Witnesses On Cyprus

Despite Herod’s persecutions, the word of God continued to spread & the body of Christ continued to grow (262). Barnabas & Saul finished their relief mission in Jerusalem & returned to Syrian Antioch, taking young Mark with them.  Paul was about 40 years old by this time.

In the church in Syrian Antioch there were several men who served as prophets & teachers: Barnabas, Simeon (called the Black), Lucius (from Cyrene), Manaen (who had actually been brought up with Herod), and Saul.  Once, while they were serving God & fasting, the Holy Spirit said to them, “Set apart for me Barnabas & Saul, to do the work to which I have called them!”

So the church leaders continued to fast & they prayed for confirmation of this word from God.  When God answered that prayer, the church leaders prayed & laid hands on Barnabas & Saul and sent them off, accompanied by Mark, to follow the Spirit’s leading.

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The Spirit first led them to the Mediterranean island of Cyprus, where they preached the good news of Jesus as Messiah in the synagogues in the city of Salamis.

Then they went across the island to the city of Paphos, where they met a magician named Bar-Jesus, a Jew who claimed to be a prophet. Bar-Jesus was a friend of the governor of the island, Sergius Paulus, who was an intelligent man.

Because he wanted to hear the word of God, the governor called Barnabas & Saul before him.  But another magician, named Elymas, interrupted & tried to turn the governor away from the faith!

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In response, Saul (who now was known also as Paul) was emboldened by the Holy Spirit.  Looking straight at Elymas he declared, “You son of Satan! You’re the enemy of everything that is good. You’re full of evil tricks, and you always keep trying to turn God’s truth into lies.  Now God’s hand will strike you & make you blind for a while!”

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At once, a dark mist covered the eyes of Elymas, and he needed someone to lead him by the hand!

When the governor saw this, he believed; he was greatly amazed by the power of God, as well as by Paul’s teaching about God.

God, please help me to love Your power.

(262) Acts 12:24-13:12

God’s Punishment For Herod

When morning came, there was a tremendous confusion among the jail guards because Peter was missing (261)!

Then Herod had the guards questioned.  When they had no answer as to Peter’s whereabouts, Herod had them put to death.

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After this, Herod left Jerusalem and went to spend some time in the city of Caesarea. He had been angered by the people of Tyre & Sidon, which were seaport cities north of Caesarea.

Numerous representatives of Tyre & Sidon came to Herod to make up, because they depended on Herod for their food supplies.  They even persuaded Blastus, the man in charge of Herod’s palace, to help them. Eventually they were given an audience with Herod, in order to ask him for peace.

On the day chosen for their audience, Herod put on his royal robes, sat on his throne, and began making a speech. The people from Tyre & Sidon responded by shouting: “This isn’t a man speaking, but a god!”

Herod was pleased to receive this honor for himself; it never occurred to him to give the honor to God.

Suddenly, as he was still speaking, Herod was struck dead by an angel of God!

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Subsequently, his body was eaten by worms.

God, please help me to love giving You glory.

(261) Acts 12:18-23

God’s Protection For Peter

At this time – almost 15 years after Jesus had returned to heaven – the new King Herod was persecuting some members of the Jerusalem church (260). For example, he had one of the 12 witnesses — James, the brother of John — put to death by the sword.

When Herod saw that this pleased the Jews, he had Peter arrested, during the annual springtime Festival of Passover & Unleavened Bread. Peter was kept in jail under guard. Herod planned to put him on public trial after the Passover had passed. While Peter was in jail, the people of the Jerusalem church were praying earnestly to God for him.

The night before Herod was to bring him to trial, Peter was sleeping in jail, shackled with chains between two guards.  Other guards were on duty at the prison gate.

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Suddenly an angel of God stood in Peter’s cell, surrounded by a very bright light! The angel shook Peter by the shoulder & said, “Get up!” At once the chains fell off Peter’s hands!  Then the angel said, “Put your cloak around you & come with me.” Peter followed him out of the prison.  However, Peter didn’t really know if all this was real; he thought it was a dream or a vision.

The angel & Peter passed by first one guard & then another.  They came to the last gate that went into the city — which opened for them by itself!   So they went out began walking down the street.  Suddenly the angel was gone.  Just as suddenly, the Holy Spirit helped Peter realize: “This is really happening! God has sent his angel to rescue me from Herod!”

Peter went quickly & quietly to the home of Mary — the mother of Mark, one of the four gospel writers — where many friends had gathered to pray for him.  Peter knocked at the outside door & a servant girl named Rhoda came to answer it.  When she recognized Peter’s voice, she was so overwhelmed that she ran back inside the house — without even opening the door for Peter!

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When Rhoda announced that Peter was standing at the outside door, the people inside first exclaimed: “You’re crazy!” But when Rhoda insisted that it was true, Peter’s friends said: “It must be Peter’s angel.”

Meanwhile, Peter kept on knocking at the door.  When at last they opened the door & saw him, they were amazed!  Peter motioned for them to be quiet, and he explained to them how God had brought him out of prison.

“Tell all this to James and the rest of the believers,” Peter said.  (He was referring to the other James, the close relative of Jesus, who had become a believer after Jesus rose from death.)  Then Peter left them.

God, please help me to love Your faithful protection.

(260) Acts 12:1-17

The Body Grows In Syrian Antioch

In the persecution that arose after Stephen’s murder, witnesses for Jesus traveled to places such as Phoenicia, Cyprus, and the Syrian city of Antioch (259).  But they were preaching the good news about Jesus only to people who were Jews by birth.

Later, however, others came from Cyprus & Cyrene to Antioch, and they preached Jesus to Gentiles who had become Jews. God blessed their efforts and many of these former Gentiles believed in Jesus & surrendered their lives to the leading of the Holy Spirit.

When news of this was heard by the church in Jerusalem, they sent Barnabas to check out the situation.  Barnabas – who was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit & of faith — was glad when he saw the grace of God among the body of believers in Antioch.

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Barnabas encouraged them to continue following Jesus with all their heart. And the body of Christ continued to grow in Antioch.

Then Barnabas went to the nearby city of Tarsus to find Saul. When he had found him, Barnabas brought Saul to Antioch.

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For an entire year, Saul & Barnabas served the church in Antioch.  It was in that city that believers were first called “Christians” – to indicate that they were living as Jesus intended, showing their love for God by loving other people.

Prophets came periodically from Jerusalem to Antioch. One of them, Agabus, was inspired by the Spirit to show the church in Antioch that there was going to be a great famine throughout that part of the world.

In response, the Christians in Antioch decided to send relief to the believers dwelling in Judea, each according to his ability. When they had prepared their relief offering, they sent it with Barnabas & Saul to the elders of the Jerusalem church – which would bring Saul to Jerusalem as a Christian for only the second time.

God, please help me to love other people as an expression of my love for You.

(259) Acts 11:19-30

Gentiles Grafted In

The witnesses and other believers in Jerusalem heard that Gentiles (non-Jewish people) at Caesarea had received the spirit of God (258).

When Peter returned to Jerusalem, some Jews — who insisted on circumcision according to the law of Moses – accused Peter of unlawfully sharing fellowship with Gentiles: “You went in to uncircumcised Gentiles & ate with them!”

So Peter explained everything to them in careful detail, exactly as it happened from the time of his vision in Joppa through the time of his message to the house of Cornelius – including the messengers from Cornelius, the vision of Cornelius, and how the Gentile people gathered in the house of Cornelius to hear from God.  He concluded in this way:

“After I began to speak, the Holy Spirit suddenly invaded & took over the Gentiles’ hearts & lives, just as he did with us at Pentecost!

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“Then I remembered that Jesus said, ‘John indeed baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’

“So if God was blessing them with the same gift that He gave us when we surrendered to Jesus, how could I withstand God?”

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At first, there was stunned silence when Peter finished speaking.  Then all the church leaders glorified God, saying, “Praise the Lord for also leading the Gentiles into repentance & new life!”

God, please help me to love Your leading.

(258) Acts 11:1-18

One In The Spirit

Then Peter was inspired by the Holy Spirit to speak (257).  “Now I understand that God truly will be friends, not only with Jews who honor him by living righteously.  God truly will be friends, also with non-Jews who honor him by living righteously.

“You all know that God sent his son Jesus to make peace between the Jews & God.   This was proclaimed throughout all Judea, beginning from Galilee after the baptism which John the Baptizer preached.  God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit & with power; he went about doing good & healing all who were oppressed by evil spirits.

“We are witnesses of all the things which Jesus did.  We saw him executed in Jerusalem by hanging on a cross.  We also saw Jesus after God raised him from death; we even ate & drank with him at that time.

“Jesus has commanded us to proclaim that he has been ordained by God to judge all people – both the living & the dead. And the prophets have testified that whoever believes in Jesus will receive forgiveness of their sins.”

The Gentiles (non-Jews)  in the house of Cornelius were trying to apply Peter’s message to themselves, even as Peter was speaking.

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Suddenly, the Holy Spirit invaded their hearts & lives!  As with the Jews on the day of Pentecost, these Gentiles now began to testify of Jesus & praise God in many languages!

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The Jewish Christians who had come with Peter were astonished that God would give his Holy Spirit to Gentiles!  The same Spirit then prompted Peter to encourage his companions: “Surely we must baptize these Gentiles, who have received God’s Holy Spirit exactly as we did.”

Then Peter baptized them all in the name of Jesus. Afterwards, Peter remained with Cornelius & his family & friends for a few days.

God, please help me to love anyone who loves You .

(257) Acts 10:34-48

What Peter Saw

While Peter was pondering his vision, the men from Cornelius arrived & asked for him (256).  At that moment, the Holy Spirit assured Peter about the three men: “Get up & go with them, for I have sent them to you.”

So Peter went down and asked the men why they had come; they replied: “Cornelius, a just man who fears God & has a good reputation among all the Jews, was divinely instructed by a holy angel — to summon you to his house, to hear the words of God from you.”

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Peter invited the three men in to stay the night.  In the morning Peter went with them to Caesarea, accompanied by six Jewish Christians from Joppa.  When they arrived in Caesarea, Cornelius was waiting for them, together with many of his relatives & close friends.

As Peter entered his house, Cornelius fell down at his feet & began to worship him! But Peter told him: “Stand up; I am also just a man.”

Then Peter went in & addressed the entire gathering: “You know it is against God’s law for a Jewish man like me to associate with Gentiles like you.  But God has made me see that I should not think of any man as unclean. Now, please tell me why you called me.”

Cornelius replied: “Four days ago I was fasting & praying in my house at 3:00 PM.  Suddenly, a man stood before me in very bright clothing & said, ‘Your prayers & your generosity have been remembered by God.  Send to Joppa for Peter; he is living with Simon, a tanner, in his house by the sea. Peter will tell you what you must do.’

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“So I sent for you immediately, and I’m glad you have come.  Now we are all present before God, ready to hear God’s words from you.”

God, please help me love the enduring cleanness of Your creation.

(256) Acts 10:17-33