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 260: Hosea 1-4; Hosea, Prophet to Israel

Today we take a chronological step backwards in time to before the time of Isaiah, the exile, and even the judgment of the Northern Kingdom of Israel.  Here we encounter the prophet Hosea, one of the few prophets that we read about as being sent to the kingdom of the north to deliver God’s call to repentance.  If you remember back with me a ways, you’ll remember that Israel was conquered by Assyria in 722 B.C. after a long line of unfaithful, idolatrous and wicked kings.  As a matter of fact, if you remember the books of the Kings, there wasn’t a single good king in the whole existence of the Northern Kingdom, also known as Samaria and Ephraim.  There was only one king that would have been considered “less bad” than the others, but when you have to measure kings on a scale of less bad vs. more bad, you know that its a very bad situation.  For more information on the kings of Israel and its destruction, check out the “Destruction and Exile of Israel.

Hosea the prophet, Russian icon from first qua...

Hosea the prophet, Russian icon from first quarter of 18th cen. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Hosea has a somewhat unique story at the beginning of the book that has to do with his wife and the names of his kids.  God calls Hosea to take a wife from among the prostitutes, an act that would have been… frowned upon in those days to say the least.  Yet Hosea obeys God marries Gomer and ends up having three children with her.  Each of these children are named symbolically for reasons which the Lord spells out to Hosea.  Yet it seems that Gomer, despite her marriage is continually unfaithful to Hosea.  By the Law, this is a sin and a crime that is punishable by divorce at the least and death at the worst.  However, the Lord commands Hosea to go and love his wife despite her adultery, to redeem her and take her home once again and Hosea obeys the Lord.

On the whole, this seems like a very odd story for a prophet, but if we take some time to think about what the prophets were and how they functioned, it may start to make sense.  Ezekiel was commanded to lay on his side for a certain amount of time to represent the length of the judgment for Israel and Judah.  Here Hosea’s actions are also representing things that are going on in the life of Israel.  We have heard the language used here before as well, the people of God are often referred to as His bride and their actions against God are always considered synonymous with prostitution.  The people that God called to Himself to be His people were constantly unfaithful to Him, running off after other gods.  Yet like Hosea and Gomer, God does not simply allow His beloved to run away.  He does not leave her to her prostitution, to her whoring, but He goes to her and brings her back to Himself.  He cleans her up, washing the filth from her body and makes her clean once again.  No more will she wallow in her own filth, desolate and alone.  The language of Hosea 2 is beautiful, God speaking about how He is going to allure her back and speak tenderly to her.

Does it remind you, perhaps, of your own experiences with God?  He never leaves you in the pit of despair, nor will he allow you to wallow in your own sin.  Always calling, always speaking tenderly, bringing you back into His arms and redeeming you.  This is the story of Israel, but it is the story of our lives as well!  God is relentless in pursuing us and will never let us go.