We were reading Acts 16:1-5 yesterday. This is the section where Paul and Timothy are preparing to go on Paul’s second missionary journey.
An interesting thing in this section is that Paul had Timothy circumcised before they left. In earlier readings we see that Timothy’s mother and grandmother were Jewish converts to Christianity and they had passed their faith on to Timothy.
Timothy however had not grown up as a Jew and not been circumcised because his father was Greek. This means he would have not followed Jewish customs and rituals for his son Timothy, one being circumcision at eight days old.
Paul and Timothy realised this would have been a stumbling block to the people where they were going to travel to as most of the new Christians from Jewish backgrounds. So he was circumcised.
At first I thought why was this an issue? Because the Council of Believers in Jerusalem had decided that it was not necessary for new believers to follow old Jewish traditions like circumcision to be a Christian and right with God (Acts 15:19-29).
Then I realised that often as Christians we take some time to come on board with decisions made by others who are not with us. We might read a letter from our “Jerusalem” or our head office which makes a ruling, but we might not initially agree with it or we might chose to hold on to our long term belief on an issue.
Paul and Timothy realised this and did not want Timothy’s Greek background and non-circumcision to be a stumbling block for people coming to Jesus. In fact I think it would have been a compelling testimony of how committed Timothy was to the salvation of the people he was visiting.
Sometimes as Christians we need to go the extra mile to show our commitment to Jesus and the message we preach. We don’t need to just do the minimum to get by, sometimes going the extra mile is what is required to bring people to Christ.
Over the last week or so I have been reading and reflecting on Acts chapters 10 and 11. This is where Peter and Cornelius make contact and the Good News about Jesus is told to Cornelius and his family and friends.
The interesting thing about this section is that both people have a heavenly vision. Cornelius had a vision of an Angel who told him to send for Peter to come and speak to him. Cornelius was a God-fearer which meant he was someone who prayed to God but was not Jewish and did not follow all of the Jewish customs.
Peter’s vision happened when he went to pray. He saw a sheet come down from heaven with “unclean” animals to a Jew on it and a voice from heaven told him to kill and eat. At first Peter was horrified and would not dream of doing this. Then he realised it was less about food and more about things that God had declared clean.
You see Peter would not have gone to Cornelius’ home and entered it. As a Jew this would have ceremonially defiled him by entering and eating with a non-Jewish person. Peter connected the heavenly vision of clean food with “clean” people whom God has declared ok.
As a result Peter went to see Cornelius and he shared the Good News about Jesus’ life, death for sin and His resurrection. In short he brought the salvation message to Cornelius’ home and to all his extended family and friends. The visit also opened up the whole region to the message about Jesus too.
As I have reflected on this I have realised that sometimes as Christians we need to have a special visitation from God to bring major changes in our lives. We might have a wrong attitude, we might need to move to another place, or we might need to start a new venture. Without the visitation, the vision, the dream or the prophetic word we might not make the changes needed.
Over the years my wife and I have had a number of special visitations from God that have acted as crucial turning points for us. They have been what we call red letter days when we know that God has spoken to us clearly. They have given us courage to move forward and they have been a reminder of God’s leading when looking backwards.
So just like Peter and Cornelius’, our heavenly visitations and visions help us to move forward and make the changes necessary for God’s will to come to pass in our lives.
In Acts 8:26-40 we read the story of Philip and the Ethiopian. We see that Ethiopian was returning home from visiting Jerusalem to worship.
From Philip we can learn several things about sharing our faith with others.
1. Philip was obedient to God’s prompting – He was ministering in Samaria and was prompted to travel down the south road or the desert road. He did as he was asked.
2. Philip remained open to the Holy Spirit while travelling – Philip was told to go and be near the chariot that the Ethiopian Eunuch was travelling in. He did.
3. Philip listened to what the man was reading – Philip found out where the man was at. He realised he was reading Isaiah and asked if he needed help.
4. Philip told the man about Jesus – He explained that the prophecy from Isaiah was about Jesus and began to tell him all about Jesus.
5. Philip assisted the Ethiopian to be baptised – Philip assisted him to make this important step for new believers.
6. Philip continued his work elsewhere – we see that the Spirit took Philip away and he continued preaching the Gospel in all the surrounding towns.
One thing I like about this story is that Philip responded to God’s promptings all the way through. He was obedient to what he was asked to do.
I also like that he assessed where the man was at personally and assisted him with his queries about the Book of Isaiah. He then pointed him to Jesus and the way of salvation.
Sometimes as Christians we just need to listen to the Spirit’s promptings and start where the other person is at.
One of the Bible stories that really grabbed hold of me as a new Christian was the stoning of Stephen. I can remember reading it and being amazed at his faith and commitment to Jesus even while being threatened by death.
As a new Christian it really brought home the reality that bad things can happen to good people. And just because you commit to follow Jesus it doesn’t mean things will always be smooth sailing.
Over the years I have read and re-read the story of Stephen’s death and I came to realise that his death was not only a testimony of commitment to Christ, but it also opened the doors for a number of things to happen.
As a result of Stephen’s death and further persecution the church spread and grew and more people were impacted. Here are a few examples…
1. Philip went down to Samaria and preached the Gospel and performed signs, wonders and miracles. People were converted, set free from demon possession and healed (Acts 8:4-40)
2. Paul (Saul) was converted and became a follower of Jesus and a great missionary. Previously he persecuted Christians (Acts 9:1-30)
3. Peter went on a missionary journey to Samaria, Lydda and Ceserea with great effect. It says that he taught the new believers about the Holy Spirit and strengthen their faith (Acts 9:32-11:18)
4. The church in Antioch was founded. This was a pivotal church was in time was used as a base to further spread the message of Jesus to the region (Acts 11:19-21)
The stoning of Stephen really taught me some great lessons early on as a new Christian. I learned that bad things can happen to us as we follow Jesus and that often persecution can build faith and lead to growth in the church.
It also taught me that as Christians we have to live our life of following Jesus 100% committed. We can’t be lukewarm or half-hearted.