All posts in Unvarnished Jesus

  • Testifying in Jerusalem

    Day 58

    Acts 21 & 22

    Jerusalem has a spiritual draw. I’ve been going to Jerusalem for ten years now and I will continue to return to Jerusalem for the rest of my life. Paul felt the same way. He had to keep returning to Jerusalem. Even though his ministry was primarily to the Gentiles in Europe, Paul regularly returned to Jerusalem…sometimes to be there for one of the feasts and sometimes just to be there. Jerusalem is the holy city, the city of the great King. Jesus said so. (Matthew 5:35) It’s the place where God inaugurates the major purposes of His redemptive agenda. It’s the place of our salvation. It’s the place to which Jesus will return and the place from which He will rule the nations. No wonder we are drawn to the eternal city of Jerusalem.

    In the year A.D. 57 Paul was returning to Jerusalem yet again. As he journeyed to Jerusalem there were prophetic words concerning the trouble he would face in Jerusalem. First in Tyre there are prophetic words warning Paul about what will happen in Jerusalem. Then when Paul came to Caesarea; here we meet some friends we first met twenty years ago — Philip the Evangelist and Agabus the Prophet. Agabus in dramatic fashion prophesied how Paul would be bound in Jerusalem.

    Some have asked was Paul right in going to Jerusalem. I say, who are we to tell the Apostle Paul what he should or shouldn’t do? Paul knew what awaited him, but he wanted to testify in Jerusalem one more time. Personal prophecy is not a means of primary directive. Personally I believe Paul did exactly what he was supposed to do and those who warned him prophetically about what was going to happen did exactly what they were supposed to do.

    The account of Paul’s visit to Pastor James in Jerusalem gives you a feel of just how Jewish the church in Jerusalem was. It reminds me of some of the Messianic synagogues in Israel. It would be strange for Gentile believers to adopt these Jewish customs, but for Jewish believers (especially in Israel) to pattern their worship after a Jewish synagogue service makes perfect sense.

    Ever since his conversion on the Damascus road nearly twenty-five years earlier, Paul had been following Jesus. Do you remember what Jesus told Ananias about Paul? “I will show him how many thing he must suffer for My name’s sake.” Now as Paul is seized in the temple, he enters into an eerie repetition of what Jesus suffered in the exact same place. When Jesus stood before Pilate, the crowds shouted, “Away with Him!” (John 19:15) Now in the very same place, an angry mob is shouting at Paul, “Away with him!” (Acts 21:36)

    Then Paul gives his final testimony in Jerusalem. You will notice that it was not the claim that Jesus was the Messiah that was intolerable to the Jewish unbelievers; rather it was the message that Gentiles could now enter into covenant with God. Here we identify one of the prime components of a religious spirit: The desire to keep the Kingdom of God exclusive and elite upon terms other than what God has established. Pray that you would never have that kind of spirit!


    Today I am spending the entire day preparing Sunday’s message on the Second Coming. There is a real excitement about this Sunday and I am trusting the Lord to help me bring a very powerful message on the Blessed Hope. Pray for me. Tell somebody about this Sunday and invite them to come to church with you. Jesus is coming soon!




    Here is one of my all time favorite songs. I’ve asked Eric Stark to sing it for us this Sunday. The words are awesome! Check ’em out…

    When He Returns
    Bob Dylan

    The iron hand it ain’t no match for the iron rod,
    The strongest wall will crumble and fall to a mighty God.
    For all those who have eyes and all those who have ears
    It is only He who can reduce me to tears.
    Don’t you cry and don’t you die and don’t you burn
    For like a thief in the night, He’ll replace wrong with right
    When He returns.

    Truth is an arrow and the gate is narrow that it passes through,
    He unleashed His power at an unknown hour that no one knew.
    How long can I listen to the lies of prejudice?
    How long can I stay drunk on fear out in the wilderness?
    Can I cast it aside, all this loyalty and this pride?
    Will I ever learn that there’ll be no peace, that the war won’t cease
    Until He returns?

    Surrender your crown on this blood-stained ground, take off your mask,
    He sees your deeds, He knows your needs even before you ask.
    How long can you falsify and deny what is real?
    How long can you hate yourself for the weakness you conceal?
    Of every earthly plan that be known to man, He is unconcerned,
    He’s got plans of His own to set up His throne
    When He returns.


  • Revival and Riot

    Day 57

    Acts 19 & 20

    So you say you want a revolution? Well, you know, we all want to change the world. At least I know I do. It’s the one that’s always been true in my life — I’ve always wanted to change the world. As much as anything this is why I got so on fire for Jesus as a teenager…because I somehow knew this is the thing that really can change the world.

    The Jesus Revolution. I’ve always like that term. Sometimes it’s used to describe the spiritual movement among young people that occurred in the early 70’s, but it’s really an apt description for the entire history of authentic Christianity. The Jesus Revolution. Sometimes it produces revival, sometimes it produces riot, sometimes both, but it’s always revolutionary.

    We see the Jesus revolution producing both revival and riot in Acts 19 and 20. These two chapters are a synopsis of what is called Paul’s third missionary journey — a four year stint of ministry primarily in Ephesus and Greece (A.D. 53-57).

    What revival! God was working unusual miracles through Paul. Handkerchiefs from Paul’s body were so saturated with the anointing on his life that they healed the sick and drove out demons! People were being saved, the church was growing, the gospel was spreading. People were so hungry for the Word of God that they would hold meetings at midnight! And if someone happened to fall asleep and fall out of the second story window, Paul just raised them from the dead.

    That reminds me of a story. Seven years ago I was on my third ministry trip to Nigeria. My preaching schedule was absolutely packed. A pastor kept asking me to preach in his church and I told him I didn’t have any availability. He said, “What about Friday night at midnight?” I said, “No one is going to come to church at midnight.” He said, “Yes, they will.” I was somewhat skeptical, but I took him up on his offer. After preaching all day and all evening in another church, I arrived at his church at midnight. Two thousand people were there! After an hour of worship I got up and preached for an hour and then prayed for the people until nearly 3 A.M.! That’s revival!

    But Paul had riot too. You cannot invade new territory long held by demon powers without there being some kind of resistance. But I would rather have riot and revival than no revival at all. Because I want to change the world!


    I Found What I Was Looking For

    You broke the bonds
    And you loosed the chains
    Carried the cross
    Of my shame
    Of my shame
    You know I believe it
    But I still haven’t found what I’m looking for.

    -Bono (U2)

    The Kingdom of Heaven is like a merchant seeking beautiful pearls, who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had and bought it.

    -Jesus (Matthew 13:45–46)

    I can tell you exactly why I became a Christian. I didn’t what to go to hell. As a fifteen year old by I became convinced of the absolute reality of heaven and hell and I understood that the only way to escape hell in eternity was to receive Jesus in this life. So I did. A desire not to go to hell is a perfectly good reason to become a Christian. But it doesn’t answer everything and it won’t satisfy every deep longing. The truth is that you are looking for something more than the insurance policy of not-going-to-hell-when-you-die. You are looking for some things that pertain to this life.

    Whereas it is true that I became a Christian because I didn’t want to spend eternity in hell, that doesn’t explain why since that time my life has been consumed with a burning passion for the Kingdom of Jesus Christ. When I received Jesus as my Savior that Saturday night in November of 1974 I knew I was saved; I knew I was going to heaven and not hell. From that point on I could have done what a lot of Christians apparently do: I could have just cruised through life as a casual Christian with the calm assurance that I had a home in heaven waiting for me at the end of this life. But that’s not what I did. From the very first days of my conversion my life has been centered around and focused upon King Jesus and His Kingdom.

    Why is this? Is it because I have such a deep sense of gratitude to my Lord and Savior Jesus that I want to spend my life serving Him? Well, I do have a deep gratitude toward Jesus and I hope I am growing more and more in this attitude, but I can honestly say that this doesn’t fully explain the intense passion I have had for the Kingdom of God since the earliest days of my Christian experience. I think I can simply put it this way: When I found the Kingdom, I found what I was looking for. Let me say it again: When I found the pearl of great price that is the Kingdom of Heaven, I FOUND WHAT I WAS LOOKING FOR!

    Like the merchant in Jesus’ parable who was seeking beautiful pearls and found one of such exquisite beauty and that he gladly sold all he had to obtain this one pearl, so I found what I was looking for in the Kingdom of God. How I knew as a teenager that everything I was looking for was to be found in this heavenly Kingdom, can only be explained as a revelation from the Holy Spirit. At that point in my life I doubt that I could have put into words what I was looking for, but I knew I was looking for something. I couldn’t verbalize it, but I felt it. And I knew when I found the Kingdom that I had found what I was looking for…I KNEW IT!

    Now these many years later I think I can put into words what I was looking for and what I have found in the Kingdom of God. It would say it is three things: A Revolution, an Adventure, and a Community. This is what I was looking for and this is what I have found in the Kingdom.

    John Lennon sang, You say you want a revolution, well you know we all want to change the world. I know what it’s like to feel that way. I can remember as a teenager having a brief infatuation with Marxism, not because I really knew anyhing about Marxism or really thought it was a good idea, but simply because it was revolutionary! It’s hard to imagine a thinking person that doesn’t acknowledge that the world needs changing; a few minutes with a newspaper or CNN ought to convince a person of that. But history is littered with revolutionaries whose radical ideas of been tried and found wanting — because the real problem with the world is not social or political or economical, but spiritual! And that reality makes Jesus the greatest revolutionary of all time. His life and gospel have changed the world — one radical salvation experience at a time. In Thessalonica they said the Christians had turned the world upside down! (Acts 17:6) There is no denying that the gospel of Jesus Christ is revolutionary and the greatest force for positive change in the world. When I came into the Kingdom, my desire to be a part of a revolutionary movement that could change the world was satisfied. Today I know I am part of a sacred revolution, spiritual awakening that is effecting global change.

    Though I initially became a Christian to avoid hell, I quickly realized that I had found much more than a ticket to heaven. Almost immediately I discovered that life in the Kingdom of God is the greatest adventure of all — and I was looking for adventure. I knew I didn’t want to be just another participating rat in the rat race of mundane living. I wanted something thrilling, something exciting, something adventurous — and I found it in the Kingdom. Shortly after I became a Christian I took down the rock star posters that adorned my bedroom and I replaced them with a giant poster that said, JESUS CONQUERS BOREDOM! I am totally convinced that God is the only perpetual novelty in the universe — everything else will eventually become tiresome and boring, but the pursuit of the knowledge of God is the eternal wonder, the everlasting adventure. The 19th Century British preacher Charles Kingsley said, “We act as though comfort and luxury were the chief requirements of life, when all we really need is something to be enthusiastic about.” I believe that is true, and I am endlessly enthusiastic about the adventure found in the cause of Christ.

    I initially came to Jesus Christ out of a concern for my personal welfare, but in doing so I was saved into the body of Christ. When we are saved, we are saved out of something — out of sin, out of the world, out of the power of the devil. But we are also saved into something; we are saved into the Church, the body of Christ. During the first year of my Christian walk I gained a whole new set of friends. The old Brian Zahnd was gone and the new Brian Zahnd had new values, new priorities, new interests and needed new friends. I found these friends in the koinonia fellowship of the body of Christ. Modern society suffers much from human disconnectedness. Vast segments of our population are terribly lonely. We were not created to live like this — everybody has a deep need to belong to some kind of community.

    I remember the first time I want to the Black Hills motorcycle rally in Sturgis, South Dakota where over 300,000 bikers had gathered. The American biker is a symbol of nonconformist individuality, an icon of personal freedom and rugged independence. But there we were, hundreds of thousands of us…all looking alike on our Harleys, wearing blue jeans and black leather jackets. That’s when it hit me, despite the iconic stereotype, we weren’t trying to express our individuality, we were trying to belong to something. Because everybody — from bikers to bankers — wants to belong to a community. I found the fellowship of community in the Kingdom of God.

    I became a Christian out of a legitimate concern for my eternal destiny; but I have passionately pursued life in the Kingdom of Jesus Christ for many years now because in this Kingdom I found what I was looking for. And you can too.


  • The Gospel to the Greeks

    Day 56

    Acts 17 & 18

    Acts 17 and 18 cover four years (A.D. 49-52). Keep this in mind when you are reading Acts. Something that you can easily read in fifteen minutes took four years to live. No doubt Paul and Silas lived exciting lives, but don’t get the idea that every single day they had visions and angels and miracles. They did not. There were lots of days of simple monotony or just plain hard work. Keep that in mind when you’re reading Acts and keep that in mind when you’re living your life.

    What we have just read is the brief summary of Paul’s second missionary journey which was predominately centered in the Greek cities of Philippi, Thessalonica, Bera, Athens and Corinth. We see Paul’s pattern of preaching the gospel first to the Jews and then to the Greeks (Romans 1:16). When preaching the gospel to the Jews, Paul had a common authority to base his preaching on: The Old Testament Scriptures. When preaching to the Greeks, Paul didn’t have this advantage. But Paul was a remarkable man; a scholar of the Hebrew Scriptures and well acquainted with Greek philosophy and poetry. When preaching in Athens Paul quoted from the Phaenomena by the third century B.C. Greek poet Aratus.

    The Apostle Peter could open the door to the Gentiles by preaching to the Jewish influenced Cornelius, but it took the depth of learning and breadth of culture of the Apostle Paul to effectively preach the gospel to the Greeks. Four times in Acts 17 and 18 we see Paul preaching the gospel by “reasoning.” Miracle power and intellectual prowess can go together, and when they do it is a marvelous thing.

    During the persecution of the Christian movement in Thessalonica, the opponents of the gospel used the same tactic that the chief priests used when they accused Jesus before Pontius Pilate: They asserted that the Jesus movement was a subversive political movement. We must continually remember the Christianity is not a political movement. It will influence politics as it influences people through the new birth, but Christianity itself is not a political agenda. Christianity can and has flourished in all kinds of political environments. The Kingdom of God will not be political until the King returns to rule the nations. Until then we must remember that our mission is to lead people into the new birth by a real encounter with Jesus Christ and not allow Christianity to be reduced to a mere human political agenda. This is a very important principle for American evangelicals to remember right now.



  • The Gospel Comes to Europe

    Day 55

    Acts 15 & 16

    Before the gospel could come to Europe — which would eventually become the stronghold of Christianity for over a thousand years — the church first had to settle the issue of Gentile salvation. Could a Gentile be saved by faith in Jesus Christ alone, or did they have to go through a “Jewification” process of circumcision and the observance of certain Jewish ritual? Much was at stake with this question. Had it been decided that to be saved a person essentially had to become Jewish first, then Christianity would have become little more than a sect of Judaism.

    Ever since Peter had preached the gospel to the house of Cornelius several years earlier, the apostles had apparently agreed that Gentiles need to do nothing more than believe in Jesus to be saved. But some of the Pharisees who had become Christians were putting pressure on Gentile believers to conform to Jewish observances and telling them they could not be saved otherwise. This was not really an issue in the Jerusalem church, which was entirely Jewish and where the members continued to practice many of their Jewish rituals. It became a problem when uncommissioned preachers from Jerusalem began to preach this to the Gentile believers in Antioch. To settle the dispute the church held its first council — the Jerusalem Council.

    From the outset all of the apostolic leaders were in agreement. Peter (the preeminent apostle), James (the pastor of the church in Jerusalem), Paul and Barnabas (the apostles to the Gentiles) all agreed that the Gentiles could be saved by faith in Jesus alone; it was only the Pharisee Christians who contended otherwise. And the spiritual descendents of the Pharisee Christians are still among us today, contending that to be saved you have to belong to a certain denomination or you have to be baptized in a certain way or you have to worship on a certain day of the week, etc. This is rooted in spiritual elitism and a desire to have proprietary control of the Kingdom of God. These kinds of Christians always impede the real progress of the Kingdom.

    I think it is worth noting that this dispute was settled by the local church, with Pastor James presiding and giving the final decision. This testifies to the preeminence of the local church in the purposes of God.

    In the end it was decided to simply encourage the Gentiles in their faith in Jesus Christ and make it clear to them that in becoming followers of Jesus they had to make a clean break with idolatry and immorality. Of course following Jesus involves more than giving up idolatry and immorality, but these two sins are particularly destructive and must be forsaken if there is to be any hope of really making it as a Christian. I’m sure I’ll have much more to say about this when I reach Acts 15 in “The Unvarnished Church” series.

    I also note that although an amiable resolution was reached at the Jerusalem Council, Paul and Barnabas were unable to reach an amiable solution in their disagreement over the role of John Mark in their ministry together…so they parted ways. Who was right? Who knows? Probably both. Barnabas was the encourager who prioritized relationships and later Paul would acknowledge the usefulness of Mark. On the other hand Paul was the great pioneer missionary called to take the gospel into the strongholds of paganism and couldn’t have a potential deserter on his team. Personally I think they both did what they needed to do and it’s encouraging to realize that personal disagreement in the body of Christ does not mean the end of the world.

    So it was Paul and Silas who broke into new territory taking the gospel to a new continent: Europe. The challenges were enormous; and though there were astounding miracles to help propel the gospel, this advance of the Kingdom would not come without tremendous risk, sacrifice and suffering. We often say we would like to have had an opportunity to have been with the Apostle Paul, but I suspect most of us would not have lasted as long as Mark did before heading home. Paul and his companions really were remarkable champions of the gospel.

  • Missionaries

    Day 54

    Acts 13 & 14

    I admire missionaries. I’ve had the privilege of meeting missionaries on six continents. I’ve stayed in their homes, preached in their churches, witnessed their sacrifices and seen the fruit of their labors. They are some of the greatest people I know.

    Missionaries: Ministers commissioned by Jesus through the church to take the gospel to new places and plant new churches. Missionaries are spiritual pioneers. The most effective missionaries are those with real apostolic anointing.

    In our reading today we met the first missionaries of the church: Paul and Barnabas. In A.D. 46 they were sent out to preach the gospel and plant churches after being commissioned by the Holy Spirit through the spiritual leadership of the church in Antioch. Acts 13 and 14 are the record of Paul’s first missionary journey; a three year tour of ministry through Cyprus and Asia Minor (modern day Turkey).

    Pioneer missionaries live lives of incredible adventure. Some of them make Indiana Jones look like nervous schoolmarm. I think of the adventures of men I have known like Lester Sumrall and P.G. Vargis — Hollywood should make movies about their real-life exploits! Miracles happen most where people risk much to advance the gospel. This is just a fact.

    You should read the biographies of the great pioneer missionaries; men like William Carey, Hudson Taylor, C.T. Studd and T.L. Osborn. The lives of these men have altered the course of continents!

    But the pioneer of these great gospel pioneers was the Apostle Paul. What adventures! Miracles healings. A sorcerer trying to oppose the gospel is struck blind (that’s like healing in reverse). Paul is stoned to death — but pops back up and keeps right on going! And in his wake are new believers and new churches.

    I’m reading this book right now. It’s excellent!

    Today I was impressed by the emphasis on prayer and fasting and the reliance upon the guidance of the Holy Spirit that we find demonstrated in Acts. The church is unlike any other institution on earth. We cannot operate like any other entity. We cannot emulate American corporate culture and expect book of Acts results. To have what they had in the book of Acts we must do what they did…we must pray, fast, rely upon the Holy Spirit and audaciously expect God to show up with miracle power.



  • Angels

    Day 53

    Acts 11 & 12

    Book of Acts Christianity is supernatural Christianity. Almost every page in Acts has some reference to the supernatural. In Acts chapters 11 and 12 we find visions, a specific prophecy about impending world events and several dramatic appearances of angels. As we return to book of Acts authenticity in our Christianity we can expect to experience more and more of the supernatural.

    Chapter 11 opens with Peter’s account of the gospel coming to the Gentiles (which involved visions, angels, prophecy and speaking in tongues) and the chapter closes with a prophet named Agabus prophesying in the Antioch church about an impending famine. Agabus gave this prophecy in the year A.D. 44 and we know from the Jewish historian Josephus that this famine occurred the following year. Agabus was a true prophet of the Lord. We will meet him again in the book of Acts.

    Chapter 12 opens and closes with events pertaining to King Herod. Herod is a family name and it is difficult to keep all the Herods in the Bible straight. This Herod is not the Herod from the time of the birth of Jesus (Herod the Great), and this is not the Herod from the time of the crucifixion (Herod Antipas), and this is not the Herod that Paul will preach to later on (Herod Agrippa II) — this is Herod Agrippa I. He is the grandson of Herod the Great and the nephew of Herod Antipas. And just to show you what a strange family the Herods were: Herod the Great murdered his son Aristobulus, who was the father of Herod Agrippa I. Herod Agrippa I was son of first cousins and he himself married a first cousin and somewhere along the way an uncle and a niece in the Herod family were married (yikes!), but I can’t keep it all straight. Herod Agrippa I was born in 10 B.C. and reigned as king from A.D. 37 until his death in A.D. 44.

    Herod steps onto the stage of the Bible by executing James the brother of John. James was one of Jesus’ triumvirate inner circle and he was the first of the Twelve to die a martyr’s death. After Herod had executed James by the sword and saw how it pleased the Sanhedrin, he then arrested Peter during Passover and intended to put him to death as well. Of course you read the story of how the church prayed and an angel delivered Peter. I wonder if after the death of the Apostle James the church learned the importance of praying for their leaders?

    I find it very interesting that on the eve of his execution Peter was sleeping so soundly that the angel had to smack Peter to wake him up. This seems to be amazing peace of mind. I suspect Peter knew he wasn’t going to die yet. Remember, Jesus had told Peter that he would die when he was old (see John 21:18). Peter was about 45 (and that’s not old!). Peter would live another 22 years.

    Chapter 12 closes with the death of Herod. Josephus supplies some more details and tells us that Herod gave his oration by the sea wearing “a garment made wholly of silver” and that when the rays of the sun touched his garments it “shone with surprising splendor.” And like Luke, Josephus tells us that the people flattered Herod by calling him a god. Josephus records that King Herod died five days later. Luke tells us that this too was the work of an angel who brought the judgment of God upon Herod for accepting blasphemous praise.

    So we see angels at work; delivering messages, engineering prison breaks and even conveying the judgment of upon impenitent political leaders. As we progress further in the last days — and as the church learns to pray more — we can expect to see a dramatic increase of angelic activity.

    I’m glad we’ve got the angels on our side!


  • The Gentiles Discover Jesus

    Day 52

    Acts 9 & 10

    And suddenly!

    These are great words. God’s “suddenlies” are among His most wonderful works. The book of Acts is filled with “divine suddenlies.”

    Pentecost was a divine suddenly.

    And suddenly a sound came from heaven.

    In chapter 16 we will see Paul and Silas delivered from prison by a divine suddenly.

    And suddenly there was a great earthquake.

    Here in Acts 9 we see that Paul’s salvation was a divine suddenly.

    And suddenly a light shone around him from heaven.

    So I believe in sudden revival and sudden deliverance and sudden salvation. Let that be an encouragement to you. God doesn’t need a lot of time to do the thing you are praying for. One moment it looks like nothing is happening…and suddenly!

    I have a strong suspicion that this spring and summer is going to be a season of “and suddenly!” Dare to prophesy to your spring and summer and called it a season of suddenlies.

    God is the greatest author of all and His sense of drama is unparalleled. I love the drama of divine surprise.

    I got saved that way. I didn’t see it coming. One moment I was a typical long-haired Led Zeppelin freak…AND SUDDENLY!…I had a head-on collision with Jesus Christ and became the surprise Jesus freak of Savannah High School. People were surprised. I was more surprised than anyone. I still haven’t got over it. God is full of surprises! You know the Jehovah names of God? Jehovah-Shalom, Jehovah-Rapha, Jehovah-Jireh, etc. I want to give you a new one: Jehovah-Surprise!

    God’s got a good surprise for you. Dare to believe it and let it make you happy.


    We are studying the book of Acts as part of the Unvarnished Jesus because we see in Acts how the ministry of Jesus continues and expands through His church. Jesus has ascended to the right hand of the Father and from there He presides over His church. In Acts 9 we see Jesus making Himself known to the anti-Christian zealot Saul of Tarsus who will come to be known as the Apostle Paul (talk about surprises!) and we see Jesus sending Ananias to Saul to get him healed and filled with the Holy Spirit. In Acts 10 we see the momentous event of Jesus opening the door of salvation to the Gentiles as Peter preaches the gospel to the house of Cornelius in Caesarea.*

    * We always begin our tours of Israel in Caesarea. An appropriate place for Gentiles to begin a tour of the Holy Land. We have already filled one bus for our November Israel tour and now we’re filling up a second one. Get on board!

    Jesus is the head of the church and He is calling the shots from the right hand of the throne of God. The church isn’t perfect, but the church is going to win, because it’s the thing Jesus is doing. The gates of hell will not prevail! You must be part of an authentic (shall I say unvarnished?) New Testament church to be a part of what Jesus is doing…to be in on the ACTSion…to have a front row seat to the drama of divine surprise!

  • Stephen and Philip

    Day 51

    Acts 7 & 8

    Stephen and Philip*. They were deacons in the first church. As such they were part of a team of seven men who oversaw the benevolent ministry of the church in Jerusalem; a church that may have been close to twenty thousand people. They also had powerful evangelistic and miracle ministries. Perhaps most importantly they were Hellenists; that is they were Jews who spoke Greek and adopted many aspects of Greek culture. They weren’t Gentiles, but they were very comfortable with many aspects of Greek culture. Through them God was preparing the church for the opening of the door of faith to the Gentiles that would come about ten years later.

    * Don’t confuse Philip the Evangelist (the Hellenist deacon) with Philip the Apostle (one of the twelve disciples). They are two different men. The Philip we read about in Acts is Philip the Evangelist.

    Stephen has the honor and distinction of being the first martyr of the church. A gate of the old city of Jerusalem bears his name because it is near the place where he was stoned to death. St. Stephen’s Gate.

    Stephen was a first class debater with a keen mind and he also had a powerful miracle ministry. He was greatly used by God to bring many people to faith in Jesus and he was especially effective in leading priests to Jesus. When I think of Stephen I think of a man with an evangelistic and miracle ministry of someone like Reinhard Bonnke and the intellect and apologetic skills of someone like Ravi Zacharias. He was a powerful force for the gospel! A first century Ravi Bonnke!

    When the Sanhedrin (the same religious council that had condemned Jesus to death) could not contend with Stephen’s intellectual arguments and his miracle anointing, they resorted to slander. They falsely accused him of blasphemy and put him on trial. You know the outcome. As Stephen was being stoned to death, he was given a vision of Jesus standing at the right hand of God. We are told that Jesus is seated at the right hand of God, but Jesus stood to honor His faithful martyr. Present at the stoning of Stephen was a young man named Saul. We will meet him tomorrow. This Saul would have the same kind of ministry as Stephen; a powerful combination of intellect and miracles. Another Ravi Bonnke!

    Philip was another powerful evangelist who had lots of miracles in his ministry. He was one of the first preachers to take the gospel beyond Jerusalem. He took the message of Jesus Christ to the Samaritans. The Samaritans were neither fully Jewish nor fully Gentile — they were a sort of hybrid. Again you can see God preparing the church for the gospel to come to the Gentiles.

    Philip had great results in Samaria in getting people saved, but the Apostles in Jerusalem weren’t satisfied until the Samaritan believers had been baptized in the Holy Spirit. So they sent them Peter and John to lead them into the baptism in the Holy Spirit. We see very clearly in Acts that the baptism in the Holy Spirit is a separate experience from salvation.

    Water baptism and baptism in the Holy Spirit were very important to the church in Acts. We need to maintain a strong emphasis on these two baptisms if we want to have what they had. Book of Acts results requires book of Acts methods.



  • Trials

    Day 50

    Acts 5 & 6

    So, you want the church to be like it was in the book of Acts? Does that mean you want Christians who live a lie and you want people to fall over dead in church and you want racially motivated disputes within the church and you want a church that is the subject of vicious rumors and you want to be arrested and beaten for being a Christian? This too is part of the book of Acts. Acts 5 and 6 should deliver you from the naive notion that the early church was always pristine and pure and never a discouraging word was heard and the skies are not cloudy all day. Welcome to a little thing I like to call…REALITY!


    (That’s the sound of your fantasy bubble bursting.)

    As we move from the Gospels to Acts, we move from discovering the unvarnished Jesus to exploring the unvarnished church. And a varnish that often distorts our concept of Biblical Christianity is the gloss of perfectionism. The church in Acts was far…sometimes really far…from being perfect. Yes, we have Peter and Paul powerfully preaching the truth of the gospel. But we also have Ananias and Sapphira lying to the Holy Spirit. Yes, we have a church where people like Barnabas are sacrificially giving of their finances to meet the needs of the church. But we also have a church full of racial tension between Semitic Jews and Hellenistic Jews. Yes, we have a church that is marked by miracle ministry. But we also have a church where the leaders are publicly slandered and accused by the religious establishment of being blasphemers.

    The book of Acts presents us an unvarnished picture of the church. What we see is the church as it really is — the good, the bad and the ugly. The good of miracles and revival. The bad of slander and persecution. The ugly of deceit and dispute. This is the way it is. And there are two simple reasons why we have the bad and ugly mixed with the good when it comes to the church:

    1) The devil hasn’t been thrown into the lake of fire yet.

    2) The church is made up of people — and people have problems.

    Now, I don’t know about you, but I find this all terribly encouraging. This is not a typo; I said I find it encouraging. Because the truth is this: The church in Acts really did turn the world upside down and powerfully advance the cause of Christ and they did it despite the attacks of the devil and the weakness of human flesh. So the devil attacks and people are carnal. So what? Jesus is still Lord and the Kingdom is still coming and the Holy Spirit is still poured out and the Gospel is still the truth and the grace of God is still real and miracles still happen and the devil is still defeated and the church is still going to win. No mater what happens we can deal with it, we can overcome it. We can press on and see the work of God accomplished no matter what. Praise the Lord!


    In Acts chapter 5 a lot of things happen to the apostles.

    They are working miracles and people are getting saved. Praise God!

    But then they get thrown in prison. Bummer.

    But then an angel lets them out. Praise God!

    But then they get arrested again. Bummer.

    But then they preach boldly to the Sanhedrin. Praise God!

    But then they get beaten. Bummer.

    But then they get released. Praise God.

    I think that’s the way we approach life too much of the time: Oscillating between “Praise God!” and “Bummer!” depending on our circumstances. We need to mature beyond this. One the greatest signs of real maturity is a consistency in our attitude of praise. We should strive to maintain an attitude of victorious faith and grateful thanksgiving no matter what happens. Because the fact of the matter is that life is filled with devils and trials and we are going to have good times and bad times but Jesus is always Lord and God is always good and we always have a reason to rejoice.

    Personally I am inspired to be more like that.

    This is what stood out to me the most in my reading from Acts 5 and 6…

    And when they had called for the apostles and beaten them, they commanded them that they should not speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go. So they departed from the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for His name. And daily in the temple, and in every house, they did not cease teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ. (Acts 5:40-42)

    What’s the devil going to do with people like that? They’re unstoppable!

    And if we will keep on rejoicing no matter what happens and keep preaching Jesus no matter the cost, we will be unstoppable too!




    Last night’s set list…

    1. Most Likely You Go Your Way (And I’ll Go Mine)
    2. Mr. Tambourine Man
    3. Down Along The Cove
    4. This Wheel’s On Fire
    5. Absolutely Sweet Marie
    6. Masters Of War
    7. Watching The River Flow
    8. The Lonesome Death Of Hattie Carroll
    9. Honest With Me
    10. Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right
    11. Blind Willie McTell
    12. Rainy Day Women # 12 & 35
    13. Like A Rolling Stone
    14. All Along The Watchtower