Friday, September 23, 2016


For the week beginning Sunday September 25, 2016

(Barnabas and Saul are sent out by the HOLY SPIRIT)
Acts 13:1-3

   In Acts 13:1-3 we see that the church at Antioch of Syria had become the base of operations for Barnabas, Saul (the Apostle Paul), and other missionaries. And, even though the Church at Jerusalem was still the mother Church of the Christian movement, the missionary branch of the Church became the church at Antioch.
    Here in the opening lines of this chapter, Luke gives us a vivid description of the background diversity of the leading men in the Church at Antioch. First of all, we see Barnabas, a Jew from the island of Cyprus, who had become known as “the enabling encourager” by those in the early Christian Church. He played a major role in persuading the Mother Church at Jerusalem to accept the Apostle Paul into their confidence after his conversion on the road to Damascus.
    Then we see Simeon, who was also a Jew, but was called by his Latin nickname “Niger”, because of his dark complexion. This Latin name may also indicate to us, as to how he moved in Roman circles. He was most likely very well known to the local Gentile converts around Palestine.
    Then there is Lucius, who was from Cyrene, a country in northern Africa. And there was also Manaen, a man with royal clout, who had been raised with Herod Antipas, the king who had John the Baptist beheaded during the time of CHRIST’s earthly ministry. Manaen had become a disciple of JESUS’ after Herod’s shameful treatment of CHRIST during HIS trials at Jerusalem.
   And finally, there is Saul, a Jew who had been trained for Rabbinical work by the institutions of men, and then, was converted by CHRIST that faithful day on the road to Damascus (Acts chapter 9). He would later become the face of the Christian movement in its infancy, and the author of 13 books in the New Testament.
    As these faithful men were praying and fasting one day, the HOLY SPIRIT, as HE often gave directives to GOD’s leaders in those days, came to them, and instructed that they separate Barnabas and Saul for a special task that GOD had called them to do. It was to be the first of Paul’s, now famous, “Missionary Journeys”, and it would include a circuit through the province of Asia Minor, and a voyage to Barnabas’ homeland, of the island of Cyprus. Cyprus was a Roman province, famous for its copper mines, and shipbuilding industry, and it was only fitting that Barnabas might first want to preach JESUS to his own people in his own hometown.

Acts 13:4-12

    And so, taking up at verse 4, we see Barnabas and Saul, under the influence of the HOLY SPIRIT, set sail and go down, first, to the seaport known as Seleucia, and from there, they sailed to Barnabas’ home country, the island of Cyprus. Upon their arrival in Cyprus, they first visit the town of Salamis where they went into the Jewish synagogues to preach JESUS, taking young John Mark with them to assist them.
    From there the men worked their way across the island preaching from town to town until they reached Paphos where they met a Jewish sorcerer who called himself, Bar-Jesus, which means “son of Jesus” in the Hebrew (“Elymas” in the Greek). Elymas had endeared himself to Sergius Paulus, the governor of the island, and had obtained considerable influence over him at that time.
    The governor invited Barnabas and Saul to meet with him because he wanted to hear the new Gospel that they were teaching on the island. However, Elymas interfered, in an effort to turn away the governor’s interest in the Christian Faith, and urged him to pay no heed to what Barnabas and Saul were teaching.
    Then Saul, who was coming to be known as “Paul” at this time, became filled with the HOLY SPIRIT and looked Elymas in the eyes and said, “You “son of the devil”, full of every sort of trickery and villainy, enemy of all that is good, will you never stop perverting the true ways of the LORD? And now the LORD has laid HIS hand of punishment upon you, and you will be stricken awhile with blindness” (Vs.10-11) (NLT).
    Instantly a mist and darkness fell upon Elymas, and he began wandering around begging someone to take his hand and lead him. The governor was very impressed when he saw what had happened to Elymas, and he was even more impressed about what he had learned that day from Barnabas and Paul, about the LORD JESUS CHRIST.

Acts 13:13-43

   This passage contains the Apostle Paul’s longest recorded sermon (Vs.16-43). He and Barnabas and their crew had now left Paphos and set sail for Pamphylia, first landing in the port town of Perga. At this point they were getting ready to climb to about 3600 feet above sea level, over the Taurus Mountains, on one of the most dangerous roads in Asia Minor. It was a road that was filled with robbers and bandits. In fact, it was so dangerous that young John Mark, Barnabas’ cousin, decided that he wasn’t going any farther, and he decided to return home, much to the dismay of the Apostle Paul.
    Paul and Barnabas, however, decided to stick it out, putting their lives on the line, to continue to spread the Gospel. They boldly start their journey traveling inland, making their first stop at Antioch of Pisidia. On the Sabbath, they went into the synagogue and, after the reading of the Scriptures (the books of Moses and from the books of the Prophets), those in charge of the services asked if anyone wanted to come and give words of encouragement. Paul then stood up, lifted his hands to quiet the assembly, and proceeded to deliver his longest sermon that is recorded in the New Testament Scripture (Vs.13-16).
    Paul took advantage of this opportunity to remind the Church of the fulfillments of Old Testament scripture, as it concerns the MESSIAH, that is CHRIST JESUS. He begins by reminding the Church of how, over a 450 year period, GOD had delivered Israel out of bondage in Egypt, put up with them for forty years of disobedience and complaining in the wilderness, and destroyed seven nations in Canaan, before giving the land to them as an inheritance (Vs.17-19).
    After that time, GOD had also given the Israelites Judges to protect their spiritual and physical well-being until the time of Samuel the prophet, the last judge of Israel. And despite this protection from GOD, the people still desired to have kings to rule over them like the pagan nations around them, instead of being satisfied with the LORD GOD of Israel, WHO had delivered them from such ruthless kings of the world. And so, as a result of their demands through Samuel, GOD gave them Saul, the son of Kish, of the tribe of Benjamin, and he let him reign over Israel for forty years (Vs.20-21).
    After GOD removed Saul from the throne, HE replaced him with David, whom GOD said, was a man after HIS OWN heart, and a man who would do everything that GOD wanted him to do. And it was one of David’s descendants, JESUS, WHO became GOD’s promised SAVIOR of Israel. It is HE of WHOM John the Baptist preached and expressed the need that everyone in Israel should turn from their sins and turn to GOD for baptism, first by water, and then later, by the HOLY SPIRIT (Vs.22-26).
    Paul goes on to tell the Church of how when JESUS came, neither they, nor their leaders, the Pharisees, recognized HIM, because they themselves, were already too far away from practicing and living by GOD’s glorious standards. GOD’s Ways had, over time, become strange and unfamiliar to them, and had in many ways, been replaced by their own rules and regulations.
    And so the people of Israel unwittingly fulfilled their roles in biblical prophecies by rejecting and unjustly crucifying JESUS, GOD’s only begotten SON. However, also in line with fulfillment of scriptures, GOD raised HIS SON from the dead, and afterwards, HE appeared to several witnesses, from Galilee to Jerusalem (Vs.27-31).
     Paul and Barnabas then explains to the assembly just what the second Psalm is talking about concerning JESUS where it says, “YOU are MY SON. Today I have become YOUR FATHER”. GOD had promised to raise JESUS from the dead into eternal life, and would not allow HIM to rot in the grave. This was not a reference to David, but rather, it was a reference to JESUS.
    In JESUS, there is forgiveness of sin, and everyone who believes in HIM is freed from guilt, and declared right with GOD. This is something that Jewish law could never do. And as Paul and Barnabas left the synagogue that day, the people invited them back to speak on the following Sabbath.      
    This three point sermon that was preached by Paul is outlined by three occurrences; the anticipation and preparation of CHRIST’s first advent (Vs.16-25), the rejection, crucifixion, and resurrection of JESUS (vs.26-37), and, Paul’s application and appeal to the people (Vs.38-41). It is a sermon that appealed to both the Jews and the Gentiles who desired to follow CHRIST out of Judaism and the world, and into Christianity.

Acts 13:44-52

   On the Sabbath following Paul’s sermon the entire city came to hear them preach the Word of the LORD, and when the Jewish leaders saw how large the crowd was, they became green with envy. At that point they immediately began to slander Paul and Barnabas, and they argued against whatever they said.
    Paul and Barnabas both knew how important and necessary it was for the Gospel to be preached, and so they ignored the strong ravings of the Jewish leaders, and they boldly continued their teachings to the Gentiles, as well as to those Jews who were still willing to listen. They fully understood their roles of being “a light to the whole world”, and they were willing to risk their lives to accomplish their goal, a task that was assigned to them, by JESUS the CHRIST HIMSELF.
    After reminding the assembly of the words of the prophet Isaiah, which he received from GOD some 700 years earlier, where GOD says, “I have made you a light to the Gentiles, to bring salvation to the farthest corners of the earth”, the Gentiles were very glad and thanked GOD for the wonderful message that they had received from Paul and Barnabas.
    Sadly, instead of the Jewish leaders being glad to hear the good news of the salvation of the Gentiles, they begin to appeal to the influential religious women of the Church, and the civic leadership of Antioch, stirring up a mob against Paul and Barnabas, and ran them out of town. Paul and Barnabas then shook the dust of Antioch off their feet, and moved on to the next city, which was Iconium, and the believers in Antioch were no less filled with joy, and with the HOLY SPIRIT, despite the Pharisees opposition to the LORD’s agenda. 

A Sunday school lesson by,
Larry D. Alexander

Friday, September 2, 2016


For the week beginning Sunday September 4, 2016

(Peter’s imprisonment and miraculous escape)
Acts 12:1-19

   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, a direct descendant of Esau, 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 then 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, who were direct descendants of Jacob. Therefore, Herod Agrippa I was pure-bred Jewish, raised that way by his parents. 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 dream 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 (who was known as the enabling encourager) (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 (House Churches) 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 for Peter.
    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.

Acts 12:20-25

    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.
    However, the Good News about JESUS continued to spread rapidly and the newly founded Christian Church grew by leaps and bounds. And when Barnabas and Saul (Paul) had finished their work in Jerusalem, they returned to Antioch, and they took young John Mark with them.
    Looking back to the Gospel of John, in 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 forever.  If the SON therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed” (KJV).

    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” – “Fear” leaves us when we choose to walk with GOD, instead of walking alone.
·         Self” - “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.  
·         Other people” - 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 about them”.
·         Sin” - 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 puts us into a position where we can re-enter into a personal 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 JESUS CHRIST, becomes our greatest asset. And so, therefore, in CHRIST, we have “true freedom”.

A Sunday school lesson by,
Larry D. Alexander

LARRY D. ALEXANDER- Official Website