tomb Abraham had bought in Shechem.

The crucial moments in Israel’s nearly 2000 year history revolved around God calling Abraham, the calling of Moses, the Exodus and the giving of the law. In addition God uniquely shaped the lives of Joseph and Moses in order to rescue Israel. Again, Stephen tells this story to indicate how Moses, like Joseph, was Israel’s rejected rescuer. Stephen also pointed out how God called the place where God revealed Himself and His saving purpose ‘holy ground’. The Israelites multiplied in Egypt but they became enslaved by a Pharaoh who didn’t know Joseph. This Pharaoh forced them to throw out their newborn babies and this is when Moses was born. Moses was protected by his parents for three months then he was then placed outside. Pharaoh’s own daughter recused Moses and raised him as her own son in all the wisdom of the Egyptians. 40 years later, Moses saw an Egyptian beating an Israelite. He killed the Egyptian and he thought the Israelites would realize that God was using him to rescue them but they didn’t. The next day Moses tried to reconcile two Israelites who were fighting, but the Israelite who was in the wrong said, ‘Who made you ruler and judge over us?  Do you want to kill me like you killed the Egyptian?’  So Moses fled Egypt and settled in Midian, and another 40 years had passed when the Lord called Moses from the flames of a burning bush near Mount Sinai. The Lord revealed Himself to Moses as the God of his fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and he told Moses to take off his sandals because he was standing on holy ground. God went on to say that He had seen the oppression of His people in Egypt and He had come down to rescue them. They had rejected Moses but God would send the very same Moses back to Egypt to deliver Israel out of Egypt (Acts 7:17-34). Moses did signs and wonders, leading Israel out of Egypt, through the Red Sea and for 40 years in the desert.

This is the Moses who was with the Israelites in the assembly in the desert and who God spoke to on Mt. Sinai giving him living words to pass on to them. Again, Stephen emphasizes how their fathers had rejected Moses and the law. The rejected Moses who had fled to Midian was called by God to return to Egypt to rescue Israel. Moses delivered Israel out of Egypt and he was given words of life, referring to the 10 commandments. But Israel turned back to Egypt in their hearts when they had Aaron make an idol for them to worship. This would happen again and God would carry them away into exile in Babylon. Stephen points out that they did this even though they had the tabernacle with them. Under Joshua they brought the tabernacle with into the land they took from the nations God drove out before them. The tabernacle remained in the land until David asked to build a house for the God of Jacob, though it was Solomon, David’s son, who would build the temple. While the temple was a more permanent dwelling for God, but Stephen points out that no man-made temple could contain the Lord of heaven and earth. Stephen concluded by saying that his hearers were no different than those who had persecuted the prophets. They were like those who killed those who predicted the coming of the ‘righteous one’ for they had murdered Jesus. They were stiff-necked, uncircumcised in heart and resistant to the Holy Spirit. They had the law but they didn’t obey it. His hearers were enraged but Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, saw heaven open and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. Refusing to listen, they dragged Stephen out of the city and they laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul. As they were stoning him to death Stephen, in imitation of Jesus, prayed, “Lord, receive my spirit” and, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” (Acts 7:39-60).

Those opposing Stephen had descended from Abraham, but they weren’t obeying God like Abraham. They had accused Stephen of speaking against the law but they were being like their forefathers who had rejected Moses and the commandments God. Instead of acting like heirs of the Abrahamic covenant they were the heirs of those who persecuted the prophets and killed those who foretold the coming of the righteous one. They were like those who had the tabernacle in the wilderness but God wasn’t with them. For the ‘Most High’ doesn’t live man-made temples for the prophets had said that Heaven is God’s throne, and the earth is God’s footstool. Stephen’s vision demonstrates that the temple was superseded by Jesus. The high priest and the religious leaders condemned Stephen but Stephen’s Daniel 7 like vision of Jesus showed that Israel’s history culminated in Jesus and that Jesus stood as Stephen’s advocate. The story shows how important it is to be able to tell the story of Jesus as the climax of the Old Testament story. Then with the story of Jesus as the foundation, the ongoing story of the church is the continuation of the Jesus story.


Saturday, September 24, 2016

'Ananias and Sapphira' (Acts 4-5).

Backstory: God called Abraham promising him a homeland and multiple descendants to bless the world. Abraham’s descendants became slaves in Egypt, so God called Moses, who led Israel out of Egypt to Mt. Sinai where God formed them into the ‘Nation of Israel’. God led them into their land under Joshua. Later God found David to be a king after His heart so He promised David a ‘perpetual kingship’ over God’s people. David’s son, Solomon built the Jerusalem Temple as a dwelling for God, but he also introduced an idolatry that led to the ‘Northern kingdom’ being scattered by the Assyrians and the ‘Southern Kingdom’ being ‘exiled in Babylon for 70 years’. The Persians conquered the Babylonians and let the Jews return to their land but they remained under Pagan rule. God’s people longed for a ‘conquering king’ to liberate them. God sent Jesus, who He ‘anointed by the Spirit’ at his baptism, and who overcame the Devil’s temptations. Jesus proclaimed the ‘Kingdom of God’, gathered a ‘new people (12)’ around himself and once they recognized his Messianic identity he went to Jerusalem where he was enthroned as ‘KING of the JEWS’ on a cross. Yet, God raised Jesus from the dead and Jesus showed himself alive to his disciples before he ascended into heaven. From there Jesus poured out the Holy Spirit, empowering his disciples to be his witnesses in Jerusalem, all Judea, Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. The apostles, Peter and John, amazed the people by healing a crippled beggar in the temple courts. Peter explained that the man had been healed ‘in the name of Jesus’ who they had crucified, but whom God raised from the dead. They acted in ignorance but the ‘prophets’ had foretold that the Christ would suffer so they were to ‘repent and turn to God’. Peter said that Jesus would remain in heaven until he returned to restore all things. Now number believed was over 5000 and when the religious leaders heard Peter’s preaching Jesus, they put Peter and John in prison. When questioned, Peter and John said that it was by the ‘name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth’ that the man was healed and that there was ‘no other name by which we can be saved’. To stop this message from spreading, the religious leaders forbid that they teach or preach in the name of Jesus. But Peter and John had to obey God and couldn’t stop speaking about Jesus. The crowd was praising God so the leaders didn’t know what to do. They threatened the apostles and let them go. When Peter and John told their fellow believers what happened they prayed and God shook the place where they were and they were filled Holy Spirit, and they spoke the word of God boldly. This brings us to the story of ‘Ananias and Sapphira’ from Acts 4-5 which you may watch here and read the comments below.
Ananias and Sapphira: Now we find all the believers were together and unified. They shared everything in common and the apostles testified powerfully about the resurrected Christ.  Some believers even sold their houses and their land and gave the money to the apostles to be distributed to those in need (4:34). These believers shared everything in common and they were God’s ideal community. God had established the ‘new covenant’ through Jesus and they were the renewed ‘covenant community’. Jesus had claimed to have brought about the Jubilee (Luke 4:18-19) and these believers are described in terms of the Jubilee (Deuteronomy 15:4) ‘there will be no needy person among you, because the Lord is sure to bless you in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.’ They were the true covenant community who had experienced the forgiveness of sins and who had been released from their debts (Luke 4, Isaiah 61). A man named Barnabas, a true Levite, sold some land and entrusted the proceeds to the Apostles. As a true priest among a ‘kingdom of priests’, Barnabas sold his property and the apostles shared the proceeds with those in need (Ex. 19:6, 1 Peter 2:9).

Ananias and his wife Sapphira also sold some land but claimed to give all the money from the sale to the apostles. But they kept some of the money for themselves which was revealed to Peter. Peter said, “Ananias, how is it that Satan has filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to kept some of the money you received for the land for yourselves?”  Evidently, Ananias was trying to make it look like they were giving all the money from the sale to the church ?as Barnabas had. According to Peter, Satan had put it in Ananias’ heart to lie to the Holy Spirit so that Ananias had not lied to men but to God. Then Ananias mysteriously fell down and died and some young men came in, carried out Ananias’ body, and buried him. The result of all this was that ‘great fear’ seized all who heard about this.

According to Peter, the land and the money belonged to Ananias so it is not that Ananias had to do what Barnabas had done. The problem with Ananias and Sapphira was that they were deceiving the community and lying to God the Holy Spirit. Sapphira was unaware that Ananias had died so when Peter asked her about the price of the land she had the opportunity to tell the truth. Yet, she continued the lie, which according to Peter was ‘testing the Spirit of the Lord’. Peter, mysteriously, was made aware that Sapphira would suffer the same fate as her husband. She died and the young men who buried Ananias buried her as well. The result was that ‘great fear’ seized the whole church and all who heard about this (Acts 5:1–11). This story is similar to the story of Achan (Joshua 7). After the victory at Jericho, Achan had taken some of the things that were to be devoted to the Lord, and had kept them for himself. Achan’s deception, like that of Ananias and Sapphira, was exposed and a supernatural judgment resulted.

The apostles continued to perform ‘signs and wonders’ and the people held them in high regard. Due to the circumstances, people were fearful about joining them, and yet the number of those who believed increased. The people put their sick on mats in the streets hoping that if Peter’s shadow passed by them then they would be healed. Moreover, crowds from all around Jerusalem brought their sick and those tormented by evil spirits, and all of them were healed. The miraculous signs validated the apostle’s message, but the high priests and the religious leaders were filled with jealousy. They put the apostles in jail, but the Lord sent an angel who released them and told them to go into the temple to speak the message of ‘new life’ (5:12–16). In the morning the apostle went into the temple to teach he people while the religious leaders of Israel met to discuss the problem of the apostles. They sent to the jail for the apostles but they found the jail locked and guarded with no one inside. Then someone reported that the men they had put in jail were in the temple courts teaching the people. They had the apostles brought to the elders without using force for fear that the people might stone them. The high priest questioned the apostles about their filling Jerusalem with their teaching and that they were trying to make them responsible for Jesus’ death. The religious leaders feared the people, but the apostles feared and obeyed God rather than men! They testified that the religious leaders had hung Jesus on a tree, but that the God of their fathers had raised Jesus from the dead. Moreover, God had exalted Jesus to His own right hand as Prince and Savior that he might give repentance and forgiveness of sins to Israel. The apostles were witnesses of these things and so was the Holy Spirit, whom God gives to those who obey him (5:17–32).

The elders were furious and they wanted to kill the apostles. However, Gamaliel, a Pharisee respected by all the people, stood up and addressed them. Gamaliel gave two examples of men who led revolts but were killed so that their movements died with them. Gamaliel’s advice was to let the apostles go for if their purpose was of human origin it would fail. On the other hand, if it was from God then wouldn’t be able to stop it for they would be fighting against God.  Gamaliel persuaded them so they flogged the apostles, ordered them not to speak in Jesus’ name and let them go.  The apostles left rejoicing for being considered worthy of suffering disgrace for the name of Jesus. Moreover, despite the warning, the apostles went daily into the temple courts and from house to house proclaiming that ‘Jesus is the Christ’ (5:33–42).

These religious leaders, instead of being guardians of Biblical faith, they were actually opposing God and God’s people. They were filled with jealousy and they wanted to kill the apostles until Gamaliel intervened. Gamaliel’s wise words won the day so the elders took his advice and left the apostles alone. The story highlights how far we fall short of the example set by the early church. The unity of purpose and the care they had for one another puts us to shame. The generosity of Barnabas in selling his property and sharing the proceeds with the community should challenge our complacency. The powerful working of God’s Spirit and the bold proclamation of the apostle in the face of opposition even their glorying in suffering for Jesus should humble us. Let us to pray in the words of the psalmist, “will you not revive us again, that your people may rejoice in you?” (Psalm 85:6, NIV84)