Today’s selected reading continues in the New Testament account of the body of the Lord Jesus as it was written and recorded by the physician Luke in the book of Acts. More specifically today’s passage is found in the fifteenth chapter of this New Testament book. “And certain men which came down from Judaea taught the brethren, and said, Except ye be circumcised after the manner of Moses, ye cannot be saved. When therefore Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and disputation with them, they determined that Paul and Barnabas, and certain other of them, should go up to Jerusalem unto the apostles and elders about this question. And being brought on their way by the church, they passed through Phenice and Samaria, declaring the conversion of the Gentiles: and they caused great joy unto all the brethren. And when they were come to Jerusalem, they were received of the church, and of the apostles and elders, and they declared all things that God had done with them. But there rose up certain of the sect of the Pharisees which believed, saying, That it was needful to circumcise them, and to command them to keep the law of Moses” (Acts 15:1-5).
“And the apostles and elders came together for to consider of this matter. And when there had been much disputing, Peter rose up, and said unto them, Men and brethren, ye know how that a good while ago God made choice among us, that the Gentiles by my mouth should hear the word of the gospel, and believe. And God, which knoweth the hearts, bare them w itness, giving them the Holy Ghost, even as he did unto us; and put no difference between us and them, purifying their hearts by faith. Now therefore why tempt ye God, to put a yoke upon the neck of the disciples, which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear? But we believe that through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ we shall be saved, even as they. Then all the multitude kept silence, and gave audience to Barnabas and Paul, declaring what miracles and wonders God had wrought among the Gentiles by them” (Acts 15:6-12).
“And after they held their peace, James answered, saying, Men and brethren, hearken unto me: Simeon hath declare how God at the first did visit the Gentiles, to take out of them a people for his name. And to this agree the words of the prophets; as it is written, After this I will return, and will build again the tabernacle of David, which is fallen down; and I will build again the ruins thereof, and I will set it up: that the residue of men might seek after the Lord, and all the Gentiles, upon whom my name is called, saith the Lord, who doeth all these things. Known unto God are all his works from the beginning of the world. Wherefore my sentence is, that we trouble not them, which from among the Gentiles are turned to God: but that we write unto them, that they abstain pollution of idols, and from fornication, and from things strangled, and from blood. For Moses of old time hath in every city them that preach him, being read in the synagogues every sabbath day” (Acts 5:13-21).
“Then please it the apostles and elders, with the whole church, to send chosen men of their own company to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas, namely, Judas surnamed Barsabas, and Silas, chief men among the brethren: and they wrote letters by them after this manner; the apostles and elders and brethren send greeting unto the brethren which are of the Gentiles in Antioch and Syria and Cilicia: forasmuch as we have heard, that certain which went out from us have troubled you with words, subverting your souls, saying, Ye must be circumcised, and keep the law: to whom we gave no such commandment: it seemed good unto us, being assembled with one accord, to send chosen men unto you with our beloved Barnabas and Paul, Men that have hazarded their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. We have sent therefore Judas and Silas, who shall also tell you the same things by mouth. For it seemed good to the Holy Ghost, and to us, to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things; that ye abstain from meats offered to idols, and from blood, and from things strangled, and from fornication: from which if ye keep yourselves ye shall do well. Fare ye well” (Acts 5:22-29).
“So when they were dismissed, they came to Antioch: and when they had gathered the multitude together, they delivered the epistle: which when they had read, they rejoiced for the consolation. And Judas and Silas, being prophets also themselves exhorted the brethren with many words, and confirmed them. And after they had tarried there a space, they were let go in peace from the brethren unto the apostles. Notwithstanding it pleases Silas to abide there still. Paul also and Barnabas continued in Antioch, teaching and preaching the word of the Lord, with many others also” (Acts 5:30-35).
“And some days after Paul said unto Barnabas, Let us go again and visit our brethren in every city where we have preached the word of the Lord, and see how they do. And Barnabas determined to take with them, who departed from them from Pamphylia, and went not with them to the work. And the contention was so sharp between them, that they departed asunder one from the other: and so Barnabas took Mark, and sailed into Cyprus; and Paul chose Silas, and departed, being recommended by the brethren unto the grace of God. And he went through Syria and Cilicia, confirming the churches” (Acts 5:36-41).
When you come to this particular portion of Scripture you will find the first apostolic and missionary journey of the apostle Paul and Barnabas having drawn to a close. What began in the thirteenth chapter of this New Testament book concluded in the fourteenth chapter with the apostle Paul and Barnabas returning unto Antioch after traveling throughout the region teaching and preaching the Jewish synagogues the word and name of the Lord Jesus. What makes the thirteenth and fourteenth chapters of this New Testament book so incredibly intriguing when you take the time to consider it is the resistance and opposition of the Jews toward the gospel and name of the Lord Jesus. You cannot read the words found in these two chapters and not encounter and come face to face with the awesome and incredible truth surrounding the resistance of the Jews toward the gospel and name of the Lord Jesus. Those to whom the word and name of the Lord Jesus would first come were those who would resist and oppose it within themselves. The ones unto whom the gospel of the Lord Jesus and the promise of the Father which was the person of the Holy Ghost was sent and given unto would be those who would harden their hearts toward and against it thus vehemently opposing the apostle Paul and Barnabas. It is absolutely impossible to read the words found within these chapters and not encounter and come face to face with this resistance of the gospel of the Lord Jesus. What’s more is that by resisting the word and name of the Lord Jesus the Jews themselves were also resisting the person and presence of the Holy Ghost for baptism in the name of the Lord Jesus would more often than not lead to receiving the person and presence of the Holy Ghost.
It is actually quite astonishing when reading the words which are found in the thirteenth and fourteenth chapters of this New Testament book for within these chapters we find two men who were separated unto and by the Holy Ghost in the church of Antioch. You will recall at the beginning of the thirteenth chapter how there were certain prophets and teachers which were present at the church in Antioch in addition to the apostle Paul and Barnabas. It would be while these prophets and teachers were praying and fasting the Holy Ghost would speak unto them and call for them to separate unto Himself Paul and Barnabas for the work whereunto they had been called. After those in Antioch had prayed and fasted they would send forth Paul and Barnabas from among them unto the work whereunto they had been called by the Holy Ghost. Moreover you will find and read in this passage how Luke spoke of these men being sent forth by the Holy Ghost unto the work they had been called unto. We dare not and must not miss and lose sight of what is found in this particular portion of Scripture for this would not be the first time the apostle Paul and Barnabas would be sent forth from the church in Antioch. In the eleventh chapter of this New Testament book you will find certain prophets from Judaea coming unto the church which was in Antioch—one of them whose name was Agabus. It would be Agabus who would prophesy that a great dearth would come upon the whole earth—a dearth and famine which would come upon the earth during the days of Claudius Caesar. As a direct result of this great dearth the brethren which were at Antioch would according to their ability purpose to send relief unto the brethren which were in Judaea. The final verses of the eleventh chapter describes how the apostle Paul and Barnabas were sent forth from the church and brethren in Antioch unto Judaea that they might bring relief and a manifestation of the grace of God unto those brethren which were in Judaea.
As you come to the final verses of the twelfth chapter you will find Paul and Barnabas having fulfilled the work of the ministry whereunto they had been sent to Judaea and returning unto the brethren in Antioch. Upon their return unto the church and brethren in Antioch they would take unto themselves John whose surname was Mark and whose mother’s house the apostle Peter would come after an angel of the Lord loosed and delivered him prison in the middle of the night. The apostle Paul and Barnabas would return unto Antioch together with John Mark and would continue to faithfully serve among the brethren as they had done for a full year prior to their departure. You will recall earlier on in the eleventh chapter how there were certain of the brethren who came unto Antioch after the great persecution which broke out in Jerusalem around the death of Stephen. Those individuals would preach the gospel and name of the Lord Jesus and many would believe and added unto the brethren daily such as should be saved. When report of the word of the Lord Jesus being received in Judaea would reach the ears of the apostles and brethren which were present at the church in Jerusalem they would send Barnabas unto them that they might be encouraged, strengthened and edified. Luke writes of Barnabas that he was a good man and that he was full of faith and full of the Holy Ghost and would exhort the brethren that they would be of singleness of heart toward the living God. Barnabas would spend some time there in Antioch among the brethren before journeying unto Tarsus to find Saul. Upon finding Saul there in Tarsus he would bring him back unto the brethren which were in Antioch where they would together teach and preach the gospel and name of the Lord Jesus. This would take place for a full year as these two brothers in the work of the ministry would faithfully serve among the brethren.
Upon coming to the thirteenth chapter of the New Testament book of Acts you will find Paul and Barnabas back among the brethren which were at Antioch after not only having spent a year teaching and exhorting them but also after returning unto them after they had journeyed unto and among the brethren in Judaea. Luke writes how there were among the brethren which were at Antioch prophets and teachers together with the apostle Paul and Barnabas and how these brethren had given themselves to prayer and fasting. It would be in the midst of their prayer and fasting the Holy Ghost would speak unto them and instruct them to separate unto himself Paul and Barnabas for the work unto which they had been called. Those in Antioch would pray and fast and after they had done so they would send the apostle Paul and Barnabas on their way to step into and walk in the calling for which they had been called—a “for such a time as this” moment lie before them. Scripture reveals how these two brethren would be sent forth by the Holy Ghost and much like Abraham who not only left Ur of the Chaldeans but would also leave Haran to journey unto a land which the Lord would show him, and much like Abraham would journey together with his only son Isaac whom he loved unto a mountain the Lord would show him, so too would Paul and Barnabas depart from Antioch journeying unto places which they perhaps had not journeyed or ventured to before. As these two men departed from the church and brethren which were at Antioch they would begin the first of the apostolic ministries which the apostle Paul would himself engage in during his walk before and with the Lord Jesus.
The more you read the thirteenth and fourteenth chapters of the New Testament book of Acts the more you will encounter the apostle Paul and Barnabas journeying unto various cities and towns as they would teach and preach in the synagogues of the Jews. When they initially set out on this journey these men would initially preach the gospel and name of the Lord Jesus unto the Jews only, however, they would quickly find and discover the Jews would vehemently oppose and resist the word and name of the Lord Jesus. Time and time again the Jews would raise themselves up against the word of the Lord Jesus and the work of the Holy Spirit whereunto these men had been called. What makes this all the more interesting is when you think about and consider how the Jews weren’t merely resisting and opposing the apostle Paul and Barnabas but would resisting the Lord Jesus Himself, the One who had sent Him, as well as the Holy Ghost who had sent the apostle Paul and Barnabas. Much like the Jews which were present in Judaea when the Word made flesh would walk among us as Immanuel would resist and oppose Him so also would the Jews which were present in those places whereunto Paul and Barnabas journeyed would oppose Him once more. It’s actually quite interesting that the Jews would and could still oppose the Lord Jesus even though He was no longer walking among them in the earth. Scripture makes it perfectly clear that the Jews would and could still resist the word, the name and the person of the Lord Jesus through their resistance and opposition of the ones whom Jesus had called and sent forth in the midst of the earth. It is actually quite astounding to think about and consider this for it demonstrates the continued resistance of the Jews toward the word, the name and the person of the Lord Jesus—even after He had been crucified, even after He had been buried in the tomb and even after He had been raised from death to life and received unto the right hand of the Father who was in heaven.
The fifteenth chapter begins with certain men coming down from Judaea unto the brethren which were in Antioch teaching the brethren that unless they were circumcised after the manner of Moses they could not be saved. Luke writes how there was a great dissension and disputation with them the brethren and those which were in Antioch determined that Paul and Barnabas and certain other of them should go up unto Jerusalem to the apostles and elders about this question. The apostle Paul and Barnabas would together with other brethren pass through Phenice and Samaria declaring the conversion of the Gentiles and would cause great joy unto all the brethren. Upon coming unto the city of Jerusalem the apostle Paul and Barnabas were received of the church and of the apostles and elders and declared unto them all that God had done with them. What they would find in Jerusalem, however, would be a continuation of what they had experienced in the church in Antioch. Luke records how there rose up certain of the sect of the Pharisees which believed and said that it was needful to circumcise the Gentiles and to command them to keep the Law of Moses. It is absolutely necessary that we recognize and understand what took place in the opening verses of the fifteenth chapter of the book of Acts for what we find here in this passage of Scripture is not only Paul and Barnabas declaring what the Lord had done among the Gentiles and how many came to believe on the name of the Lord Jesus and received the word and name of Jesus which had been preached among them. Within this passage you will find that the Gentiles receiving the word and name of the Lord Jesus and themselves believing on His name and being added unto the brethren would cause certain brethren which believed to begin teaching something concerning these Gentiles and what they believed to be an additional work that was needed to be saved.
It’s quite interesting when you read the words which are found in the fifteenth chapter of this New Testament book of Acts for within it you not only find certain brethren coming up from Judaea unto Antioch declaring that the Gentiles must be circumcised according to the Law of Moses to be saved but you will also find certain of the sect of the Pharisees in Jerusalem which believed declaring the same thing. Luke emphatically writes and presents a picture of the word and name of the Lord Jesus being preached unto and among the Gentiles and how they gladly received the word of the Lord Jesus. What’s more is that this wouldn’t be the first time the word and name of the Lord Jesus would be preached unto the Gentiles for you will recall how in the tenth chapter of this New Testament book the apostle Peter would be sent forth from Joppa by the Holy Ghost to journey with three men who had been sent from Cornelius who was a Roman centurion living in Caesarea who was a devout man, one who feared God and one who gave himself to much praying and giving of alms. It would be this man Cornelius who would see in a vision an angel of God appearing unto him declaring how his prayers and alms had come up unto heaven as a memorial before the living God. As a direct result of his prayers and alms coming up as a memorial before the living God he was instructed to send for a man by the name of Simon whose surname was Peter who was presently dwelling in Joppa in the house of one Simon the tanner. Upon sending for this man Simon whose surname was Peter he would be told and instructed what he ought to do. Cornelius would faithfully obey the word which the angel had spoken and would call for certain of those centurions under him and certain of his servants to journey unto Joppa and find this man Simon who was called Peter.
I am absolutely convinced that in order to understand what is found in the thirteenth, fourteenth and even the fifteenth chapters of this New Testament book it is also necessary to understand that which is found in the tenth chapter. It is what we find in the tenth chapter of the New Testament book of Acts that presents us with a powerful picture of the living God working in Caesarea in the life of a Roman centurion by the name of Cornelius as well as in Joppa in the life of Simon called Peter who was one of the apostles of the Lord Jesus Christ. An angel of the Lord would appear unto Cornelius there in Caesarea and would not only declare unto him that his prayers and alms had come up as a memorial before the Lord but would also instruct him to send for a man by the name of Simon Peter who was dwelling in Joppa. In Joppa we find the living God also working as while Peter went up on the roof to pray he would fall into a trance and would see a vision from the Lord. This vision would reveal a large sheet being let down from heaven which was filled with all manner of four-footed beasts and creeping things which were upon the earth. Upon seeing this sheet being let down from heaven the voice of the Lord would speak unto the apostle Peter and instruct him to rise, kill and eat. Upon hearing this the apostle Peter would declare unto the Lord that there had never been anything unclean that had touched his lips. Upon hearing the words which the apostle Peter had spoken unto him the voice of the Lord would speak unto him instructing him not to call anything common or unclean what He had cleansed. This vision and sequence of events would take place three times before the garment would be raised up to heaven once more and the vision would be over. Immediately after the vision was over the voice of the Spirit would speak unto Simon whose name was Peter of the three men who were at the door of the house and had been sent by Him. Moreover the voice of the Spirit would speak unto Peter instructing him to journey with them doubting nothing.
The beloved physician Luke would record how the apostle Peter would journey together with these men until he came unto Caesarea and the house of Cornelius. Upon coming unto the house of Cornelius and seeing the house being filled with his brethren, family and close friends the apostle Peter would declare unto them how it was not lawful for them to enter into the house of Gentiles who themselves were considered unclean according to the Law of Moses. With this being said, however, the apostle Peter would also declare unto them how the Lord had spoken to him and instructed him to call no man common or unclean what He had cleansed. While in the presence of Cornelius and his entire household and friends the apostle Peter would inquire as to the purpose for which he had been called and summoned. Cornelius would speak unto the apostle Peter and would rehearse everything that had happened—how an angel of the living God appeared unto him in a vision declaring unto him his prayers and alms had come up as a memorial before the living God. Moreover this angel of the Lord instructed him to send for a man by the name of Simon whose surname was Peter who would teach and instruct him. Cornelius and his entire household and friends were to hear and listen to the words which this man named Simon Peter would speak unto them and were to do whatever he spoke and commanded unto them. As the apostle Peter heard and listened to these words he discerned and recognized that the Holy Ghost was at work and that the events which had taken place had indeed been ordained and orchestrated by Him. Consider if you will the following words which are found in the tenth chapter of this New Testament book beginning with the thirty-fourth verse:
“Then Peter opened his mouth, and said, Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons: but in every nation he that feareth him, and worketh righteousness, is accepted with him. The word which God sent unto the children of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ: (he is Lord of all) That word, I say, ye know, which was published throughout all Judaea, and began from Galilee, after the baptism which John preached; how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Ghost and with power: who went about doing good, and healing all that were oppressed of the devil; for God was with him. And we are witnesses of all things which he did both in the land of the Jews, and in Jerusalem; whom they slew and hanged on a tree: Him God raised up the third day, and shewed him openly: not to all the people, but unto witnesses chosen before of God, even to us, who did eat and drink with him after he rose from the dead. And he commanded us to preach unto the people, and to testify that it is he which was ordained of God to be the Judge of quick and dead. To him give all the prophets witness, that through his name whosoever believeth in him shall receive remission of sins. While Peter yet spake these words, the Holy Ghost fell on all them which heard the word. And they of the circumcision which believed were astonished, as many as came with Peter, because that on the Gentiles also was poured out the gift of the Holy Ghost. For they heard them speak with tongues, and magnify God. Then answered Peter, Can any man forbid water, that these should not be baptized, which have received the Holy Ghost as well as we? And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of the Lord. Then prayed they him to tarry certain days” (Acts 10:34-48).
It’s actually quite interesting to read the words which are found in the tenth chapter of the New Testament book of Acts for within this chapter—not only do we find Cornelius and his household being the first Gentiles to be baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus as they received the word spoken by Peter but we also find the Holy Ghost coming upon them as He had done the Jews. Much to the astonishment of the apostle Peter and those who were with him these Gentiles would not only hear and receive the word of the Lord Jesus but while hearing the word preached unto and among them would receive the Holy Ghost. Upon witnessing and beholding the Holy Ghost coming upon Cornelius and his household—these Gentiles which were dwelling Caesarea—the apostle Peter would call for them to be baptized with water. The apostle Peter would then remain there among the Gentiles for many days before he would return unto the city of Jerusalem and unto the apostles, elders and brethren which were present there. It is in the eleventh chapter of this New Testament book we find the apostles and brethren which were in Judaea hearing that the Gentiles had also received the word of God. When Peter had come up to Jerusalem they which were of the circumcision contended with him because he went in to men which were uncircumcised and did eat with them. Oh please don’t miss and lose sight of this for this is the same mindset and snare which was present during the days when Jesus walked upon the face of the earth. You will recall during the days when the Lord Jesus walked upon the earth the scribes and the Pharisees murmured against Him because He ate and drank with publicans and sinners. Time and time again you find the scribes, the Pharisees and the Jews murmuring against Him for eating and drinking with publicans and sinners—from the time He entered into the house of his disciple Matthew and many publicans and sinners came unto Him to the time He entered into the house the chief publican Zacchaeus which was present in the city of Jericho.
Much of the eleventh chapter of this New Testament book centers upon the apostle Peter rehearsing unto the apostles and brethren the events which had taken place in the lives of himself and Cornelius. The apostle Peter would rehearse the angelic visitation that would take place in Caesarea in the life of Cornelius and how the angel of God would instruct him to send for one called Simon Peter to hear and listen to what he would instruct him. In Joppa the apostle Peter would see a vision of a large sheet being let down from heaven filled with all manner of four-footed beasts, fowl of the air and creeping things and being instructed to rise, kill and eat. Initially the apostle Peter would resist that which the Lord had commanded for he would declare how there had not been anything unclean which had touched his lips up to that point. The Lord, however, would emphatically declare unto Peter that he ought to call no man unclean or common that which He had called clean. The apostle Peter would rehearse how this happened three times before the sheet was received up to heaven once more and was followed by the Holy Ghost speaking unto him and instructing him to rise up and journey with the men who had come doubting nothing. Simon Peter would continue to rehearse in the ears of the apostles, in the ears of the brethren and those who were of the circumcision the events which had taken place and would then ask them who he was that he might resist the living God. The apostle Peter emphatically declared unto those who were present in Jerusalem how he had discerned that this thing was of the living God and that to refuse to obey what He had been commanded would be to fight against and resist Him. Determined to faithfully obey the voice and command of the living God the apostle Peter would indeed journey unto the house of Cornelius and would preach the word and name of the Lord Jesus. It would be while he preached the word and name of the Lord Jesus that the Holy Ghost would fall upon them and they would receive the gift of the Spirit just as the Jews had. Upon witnessing and beholding this the apostle Peter would then call for Cornelius and his entire household to be baptized in water thus confirming their faith and receiving of the Holy Spirit.
What we must needs realize and recognize when reading the words found in the eleventh chapter is that this would indeed be the beginning of a dissension that would surround the Gentiles and their receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost. Not only this but what we find in the eleventh chapter would also be a powerful picture of those of the circumcision taking offense to the Gentiles hearing the word and name of the Lord Jesus, receiving the gift of the Holy Spirit and being baptized. Those of the circumcision which were in the city of Jerusalem who contended with the apostle Peter for going in unto the Gentiles would be the first of a vehement opposition toward the Gentiles and their receipt of the word and name of the Lord Jesus as well as the Holy Ghost. In the eleventh chapter those of the circumcision contended with the apostle Peter for going in unto Gentiles and eating and drinking with them although at that point in time they would mention nothing about them being circumcised. At that particular point in time there was no mention of the Gentiles needing to be circumcised as were the Jews nor that circumcision was required to be saved. This, however, would all change when we come to the fifteenth chapter of this New Testament book for within the fifteenth chapter we find and encounter the tremendous truth surrounding those who came unto Antioch from Judaea declaring that the Gentiles must needs be circumcised according to the Law of Moses to be saved.
I sit here today thinking about and considering that which is present within chapters eleven through fifteen and I am struck with two distinct realities. On the one hand we find the vehement opposition and resistance of the Jews in those cities and places the apostle Paul and Barnabas would journey unto as they preached the word and name of the Lord Jesus. In those cities, towns, villages and places the apostle Paul and Barnabas would journey unto they would experience tremendous resistance from the Jews who would blaspheme themselves in the hearing and company of the apostle Paul. What’s more is that the Jews would not only resist and oppose the word and name of the Lord Jesus but would also be agents of dissension and division in those places the apostle Paul and Barnabas would preach the gospel. Luke makes it perfectly clear how in those places whereunto the apostle Paul and Barnabas journeyed and preached the gospel of the Lord Jesus the Gentiles gladly and happily received the word and name of this Jesus of Nazareth. The Jews, however, would be moved with great envy toward and against the apostle Paul and Barnabas and would resist and oppose them. What’s more is that it wasn’t simply enough for the Jews to fight against and resist the apostle Paul and Barnabas for they would also stir up the crowds and those who would gather together to hear the word of the Lord. Oh we dare not and must not miss and lose sight of this for it draws and calls our attention to the tremendous truth surrounding the resistance of the Jews and the receiving of the Gentiles. Chapters thirteen and fourteen are incredibly powerful for within them we find a powerful shift and transition taking place during the days of the apostle Paul—namely, the resistance of the Jews toward the gospel of the Lord Jesus and the response of the Gentiles to the word and name of the Lord Jesus. During those days there appeared to be a strong and powerful transition between the Jews who resisted and opposed the word and name of the Lord Jesus and the Gentiles who received it gladly, believed and were added unto the church of the living God.
It is absolutely necessary we recognize this resistance of the Jews toward the word and gospel of the Lord Jesus for coupled together with this resistance of the Jews would also be the false and erroneous teaching of those from Judaea who came unto the brethren in Antioch and taught that they must be circumcised according to the law of Moses. Moreover there would be those of the sect of the Pharisees in the city of Jerusalem which believed who would also contend that the Gentiles needed to be circumcised according to the Law of Moses to be saved. As if this weren’t enough there was the initial contention and dispute which surrounded the apostle Peter and his going in unto the Gentiles which were considered uncircumcised and unclean by many Jews. Oh this is truly astonishing when you think about it for within these five chapters—beginning with the eleventh chapter and continuing through to the fifteenth chapter—we find the initial contention with Peter over going in unto the Gentiles, we find the Jews in those places whereunto Paul and Barnabas journeyed resisting and opposing them as they stirred up the crowds of people, and we find certain of the brethren teaching that the Gentiles must needs be circumcised that they might be saved. In all reality I would dare say that the initial contention with the apostle Peter over going in unto the Gentiles and the teaching that the Gentiles must be circumcised to be saved are intrinsically linked and connected. There is not a doubt in my mind that the contention with the apostle Peter over eating and drinking with Gentiles and the contention with the apostle Paul and Barnabas over the Gentiles needing to be circumcised to be saved are closely linked together and reveal a powerful truth concerning the tactic of the enemy and adversary.
As I sit here today thinking about the initial contention of those of the circumcision in Jerusalem who contended with the apostle Peter for eating and drinking with Gentiles as well as those of the circumcision who contended that the Gentiles needed to be circumcised to be saved I can’t help but be brought face to face with a strong and powerful tactic of the enemy and adversary against the Gentiles. There is not a doubt in my mind that up until that point in time the enemy and adversary undoubtedly assumed that he had all the Gentiles unto himself as his vassals and slaves to darkness. Undoubtedly the enemy and adversary thought he had a stronghold on and among the Gentiles and that the living God would have His Jews while he himself had the Gentiles. Pause for a moment and think about what it would have looked like in the supernatural and spiritual realm as Michael who was the archangel over the nation and people of Israel and as all of heaven would be about the Jewish and Hebrew people and how the Gentiles would be on the outside of the picture. It would be unto the Jews and unto His own Jesus would come as the Word which was made flesh and it would be unto the Jews who would receive the preaching of the Lord Jesus and the gift of the Holy Spirit. Oh there is not a doubt in my mind that when the events of the day of Pentecost took place it was a powerful sign and portent that the Holy Ghost was coming for the Gentiles and that something was beginning to take place in the earth. I firmly believe that the events surrounding the day of Pentecost were a powerful portent and sign of a new work which would be done within the earth as those from the nations and regions round about Judaea, Samaria and Galilee would hear the wonderful works of God being spoken and declare in their own tongues and languages as those in the upper room would speak with other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.
The more I think about and consider this the more I am brought face to face with the awesome and incredible truth that what is presented in the eleventh and fifteenth chapters of this New Testament book is much more than those of the circumcision contending with the apostle Peter for eating and drinking with Gentiles and more than those of the circumcision contending with the apostle Paul and Barnabas over the Gentiles needing to be circumcised according to the Law of Moses to be saved. I can’t help but read the words which are found here in these two passages of Scripture and see the works of the enemy and adversary—yea the works of darkness in the earth—as the adversary would seek to do anything and everything he could to keep the Gentiles from hearing the word and name of the Lord Jesus. There is not a doubt in my mind that the enemy and adversary would do everything he could to prevent the Gentiles from hearing the gospel of the Lord Jesus and from receiving the gift of the Holy Spirit for he undoubtedly believed the Jews belonged to him. Having already lost the keys to death, hell and the grave the enemy and adversary would now turn his attention to the Gentiles as he had kept the Gentiles bound and captive for years. It would be the Gentiles who would not only enslave the people of God for four-hundred years in the land of Egypt but would also oppose and oppress them during the days of the judges. It would be the Gentiles who would take the people of God captive—both into the land of Assyria as well as into the land of Babylon. Moreover it would be the Gentiles who would destroy the first Jewish temple which was built by Solomon the son of David. Not only this but it would be the Gentiles who would invade the city of Jerusalem twice—both the Babylonians in the fifth century B.C. and the Romans in the year 70 A.D.—would destroy the city of Jerusalem and would destroy the Temple.
I cannot help but be absolutely captivated with and by the fact that the enemy and adversary would raise up strong forces within and among the Jews—even among those who believed—to frustrate the work of God among the Gentiles. I am firmly believe the enemy and adversary sought to do anything and everything he could to frustrate the plan and purpose of the living God to bring the Gentiles into the fold and most assuredly watched in horror as the Cornelius and his entire household would not only hear the word of the Lord Jesus but would also receive the Holy Ghost and be baptized in water. What’s more is this Cornelius would be a Roman centurion—one who was directly linked and connected to this people who would crucify the Lord of glory upon a cruel Roman tree. Oh I would absolutely love to know what it was like in the spiritual realm when the apostle Peter went in unto Cornelius and his house in the city of Caesarea and began preaching the gospel unto these Gentiles. Moreover, I would love to know what it was like in the spiritual realm when the Holy Ghost came upon these Gentiles much like He had come upon the Jews in Judaea, in Jerusalem, in Galilee and Samaria. Once we come to the tenth chapter of this New Testament book—not only do we find the Holy Ghost coming unto the Jews, and not only do we find the Holy Ghost coming unto the Samaritans but now we find the Holy Ghost coming unto the Gentiles. By the time we come to the tenth chapter we find the Holy Ghost coming unto and coming upon Jews, Samaritans and Gentiles alike—a reality which I am sure frustrated and angered the enemy and adversary. Oh there is a part of me that can’t help but wonder if the enemy and adversary was willing to allow the word of the Lord Jesus and the gift of the Holy Spirit to be received among the Jews so long as it did not spill over unto the Gentiles. Undoubtedly the enemy and adversary knew and understood that if the word of the Lord Jesus and the gift of the Holy Ghost came unto the Gentiles it would only be a matter of time before both would spread like a wild fire among them.
The words which are found in the eleventh and fifteenth chapters of this New Testament book are absolutely astounding and captivating when you think about it for just as the religious rulers and leaders during the days of Jesus vehemently opposed Him and His words thus resisting Him and the One who had sent Him so also would those of the circumcision resist and oppose the Gentiles receiving the word of the Lord Jesus. What’s more is those of the circumcision would seek to frustrate the free gift of grace and the gift of the Holy Ghost among the Gentiles claiming they must needs be circumcised according to the Law of Moses to be saved. There is not a doubt in my mind that the enemy and adversary not only sought to raise up unbelieving Jews against the work of the apostle Paul thus causing the Gentiles to not hear the word of the gospel but also sought to raise up those of the circumcision to further frustrate it by claiming Gentiles must needs be circumcised to be saved. In all reality that which we find in chapters eleven through fifteen is not only a powerful picture of unbelieving Jews but also of circumcised Jews—both who would be used as pawns in the hand of the enemy and adversary to frustrate the work of the living God among the Gentiles. Oh we must needs recognize and understand that the enemy and adversary would indeed use both unbelieving Jews and circumcised Jews alike in two entirely different means to frustrate the work of God among the Gentiles and to keep the Gentiles from receiving the Lord Jesus and the person of the Holy Ghost.
When writing unto the saints which were at Ephesus the apostle Paul would emphatically declare that we wrestle not against flesh and blood but against principalities, against rulers of darkness, against powers, and against spiritual wickedness in high places. I am convinced we must needs recognize and understand just how absolutely necessary this truth truly is—particularly and especially when reading the words found in the New Testament book of Acts. The more you read the words found in this New Testament book the more you will be brought face to face with the truth that neither the apostle Paul, nor the apostle Peter, nor Barnabas, nor any of the other apostles, nor any of those partners in the work of the ministry wrestled against flesh and blood but against the unseen forces of darkness in the spiritual realm. I read the words which are found in this portion of the New Testament book of Acts and I can’t help but be absolutely gripped and captivated with the fact that what the apostle Peter and what the apostle Paul and Barnabas were contending with wasn’t merely flesh and blood that sought to frustrate the word and gospel of the Lord Jesus but against the unseen forces of darkness in the spiritual realm. Oh it is true the apostles and even deacons such as Philip cast out unclean spirits in the name of the Lord Jesus and contended with the unseen spiritual realm in that manner, however, I would also dare say there is a contending with the unseen and spiritual realm in an entirely different realm than simply what is manifested through unclean spirits. I am absolutely and completely convinced there is an additional contention and striving with the unseen and spiritual realm that is found in the book of Acts as the apostles and brethren needed to contend with unbelieving Jews who would seek to frustrate the work of the kingdom and circumcised Jews who would seek to introduce false teaching among the Gentiles thus casting a stumbling block before them.
THE STUMBLINGBLOCKS OF UNBELIEF AND RELIGION! Oh as I sit here today thinking about and considering what is found in these chapters I can’t help but witness two distinct and powerful stumbling blocks which were present during the days of the apostles and brethren of the early Church. On the one hand there was the stumbling block of the unbelieving Jews who would seek to stir up dissension, chaos and division around the apostles and brethren that the Gentiles might not hear the word and name of the Lord Jesus. If and when the stumbling block of division, chaos and dissension created and caused by unbelieving Jews could not take hold in the hearts and lives of the Gentiles then there would be a second stumbling block which would be that of religion. This stumbling block of religion would be one which was more sinister and diabolical in nature. If the enemy and adversary could not prevent the Gentiles from hearing the word of the gospel through the dissension, chaos and division caused by the unbelieving Jews then he would seek to bring them into bondage through legalism and religion by religious Jews. When we read of those of the circumcision we must needs understand it in terms of religion and legalism for those Jews of the circumcision would seek to bring into bondage the Gentiles by casting the stumbling block of circumcision before them. Oh it is absolutely critical we pay close and careful attention to this particular truth for what is presented here in chapters eleven through fifteen are the twin stumbling blocks cast upon the Gentiles by unbelieving and religious Jews.
This reality surrounding unbelieving Jews which opposed and resisted the apostle Paul as well as those believing Jews who were of the circumcision is absolutely astonishing and captivating when you take the time to think about it for it calls and draws our attention to the tremendous and powerful truth of what great lengths and measures the enemy and adversary can and will take to frustrate the work of God among the Gentiles. What’s more is I am absolutely and completely convinced that if we are to truly understand what is found within these chapters we must not only consider the parable which our Lord spoke concerning the seed and the sower but we must also consider the words which the apostle Paul wrote in the sixth chapter of the epistle written unto the Ephesian saints as well as in the tenth chapter of the second epistle which was written unto the Corinthian saints. Moreover I am convinced we must also read and consider the words which the apostle Paul wrote in the third chapter of the epistle written unto the Galatian churches as well as the words which are found in the ninth chapter of the epistle written unto the Roman saints. With all of this in mind I invite you to turn and direct your attention to the following passages of Scripture to help you understand just what the enemy and adversary sought to do during the days of the early Church as he did absolutely anything and everything he could in those early days to prevent the gospel from spreading among the Gentiles and the Holy Ghost from falling upon them. Consider if you will the following words which are found in each of these passages in the New Testament beginning with the New Testament gospel narrative written by the apostle Matthew:
“Hear ye therefore the parable of the sower. When any one heareth the word of the kingdom, and understandeth it not, then cometh the wicked one, and catcheth away that which was sown in his heart. This is he which received seed by the wayside. But he that received the seed into the stony places, the same is he that heareth the word, and anon with joy receiveth it; yet hath he not root in himself, but dureth for a while: for when tribulation or persecution ariseth because of the word, by and by he is offended. He also that received seed among the thorns is he that heareth the word; and the care of this world, and the deceitfulfness of riches, choke the word, and he becometh unfruitful. But he that received seed into the good ground is he that heareth the word and understandeth it; which also beareth fruit, and bringeth forth, some an hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty” (Matthew 13:18-23).
“Another parable put he forth unto them, saying, The kingdom of heaven is likened unto a man which sowed good seed in his field: but while men slept, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat, and went his way. But when the blad was sprung up and brought forth fruit, then appeared the tares also. So the servants of the householder came and said unto him, Sir, didst not thou sow good seed in thy field? From whence then hath it tares? He said unto them, An enemy hath done this. The servants said unto him, Wilt thou then that we go and gather them up? But he said, Nay; lest while ye gather up the tares, ye root up also the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest: and in the time of harvest I will say to the reapers, Gather ye together first the tares, and bind them in bundles to burn them: but gather the wheat into my barn” (Matthew 13:24-30).
“Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might> put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places. Wherefore take unto you the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand” (Ephesians 6:10-13).
“For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war after the flesh: (For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds) casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every though to the obedience of Christ; and having in a readiness to revenge all disobedience, when your obedience is fulfilled” (2 Corinthians 10:3-6).
“O foolish Galatians, who hath bewitched you, that ye should not obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ hath been evidently set forth, crucified among you. This only would I learn of you, Received ye the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith? Are ye so foolish? Having begun. In the Spirit, are ye now made perfect by the flesh? Have ye suffered so many things in vain? If it be yet in vain. He therefore that ministereth to you the Spirit, and worketh miracles among you, doeth he it by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith? Even as Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness. Know ye therefore that they which are of faith, the same are the children of Abraham. And the scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the heathen through faith, preached before the gospel unto Abraham, saying, In thee shall all nations be blessed. So then they which be of faith are blessed with faithful Abraham. For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse: for it is written, Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them. But that no man is justified by the law in the sight of God, it is evident: for, The just shall live by faith. And the law is not of faith: but, The man that doeth them shall live in them. Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us: for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree: that the blessing of Abraham might come on the Gentiles through Jesus Christ; that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith” (Galatians 3:1-14).
“I say the truth I n Christ, I lie not, my conscience also bearing me witness in the Holy Ghost, that I have great heaviness and continual sorrow in my heart. For I could wish that myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh: who are Israelites; to whom pertaineth the adoption, and the glory, and the ocvenants, and the giving of the law, and the service of God, and the promises; whose are the fathers, and of whom as concerning the flesh Christ came, who is over all, God blessed for ever. Amen. Not as though the word of God hath taken none effect. For they are not all Israel, which are of Israel: Neither, because they are the seed of Abrham, are they all children: but, in Isaac shall thy seed be called. That is, They which are the children of the flesh, these are not the children of God: but the children of the promise are counted for the seed. For this is the word of promise, At this time will I come, and Sara shall have a son. And not only this; but when Rebecca also had conceived by one, even by our father Isaac; (For the children being not yet born, neither having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of worwks, but of him that calleth) It was said unto her, The elder shall serve the younger. As it is written, Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated. What shall we say then? Is there unrighteousness with God? God forbid. For he saith to Moses, I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion. So then it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that sheweth mercy” (Romans 10:1-16).
It is absolutely necessary we recognize what is found in these passages of Scripture for within them we encounter the tremendous truth that we do not wrestle against flesh and blood but against the unseen forces of darkness which are present in this world. What’s more is that we learn from the epistle written by the apostle Paul unto the Galatian churches that the enemy and adversary can indeed seek to ensnare and place into bondage by placing a stumbling block before us. If you read chapters eleven through fifteen of the New Testament book of Acts you will encounter and come face to face with the tremendous truth surrounding the tactics and wiles of the devil who sought to undo the Gentiles being grafted into the vine together with the Jews. Perhaps one of the greatest truths found in the book of Acts is the rejection of the gospel and name of the Lord Jesus by the Jews and how their opposition and rejection led to the invitation being given unto the Gentiles. Of course we know and understand that it was the divine will and plan of the Father from the foundation of the world that all nations be blessed through Abraham and that the gift of the Holy Ghost and the word of Jesus be presented unto the Gentiles that all might be saved. What we find in the New Testament book of Acts, however, is the Jews rejection and opposition of the gospel of the Lord Jesus and of the Holy Ghost leading the way for the Gentiles to not only believe on the Lord Jesus but also receive the Holy Ghost. What’s more is that we must needs understand why the enemy and adversary fought so hard to prevent the Gentiles from hearing the gospel of the Lord Jesus and from receiving the gift of the Holy Spirit. THE GOSPEL OF JESUS & THE GIFT OF THE SPIRIT! If the Gentiles not only believed on the Lord Jesus but also received the gift of the Holy Ghost then there would potentially be no stopping the spread of the gospel across the globe and throughout the world.
As I prepare to bring to bring this writing to a close it is absolutely necessary we come face to face with this twin stumbling block which the enemy and adversary set before the Gentiles for the unbelief of the Jews and the religion of the same would seek to not only prevent them from hearing the gospel but also bring them into bondage once they did hear it. If the enemy would and could not be successful in preventing you from hearing the gospel and/or from snatching the seed of the word of the kingdom when it is preached then he will certainly seek to ensnare and bring you into bondage. This is precisely what the enemy and adversary did during the days of the early church as the unbelieving Jews raised up dissension, division, chaos, riots and the like around the apostles and their preaching the gospel. If this division and dissension did not and could not work then the enemy would seek to launch a secondary attack which was that of bondage to bring the Gentiles into slavery—and not just slavery but slavery to religion. Oh dear reader it is absolutely necessary we recognize and understand these tactics of the enemy and adversary for they can and will be manifested among us in this generation today. Although we are several generations removed from the early church and the days of the apostles the enemy and adversary can and will still seek to do whatever he can to prevent the gospel and name of the Lord Jesus from being preached and if it is preached and received he can and will seek to ensnare and keep in bondage those who believe. Oh that we would be wise to the schemes, the snares and the traps of the enemy and adversary and would not only counter his assaults and attacks but would drive his forces of darkness back that the gift of the Holy Ghost and the gospel of the Lord Jesus might be received by all men.