Episode NT51 – Iconium, Lystra and Back Home

Story 51 – Iconium, Lystra and Back Home

Based on Acts chapter 14

Nearly 100 miles away to the south-east of Pisidian Antioch, Paul and Barnabas eventually came to the town of Iconium where a very similar thing happened to what they’d just experienced in Pisidian Antioch!

The habit of Paul and Barnabas when arriving in a town was to go the Jews and preach in their synagogues. The reason they did this was that, if they’d started by going to the non-Jews, or Gentiles as they were known, then the Jews would never have listened to them or allowed them to visit their synagogues. So, to ensure their message would be heard as widely as possible, they always started at the Jewish synagogues. And, as in Pisidian Antioch, there was a strong reaction to their preaching, as a large group of both Jews and Gentiles believed their message. Also, as in Pisidian Antioch, there was a resolute group of Jews who refused to believe the message and set out to gather others to their way of thinking and poison their minds against Paul, Barnabas and the new believers.

The opposition to Paul and Barnabas and their message was both intense and persistent, but they didn’t run away. Instead, they stayed in the city for a long time and spoke boldly about all the wonderful things the Lord had done. And, to confirm that the message they brought was from Him, the Lord gave them power to do miraculous signs and wonders – outstanding evidence that their message was true! Yet even that wasn’t enough to change the minds of those who’d decided to reject the message. Instead, these disbelieving people worked hard to convince others to dismiss the message, until the whole town was divided, with some following the disbelieving Jews and others following Paul and Barnabas!

After a long stay in that divided city, those who hated the message and who especially hated Paul, got some of the city leaders on their side. With those leaders, they gathered a mob with the aim of attacking Paul and Barnabas and stoning them to death. Stoning is a Jewish form of execution reserved for people who blaspheme, which means to speak falsely about God!

Thankfully, somehow the believers and Paul and Barnabas heard about the attempt on their lives and fled, managing to escape to the smaller backwater town of Lystra. And, even though their experience had been tough at both Iconimum and Pisidian Antioch, they continued to tell everyone the Good News about Jesus.

When they arrived in Lystra, things seemed to go very well at first. There probably wasn’t a synagogue in Lystra, or many Jews in the town, and so Paul and Barnabas started telling the locals about Jesus. And, as they spoke of Jesus, Paul and Barnabas came across a man whose feet had been crippled from birth so that he’d never walked. This man sat and listened to Paul preach and, as he listened, Paul realised this man had the faith needed to be healed. So, in a similar way to how Peter and John had spoken to the crippled man outside the temple in Jerusalem all that time before, Paul called out to the man in a loud voice, ‘Stand up on your feet!’ At that word from Paul, the man leapt to his feet and started walking around!

As you can imagine, when the crowd saw what Paul had done, they were completely amazed and started shouting out in their local Lycaonian language (a language neither Paul nor Barnabas understood), ‘These men are gods in the form or human beings.’ Now, it just so happened that there was an ancient local story about the so-called gods of Zeus and Hermes having come to earth as mortal men and being refused shelter by everyone except an impoverished older couple. And, as a result, the older couple had been rewarded, but everyone else who’d refused to give them shelter – a 1000 households or so – were destroyed by a flood. So, when the locals thought that the gods had come down in a similar way to that old story – thinking Barnabas was Zeus and Paul, the chief speaker, was Hermes – they sprung into action, no doubt wanting to make sure they didn’t suffer the same fate as those who’d refused to shelter the gods in their ancient story. And, because neither Paul nor Barnabas spoke the local language, they had no idea what was happening.

You see, no sooner had the man been healed and someone said that the gods had come down in human form, than someone else hurried off to the local temple of Zeus, which was located just outside the city, to pass on this important news. Within no time at all, the priests from the temple of Zeus arrived, intending to sacrifice a bull to Paul and Barnabas!

Of course, as soon as Paul and Barnabas realised what was happening, they were horrified! Tearing their clothes as a sign of their horror and running out among the people, they shouted to the crowd, trying to convince them to stop what they were doing. Now, this crowd was made up of Gentiles who knew nothing of the Jewish Scriptures and so, instead of telling them about things from the Scriptures which they wouldn’t have known about or understood, Paul started reasoning with them about things they did understand – the natural world around them that God had created.

‘Friends,’ he shouted. ‘Why are you doing this? We’re human beings just like you! We came here to bring you the good news that you should turn away from these kinds of worthless things and instead turn to the living God. Look, in the past God permitted all nations to go their own way while, at the same time, never leaving them without evidence of Himself and His goodness. That evidence includes things like the rain He sends and the good crops you harvest so that you have food and joyful hearts…’

But, even with all their efforts, it was touch and go, and they only just managed to hold the people back from sacrificing to them.

That was when things took a turn for the worse, because Jews from the two cities Paul and Barnabas had previous worked in, Pisidian Antioch and Iconium, arrived in Lystra.

Whether they’d specifically travelled to look for the two men or whether they just happened to be in the city at this crucial moment we don’t know but, when they saw what was happening, they realised they had a chance to get their revenge on Paul and Barnabas and immediately sprung into action – no doubt enraged to find the two men carrying on their work of telling people about Jesus, even after all they’d gone through previously. So, seizing their opportunity, they spoke to the crowd, turning the fickle bunch who, just a short time before, had been intent on worshipping Paul and Barnabas – into a wild mob that wanted to do what they’d failed to do in those other towns and stone Paul to death! So, the stones started to fly, fuelled by the hatred of those who’d rejected the message of Paul and Barnabas about the love of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ.

I wonder what Paul thought as the stones came flying towards him? Did he remember the time he’d watched Stephen being stoned to death because of his love for Jesus? Did Paul pray for those who were trying to kill him? We don’t know, but we do know that he remembered this event, referring to it in later letters.

So, the vicious and angry mob stoned Paul until he wasn’t moving and then dragged his apparently lifeless body out of the city, leaving him for dead.

What were Barnabas and the new believers to think? Was this to be the end of their missionary journey to tell others about the love of God in Christ Jesus? They must have been devastated as they gathered around the apparently lifeless body of Paul, no doubt praying and seeking the Lord for mercy – which they got. For, as they stood around him, Paul got up! And, in an act of great courage and boldness he walked back into the city – back among the group of people who’d literally just stoned him and left him for dead. Returning with the believers, he stayed the night in the city and then, the next day, he left with Barnabas on a 60-mile trek to Derbe.

Finally, once they’d told the people of Derbe about Jesus and seen many become followers of Jesus in that city, they returned to Lystra, then to Iconium and back to Pisidian Antioch. As they visited each of these cities, they encouraged and strengthen the ones who’d become followers of Jesus, those who’d believed their message. They encouraged them to continue their relationship with Jesus and to trust in Him, reminding them that we must suffer many hardships to enter the Kingdom of God.

While they met with the believers in each of these cities, Paul and Barnabas appointed elders or leaders for each church. And with much prayer and fasting, they committed these new elders into the care of the Lord Jesus.

From there, the two men travelled back through Pisidia to the area of Pamphylia, and specifically to the town of Perga – a place they hadn’t visited or had maybe bypassed when they’d arrived in that area because of their rush to reach Pisidian Antioch, probably because Paul had been ill and needed a healthier climate. However, now Paul was a lot better, so they preached about Jesus in Perga, and then went down to Attalia.

When they’d done this, the eventually returned by ship to Antioch of Syria, back to the city and church they’d originally set out from – the place where believers had first been called ‘Christians’. It had been the church in Antioch of Syria who’d entrusted the two men to the Grace of God to do the work which they’d now completed. So, arriving back in the city, they called the whole church together to tell them about everything God had done through them and how He’d opened the door of faith to the Gentiles as well as the Jews. After that, they stayed in Antioch of Syria with the believers for a considerable time.

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 NT47 – The Church at Antioch

Story 47 – The Church at Antioch

Based on Acts chapter 11 verses 19 – 30

After the death of Stephen, many believers were scattered out from Jerusalem during the persecution of the church. As well as Philip travelling to the area of Samaria, others continued their travels far outside the land of Israel. Some went south to Egypt and beyond, even ending up, to the west of Egypt in Cyrene, North Africa. Others headed north of Israel into the area beyond Joppa and included the cities of Tyre and Sidon. Still others travelled to the island of Cyprus, while some ended up in the city of Antioch in Syria, which at that time was probably the third most important city in the Roman Empire behind Alexandria in Egypt and of course Rome itself.

As they travelled, these believers shared the good news about Jesus, but only with other Jews. However, some of them, men from Cyprus and Cyrene, arrived in Antioch and started to share the good news about Jesus and all He had done with Greeks as well as Jews. These men were Jews who probably hadn’t lived in Israel but, instead, they’d lived among Greeks all their lives and understood the culture and mindset of the Greek-speaking people. So, instead of speaking about Jesus as the ‘Messiah’, which wouldn’t have meant a great deal to the Greeks, they talked about the LORD Jesus – sharing about his origins, His life, His death and resurrection.

At that time, it would have been unlikely that they would have heard about what the Lord had done for Cornelius and his household through Peter but, somehow, the Holy Spirit was still prompting these men to share what they knew widely. And, the Lord blessed their message to these Greeks, causing a great number of them to firstly believe the message they were given about the Lord Jesus, and then to turn away from their old lifestyles and start living in a way that would please Jesus. In other words, they became true believers and members of the church.

Of course, you can’t keep these kinds of things silent for long because of people travelling around. And, as they travelled, they told others about what was taking place in Antioch. This in turn led to a report of what was happening in Antioch reaching the attention of the church in Jerusalem.

By this time, Peter had met with Cornelius and the church had begun to understand that Jesus had come not just to save the Jews but also everyone else who would believe in Him and follow Him. Therefore, instead of reacting with a heavy hand, the leaders of the church in Jerusalem chose to send someone to Antioch who would both understand what was taking place and be a help and encouragement to the church. So, they chose to send Barnabas because he was from Cyprus and had been given the name Barnabas because of his God-given character of encouraging and building people up. His original name was Joseph, and he was a Jewish Levite from Cyprus but, because of his character, everyone knew him as Barnabas.

When Barnabas arrived in Antioch, he saw the goodness and power of God at work and rejoiced! And, living up to his name once again, he encouraged them all to remain true to the Lord with fully devoted hearts. Barnabas was a good man, filled with the Holy Spirit and with faith and, because of his visit and all the Lord was doing in Antioch, a vast number of people became followers of Jesus.

However, another feature of Barnabas was that he was a humble man and, seeing the vast work going on in Antioch and recognising the need of the church there for good teaching, he decided to head up north to Tarsus to go and look for Saul. Now, Saul had been sent to his home city of Tarsus some years before after people had tried to kill him in Jerusalem. It seemed that, during that time, Saul had suffered a lot, even being disowned by his family. This made finding Saul hard work, but Barnabas was tenacious in his search and, when he eventually found Saul, he brought him back to Antioch with him. Barnabas no doubt remembered that Saul had been told by the Lord that he was to be an apostle both to the Jews and also to the non-Jews, or ‘Gentiles’ as they’re known, and the church in Antioch was filled with both.

Then, for a whole year, Barnabas and Saul met with the believers in Antioch and taught a vast number of people all about the Lord. In fact, when the Gentiles began to understand what Messiah or Christ really meant, they started to talk often of Jesus the Christ (‘Christ’ being the Greek word for ‘Messiah’). This led to some people in the city starting to poke fun at the people in the church by calling them ‘Christians’. This was the first time that name was used and, while it took a while for ‘Christians’ to accept the name and use it for themselves, it was a name that stuck!

Now the church in Jerusalem still had good contact with the churches that were being set up around them and so, after a while, some prophets came from Jerusalem to Antioch. One of them, a prophet named Agabus, stood up and predicted, by the power of the Holy Spirit working through him, that there would be a severe famine across the whole Roman empire in the not too distant future. (In fact, a time of famine and difficulty actually came during the reign of Claudius).

Well, what do you do when you’re confronted with such news? How do you respond? To answer that, you need to see just how much the church in Antioch mirrored the church in Jerusalem and then understand why they responded in that way.

Both churches, the original church in Jerusalem and now the church in Antioch, had seen rapid growth, with many coming to faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and added to their numbers.

Also, both churches had congregations that had devoted themselves to the teaching of their leaders, with the church in Jerusalem devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the church in Antioch being taught by Barnabas and Saul.

So, when it came to responding to need, is it any surprise that the church in Antioch responded in a similar way to the church in Jerusalem? In fact, Barnabas himself had been an example of how the church in Jerusalem had responded when faced with the destitution and poverty of some of its new members. He had sold a piece of land, probably in Cyprus and, when he’d got the money for that sale, he’d brought it to the feet of the apostles and left it with them to use as they felt appropriate to meet the need. And he hadn’t been the only one, many others had given sacrificially to help meet those needs. So, here was the church in Antioch, probably also with lots of poor members itself, faced with the news of impending famine and hardship for their fellow ‘Christians’ in Judea

How did they respond? Well, each one of them gave as they were able. Some richer people gave more, and poorer people gave less, but all of them had the privilege of being involved in giving. (PAUSE)

Once the collection had been made, it was given to Barnabas and Saul to take to the elders and leaders of the church in Jerusalem to use as they saw fit to meet the needs of the people.

So, one church very much mirrored the other as: the Lord added to their numbers; they devoted themselves to sound teaching; and they enjoyed the privilege of being involved in giving to meet the needs of others.

God was at work in His churches and, in due time, the church in Antioch was to prove very important for the continuing spread of the Good News about Jesus around the world.

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 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 8 – Abram to the rescue

tale2tell original Bible Stories series – Old Testament

Based on Genesis chapters 13 & 14

Abram to the Rescue

‘Hello, I’m Abram. Last time I told you how me and my wife Sara had left our hometown and come to live in this beautiful land of Canaan. (P) Yes, I’d made some pretty big mistakes along the way. I’d stopped trusting God when there was a famine. I’d thought I could deal with it myself by going down to Egypt. But that wasn’t what God’d wanted, and when I’d started to tell lies about Sara being my sister and not my wife, I’d almost lost her to King Pharaoh. It was only when God stepped in to help that I got Sara back – even then we were still all kicked out of Egypt – and I came back to Canaan like a dog with its tail between its legs!’

‘But I’d learnt from my mistake. I’d apologised to God and, although I didn’t deserve it, He’d forgiven me. However, it wasn’t long before I had to face another test. And this time I was determined to do the right thing and trust God.’

‘We were back in Canaan with my nephew Lot. The Lord had really looked after us, and He’d given us lots of animals, wealth and servants, but between us we had too many animals for the land to support. And this led to fights between our shepherds. I couldn’t let it carry on – so I called Lot over for a chat.’

‘Come on Lot,’ I said. ‘We need to talk about this. We can’t allow this fighting to continue. – I think I have a solution.

‘We can’t share the same land, as there’re too many animals, so my proposal is this. You choose where you’d like to go. If you choose to go to the right, then I’ll go left. If you choose left, then I’ll go right.’

‘Lot was a smart man, but he hadn’t learnt from the mistakes Sara and I’d made. He didn’t ask God where He wanted him to go! With his own thinking, and without talking to God, he made a decision that later – he was to bitterly regret. (P) Lot looked around and saw a beautiful river valley with more than enough pasture for all his animals, and decided to go there. – But unfortunately, in that river valley were some cities that were filled with people who were very wicked. Lot saw how evil the people were, and the way they behaved upset him. (P) At first he pitched his tents in the valley a little bit away from the evil cities. But as time went by, his tents moved closer and closer until the day came when Lot and his family actually ended up living in one of those wicked cities.’ (PAUSE)

‘After Lot had gone, God spoke to me again.’

GOD ‘Abram, look around at this land. This is the land I’m going to give to you and your descendants forever. You will have so many descendants that, just like the grains of dust that cover the earth, no one will be able to count them. Take a walk through this land and see what I’m giving you.’

‘I did what God said, and moved to another area, but all the time I was thinking about that word – ‘descendants’. God was promising us ‘descendants’ and yet here we were in our old age without any children at all! (P) But even so, I knew one thing for sure, if anyone’s able to keep their promises, it’s God. So I carried on trusting Him.’ (PAUSE)

‘However, all was not well with Lot. There were stories of war and rebellion. For 13 years the city where Lot lived had been ruled over by a foreign king, King Kedorlaomer. But the people of that city, along with four other cities, had rebelled against this king. Within a year Kedorlaomer and his allies came to put the rebellion down. The two armies met in the beautiful river valley, while Lot and those not involved in the fighting waited for news.’

‘But the news, when it came, made even the strongest man shake with fear. It’d been a rout! Kedorlaomer was far stronger than the rebellious army. The soldiers from Lot’s town and the other four towns were so badly beaten, they’d turned and run without even looking where they were going. The valley where they were fighting had lots of tar pits in it and, as the frightened soldiers ran for their lives, quite a few of them slipped to their deaths in the tar pits. The rest ran to the mountains and hid.’

‘Kedorlaomer and his army were overjoyed at their victory, and they marched to the cities that’d rebelled against them and took everything they could get their hands on. Food, clothes, animals, money, and people – if it could be moved, they took it. And then, loaded down with their bounty, they started on their long journey home.’

‘Lot had been in one of those cities. And as the army of Kedorlaomer came through, taking everything they could lay their hands on, they also took Lot and all his possessions with them. Lot was going to become a slave. And surely no one’d try and save him now, not after Kedorlaomer had shown how dangerous he was.’ (PAUSE)

‘A short while later, while I was sitting with a friend, I saw a scruffy little man running towards me. As I stood up to see what the man wanted, he ran right up to me, and after catching his breath, he spluttered out his news.’

‘Mr Abram sir. Your nephew, Mr Lot, he’s been captured! King Kedorlaomer came and ransacked the city and took everything, including Mr Lot.’ (P)

‘Well, I knew at once what I had to do. I had to trust God for help and go and rescue Lot. I called together all the men of my household, 318 in all, you know, including servants, shepherds and everybody. And I armed each one of them and set out after Kedorlaomer.’

‘Now, Kedorlaomer and his army couldn’t move very quickly with all the animals and treasure they’d stolen from the cities. So within just a few short days, I caught up with them in the north of Canaan.’ (P)

‘As I spied out the situation, it was obvious Kedorlaomer’s army was far too strong for my 318 men to attack during the day. So we waited until the darkest part of the night before we launched our attack.’

‘Kedorlaomer didn’t know what hit him. In the middle of the night – screaming warriors raced at him, sounding like thousands of fighting men. He and his army were terrified and ran for their lives with me and my men in hot pursuit. Then when we’d seen off Kedorlaomer once and for all, I recovered everything Kedorlaomer and his army had taken, the goods, the people and especially Lot and his possessions and set off back home.’ (PAUSE)

‘Now here’s an interesting thing. As I returned from our victory, a man named Melchizedek, who was the King of the city Salem, and also a priest of the Most High God, brought us some bread and wine. And Melchizedek blessed me in the name of God Most High and I gave him a tenth of all the goods I’d recovered.’

‘But as for the man in charge of the evil city Lot lived in, I wouldn’t accept anything from him. He offered to allow me to keep all the good I’d recovered from Kedorlaomer, but I refused. (P) You see, I want everyone to know that it’s God who looks after me, Abram, and that I don’t need help from anyone else, least of all such an evil man as him.’

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.