Day 330: Romans 14-16; Building Up the Body

Yesterday we began the final section of Romans which brings us from the reality in which we live, the forgiveness we have found in the grace of God through Jesus Christ, to the response which we should have towards that grace.  Remember that this response is one of gratitude, the third part of journey of “guilt, grace, gratitude” and has much to do with the living out of our faith and the freedom from sin that we find in Christ.  Because we are dying to our old selves and putting on the new self, that is Jesus Christ, there is a sort of inner transformation that takes place.  This doesn’t necessarily happen all at once, where as soon as we accept Christ we are perfect little angels, but rather over time.  This process is called “sanctification,” the continuing work of the Holy Spirit in our lives to transform us and make us more like Jesus Christ each and every day.  Part of this is the living out of a life of gratitude towards God, emanating His love, grace, mercy, compassion, and so much more in every situation that we find ourselves in.

Again though, we find that this isn’t about simply about an individual’s inner transformation.  Too often in the American Church, which is plagued with individualism, we make things simply be about “me and Jesus.”  There is an element of this in the Christian faith to be certain.  Every one of us have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ and each one of us will have to stand before the throne of heaven at the end of time.  Yet this emergence of “me and Jesus” thoughts is really a recent happening.  With the enlightenment, modernism, and now post-modernism leading the philosophical ideal, individualism and its associate relativism have marred the community of faith with its influence.  Yet Paul makes a point here at the end of his letter to the church in Rome that Christian faith is not simply to be an individual thing, it is to be something lived out in the community of faith, mutually building each other up as we continue to be transformed and made more and more like Christ.

This shows up in Paul’s writing to the Romans, and in other epistles as well with His addressing issues that have cropped up in the church.  We see Paul writing about the different things that people eat, about what is “clean” and what is “unclean,” and later we’ll even see what Paul has to say about spiritual gifts and how the impact the body of Christ.  Really though, what this has to do with is passing judgment on others within the body of the Church.  Paul is encouraging the believers in Rome not to sweat the small stuff as it were.  There are many things that people do differently and they are more than likely convinced that they are doing things right.  We see this all the time in church don’t we?  We judge how other people are worshipping, what other people are wearing, how they are controlling their kids, what they do for a living… the list goes on and on.

Yet Paul’s point here is that what people do they do before the Lord much more than they do before any person.  In this sense, individuality within the Christian community is something to be honored and understood.  If someone is singing with their hands in their pockets, their heart is still before the Lord.  If those pockets are bluejeans rather than dress pants their heart is still before the Lord.  If that person’s kids are running around church after the worship service is over, their heart is before the Lord (there are safety concerns of course which is a bit more of a public affair, but this is not a judgmental thing).  In all these things we are the Lord’s and we need to keep this in mind.  Paul’s command here is to not pass judgment on each other.  When judgment is passed it only serves to place a stumbling block in the community, not just in front of the one being judged.  It is a stumbling block that more than just the judged can fall over too.

So what then is the point of community?  Mutual edification… building each other up in Christ Jesus.  While there are things that we do that are between us and God, ways that we worship and live our lives that others might not necessarily agree with, that doesn’t mean that we aren’t in a position where we could grow a little bit.  Even those with the deepest convictions about their lifestyle, their worship style, or any other style can learn from those of other styles and convictions.  And those that aren’t so sure about themselves should find the church a place in which they can come and grow in Christ through the work of the Holy Spirit through the encouragement of the community of faith, not a judgmental group that only want you to do things the way you do them.  What does Paul say right off the bat today?  “As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him (or her), but not to quarrel over opinions.”  These opinion issues only serve to weaken the already weak and to drive a wedge between brothers and sisters in Christ.  Let us use our faith and our gifts to build each other up, so that together we may all grow in the Spirit and knowledge of God and be formed day by day into the image of Jesus Christ.



Day 329: Romans 11-13; In View of God's Mercies

Paul closes out the the second section of his letter to the church in Rome continuing his discussion on salvation and how the people of Israel and the Gentile fit into it.  One of the things that he points out is that through God’s work in Jesus Christ, God has not rejected His chosen people of Israel and neither has He turned from them to try some sort of “plan B” for the salvation of the world.  Paul reveals to us that this has always been a part of God’s plan.  God has been working for the salvation of the world since the time of the fall and He always knew that there was no way that humanity could do it for themselves.  Paul has talked about this throughout the book of Romans, how the Law was never intended to save and neither was living in a particular way something that was supposed to bring about salvation or perfection.  In fact, all of what God did in the Old Testament, all the law and the prophets, all of God’s self revelation were preparation for the coming of Jesus that God’s people would recognize their savior and that all believers would have a context for understanding Jesus’ work to bring about our salvation.  It would be much more difficult for us to understand and recognize Jesus’ sacrifice if we didn’t have, say, the Hebrew sacrificial system.  In the same way there are a great deal of Jesus’ teachings that don’t make too much outside of the context of the Old Testament Scriptures.

So this is all well and good… actually this is great!  God, in Christ has reached down to us and lifted us out of our misery, out of the sin that has enslaved us since the very first sinful act back in the garden.  It is by grace alone that this has taken place, because of God’s great love for us.  Certainly it is not because of anything that we have done to show ourselves as worthy and, I think, if we are honest with ourselves, we understand this because we know that the deepest desires of our heart and they are selfish, self honoring, and self absorbed.  If this is the case though, that there is nothing we can do to bring ourselves closer to God, and there is nothing that we can do to make ourselves righteous, do we even have to try to do anything good?  Paul would say “absolutely!”  This is what we come to as we open chapter 12.

Paul opens chapter 12 with the word “therefore” which is a key word for us to pick up on.  It means that Paul isn’t starting something new here but saying “because of all that I have just said, now…”  This is exactly what He is getting at here.  He writes, “by the mercies of God…”  Other translations right “in view of God’s mercies…”  What Paul is getting at here is that what He is about to say is completely dependent on what he has just said.  What is to come should happen because of what has already taken place.  That is the truth of our lives as people of God too isn’t it?  What is to come in our lives, our whole lives, is to be lived out in light of all that God has already done for us.  James Brownson, in his book The Promise of Baptism, writes, “In the Bible, our identity is not found in our past, but in Christ’s past, which is our future.  Our truest and deepest self is defined not by what we have experienced in the past, but by what Christ experience and accomplished for us.”  I think this is a very good way of restating what Paul is saying here, we are “to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.”  Paul is saying here that what has been given to us requires a response, and that response, one again, is that “Shema style” of living in which we are loving God with our heart, soul, mind and strength.

He then says, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”  It isn’t simply that we are supposed to love God while we just do whatever we want.  God also calls us to be set apart for Him, to live lives that are honoring and pleasing to Him.  To do this, we need to be continually following after God, continually being that “living sacrifice,” not because we are trying to make ourselves more righteous, but out of gratitude for all that Christ has done for us.  All that follows, from Chapter 12 onward is written in this light, talking about how we are to live.  Again though, this is not in the restriction style that the law was interpreted as, but in freedom from sin that we have been given in Christ, through which we are called to live in GRATEFUL obedience to Jesus Christ.



Day 328: Romans 8-10; New Life in the Spirit

Keeping in mind all that we have talked about over the last two days in the intro to Romans and our talk on faith yesterday,  today’s reading is quite simply the next step along this “Romans Road” that we have been walking.  Paul’s writing in the book of Romans is meant to lay out the whole story of redemptive history in a way that is both logical and systematic.  We have walked with him from the death of our old lives without Christ, when we did not know God and did not have faith, into a new life of faith in Christ Jesus in which we are Justified and made Righteous in Him!  All of this happens because of the faith that God gives us through the working of the Holy Spirit on our hearts.  Yes, even faith is a gift of God.  We often like to think of faith as being something that we produce in ourselves… we want to take some active part in our own salvation.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard people say that it is difficult for people to accept that they can’t do anything to better themselves.  In some ways this is a particularly North American issue.  In the United States especially, we have this notion of “pulling yourself up by your own boot straps” and “working to better your own life.”  Our culture of individualism and “win at all costs” mentality has made it difficult for us to accept salvation as something that we take no active role in.  If we could only work up our own faith and discover for ourselves the way of salvation, then we would “save ourselves.”  But this is not reality.  God has searched us out, the Holy Spirit who has been at work in our hearts since the beginning, drawing us to God and bringing us to faith.  It is also through the Holy Spirit that we are united to Christ when we come to faith!  Our Triune God is at work throughout the salvation process.

So where does Paul go from here?  “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.  For the Law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death.”  This is great news for us!  More than this though, we are not only set free, we are adopted as sons and daughters of God and made to be fellow heirs to the Kingdom of God.  Moreover, we are future heirs of the resurrection and the glory that will be revealed in Christ Jesus, and now in us because we are united to Him.  It is here that we begin to move from the topic of what God has done in us and the grace that we have received toward what it is that we are to do with this new life that we have found ourselves in.  Paul talks a great deal about perseverance here, without actually naming it, and how we need to rest in the love of God that is in Christ Jesus.  While life may be difficult, there is nothing at all in this world that can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?  As it is written,

“For your sake we are being killed all the day long;
    we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.  For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

We will talk more about turning this corner tomorrow, but for now Paul goes back into another discussion about election (which is a topic that will come up again and again, so once again we will forego a deeper discussion on election until a later time) and then faith vs. works.  It is clear that he is in anguish of his Jewish brothers and sisters who have really gotten the law wrong.  He points out to us once again that it is by faith that we receive salvation and that it was faith that was the ultimate goal of the Law as well.  Paul echoes the words of the Shema here as well, talking about having the Word of God “in your mouth and in your heart.”  Sadly many of the people of Israel didn’t pick up on this.

This is something that we need to always have before us as we live out our lives of faith.  It isn’t about actions, not about doing all the right things in the right order.  In fact, living for Christ isn’t about that at all.  As we will see tomorrow, we are called to live lives of gratitude for all that we have received in Christ Jesus, but never thinking that what we do somehow makes us more or less saved.  Once we are saved, we are saved forever.  I wonder if that was what C.S. Lewis was getting at when he wrote “Once a King or Queen in Narnia, always a King or Queen in Narnia.”



Day 327: Romans 4-7; By Faith

We continue in Paul’s explanation of the Gospel as he lays out for the church in Rome the good news of Jesus Christ.  Remember yesterday how he walked through the a sort of “creation narrative” as he explained general revelation and how all humanity is without excuse for knowing God.  He also makes it very clear to us that all of humanity is sinful in its very nature and that there is nothing that we can do to get out of this sin.  Calvinists would call this “total depravity” but it might be better to say that this is a “pervasive depravity” combined with “total inability.”  While this doesn’t necessarily fit in with the TULIP acronym, it most certainly is more correct (and besides, TULIP is a poor representation of Calvinism anyway).  Sin affects every part of our being and there is nothing we can do to make it right or to make ourselves right.  No amount of good works, social status, or even ethic status as the Jews thought can save anyone from their sins.  Quite simply, Paul says that “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.

Yet it isn’t all hopeless here!  Paul also goes on to say that “and [all] are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith.”  The good news is that God has done something about our condition!  God knew that we could not do it on our own and so He did it for us by sending His Son to live and die for us.  I added the word “all” into this because it is implied from the first half of the sentence.  It is true that ALL have sinned.  It is also true that ALL are justified.  Now this is something that people might push back on because is smells of universalism.  Our “TULIP” acronym comes back into play here with both “Limited Atonement” and “Unconditional Election.”  Again, I must point out that TULIP is really a horrible acronym for calvinism or the reformed faith because both of these statements can be confusing.  It might be better to put it this way: Christ’s death on the cross was Sufficient for all, but effective for elect.  Who are the elect?  Well… that gets into an entirely other topic…

 Election is something of a difficult doctrine to unwrap.  People often hear it as God has chosen some and not others.  Essentially, this is true… but when said like this, it makes it sound like no one gets to choose anything about anything.  You are either elect and go to heaven or you are the opposite (reprobate) and don’t.  If you throw a word like “predestination” in there, it makes it even worse for some because we think that these choices are already made.  The fact of the matter is, at least on some level, God has revealed Himself to some people in a special way (we call this special revelation).  For those in whom the Spirit is working and gives faith, which is also a gift from God mind you, when they come to faith they become one of the elect, chosen by God and forgiven of their sins by His grace alone.  The ramifications of this doctrine are that there are those who will never choose God and never turn towards Christ.  Paul says that these people are without excuse.  For them, the death of Christ is as sufficient as it is for anyone else to save them from their sins, yet because they have not turned to God in faith and accepted this gift, it is not effective for them.

I understand that these are difficult teachings, but they are clearly laid out in the Bible.  We will return to them in the future, but for now I would like to focus in on the key word here: “faith.”

As we return from this to the readings for today, check out how Paul lays out the stories of Abraham and faith.  Abraham isn’t saved, says Paul, by virtue of being the father of the nation of Israel.  He is saved because “he believed God,” because he had faith.  This didn’t have anything to do with his works or his ethnicity, it had to do with faith and Paul lays this out pretty clearly.  It all depends on faith.

He continues on in chapters 5-7 to talk about the effects of having faith in God do for our life.  It is not simply that when we come to faith our sins are forgiven and that’s that.  Paul shows us that in many ways what happens is that we “put on” Christ in many ways.  When we come to faith in God through Christ Jesus by the working of the Holy Spirit we “die” to our old self.  We are no longer who we were, but we are raised to life in Christ!  This is one of the main promises in the sacrament of baptism and one of its primary meanings as well (more on that to come later as well).  By faith we are united to Christ… in God’s eyes He no longer sees us as a sinful human, but sees us as He sees His Son: RIGHTEOUS.  For those looking for another theological term, we call this “imputed righteousness.”  Calvin, in his institutes says it like this:

“Christ, having been made ours, makes us sharers with him in the gifts with which he has been endowed. We do not, therefore, contemplate him outside ourselves from afar in order that his righteousness may be imputed to us but because we put on Christ and are engrafted into his body–in short–, because he deigns to make us one with him.” (3.11.10)

Wow, this is a heavy post today.  My head hurts thinking about the theological ground that we covered.  Yet these things are important.  Perhaps not all the fancy theological words, but the premise is at the very core of the Christian faith.  In some ways, these are the things that we need to be able to talk about as Christians.  Granted, I think that people tend to be more open to hearing about the testimonies of people as they experience God in their lives.  However, at some point in time it comes down to faith in Christ Jesus and what has taken place in our lives.  We NEED to know these things… perhaps not the technical jargon so much… but what has happened to us… we need to know this so that we can share this Good News with everyone we meet.  One of the things about election that is so vitally important to the whole of the doctrine is the fact that, in just about every place that it is talked about, the writers and theologians say that we can never know who is elect and who isn’t.  The doctrine of election gives us no excuse to not preach, but actually encourages us to testify even more because WE ARE NOT the judges of who is elect and who isn’t… that is something that has happened in the counsel of God alone and will not be known until the end of time.  So speak boldly the Gospel of Jesus Christ!

 For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.  For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.”



Day 326: Romans 1-3; Introduction to Romans

Today we being the transition into the largest section of the New Testament, and one of the last sections as well.  These are known as the ‘epistles.’  they are composed almost completely of letters that were written by Paul, Peter, & John.  A few of them are are written by others or have somewhat disputed authors (in that there is not agreement on who exactly wrote the book), but all are really exposition on faith in Christ Jesus, drawing from the teaching of the Old Testament Scriptures and of Jesus and how both of these are now interact to form and shape the faith of the Church as it grows and develops.  We will see the authors address many issues from salvation by grace alone to the formation of church government and the qualifications for its leaders.

The book of Romans itself is the largest of the Epistles and arguably the most well known.  Paul, the author, lays out the whole argument of faith in God from the very beginning, taking us through what has become known as “Romans’ Road,” or the journey of Guilt, Grace, and Gratitude.  He is writing to an audience in Rome, a place that He hasn’t yet been able to visit, trying to build up the church there and empower them in their faith as they face persecution and rejection.  As we can see from our reading today, it is clear that there are both Jews and Gentiles present in the audience that this would have been read in.

As we begin our reading of the book of Romans, we see Paul expressing his desire to come and visit the Roman church.  Clearly this book was written before the events that we read yesterday when Paul was actually in Rome.  It is also important to note here that Paul feels himself called to be an Apostle.  I like how he writes “set apart for the Gospel of God,” which is really true if we remember back to Paul’s encounter with Jesus in Acts 9.  God really had chosen him to be the instrument He used to carry the Gospel to the Gentiles, something that we see laid out pretty clearly here.  More over, Paul’s words: “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek,” are quite interesting if you contrast them with his old life.  What a turn around he has experienced!

From here, Paul goes on to lay out the journey of faith and, in so many words, explains the process of going from condemnation and judgment under the law to righteousness through faith by the grace of God alone.  Basically, Paul begins with the story of Israel, talking about how God revealed Himself to them and they didn’t listen.  Yet he doesn’t say with Israel and points out that God has been revealed to everyone throughout the entire world through the very creation that He created.  In theological terms, this is called “General Revelation.”  The glory of God, the very existence of God is revealed simply by looking at the greatness of creation all around us.  Indeed this is a response to so many of the psalmists who wrote things like “all of creation declares your glory.”  Paul makes the point as well that because of this general revelation of God to all people, no one has an excuse not to turn to God.  In other words, because of all that God has given us on this earth, we cannot use the excuse “I never heard of God” or “I never saw God.”

Paul goes on to say then that God is both righteous and justified in His judgment of humanity.  For some were given over to the desires of their flesh, the sin of this world in worshiping idols and practicing all manner of unrighteousness.  Whether these folks knew God or not, they were sinful to the core.  An argument could be made here that the the people Paul is referring to at the end of Romans 1 were not the elect, but were those who never turned to God.  Whether or not this is the case really is besides the point though as Paul goes on in Chapter 2 to show that even those who follow God and judge those people will be judged themselves because they too sin by doing these things.  He then clarifies by saying that God will judge all who sin whether they knew the Law of God or not.

Interestingly, Paul takes a bit of a turn here, pointing out the necessity and purpose of the Law.  He also goes into a talk about identity, building upon the argument he has made about the equality of God’s judgment for all.  Paul points out that identity is not a matter of physical happening, or anything else for that matter, that makes a Jew and Jew and a Gentile a Gentile.  It is (hear the shema echos here) a matter of the HEART!  “Inward circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter.”  So, is there any advantage to being any particular race?  Paul says, “By No Means!”  The Jews were recipients of the Law of God, and God revealed Himself in a special way to them, but that didn’t make them any more faithful or save them in any special way… they are judged just the same.  In fact, in some ways they have even less excuse because with God’s Law brings a greater knowledge of sin.  But as for sin, there is no difference.  All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.

So what then?  Are we to remain in sin?  Are we hopeless?  Paul ends, and so will we, with one of the greatest statements of faith and salvation through grace that is written:

But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and [all] are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins.  It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.

Then what becomes of our boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? By a law of works? No, but by the law of faith.  For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law.  Or is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles also? Yes, of Gentiles also, since God is one—who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith.  Do we then overthrow the law by this faith? By no means! On the contrary, we uphold the law.



Day 325: Acts 24-28; Paul's Defense of the Gospel

We come today to the final chapters of the book of Acts.  If there ever was an into “all the world” as Jesus charged the disciples with back in Acts 1, Rome would be that place.  For all intents and purposes, Rome was the center of the world.  This was, however, where God was calling Paul to go and it was where Paul demands to go too!  Before he can get there though, he stands trial before a whole host of Roman rulers, all of which say the same thing: “this man has done nothing to deserve death.”  Crazily they all decide at different times that Paul has really committed no crime and, if it weren’t for the appeal that he made to Caesar, he would have gone free.  Something tells me that the Lord knew this and the Holy Spirit prompted Paul to say that even when it might otherwise not had been necessary.

I don’t really have a great deal to say about all that happens in today’s reading.  Paul delivers three very well thought out, well articulated defenses in our reading today, laying out the reasons why he is not guilty of anything while also delivering the Gospel message to many of the ruling class of the Roman empire.  These were people that would probably have not heard the Gospel before now, being that for the most part those that were interacting with the Apostles and other believers were likely common folk, much like the fishermen from which Jesus chose His disciples.

There are some pretty miraculous things that take place on Paul’s journey to Rome.  He gets shipwrecked on an Island and miraculously everyone on the boat survives, just as Paul said they would.  The natives on the Island are all very welcoming to Paul and the Roman men, something that was likely hit or miss back then.  Paul survives a snake bit from a cobra, something that clearly other people had died from judging by the reaction of the natives that were with them.

Most interesting, and what I think we’ll end this journey through Acts with, is the narrative of what happens just before the ship runs aground.  He tells them that they need to eat because they haven’t in a long while and they need to recover their strength.  So, in the midst of a storm, when it looks like all hope is lost, Paul takes bread, gives thanks, and breaks it before them and eats.  What a beautiful picture of the Lord’s Supper we see here presented before us.  In the midst of the tumult of life, God beckons us to His table, to sit down and rest, to recover our strength and find hope once again in Him.  I don’t know that this was the intent of the author as He was writing these last chapters, or if this was the purpose and lesson that God or Paul was trying to teach in this action.  What I do know is that this is something that holds true for us today, tomorrow, and always.  God has a plan for our lives and the Holy Spirit is active in guiding us on the way.  And at any time, amid the craziness of our hectic lives, Jesus says, “Come all you who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest.”  We too can find encouragement in God who is with us each and every day and is working all things together for us who love Him and are called according to His purpose.



Day 324: Acts 20-23; Paul Arrested

After three missionary journeys totally almost 12 years, Paul finally returns to Jerusalem.  Interestingly though, we read that he doesn’t return there to be an evangelist as he had been in other places, he returns because it is the Holy Spirit that leads him there.  What’s more, he goes there knowing full well that he is going to be arrested and imprisoned for the Gospel.  Despite all the discouragement from the other believers that he is with, Paul follows the Spirit’s leading and heads out for Jerusalem.  The people in Ephesus, where he has been staying for some time, weep not only because he is leaving, but because he has told them what awaits him back in Jerusalem and they know that they will probably not see him again.

I can’t imagine the inner turmoil that must have been going on inside of Paul during this time and I honestly don’t think that any of us in the church in North America, or any of the other free countries throughout the world can appreciate at all.  We don’t know what it is like to be persecuted for the Gospel or put in prison for what we believe.  There are those throughout the world that do understand this, and while I can’t speak for them, I know that they would empathize with Paul’s situation.  I would like to say that I would go if the Spirit called me, and even be imprisoned for the sake of Jesus Christ, but we are blessed with the freedom to worship in the United States and as of right now, I don’t know if I’ll ever experience that.  To be honest, I think that some people in the church see such devotion to faith in the same way that we see “religious extremists” blowing themselves up, and somehow think that there may and possibly should be a limit to what we do for our faith.  Clearly, Paul has set an example for us that this is not the case.  While God cannot and would not call us to kill others in His name, something that is contrary to God’s nature in Scripture, He can and often does call us into uncomfortable situations in which we need to trust Him with all that is going on, and with ourselves as well and our futures as well.

One thing that I noticed in the reading of the narrative of Paul’s arrest and trial is the similarities between this and many other narratives in the Bible.  Jesus, like Paul, was arrested and they tried Him unfairly, drumming up accusations that wouldn’t necessarily hold up in court.  If we go back quite a ways we can also see similarities between Paul’s story and Joseph’s story as well.  Arrested and put in a prison (well), Joseph was going to be killed by a plot from his brothers.  Paul too was almost the victim of a plot to kill him from those that he once served with.  Both managed to escape through the work of a person intervening, and are shipped off to other places in what seems like a hopeless situation.  However, God meant Joseph’s situation for good in saving Jacob and the people of Israel from the death of a famine.  Here too God means for good as He is bringing Paul and the Gospel before many people in trials and even before the heads of the Roman government as well.  While Paul doesn’t necessarily become second in command to Cesar like Joseph, the Gospel of Grace reaches what might possibly be thousands of people who wouldn’t otherwise hear it, and countless people are brought to faith because of it.  Praise God!!



Day 323: Acts 17-19; Paul's Second Missionary Journey

Today we continue the story of Paul’s second missionary journey throughout Asia Minor and Macedonia.  We read, though I didn’t necessarily talk about, Paul’s first journey yesterday and pick up on his second journey after the first Jerusalem Council in chapter 15.  Now we see Paul’s journeys throughout the region and how he is able to, with the Holy Spirit as his guide, raise up believers and start church in many of these different cities.  Paul, with his partner Silas, journey to Antioch, Tarsus, Derbe, Lystra, Iconium, Troas, Philippi, Thessalonica, Berea, Athens, Corinth, and Ephesus before returning back to Caesarea and finally Jerusalem.  This is a major journey for this day and age, spanning about 2,000 miles and probably taking roughly four years.  There are a lot of things that happen here, many of which you can read for yourself today.  What I think is important to point out is how Paul raises up churches and people to lead those churches.

We don’t necessarily see how Paul does his discipleship program in each of these cities.  He doesn’t record for us how exactly he raises up leaders, but one of the important things that we see here as we journey with Paul and Silas is that it becomes very clear that Paul isn’t sticking around in these places much longer than he has to before he moves on to the next city.  Sure, we read in most of the New Testament that he continues to keep correspondence with these churches, he even visits them once and a while, especially if there are some points of doctrine and belief that he feels need addressing, but really when it comes down to it, Paul and Silas are working to raise up Christian leaders in these cities so that the churches can continue to function and grow while they move on to another city to spread the Gospel there as well.

It is interesting also that there is really no cookie cutter type church that Paul sets up.  He doesn’t go in with exactly the same message that He preached in the last city because it worked.  Have you ever experienced that?  Every now and then we have a pastor visit the church that preaches a message that was probably great somewhere in a certain context, but when it enters into another pulpit/church context, it doesn’t make any sense.  It is clear that Paul knows this.  The most pointed example here is Paul’s address to the Greek’s in Athens.

When Paul was in Athens, we see that He is “provoked” in his spirit because of all the idols.  Athens as a place full of idols to the pantheon of gods that the Greeks worshiped.  More than this though, Athens was a place of philosophy, bringing forth Plato and Aristotle, some of the greatest thinkers of the day.  Philosophy and Logic became almost a culture, or probably more of a subculture within the Greek people, and Paul takes full advantage of this peaking the curiosity of many of the philosophers there.  When he comes before them in the Areopagus, which was probably an amphitheater of some sort where people spoke, he doesn’t bring to them a sermon directed at the Jews, or something that would only make sense in Rome, understanding their customs and history Paul brings before them a sermon that is based both on logic, drawing even from some of their own philosophers, but also on their own worship practices.  In this He both draws them in and draws them to Jesus in a way that they understand and relate to.

I think that we see in here some of the ‘tactics’ of Paul and Silas as well, as the go around on all their missionary journeys.  They bring the good news of the Gospel, through the power of the Holy Spirit, they speak in the ‘language,’ within the cultural understanding of those that they are encountering.  There is no cookie-cutter church, no one way to worship God, except in the name of Jesus Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit.  Yet even this gives a very wide latitude to all that can take place, and I think that is the key.  As these new churches are springing up all across the Roman Empire, we are seeing that same freedom that we have found in Christ also being present in the worship of the believers and as such, these places can live and thrive within the different cultural contexts that they find themselves.



Day 322: Acts 13-16; Paul, Barnabas, and the Jerusalem Council

Today our focus shifts a little bit from the original Apostles like Peter and John and to the work of some of the “second generation” disciples, those that would have not necessarily followed Jesus, or not been close to Him during his earthly life, but have become believers and have been filled with the Holy Spirit during these first years of the Church after Jesus’ ascension.  Specifically we turn here to Paul and Barnabas, to key figures in the spread of the early church outward from Jerusalem, Judea, and Samaria to the “ends of the earth” as they knew it.  As we said at the beginning of the book of Acts, this is really a historical account of the Holy Spirit’s work as the Gospel spreads from Jerusalem, the center, outward like the ripples on a calm pond that has just been disturbed by a rock.

We see also today the same pattern that has really taken place over the course of this book already.  By this point, we are already over a year past the time that Jesus has been taken up into heaven.  Remember, from Pentecost on, we see that in these events where the Apostles and believers speak, they are “filled with the Holy Spirit” and then open their mouths to speak the Word of God.  In some ways, they are not unlike the prophets of old that spoke through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit as well.  The message has changed quite a bit though for those 400+ year old prophetic messages.  In these times we are hearing how those messages and all of Scripture have led us to this point and how Jesus is the fulfillment of all that had been spoken and written before Him.

Anyways, this pattern continues here in chapters 13, 14, and 16.  Each move, each message, each time of spreading the Gospel is not something that is done on its own, but happens because of the work of the Holy Spirit in the lives of believers and in those who do not yet believe either.  This really is the beginnings of the central theme and belief that the Holy Spirit is present in all that is done in the name of Jesus Christ.  From church meetings to worship services to outreach, the Holy Spirit is the one that is working within our hearts and the hearts of all those whom we encounter as believers.  I think too often we feel like it is up to us now to take care of things.  Even though the Spirit is with us (whether we acknowledge the Spirit or not), we are robbed of such confidence and comfort that it is not our work but the work of the Holy Spirit that is really key in the spread of the Gospel.  He will never leave us or forsake us!

One other thing that I wanted to point out today was Acts 15 and the first church council that was held in Jerusalem.  In many ways, this was the first rumbling of what would later become a church governmental structure.  Throughout history, there have actually been a great number of council type meetings that have taken place.  Their subjects have ranged from creating creeds and confessions like the Nicene Creed from the two councils of Nicaea in 325 and 381, to dealing with issues of heresy and wrongful teaching within the church which have taken place throughout history.  Some of these councils have also focused on things like changing how we worship, the most recent of which was Vatican II, in which the Roman Catholic Church decided to change the Mass into the common tongue so that all could participate, something protestants denominations had done a few hundred years before.

In this case, there were some that were teaching that all converts to what was becoming known as Christianity had to be circumcised like the Jews.  For the Jewish people, circumcision was a part of their identity, part of what made them the people of God.  It was a sign that they were members of the covenant.  Yet it is all to clear that things like circumcision and land had become more important to the Jews than their identity as the people of God.  Peter once again stands up in front of the people and speaks to the heart of God in this matter.  Like all councils, the goal is to discern what is God’s will for the direction of the Church.  I think it just awe inspiring that they see here that the purpose of the Grace of Christ is not one that binds them further into the Law, and it is not because of any particular action or association of this world that we are saved, but only through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ.  Their letter, then, and the decision that they made here in this council has much to do with instruction and encouragement, urging the new Gentile believers toward a purely lived life in which they honor God in all that they do and say, but because they are required to in the law, but out of gratitude for the grace that they have received.  May the same be true for us yesterday, today, and always.



Day 321: Acts 9-12; Paul Converted, Gospel to the Gentiles

Today we read of two of the four “most important” events that take place in the New Testament after Jesus is taken into heaven.  The first important event, at least in my opinion, is that of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost.  It is only after that event that we see the Apostles and believers begin to spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ to all those around Jerusalem.  All the believers are filled with the Holy Spirit and preach the Word of God boldly, heal the sick, and are even driving our demons in the name of Jesus.  We saw the second important event yesterday with the speech, stoning, and subsequent scattering of the believers from the city of Jerusalem to Judea and Samaria.  As we said yesterday, it is because of the persecution that breaks out against the believers at the stoning of Stephen, that the Gospel moves outside of Jerusalem for the first time.

The person that we read is really in charge of this persecution, or at least the man who seems to be going after the believers is named Saul (who is better known as Paul later on).  With the permission of the religious leaders in Jerusalem, he heads to Damascus to find more believers and bring them back to put them in prison in Jerusalem.  This brings us to the third important event, Saul’s encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus and the conversion that takes place because of it.  It really is an irony to see God choose His greatest opponent and turn him into one of history’s greatest theologians.  There are so many echoes of this event to the speech of Gamaliel in Acts 5.  Remember that he spoke of being sure that the religious leaders were careful and that if this movement wasn’t from God then is surely would fall away.  Clearly here we see that it IS from God and its not going anywhere.

Paul’s conversion, as an event, really isn’t something that changes the course of history all at once.  In fact, for a while, Paul kind of flies under the radar as it were.  However, it isn’t what he is at the time, but what he becomes that is important.  Saul, who will start going by Paul when we meet him again, becomes one of the most prolific writers and theologians in the early church.  All together, he writes basically all the books from Romans to 2 Timothy.  He also takes part in numerous church plants and an over abundance of discipleship and missionary journeys that shape the face of the church for years to come.  Though he may have never known Jesus while he was on earth, Paul becomes one of the most important figures in the New Testament, the source from which a large amount of our contemporary theology derives from.

After Saul/Paul returns to Jerusalem we turn back to the exploits of Peter as he continues to work and spread the Gospel throughout the land of the Jewish people, at least at first.  He ends up in a city called Joppa where the fourth important event takes place.  Peter, while staying at a house there has a vision in which God reveals to him that the Gentiles are not to be excluded from the Gospel of Grace, that they are no longer considered unclean as they had been in the past.  “Do not call unclean what God has made clean” He says to Peter in this vision.  Peter realizes that God is calling the Church to bring the Good News of Jesus to the Gentiles as well, that the people of God are no longer divided by race or even land, but by those who believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and those who do not.

While some may contend that this really isn’t that important of an event, I would like to point out that it is this event right here that we all, or at least probably 99% of all Christians can find to be a common link to us as we are all “Gentiles” by birth.  There are many points throughout Jesus’ life in which we read of Him being called specifically to the “lost sheep of Israel.”  However, as Israel was to be a light to the nations, representing them before God, so to was Jesus a representative of all humanity before God and through Him all people everywhere have been offered this gift of grace.  For most of us, though we can trace our spiritual ancestry back to the death of Jesus on the Cross, of course, find that it is here in which the “spiritual family tree” begins to split off… it is here that that the Gospel of Jesus Christ moves outward from Judea and Samaria unto the ends of the earth.



Day 320: Acts 7-8; Stephen, Persecution, and Scattering

Today’s post, at least as I write it, is going to be mostly not my voice.  I think that what Stephen says here is probably one of the most important speeches in the Bible with the exception of the teachings of Jesus Himself.  Stephen, filled with the Holy Spirit rehashes the whole story of God’s faithfulness throughout the history of the Jewish people and how He has brought them to this point.  He lays out for them all the things that have happened, the things that are recorded in the Law and the Prophets, of which these folks are supposedly experts, and how they all lead up to Jesus.  I have marked a lot of the names and parts of the grand narrative of the Bible that Stephen really covers, linking them all of what we talked about in the first month of this journey through the Bible, and also some of the narratives of Joshua, David, and Solomon.  I encourage you to re-read this speech and as you do create some space for yourself to remember these stories, remember what we talked about, and remember all that God has indeed done to bring them to this point right now.  We have the opportunity right now to take a step back and, rather than reading individual portions of Scripture, to see if from a “bird’s eye view,” or perhaps more appropriately a “God’s eye view” of all that has taken place.

Apart from this speech, and the subsequent stoning of Stephen, we read of the scattering of the believers, the movement out of Jerusalem because of the great persecution that begins and takes place.  While this may see horrible, at least on the surface, for those of us that are reading it, this scattering actually facilitated the spreading of the early Church outside the city of Jerusalem into the areas of Judea and Samaria, just as Jesus says at the beginning of Acts.  Though their center still remains in Jerusalem, where the Apostles mostly stay, the outward movement that is precipitated by this persecution is really the beginning of the movement outward towards the “ends of the earth.”  Notice too that immediately we read that people are coming to faith outside of Jerusalem because of the preaching that is taking place.  The Holy Spirit is alive and well and very much at work in all that is going on here!

And Stephen said:

“Brothers and fathers, hear me. The God of glory appeared to our father Abraham when he was in Mesopotamia, before he lived in Haran, and said to him, ‘Go out from your land and from your kindred and go into the land that I will show you.’  Then he went out from the land of the Chaldeans and lived in Haran. And after his father died, God removed him from there into this land in which you are now living.  Yet he gave him no inheritance in it, not even a foot’s length, but promised to give it to him as a possession and to his offspring after him, though he had no child.  And God spoke to this effect—that his offspring would be sojourners in a land belonging to others, who would enslave them and afflict them four hundred years.  ‘But I will judge the nation that they serve,’ said God, ‘and after that they shall come out and worship me in this place.’  And he gave him the covenant of circumcision. And so Abraham became the father of Isaac, and circumcised him on the eighth day, and Isaac became the father of Jacob, and Jacob of the twelve patriarchs.

And the patriarchs, jealous of Joseph, sold him into Egypt; but God was with him and rescued him out of all his afflictions and gave him favor and wisdom before Pharaoh, king of Egypt, who made him ruler over Egypt and over all his household.  Now there came a famine throughout all Egypt and Canaan, and great affliction, and our fathers could find no food.  But when Jacob heard that there was grain in Egypt, he sent out our fathers on their first visit.  And on the second visit Joseph made himself known to his brothers, and Joseph’s family became known to Pharaoh.  And Joseph sent and summoned Jacob his father and all his kindred, seventy-five persons in all.  And Jacob went down into Egypt, and he died, he and our fathers,  and they were carried back to Shechem and laid in the tomb that Abraham had bought for a sum of silver from the sons of Hamor in Shechem.

“But as the time of the promise drew near, which God had granted to Abraham, the people increased and multiplied in Egypt until there arose over Egypt another king who did not know Joseph.  He dealt shrewdly with our race and forced our fathers to expose their infants, so that they would not be kept alive.  At this time Moses was born; and he was beautiful in God’s sight. And he was brought up for three months in his father’s house, and when he was exposed, Pharaoh’s daughter adopted him and brought him up as her own son.  And Moses was instructed in all the wisdom of the Egyptians, and he was mighty in his words and deeds.

“When he was forty years old, it came into his heart to visit his brothers, the children of Israel.  And seeing one of them being wronged, he defended the oppressed man and avenged him by striking down the Egyptian.  He supposed that his brothers would understand that God was giving them salvation by his hand, but they did not understand. And on the following day he appeared to them as they were quarreling and tried to reconcile them, saying, ‘Men, you are brothers. Why do you wrong each other?’  But the man who was wronging his neighbor thrust him aside, saying,‘Who made you a ruler and a judge over us?  Do you want to kill me as you killed the Egyptian yesterday?’  At this retort Moses fled and became an exile in the land of Midian, where he became the father of two sons.

“Now when forty years had passed, an angel appeared to him in the wilderness of Mount Sinai, in a flame of fire in a bush.  When Moses saw it, he was amazed at the sight, and as he drew near to look, there came the voice of the Lord:  ‘I am the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham and of Isaac and of Jacob.’ And Moses trembled and did not dare to look.  Then the Lord said to him, ‘Take off the sandals from your feet, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.  I have surely seen the affliction of my people who are in Egypt, and have heard their groaning, and I have come down to deliver them. And now come, I will send you to Egypt.’

“This Moses, whom they rejected, saying, ‘Who made you a ruler and a judge?’—this man God sent as both ruler and redeemer by the hand of the angel who appeared to him in the bush.  This man led them out, performing wonders and signs in Egypt and at the Red Sea and in the wilderness for forty years.  This is the Moses who said to the Israelites, ‘God will raise up for you a prophet like me from your brothers.’  This is the one who was in the congregation in the wilderness with the angel who spoke to him at Mount Sinai, and with our fathers. He received living oracles to give to us.  Our fathers refused to obey him, but thrust him aside, and in their hearts they turned to Egypt, saying to Aaron, ‘Make for us gods who will go before us. As for this Moses who led us out from the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.’  And they made a calf in those days, and offered a sacrifice to the idol and were rejoicing in the works of their hands.  But God turned away and gave them over to worship the host of heaven, as it is written in the book of the prophets:

“‘Did you bring to me slain beasts and sacrifices,
    during the forty years in the wilderness, O house of Israel?
You took up the tent of Moloch
    and the star of your god Rephan,
    the images that you made to worship;
and I will send you into exile beyond Babylon.’

“Our fathers had the tent of witness in the wilderness, just as he who spoke to Moses directed him to make it, according to the pattern that he had seen.  Our fathers in turn brought it in with Joshua when they dispossessed the nations that God drove out before our fathers. So it was until the days of David, who found favor in the sight of God and asked to find a dwelling place for the God of Jacob.  But it was Solomon who built a house for him.  Yet the Most High does not dwell in houses made by hands, as the prophet says,

“‘Heaven is my throne,
    and the earth is my footstool.
What kind of house will you build for me, says the Lord,
    or what is the place of my rest?
Did not my hand make all these things?’

“You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you always resist the Holy Spirit. As your fathers did, so do you.  Which of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? And they killed those who announced beforehand the coming of the Righteous One, whom you have now betrayed and murdered, you who received the law as delivered by angels and did not keep it.”



Day 319: Acts 5-6; If This Is From God…

Today we continue in watching as the Holy Spirit continues to work in the lives of the Apostles and the disciples that are are joining the ranks of believers in the early church.  It seems like anytime someone opens their mouth in these chapters, hundreds and hundreds of people come to faith!  What an amazing time this must have been for the Apostles and all the people to be witnesses to these happenings!

As I was reading these chapters today, I honestly had the thought that all of what is happening here could be summed up by the short speech given by a man named Gamaliel, one of the teachers of the law.  He points out to an enraged group of religious leaders that what the believers were doing was from God, there was nothing they would be able to do to stop it and they would actually be opposing God.  Here’s what he says,

Men of Israel, take care what you are about to do with these men.  For before these days Theudas rose up, claiming to be somebody, and a number of men, about four hundred, joined him. He was killed, and all who followed him were dispersed and came to nothing.  After him Judas the Galilean rose up in the days of the census and drew away some of the people after him. He too perished, and all who followed him were scattered.  So in the present case I tell you, keep away from these men and let them alone, for if this plan or this undertaking is of man, it will fail; but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them. You might even be found opposing God!

The man’s wisdom is insurmountable.  If there is something going on that is from God, it will lats and will be unstoppable.  The Spirit cannot be quenched.  I think this is a level of wisdom that we as believers often lack in our faith and in the ministries that we do.  We have this notion that all the ministries that take place in the church are contingent on our being a part of them.  We worry about funds, about volunteers, about new ministries that are coming in that might take people away.  Yet too often we don’t stop and take the time to talk to God about it or even consider if He is present in the ministry.  If we are to be about the Lord’s work in our lives and in the life of the Church and He is truly with us, nothing will be able to stop it.  Nothing is impossible with God.

While there are a couple narratives at the beginning of our reading that continue with the themes from yesterday and the general sense of wonder and awe of the things going on in these early days of the Church, I want to take a brief look at the narrative of the first deacons being chosen.  This happening marks the first rumblings of a formal church governmental structure, an hierarchy in which there are some that are in charge of particular tasks at hand.  The role of the Deacon in the RCA, the denomination that I come from, is laid out as being one who is concerned with the physical needs of those inside and outside of the church.  It lines up very nicely with what we see these men being selected for.  They bring food to the hungry, take care of the orphans and the widows, even take care of all the donations and dole them out as is necessary.

While what I am saying may seem self-evident, and perhaps it is, what we don’t often see in this part of Scripture is that it isn’t just these people in leadership that are doing the work.  In this day and age there were, of course, people that were new to the faith, people that had followed Jesus Himself, and everyone in between.  What we see here is that some of the more mature people that were filled with the Holy Spirit were chosen as leaders, to lead in the ministry of the Church.  This doesn’t mean that they were chosen to be the only doers of ministry, but that they would be the guides and the point people for doing ministry (in this case handing out food).  The church in North America has gotten into a bad and lazy habit of thinking that it is the church leaders that are responsible for doing the ministry and it is the congregation who are responsible for consuming a “religious product” if you will.  We seem to think that once we elect people to the different offices of the Church we are then exempt from doing any sort of work in it because they will do it for us.  We can just sit back and enjoy (or complain about) the worship services and the Sunday School classes.  This is simply not the way that things were set up.

The Christian life is one of active discipleship in which we participate in the life of the Church and the Body of Christ here on earth.  While there are some that are called to be leaders of this particular calling, it doesn’t exempt any congregant from opting out of the ministry.  Christianity, following Jesus as your Lord and Savior is not a sideline sport.  In fact, the only people sitting on the sidelines watching us should be those who have not yet joined the team… and those are the people that we should be serving, witnessing to, and showing the love of Christ Jesus to day in and day out as we live in faithful obedience and enormous gratitude for the Grace and blessings that we have received in Christ Jesus.



Day 318: Acts 3-4; What We Have Seen and Heard

So the Church has begun to grow and the Spirit of the Lord is alive, active, and moving throughout the believers and the Apostles as they preach the Gospel and heal.  The first narrative that we read today is so very interesting.  I have to wonder what Peter and John were thinking, or if they were even thinking when they encountered this lame man.  How did the Spirit work through them?  Or did it just come to them and they went for it, like calling an audible on offense or something.  When I read this I envision two men walking through the Temple gate with their eyes set on where they were going until they were distracted by the faint, distant voice of a man asking for money.  This voice is not distant because of any physical distance, but because of their focus on the task at hand, yet suddenly it is very near and very real.  They stop, turn, and look directly at the broken man.  Without missing a beat Peter says, “I have no silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk!”  He grabs the man by the hand a pulls him up.  I wonder if there was some interaction here, or if they just turned and went on their way like it was nothing.  I wonder if they invited the man to go with them or if he just followed them because he was so excited.  In any case, what we are seeing here is only the beginning of the Church’s continuation of bringing the wholeness, healing, forgiveness of Jesus, the very elements of the Kingdom of Heaven into reality here on earth.

From there, as they walk into the Temple, all the people see the beggar and are in aw of his ability to walk.  Peter is once again filled with the Holy Spirit as we get the second sermon preached by Peter in as many chapters:

Men of Israel, why do you wonder at this, or why do you stare at us, as though by our own power or piety we have made him walk?  The God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, the God of our fathers, glorified his servant Jesus, whom you delivered over and denied in the presence of Pilate, when he had decided to release him. But you denied the Holy and Righteous One, and asked for a murderer to be granted to you, and you killed the Author of life, whom God raised from the dead. To this we are witnesses.  And his name—by faith in his name—has made this man strong whom you see and know, and the faith that is through Jesus has given the man this perfect health in the presence of you all.
And now, brothers, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did also your rulers.  But what God foretold by the mouth of all the prophets, that his Christ would suffer, he thus fulfilled.  Repent therefore, and turn back, that your sins may be blotted out, that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that he may send the Christ appointed for you, Jesus, whom heaven must receive until the time for restoring all the things about which God spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets long ago.  Moses said, ‘The Lord God will raise up for you a prophet like me from your brothers. You shall listen to him in whatever he tells you.  And it shall be that every soul who does not listen to that prophet shall be destroyed from the people.’  And all the prophets who have spoken, from Samuel and those who came after him, also proclaimed these days.  You are the sons of the prophets and of the covenant that God made with your fathers, saying to Abraham, ‘And in your offspring shall all the families of the earth be blessed.’ God, having raised up his servant, sent him to you first, to bless you by turning every one of you from your wickedness.”

Because of what happened the religious leaders arrested Peter, John, and the no-longer lame man, however we read that because of what had happened and the testimony of Peter almost 5,000 people became believers!  I think that this is so crazy to us, sometimes it doesn’t even compute!  Do we expect that when we hear the Word of God on a Sunday morning that people are going to become believers?  Somehow I think that we would claim to hope that this would happen, even though we don’t expect that it will…

In any case, the next day the religious leaders question Peter, John, and the no-longer lame man and Peter once again is filled with the Holy Spirit and speaks to them in such a way that they cannot find any fault.  This whole scene has a lot of echoes back to the questioning of Jesus, except this time the people are all for Peter and John, not against them as they were against Jesus.  The religious leaders find themselves in a very unfamiliar and uncomfortable predicament.

Rulers of the people and elders, if we are being examined today concerning a good deed done to a crippled man, by what means this man has been healed, let it be known to all of you and to all the people of Israel that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead—by him this man is standing before you well.  This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone.  And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.

When it comes down to it, even with the aid of the Holy Spirit, Peter and John are both witnessing to what they have seen, heard, and experienced in their lives.  While they have the wonderful pleasure of seeing it unfold before them, it is the boldness for the faith and the work of the Holy Spirit that is speaking through them.  Friends, this is the same Holy Spirit that has been placed in our hearts as well.  I am speaking from a purely North American context, but we don’t speak with half the amount of conviction or faith that Peter and John speak and we have experienced the grace, love, and forgiveness of Jesus in very much the same way.  More than this though, we don’t have any fear of reprisal here… NONE whatsoever.  We are free to preach, to speak, to testify to the faith that has been given us!  We can tell people what we have seen, heard, and experienced as well and we do so with such timidity…  The Holy Spirit has been poured out on us!  We have experienced Jesus’ saving grace!  We are given the opportunity to speak each and every day to those around us!  Brothers and Sisters testify to the grace of Christ!  Fear not for God is with you!



Day 317: Acts 1-2; Introduction to Acts

We turn a corner today, from the Gospels to the only book that is classified as a historical book in the New Testament; the book of Acts.  Sometimes called “The Acts of the Apostles” this book that is written by the same author as the book of Luke chronicles the early founding and expansion of the “Church,” or perhaps better stated the Church of Jesus Christ.  Many would contend that the Church has been present since the beginning of time in the people of God, however the Church in its current context includes both Jews and Gentiles in a new form that wasn’t necessarily present before the Incarnation of Christ Jesus.  As this book is a continuation of the book of Luke, written by the same author to the same person, we should remember at the end of Luke we left the disciples and followers of Jesus on the mount of Olives where Jesus “departed” from them.  He had promised to send the Holy Spirit, which is elaborated on in Acts 1:

It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority.  But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.

It is from this point that we then being our journey of the first 30 or so years of the new movement that, for a long time, was called “The Way.”  We read a short narrative of what happened to Judas the betrayer and how they filled his position within the group of Apostles with Matthias who brings their numbers back to the full 12, but then is not heard from again.  I often wonder what role he played in the early church.

From there we come to what many people consider the “birthday” of the Church, the day of Pentecost.  There are a lot of interesting details about this day that we don’t often focus on.  In our contemporary context, the focus has been placed (and rightly so) on the out-pouring of the Holy Spirit onto all of the believers which, for all intents and purposes, ushered in the “church age” and began the movement of believers spreading the Gospel throughout the entire world.  This day, however, is actually also Jewish holiday when the Hebrew people celebrated the giving of the Law to Moses on Mount Sinai.  It is certainly interesting and somewhat ironic that the Lord would chose this day as the one to pour out the Holy Spirit onto the believers of Christ Jesus and begin the Gospel movement.

As we talked about yesterday, the coming of the Spirit brought about a dramatic reversal of the happening of the tower of Babel.  For the first time (arguably) since the confusing of the languages, the Word of God and the good news of Jesus Christ was heard in every tongue, the Grace and Mercy of God was revealed to all people!  This was the first sermon, if you don’t count the teachings of Jesus, in the New Testament and it flowed directly from the Holy Spirit.  More over, on the day that the people celebrated the giving of the Law, something that had been used as a tool of condemnation and repression in the spiritual lives of the Jews, the Gospel of Grace through the blood of Jesus Christ!  The result?  About 3,000 people were brought to faith that day!  I’d say that is a good first day’s work for Peter’s first day preaching.

Finally, we start to get a glimpse of what the early church looked like in these first weeks and months as they gathered and grew in Jerusalem.  There are many people and churches that think that this is the model of how the Church should be operating even now in the 21st century.  While what they were doing was all well and good for that time, we have to understand that what we are reading here is coming out of a particular context and they were doing these things for a particular reason.  There are certain principles that have been carried throughout history and tradition as being a necessary part of what it means to “do church,” like being devoted to the Word and prayer, even breaking bread together in some instances, but there are other things that have changed throughout the years, and that is okay too.  The point and purpose of this writing has more to do with the fact that the Holy Spirit has been pours out and God is continuing His work with His people to be a light to the nations.  What we are seeing here and what we will continue to see is how the Holy Spirit is moving and working in the lives of believers to spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ from Jerusalem to Judea to Samaria, and to the ends of the earth… a calling that is still at the very core of the Church today.



Day 316: John 20-21; The Purpose of This Book

The last two chapters of the book of John cover the Resurrection and post-Resurrection appearances of Jesus.  Apart from the narrative of the road to Emmaus and the accounts of Jesus’ ascension in the other Gospels, the Gospel of John records the most post-Resurrection appearance accounts of Jesus.  Nestled within these appearances is John’s overall conclusion to his Gospel writing, a section that we have labeled as “the Purpose of this Book.”

Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.

He also writes at the end of chapter 21:

This is the disciple who is bearing witness about these things, and who has written these things, and we know that his testimony is true.
Now there are also many other things that Jesus did. Were every one of them to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written.

It is from these two statements that we can read through all of the rest of these two chapters.  John had been writing His account of Jesus’ life to show that He was indeed the divine Son of God.  Now this has been proven in Jesus’ resurrection, John’s focus is both on showing everyone that this is true by virtue of what Jesus had said about Himself and the witnesses of Jesus after His death.  More than this though, John is writing that those who are reading this account would believe the good news of Jesus and, as we have just read, that by believing you may have life in His name.

So in Matthew 28, we read the narrative of the two women going to the tomb of Jesus on Sunday morning.  Here we pick up that story seeing Mary Magdalene at the tomb early in the morning and finding that the stone had been rolled away.  She runs and gets the other disciples and Peter and “the other disciple” who was likely John run to the tomb.  After going in and not being sure about what was going on, they head home and Mary remains in the garden.  She runs into Jesus but doesn’t recognize Him, thinking He is the gardener.  This is a huge point that John is trying to make, something that I don’t think we often pick up on.  Jesus had just recently called God the “vine dresser” or the “gardener,” so Mary’s saying this really isn’t that far off.  Here she is in a garden, talking to the creator of the world without even knowing it… it is a beautiful image that has major symbolic echoes of the Garden of Eden.  John is subtly communicating what Jesus has done here, and he is very carefully drawing us back to the very beginning… a return to Eden.

All of what has taken place has been to undo what has been done to the earth that He created.  Isaiah foresaw this as well in His vision in Isaiah 2.  From Eden, sin entered the world.  People had been cast out of God’s presence.  The relationship between God and humanity had been broken.  Later tools that were used for being productive were used to kill in the narrative of Cain and Abel.  From there evil increased until finally God scattered the nations of the earth, confusing their languages.  What we begin to see here as we look at the whole picture of the resurrection, ascension, and Pentecost is a systematic undoing of all these things.  The languages of the world would be brought back together as the Holy Spirit is given (more on this tomorrow), Isaiah sees that all would once again flow into the presence of the Lord AND they would turn their weapons of war back into instruments of production, and now once again we see one standing in the garden, weeping at the loss of her Lord, at the broken relationship and Jesus (God) speaks directly to her and says her very name “Mary!”  At once this relationship is healed, the “Gardener” has been reunited with humanity once again!

Apart from this very moving scene, we see Jesus appearing to many people.  The emphasis here is on believing and sending.  When Jesus appears to the disciples they believed and were given the Holy Spirit, a bit of a precursor to Pentecost (again, more on this tomorrow), yet the one who was not there would not believe.  Jesus appears to Thomas later and points out his doubt, even though Thomas believes at that point, but also blesses those who have not seen Jesus and still believe.  That phrase is addressed specifically to John’s audience I think, being that they would be reading this towards the end of the 1st century.

The final thing that I want to talk about is the interaction between Peter and Jesus at the end of the book.  Remember that Peter denied Jesus three times just as Jesus had foretold.  Remember also that Peter deeply regretted this, the “mightiest” of the disciples was certainly humbled.  I can only imagine the awkwardness that Peter felt that morning at breakfast.  This narrative is commonly called the “reinstatement of Peter,” but really serves to show Jesus’ love and forgiveness to His disciple.  I think that we can draw from this interaction as well.  Peter messed up, most definitely, but Jesus doesn’t change His charge to Peter nor does He withhold love and forgiveness from him.  Jesus asks Peter, “Do you love me?”  Peter replies, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.”  Jesus responds, “Feed my sheep.”

These words are written that you may believe and that in believing you may have life in His name.  Do you love God?  Feed His sheep!