There is a book being released this week called "The Grand Design" by Stephen Hawking. The reviews and articles of the book have generated a lot of buzz because of controversial statements made about creation.
"… the laws of gravity and quantum theory allow universes to appear spontaneously from nothing." – Stephen Hawking
I wanted to give a brief answer to this idea, in case you read or have read any of these articles. First of all this is a mass publication book, not a peer reviewed science journal, it's not about new research or discoveries. This book is about the faith of a theoretical quantum physicist in the theories on which he has spent his professional life. In general he's referring to a dream of theoretical physics to come up with a "theory of everything" or unified model of the universe. This idea is based on the unification of 5 versions of String Theory and how they might all work together. In short this M-Theory is based on the concept that everything is made up of unseen 1 dimensional strings, vibrating through unseen 2 dimensional membranes across 7 unseen dimensions, in addition to the 4 dimensions (length, width, depth, -3 dimensions of space- and time) we normally experience. When you talk about quantum theory, especially regarding unknown dimensions, this is not a physical science or something that can be studied in the usual sense. This is the religion of theoretical science, whose proofs only exist in mathematical models. It takes a lot of blind faith to believe in M-theory especially when there are only about a thousand people in the world who can actually do the math, of these models. How can they believe in unseen strings, unseen membranes, and unseen dimensions, and reject an unseen God? But even if M-Theory were correct, it does not contradict or preclude Biblical Creation. All they would really have discovered would be, as Albert Einstein said, "How God did it". It would be a shame to spend your life studying creation, and miss knowing the Creator!
[As we continue through the book of Acts we will cover a chapter per week, which is too much material to cover well. So I will try and give you an outline and a context to understand the scripture plus a few highlights, and let the Pastor's sermon, the Life Groups, and your personal study, explore the material more completely.]
1 Now in the church that was at Antioch there were certain prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. 2 As they ministered to the Lord and fasted, the Holy Spirit said, "Now separate to Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them." 3 Then, having fasted and prayed, and laid hands on them, they sent them away.
[Here we find the diverse elders or leaders of the church at Antioch fasting and praying to the Lord, when the Holy Spirit speaks to them calling Saul and Barnabas to go on a mission, and calling the church, to send them out just as we send missionaries today.]
Preaching in Cyprus
4 So, being sent out by the Holy Spirit, they went down to Seleucia, and from there they sailed to Cyprus. 5 And when they arrived in Salamis, they preached the word of God in the synagogues of the Jews. They also had John as their assistant.
[John their assistant is John Mark the cousin of Barnabas, many think is the boy who fled naked from the garden when Jesus was arrested. They leave from Antioch in Syria, go to the port city of Seleucia, take a boat to the island of Cyprus, Salamis is the nearest port town on the east side of the island, and go first to the synagogues and preach Jesus. You will see this pattern over and over as Apostles and ministers travel they always start with God's people, to offer Jesus first to them always fulfilling God's promise to Abraham.]
6 Now when they had gone through the island to Paphos, they found a certain sorcerer, a false prophet, a Jew whose name was Bar-Jesus, 7 who was with the proconsul, Sergius Paulus, an intelligent man. This man called for Barnabas and Saul and sought to hear the word of God. 8 But Elymas the sorcerer (for so his name is translated) withstood them, seeking to turn the proconsul away from the faith. 9 Then Saul, who also is called Paul, filled with the Holy Spirit, looked intently at him 10 and said, "O full of all deceit and all fraud, you son of the devil, you enemy of all righteousness, will you not cease perverting the straight ways of the Lord? 11 And now, indeed, the hand of the Lord is upon you, and you shall be blind, not seeing the sun for a time."
And immediately a dark mist fell on him, and he went around seeking someone to lead him by the hand. 12
Then the proconsul believed, when he saw what had been done, being astonished at the teaching of the Lord.
[Paphos is on the west side of Cyprus so they was crossed the whole island, and there they face satanic opposition in the form of a false prophet, a demon possessed sorcerer named Bar-Jesus or Elymas. Elymas had influence with the Roman official, Sergius Paulus, and his familiar spirit or daemon apparently leads him to oppose the message of Jesus for fear of losing influence with the government controlling the island. Always pray for your political leaders because Satan wants them almost as much as he wants your preachers and missionaries.
Saul led and empowered by being filled with the Holy Spirit, curses Elymas, striking him blind, rendering him powerless and Serguis Paulus believes on Jesus, being amazed by the teaching of Saul and Barnabas, and the power of God. Here is also the transition where Saul becomes commonly known as Paul for the remainder of scripture.]
At Antioch in Pisidia
13 Now when Paul and his party set sail from Paphos, they came to Perga in Pamphylia; and John, departing from them, returned to Jerusalem.
[So the leave the Island, back in a boat, sailing northwest up to modern day Turkey, they come to the city of Perga, and they lose their assistant as John Mark leaves. No reason is given for his departure but we know from later in Acts that Paul was really upset that John Mark left, and didn't want him on their next trip.]
14 But when they departed from Perga, they came to Antioch in Pisidia, and went into the synagogue on the Sabbath day and sat down. 15 And after the reading of the Law and the Prophets, the rulers of the synagogue sent to them, saying, "Men and brethren, if you have any word of exhortation for the people, say on."
[From Perga they go north to Antioch in Pisidia, this is not the Antioch in Syria from which they were first sent. The Syrian King Seleucus named 16 different cities after his father Antiochus. Paul follows the plan going first to the Jews on the Sabbath to preach Jesus.]
16 Then Paul stood up, and motioning with his hand said, "Men of Israel, and you who fear God, listen:
[Paul knowing his audience, uses their shared Jewish heritage and several Old Testament quotes to take them up to the time of John the Baptist. For the sake of time I will skip down to verse 26.]
17 The God of this people Israel chose our fathers, and exalted the people when they dwelt as strangers in the land of Egypt, and with an uplifted arm He brought them out of it. 18 Now for a time of about forty years He put up with their ways in the wilderness. 19 And when He had destroyed seven nations in the land of Canaan, He distributed their land to them by allotment.
20 "After that He gave them judges for about four hundred and fifty years, until Samuel the prophet. 21 And afterward they asked for a king; so God gave them Saul the son of Kish, a man of the tribe of Benjamin, for forty years. 22 And when He had removed him, He raised up for them David as king, to whom also He gave testimony and said, 'I have found David
(Psalm 89:20) the son of Jesse, a man after My
heart, who will do all My will.' (1 Samuel 13:14)
23 From this man's seed, according to the promise, God raised up for Israel a Savior—Jesus— 24 after John had first preached, before His coming, the baptism of repentance to all the people of Israel. 25 And as John was finishing his course, he said, 'Who do you think I am? I am not He. But behold, there comes One after me, the sandals of whose feet I am not worthy to loose.'
[From Abraham to John the Baptist…]
26 "Men and brethren, sons of the family of Abraham, and those among you who fear God, to you the word of this salvation has been sent. 27 For those who dwell in Jerusalem, and their rulers, because they did not know Him, nor even the voices of the Prophets which are read every Sabbath, have fulfilled them in condemning Him.
28 And though they found no cause for death in Him, they asked Pilate that He should be put to death. 29 Now when they had fulfilled all that was written concerning Him, they took Him down from the tree and laid Him in a tomb. 30 But God raised Him from the dead. 31 He was seen for many days by those who came up with Him from Galilee to Jerusalem, who are His witnesses to the people. 32 And we declare to you glad tidings—that promise which was made to the fathers. 33 God has fulfilled this for us their children, in that He has raised up Jesus. As it is also written in the second Psalm:
' You are My Son,
Today I have begotten You.'
34 And that He raised Him from the dead, no more to return to corruption, He has spoken thus: ' I will give you the sure
mercies of David.'
35 Therefore He also says in another Psalm:
' You will not allow Your Holy One to see corruption.'
36 "For David, after he had served his own generation by the will of God, fell asleep, was buried with his fathers, and saw corruption; 37 but He whom God raised up saw no corruption. 38 Therefore let it be known to you, brethren, that through this Man is preached to you the forgiveness of sins; 39 and by Him everyone who believes is justified from all things from which you could not be justified by the law of Moses.
[He tells the story of Jesus accused, crucified, resurrected, and complete with Old Testament references to show that this was the work of God keeping his promise to His people giving Messiah because the law cannot save you.]
40 Beware therefore, lest what has been spoken in the prophets come upon you:
you despisers,(scoffers or mockers)
Marvel and perish!
For I work a work in your days,
A work which you will by no means believe,
Though one were to declare it to you.'"
[So many people are too impressed with their own wisdom that they fail to see what is right in front of them. God promised, Jesus fulfilled, and don't be the one to miss it. This would really apply to the Stephen Hawking case we opened with.]
Blessing and Conflict at Antioch
42 So when the Jews went out of the synagogue, the Gentiles begged that these words might be preached to them the next Sabbath. 43 Now when the congregation had broken up, many of the Jews and devout proselytes followed Paul and Barnabas, who, speaking to them, persuaded them to continue in the grace of God.
[Though still preaching to the Jews, the gospel of Jesus was filtering through city and we find the gentiles begging to be included in the teaching. Also Jews and converts were following Paul and Barnabas hungry to hear more, so they were encouraged or taught further.]
44 On the next Sabbath almost the whole city came together to hear the word of God. 45 But when the Jews saw the multitudes, they were filled with envy; and contradicting and blaspheming, they opposed the things spoken by Paul. 46 Then Paul and Barnabas grew bold and said, "It was necessary that the word of God should be spoken to you first; but since you reject it, and judge yourselves unworthy of everlasting life, behold, we turn to the Gentiles. 47 For so the Lord has commanded us:
' I have set you as a light to the Gentiles,
That you should be for salvation to the ends of the earth.'"
[Again we see opposition to the gospel from those who rejected it. Paul was true to the plan of starting with the Jews as the ones expecting a messiah, but once everyone had a chance to believe, they would take the believers and turn their preaching to the gentiles, just as the prophecy foretold.]
48 Now when the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and glorified the word of the Lord. And as many as had been appointed to eternal life believed.
49 And the word of the Lord was being spread throughout all the region.
[We see the call of God finding Jews and Gentiles willing to repent. They received Jesus with gladness, and the gospel spread building the kingdom of God with Gods people first, then converting those who were not God's people, and adopting them into His family.]
50 But the Jews stirred up the devout and prominent women and the chief men of the city, raised up persecution against Paul and Barnabas, and expelled them from their region. 51 But they shook off the dust from their feet against them, and came to Iconium. 52 And the disciples were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit.
[The Jews who rejected Christ were jealous, so they again stir up the prominent people to drive away the missionaries, but in doing so brought a curse upon themselves.
Matthew 10:14 And whoever will not receive you nor hear your words, when you depart from that house or city, shake off the dust from your feet. 15 Assuredly, I say to you, it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah in the day of judgment than for that city!
Still so many had turned to Christ that the disciples were filled with joy, and the Holy Spirit.]