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Day 1 – Acts 7
Acts 6 and 7 are a unit. Acts 6 introduced Stephen as one of the leaders in the Jerusalem Church—a powerful preacher, one through whom the Spirit performed signs and wonders. And he will be the hinge point for a growing hostility toward the Church and the scattering of the Church.
Stephen is on trial before the Jewish Sanhedrin (6:12-15). False charges have been brought against him. Acts 7:2-53 is his defense. His defense is a sermon. It is the longest sermon in Acts at 1,014 words. Paul’s longest sermon is 470 words and Peter’s longest is 429 words. This sermon is different from the others. Stephen takes the Jewish leadership through the entire Old Testament story, to emphasize God’s goodness to his people and show the hard hearts of God’s people.
Verses 51-53 are a strong prophetic rebuke of the Jewish people and their leadership. Stephen delivers the accusation that the current leadership has rejected God in rejecting Jesus. They are furious with him (v. 54). Then Stephen seals his fate with verses 55-56. See how Jesus is described. For the Jews, this is blasphemy, and they decide to execute Stephen by stoning (vv. 57-59). Stephen’s prayer reminds us of Jesus’ own prayer (Luke 23:46). And he dies asking God to forgive those who have killed him!
Luke provides this story for several reasons. First, it is the story of God’s love, Israel’s rebellion, God’s judgment, and now God’s salvation given in Jesus. They have rejected Jesus, the salvation of God. Second, it is the start of the next phase of the Church in Jerusalem. It will now be more difficult and dangerous to be a follower of Jesus in that area. Third, it sets the stage for a new dispersal and mobilization of Christians, and the advancement of the gospel into Samaria (Acts 1:8). Finally, it introduces a new main character who will soon take center stage in Acts: Saul (v. 58). Saul is the one who approves the stoning (v. 60).
The Church is now facing dangerous enemies who use extreme punishment. What will the Church do? Stephen models the way. Be filled with the Spirit, witness to Jesus, speak truth, trust the resurrected Jesus. Death is not the end.
DAY 2 – Acts 8:1-25
Read Acts 1:8, then Acts 8:1. If Acts 7 was bleak and Acts 8 begins that way, it quickly turns into a great missional expansion to Judea (lower portion of yellow part on map) and then across the religious-cultural border into Samaria (the upper part).
most negative about Christ and Christianity. Saul is a lead persecutor. The apostles remained in Jerusalem, but the great majority would have scattered.
Read Acts 8:4-8 and see the scattering disciples preaching wherever they went. They have great success. Another core leader emerges: Philip (one of the seven in Acts 6:5). The mission to Samaria has begun and it is fruitful. Luke describes the power encounter story of Simon, a magician (vv. 9-24).
More important, Luke stresses the spiritual legitimacy of the mission in Samaria. Peter and John go to check it out. They fully approve. The Spirit is given (like Pentecost) to confirm that God’s salvation has come for Samaritans! The Jewish believers need to know of God’s love for the non-Jewish world. As Peter and John return to Jerusalem, they too preach in many Samaritan villages (v. 25). This is a major leap forward of mission.
Take-Away Action Steps:
God uses even the worst situations, turns them around, and advances his kingdom. Trust him to do the same for you.
God’s power does miraculous things and is always greater than evil. Stand firm against spiritual forces of evil.
Reach out to someone who is different from your own cultural group and build a relationship with them.
DAY 3 – Acts 8:26-40
The second half of Acts 8 is another story of Philip. The first story showed Philip as the catalyst for mission to Samaria. The second story will be a “teaser” about mission to the ends of the earth.
Read 8:26 and look at the map. The Holy Spirit will take Philip from the Samaria mission in the north, down to Gaza. That city is on the bottom left part of the map. There is a major road through this region, down to Egypt.
Philip meets an important Ethiopian. He is a eunuch, an important official in charge of the treasury of the Queen of Ethiopia. He is a God-seeker, a non-Jew who attends a Jewish synagogue and worship the God of Israel. He was in Jerusalem to worship. He is returning home and reading Isaiah 53.
There are important details we often miss because we are not familiar with the cultural significance of what is described. The Ethiopian is reading the prophet Isaiah, and most likely in the well-known Greek translation of the Hebrew scriptures. Greek was like an international second language around that part of the world. The Ethiopian does not understand the Old Testament until Philip explains Jesus as the fulfillment of it.
While the Ethiopian has tremendous power, he also has a tremendous need. He wants to know the true God. God is always chasing us down. Read Isaiah 56:3-8 for the good news for eunuchs. God orchestrates a major mission to get to this man. He responds and becomes a follower of Jesus (vv. 34-39). Then the Spirit takes Philip up to the area of Caesarea (top of the yellow portion). The Spirit is on the move. The mission is growing.
Take-Away Action Steps:
God spent a great deal of time chasing after you! Who did God use to get the good news of Jesus to you? Be grateful.
God will use you to chase down others that he loves. God wants to make you a Philip.
Have a heart of love to see the needs and hurts around you. Be full of the Spirit and reach out with the love of Jesus.
DAY 4 – Acts 9:1-31
Chapter 9 is one of the most important chapters in Acts. It is Saul’s experience on the road to Damascus, where he encounters Jesus and is forever changed. In Acts 9:32-43 the story turns back to Peter. After reading Acts 9:1-31, read Philippians 3:1-11. Acts 9 is the biography of what happened. Philippians is Paul’s spiritual explanation of his conversion to Jesus.
The radical conversion and transformation of Saul is central to the Book of Acts. Here are several core insights.
No one is beyond the grace of Jesus, who wants all to be saved. It is hard to imagine anyone worse than Saul, or more unlikely than Saul, to be saved, much less become the greatest leader the Church of the first century would have. Reflect on this a bit.
How do you see people? Ananias saw Saul as a dangerous person. Jesus saw Saul as his chosen servant. We must learn to see people as Jesus sees them, no matter how much we may not like them.
Read Acts 9:15-16. This is God’s plan for Saul! Read Colossians 1:24 for how Paul received that plan. Yes, God wants to bless you, but even more, God wants to bless you to be a blessing for others. A Jesus-shaped reality often has elements of sacrificial love for others. How ready are you for those assignments? They may be more frequent in our cultural season of life in our time.
Saul’s turnaround is fast. After some time with the disciples (learning more about Jesus) he immediately begins to share the good news. Jesus is the Son of God. Not only is this good news, but to the Jews it is heretical news, for there is only One God (vv. 19-22). How can Jesus be God? Saul proves he is. Saul is speaking truth, but in ways that immediately arouse intense opposition (vv. 23-29). Saul will go on a sabbatical to grow in his understanding of Jesus and how to do the mission of Jesus.
Acts 9:31 is the sixth time a summary of this type is provided. The Spirit is at work, the mission is growing, and so is the Church. Advancing but still UNFINISHED. . . and much more to come.
DAY 5 – Living Word’s Mission in Ethiopia
Acts 8:26-40 told the story of the Ethiopian eunuch who accepted Christ. Luke the historian was very selective in his early Church history. He focuses mainly on Peter and then on Paul. There are other Church leaders who have important missional roles. You have already read about Stephen and Philip. There are more to come. But Luke does not talk about any of the other apostles, what they did, where they went, how the gospel went to other parts of the world. And this reference is the only mention of the gospel arriving in Ethiopia. You can learn more about the very early possibilities at the Wikipedia article, “Christianity in Ethiopia.”
Living Word has been involved in Ethiopia almost from the beginning of our church. We had the great privilege of working with Dr. Melese Wogu, founder of Ethiopian Outreach Ministry. Because of civil war, Ethiopians are a scattered people around the world. Melese had a worldwide ministry of evangelism, teaching, and discipleship through radio broadcasts and books. He has a leadership training institute in Addis Ababa.
Through Melese we started a church for Ethiopian refugees in Djibouti. Through Melese we met Dr. Frew and began a major work in Sendafa, a town outside of Addis. We were introduced to Misker Abede, who has a wonderful church in the east of Ethiopia, in Dire Dawa. Ethiopia is a wonderful country that has been and is going through hard times.
Through these partners, we support a wide range of ministry in Ethiopia: teaching, evangelism, discipleship, church planting, church growth, leadership development, medical mission, micro-enterprise startups, community development, public health improvement, and more. We have had many people go on short-term mission trips to Ethiopia. The work remains UNFINISHED and it is our joy to be a part of new Acts of the Spirit in Ethiopia. Pray for our missional partners in Ethiopia.
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