Sep 03 2008

19- THE BOOK OF ACTS part 3

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The Acts of the Apostles

(Part 3 of 5 parts)


The Spread Of The Church Outside Of Jerusalem

The missionary work progressed according to the Lord’s command, “And you shall be witnesses to Me in [1] Jerusalem, [2] and all Judea and Samaria, and [3] to the end of the earth” (1:8).  When the ministry in Jerusalem was settled and its Church was founded (that was shepherded by St. James the brother of the Lord, as her bishop), the Holy Spirit prepared the Church for extension outside of Jerusalem.  This extension was helped by the following events:

1- The great persecution that began by the martyrdom of St. Stephen in Jerusalem, and caused the dispersion of the believers in Judea and Samaria except for the Apostles. “Those who were scattered went everywhere preaching the word. Then, Philip went down to the city of Samaria and preached Christ to them” (8:4,5).  “When the Apostles who were in Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent Peter and John to them, who, when they had come down, prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit” (8:14,15).  “So when they had testified and preached the word of the Lord, they returned to Jerusalem, preaching in many villages of the Samaritans (8:25).

2- The encounter of Philip with the Ethiopian minister who was returning from Jerusalem to Gaza (Ch. 8).  The Angel of the Lord spoke to Philip to rise and go toward the south where the Ethiopian minister was in his chariot reading in the Book of Isaiah the prophet.  Philip came closer to the chariot and asked the Ethiopian man if he understood what he was reading, and when the minister asked him to explain to him the prophet’s words, “He was led as a sheep to the slaughter; And as a lamb before its shearer is silent, So He opened not His mouth” (Is. 53:7).  From these words Philip started preaching Jesus to him, and when the Ethiopian believed, he asked to be baptized.  When he was baptized, the Spirit of God took away Philip, and the minister went his way joyfully to his country carrying the faith and the Good News to his people.  This was the seed of the Church in Ethiopia.

3- The conversion of Saul to faith in Christ (Ch. 9).  Saul was a Hebrew, a Jewish Pharisee, who was born in Tarsus, Cilicia (South East Asia Minor [Turkey]), in the year 2 AD.  It was under Roman authority and therefore, Saul has the Roman citizenship.  Saul had a strong zeal for his ancestors’ religion.  For this reason he incited a big campaign to persecute the Christians and he was a witness of, and agreeing on, the stoning of Stephen.  As he was traveling to Damascus to arrest Christians something happened that changed his life.  As he was on his way, a light from heaven flashed around him and voice from heaven called him “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?” (9:4).  Saul did not know who was talking to him, till the answer came, “I am Jesus whom you persecute” (9:5).  As ordered by the Lord, Ananias went to Saul and baptized him after he believed (9:10-18).  Saul’s eyes were opened and his heart was opened to believe in Jesus Christ whom he had persecuted.

The conversion of Saul to faith was a great turning point in the whole history of Christianity.  Because of his preaching to the Gentiles, a door was opened to them to believe in Christ.  The Lord has selected Paul to become a chosen vessel to carry His Name before the Gentiles and their Kings (9:16).


The Ministry Of St. Peter The Apostle (Ch. 1-12)

The ministry of St. Peter was limited to the Jews who believed in Christ, and who formed what is known as the Church of the Circumcision, trying to clean the Christian faith from the works of the Jewish Law such as circumcision, bodily purifications, Sabbath, and other customs.  St. Peter was not involved in the ministry of the Gentiles until the Lord showed him in a revelation, while he was praying during the day, not to judge any man as unclean or impure, and ordered him to go to Cornelius the Centurion who, while being a gentile, was hoping for the faith by his prayers, fasting and almsgiving.  Peter went to him and preached him, and when he accepted the faith, Peter baptized him and his family.  They became the first fruits of the Gentiles that have believed.  It became well known that the Lord has also accepted the Gentiles as he has accepted the Jews in the faith (ch. 10).  St. Peter went to Jerusalem to witness before the Church about the entrance of the Gentiles to the faith telling them what God has revealed to him about Cornelius (Ch. 11).

When the Church in Jerusalem heard about the spread of faith in Antioch by the Christians who were scattered because of the great persecution, they sent Barnabas (who was a Greek Cypriot full of the Holy Spirit) from Jerusalem to Antioch to be sure of the faith of the Gentile Church.  Barnabas called Saul (St. Peter) and ministered together for a year in Antioch.  Their ministry in Antioch was the beginning of the preaching of the gospel in the whole world (11:19-26, 13:1-3).  In Antioch, the first Gentile Church was founded, and there, the believers were called Christians for the first time.  In the second century St. Ignatius became its bishop and in the fourth century it became on of the 5 Apostolic Seats, with Jerusalem, Rome, Alexandria, and Constantinople.

The Last Part of the Ministry of St. Peter in the Book of Acts: The ministry of St. Peter incited the hatred of the fanatic Jews who refused to accept the Gentiles into the faith unless they first became Jews, i.e. to follow the Law of Moses besides their faith in Christ.  Herod wanted to please the Jews and therefore he persecuted the Church.  He killed St. James, the brother of St. John, and arrested St. Peter and put him in prison.  The Church prayed continuously for Peter and God sent His angel and opened the doors of the prison and saved Peter (Ch. 12).  He went out and joined the disciples who were gathered to pray in the Upper Room.   At this point, the author of “Acts” ceased to mention anything further of the ministry of St. Peter the Apostle.  This was in the year 44 A.D.  He went on to describe the ministry of St. Paul to the Gentile Church until his arrest in Rome.  The Church history tells us that St. Peter went also to Rome, and was martyred there with St. Paul on the same day.  The Coptic Church celebrates their martyrdom in July 12th (Abib 5th).

(to be continued )

An illustrated map of the life and Ministry of St. Peter is attached for a more comprehensive study.

Saint Mark’s Orthodox Fellowship urges you to study the Bible and encourage others to do the same. Please feel free to make any copies from these notes and distribute them to your relatives and friends.  The fellowship welcomes any questions, comments or additional references, whether for publication in these “Short Notes” or in private correspondence. Write to us: PO Box 6192, Columbia, MD 21045

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