Lecture 4: The Early Church From Peter to Paul
Course: A Short Course On Evangelism
Lecture: The Early Church From Peter to Paul
Welcome to session four. Just to review, we began in the garden, evangelism begins in the garden. God takes the initiative. We talked about the covenant with Abraham. Although there was a religion in place already from a thousand years before Abraham, Abraham could understand the concept of one God and God cut a covenant with Abraham.
At the right time Jesus Christ came to fulfill the new covenant. The old covenant only anticipated the new covenant. Do you understand that? It propitiated and it covered sin over, but the new covenant is where sin is rooted out. There are 300 prophecies in the Old Testament which anticipate the birth of Jesus Christ. Then we talked about Jesus, the fact that he was born sin prone and mortal, and remained sinless with less advantage than Adam. The Lamb slain before the creation.
Now let’s talk about evangelism in the early church, the basic message of evangelism. The fact that God pursues us. The basic message of evangelism is that God wants to be in fellowship with God’s creation. He pursues us. He establishes relationship with us. He provides opportunity for covenant renewal. And then fulfills the new covenant where sin is rooted out, himself allowing his own Son to die on the cross. That’s the message that Paul preached and Peter preached.
Let’s begin with Peter. I was looking for my flint knife earlier and I couldn’t find it, so I think it’s in one of my drawers. Peter carried a flint knife. Those early Christians carried flint knives. After the resurrection of Jesus and the ascension of Jesus, the disciples went fishing and at Pentecost they gathered in Jerusalem. Jesus had told them to anticipate a word from on high, that he would send his Holy Spirit. That’s the farewell discourse. John 13:31 to 16:33 there are five sayings, we call them the Paraclete sayings. Paraclete, the one called to the side of. Jesus tells them, “My legacy will be the Holy Spirit. I’m going to send the Holy Spirit, not to compensate for my absence.” Are you listening? “But to guarantee my presence.” The Holy Spirit was sent by Jesus, not to compensate for his absence, but to guarantee his presence. And at Pentecost the Holy Spirit fell on a scruffy bunch of Bedouins, who were always dickering as to who was to be first in the Kingdom of God, and always arguing, you know; and deserted Jesus to the man on the eve of the crucifixion. The Holy Spirit takes a scruffy bunch of Bedouins and fills them to the place where they become the church. The Spirit of God raises them up and baptizes them with the evidence of tongues in that instance.
Peter got over the rooster complex like that. He went into Pentecost with a rooster complex. He came out of Pentecost and hit the ground running. He preaches those wonderful Petrine sermons, there are five of them in the Book of Acts. Read them sometime. They are wonderful, where he lays out the basic content of the Gospel. This is the beginning of a new age. This is what Peter was preaching. This is the beginning of a new age. Jesus Christ is the fulfillment of that new age. His conception, his birth, his early life, his baptism, his temptation, his ministry, his death, his resurrection and his glorification. Beginning of a new age. Jesus Christ is the fulfillment of the new age. He now rules at the right hand of God, proof enough the fact that he was without sin. He has sent us his Spirit. He will one day return. Therefore, change your attitude toward God. That’s the message. You can see this in C.H. Dodd’s book, Apostolic Preaching where he just boils the preaching of Peter and Paul down to the basic common denominator.
That’s the basic content of the Gospel, beginning in the new age, Jesus the fulfillment. Jesus now dwells at the right hand of God, interceding for us, has sent us his Spirit, will one day return. Therefore, change your attitude toward God. That’s the Gospel that Peter preached. Yet he wanted people to become Jews before they became Christians. That’s why he carries his flint knife with him. Then, low and behold, after Pentecost Peter and John, the disciples, hear that the Samaritans had become Christians. Phillip had been sent by God to Samaria and saved a bunch of half-breeds. I don’t mean that in a derogatory way. Remember, the Samaritans, when they were exiled into Assyria, only the poorest remained behind; but when the Assyrians came in to replace those who had been exiled, these Samaritans who had been left behind intermarried with these Assyrians and eventually forgot Hebrew. So, when the nation came back after the exile to Babylon, the southern kingdom in 516 or so under Zerubbabel, the Samaritans went down to help the Jews rebuild the temple and the Jews said, “thanks but no thanks” and sent them home. They said, “You’re not Jews anymore, you don’t even speak Hebrew”. Do you know what the Samaritans did? The Samaritans went back to Samaria, built a rival temple on Mt. Gerizim and for 500 or so years before the birth of Jesus, Jews and Samaritans had been going back and forth between each other’s temples, desecrating them with dead men’s bones. They hated each other’s guts. This was the crowd that was led to Jesus by Phillip. So Peter and John say, “We’re checking this out.” So they go to Samaria and realize, whoa, they talk like Christians, but they don’t manifest the power of the Holy Spirit. So Peter and John lay hands on them and guess what happens? You’ll love this. The Holy Spirit is poured out on those half breeds exactly the same way the Holy Spirit was poured out on those purest Jews at Pentecost, tongues and all. It served them right. God bless them.
Peter is so impressed, he goes to Joppa and stays with a tanner. A Jew doesn’t stay with a tanner. A Jew can’t stand downwind from a tanner without being unclean for weeks. But he stays in the house of the tanner. He has this vision of animals being lowered in a sheet from heaven and a voice from heaven says, “Kill and eat.” Peter says what? “Not me. I’m not about to eat that which is unclean.” And the voice from heaven says, “How dare you call unclean that which I have sanctified.” And even as the vision is concluding, there is a knock at the door. This time we have servants from Caesarea. We’re not talking half-breeds now, we’re talking full blown pagans from Caesarea, Romans. The Spirit of God had appeared to Cornelius and said, “Send your servants to Joppa. There is a man staying with a tanner, his name is Peter. Invite him to come. He can speak the truth to you.” So Peter shows up at Caesarea at the house of Cornelius and the Spirit of God had already done the work. All he had to do was what? Lay hands on Cornelius and Cornelius and his whole family was filled with the Holy Spirit, spoke in tongues and everything. It served them right.
Peter is so impressed that he goes to Antioch to check out the church among the Gentiles, where Paul is now living and worshiping. I will talk more about Paul in the next session. He is at the first place where they call people “Christians.” Peter for a couple of days mixes with these Gentiles. But after a couple of days, James the brother of Jesus, who was one of the lead Apostles in Jerusalem, sends some Jews up to Antioch and they intimidate Peter, who is not easily intimidated. So after a couple of days Peter begins to back off and Paul, not once but twice, dresses him down in the open assembly and says, “You live like a Gentile, why don’t you mix with them?” Peter then goes back to Jerusalem and Paul takes off on his first missionary journey.
Let’s talk about Phillip a bit. I love Phillip. We read about Phillip twice in this part of Acts. Let me tell you a story. I love this story. I love eunuchs. I never met one, so don’t get your hopes up, but I love eunuchs. They have a servant mentality. They have been cut, so that the king can trust the eunuch in the presence of the queen. Apparently some Jew went to Ethiopia and met this official, working for Queen Candace, and they tell him about Judaism. He becomes a Jewish proselyte. He becomes a converted Jew. These Jews apparently some years earlier tell him about the temple. They say, “Mr. Eunuch, before you die, you need to make a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. You will go through the triple gate, up over the top of the triple gate and you will see the temple and experience the glory of God. It’s where the glory of God dwells. You will love it.” So this eunuch finagles a trip with Queen Candace. He gets in his chariot and goes to Jerusalem. He parks his chariot right at the steps, just before the triple gate at the steps. These very steps have just been uncovered. I go there once or twice a year. The very steps where Jesus taught about ten years ago have been uncovered. He stops. He parks his chariot in front of those steps. There are little baths there where you can bathe yourself before you go into the temple. The triple gate is there. You can see the outline on the walls today. It is not the exact wall, I know. It’s a crusader fort and a Muslim fort. He goes through the center gate, the steps.
The outer gates are the shops up alongside the center gate. He is going up the stairs, up under the wall; and about halfway he stops at one of the shops and buys a little lamb. He is going to make his sacrifice. He has been told about that. The little lamb is in his bosom. As he crests the top of the stairs and onto the temple mount, there it is. He can’t believe how gorgeous this temple is. It takes his breath away. As he approaches the steps to the temple, what happens? One of the gate keepers steps forward and says, “Sorry sir, you cannot come in. You’ve been cut like a steer. I cannot give you admittance.” This goes back to the Book of Leviticus. The eunuch is heartbroken, utterly confused. He turns around and heads back down toward the triple gate, saying to himself, “Why? What does all this mean? I was led here for a purpose.” As he goes back down through the triple gate, can’t you imagine? The Bible doesn’t say this, but this is what happened. Going back down through the triple gate, he stops in one of the shops and exchanges his little lamb for the scroll of Isaiah. He takes the scroll of Isaiah into his chariot and heads back down along the Gaza road to Ethiopia.
What does God do? Is God good, or what? Don’t you just love God? God is a God of love, mercy, justice, faithfulness, longsuffering. Hallelujah! Praise God! I’m about get happy here. God gets on the horn, calls up Phillip, the same guy with the Samaritans, who led those half-breeds to Jesus. They weren’t filled with the Holy Spirit when Phillip was there because I’m sure God wanted to withhold the outpouring of the Holy Spirit so that Peter and John could see the outpouring with their own eyes. Peter slowly but surely was getting over this flint knife in his pocket, trying to make everybody a Jew before he makes them a Christian. Anyway, God gets on the horn and calls up Phillip and says, “Phillip, I want you to go down to the Gaza Road, I have something I want you to do. I want you to show up. Pay attention.” I wrote an article on evangelism in the New Cambridge Dictionary on Christianity a couple of years ago. I concluded it with a line I was sure would not make the cut. So when they sent me the dictionary, I grabbed it to see if my line had made the cut and sure enough, it made the cut. The last line in that definition of evangelism is: “Ninety percent of evangelism is showing up and paying attention.” We’ll talk more about that later.
Phillip shows up and pays attention. As he is walking along the road, the chariot goes by. He sees the eunuch reading from the Book of Isaiah. He runs up along the side of the chariot and asks the man, “Do you understand what you’re reading?” He is reading from Isaiah 53. I’ll read it to you in a moment. “Do you understand what you’re reading?” And the eunuch says, “How can I understand when there is no one to interpret it?” And he invites Phillip into the carriage and Phillip helps him understand how that scripture has been fulfilled by Jesus Christ. Let me read it to you. Isaiah 53: “Who has believed our message? And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed? He grew up before him like a tender shoot and like a root out of dry ground. He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrow and familiar with suffering.” Do you think the eunuch could relate to this? Imagine. All Phillip had to do was show up and pay attention. The Spirit of God already had the eunuch reading in Isaiah 53. Listen to this: “Like one from whom men hide their faces, he was despised and we rejected him and we esteemed him not. Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows. Yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgression, he was crushed for our iniquities.” Imagine that. All of a sudden the eunuch says to Phillip, “What is to prevent me from being baptized?” And all of a sudden – this is a miracle, by the way – suddenly there is water. I’ve been on that road, it’s a dry, dusty road and there are only young camels; all of the old camels are dead. It is a dry, dusty place. And there is enough water probably to baptize him like a Baptist. God bless all you Baptists. Three times. God bless all you orthodox Christians. Once for the Father, once for the Son and once for the Holy Ghost. After he comes out of the water, the eunuch apparently is “lit!” Then, do you know what God does? You won’t believe it. The Spirit of God takes Phillip away and leaves the eunuch standing there by himself. John Wesley says, “How dare you lead people to Christ without also providing adequate opportunity for growth and nurture? To do anything less is to beget children for the murderer.” But you know who does the follow-up? Don’t lose me here, folks. This is really important. The Spirit of God Himself does the follow-up. Listen to this. Are you ready? Turn one page. From Isaiah 53 to Isaiah 56:3. Listen to this: “Let no foreigner who has bound himself to the Lord say” – a proselyte, the eunuch was a proselyte – “The Lord will surely exclude me from his people”. “Let no foreigner who has bound himself to the Lord say, ‘The Lord will surely exclude me from his people’.” Get this. Are you listening? “Let not any eunuch complain, ‘I am only a dry tree,’ for this is what the Lord says to the eunuchs who keep my Sabbath”. I’m not making this up, this is really there. “To the eunuchs who keep my Sabbath, who choose what pleases me and hold fast to my covenant, to them I will give within my temple” – the very place where he had just been turned away – “I will give within my temple and its walls a memorial and a name, better than sons and daughters. I will give them an everlasting name that will not be cut off.” I love it. Do we have a good God, or what? Peter, he wanted the Christians Jews before they became Christians, but he got over it. He finally lost his flint knife, I’m sure. I will tell you the rest of that wonderful story during our next session.
Lord, we’re grateful for your goodness. We’re grateful for Peter. We’re grateful that he got over his rooster complex. And we’re grateful that all he had to do was show up and pay attention and you had already done the work. Your Spirit had already done the work. We’ll hear more about that next session. We’re grateful, God, for the Gospel of Jesus Christ and for the truth it speaks to our own hearts, that we might be better prepared for life and ministry. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.