Christianity 201

July 2, 2018

The Enemy Targets Spiritual Play-Makers

The website Dust Off the Bible has been running a detailed series of posts on Stephen, the first Christian martyr. Specifically these include:

 

Acts Devotional Commentary [Acts 6:8-15] Stephen Seized

Acts 6:8-15

Now Stephen, a man full of God’s grace and power, performed great wonders and signs among the people. Opposition arose, however, from members of the Synagogue of the Freedmen (as it was called)—Jews of Cyrene and Alexandria as well as the provinces of Cilicia and Asia—who began to argue with Stephen. 10 But they could not stand up against the wisdom the Spirit gave him as he spoke.

11 Then they secretly persuaded some men to say, “We have heard Stephen speak blasphemous words against Moses and against God.”

12 So they stirred up the people and the elders and the teachers of the law. They seized Stephen and brought him before the Sanhedrin. 13 They produced false witnesses, who testified, “This fellow never stops speaking against this holy place and against the law. 14 For we have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place and change the customs Moses handed down to us.”

15 All who were sitting in the Sanhedrin looked intently at Stephen, and they saw that his face was like the face of an angel.


Reflections & Commentary


The seizing of Saint Stephen is a story that Luke tells with enough detail that one needs to read slowly through the passage, as to not miss an important facet of the story.

The first detail that Luke provides is that Stephen was not just another ordinary member of the Christian community. He was known throughout the people.

“a man full of God’s grace and power, performed great wonders and signs among the people”

So, the Jewish leaders were not picking people indiscriminately to harass. They were looking to take out the play makers. Like dealing with the disciples, they assume that taking out the leaders of a movement will help dissolve it. This tactic thus far has not proven to be effective. Why they think it will work still, even after they’ve seen it fail, is difficult to know.

Luke’s second area of detail is about the people who rose up to complain about Stephen. Luke refers to them as “members of the Synagogue of the Freedmen“. Who exactly was Luke referring to? Were these Roman slaves that were now free? Were they Jews who believed in hedonism? Were they prisoners set free? Luke gives a little help to answering this question in the next sentence; “Jews of Cyrene and Alexandria as well as the provinces of Cilicia and Asia“. These Freedmen were part of the North African and Western Asian Jewish diaspora. The people named by Luke are two different synagogues, as they are thousands of miles apart, yet they both contained Jewish Freedmen. The diasporic Freedmen existed in both synagogues, as they were the natural product of the diaspora.

Philo speaks of these Jews as former slaved brought into Rome who lived near the Tiber River.

How then did he look upon the great division of Rome which is on the other side of the river Tiber, which he was well aware was occupied and inhabited by the Jews? And they were mostly Roman citizens, having been emancipated; for, having been brought as captives into Italy, they were manumitted by those who had bought them for slaves, without ever having been compelled to alter any of their hereditary or national observances. (156) Therefore, he knew that they had synagogues, and that they were in the habit of visiting them, and most especially on the sacred sabbath days, when they publicly cultivate their national philosophy. He knew also that they were in the habit of contributing sacred sums of money from their first fruits and sending them to Jerusalem by the hands of those who were to conduct the sacrifices. (157) But he never removed them from Rome, nor did he ever deprive them of their rights as Roman citizens, because he had a regard for Judaea…. (Philo, Legato ad Gaium 13:155-156)

These Jews were likely part of the Jewish expulsion from Rome that took place under Tiberius, in 19 CE. Tacitus describes them as being “tainted with superstition” which was a reference to their religion. They were expelled to Sardinia.

There was a debate too about expelling the Egyptian and Jewish worship, and a resolution of the Senate was passed that four thousand of the freedmen class who were infected with those superstitions and were of military age should be transported to the island of Sardinia, to quell the brigandage of the place, a cheap sacrifice should they die from the pestilential climate. The rest were to quit Italy, unless before a certain day they repudiated their impious rites. (Tacitus 2.85)

The Island of Sardinia was west of Italy, nowhere near near Northern Africa or Western Asia. So were the Freedmen of this island the same as the Freedmen that rose up against Stephen? It’s quite possible that Luke is referring to 3 groups of people, or that the Freedmen from Sardinia migrated after being expelled to the island. Some of the Jews were also later expelled from Rome who were partly made up of Freedmen. Where they ended up in the diaspora is hard to know except that it appears that some ended up in Northern Africa and South West Asia (Turkey).

But why would these Freedmen start a quarrel with Stephen? I think the answer is more obvious than it might first appear. They were already enslaved by Rome. They wanted no beef with the leaders that had set them free. The preaching of Jesus in any location near the Jewish Freedmen would have set off alarm bells, and aroused fear that another Roman crackdown was coming. So, they did what anyone would do in that situation; they took Stephen to the Sanhedrin for court.

However, Stephen uses his platform (despite it being in captivity) to preach the gospel (yet again) to the men in the Sanhedrin council. A gospel they surely are tired of hearing about.

October 25, 2016

Choosing Between Being Useful to God, Or Not Being at All

Today’s thoughts are from Joe at the blog As I Learn to Walk, which came suggested to us. Click the title below to read at source.

Usefulness or Death

Jim Elliot has done it again.

As I’ve mentioned in an earlier post, a wise former pastor of mine gave me a copy of The Journals of Jim Elliot. I don’t read it often, but, when I do, I find that God uses it to challenge me more than almost anything else. This experience was no exception.

I picked up Elliot’s journals yesterday and read the following words:

“I covenanted with my Father that He would do either of two things – either glorify Himself to the utmost in me, or slay me.” (From his entry on October 28, “Senior Year, 1948, 1949″).

The very next entry, dated only four days later, records a prayer to God wherein Elliot simply admitted that he felt death would be best, for he feared dishonoring the Lord in his life (From his entry on November 1, same chapter).

I look up to Elliot, but I struggle to pray such a prayer. I imagine that many others do as well. This man’s faith shines with a genuineness, a sweetness, and a humility beyond any I’ve known. Though he felt inadequate upon seeing the extent of his inability, he surrendered himself to the Almighty, trusting God to lead and to work according to his perfect power and plan. Though he saw his weakness, he trusted in God’s strength. And because of God’s work in his life, he would rather die than fail to glorify his Lord. He never wanted to be a useless vessel.

I’m reminded of Paul’s words to Timothy:

The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life.
1 Timothy 1:15-16

Paul, too, recognized his weakness, his complete inability to accomplish the mission in his own power and strength. But he recognized something more than this: he understood that his very weaknesses served to show God’s strength. As people looked at him, knowing his past, knowing his sin, they would realize that his transformation could only have been accomplished by God. They would know that where sin abounds, grace abounds all the more (Romans 5). Paul’s life was a living testimony to God’s grace and mercy.

Eventually, Paul would give his life for his Savior. Many years later, Jim Elliot would do the same. Each man resigned himself to die for the one who died for sinners. Each man gave up what he could not keep and gained something he could never lose. Each man ran the race well.

The hip hop artist Lecrae echoes Elliot’s prayer when he cries, “Lord, kill me if I don’t preach the Gospel” (From “Go Hard” on Lecrae’s Rebel album). This idea haunts me, but in a good way. It challenges me to discipline myself in godliness. It challenges me to give less time to the things that won’t last. It challenges me to look at the world as Jim Elliot did, as Paul did, and as Jesus did. May I be so committed to Christ. May I allow God’s strength to be displayed through my weaknesses. May I be found faithful.

February 16, 2015

The Death of the Saints: Responding to Present Day Persecution

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CNN called the last 7 days "Religion's Week from Hell." Click the image to read the story.

CNN called the last 7 days “Religion’s Week from Hell.” Click the image to read the story.

Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of his faithful servants. Psalm 116:15 NIV

Most of you realize that I don’t do topical articles here. Rather, I try to keep each post somewhat timeless so that people can go back and reuse the resources here at any time.

Sometimes however, events just overwhelm us. I can’t imagine that I would have simply kept writing and posting Bible studies after September 11th, 2001; and with videos circulating of Middle East Christians being beheaded it’s very difficult not to be overwhelmed.

Our purpose here at Christianity 201 is to help people build their doctrinal foundation and link to similar online sites to find more of the same. But as a “201 Christian” who is moving beyond the basics, we have to realize that there are times we need to simply stop the Bible study, forget the Sunday order-of-service, and cry out to God. Rather, we need to use these occasions to express our anguish and pain at seeing brothers and sisters so brutally cut down.

Modern Christian MartyrsOn an Instagram posting of the picture at right — a graphic image of a type unusual for this site — Ann Voskamp quoted two important scriptures.

…whatever the world news may say about the Brave, Martyred 21 Christians who were beheaded by ISIS, Lord, we know Your Word speaks the Truth: “The world was not worthy of them.” (Heb.11:38)

However any evil thinks it’s winning & overcoming,

Your Truth declares that they are the Overcomers, that they overcame “because of the blood of the Lamb & because of the word of their testimony, and they did not love their life even when faced with death.” (Rev.12:11)

And wherever Your people are tonight, God,

We will remember every one of their names because they did not forget You or forsake claiming Your name,

We will pray for their families because they are our literal family,

And we will pray that our faith in You
is worth laying down our life for You,

We will pray that we don’t live lives of cheap grace but costly Christianity,

We will pray that their sacrificed lives will stir us to live sacrificial lives

And we will weep prayers for the persecuted Church because we are bound to them through Your Heart & in Your heart they are UNBOUND, UNDEFEATABLE, UNDAUNTED, & UNFORGETTABLE.

James 1:22 says Do not deceive yourselves by just listening to his word; instead, put it into practice. (GNT)

The Message Bible records this as:

22-24 Don’t fool yourself into thinking that you are a listener when you are anything but, letting the Word go in one ear and out the other. Act on what you hear! Those who hear and don’t act are like those who glance in the mirror, walk away, and two minutes later have no idea who they are, what they look like.

Part of our doing is communicating with God, expressing our sadness, crying out to him for help, interceding on behalf of the persecuted church. Yes, it is possible that God sees their sacrifice differently than we do, but we have only these eyes and ears, and what we see breaks us.

We need to tell God that.

AMP Rom 8:26   So too the [Holy] Spirit comes to our aid and bears us up in our weakness; for we do not know what prayer to offer nor how to offer it worthily as we ought, but the Spirit Himself goes to meet our supplication and pleads in our behalf with unspeakable yearnings and groanings too deep for utterance.

Message Rom 8:26 Meanwhile, the moment we get tired in the waiting, God’s Spirit is right alongside helping us along. If we don’t know how or what to pray, it doesn’t matter. He does our praying in and for us, making prayer out of our wordless sighs, our aching groans.

If the news about such modern day martyrdom has touched you — and I do not know how it cannot — I leave some space here that, rather than absorbing teaching and learning today, we would just express our pain to our Father in heaven.

 

 

 

 

 

 

June 12, 2011

Devotional Reading: Our Daily Bread

In North America, or at least Evangelical North America, the Our Daily Bread devotional is probably the most-read staple of devotional reading.  Sometimes accused of being a little ‘lite’ in content, there are some, like this entry, which combine a little church history, a little Bible history and some serious application…

If this seems a little longer than you remember Our Daily Bread being, it’s because we’ve printed out the suggested scripture reading in full; whereas many (of us!) often just read the theme verse and don’t actually do the reading. 

Our Daily Bread is published faithfully by Radio Bible Class in monthly, quarterly, large-print and many different foreign languages.

Daniel 3:8-30

Amplified Bible (AMP)

8Therefore at that time certain men of Chaldean descent came near and brought [malicious] accusations against the Jews.

    9They said to King Nebuchadnezzar, O king, live forever!

    10You, O king, have made a decree that every man who hears the sound of the horn, pipe, lyre, trigon, harp, dulcimer or bagpipe, and every kind of music shall fall down and worship the golden image,

    11And that whoever does not fall down and worship shall be cast into the midst of a burning fiery furnace.

    12There are certain Jews whom you have appointed and set over the affairs of the province of Babylon–Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. These men, O king, pay no attention to you; they do not serve your gods or worship the golden image which you have set up.

    13Then Nebuchadnezzar in rage and fury commanded to bring Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego; and these men were brought before the king.

    14[Then] Nebuchadnezzar said to them, Is it true, O Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, that you do not serve my gods or worship the golden image which I have set up?

    15Now if you are ready when you hear the sound of the horn, pipe, lyre, trigon, harp, dulcimer or bagpipe, and every kind of music to fall down and worship the image which I have made, very good. But if you do not worship, you shall be cast at once into the midst of a burning fiery furnace, and who is that god who can deliver you out of my hands?

    16Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego answered the king, O Nebuchadnezzar, it is not necessary for us to answer you on this point.

    17If our God Whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, He will deliver us out of your hand, O king.

    18But if not, let it be known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image which you have set up!(A)

    19Then Nebuchadnezzar was full of fury and his facial expression was changed [to antagonism] against Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. Therefore he commanded that the furnace should be heated seven times hotter than it was usually heated.

    20And he commanded the strongest men in his army to bind Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego and to cast them into the burning fiery furnace.

    21Then these [three] men were bound in their cloaks, their tunics or undergarments, their turbans, and their other clothing, and they were cast into the midst of the burning fiery furnace.

    22Therefore because the king’s commandment was urgent and the furnace exceedingly hot, the flame and sparks from the fire killed those men who handled Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego.

    23And these three men, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, fell down bound into the burning fiery furnace.

    24Then Nebuchadnezzar the king [saw and] was astounded, and he jumped up and said to his counselors, Did we not cast three men bound into the midst of the fire? They answered, True, O king.

    25He answered, Behold, I see four men loose, walking in the midst of the fire, and they are not hurt! And the form of the fourth is like a son of the gods!(B)

    26Then Nebuchadnezzar came near to the mouth of the burning fiery furnace and said, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, you servants of the Most High God, come out and come here. Then Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego came out from the midst of the fire.

    27And the satraps, the deputies, the governors, and the king’s counselors gathered around together and saw these men–that the fire had no power upon their bodies, nor was the hair of their head singed; neither were their garments scorched or changed in color or condition, nor had even the smell of smoke clung to them.

    28Then Nebuchadnezzar said, Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, Who has sent His angel and delivered His servants who believed in, trusted in, and relied on Him! And they set aside the king’s command and yielded their bodies rather than serve or worship any god except their own God.

    29Therefore I make a decree that any people, nation, and language that speaks anything amiss against the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego shall be cut in pieces and their houses be made a dunghill, for there is no other God who can deliver in this way!

    30Then the king promoted Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in the province of Babylon.

Hebrews 11:35

Amplified Bible (AMP)

35[Some] women received again their dead by a resurrection. Others were tortured [a]to death with clubs, refusing to accept release [offered on the terms of denying their faith], so that they might be resurrected to a better life. [I Kings 17:17-24; II Kings 4:25-37.]

God Is Good

When Polycarp (AD 69-155), who was bishop of the church at Smyrna, was asked by Roman authorities to curse Christ if he wanted to be released, he said, “Eighty-six years I have served Him, and He never did me any wrong. How can I blaspheme my King who saved me?” The Roman officer threatened, “If you do not change your mind, I will have you consumed with fire.” Polycarp remained undaunted. Because he would not curse Christ, he was burned at the stake.

Centuries earlier, when three young men named Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego faced a similar threat, they answered, “O Nebuchadnezzar, . . . our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and He will deliver us from your hand, O king. But if not, let it be known to you, O king, that we do not serve your gods” (Dan. 3:16-18). A similar experience but two different outcomes. Polycarp was burned alive, but Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego left the furnace unsinged.

Two different results but the same display of faith. These men showed us that faith in God is not simply faith in what God can do. But it’s the belief that God is God whether He delivers us or not. He has the final say. And it’s our decision to choose to follow Him through it all.

Lord, help us trust You all the time
Regardless of what comes our way,
Accepting from Your goodness that
You always have the final say. —Sper

This reading

Radio Bible Class Ministries

January 23, 2011

The Difference A Life Made

William Tyndale

Because 2011 is the 400th anniversary of the King James translation of the Bible, North American newspaper writers are tripping over themselves to write something relevant about a 400-year old book that many of them would never otherwise consider reading.

The Toronto Star was no exception yesterday.

I found it interesting that they traced the development of the Bible back an extra century to the work that William Tyndale did.

Reporter Ron Csillag notes:

William Tyndale, scored the first printed English translation of the New Testament in 1526. Working directly from the Hebrew and Greek texts, his was a plain and vigorous English, designed to make the work accessible to “the boy that driveth the plough.” Some 3,000 of Tyndale’s translations were printed in Germany. Many were smuggled into England, where most were seized and burned as heretical, and Tyndale himself was burned at the stake in Belgium.

I’d heard that part before.  But here’s the part that I didn’t know:

But the scholars who laboured for seven years under James’s royal mandate must have found his words inspiring: It’s estimated that 80 per cent of Tyndale’s translation was incorporated into the KJV.

Eighty per cent!  That part, I hadn’t heard before. The Bible that has served the English speaking world so well for many years is really, four-fifths of it anyway, the Tyndale Bible.

The translation laboriously translated from the Hebrew and Greek by William Tyndale, the Bible translation that he believed in, the translation work that ultimately cost him his life; four-fifths of that is the very same translation whose survival four hundred years later — a fact that would totally amaze Tyndale given how the language has changed — is still being read by some people and still being sold in some Christian bookstores.  400 years later!

That’s the difference his life made.

What difference is my life making?

What difference is your life making?