Acts 9 – Saul (aka: Paul)

Read Acts 9

The conversion of Saul, more commonly known in the New Testament as Paul, is arguably the 5th most significant event of the New Testament.  Behind the Birth, Death, Resurrection, and Ascension of Jesus, Paul’s coming to know Jesus Christ as His Lord and Savior has profound repercussions throughout the whole of Christianity.  He is credited with authoring nearly half of the New Testament, all of the books following Acts from Romans through Philemon.  Much of what He wrote also has become the basis for our Theologies and Doctrines in the Church throughout history.

Yet Paul, despite all the depth of relationship that He has with God in Jesus Christ, and with all of the revelation, He receives through the Holy Spirit, remains profoundly humble, truly living into the example the Christ teaches: “He who would be great must be your servant.”  Never once do we see Him lording over others his encounter with Christ, his understanding of the Gospel, or his influence over the church.  Instead, he faithfully preaches the Gospel, plants churches throughout the Roman empire, and lovingly corresponds with them working to help them deepen their faith and understand their identity in Jesus Christ.

As we get to know Paul better over the course of the book of Acts, and later in his own writings, we get the sense that he has a deep understanding of Christ’s work and its meaning.  Maybe it is because of the revelation he receives from God and/or the application of Old Testament Scriptures that he knew well.  But one thing strikes me: never once does he claim to be “ahead” of anyone.  In fact, in the midst of his work, he consistently “counts it all for nothing” for the sake of the Gospel.  This is an example we should follow.



Day 358: 1 John 1-5; That You May Know

As we come to the final epistles of the New Testament, we take a look at the letters that are attributed to the Apostle John.  Once again, it is not entirely known as to whether or not it was indeed the Apostle John, the writer of the Gospel of John, that wrote these letters, or if it was someone within the Johannine community, probably one of John’s disciples, that was writing to those that were in the “Johannine ” churches.  In similar fashion to our denominations today, the churches of the first century had some distinctive features that made them different from each other.  Churches that were started by John may have looked a little different than those that were started by Paul.  It wasn’t as if anything was wrong with one or the other, but it was likely that their worship styles were different and perhaps even some of the teaching emphasis was different as well.  John even makes mention of some of these differences in his first letter here, saying that some of the teachings of Paul were difficult to understand.  It could be that that Johannine churches were composed more of poor and uneducated people rather than of more educated, potentially upper class people that might have made up some of the more Pauline churches.  This would make sense, in some ways, as John himself was a fisherman by trade, where Paul was a religious leader and a Roman citizen.  Fishermen tended to be poorer, where the religious leaders often came from families that were religious leaders and were fairly well off.  In this sense, Paul talks in more of a “high church theology” where John is relating to “less educated” community.

Remember, when we were in the Gospel of John, that His writing was quite simple in nature, not using a lot of difficult grammar, large words, or grand theological concepts.  He does, however write in a way that can be understood easily on the surface but also can be deep and theologically rich.  John is a master of words.

Remember too, in the Gospel of John, that John the Apostle does a great deal of playing with themes, especially with the theme of light and darkness.  It is this theme, in fact, that makes the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ, which will happen tomorrow (at the time of this writing), when the light entered into the world, a light that shines in the darkness and that the darkness cannot overcome.  It is one of the first themes that John brings up here in his letter as well.

This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all.  If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth.  But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.  If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.  If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.  If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.

Again, remember that John’s Gospel, as well as the letters attributed to John, deal with some specific heresies that had arisen in the church.  Like Peter and Paul, John is encouraging the members of his community, and of the churches throughout the world to keep the faith, to hold fast to the Word of God and not listen to these false teachers.  One of the main heresies that he is teaching against is that of Gnosticism, a group of people that had very different beliefs about the work of Jesus, the nature of the psychical and the spiritual, and the notion that there was some sort of “special knowledge” that people needed to be saved, something that was found in places other that Scripture.  John is writing so that his readers, the believers in his communities and in the church would know Jesus is truly the savior and that there isn’t anything special that they have to do.  John 20 gives an end to the Gospel that gives an explanation to this effect.  All we need is Christ, to believe in His name, and in that we will have life, true life in Him.

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.”

John concludes this letter in much the same manner:

I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life.  And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us.  And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of him.



Day 357: 2 Peter 1-3; Trouble from Within

The second letter that is attributed to the Apostle Peter also contains encouragement to resist persecution, yet this time the main focus of his letter is about the trouble that is coming to the Church from within.  At the time of its writing, there were a great many false teachers and false teachings that had arisen from within the church, people that, as Peter says, had taken the writings of Paul and the Scriptures (which at that time would have been the Old Testament and possibly some of the Gospel writings) and twisted them.  These teachings were  fraught with teaching that only leads to their personal gain.  Peter writes:

But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction. And many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of truth will be blasphemed.  And in their greed they will exploit you with false words. Their condemnation from long ago is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep.

These two themes, persecution from outside the church and false teachings from within, have been something that comes up time and time again in the writings of the New Testament.  It is no secret that the spread of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the forgiveness of sins by grace is something that the devil wants nothing to do with.  He works to thwart every advance of the Kingdom of God in every way that he possibly can.  This may sound a bit alarmist to many people, especially now days, but like Peter, I must insist that this is not only something that was going on in the days of the early church, it is something that has been plaguing the church since its beginning and continues to do so now.  Arguably, the church is facing more and more threats of false teaching from within its own walls in the 20th and 21st centuries than it ever has before.  Especially in North America, and in the United States where the freedom of speech that we all cherish protects and even allows people to speak false doctrine at will.  Please hear me on this, I wouldn’t trade the freedom of speech that we have for anything, but what I am saying is that the Church needs to wake up and see that this is happening and continues to happen!

This is now the second letter that I am writing to you, beloved. In both of them I am stirring up your sincere mind by way of reminder, that you should remember the predictions of the holy prophets and the commandment of the Lord and Savior through your apostles, knowing this first of all, that scoffers will come in the last days with scoffing,following their own sinful desires.  They will say, “Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation.”  For they deliberately overlook this fact, that the heavens existed long ago, and the earth was formed out of water and through water by the word of God, and that by means of these the world that then existed was deluged with water and perished.  But by the same word the heavens and earth that now exist are stored up for fire, being kept until the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly.

The Church has done a poor job in recent years of silencing the heretics and false teachers that claim to be ministers of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  Protestant and Catholic denominations have each seen their fair share of groups breaking away from the teachings of the church because of “new revelations” or “a new understanding of the Bible.”  We are familiar with some like Jehovah’s Witness, Seventh Day Adventists, and Mormonism.  Some new teachings that we have begun to encounter are those of the prosperity gospel, people like Joel Osteen who trade the message of the gospel of a “feel good message” through which he makes tons of money.  There have also been other developments within the religious spheres.  Scientology, the Atheist Church, and other like them have sprung up, proclaiming a way to better humanity without any need for God, Jesus, or the Gospel.

These are waterless springs and mists driven by a storm. For them the gloom of utter darkness has been reserved.  For, speaking loud boasts of folly, they entice by sensual passions of the flesh those who are barely escaping from those who live in error.  They promise them freedom, but they themselves are slaves of corruption. For whatever overcomes a person, to that he is enslaved.

While an assault on the moral character of these individuals is not warranted by me, they are certainly sinners in need of grace just as I am, it is important to understand that there is false teaching and heresy that is still very much present among us.  Certainly their rights to say whatever they want to say are protected by the American Constitution, and for that we should be thankful.  This country affords us the ability to worship freely without fear of retribution or persecution from authorities and protects us (or at least it should) from persecution from others as well.  However, though the Bill of Rights doesn’t say this, it should also encourage us to be awake and alert to what we are hearing from the pulpit on any given Sunday.  There is NO Gospel apart from Jesus Christ.  There is NO Salvation apart from the grace of Jesus Christ that we receive through faith.  No amount of money, work, good deeds, or ‘spiritual’ experience can bring us back into right relationship with God.  We are all sinful, we will all continue to sin.  May we understand this and go forth, awake and alert, so that we may not be led astray.



Day 351: Hebrews 1-4; Introduction to Hebrews

Today we make a transition out of the Pauline Epistles and into what is known as the “general epistles.”  These books, Hebrews – 2 Peter, and Jude, are books that are written not to a specific church or person, but rather to the general audience of the Church throughout the Roman empire as it continued to grow and address a variety of issues and subjects, which compliment Paul’s writings well.  Paul is not considered to be the author of any of the general epistles either.  Most of the authors’ names show up in the title, with the exception of the book of Hebrews, whose author is anonymous.

The book of Hebrews is the first and longest of the general epistles.  There has a been a great deal of debate throughout the years about the authorship of this book.  Dr. Robert VanVoorst, in his book Reading the New Testament, points out that there have been many suggestions as to who Hebrews was written by.  Some, though this is not generally accepted anymore, suggest that Paul wrote this book.  This has been largely dismissed due to the major grammatical and stylistic differences between the writing in Hebrews and that of the Pauline letters.  VanVoorst writes, “The first author to cite this epistle was Clement of Rome (around 96 C.E.), although he does not say who wrote it… From the Earliest times in church history, whenever Hebrews’ authorship was mentions there has been great dispute about it.  Tertullian (in the second century) was the first to suggest Barnabas as its author.  The Protestant reformer Martin Luther in the sixteenth was the first to suggest Apollos, and this is a common conclusion today.  Adolf von Harnack, the greatest church historian of the nineteenth century, proposed that Priscilla was the author, which if true would make Hebrews the only NT book to be written by a woman.  (This makes an intriguing explanation for Hebrews’ anonymity.)   All in All, the argument about authorship is full of conjectures.”

While the author may not be known, it is very clear that this letter is written to the Church in general, and especially to Jewish converts to Christianity that might have been backsliding into Judaism.  It could also be that Jewish pressure on the Christian Church was on the rise and this was a letter written by one of the leaders of the Church to encourage those who were facing persecution from the Jews.  Many people think this letter was written in the mid 60’s A.D. because of its many references to the Temple which was destroyed when the Romans put down a Jewish revolt in A.D. 70 and destroyed for the final time, the city of Jerusalem and the Temple.  However, it isn’t abnormal for those writing after A.D. 70 to write as if the Temple of God is still standing, something common because of the beliefs that the Jewish people held about the house of God and the deeper nature of God’s existence and presence.

Though it is fun to know the context in which the letter is written, it is the content which is significantly more important and to which we turn now and for the next couple of days.  In some ways, Hebrews could be seen as an exposition on the speech that Stephen gave in Acts 7, when he was before the counsel of Jewish religious leaders in Jerusalem.  Remember how he walked through the story of the people of Israel and God’s faithfulness, how it all led up to God’s salvation in Jesus Christ, their Messiah?  Well, we see a great deal reference to the Jewish religious systems here in the book of Hebrews as the writer references God’s work in the past and how it points to Jesus as the Messiah and then continues on into what that means for the believers, the Church, and the world.

You can see this general trend even in the beginning chapters of this book, our reading for today.  The author begins by making the point that God isn’t doing something new here, He has always been speaking through various means.  Whether Abraham, Isaiah, Moses, David, or any of the priests that Israel had, God used them to reveal Himself.  Yet now “in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world.  He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs.”  It is not as though God is doing something different here, He continues to speak and reveal Himself, the truest revelation of which comes in the form of Jesus Christ, God’s Son, the Word made Flesh.

We see also that the author is making tons of references to Old Testament Scriptures and again, to Jewish religious systems.  He talks about the high priests, the prophets, Israel’s rejection of God, Joshua, Moses, and Abraham in the first four chapters.  Obviously, whoever was writing this was very acquainted with the Scriptures.  In many ways, one of the messages of the book of Hebrews is the understanding that we can’t fully know or understand Jesus without understanding all that God had been doing in redemptive history to work up to His coming.  As we have said time and time again, the who religious cult of Judaism and the sacrificial rites, the religious structures, the providence of God in their lives, and even the giving of the law all point towards this greater event in the coming of the Messiah.

Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience.  For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.  And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account.



Day 348: 1 Timothy 1-6; Leadership Qualifications

We now enter a set of three books that are commonly called the Pastoral Epistles.  These are a set of letters that Paul wrote to Timothy and Titus towards the end of his life, likely while he was imprisoned in Rome.  Paul, understanding that he is at the point of handing off the leadership of the Church to others, exhorts Timothy and Titus, two primary, second generation believers and leaders in the church about the things that are important as they move into the future.  The Church itself was in a time of transition, as persecution was increasing and the thoughts of the immediate return of Christ were fading, the Church and its leaders had to learn how to function in the world as it worked to spread the Gospel in an extremely hostile and dangerous environment.

Remember that some of the beginnings of Church leadership and governance have already been seen in the book of Acts.  In Acts 6, we see the first selection of the office of deacon, a role that was primarily concerned with the physical well being of the Church and the poor around them.  These were people that are in charge or receiving offerings and gifts and then distributing them to those who have need.  Also in Acts, we see several situations where the church leaders decide things in a greater counsel.  In some ways this was the beginning of what the Reformed Church knows as a “classis” or a “synod,” which are larger bodies with representatives that come from churches within their areas to help govern and maintain order and direction in the greater church.

In my studies this semester I have had the opportunity to read through the Book of Church Order for the Reformed Church in America and some commentaries on it.  While this probably doesn’t sound like an entirely thrilling read, and it wasn’t, I think that it does offer some insight into how the Church, or at least the RCA denomination has taken the words that Paul speaks to Timothy here, and later to Titus, very seriously.  For lack of better things to say, I think I’m just going to encourage you to re-read this portion of 1 Timothy 3 and then I included a portion of the preamble of the RCA Book of Church Order about the leadership offices.  Compare what Paul has to say and what the view of the RCA is.  The emphasis on ordination to the offices within the church is important in the RCA because of what is meant by the word “ordained.”  It comes from the word “to choose” or to “elect,” something that comes from our doctrine of election, something that has a great deal to do with Lord’s choosing of a person of people to accomplish a particular task.  I say this, and so does the RCA, in whatever way conveys the highest amount of humility possible as this is not something to be flaunted, but rather understood as being completely and totally about the work of God in the lives of the people He has chosen, not because of their own excellence or merit.  In any case, let me encourage you again to read and compare the selections below!  I welcome any discussion that they or this might bring!

1 Timothy 3

Qualifications for Overseers

The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task.  Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach,  not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money.  He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church?  He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil.  Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil.

Qualifications for Deacons

Deacons likewise must be dignified, not double-tongued, not addicted to much wine, not greedy for dishonest gain.  They must hold the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience. And let them also be tested first; then let them serve as deacons if they prove themselves blameless.  Their wives likewise must be dignified, not slanderers, but sober-minded, faithful in all things.  Let deacons each be the husband of one wife,managing their children and their own households well.  For those who serve well as deacons gain a good standing for themselves and also great confidence in the faith that is in Christ Jesus.

Preamble of the RCA Book of Church Order

The Reformed churches have sought to follow the practice of the churches whose experience is recorded in the New Testament. The churches then were ruled by “presbyters” or “elders,” just as the synagogues from which the first Christian converts came were ruled by elders. The Reformed churches consider the minister to be an elder of a special kind, called in some churches of the Reformed order, the “teaching elder.” Ministers and elders therefore govern the church together. They also assist in the governing of the larger church by becoming from time to time members of the higher legislative assemblies or courts of the church. Thus also the lines of authority in the Reformed churches move from the local church to the General Synod. This is so since Christ, according to the New Testament, has appointed officers to govern the church under himself. Their authority to govern derives from him even though they are elected by the people. The local churches together delegate authority to classes and synods, and having done so, they also bind themselves to be subject together to these larger bodies in all matters in which the common interests of the many churches are objects of concern.  While governance of the Reformed church is executed through the offices gathered in assemblies, the church expresses its full ministry through all its members in a variety of tasks. Each assembly is charged with determining the nature and extent of its ministry in faithful obedience to Scripture and in responsible concern for the church’s mission in the world. Every member receives a ministry in baptism and is called with the whole church to embody Christ’s intentions for the world.



Day 336: 2 Corinthians 5-7; Ministry of the Body of Christ

It is interesting, as I read this letter, Paul keeps saying things and then making sure that he is clarifying what he is saying as not being something boastful, but rather to make sure that the recipients are understanding that the boasting that is happening is in Christ.  They are not saying anything that is happening is being done of their power, but through the work of the Holy Spirit, all of what is being accomplished is happening.  Paul is also making a great deal of effort to talk about the contrast between our hope for something beyond this world and the work that needs to still be done here.  The whole first part of chapter five is talking about the fact that, while we long to be with God, in our heavenly dwelling, we still need to recognize the fact that we are living in this earthly tent.  I think he is drawing on some of his other writings here when he is talking about walking by faith and not by sight.  At other times in the New Testament he talks about seeing God in the life to come, which will certainly make following God a lot easier.  For now though, we live and work in this world by faith in God through the Holy Spirit and we need to keep this in mind.

Paul goes on from here to talk about the ministry of the body of Christ here on earth.  As I was reading this I was thinking of Jesus’ high priestly prayer in John 17, how He prays for His disciples to be in the world but not of the world.  In many ways, they are to be what the people of Israel were to be in the world, the mediators between earth and heaven.  Jesus’ disciples and the Church were never meant to be people that withdraw from the world and don’t interact with it.  Neither are we supposed to be so intertwined with the world that we are unrecognizable from all those around us.  We are called to be “priests” of sorts, mediating between heaven and earth.  Paul puts a label on this as well: reconciliation.  This is really the crux of what Jesus came to do as well, in being justified through His blood, we are reconciled to God and put back in right relationship with Him.  Obviously that is not fully realized in the here and now, but it is the reality in which we live, reconciled in relationship to God.

He continues talking about this new reality, showing that not only are we reconciled in a sort of declarative way (like when someone is declared not guilty in a trial), we are made new in spirit as well.  In one of his more famous writings Paul says, “therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation;  that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation.”  It isn’t a simple change of thought towards us from God, we are actually a new creation!  The old is gone… the NEW has come!

So what are we to do with this?  Paul talks about this in terms of the ministry of Christ on earth.  If this is the case, which it is, then it is to be our ministry on earth as well.  While we cannot do for other what Christ did for us, we are called to spread this good news to all people in Matthew 28!  This is the means by which we can participate in the ministry of reconciliation that Christ began here on earth.  Sure, there are a number of ways that we can do things in the social sphere to help those who are less fortunate, feed the hungry, stand up for the orphan and the widow as the people of God are supposed to do.  However, none of it really amounts to a hill of beans if we aren’t spreading the Gospel of Jesus Christ to all that we meet.

Part of what Paul has to say today as well is a direct draw from the Old Testament.  Remember yesterday Paul was talking about the New Covenant and its superiority to the Old Covenant, yet we see here that Paul is drawing from the very basis of the Old Covenant as He talks about how believers should be living.  What is the Old Covenant?  “I will make my dwelling among them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.  Therefore go out from their midst, and be separate from them, says the Lord, and touch no unclean thing; then I will welcome you, and I will be a father to you, and you shall be sons and daughters to me, says the Lord Almighty.”  This is fulfilled in Jesus Christ through the reconciliation that He brings.  In Him, the Holy Spirit has been sent and God indeed dwells among us, in our hearts, and God is indeed our God.  Moreover, we wait for the day when this covenant will be fully realized, when Christ comes again and God dwells among us physically and forever.



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 307: John 1-3; Introduction to and Prologue of John

Today we come to the Gospel of John, the fourth and final Gospel in the New Testament.  John’s Gospel was the last of the four that were written and is not considered to be one of the “synoptic Gospels.”  Much of what is written in John is unique from Matthew, Mark, and Luke, and doesn’t follow in the same order as them.  This is not to say that the Gospel of John is in some way, incorrect, but instead takes yet another perspective of Jesus life from presumably one of His closest disciples.  John is writing in an effort to prove once and for all that Jesus the Divine Son of God.  Not only that though, John sought to show His readers, which were likely some of the Church’s that are mentioned at the beginning of the book of Revelation, that Jesus was indeed God almighty as well, the creator of the world who took on human flesh and ultimately sacrificed Himself for the salvation of His beloved children, and ultimately all of creation.

John begins his writing with a beautiful prologue that we have the opportunity to read today.  It is one of the most theologically rich writings in all of Scripture if you ask me.  In some ways, it is a genius move on John’s part, starting with the main point of His writing, almost as a theological plateau or mountain top from which we can look down and survey the whole of the rest of the Gospel (and most of Scripture too actually).  To be honest, I think we could spend a month talking through the prologue of John, and then venture carefully into the rest of His writing, however we aren’t given that amount of time.  So instead we will indeed use this scripture as the point from which we look out over the whole of the next 9 day’s readings, always keeping in mind the dual nature of Jesus on earth.  He is both fully human and fully Divine!  Too often we tend to divide up God and we forget that though we have a Triune God with three persons, Father, Son and Spirit, God is also one and Jesus being God means that God came here to earth and took on human flesh.

The book of John is divided up into two different sections after this first chapter: the Book of Signs and the Book of Glory.  In the first half of the Gospel of John, we specifically see a focus on Jesus’ miracles, in (arguably) seven signs, which are Jesus’ miracles, that are performed as John establishes Jesus Divinity in human form.  We see clearly that Jesus, though a man, has divine abilities and powers over creation.  In some ways, Jesus is also “recreating” many things, showing the true nature of creation and the Kingdom of God in small but important ways.  The wedding of Cana, which is Jesus’ first sign is one of these miracles where Jesus both does something miraculous but also shows the nature of His love and the Kingdom of God in the abundance of what he creates and what it comes from.  These basins were wash basins for those that had to go and “relieve” themselves at the party.  The Jewish community would have considered that water to be completely dirty and unclean.  Yet Jesus takes the dirty and makes it clean.  You can definitely see some of clear foreshadowing to the Lord’s supper here, with the wine that Jesus creates and gives to all the people.  Again, taking the unclean and making it clean.

Notice too, in our reading today, the interplay that John sets up between darkness and light.  There are many of these types of interplay that happen in the book of John.  He is a masterful writer, blending many themes together throughout the whole of His writing, even carrying them on into His letters which we will read in about a month.  John works on making many distinctions between what was before Jesus and what was after.  The unclean and the clean at the wedding of Cana is just one example.  The darkness and the light that we see in chapter one as well.  In chapter three we also see a bit of the interplay between flesh (before) and spirit (after), and John lay this out very well without giving into some of the Gnostic teachings of the time that said that flesh was ultimately bad.  John does not say this, but points to a time when the Spirit will be in our flesh, in much the same way that he points to God incarnate in flesh through Jesus Christ.

As we begin our short journey through John, I think its important to know that John’s book is in many ways one of the most important theological books of the Bible.  I know that this is a difficult thing to say and I wouldn’t even discount the rest of Scripture, however John makes some very specific theological moves in His book that are very important for us as Christians.  While they are present in other places throughout the Bible and especially in the New Testament, John does a great job of weaving them in deeply in His writing.  The whole book of John is worth reading over and over.  We many only have a little time to cover each days’ reading (and I’m sorry if my posts get long these next few days, but there is just so much to say), but it’s still completely worth the read.  John’s Gospel is like a swimming pool: you can play in the shallow end and still get pretty wet, or you can dive down deep into the deep and get soaked.  My prayer this week is that we get as soaked as we possibly can in the good news of Jesus Christ as revealed in the book of John!



Day 290: Mark 1-3; Intro To The Gospel of Mark

Today we begin reading the second of the four Gospels, that which is said to be written by John Mark who was an associate of Peter, Paul, and Barnabus in the book of Acts.  Chronologically speaking, it is held that Mark was likely the first of the four gospels to be written and was directed towards Gentile Christians, possibly in Rome, who were facing persecution for their faith.  The book of Mark is very different from the book of Matthew in the way that it is set up.  Mark is focused primarily on the information about what happened in Jesus life, offering knowledge to those that might not know the story of Jesus.  He doesn’t spend a great deal of time linking Jesus to the Old Testament prophecies like Matthew, in an attempt to prove to the Jews that Jesus is the Messiah, but rather makes a statement right at the beginning relating what is to come to what has already come to pass.  In this way, Mark has shown the reader that this is not something out of the blue but it is a continuation of the story of God from Israel through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.  This would have been a major encouragement to those who were dealing with the difficulties and persecutions as they could relate to not only to Jesus suffering and death, but also to His resurrection and ultimately look forward to His return as well.

The Gospel of Mark has almost the feel of a news reporter, jumping from one event to the next seamlessly and immediately.  As a matter of fact, one way to know that you are reading the Gospel of Mark without looking at the reference is to look for the word “immediately” or “suddenly.”  Mark’s writing often takes the feel of ‘and then Jesus did this… and then Jesus said that… and then Jesus healed…”  There is very little temporal understanding of what happens in between because it is not entirely critical to the message of Jesus life.

What we do see from Mark is the setup of Jesus as a powerful healer, teacher, and servant who is spreading the good news of the Kingdom of Heaven wherever He goes.  This can be seen right away in chapter one of Mark.  Jesus waists no time after He is baptized and goes into the wilderness.  He immediately comes back and starts teaching and healing and calling people back to God.  What we see immediately too is that as soon as He does, the religious leaders of Israel are opposed to Him.  What I thought was interesting about this was the fact that the people saw Jesus’ teaching as one that had authority, more so than that of the ‘leaders’ of the time.  Mark contrasts Jesus’ authority with that of the religious leaders right away in the healing and exorcism that He performs.  The crowds are amazed not that there is a spirit in the man (for this would have been relatively commonplace for their worldview) but that the spirit listens to Jesus without question or hesitation.

Mark also works to set up Jesus as being the Messiah, the Savior of the world with authority above that of the Law.  Though Jesus wasn’t one to intentionally go out and break the Law, He is constantly and consistently explaining and showing the religious leaders the true nature of the Law rather than their foolish interpretations of it.  Jesus is setting Himself not as an alternate way to the Law but as the fulfillment of it in its truest form.  This will continue to be important as we move through Mark and the rest of the New Testament as well.  There is a growing movement of people in the Church that think that the New Testament is all we need and the Old Testament is simply defunct and out of date because of the coming of Jesus.  A careful reading of any of the Gospels and the New Testament will make it clear that, as Jesus says, He “has not come to abolish the Law, but to fulfill it.”  May we keep this in mind as we continue our journey through God’s Word.



Day 249: Ezekiel 32-33; How We Live and Die

While I don’t think it is the main part of our reading today, it certainly is a very prominent and important part of how we think about sin, forgiveness and righteousness when in comes to Christian Theology.  Most of the other writing that we read today is fairly familiar as it seems to be repeated prophecy or words of lament for Pharaoh, whom we spoke of yesterday.  But in the middle of chapter 33, after the Lord reiterated to Ezekiel his position as the watchman of Israel and all the comes along with that, God’s word on salvation, forgiveness, and righteousness comes screaming through the prophesies of judgment that surround it.  What does God say about this?  In so many words: “none of the good that you do can save you from your sinfulness.”

I know that this isn’t the only place in the Bible which the Lord reveals to us that there is nothing that we as humans can do to earn our own righteousness, but if I think about those that write about it in the New Testament, specifically Paul, I have to imagine that he is probably drawing from the Old Testament Scriptures which likely would include this.

The righteousness of the righteous shall not deliver him when he transgresses, and as for the wickedness of the wicked, he shall not fall by it when he turns from his wickedness, and the righteous shall not be able to live by his righteousness when he sins. Though I say to the righteous that he shall surely live, yet if he trusts in his righteousness and does injustice, none of his righteous deeds shall be remembered, but in his injustice that he has done he shall die. 

Paul writes in Romans that “there is no one righteous, no not one,” this is the beginning of the Calvinistic thought of Total Depravity.  God says that when the wicked turn from their sin towards righteousness, they will live, but when a righteous person sins, by that they will die.  Whether or not you are a Calvinist, we understand that the human race is mired in sin and is, by its very nature, completely unable to not sin.  By Ezekiel’s own words, this means that we are going to die.  This is the prophecy that he delivers to Israel here.  No one can ride the coattails of another’s righteousness, nor can they trust their own righteousness for salvation.

There is nothing new in this statement though, despite the claim of injustice.  People could say, “How can God treat people this way?”  Yet it is not at all contrary to the nature of God who is Holy and wholly opposed to sin, Just, and the true measure of righteousness.  These words though, life so many of the words of the Old Testament also pave the way both for the need of Christ and the salvation by the grace that is offered to all through His blood on the cross.  It is clear here that there is no one that, on their own merit, will be able to escape the coming destruction and judgment.  God says, “O house of Israel, I will judge each of you according to his ways.”  Indeed this is true for us as it was true for Israel and every nation around Israel that faced the judgment of God.  Only through the blood of Jesus, having righteousness imputed upon us through our belief in Him can we receive the grace of God and be saved from our sinful ways.