Pastor Barry/ The Gathering Acts #21 Open Minds & Calloused Hearts (conclusion) To hear this message and others download our free app @ the App Store. Search The Gathering connect.
Just Like Paul! Acts 28:1-10, Mark 16:17-18, Luke 10:17-20
Just when you’ve thought you’ve seen everything someone comes along and proves you wrong, oftentimes, it is some religious nut case! It happened for the first time in 1910 near Cleveland, Tennessee. George Hensley, a 30 year old self-taught Pentecostal preacher, took a rattlesnake out of a box at the end of his sermon and told the men to “handle it, or face the fires of hell” as an outward and visible demonstration of their faith. Hensley went on to preach this same message off and on for 45 years until he died of a snakebite himself in 1955. Before Hensley’s death, he started several churches in the Tennessee-Kentucky area loosely affiliated with the Pentecostal Church of God (The Church of God with Signs Following). For the Church of God with Signs, the belief is that snakes are incarnations of demons, so if a church member truly has the Holy Spirit within them, they should be able to handle venomous snakes– as well as drink poison and suffer no harm. Naturally. And if you get bitten, or start convulsing from the poison, well it simply shows a lack of faith or failure to follow leadership of the Holy Spirit.
There are still scattered snake handling-cyanide drinking, fire touching churches. The most recent statistics in 2013, show that a figure of roughly 125 snake-handling churches can still be found in the United States from central Florida to West Virginia and as far west as Columbus, Ohio, as well as across the border in Edmonton and British Columbia. Most states however have now outlawed such practices although laws are rarely enforced.
The passages above do not tell believers to pick up snakes or to drink deadly poison to prove their faith , what they do say is that “these signs (and not necessarily only these signs) will accompany those who believe”. Paul was protected by the Lord in Malta when he was bit by the snake, just as he was protected from the storm at sea. God protects those who are doing His will, but He will not protect a fool who puts Him to the test… Christian or not! Many Christians act like it is a contest to see how many supernatural gifts they can display. Some churches even go so far as saying that you are not saved unless you can speak in tongues. (This is not scriptural teaching. The apostle Paul actually taught that speaking in tongues was worthless without love and that prophecy was the greater gift (1 Corinthians 13:1-3, 14:4-5).
When the seventy-two returned to Jesus after He sent them out to share the good news, they too got lost in the power of protection that God gave them. Jesus reminded them to keep their focus and to rejoice not in the supernatural power He had given them but in the fact that they were saved! We must remember that we are not gods! We simply belong to God. Without Him we would have no power at all. God uses His power through his children as He chooses and when He chooses. When we are willing to let Him use us and step out on faith (as Paul did) unusual things may occur, but we are just ordinary people in the hands of an extraordinary God. If you have learned anything from our study in Acts then I pray this is what you’ve learned.
Ever Hearing Acts 28:11-28, Isaiah 6:9-13, Acts 1:7-8
After Paul made it clear that he was not a god, he prayed to the One True God and healing came to the island full of sick people. Paul and his companions (remember there are 276 of them from the ship wreck) were “honored in many ways.” For three months on that Island they were well taken care of by those thankful people. They were also provided with a ship and the supplies they needed when it was time to sail for Rome. When Paul arrived in Rome he was encouraged to discover that many brothers and sisters in Christ had traveled as far as 35-45 miles to see him. While Paul stayed in Puteoli for a week with Christians others obviously went on ahead with word that Paul was on his way. Note: 3 years earlier the church in Rome had received Paul’s letter from Corinth.
When Paul got to Rome he was allowed to live in his own house with a soldier to guard him. This was a political decision to keep Paul away from the main stream and avoid any riots while treating him civilly as a Roman citizen. This was actually God’s plan which allowed many guards and people to hear him speak without interruptions.
Paul’s last discourse with a large crowd was to the leaders of the Jews who had gathered at “the place where he was staying”. They announced that they had heard nothing “bad” about him from Judea (Jerusalem) which is odd because of the riot that broke out there. There is historical evidence; however, that Roman law punished unsuccessful prosecutors of Roman citizens. The Jewish leaders in Jerusalem likely decided it was wisdom not to oppose Paul in Rome. From morning until evening he tried to win Jews to Christ by showing them what the Law and Prophets had said about the Messiah (Jesus). Some were convinced but others would not believe. Paul’s last recorded words to the Jews was a prophecy from Isaiah 6:9-13. Paul would fulfill the first part of this prophecy in taking the gospel to Gentiles as the Jews refused to hear, but the latter part of the prophecy refers to a remnant of Jews who will be saved throughout time by the “holy seed” who is Christ.
Today our call as believers is the same. We are to share the gospel of Christ with anyone who will listen even while many are calloused and will refuse to hear. The words of Jesus that began the ACTS of the CHURCH (Acts 1:7-8), are the same words that we are to act on today. It is “not for us to know” the times or dates, but we are to receive power from the Holy Spirit and be witnesses of Christ.
Paul’s Martyrdom in Rome 2 Timothy 4:2-8
Luke ends the book of Acts abruptly after covering over 30 years of early church history. Why he did not include further works of Paul in Rome or his martyrdom there we don’t know. We do know that Luke was with him in Rome when he wrote his last Epistle just before the end of Nero’s reign (2 Tim. 4:11). Luke likely witnessed Paul’s beheading at the hands of a Roman executioner, but Paul’s message would survive the Roman empire!
Perhaps, Luke didn’t want to end his book with his friends death, but rather with his living. As Paul himself said: “To live is Christ and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21). Now it is our turn to act. Let us be worthy of the apostle’s charge. 2 Timothy 4:2-8