Episode NT50 Paul and Barnabas at Pisidian Antioch

Story 50 – Paul and Barnabas at Pisidian Antioch

Based on Acts chapter 13 verses 13 to 52

It was time for Paul (who used to be known as Saul) and Barnabas, along with John Mark, to move on. So, leaving Cyprus, the place Barnabas knew so well, they decided to head up to the area Paul was from. Sailing from the Cyprian port of Paphos, they took the 100 mile or so sea voyage up to Asia Minor, probably landing at Attalia, and then travelled about 12 miles inland to Perga. However, when they reached Perga, they suffered a painful setback, as John Mark abandoned them and left for Jerusalem.

Quite what was happening, we don’t know. Maybe John Mark missed his home and his mother? Or maybe he didn’t like the way things were changing, as Paul took more and more of a leading role and his cousin Barnabas less? It could have been that they’d come to a new and potentially dangerous place and John Mark felt worried? We’ll never know but, even as they suffered this loss, it seemed that other things were also going wrong as, instead of staying in Perga, they quickly left that area and headed north. It seems that Paul may have been quite ill, as he talks about that in one of his letters at another time. So, instead of staying in Perga, they went on quite a long and arduous journey on dangerous roads and through mountain passes that were well known for being infested with robbers and bandits. But the advantage of the journey, especially if Paul was ill, was that it took them away from the heat of the south Galatian plateau and up to the cool and no doubt bracing air of the Taurus plateau, about 3,500 feet above sea level. And so, they eventually came to a place called Antioch. Obviously, it was a different Antioch from where they’d originally started, and was known as Pisidian Antioch, to distinguish it from the Antioch that had sent Paul and Barnabas out on the mission they were now on.

On their arrival at Pisidian Antioch, and no doubt when Paul was well enough, on the Sabbath day – the day when Jewish people always gather together to worship, and which is our Saturday – they went to the Jewish synagogue in town.

The service followed its usual pattern and it was a custom that, if a visiting Rabbi or Jewish teacher came to the synagogue, they’d be asked if they’d speak to the gathered people. Now, Paul was a teacher and they would’ve probably known that from the type of clothing he wore. So, at the appropriate moment in the service, the leaders of the Jewish synagogue sent a message to Paul and Barnabas to ask if they had a message to encourage the people and, if so, to speak in the meeting. Well, as you can imagine, Paul and Barnabas did have a message, all about the wonderful news of God’s love through Jesus, and were more than happy to share it with them.

It was Paul who did the actual preaching and he was a man who knew how to preach and had lots of experience. Starting by standing and making a hand gesture to let the people know that he had something to say that was worth listening to and, knowing that he was talking to mainly Jews, he began by talking about a subject close to their hearts, Jewish history.

‘Men of Israel and everyone else who fears God, listen to me,’ he started. Then, Paul skilfully pointed out how Jesus was the Messiah that Jewish history had always been pointing towards. He talked of their ancestors and of the time the people of Israel had lived in slavery in Egypt and how God had saved them from their servitude. He reminded them of God’s patience with the Israelites while they’d spent 40 years in the wilderness after they’d left Egypt. Then he talked about how God had helped them destroy seven mighty nations so that they could have the land of Israel as their inheritance and that all this had taken 450 years – no doubt adding together the 400 years in Egypt, 40 in the wilderness and 10 to take full possession of Israel. Paul then reminded the people of how Israel had asked for a king and how God had firstly given them King Saul and then how God had removed him. And, after that, God had given them King David, who was a man whose desire was to do what God wanted and from whose descendants the promised Saviour was to come.

Paul then moved on to talk about John the Baptist, who had clearly told everyone that he wasn’t the promised Messiah and had, instead, pointed to Jesus. Then, Paul talked about the fact that the leaders in Jerusalem hadn’t understood who Jesus was and had asked for him to be killed by Pilate, who’d had him executed. But, in doing so, these leaders had actually fulfilled the very things God had said in the Scriptures would happen to the Messiah, such as the Messiah’s body being placed in a tomb and not thrown into a mass grave.

Paul then talked about something even more amazing, that, after the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem had had Jesus killed and He’d been buried in the tomb, God had raised Jesus from the dead and, for many days after, Jesus had appeared to His followers who had come with him from Galilee to Jerusalem. These people included the Apostles, the likes of Peter, Andrew and John, who now witnessed to the truth of Jesus’ resurrection to all the people.

And Paul told them that the purpose of his visit was to bring them the Good News about Jesus. He explained that, in raising Jesus from the dead, God had shown that Jesus was even greater than the great King David of old. For King David had died and his body had been laid in a tomb and, like everyone else on earth, his body had decayed away. But the same was NOT true of Jesus, because God had truly raised Him back to life and so He would never experience decay.

The final part of Paul’s sermon was probably unexpected and given as a word of warning to the people listening to him. You see, Paul was talking about things that were so important that they shouldn’t be ignored or left until later but, instead, should be acted on at once. He was talking about God reaching out to us, and sending His Son to die for us, so that we could be forgiven and become children of God. He was showing them a New Way that was different from the way they’d been following. Their old way to try and get right with God was by trying to obey a series of laws. However, if they failed to obey even one, they would remain guilty in God’s eyes and subject to punishment. But now, he explained, through Jesus, a New Way was open to God that could make them clean and forgiven in the eyes of God in a way that the old system simply couldn’t. However, and this was the warning, if they ignored what God was offering them in Jesus then, like their ancestors of old, who’d refused to believe that God was going to punish Israel and hadn’t turned from their evil ways and, as a result, had suffered great loss and death, they too could suffer great, eternal loss if they ignored Paul’s message. Put simply, this message was too important to ignore.

Paul’s sermon set the whole synagogue alight with discussion and excitement and, as they were leaving, the people begged Paul and Barnabas to come back the following week so they could hear more about all these things. In fact, many of the people present went after Paul and Barnabas as they left and the two of them urged those who had believed their message to continue to rely on God’s grace.

And so the next Sabbath arrived, but the people who’d been their the previous week had been so excited about all that Paul had said that they’d told almost everyone in the whole city about it. As a result, pretty much the entire city turned up to hear Paul and Barnabas preach about Jesus.

That’s when the problems started for the two men. Because, when the Jews saw all those people attending the meeting, they became very jealous. They were jealous that Paul and Barnabas had been so powerful in their message that so many people had turned up to hear them, but they were also jealous to think that God would save anyone other than Jews and those who’d become Jews. As a result, when the meeting started, the Jews said all kinds of lies about Paul and argued with everything he said.

Paul and Barnabas understood what was going on, and were no doubt very sad to see it happen, as the incredibly important message they were bringing to these people was rejected by the Jews, in a similar way to how Jesus’ message had been rejected by the leaders in Jerusalem. So, with great boldness, undaunted by this new opposition, they declared to the Jews, ‘It was necessary that we started by preaching the Word of God first to you Jews. But since you’ve rejected it, and in so doing have judged that you aren’t worthy of eternal life, we will take this message and offer it to everyone else who isn’t a Jew, that is, to the Gentiles. For the Lord Himself gave us this command. He said, ‘I have made you a light to the Gentiles, to bring salvation to the furthest corners of the earth.’’

Of course, when the non-Jews or Gentiles heard this, they were overjoyed and thanked the Lord for His message. Everyone who was chosen to receive eternal life became a believer and the Lord’s message spread throughout that region.

However, the Jews were NOT happy with this situation and wanted their revenge on Paul and Barnabas. They stirred up the influential religious women and the leaders of the city to create a mob to grab Paul and Barnabas and violently run them out of town. It’s probable that Paul and Barnabas were badly beaten as they were thrown out of the town (again, something Paul talks about later on in one of his letters). So, as a sign against those Jews who’d refused the message, and in the same way that Jesus had told His disciples to do when their message was rejected, Paul and Barnabas shook the dust off their feet as a sign of the rejection they’d experienced and went to another town called Iconium. Jesus had warned His disciples that, if they got to the point of having to shake off the dust from themselves when rejected, like Paul and Barnabas had just been, then the judgment of God against those who’d refused their message would be very severe. But, in the meantime, those who had believed were filled with joy and also with the Holy Spirit.

Episode NT49 – Barnabas and Saul Sent Out

Story 49 – Barnabas and Saul Sent Out

Based on Acts chapter 12 verse 25 to chapter 13 verse 12

So the relief mission to Jerusalem took place and the church continued to grow even though people like Herod Agrippa tried to stop it. These people who opposed the church couldn’t stop the spread of the Good News and the growth of the church anymore than they could hold back the sun as it crossed the sky, for, when God’s at work, no one can oppose Him and succeed.

Once the relief mission was complete, Barnabas and Saul returned to Antioch and took along with them John, who was also known as Mark and sometimes called ‘John Mark’. It was in John Mark’s mother’s house that the prayer meeting for Simon Peter had been held and where Rhoda the servant girl worked, who’d left Peter standing outside the door! John Mark was also Barnabas’ cousin.

The church at Antioch was blessed with good leaders including both prophets and teachers. These leaders were Barnabas, of course, and Simeon who was probably from Africa as he was known for being black. Then there was Lucius from Cyrene, which is also in Africa, and Manaen who was an interesting person as he’d been brought up with Herod Antipas in the household of Herod the Great! Manaen was probably raised as Herod Antipas’ foster brother but, thankfully, he’d turned to the Lord and was now part of the godly leadership of the church. And, last but not least, there was Saul. So the leadership consisted of 5 men, Barnabas, Simeon, Lucius, Manaen and Saul, who took the responsibility for teaching, leading and serving the church very seriously as they worked not to please people, but the Lord.

Now, while they, and probably the whole church with them, were worshipping the Lord and fasting, they were no doubt seeking the Lord’s provision to build His church. And, the Holy Spirit spoke to them saying, ‘I want you to set apart for Me both Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them’.

To be honest, the calling seemed rather vague. What specifically did God want them to do? Where did God want them to do this work? In some ways, it was a call similar in nature to God’s call to Abraham many many years before; a vague call to go, with no specified destination. However, the church understood that the key wasn’t knowing exactly what and where so much as obeying a clear call from God to go – and then going – trusting God that He would make things clear as they went, in a similar way to Abraham. It was a call to move forward in faith, to trust God that He would lead and help them.

The church and these godly leaders responded at once to what the Holy Spirit had said. Firstly, with more prayer and fasting, no doubt to confirm the message from God and to ask for His blessing on these two men. And then, they laid their hands on Barnabas and Saul to indicate that they identified with them in the work that the Lord was calling them to do. That work would no doubt involve telling people about Jesus in the parts of the world that God would take them to. So, the leaders released these faithful men out on mission. And, being sent out by the Holy Spirit, Barnabas and Saul went to the nearest port, a place called Seleucia, some fifteen to sixteen miles away, and took passage on a ship bound for Cyprus.

Cyprus was actually a good place to start this outreach to people who had never heard about Jesus, not least because it was where Barnabas had grown up and came from. For Barnabas at least, it would be a familiar place and so a good starting point. Also, as well as being quite close to Antioch and so easy to reach, there was a large population of Jews in Cyprus, large enough for there to be several synagogues across the island. So, they arrived at the port of Salamis on the east cost of Cyprus and there they started the work of telling people about all God had done for them in Jesus. Beginning in the Jewish synagogues, they travelled all over the island until they came to Paphos on the west coast, with John Mark acting as their assistant.

Now, Paphos was a great centre for the worship of Aphrodite and so an important place on the island. It was a place many visited and also where there was a lot of immorality!

There was a Roman governor called Sergius Paulus in Paphos. Governors, or ‘proconsuls’ as they were known, would have been Rome’s eyes, watching what was going on in the area to make sure nothing was happening that would hurt the interests of Rome. These proconsuls were important people and had great power. It seemed that Sergius Paulus was an intelligent man who kept an eye on what was taking place in Paphos and any new teachings or ideas that could affect the people under his care.

However, there was also a Jew named Bar-Jesus who had attached himself to the proconsul, no doubt trying to influence him and get power for himself. This Bar-Jesus was a magician and also a false prophet, telling lies about God to lead people away from God rather than towards Him. He was actually known as Elymas, the sorcerer, by the people, which seems to be a translation of the Arabic word for magician into Greek, the language spoken on the island.

As Rome’s representative in the area and, no doubt, because of an interest in magic and things that he shouldn’t have been interested in – as indicated by the fact that this Elymas the sorcerer character was part of his inner circle – Sergius Paulus invited Barnabas and Saul to come and visit him. He probably asked for the meeting to hear about this new teaching that had been spreading all over the island since their arrival and to work out if it was a danger to Rome. This did not please the false prophet Elymas because he wanted to lead people away for God and not towards Him. He also realised that, if the proconsul believed Barnabas and Saul, he would no longer have power over the proconsul and his privileged position would come to an end. So, Elymas did everything he could to oppose Barnabas and Saul, trying to keep the proconsul from believing and being saved.

However, Saul, who also went by the Greek name ‘Paul’, realised the truth of the situation. What was really happening here was a spiritual battle. Elymas, the sorcerer, whose name was Bar-Jesus – which actually means ‘son of salvation’ – was doing everything in his power to keep the proconsul, and no doubt everyone else who was listening, away from salvation. Now that, is the work of Satan, not of God. So, the power of God was working through the words of Barnabas and Saul and the power of Satan was working to keep the proconsul from listening to these words. But Satan is no match for the Holy Spirit. For Saul, now known as Paul, filled with the Holy Spirit, looked Elymas directly in the eye and said, ‘You son of the devil, full of every sort of deceit and fraud, an enemy of everything that’s good! Will you never stop twisting the straight ways of the Lord? Now look, the Hand of the Lord is on you to punish you, and you will be struck blind. You will be completely unable to see the sun – for a time.’

At once a kind of mist and darkness came over Elymas and he groped around looking for people to lead him by the hand. (P) How gracious God was to Elymas by only letting this punishment last for a while and not for the rest of his life. We know nothing more about him, but I hope this punishment gave him reason to stop and consider the direction he was heading in, because nothing good could come from it! His only hope would be to turn to the Lord.

As for the proconsul, when he saw what happened, he became a believer. Yet, it wasn’t so much the miracle of Elymas’ punishment that caused him to believe, although the evidence of how much greater the power of God is than the power of Satan was clear for all to see. Instead, he believed because he was so greatly astounded at what Barnabas and Paul taught about how good, loving, kind and forgiving the Lord is in sending Jesus to take away our sins and make us right with God.

Episode NT46 – Peter and Cornelius

Story 46 – Peter and Cornelius

Based on Acts chapter 10 verses 1 to chapter 11 verse 18

In Caesarea, a Roman officer called Cornelius, a captain in the Italian Regiment, knelt in prayer. He and all his family feared God and tried to live good lives. He regularly gave to those in need and prayed to God. But today, as he knelt to pray at the usual time of three in the afternoon, suddenly, he saw a vision of an angel, sent from God. Filled with terror, Cornelius listened as the angel delivered his message!

‘Cornelius,’ the angel said.

Hardly able to breathe, Cornelius replied, ‘Yes, sir, what do you want?’

‘Your prayers and your gifts to the poor have been noticed by God! Now, send some men down to Joppa to find a man there called Simon who is also known as Peter. This man is staying with Simon the tanner who lives near the sea. When the men get there, tell them to ask Peter to come and visit you.’

No sooner had the angel gone than Cornelius was up on his feet rushing to find his servants. ‘Quick!’ he called to two of his servants and a devout soldier who was one of his personal attendants. ‘You must come and hear what’s just happened – it’s incredible!’ Then he told them about the angel and the message he’d been given and the precise instructions about who to ask for and where they’d find him. ‘Now, go and do what the angel said,’ Cornelius instructed, ‘and ask this Peter to come back here and tell us whatever it is God wants us to know.’

The three of them hurriedly got together all they’d need for the two day journey to Joppa and set off, not really knowing what to expect! (PAUSE)

The next day, as the three men approached Joppa and started to ask directions to Simon the tanner’s house down by the shore, Peter, without knowing anything about the people looking for him, went up onto the flat roof of the house to spend some time in prayer.

Now, it was about midday when Peter went up to the roof to pray, and he realised he was hungry! So, after asking for some food, Peter sat waiting for it to be prepared and fell into a trance. And, while in this trance, something started to happen. What appeared to be a very large sheet was lowered down from heaven by its four corners. And, as Peter looked inside the sheet, he saw that it was filled with all kinds of animals, reptiles and birds! And then, a voice spoke to him. ‘Peter,’ it said, ‘get up and kill and eat them!’

Peter couldn’t believe what he was hearing! The most important thing to a Jew was to remain ceremonially clean – to not mix or even associate with Gentiles (who are people who aren’t Jews) and especially not to eat animals that the Jewish law said were unclean (even though Jesus Himself had said that it wasn’t food that made a man unclean but his own evil thoughts and desires). So Peter replied, ‘Surely not, Lord! In all my life I haven’t eaten anything forbidden by our Jewish law!’

But then the voice spoke again, a note of rebuke in it, ‘If God says something’s clean, don’t call it unclean!’

Three times the vision was repeated and then the sheet was pulled up once again into heaven.

What on earth was all that about? As Peter sat there puzzling over what it all meant, the three men sent by Cornelius arrived at the gate of the house and asked if this was the place where Simon who was also known as Peter was staying. As they asked, and as Peter continued to try and understand this strange vision, the Holy Spirit spoke to him. ‘Three men have come looking for you,’ He said. ‘I have sent these men, so don’t hesitate to go with them.’

At that, Peter got up, went downstairs and found the three men. ‘I’m the man you’re looking for,’ he told them. ‘But what’s this all about? Why’ve you come looking for me?’

‘We’ve been sent by Cornelius, the Roman officer,’ they replied. ‘He is a righteous, God-fearing man who’s respected by all the Jews. And we’ve come looking for you because a holy angel told Cornelius to ask you to come to his house so that you could give him a message.’

Now what was Peter to do? It was too late to start their journey straight away and so these men needed a place to stay for the night. But these men weren’t Jews, they were Gentiles – even if God-fearing ones! And to mix with Gentiles would make him unclean! But he’d already started to realise that God’s ways were different from the normal Jewish ways, as he himself had seen with the Samaritans and by the fact that he was staying with a tanner who worked with dead animals! Jews thought these people where unclean but Peter had accepted the invitation to stay with Simon the tanner. However, the difference this time was that the people standing at the door weren’t Jewish in any way while the Samaritans were a mixture – part Jew you could say, although considered unclean by the Jews. As for Simon the tanner, he was still a Jew… But, Peter couldn’t ignore that the Holy Spirit had said that He’d sent these men to Peter! And God had just shown him the vision and told him not to call anything He’d made ‘unclean’. So Peter did something … well, unheard of for a Jew… he invited the men into the house to stay as his guests for the night. (PAUSE)

The next morning they set off for Caesarea. Six other Jewish disciples went with Peter and the three men Cornelius had sent, and they all arrived at Cornelius’ house later on the following day. But that had been enough time for Peter to start to understand what God had been saying to him – to see that the vision wasn’t really about animals but about people, people who would become followers of Jesus. He began to understand that maybe, perhaps, God was going to call not just Jews to become His Holy people. So far it had been only Jews and the half-Jew Samaritans who’d become disciples, but could it be that He was going to call Gentiles as well? People who had no Jewish background or ancestry at all?

When they arrived, Peter found Cornelius waiting for him, together with all his relatives and close friends. And then Peter did something he’d never done before – he entered the house of a Gentile. But no sooner had he done so than Cornelius fell to the floor at his feet to worship him!

‘Get up!’ Peter said, grabbing Cornelius by the arm and hastily pulling him back to his feet. ‘I’m just a human being like you!’ So Cornelius got up and they went in to find a crowd of people waiting for them.

When he saw the crowd, Peter said, ‘You all know it’s against the Jewish law for me to come into a Gentile home like this. But God has shown me that I should never think of anyone as unclean or impure. So, when I was sent for, I came without raising any objections. Now, please will you tell me why you sent for me?’ So Cornelius told Peter all that had happened four days ago when he’d seen the vision of the angel and about the message he’d been given.

Then Peter replied, ‘I can see very clearly that God hasn’t got favourites. In every nation He accepts those who fear Him and do what’s right. You will have heard about the Good News for the Jewish people that there is peace with God through Jesus Christ who is Lord of all. And you know all that’s happened beginning in Galilee after John the Baptist began preaching and how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power, and how He went around doing good and healing all those who were under the power of the devil, because God was with Him.’

‘Well, we, His apostles, are witnesses of all He did throughout Israel and in Jerusalem. How they put Him to death on a tree, how God raised Him to life on the third day after His death and allowed Him to be seen, not by everyone, but by witnesses that God had already chosen. We were those who ate and drank with Him after He rose from the dead. And He commanded us to preach everywhere and testify that Jesus is the One God’s chosen to be judge of all – both the living and the dead. He’s the One all the prophets spoke about, saying that everyone who believes in Him will have their sins forgiven through His name.’

While Peter was still speaking to them, the Holy Spirit fell upon everyone who heard the message. The Jewish believers couldn’t believe what was happening – that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on those who weren’t Jews! But it was true, as they heard these Gentiles speaking in tongues and praising God just like they’d done on the day of Pentecost!

Peter looked around at the wonderful sight before him and, seeing that God had moved to save and anoint these Gentiles with the Holy Spirit and so bring them into church, he said, ‘Can anyone object to these people being baptised now that they’ve received the Holy Spirit in just the same way we did?’ Without waiting for a reply he ordered that they should all be baptised in the name of Jesus Christ. And afterwards, to prove that Peter really had understood that salvation was for everyone, not just Jews, and that he must not call anyone unclean, when Cornelius asked him to stay with them, Peter happily stayed in that Gentile household for several days. (PAUSE)

Of course, the news of what’d happened spread like wildfire! And what Peter had done – actually inviting Gentiles into a house as his guests and then, even worse, going into the house of a Gentile – was reported to the other believers in Judea and, when he arrived back in Jerusalem, some of the Jewish believers criticised his behaviour. ‘You actually went into the home of Gentiles and even shared a meal with them!’ they protested.

So Peter told them exactly what’d happened to him and how it’d all come to pass. ‘I was in Joppa and, one day as I was praying, I went into a trance and saw a vision. I saw something like a large sheet being lowered from heaven by its four corners. When I looked inside the sheet, it was full of all sorts of small animals, wild animals, reptiles and birds that we aren’t allowed to eat! Then, I heard a voice speaking to me. It said, ‘Peter, get up; kill and eat!’’

‘I was horrified! So I replied, ‘Never, Lord! I’ve never eaten anything forbidden by the Jewish law!’’

‘But the voice from heaven replied to me, ‘If God says something’s clean, don’t call it unclean!’ This happened three times before the sheet was taken back up into heaven. Just then, three men arrived at the house. As they arrived, the Holy Spirit told me to go with them and not to worry about them being Gentiles. These six brothers came with me and we soon arrived at the home of the man who’d sent for us. Well, he told us how an angel had appeared to him and told him to send messengers to Joppa to find me, saying, ‘He will tell you how you and all your household will be saved!’’

‘So I began telling them the Good News but, as I was telling them, the Holy Spirit fell on them just like He fell on us at the beginning. It was at this point that I thought about the Lord’s words when He said, ‘John baptised with water, but you’re going to baptise with the Holy Spirit.’ Anyway, since God had given these Gentiles the same gift He gave us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I to argue about it?’

When they heard all that Peter had to say, there were no more objections as all their questions were answered. In fact, their concern turned to worship and praise of God as they said, ‘Wow, God’s even given the Gentiles the privilege of turning from their sins and receiving eternal life.’

Episode NT43 – Beyond Jerusalem

Story 43 – Beyond Jerusalem

Based on Acts chapter 8 verses 4 to 40

So Stephen was dead and, as those who hated the church swept through Jerusalem to arrest and imprison every believer they could find, the rest of us fled for our lives, not sure what to think! Satan, the enemy of God, seemed to be winning, killing Jesus’ followers and making it almost impossible for us to carry on meeting together. As for me, Philip, I escaped Jerusalem just in time and started to go north, to the area called Samaria. The Jews hate the Samaritans because they think that Samaritans aren’t proper Jews but a mixture of Jews and non-Jews and so they avoid Samaria and Samaritans as much as possible. I hoped that would put off those persecuting the church from following me there. Mind you, it’s not really a good place for any Jew to go, because the hatred goes both ways, and the Samaritans hate the Jews just as much, the two groups having as little to do with each other as possible.

As I pondered on all that was happening, I couldn’t help thinking about another time when Jesus’ followers had thought that Satan had won – when Jesus was crucified! Back then, the disciples didn’t understand or believe that, even when Jesus was taken to the cross to be executed, God was still in control. And, because God was still in control, when Jesus died on the cross, far from it being a great victory for Satan, it removed all Satan’s power as Jesus took away our guilt so that Satan couldn’t tell God how terrible we were any more! So, now, when things seemed so bleak with Stephen dead and the rest of us scattered, was God still in control? Of course He was! And yet, what was I supposed to be doing?

As I arrived in Samaria, the words of Jesus that the apostles had told us about came to mind. Jesus had said that we’d be witnesses to Him in Jerusalem, yes! But He’d also said we’d be witnesses to Him in Samaria and I was in Samaria! And, anyway, I just couldn’t keep quiet about all the Lord had done, so, when I entered the city of Samaria, I started telling them about the Messiah, about Jesus. I didn’t know what to expect, but I simply couldn’t keep quiet!

God was with me as the Holy Spirit worked with great power through me, enabling me to do all kinds of miracles. Those possessed by evil spirits were freed and the demons left with a shriek! The sick were healed – both paralysed and lame – and, because of it, the people listened very carefully to everything I had to tell them about Jesus and there was lots of joy in the city. (PAUSE)

One thing I’ve learnt is that, when the Lord’s at work through His people, Satan’s at work as well! (P) In that city there was a man called ‘Simon the Sorcerer’. For many years he’d claimed to be someone of great importance and all the people, from the most ordinary right up to the rulers, often called him ‘the Great One – the Power of God’. The reason they all thought so much of him was because of the magic he performed. But now, many people in that city believed the message I brought them about the Kingdom of God and about Jesus. And because of that many men and women were baptised. Even Simon seemed to believe what I said and was baptised. Yet, rather than getting on and showing he really believed by doing what God wanted, he followed me around everywhere I went, wanting to see the miracles God was doing through me. And, when he saw them, he was amazed! – But more on Simon later.

I don’t know if you remember, but God had shown us that when we believed, He’d send the Holy Spirit to us in a special way. He’d ‘baptise us with the Holy Spirit’, to use Jesus’ words. But a funny thing happened when I was in Samaria. Many people had heard my message about the Kingdom of God and believed what I said and been baptised into the name of Jesus, and yet, the Lord hadn’t baptised them with the Holy Spirit! (P) Anyway, when what was left of the church in Jerusalem heard that the people in Samaria had accepted God’s message, they quickly sent Peter and John to see what was happening. And, it was when Peter and John arrived that I began to see why the Lord had held back the Spirit.

Jews hate Samaritans! Samaritans hate Jews! But the church Jesus has given us must not be split! It would be so easy for the Jerusalem believers and the Samaritan believers to be two separate churches, but what Peter and John and I had seen was that the people in Samaria were saved in exactly the same we’d been saved! By believing the Good News about who Jesus is and what He’s done, by believing that Jesus died not just for the people of Jerusalem, but for everyone else as well! And so, when they saw this, Peter, the leader of the church, and John laid their hands on the believers in Samaria, and they received the Holy Spirit – showing beyond doubt that everyone who believes in Jesus is saved in exactly the same way and that they all belong together as one church!

But, getting back to Simon the Sorcerer, when he saw that the Holy Spirit was given when the apostles, Peter and John, placed their hands on the believers’ heads, he actually offered the apostles money to buy that power for himself! ‘Let me have this power as well,’ he pleaded, ‘so that, when I put my hands on people, they’ll receive the Holy Spirit through me!’

Peter couldn’t believe what he was hearing! Here was someone who said they were a believer and yet what they really wanted was fame for themselves – for people to think more highly of them than anyone else! So Peter replied, ‘May your money perish with you for thinking that you could buy the gift of God! Your heart isn’t right with God, so you can’t have any part to play in this ministry. Turn away from your wickedness and pray to the Lord. Maybe He’ll forgive you for having such evil thoughts in your heart, because I can see that you’re full of bitterness and captive to sin!’

I think that what Peter said to Simon really frightened him but, instead of doing what Peter said and turning away from this evil thought and saying sorry to God and being forgiven, he pleaded with Peter, ‘Please, pray to God for me so that those terrible things won’t happen to me!’ (P)

After spending some time with the new believers in Samaria, telling them about Jesus and preaching in the city about all that Jesus has done, Peter and John returned to Jerusalem, stopping off in many Samaritan villages along the way, to tell them the Good News as well.

They left me in Samaria to carry on the work that the Lord had started through me. However, one day, an angel sent from the Lord came and spoke with me. He said, ‘Go south down to the desert road that runs from Jerusalem and on to Gaza.’ This was outside of Samaritan territory, but I did as the Lord asked. Now, as I was going along the road, I came across a chariot with a really important official from the land of Ethiopia in it. He was the treasurer to Queen Candace, queen of Ethiopia. This man must either have had Jewish parents, or become a Jew when he was older, because he was going back home again, having spent some time worshipping in Jerusalem. But what was very interesting was that, as he sat in his chariot, he was reading out loud from the book of Isaiah.

As he started to pass me by, the Holy Spirit spoke to me, ‘Go over and stay near that chariot.’ So I trotted over to it and kept jogging alongside. And, as I did so, I heard the man reading from Isaiah, so I asked him, ‘Excuse me, do you understand what you’re reading?’

‘How can I,’ the man replied, ‘when there isn’t anyone who can tell me what it means? Why don’t you come up here and explain it to me?’

The passage he’d been reading was this: ‘He was led as a sheep to the slaughter. And as a lamb is silent before the shearers, He did not open His mouth. He was humiliated and received no justice. Who can speak of His descendants? For His life was taken away from the earth.’

After he’d read this out loud, the official turned to me and asked, ‘Tell me, who’s the writer of this passage talking about? Himself or someone else?’ So I started by explaining that very passage and continued to tell him the Good News about Jesus. And, as we talked and travelled along the road, we came to a place where there was some water. ‘Look, there’s some water here,’ the official said to me. ‘Why shouldn’t I be baptised?’ So he ordered the chariot to stop and the two of us got out and went down into the water and I baptised him.

When we came back out of the water, the Holy Spirit suddenly took me away from the Ethiopian official, and we never met again – although I did hear later how the official had gone on his way rejoicing at what the Lord had done for him. (P) As for me, I found myself up north in the city of Azotus. And, starting there, I told people the Good News about Jesus in every city along the way until I came to Caesarea.

Episode NT41 – Opposition Comes

Story 41 – Opposition Comes

Based on Acts chapter 5 verse 17 to Acts chapter 6 verse 7

After Jesus had gone back to heaven, and sent the Holy Spirit, the apostles performed many miracles and the name of Jesus spread throughout Jerusalem. The Jewish leaders looked on with jealous eyes, determined to do away with the apostles, as they’d done away with Jesus before them.

In one swift move, all the apostles were arrested and put in jail – ready to be tried, condemned and punished to satisfy the hatred of the leaders. But God was still in control and, in the middle of the night, He sent an angel to them, who opened the gates of the jail and brought them all out. ‘Now go,’ the angel told them, ‘and stand in the Temple area and tell the people the full message of this new life!’ And so, at daybreak, just as they’d been told, the apostles entered the Temple area and, choosing to obey God rather than the Jewish leaders, they taught the people about Jesus.

However, without knowing what’d gone on, the leaders gathered to judge the apostles. At their request, Temple guards were sent to the jail to collect the apostles and bring them to the court. When they got there, they found the jail doors firmly locked with the guards standing in place, but the jail was empty! ‘How can this be?’ they thought, and ran back to the council to tell them.

As the leaders listened, beginning to wonder where it would all end, someone arrived hot foot from the Temple with the news that the men they’d arrested and put in jail the previous day were all now in the Temple area teaching the people.

At this, the captain of the Temple guard hurried off with his men to re-arrest the apostles – being very careful not to use any violence for fear that the people would stone his guards if they treated the apostles roughly. Having managed to persuade the apostles to come with them, they quickly took them to the waiting council who were still furious at the way Peter and John had disobeyed their command not to talk about Jesus when they’d been arrested before. (P)

Didn’t we tell you?’ the high priest demanded as the apostles arrived. ‘Didn’t we tell you that you must never again teach in this name?’ (He hated even to say the name ‘Jesus’.) ‘But instead of obeying us,’ he continued, ‘you’ve filled the whole city with your teaching and are determined to make US responsible for this man’s death!’

Rather than trying to save their own skins, Peter and the apostles spoke once again about Jesus. ‘We must obey God, not men,’ they replied. ‘The God of our ancestors raised Jesus from the dead after you’d killed Him by crucifying Him on a wooden cross. Then, God raised Him even higher – to the place of highest honour at His own right hand side. He did this so that the people of Israel would have an opportunity to turn away from their sins and turn to God, so that their sins would be forgiven. We are witnesses of these things, as is the Holy Spirit whom God gives to those who obey Him.’

This was all the high council needed. Furious at what they’d heard, they decided to kill them all. However, God was still in control, and one member of the council, a Pharisee named Gamaliel who was very popular with the people, saw that more might be going on than they’d realised. Standing up to say his piece, Gamaliel ordered that the apostles be put outside the council so they could discuss the situation in private.

Men of Israel,’ he began as he addressed the leaders, ‘be careful about what you’re planning for these men! If you remember, some time ago there was that fellow called Theudas who pretended to be someone of great importance. Four hundred men joined him, but then he was killed, his followers went their separate ways and the whole thing came to nothing. And after that there was Judas of Galilee. He too got some people to follow him, but when he was killed, all his followers were also scattered!’

So listen, this is my advice to you all, leave these men alone! If they’re teaching and doing all these things merely on their own, then it will soon come to nothing. But if it’s from God, then you won’t be able to stop them and you may even find yourselves fighting against God!’ (PAUSE)

Gamaliel’s argument convinced the council and they accepted his advice. So, calling the apostles back, the council had them whipped – leaving their backs striped and bloody. And then, after warning them to never speak in the name of that Man again – they let them go. (P)

You’d have thought that after such a beating the apostles wouldn’t want to talk about Jesus again in case they were beaten some more or something worse happened! But while He’d been with them, Jesus Himself had warned them that they would suffer – and yet even in their suffering they would find God’s blessing! And so, instead of running away, feeling scared and not wanting to talk about Jesus, the apostles left the council absolutely overflowing with joy that God had considered them worthy of suffering for Jesus.

And why did they feel so glad and joyful about the situation? Because of Jesus! He’d told them to rejoice when He’d said, ‘God blesses you when you’re mocked and persecuted and lied about because you’re my followers. Be glad and joyful when this happens! Because a great reward awaits you in heaven.’ So the apostles rejoiced that God had given them the honour of suffering for the name of Jesus. And instead of being quiet and not talking about Him any more, they obeyed God and every day taught about Jesus in the Temple and from house to house, telling everyone: ‘The Messiah you’re looking for – is Jesus.’ (PAUSE)

Thanks to God’s blessing, the church was growing rapidly. But as it grew, there were rumblings of discontent! And Satan, the enemy of God’s people, showed that he was still at work, trying to destroy the new church with yet another attack. But this time, it was a much more subtle attack than the physical violence the apostles had faced before. This was an attack of distraction.

You see, Satan wanted to dull the sharp edge of the apostles’ effectiveness and he was going to try and do this by taking something good that the disciples were doing and causing them to concentrate on that good thing at the expense of the best thing, the thing that Jesus had actually called them to do, which was teaching people about Him!

If you remember, lots of gifts were being brought to the feet of the apostles to distribute to those in the church who had need – a really good thing. And, there was a lot of need! The apostles had taken charge of the distribution of these gifts. But this took time and effort; time and effort the apostles should’ve been using to tell more people about Jesus and for concentrating on prayer. And, as they tried to juggle all these responsibilities, things started to go wrong as one group of widows felt they were being overlooked in favour of another group.

There was a genuine danger of the early church splitting apart as the Greek-speaking group felt left out. That was exactly what Satan wanted – to see the early church broken apart and ineffective. But the Lord was still in control, looking after His church and helping the apostles realise what was happening and what needed to be done. And so a meeting of all believers was called!

Our job as apostles is to spend time preaching and teaching, not organising the distribution of food,’ they said. ‘So, to overcome this problem, we’d like you to choose seven men from amongst yourselves, men who are well respected, full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom. These men will be put in charge of the fair distribution of food so that we can spend our time in prayer and in preaching and teaching.’

This idea pleased everyone and they chose seven men who were from the group who felt left out – showing the love and solidarity that the rest of the church felt for the hurting group. These men, all with Greek names, were presented to the apostles by the whole assembly. The apostles prayed for them and laid their hands on them as a sign that God had called them to this important work.

So once again, the plans of Satan were thwarted and, instead of seeing the church become ineffective and torn apart, the church became stronger and the message of Jesus continued to spread in ever widening circles!

Episode NT40 – Ananias and Sapphira

Story 40 – Ananias and Sapphira

Based on Acts chapter 4 verses 32 to 37 & chapter 5 verse 1 to 16

The thing about praying is that God answers your prayers – and the new church in Jerusalem had just prayed for great boldness when speaking about Jesus and the Kingdom of God. They had also asked for healing power and for signs and wonders to be done in the name of Jesus. And, in answer to that prayer and as confirmation that the Lord had heard and would give them what they’d asked for, the building they were in was shaken. As that happened, once again, they were filled with the Holy Spirit and went out preaching about Jesus with great boldness.

They also found that they were one in heart and mind – they belonged to each other as brothers and sisters. No one felt that what they owned was theirs alone, but was to be shared by everyone in the church as needed. This meant that, at times, some in the church would sell houses or land and bring the proceeds from that sale to the apostles so that they could distribute it as required, with the result that there were no needy people in the church.

An example of this was a man known as Barnabas. His real name was Joseph and he was from the tribe of Israel called the Levites who helped in the Temple, although his family was actually from Cyprus! He was known as Barnabas because it means ‘son of encouragement’ and that seemed to sum up who he was – so the nickname had stuck! One day Barnabas sold some land he owned, probably back in Cyprus and, when the money arrived, he brought it to the apostles and laid it at their feet to indicate that he was happy for them to use it in any way they saw fit.

However, when the enemy of the church, the devil, saw what Barnabas and many others were doing, he saw an opportunity to destroy the church, to make it rotten from the inside out and he looked for – and found – a couple in the church who he could use for his wicked purposes.

The idea was simple, destroy the church by destroying its integrity. Make one person a liar and the whole testimony of the church would be rubbished, with conflict and mayhem following in its wake.

The enemy prepared his attack well by playing on the pride and vanity of Ananias and his wife, Sapphira. They had watched as people like Barnabas had brought the money from the sale of land and houses to the apostles. No doubt the devil had encouraged them to feel envious of the way Barnabas was thanked, trying to make them believe that there was some kind of spiritual elite they could be part of. He must have reminded them that they also had some land they could sell and, just as they were about to sell the land so that they could look good in the eyes of people, the devil must have caused them to doubt the faithfulness of God. After all, selling a piece of land and giving the money away was a big thing to do – you couldn’t just get it back later! So the devil encouraged them to come up with a plan that would give them the best of both worlds: the security of a nice little hidden nest-egg from the sale of the land, while at the same time appearing to be one of the supposed spiritual elite by their giving. All they had to do was tell the apostles their plan to sell the piece of land, but not tell them the truth about the actual price they were going to get for it. It seemed such a small lie. They were going to give MOST of the money away and only keep back SOME for themselves. No one else need know except them. The buyer wasn’t part of the church and so they felt their secret would be safe.

When the transaction was completed, the day arrived when Ananias brought the money to the apostles. He brought most of what the land had actually sold for – and the exact amount he’d told the apostles it had sold for! So, walking up to Peter, knowing that all eyes were on him, Ananias swelled with pride. He was part of the elite now, they would look up to him after such sacrificial giving. No doubt with a pious and holy expression on his face, he placed the money at Peter’s feet. But that’s when it all went wrong, for you can hide nothing from God!

‘Ananias,’ asked Peter, ‘why have you let Satan fill your heart? You’ve lied to the Holy Spirit and kept back some of the money you got from selling the land for yourself!’

This was not going the way Ananias had expected. His holy expression dropped and a look of horror and shame fell across his face.

Then Peter continued, ‘The property was yours before you sold it – you didn’t have to sell it. And, after you’d sold it, didn’t the money from the sale belong to you to do whatever you wanted with it? How could you do something like this? Don’t you realise that you aren’t lying to us, but to God?’

No sooner had Peter stopped speaking than Ananias fell to the floor and died. (P) As you can imagine, everyone who heard what had happened was terrified! Some of the young men quickly wrapped up his body in a sheet and took it out to bury.

Satan’s plan was failing – and worse, the exact opposite to his intention was happening. Instead of others becoming hypocrites, saying one thing and doing another, everyone realised that God was watching them and they needed to be careful to continue to please and honour Him, knowing that you can’t hide ANYTHING from God.

About three hours later, Sapphira, Ananias’ wife, arrived, not knowing what’d happened to her husband. No doubt she too was excited about how holy the others would think she was and was eager to accept thanks from those they’d helped. But, instead of the smiles and gratitude she’d expected, she found herself face to face with Peter while the others looked on, serious expressions etched on their faces.

‘Tell me, Sapphira,’ Peter asked straight away, showing her the money he’d received from her husband, ‘was this the price you and your husband received for your land?’

Although alarm bells were ringing in her head, her course of action had been set in stone when she’d agreed with her husband to lie to the apostles about the full figure they’d got for the land. To change her story now was to drop herself and her husband into very hot water and so the lie continued. ‘Yes,’ she replied, ‘that is the price we got for the land.’

Peter’s heart must have been breaking as he heard Sapphira’s reply. The Lord Himself had revealed to him that it wasn’t true – that this was an attempt by the devil to get in and corrupt the church. And then the Lord also revealed to Peter what would happen next. Looking Sapphira in the eye, he shook his head and said, ‘How could the two of you even think of plotting together to test the Spirit of the Lord like this?’ Then, with a deep sigh he added, ‘The young men who buried your husband are just outside the door, and they will also carry you out and bury you.’

At that moment, Sapphira fell to the floor and died, just as her husband had done. Then, as Peter had said, the young men who’d buried her husband came back through the door and found her dead body. They picked her up and buried her beside her husband.

Such fear gripped the entire church and everyone else who heard about these things. The devil’s plans had failed and, instead of weakening the church, had strengthened it in line with the prayer they’d prayed. They’d asked for boldness, healings and signs and wonders – maybe not realising that ‘wonders’ could come in many different ways. And, these ‘wonders’ caused the church to stay pure.

The apostles performed many more miraculous signs and wonders in addition to what had happened to Ananias and Sapphira. The church, growing at a tremendous rate, met regularly at the Temple in an area know as ‘Solomon’s Colonnade’. No one else dared to disturb or join them there, no doubt mindful of what had happened to Ananias and Sapphira. But even so, in answer to their prayer, more and more people believed what the apostles boldly preached about Jesus and were brought to the Lord – crowds of them, both men and women.

In fact, as a result of the work of the Holy Spirit through the apostles, sick people were brought out into the streets on beds and mats so that Peter’s shadow might fall across them as he passed by. It wasn’t superstition, but an acknowledgement that God was powerfully at work through His people. Of course, this kind of news couldn’t stay hidden and spread to the villages around Jerusalem so that many people were brought from the villages who were sick or demon possessed and every one of them was healed!

Episode NT35 – Peter & Jesus

tale2tell original Bible Stories series – New Testament

Based on John chapter 21 verses 1 to 23

Story 35 – Peter and Jesus

(PETER) ‘Although I was overjoyed that Jesus’ death on that cross hadn’t been the end of it all, inside I was feeling uncomfortable. Uncomfortable about all those things I’d said the night before He’d been … murdered. How He’d told us all that we’d desert Him and leave Him, and then how I – Peter the brave – Ha! – had told Him I’d never leave Him even in the face of death.’

‘Of course I’d been really embarrassed when He’d said in front of everyone that before the night was through I was going to deny even knowing Him – three times. I just couldn’t believe I’d ever say anything against Him – not after all we’d been through together over these last three years. (P) But the truth was even worse than I could’ve imagined ‘coz, (sniff) when His enemies arrived to arrest Him and take Him away, I ran for my life. Oh yeah, I followed at a distance and managed to get into the courtyard to see what would happen – trying to prove I wasn’t a coward, but then, some of them started to say I was one of Jesus’ disciples. I know I should have admitted it, but I was terrified, and I heard myself lying to save my own skin. ‘Me? I’m not one of His disciples, I don’t even know the man.’ (sniff – deep breath) Three times I said it, each time more emphatic, each time denying that I even knew the One person who really mattered. I even swore an oath that I’d never known Him! And then the cockerel crowed and I remembered what Jesus’d said … that I’d do what I’d just done. So when I heard that sound – the sound of the cockerel crowing – and realised what I’d done, how I’d failed Him when He needed me most, I ran out into the darkness and wept bitter tears – crying as if my heart would break.’

‘And then I had to live with my failure. Jesus was alive, and we were overjoyed that even death couldn’t hold Him, but every time we met, I knew – He knew what I’d said and done.’ (PAUSE)

‘A little later we went back to Galilee. Jesus wasn’t with us then and I wasn’t really sure what to do with my time so, as night began to fall, I told those with me, Thomas, Nathanael, James, John and a couple of the others, that I was going out to fish. ‘Coz if there’s one thing I do know – it’s how to fish! Anyway, the others wanted to come too so we set sail and – not t’put too fine a point on it – we had the worst night’s fishing I’ve ever known. It was a complete disaster – nothing – not a thing. Anyway, the dawn arrived and we headed back to land. It was then that we saw someone on the shore. Well, I say we saw him, we actually heard him before we saw him as he called out to us, ‘Hey, friends, have you caught anything?’’

‘‘No!’ we shouted back, not really wanting to talk about how bad our night had been and not knowing it was Jesus speaking to us. Then he called out, ‘Try throwing your net over the right-hand side of the boat, then you’ll catch plenty of fish!’ Oh right – now this stranger’s giving us advice on how to fish. But instead of telling him just what we thought of his idea, we shrugged our shoulders and threw the net over the right-hand side of the boat, like he’d said. (P) Then suddenly, it was nearly pulled out of our hands as it filled with fish! I can remember thinking, ‘What going on?’ And then John spoke, He wasn’t really holding the net too tightly, he was looking at the shore where the stranger was. ‘It’s Him, Peter,’ he said. ‘It’s the Lord!’’

‘Suddenly it all fell into place. This catch was too big to be by chance; it was a miracle! Anyway, when I realised who it was standing on the shore, I forgot about the fish, tied my jacket around me, jumped into the water and swam to shore.’

‘Now, the net was so full of fish, the other disciples dragged it behind the boat and followed me as we were only about 90 meters out at the time. When they got to shore, they tied off the net on the boat and we all went to find Jesus. Seeing us, He beckoned us over and we saw a charcoal fire burning with fish cooking over it and some bread. Jesus squatted by the fire and called over, ‘Bring some of the fish you’ve just caught.’ So I went onto the boat, untied the net and dragged it to shore. The net was full, but even so it hadn’t broken. A little later we counted the fish, including the ones we’d eaten – 153, all of them massive – it was truly a miraculous catch.’

‘After I’d pulled the net ashore, Jesus called out, ‘Come and have some breakfast!’ And so we sat with Him, and He served us fish and bread.’

‘We didn’t say much as we sat with Jesus. I had mixed feelings; there weren’t words to describe how I felt about Jesus being alive – it was so wonderful. But at the same time there were those things I’d said and done on the night they’d arrested Him – how I’d left Him, how I’d run away and lied an … and … failed Him. So I sat in silence, concentrating on my food until we’d finished eating and started walking and I found myself with Jesus.

As we walked side by side, with the other disciples ahead and behind us, Jesus spoke to me, but He didn’t use the name He’d given me all that time ago – He didn’t call me Peter. Instead, He used the name I’d had before I met him – Simon, son of John. It was almost like He was reminding me who I was before, and asking me if I still wanted to be that man.

(PAUSE) ‘Simon, son of John’, He started, ‘do you love me more than they love me?’ As He said this, He indicated the other disciples walking with us.’

‘I guess I deserved that, after all, wasn’t it me who’d told Jesus that if everyone else deserted Him I wouldn’t? But now I realised I had no idea if I loved Him more than they did. But I knew I did love Him, so I said, ‘Yes, Lord, you know I love you.’’

‘’Then feed my lambs,’ He said to me. And we carried on walking.’

‘But a few moments later, in the hush that followed, He asked me again, ‘Simon, son of John, do you love me?’’

‘Why did He ask me again? I thought I’d answered that already. So I repeated myself because, even though I had failed Him, I still loved Him. ‘Yes, Lord,’ I said, ‘you know I love you.’

‘’Take care of my sheep,’ Jesus replied looking straight at me.’

‘It was an uncomfortable walk. The others were no doubt listening in, but I kept my eyes down until … until I heard His voice again. ‘Simon, son of John,’ I looked into His eyes, a feeling of pain and sadness overwhelming me, as He asked a third time, ‘Do you love me?’’

‘What could I say? He’d already asked me twice if I loved Him and I’d told Him I did, so I simply answered, ‘Lord, you know everything. You know I love you.’’

‘’Feed my sheep,’ Jesus said. But this time He carried on, ‘When you were young you were able to do what you liked and go where you wanted. But when you’re old, you’ll stretch out your hands, and others will tie you up and take you where you don’t want to go.’ Then He added, ‘Follow me.’’

‘I looked at Jesus, dumbstruck, as I began to understand what He’d just said. Three times I’d denied knowing Jesus in public, and now three times in the presence of my closest friends, His followers, He’d forgiven me. But now, had He really just told me about the day of my death? About being taken to a place I didn’t want to go. (P) I was humbled to think that even after my terrible failing – He had work for me to do – to look after His people! And He knew, that with His strength this time and not mine – I’d remain His even to the day of my death!

‘Shaking my head at the wonder of it all, I caught sight of John following behind us. Jesus had told me about my future, so I asked, ‘Lord, what about John?’’

‘’That’s not your concern,’ He said. ‘If I want Him to remain alive until I return, what’s that to you? What matters is that you follow Me!’ Jesus wasn’t saying that John was going to stay alive until His return, He was just telling me, telling all of us, that what really matters is that WE are following Him, trusting Him and being the people He wants us to be right the way to the end of our lives.’

Episode NT2 – Jesus’ Birth Fortold

tale2tell original Bible Stories series – New Testament

Based on Luke chapter 1 verses 26 – 80

Jesus Birth Foretold

What was she to think? This news was incredible! Amazing! Frightening! But how could it happen? She wasn’t even married and had never ‘been’ with any man? How could she have a baby? Gathering herself together, Mary spluttered out her question to the enormous and frightening angel who had just spoken to her. ‘But how can I have a baby? I’m not even married – I’m a virgin!’ (PAUSE)

In just a few moments – Mary’s life had been turned on its head. Just minuets before she’d been thinking about her engagement to Joseph and all they had to look forward too together. Joseph was a fine man, a carpenter who seemed to be doing very well, and although she was still young, Mary felt sure that all would be well. But now this – this angel – who suddenly appeared from nowhere, had changed everything! 

As Mary had been going about her normal jobs for the day, suddenly the angel Gabriel appeared. When Mary saw him, she didn’t know what to do or think! Terrified by his appearance, she watched opened mouth as he began to speak! ‘Greetings most favoured of women, the Lord is with you!’

What on earth did that mean? Why was he speaking to her? A no one from the backwater village of Nazareth in Galilee! Why was she favoured? Mary simply couldn’t understand! And then Gabriel spoke again. ‘”Don’t be frightened, Mary,” he said, “God’s decided to bless you! You’re going to become pregnant and have a son, and you’re to call him Jesus. He will be very great and called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over Israel forever – for his Kingdom will never end!”

And so Mary had asked her question, ‘But how can I have a baby? I’m not even married – I’m a virgin!’ And that’s also when Mary discovered just how special this baby was to be. As Gabriel explained, she realised that this child would not be like a normal baby who’s a completely new person, a mixture of their mum and dad. Nor was He to be some kind of terrible mixture of Mary and God (what a horrible thought that is)! (P) No, (P) this baby was to be no less than God Himself. But coming to be with us as a human being, just like you and me. The power of God the Father was going to overshadow her, God the Holy Spirit was going to rest upon her and the child that would be formed inside her was to be God the Son – the Son who had existed from eternity and who would continue to exist for ever and ever!

And not only that, this child would be the long awaited Messiah, the Saviour! No wonder the angel Gabriel had said she was the most favoured of women. Every Israelite woman who had every lived had hoped to be the mother of the Messiah, and now, completely unexpectedly, she was told that she was to be the one – the mother of the Messiah!

And, as if he couldn’t hold himself back, Gabriel continued with more wonderful news, this time about Elizabeth, Mary’s relative! ‘What’s more,’ He continued, ‘Elizabeth is now pregnant – in her old age! People used to say she was barren, that she couldn’t have children, but now she’s already six months pregnant! For with God, nothing is impossible.” (PAUSE)

This was the second time Gabriel had come to tell people about special babies, the first time was when he spoke to Zechariah about the birth of his son John. Zechariah hadn’t believed Gabriel, and, as punishment for not believing what the angel was telling him, he was made unable to hear or speak a word until all that the angel had promised came about. (P) So how would Mary respond? Would she believe him or not? (PAUSE)

Still shaken by all she’d seen, and almost overwhelmed by what the angel had said, Mary opened her mouth to speak. (P) ‘I am the Lord’s servant,’ she started, ‘and I ‘m willing to accept whatever He wants. May everything you’ve said – come true.’  – At that, the angel left.

Elizabeth lived some distance away in the hill country to the south, so Mary made her plans, and as soon as she could she arranged to go and see Elizabeth. A few days later Mary found herself at the door of Elizabeth’s house, and entering the house she called Elizabeth’s name. As soon as Elizabeth heard Mary’s call, the baby inside Elizabeth’s womb leapt for joy and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. And in a loud voice she called out to Mary, ‘You are blessed by God above all other women, and your child is blessed. What an honour, that the mother of my Lord should visit me! When you came in and called my name, the baby inside of me jumped for joy! You are blessed, and especially so because you believed that the Lord would do everything He said.” (P) Mary stayed with Elizabeth for about 3 months and then left just before Elizabeth’s baby was born. (PAUSE)

When everybody heard that the Lord had given Elizabeth a baby son in her old age, they rejoiced at how good the Lord was. (P) Now, the Jewish custom with baby boys is that when they’re 8 days old they have a special ceremony where the boy’s circumcised and given his name. Although people were rejoicing with Elizabeth over the birth of her son, many still felt sorry for her because of Zechariah’s problem – not being able to speak and hear. However, the ceremony went ahead as usual, except, that when the time came for the baby to be given his new name Elizabeth stopped them! The men present wanted to call the boy Zechariah after his father, but Elizabeth wouldn’t let them, saying, ‘No! Don’t call him that! His name’s John!’ This didn’t please the men who felt it wasn’t proper for a woman to be deciding the name of her son. So they went over to Zechariah and made signs to him to ask him what the name of his son should be. Zechariah made signs back indicating that he wanted a writing table, and then, to everyone’s surprise he wrote, ‘His name is John.’ Instantly Zechariah could hear and speak again and began worshiping and praising God.

News of all that had happened in Zechariah’s household spread like wildfire around the whole region, and everyone who heard about it spent time thinking. ‘I wonder what this lad will become? He’s bound to become something important because the hand of the Lord’s on him in a special way.’

And so John grew up, becoming strong in spirit. And he lived out in the wilderness until the time came for him to start his public ministry.

Episode 1 – Creation, How it all began

tale2tell original Bible Stories series – Old Testament

Based on Genesis chapters 1 & 2

How it all began

Have you ever wondered how the world was created? I have. And even though some clever people say one thing and other clever people say something else, the truth is I don’t know, no one does. Because you see, I wasn’t there, no one was! I wasn’t watching over the Creator’s shoulder as He took – absolutely nothing and turned it into something! Or when at a word, He started the sun blazing in all its glory. 

He didn’t ask for my advice when he formed the world and separated the land and sea, or when He hurried the stars on their journey into deepest darkest space. 

He didn’t discuss with me how tall the cedar tree should be, and how many leaves the clover should have. Or what colour and scent the flowers of the valleys and mountains should be. Or where the animals and birds should live. Or even how many insects there should be in a single tree.

How He did it all, I don’t really know. But what I do know is that God planned it. This didn’t just happen, it wasn’t some terrible experiment that went tragically wrong! No, God meant to create the world and all that’s in it.

Also, I know that God made it to show us how great He is, so that when you look at a giant snow covered mountain, or the wing of a tiny fly, you can see the Creator’s hand at work and praise Him.

And I know this as well, God planned all this to show us how much He loves us! That He can take care of all our needs so that all we should do is learn to trust Him.

But imagine if you were there when the world was first created and it was just a ball floating in space – covered in raging seas. Then at a word from the Creator the seas start to go down and the sky appears as that thin blue halo surrounding the world, that can be seen in pictures taken from outer space.

And then another day and God speaks again and the water goes down further and dry ground appears. Imagine if you were walking on that dry ground. Oh yes, the winds might be howling and the seas raging, but this is a lifeless world, there’s no life yet! Then, at a word from the Creator, trees start racing up towards the sky, to see which will be the tallest, the strongest and the broadest. And all around you bushes and plants start to appear, and green races out to cover every square centimetre of this New World that the Lord has created. And then, the air’s suddenly filled with a wonderful fragrance as the flowers start to appear in all their glory, as if saying ‘Thank You’ to the Creator for the new life they’ve been given.

That night you sleep well on a bed of soft moss, and the next morning as you get up – you hear the Creator’s voice yet again. And suddenly you have to cover your eyes for a huge ball of light has appeared in the sky. Oh yes, there was light before but now the Lord has made the sun and it’s blazing down with warmth and light. And the flowers and the leaves all turn to face it and rejoice in its warmth.

And that night as you sleep, you sleep under a new moon, a brand new moon as it softly shimmers down in all its glory. While the stars laugh and twinkle in the sky as if marvelling at the wonderful things God has done.

The next morning you get up and taste some of the new fruit that’s appeared on the trees and bushes. And as you taste the fruit you hear the Creator’s voice again. As He stops speaking its like ten thousand times ten thousand tiny voices all start singing at once – the Lord has created birds! And they’re trying out their voices as if praising the Creator for the new life that they’ve been given, and then they try out their wings, soaring into the sky. A silent world and a still world has become one full of noise and motion.

As you watch the birds flying all around, you make your way down to the sea. And as you walk along the shore you see schools of fish nibbling at seaweed. And there, just beyond the shallows –you see a giant black object below the waves, making its way to deeper waters. The Lord God has created the fish and the creatures of the sea.

The next morning you’re woken early as the birds welcome the sun and the new day. And as you get up to have some fruit and explore some more, you hear the Creator’s voice. At first it’s not altogether obvious what’s happening, until a bit later you feel something rubbing against you leg. As you look down, you freeze in terror! For right there beside you is an enormous tiger, sniffing at your leg and trying to work out what you are. (P) But it’s ok, for now- tigers aren’t dangerous because nothing bad has entered this world yet. Anyway, before long the tiger loses interest and wanders off into the forest. And as you watch him leave you feel something tapping at the top of your head. As you turn around to see what it is, to your horror you find yourself staring into the face of a giant bull elephant! You’re standing right between his enormous tusks! And his trunk is playing with the wiry stuff on the top of your head, your hair, trying to work out if it can be eaten! Thankfully, after a few nasty tugs, it soon decides it can’t be eaten and as silently as it came, it disappears off into the forest. And then as you look around you see some hedgehogs snuffling in the bushes near by, and there in the distance you see some deer and gazelle moving majestically away. The Creator’s at work and you want to see it. So you work your way through the forest trying to find the clearing where God is at work.

After a long search, you eventually find the place where God Himself is in His act of creation. You’ve arrived just in time to see Him starting on His last creature.

There’re still a few animals around, a little puppy that seems soo happy with everything it looks like its tail’s about to wag off! But he soon disappears into the forest to investigate all the wonderful new smells. And as the Creator works, soon the horses and giraffes realise that this new animal is going to be altogether smaller than them, and they lift their noses in a very superior manor and wander off into the forest. So it’s only you and the monkeys left watching the Creator at work. And then something urgent seems to demand the monkeys’ attention high up in the trees above, and they run off screaming and shouting and chasing one another. Until it’s only you left – watching the Creator take incredible care as He makes this last creature.

Now this creature is to be altogether different from all the others – for it’s to be like God Himself. Oh yes, it still has legs and needs food and it’s going to live and work in this world that God’s made. But it’s to be able to think and reason and work things out like God. God’s going to give it a job, it’s going to have to look after this world and take care of it in a way that’ll make God happy. But most of all, this creature and its children are being made to have a loving relationship with God Himself. God the Creator will be their father, and they will be His children. And to show this, the Creator, God Himself, blows the breath of life into the nostrils of the first man and he comes to life.

The Creator’s looking across at you and smiling, it’s time for you to go. But don’t worry, the Creators’ not going to leave, He didn’t create this world like a big clock that He wound up and left to run down! No, He’s going to stay involved all the way through. He’s going to plant a garden for the man to live and work in. And before long He’s going to make a wife for the man, and they’ll have children.

No, don’t worry, God’s still involved in His creation – and He always will be. He’s made it and He loves it. He’s made you and He loves you too.

The story of Ruth

This is pretty much a reading directly from the Bible of the story of Ruth – I felt the text was so clear and the story so well written that just telling it ‘as is seemed to be the best way forward. I hope you enjoy it.

Recorded by Andrew Devis