The Freeness of Grace

Jonathan Edwards, On Knowing Christ
The grace of God in bestowing this gift [i.e., His Son] is most free. It was what God was under no obligation to bestow. He might have rejected fallen man, as he did the fallen angles. It was what we never did any thing to merit; it was given while we were yet enemies, and before we had so much as repented. It was from the love of God who saw no excellency in us to attract it; and it was without expectation of ever being required for it.—And it is from mere grace that the benefits of Christ are applied to such and such particular persons. Those that are called and sanctified are to attribute it alone to the good pleasure of God’s goodness, by which they are distinguished. He is sovereign, and hath mercy on whom he will have mercy (37).

Now whatever scheme is inconsistent with out entire dependence on God fall, and of having all of him, through him, and in him, it is repugnant to the design and tenor of the gospel, and robs it of that which God accounts its lustre and glory (47).
Aaron Orendorff
It is a profoundly frightening thing to be exposed to the sheer graciousness of the gospel. To understand, as Edwards writes, that God might have simply rejected fallen humanity and been none the less glorious, just or perfect is to simultaneously understand that nothing (save the free and sovereign activity of God) stands in the way our rejection. There was and is no “excellency” inherent to us us that motivated God to act; not even the prospect of our repentance, which is itself an outworking and result of grace, propelled God toward us. God and God alone—through the unmerited (and, in fact, counter-merited) grace of the gospel—is all that separates us from who we are, what we deserve and the rescue of forgiveness and eternal life.

Rebuilding the House of David

Acts 15:13-19
After they finished speaking, James replied, “Brothers, listen to me. Simeon has related how God first visited the Gentiles, to take from them a people for his name. And with this the words of the prophets agree, just as it is written,
“‘After this I will return, and I will rebuild the tent of David that has fallen; I will rebuild its ruins, and I will restore it, that the remnant of mankind may seek the Lord, and all the Gentiles who are called by my name, says the Lord, who makes these things known from of old.’
“Therefore my judgment is that we should not trouble those of the Gentiles who turn to God . . .”
Amos 9:11-12
“In that day I will raise up the booth of David that is fallen and repair its breaches, and raise up its ruins and rebuild it as in the days of old, that they may possess the remnant of Edom and all the nations who are called by my name,” declares the LORD who does this.
N. T. Wright, Acts for Everyone (Part Two)
[C]rucially, [James] cites a biblical passage which sums up so much of the theology both of Acts and Paul: when the house of David has been re-established, then the Gentiles will come flocking in to share in the blessings that will follow. This passage, from the end of the prophet Amos (9.11-12), follows hard on the heels of a warning about God’s judgment on his own people . . . . But, once “the house of David that has collapsed” is restored—and James, like all early Christians believed as a first principle that that was what had happened through Jesus being established as Messiah by his resurrection—then not only will the nations come flocking in, but Israel itself will be restored (9.11-15). James goes for the center of the passage, and draws the conclusion that the Gentiles are indeed welcome as they are, on the basis of God’s grace and with faith in Jesus as their only badge of membership (44-5).

Through Many Tribulations

Acts 14:21-23
When they had preached the gospel to that city and had made many disciples, they returned to Lystra and to Iconium and to Antioch, strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God. And when they had appointed elders for them in every church, with prayer and fasting they committed them to the Lord in whom they had believed.
N. T. Wright, Acts for Everyone (Part Two)
The worrying thing, of course, is this: when Paul and Barnabas laid hands on the newly appointed elders, and then left them to it, that didn’t mean they were automatically “safe.” Indeed, it probably meant that that was when new times of testing would burst in on them. That is often how it works. But Paul meant what he said in verse 22: it is through much suffering that we shall enter God’s kingdom. And sometimes the suffering comes in the form of terrible, church-dividing controversy (36).
Aaron Orendorff
There’s nothing romantic about suffering in the moment. Many beautiful and profound words may be said in expectation and reflection, but the point of suffering is just that: suffering. No matter how prepared you are or how cross-centered your theology, suffering hurts (particularly in the first round). We may arm ourselves so as not to be blindsided nor sinfully provoked, but pain is still (nonetheless) pain. This, of course, is not by defect, but by design. Suffering is supposed to hurt.

So then, what makes suffering bearable in the short term and profitable in the long? Just this: it is in the suffering that Christ is known. Paul described the pattern like this: “I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead” (Phil. 3:10-11). Here in v. 22, Luke echoes Paul’s sentiments: “through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.”

The journey isn’t easy. But again: that’s the point. To have a crucified King means living a crucified life.

The Glory of the Giver - John Piper on Prayer

John 14:13
Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son.
John 16:24
Until now you have asked nothing in my name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.
John Piper, Desiring God
[T]he pursuit of our interest and our happiness is never above God’s, but always in God’s. The most precious truth in the Bible is that God’s greatest interest is to glorify the wealth of His grace by making sinners happy in Him—in Him (159)!

How then do we glorify Him? Jesus gives the answer in John 15:7: “If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.” We pray! We ask God to do for us through Christ what we can’t do for ourselves—bear fruit. Verse 8 gives the result: “By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit.” So how is God glorified by prayer? Prayer is the open admission that without Christ we can do nothing. And prayer is the turning away from ourselves to God in the confidence that He will provide the help we need. Prayer humbles us as needy and exalts God as wealthy (161).
Psalm 50:15
. . . call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me.
John Piper, Desiring God
God’s insistence that we ask Him to give us help so that He gets glory (Psalm 50:15) forces on us the startling fact that we must beware of serving God and take special care to let Him serve us, lest we rob Him of His glory (168).
Isaiah 64:4
From of old no one has heard or perceived by the ear, no eye has seen a God besides you, who acts [or, “works”] for those who wait for him.
John Piper, Desiring God
To wait! That means to pause and soberly consider our own inadequacy and the Lord’s all-sufficiency and to seek counsel and help from the Lord and to hope in Him (Psalm 33:20–22; Isaiah 8:17). . . . God aims to exalt Himself by working for those who wait for Him. Prayer is the essential activity of waiting for God—acknowledging our helplessness and His power, calling upon Him for help, seeking His counsel (170).

God is not looking for people to work for Him, so much as He is looking for people who will let Him work for them. The gospel is not a help-wanted ad. Neither is the call to Christian service. On the contrary, the gospel commands us to give up and hang out a help-wanted sign (this is the basic meaning of prayer). Then the gospel promises that God will work for us if we do. He will not surrender the glory of being the Giver (171).
1 Peter 4:11
If anyone speaks, he must do it as one speaking the very words of God. If anyone serves, he must do it with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen.
John Piper, Desiring God
The Giver gets the glory. So all serving that honors God must be a receiving. Which means that all service must be performed by prayer (173).

Taken Out of [Worldview] Context

Acts 14:11-13
And when the crowds saw what Paul had done, they lifted up their voices, saying in Lycaonian, “The gods have come down to us in the likeness of men!” Barnabas they called Zeus, and Paul, Hermes, because he was the chief speaker. And the priest of Zeus, whose temple was at the entrance to the city, brought oxen and garlands to the gates and wanted to offer sacrifice with the crowds.
N. T. Wright, Acts for Everyone (Part Two)
It is remarkable what can happen to a message when the hearers insist on inserting it firmly into their own worldview (29).

One of the things this passage highlights is the almost bottomless pit of potential misunderstandings that await anyone who tries to speak, and live out, the essentially Jewish message of the gospel, with its remarkable news of the one true creator God. . . . But the point of this whole narrative, in its larger framework, is precisely to show the explosive, if deeply confusing, effects of taking the message of Jesus out into the wider world. The journey of the gospel from Jerusalem “to the ends of the earth” (1.18) is unstoppable, but uncomfortable. That comes with the territory (31).

Telling the World’s Story and the Jesus Story

Acts 14:1-4
Now at Iconium they entered together into the Jewish synagogue and spoke in such a way that a great number of both Jews and Greeks believed. But the unbelieving Jews stirred up the Gentiles and poisoned their minds against the brothers. So they remained for a long time, speaking boldly for the Lord, who bore witness to the word of his grace, granting signs and wonders to be done by their hands. But the people of the city were divided; some sided with the Jews and some with the apostles.
N. T. Wright, Acts for Everyone (Part Two)
[The gospel message must be], for our world and our day, what Paul’s message to the synagogue always was: that for which you have longed is here, but it doesn’t look like you thought it would.

But what is our society longing for? Peace; justice; freedom; a voice and a vote which will count; health. Around and above all of those, love. Inside and through all of those: to satisfy the hunger of the heart, a hunger which no amount of money, fine houses, fast cars, luxury vacations and love affairs will ever begin to reach. And the task of the church, though it certainly goes much wider and deeper than this, at least includes the following: that we should, in prayer and with wisdom, be able to tell the story of our world, our increasingly neo-pagan society, in terms of the long history of promises we have clung onto and pledges we have made and broken. We should be prepared to think it all through so we can tell the story that people know is their story, the one they always knew they wanted to hear. And we have to tell it so that, like Paul telling the story of Israel, it ends with Jesus, not artificially or like a [magician] pulling a rabbit out of a hat, but so that he appears as what and who he is: the truly human one, the one in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge, the living bread through whom all our hungers are satisfied (26).

Responding to the Word of the Lord

Acts 13:48-52
And when the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord, and as many as were appointed to eternal life believed. And the word of the Lord was spreading throughout the whole region. But the Jews incited the devout women of high standing and the leading men of the city, stirred up persecution against Paul and Barnabas, and drove them out of their district. But they shook off the dust from their feet against them and went to Iconium. And the disciples were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit.
N. T. Wright, Acts for Everyone (Part Two)
The gospel doesn’t leave things intact. At the end of this first major missionary visit, we have three distinct groups: the angry and aggressive people who don’t want to know; the joyful, spirit-filled local people who had believed the message; and the two apostles, escaping persecution and scurrying on to the next town (22).
Aaron Orendorff
What is the proper response to “the word of the Lord”—i.e., the good news of God’s saving work through His Son, Jesus? The end of Acts 13 provides us with three examples.

First: believing obedience. V. 48 says it like this, “. . . as many as were appointed to eternal life [literally, the ‘life of the age’] believed.” This is perhaps one of the strongest connections made in the New Testament between belief and God’s election. Those who rightly responded to God’s word were not more spiritual sensitive than the rest, they weren’t wiser or more well educated nor were they more humble or virtuous. What distinguished them from those who disbelieved was God’s sovereign “appointment.”

Second: worship. Again, v. 48: “. . . when the Gentiles heard this, they began . . . glorifying the word of the Lord.” Hearing the message of salvation and embracing it leads immediately to spontaneous praise. We aren’t told how they glorified God’s word, whether it was through song or story, we are simply told that they did.

Third: joy. Twice in this paragraph we read “they began rejoicing” (v. 48) and “the disciples were filled with joy” (v. 52). Interestingly, while we readily understand the need to believe God’s word and give him glory, what is often overlooked is the equal necessity of joy. It is not enough to simply trust God, we must delight in Him. Nor is it the case that God is interested merely in our worship. What he desires in our joy. As Jeremy Taylor wrote, “God threatens terrible things if we will not be happy.”

Justified and Forgiven

Acts 13:32-33, 38-39
“And we bring you the good news that what God promised to the fathers, this he has fulfilled to us their children by raising Jesus . . . .

“Let it be known to you therefore, brothers, that through this man forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you, and by him everyone who believes is freed from everything from which you could not be freed by the law of Moses.”
Acts 13:38-39 (Literal Translation)
. . . and from everything that you were not able by the law of Moses to be justified by (in) him all who believe are justified.
Aaron Orendorff
The Law of Moses cannot justify, not because the law itself is somehow flawed or defective, but rather—as the literal translation of v. 38 reads— because we ourselves “were not able.” Romans 8:3-4 reads in many ways like an expanded commentary on vv. 38-39: “For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.”

The point in both places is the same: the law (as a system of salvation) demands perfect obedience; we—in the weakness of our flesh, that is, under the power and willful influence of sin—cannot fulfill its “righteous requirements.” God, therefore, through the person of his Son, “condemned” sin by condemning Christ. In other words, God destroyed sin, emptying it of its legal power by, as Colossians 2:14 says, “nailing it to the cross.”

The result? Acts 13:38: “. . . through this man forgiveness of sins is proclaimed . . .”

Forgiveness, not because of who we are or what we’ve done; not because of our desert or even on account of our pleading. Forgiveness because “what God promised to the father, this he has fulfilled to us.”

Great David’s Greater Son or Sometimes It Takes a While

Acts 13:16-23
So Paul stood up, and motioning with his hand said: “Men of Israel and you who fear God, listen. The God of this people Israel chose our fathers and made the people great during their stay in the land of Egypt, and with uplifted arm he led them out of it. And for about forty years he put up with them in the wilderness. And after destroying seven nations in the land of Canaan, he gave them their land as an inheritance. All this took about 450 years. And after that he gave them judges until Samuel the prophet. Then they asked for a king, and God gave them Saul the son of Kish, a man of the tribe of Benjamin, for forty years. And when he had removed him, he raised up David to be their king, of whom he testified and said, ‘I have found in David the son of Jesse a man after my heart, who will do all my will.’ Of this man's offspring God has brought to Israel a Savior, Jesus, as he promised.
N. T. Wright, Acts for Everyone (Part Two)
What [Paul] says about the early period, though, is enough to establish the fact that God’s method of operation is to choose his people, to prepare them, to lead them through one stage after another, and then finally, to give them “the man after my own heart” as king. In other words, perhaps the main point of verses 17-20 is to stress that God’s purposes normally take a while to unfold, to get to the place where the ultimate purpose can be revealed. . . .

But the point is not that the story stopped at David, but that in working with Israel for several hundred years to produce the king who would establish the pattern of someone ruling over God’s people with justice and truth . . . God was establishing a further pattern as well: the notion of waiting for the true king, the ultimate king, “great David’s greater son” (10).

A Would be god and the Word of God

Acts 12:21-24
On an appointed day Herod put on his royal robes, took his seat upon the throne, and delivered an oration to them. And the people were shouting, “The voice of a god, and not of a man!” Immediately an angel of the Lord struck him down, because he did not give God the glory, and he was eaten by worms and breathed his last. But the word of God increased and multiplied.
N. T. Wright, Acts for Everyone (Part One)
The official king of the Jews plays at being a pagan [god], and comes to a bad end; meanwhile, the word of God grows and multiplies. You couldn’t say it much clearer than that. . . .

The chief priests have been left spluttering angrily into their beards in Jerusalem; Saul of Tarsus, the most prominent and violent of the Pharisaic persecutors, has been converted; and now Herod Agrippa, having had an unsuccessful attempt at killing off the church’s main leadership, is himself suddenly cut down with a swift and fatal disease. . . .

There may be [in the life of the church] real reverses, tragedies and disasters. And yet the God who has revealed himself in and through Jesus remains sovereign, and his purpose is going ahead whatever the authorities from without, or various controversies from within, may do to try and stop it (190).

Heaven-to-Earth, Down-to-Earth

Acts 12:11-16
When Peter came to himself, he said, “Now I am sure that the Lord has sent his angel and rescued me from the hand of Herod and from all that the Jewish people were expecting.” When he realized this, he went to the house of Mary, the mother of John whose other name was Mark, where many were gathered together and were praying. And when he knocked at the door of the gateway, a servant girl named Rhoda came to answer. Recognizing Peter’s voice, in her joy she did not open the gate but ran in and reported that Peter was standing at the gate. They said to her, “You are out of your mind.” But she kept insisting that it was so, and they kept saying, “It is his angel!” But Peter continued knocking, and when they opened, they saw him and were amazed.
N. T. Wright, Acts for Everyone (Part One)
I find all this strangely comforting: partly because Luke is allowing us to see the early church for a moment not as a bunch of great heroes and heroines of the faith, but as the same kind of muddled, half-believing, faith-one-minute-and-doubt-the-next sort of people as most Christian we all know. And partly I find it comforting, because it would be easy for skeptical thinkers to dismiss the story of Peter’s release from jail as a pious legend—except for the fact that nobody, constructing a pious legend out of think air, would have made up this ridiculous little story of Rhoda and the praying-but-hopeless church. It has the ring of truth: ordinary truth, down-to-earth truth, at the very moment that it is telling us something truly extraordinary and heaven-on-earthish (186).

Who’s King?

Acts 12:1-3
About that time Herod the king laid violent hands on some who belonged to the church. He killed James the brother of John with the sword, and when he saw that it pleased the Jews, he proceeded to arrest Peter also.
N. T. Wright, Acts for Everyone (Part One)
Luke has told the story [of Acts] in such a way as to leave this first half with a direct showdown between the official, reigning “king of the Jews” and the unofficial king, Jesus the Messiah. The good news of his kingly rule has been announced in Jerusalem, Judaea and Samaria; the local king who would be most threatened by this has done his worst, and it hasn’t worked. Now, Luke is suggesting, it’s time to see what will happen when Jesus is announced as Lord of the world (183).

The Gospel Spreads to the “Hellenists”

Acts 11:20-24
But there were some of them, men of Cyprus and Cyrene, who on coming to Antioch spoke to the Hellenists also, preaching the Lord Jesus. And the hand of the Lord was with them, and a great number who believed turned to the Lord. The report of this came to the ears of the church in Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas to Antioch. When he came and saw the grace of God, he was glad, and he exhorted them all to remain faithful to the Lord with steadfast purpose, for he was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith. And a great many people were added to the Lord.
Aaron Orendorff
To recap: first, “men of Cyprus and Cyrene,” scattered as a direct result of the persecution that “arose over Stephen,” arrived in Antioch and immediately begin “preaching the Lord Jesus”—that is, heralding the message of Jesus’ triumphant victory over sin, evil and death—to (stunned hush) the “Hellenists,” Greek-speaking, non-Jews. Second, the “hand of the Lord was with them” and as a result a “great number” both believe and turn (i.e., repent) to the Lord. Third, news of the Hellenist conversions reaches Jerusalem and Barnabas is dispatched to investigate the events. Fourth, upon arriving in Antioch, Barnabas witnesses what v. 23 calls “the grace of God,” the evidence of God’s hand at work in the lives of these newly converted non-Jews and, as the verse continues, is “glad.” Fifth, Barnabas exhorts the believers in Antioch to “stay firmly loyal to the Lord form the bottom of their hearts.” Sixth, again “a great many people” are then “added” to the Lord.

non-Jewish, Jewish Gentiles

Acts 10:36-43
“As I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell on them just as on us at the beginning. And I remembered the word of the Lord, how he said, ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ If then God gave the same gift to them as he gave to us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could stand in God's way?” When they heard these things they fell silent. And they glorified God, saying, “Then to the Gentiles also God has granted repentance that leads to life.”
N. T. Wright, Acts for Everyone (Part One)
[C]learly the major concern, which if allowed to stand would blow a hole right through the worldview of the “circumcision group,” was that these Gentiles had been admitted as full members of the new and rapidly developing Jesus-family without having had to become Jews in the process.

We can only conclude [from Luke’s “major repetition within his normally fast-paced narrative”] that for Luke the admission of Gentiles into God’s people, reformed around Jesus, without needing to take on the marks of Jewish identity, i.e., circumcision and the food taboos, was one of the central and most important things he wanted to convey (173).

[T]he question of the value of circumcision and the food laws . . . were the equivalents of the national flag at a time when the whole nation felt under intense pressure. To welcome Gentiles as equal brothers and sisters must have looked like fraternizing with the enemy. To be “zealous for the law,” including circumcision and the food laws, must have looked like the only way that would fit in with the will of God for his people (174).

The Gospel-Acts of God

Acts 10:36-43
As for the word that [God] sent to Israel, preaching good news of peace through Jesus Christ (he is Lord of all), you yourselves know what happened throughout all Judea, beginning from Galilee after the baptism that John proclaimed: how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power. He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him. And we are witnesses of all that he did both in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree, but God raised him on the third day and made him to appear, not to all the people but to us who had been chosen by God as witnesses, who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. And he commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one appointed by God to be judge of the living and the dead. To him all the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.
N. T. Wright, Acts for Everyone (Part One)
The key things to be highlighted, within that framework, are the things that God did. The gospel is after all a message about God, a message whose subject matter is Jesus. We already know, and Peter already knew, that Cornelius had showed boundless reverence for Israel’s God. So he tells the story of Jesus as the story of God’s actions (169).
Aaron Orendorff
If the gospel, as Wright says, is the “story of God’s actions” what were/are the acts God performs in the gospel as reported by Peter?

One, God “sent” his word to Israel—“preaching good news of peace through Jesus Christ.” Two, Jesus is both “Lord of all” and God’s Messiah—his “anointed” servant endowed with the “Holy Spirit and with power.” Three, Jesus’ identity as Lord and Messiah is evidenced by (1) his works—“he went about doing good and healing”—(2) his death and (3) his resurrection. Four, the apostles are God’s witnesses to all of this, sent out by God and Christ with the commission to “preach to the people” and, five, to declare that Jesus is “the one appointed by God to be judge of the living and the dead.” Six, this story of God’s acts in Jesus is the culmination (the climax) of both Israel’s story and the story of creation as borne witness to by “all the prophets” with the intention that, seven, “everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”

A Real, Deeply Human Process

Acts 10:13-17, 19 & 28
And there came a voice to him: “Rise, Peter; kill and eat.” But Peter said, “By no means, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is common or unclean.” And the voice came to him again a second time, “What God has made clean, do not call common.” This happened three times, and the thing was taken up at once to heaven. Now while Peter was inwardly perplexed as to what the vision that he had seen might mean . . .

And while Peter was pondering the vision, the Spirit said to him . . .

And [Peter] said to them, “You yourselves know how unlawful it is for a Jew to associate with or to visit anyone of another nation, but God has shown me that I should not call any person common or unclean.”
N. T. Wright, Acts for Everyone (Part One)
[T]he point which is being made in this graphic and deeply human story . . . is that, though Gentiles too had to repent and believe in Jesus just as Jew did, they did not have to become Jews before or after that process (165).
Aaron Orendorff
The process through which Peter is brought to a new understanding of God’s intentions is, as Wright puts it, a “deeply human story.” After receiving the initial vision, at first Peter simply refuses—“Lord, by no means”—and so (with amazing patience) the vision is repeated twice more. Still unconvinced by what would have been no doubt a disturbing revelation, v. 17 describes Peter as “inwardly perplexed” and (behold) “three men” suddenly (though not accidentally) appear at his doorstep. “Pondering the vision,” that is, turning it over in his mind, trying to makes sense of it, the Spirit begins to speak until finally—inside Cornelius’ house—Peter understands: “You yourselves know how unlawful it is for a Jew to associate with or to visit anyone of another nation, but God has shown me that I should not call any person common or unclean.”

Clean Labels

Acts 10:9-16
The next day, as they were on their journey and approaching the city, Peter went up on the housetop about the sixth hour to pray. And he became hungry and wanted something to eat, but while they were preparing it, he fell into a trance and saw the heavens opened and something like a great sheet descending, being let down by its four corners upon the earth. In it were all kinds of animals and reptiles and birds of the air. And there came a voice to him: “Rise, Peter; kill and eat.” But Peter said, “By no means, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is common or unclean.” And the voice came to him again a second time, "What God has made clean, do not call common.” This happened three times, and the thing was taken up at once to heaven.
N. T. Wright, Acts for Everyone (Part One)
“Get up, Peter!” says a voice, “Kill and eat!”

Peter is horrified. “Certainly not! I’ve never done that before and I’m not going to start now! It’s unclean!”

Then comes the response which echoes through the centuries, and still challenges all kinds of prejudice.

“What God has made clean, you must not call unclean” (160).
Aaron Orendorff
As trite as it might sound, the temptation to call something “unclean” is basically the religious equivalent of the social temptation to “label.” What makes labeling so comfortable—and similarly, what makes calling something unclean so comfortable—is that both eliminate the need for wisdom, sanity and judgment in the otherwise complex and rightly uncomfortable process of discernment. Once a thing is labeled, we know what it is. There are no ambiguities, no shades, no need to really think. But if God, through the gospel, has made all things clean, then nothing—in and of itself—is off limits. If God is in the business of redeeming creation, not eliminating or escaping it, then money and sex are no more the enemies of true spirituality than food is. What matters—what counts—isn’t how much we can avoid, but how much we can bring under the lordship of Jesus.

The Seamtress Peter Raised

Acts 9:39-41
So Peter rose and went with them. And when he arrived, they took him to the upper room. All the widows stood beside him weeping and showing tunics and other garments that Dorcas made while she was with them. But Peter put them all outside, and knelt down and prayed; and turning to the body he said, “Tabitha, arise.” And she opened her eyes, and when she saw Peter she sat up. And he gave her his hand and raised her up. Then calling the saints and widows, he presented her alive.
N. T. Wright, Acts for Everyone (Part One)
[T]he group Peter visited in Joppa was basically a group of widows (verses 39, 41). . . . There is something poignant about this group, who by definition were all carrying one of life’s largest forms of grief, becoming recognized and acknowledged as having not merely a claim on the general resources, but a significant contribution to make. Do not belittle the ministry of stitching, sewing, knitting and generally providing for needs of the larger community . . . . And do not forget to celebrate . . . the fact that the apparently ordinary people are not ordinary to God, and that when we tell the story of the great sweep of God’s purpose in history there are, at every point, the Aeneases and Dorcases who smile out of the page at us, like the robin in the garden, and remind us what it’s really all about (155).

The Son of God

Acts 9:20 & 22
And immediately he proclaimed Jesus in the synagogues, saying, “He is the Son of God.” . . . But Saul increased all the more in strength, and confounded the Jews who lived in Damascus by proving that Jesus was the Christ.
N. T. Wright, Acts for Everyone (Part One)
But wait a minute. Has not the phrase “son of God” subtly changed in the process? Yes, it has. It has gone from meaning simply “Messiah” [God’s anointed king, the “son” of David], or simply “Israel” [God’s “first born son”], to something else, something which the Old Testament had not envisaged, or not in that way, but which looms up behind as a great unspoken possibility. . . . Somehow, it seems, the early Christians, and perhaps pre-eminently Paul, are discovering that within the expectation of a Messiah who would be, in some sense, “God’s son,” there was a deeper truth: that the Messiah, when he came, would be God’s own second self, God in human form, wisdom incarnate. The phrase “son of God” came, very early in the Christian movement, to carry all of that meaning, without leaving behind (indeed, depending for its full sense upon) the “messianic” sense. And all of it made shocking but very clear sense of what Saul had seen in his vision on the road: “the glory of God in the face of Jesus the Messiah” (150-1).

Chosen to Suffer for the Name

Acts 9:15-16
But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel. For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.”
N. T. Wright, Acts for Everyone (Part One)
The Lord is calling Saul for a particular task. The time has come for the message about the one true God, the Jewish good news of the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, to be told to the wider world, the world of pagans, Gentiles, people who know nothing and care less about this God. And the person to do this task, to spearhead the work of getting the message out to those outside the law, must be the one who most clearly, of all others of his generation, had been the most keen to stamp the message out. . . . [W]hen you want to reach the pagan world, the person to do it will be a hard-line, fanatical, ultra-nationalist, super-orthodox Pharisaic Jew. And then they say God doesn’t have a sense of humor (145).
Aaron Orendorff
The very instrument chosen to “carry [the] name” of Jesus is the same instrument chosen to suffer for its sake. In fact, the call, it appears, is one in the same. To bear the name of Jesus—as all followers of Christ do—means being remade into his likeness. This likeness, as Paul is soon to discover, means more than just moral conformity and spiritual satisfaction. It means “becoming like him in his death” in order to likewise share in his resurrection (Phil. 3:10):
We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus' sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So death is at work in us, but life in you (2 Co. 4:8-12).