Monday, February 20, 2012


For the week beginning Sunday February 19, 2012

(In CHRIST we can find true freedom)
Acts 12

In Acts chapter 12, Luke chronicles the story of King Herod Agrippa I, and his persecution of the Christian Church and its leaders at Jerusalem. Herod Agrippa I, was the grandson of Herod the Great, who was ruler over Palestine around the time when JESUS was born. He was the son of Aristobulus, Herod the Great’s son by his wife Mariamne. Herod the Great murdered Mariamne, and subsequently, murdered their two sons, Alexander and Aristobulus, shortly after they found out that he had killed their mother.
Mariamne was a princess who descended from the Great Jewish dynasty, known as the Maccabees. Therefore, Herod Agrippa I was a direct descendant of the Maccabees. He was educated in Rome, and throughout his life, he adhered strongly to Jewish laws and customs. This made him very popular with the orthodox Jews, and through his persecution of the newly formed Christian Church, he no doubt sought to further improve upon his popularity.
In Acts chapter 12, taking up at verse 1, we are introduced to Herod Agrippa I, as he orders the death of James, one the original Disciples of JESUS. James, the brother of the Apostle John, became the first of the original Disciples to be martyred, as he was killed with a sword. When Herod saw how much this pleased the Jewish leaders, he arrested Peter, with the intent to kill him also, as soon as the Passover celebration had ended.
While Peter was in jail, the Church prayed earnestly for him, and on the eve of his trial while asleep in his cell, he was awakened by an angel of the LORD. The angel instructed him to “get up quickly”, and the chains that bound him between two guards, fell from his wrists. Then the angel told him to “Get dressed and put on his sandals and coat and “follow me”. So Peter did as the angel instructed, but all the while, he thought it was just a vision and had not yet realized it was really happening. 
They passed the first and second guard posts, and then finally, they came to an iron gate that would open into the street. The gate opened by itself, and Peter was able to walk with the angel to freedom. As they were walking down the street the angel left him and he realized then, that it was not a dream. He now knew that the LORD had sent HIS angel to rescue him from his impending doom.
Peter then goes directly to the home of the mother of John Mark. John Mark is the man who became the eventual author of the Book of Mark, and is also the cousin of Barnabas (Colossians 4:10). He would also, later, travel with Barnabas and the Apostle Paul, on their first missionary journey (Acts 13:5). The home of his mother was apparently one of the meeting places of the followers of CHRIST in those days, and no doubt, was where they had gathered to pray for Peter during his incarceration.
When Peter arrives there and knocks on the door, a girl named Rhoda came to answer it. But after hearing the voice of Peter, whom they thought was still incarcerated, she, in her excitement, ran back to tell the others instead of opening the door.
The people inside, first, thought she was out of her mind, but finally concluded that she had, no doubt, heard an angel. But, when she insisted, they finally went to the door where they themselves heard Peter’s continued knocking. When they opened the door, they were amazed to see Peter standing there. Peter motions for them to quiet down, and then, tells them the story of how the LORD had led him to freedom. Before he left Mary’s house, he instructed them to go and tell James, the brother of JESUS, and apparent leader of the Church at that time, and all the others, what had just happened.
At dawn there was a great commotion among the palace guards about what had happened with Peter the night before. Herod Agrippa ordered a thorough search for Peter, but he couldn’t be found, and so he interrogated his guards and then sentenced them to death, before leaving for Caesarea to sojourn there for a while.
At that time Herod Agrippa was also angry with the people of Tyre and Sidon. The people of Tyre and Sidon were afraid of the king because they depended on him for their food supply. And so they befriended Herod’s personal assistant, Blastus, and he set up an appointment with the king for them.
When they arrived, the king put on his royal robe, sat on his throne, and proceeded to make a speech that so impressed them, that they began shouting, “This is the voice of a god, not a man”. Instantly an angel of the LORD came and struck Herod down because he accepted the peoples’ praises, instead of giving the glory to GOD, WHOM he had been raised by his mother to serve and fear all of his life.  
In John chapter 8, verses 31-32, JESUS tells those who believe in HIM that, “If ye continue in MY word, then are ye MY disciples indeed; And ye shall know the TRUTH, and the TRUTH shall make you free (KJV). JESUS goes on to tell us in verses 34-36 that, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, whosoever committeth sin is the servant of sin. And the servant abideth not in the house forever: but the SON abideth ever.  If the SON therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed”. There are very few passages in Scripture that show us such a vivid picture of what discipleship really is. True discipleship always results in freedom. It results in freedom from four things, “fear”, “self”, “other people”, and, last but not least, “sin”.
First of all, “Fear” leaves us when we choose to walk with GOD, instead of walking alone.  Secondly, “Self” is a person’s greatest handicap, because it is impossible for us to change ourselves. However, GOD gives us freedom from self, because GOD has the power to recreate us from the inside out, through our getting to know, and becoming accustomed to practicing HIS HOLY WORD.
Thirdly, GOD gives us freedom from “Other People”. It was H.G. Wells who said “The voice of our neighbors sounds louder in our ears than the voice of GOD”. Some peoples’ lives are dominated by what other people think or say about them. The true disciple only cares about what GOD thinks and says.
And finally, GOD gives us freedom from sin. JESUS’ vicarious sacrifice, on the Cross, broke the chains of our slavery to sin. From that moment on, we are no longer under the dominion of sin, and, we are also freed from the curse of the Law.
JESUS’ conquering of sin and death on the Cross put us into a position where we could, thereby, re-enter into a relationship of friendship with GOD, in spite of our many sins against HIM. When we come to know CHRIST, it becomes possible for us to fall in love with goodness, and then, wrong things, will no longer fascinate, and have power over us. It becomes more difficult for us to lose our hearts to the things of this world, as our relationship with GOD, through CHRIST JESUS, becomes our greatest asset. And so, therefore, in CHRIST, we have “true freedom”. Amen.


(1). True Christian discipleship always results in freedom. It results in our
       overcoming the four things that can keep every human being out of the will of
      GOD.  They are “fear”, “self”, “other people”, and “sin”. Let’s re-examine these
       four things, which were previously mentioned in my commentary. First of all,
       there is fear. If you fear what man can do to you, more than you fear GOD,
       then, you are in a “spiritual prison”. I’ll give you just one example of this. If you
       don’t pay your tithes (ten percent of your earnings) to the building of
      CHRIST’s Church kingdom, before you pay anybody else, or any other bill, you
       are in spiritual prison. The obligation you take care of first is the one you have
       the most respect and reverence for. Trusting in GOD, by giving GOD the first
       fruits of your harvest, can free you from this prison of “fear”.
(2). “Self” has always been man’s worst enemy. This is because, man, no matter how
       long, and how hard he tries, can never change himself. GOD is the creator of
       man, and therefore, only GOD can change a man. Man can only change those
       things that GOD allows him to create, or have control or dominion over, on this
       earth, i.e cars, houses, computers, etc. Man can also alter, and has altered, some
       of GOD’s creation, but only for the worst. He can never improve upon GOD’s 
       creation, even though he is not totally convinced of that yet. Man’s surrender to
      GOD allows him to experience a lasting change that will benefit him, both now,
       and, in the world to come. He becomes free from the spiritual prison of “self”.
(3). “Other people” is not only one of the leading reasons for our spiritual
       imprisonment, it is also one of the leading reasons for our financial
       imprisonment. We go to great lengths to try and have what others have, do what
       others do, and look like, what others look like. We try to make others envious of
       us, because, we ourselves, are in fact, envious of other people. When a person
       comes to know CHRIST, their standards are raised to a higher level, and we
       only wish to imitate HIM. We no longer care what “other people” think of us,
       we only care what GOD thinks of us. We become free from the spiritual prison
       of “other people”
(4). And finally, only GOD can give us freedom from the spiritual prison of “sin”,
       and HE does it, through the vicarious sacrifice of our LORD and SAVIOR
      JESUS CHRIST. CHRIST has already paid for the sins of every human being,
       past, present, and future, and this means, all mankind in general, and those who
       believe in HIM, in particular. Coming to CHRIST, frees us from the spiritual
       prison of “sin”.


Pray and ask GOD to grant you “true freedom” through the power of the HOLY SPIRIT. Express to HIM that you are ready to be set free from the bondages of fear, self, other people, and those sins in your life that you continue to try to hold on to. Ask GOD to release you from these spiritual prisons, so that you can serve HIM in all completeness and fullness.

KEY VERSE: Acts 12:11

A Book by Book Bible study by,
Larry D. Alexander

Saturday, February 11, 2012


For the week beginning Sunday February 12, 2012

(Christian missions call for teamwork)
Acts 11

Antioch is a Syrian city on the south side of the Orontes River. It is the place where the followers of JESUS were first called “Christians”. It is located in Phrygia, a province of Asia Minor, near the border of Pisidia. It is also the place where Barnabas and Paul taught the Church for a full year (Acts 11:26), just prior to the start of their, one and only, missionary journey together (Acts 13).
Barnabas, as we all know, is the man who originally introduced Paul to the new Christian Church, first, to the Apostles at Jerusalem in Acts chapter 9, and then later, to the church at Antioch of Syria, here in Acts chapter 11. We also now know that Barnabas later fell out with Paul, over differences involving his cousin John Mark, who was the eventual author of the “Gospel of Mark” (Acts 15:36-40).
Here in Acts chapter 11, starting in verse 19, and going through verse 21, we see, quite literally, the birth of the Christian Church at Antioch of Syria taking place. After this predominately Gentile church is established, and word gets back to the church at Jerusalem, the Apostles send Barnabas to Antioch to encourage the believers to stay true to the LORD. Large numbers of people were being converted to Christianity at Antioch during this period. This all happened about nine years after Paul fled Jerusalem under a murder threat from some of the Greek-speaking Jews that had been debating with him concerning Church doctrine. Paul had been rescued by a group of Believers who had received prior word of this murder plot. They took him, first to Caesarea, and then, on to his hometown of Tarsus to safety (Acts 9:28-30).
Barnabas, seeing the tremendous opportunity that was developing in Antioch for Christian growth, and, also being overwhelmed by the workload there already, decided to go to Tarsus to find Paul and bring him back to Antioch to help him. Both of them stayed there in Antioch with the Church for a year teaching large numbers of people.
Also during this same period, a few of GOD’s Prophets traveled from Jerusalem to Antioch. One of them, whose name was Agabus, being filled with the HOLY SPIRIT, stood up in one of the meetings and predicted that a great famine would come upon the whole Roman Empire. This prediction was later fulfilled, during the reign of the Emperor Claudius.
The Believers, acting upon that prophesy, decided to send relief to the brothers and sisters of Judea. Everyone gave as much as they could, and they entrusted the proceeds into the hands of Barnabas and Saul (Paul) to take back to the Elders of the Church in Jerusalem.
This act of love by the Church at Antioch towards the Church at Judea undoubtedly helped to unite the two of them together in fellowship and love, just as Christian churches are meant by CHRIST to do. We are to respond to each other in a way that is pleasing to GOD. JESUS put it this way in Mathew 25:31-46, concerning how HE would conduct the final judgment. There HE tells us, in effect, that, we will be judged according to our reaction to human need. In other words, we are judged on how we, as Christians, help and treat each other in our times of need.
This passage of Acts chapter 11, verses 27-30, holds its significance in the fact that, the early Church realized the importance of unity in the new “Christian network of Believers”. When there was famine in Palestine, the first notion of the Church at Antioch was to send financial and spiritual help.  Here we see, perhaps for the first time, the Christian Church, being thought of as a body of Believers being held together by the ideology of GOD. This was and is, an ideology that is meant to transcend all of the structural, organizational, and worshiping style differences of man, and bring us all together in fellowship and love. In fact, it is called Christian Unity, and it is this kind of unity that JESUS had in mind, when HE prayed to HIS FATHER GOD in John 17. It is also the same kind of unity that Paul wrote about to the Churches in all of his Doctrinal letters. It is a unity that is not born of bricks and mortar, but rather, it is a unity of “personal relationships”, not unlike the one we’ve already seen, between the FATHER and the SON, which serves as an example to us, for all time.
We, as Christians, can truly reach the world together, but we must first prove to the world that Christianity produces the best men and women. And we can only do that, through the CHRIST-like examples that, we ourselves, must manifest through our own behavior.


(1). Reflect on some of the times in your life when “teamwork” with others aided
       you in getting a project done much faster, and much more efficiently.
(2). Now ask yourself “Why can’t we do that all the time?”
(3). Then, ask yourself, “Why can’t we do that in the church, in our work for
      CHRIST?” Well, actually, that’s the way CHRIST intended for it to be. We
       should work together as one body in CHRIST. Remember, when CHRIST first
       set out on HIS three-year earthly mission, the first thing HE did, was assemble a
       team of volunteer workers (HIS disciples). This is what our personal application
       should be in our work in our own respective Christian churches. 
(4). It was not the size of the church at Antioch that made it successful, but rather, it
       was their ability and desire to work together. Discuss with your church
       members, ways in which you can work together to create a more viable body for
       the work of CHRIST.


Pray to GOD for wisdom in the application of your duties within your respective Christian churches. Pray also that HE show you, through the HOLY SPIRIT, how to work together in the Christian cause, and support others in Christian missions, throughout your city, state, and indeed, throughout the world.

KEY VERSE: Acts 11:29


Saturday, February 4, 2012


For the week beginning Sunday February 5, 2012

(Christianity breaks through all barriers)
Acts 10

Acts chapter 10 relates how GOD used Peter to open up the doors of the Christian Church to the Gentiles (Non-Jewish) and the Samaritans (half breed Jews). The Jews and Samaritans, who were racially related, over the years, had formed quite a rift between themselves. And of course, the Gentiles had never been accepted by the Jews in any way, form, or fashion, and, were in fact, thought to be altogether “unclean”.
GOD, through a vision that was thrice shown to Peter, convinced him to reach out to the unsaved Gentiles with the message of Salvation (Acts 10:10-20). Actually, Acts chapters 10 & 11 mark a dramatic turning point in Church history, as we see, for the first time, Gentiles hearing and responding positively and corporately to the Gospel of JESUS CHRIST.
We also see in Acts 10, verses 44-48, Gentiles receiving the HOLY SPIRIT, and then being baptized in the name of JESUS for the very first time. Here too in this chapter of Acts, Luke introduces us to Cornelius, a devout man of GOD, and a Centurion in the Roman army. Cornelius, who was a Gentile, first and foremost, feared and prayed to the GOD of Israel. Luke also tells us that Cornelius gave regularly and generously to those who were in need. He was a Gentile who already had a relationship with GOD. In verses 3-6, he tells us that Cornelius also experienced a vision from GOD. It was a vision that, in essence, foretold of the upcoming acceptance of Gentiles into the Church of CHRIST, starting with him and his family, there in Caesarea.
And so, the stage was now set for barriers to come down, and, to bridge the gap, first, between man and himself, and then ultimately, between man and GOD. Also, we see finally, our Lord and Savior JESUS CHRIST coming into focus as the personification of that bridge.
GOD had already placed Peter in a real-life situation where he was closely associating with a person who would be deemed by the Jews to be “unclean”. According to Jewish law, and based on Numbers 19, a person who touches the carcass of the dead shall be deemed unclean for a designated period of time, even beyond their cleansing process.
Here in Acts chapter 10, verses 5 & 6, Luke tells us that Peter was in the town of Joppa, an ancient seaport on the Mediterranean coast of Palestine. He was living with a man named Simon, who was a leatherworker, a person whose very livelihood depended on him having to deal with dead animal carcasses. The very nature of Simon’s job caused him to be, according to Jewish law, continuously in an “unclean state”.
Most Jews, at that time, would never have accepted hospitality from a person such as Simon. Nevertheless, Simon was a Christian, and no doubt, by now, Peter had already begun to see that Christianity is intended by GOD, to be a revolution against social and racial prejudices, as well as, against pride, and economic disparities.
In Peter’s vision, GOD presented to him, all manner of animals that were traditionally deemed unclean to eat by Jewish, and perhaps, biblical standards. In that vision, the voice commands Peter to kill and eat these animals. Peter, however, protests against this command saying that, “I have never eaten anything that is common or unclean” (Acts 10:14). Then the voice of GOD tells Peter, “What GOD hath cleansed, that call not thou common” (v. 15) (KJV).
This same vision was repeated three times, and then, the collection of animals ascended back into Heaven. Until that moment, Peter had always thought the Gentiles to be unclean to associate with in any way, but now, GOD was preparing him for the coming of, first, the Gentile Cornelius and his family, and then later, those of the entire Gentile existence, who wished to come into the body of CHRIST and worship and serve HIM. 
The purpose of JESUS’ vicarious sacrifice on the cross was so that all men could have the opportunity to receive GOD’s offering of Salvation. Through HIS sacrifice, we were restored back into a relationship of friendship with GOD. JESUS, from that day forward, became the only bridge that could ever reconnect man with GOD.
GOD includes all of us in HIS offer of Salvation, but we must, and can only, volunteer to partake in this free “limited time” offer. No one can ever exclude anyone else from this glorious offer. It is something that we ourselves must choose to do. To put it plainly, GOD does not send anyone to Heaven, or to Hell, we, through our life’s choices, can only choose to go.
In verses 34-35, Peter testifies of his new and enlightened understanding of GOD’s holy plans for the new Christian Church. There he states, “I see very clearly that GOD doesn’t show partiality. In every nation HE accepts those who fear HIM and do what is right” (NLT). He went on to preach the Good News to the Gentiles who were present (Vs. 34-43), and as a result, all of them received the HOLY SPIRIT and were baptized. And the Jewish believers who were present marveled at what they had seen, and how the power of the HOLY SPIRIT was acting upon the Gentiles in the same way that HE had acted upon them at Pentecost. And they abided there with Cornelius for several more days (Vs. 44-48)


(1). Reflect on some of the things, or barriers, that now keep you from, or, can keep
       you from, witnessing about CHRIST to certain people. For some it may be racial
       differences, or, for others the differences may be social, or economic in nature. But
       whatever your differences may be, make a commitment to yourself and to GOD,
       that you will strive very diligently to remove those barriers from your heart, and
       with GOD’s help, you will be able to succeed.


Pray and ask GOD to come into your life, and, into your heart, and remove anything that may be contrary to HIS will, so that you may no longer grieve the HOLY SPIRIT, through your prejudices against your fellowman, so that HE may work in a greater power within your life, for the exaltation of CHRIST, and, for the blessings of your soul, and the souls of those, whom GOD wishes to save, through your witness.

KEY VERSE: Acts 10:15

DEVOTIONAL PASSAGES: Mark 7:24-30, John 4:3-29, Matthew 8:5-13