Text: Romans 3-4 (Ps 134)
Observe Romans 3 begins with a Q & A, Paul asking and responding.
Q: What advantage is there to being a Jew, if the law can't keep them from God's judgment for their sin?
A: They have the Word of God. God remains faithful to Israel despite her faithlessness, proving His righteousness. But people must not sin more and more, thinking that His grace will increase (1–8).
Q: Are Jews better off than Gentiles?
A: No. Everyone sins; the law doesn't change that. (9–20).
Paul stresses keeping the law can never justify us before God, but faith in Christ by His grace can and does. Jesus died on the cross to atone (pay for) sin; God’s just anger at sin was satisfied in Christ's death[LM1] . God justifies – bestows His righteousness – on those who turn in faith to Jesus (21–28). Everyone can have this gift through faith in Him. (29–31).
Romans 4 explores the example of Abraham and God's remarkable gift of declaring him righteous only by his faith, long before Abraham’s circumcision. Because of this, he is father of all who believe God by faith, a model for us in learning that faith is truly a gift, growing utter trust in Him.
Interpret Romans establishes that everyone is guilty of sin; no one deserves God's forgiveness. Even knowing God's law, we still fail to obey. The only rescue from the penalty we deserve for sin (our death) is the death of Christ, carried by Him on the cross, God’s offer of salvation is for all people who turn to Him -- pretty inclusive!
That big word, ‘propitiation’ means that God’s anger against all sin has been completely put away as far as the east is from the west (Ps.103:12), as Jesus paid the price for our sin by His death. Our Father sees Jesus standing in for us, shielding us. We are forgiven, and truly His.
Q As 21st century believers, how do we remain right with God?
A As 1st century Paul insisted, by repentance and faith in Christ. This is true for all time.
We put Him first, giving up imaginary control of our lives, yielding our selves to Him daily. We pray to align ourselves with God and His purposes, the Bible, His Word, our manual for living His life. His grace changes us from the inside out, but that massive renovation is not easy. We have to learn deeply and remember that only Jesus’ death and resurrection secure our right standing before God. There’s no other way.
We’ll be mocked as religious nuts or fanatics, no doubt, but so was Jesus. Our world is hostile to faith, but it is where the cross of Christ is necessary, and effective. Father God longs that everyone would be made righteous in Jesus – so that’s our task, sharing our faith as part of His remaking.
We can’t make ourselves right. God works His righteousness/justice in and through us. Then we can bring His Kingdom to others, knowing the wonder of His freeing, sharing with conviction with those who don’t know Him.
Ask Are judgments I make about others the root of broken relationships and injustice? Can I stand the X-ray of the Word to expose my unrighteous behaviour? Do I rely on God’s grace to change me? Are good works and being a ‘good person’ my idea of ‘faith’?
Pray Lord, Romans is hard going, even reading Paul’s words with much care. I confess I have it so wrong, so often. I like to think deep down that I’m ok, but You know differently. By Your grace in Jesus’ immense, love-driven sacrificial death, help me die to my ways of doing and thinking and living, thankful for His death that bought my salvation. Jesus, take Your rightful place – at the centre of my life.
Sing Ps 134: Chris Juby - A Call to Night Worshippers https://youtu.be/vGtXxFJiEZs
Grace Soon - Behold, Bless the Lord https://youtu.be/LQCiPdKBFhk
Sons of Korah - Lift Your Hands https://youtu.be/sQXeHV49SQU
“For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile. For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed – a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: ‘The righteous will live by faith.’”
Romans 1: 16-17
Romans 1-2 (Psalm 133)
We now move into a focus upon the ‘People of the Kingdom,’ beginning with the book of Romans. I encourage you to first watch the video (click here) to gain an overview of the letter.
Paul begins the letter with the powerful, Good News, of the Gospel which is open to all. The letter’s recipients are living under the menace of Ceaser in a multi-cultural, idol worshipping, promiscuous society. The letter encourages the young Church with the truth of God’s love, power, Spirit and community; a personal visit is desired for mutual encouragement.
The Gospel that Paul outlines (1: 2-6, 16-17, 2: 9-11, 29), is the only answer to the condition of the human heart. Humanity has the knowledge of God within because His truth is plain to see, so there is no excuse. Instead wickedness and godliness abound because humans have chosen to suppress this truth and believe a lie, worshiping created things rather than the creator. This is the root of sin; it is pride, believing we know better than God (1: 18-25).
God then gives us over to our desires which also results in a depraved mind; thinking in a way that is hostile to God as opposed to having the mind of Christ (1: 24, 26, 28). Humanity chooses to live a lie rather than within the truth of God. The results of this choice relate to harmful attitudes and behaviours that war against our souls and fall outside of God’s loving plan for His creation (1: 26-32). All fall under God’s judgement as all will have to give an account before Him (2: 5-16). A judgmental attitude may exist but ultimately all are guilty (2: 1-3). Instead, the letter encourages the readers to understand God’s tolerance, patience and kindness in the Gospel; repentance is called for to receive God’s righteousness and the gift of eternal life (2: 4, 7)
It is easy when reading these chapters to focus in on the matters of sexual immorality and same sex acts, missing the long list of other behaviours. The truth is that Paul teaches, as Jesus does,* that all sexual behaviour outside of marriage is against His will and plan. A further, deeper point is missed with this focus on the symptoms rather than the cause. Choosing to believe that we know better than our creator, ignoring His truth and reality results in God giving us over to our desires and self-rule with all the consequences. Perhaps the worst punishment God can give us is our own way.
Instead, our focus needs to be upon God’s grace in Jesus and His kindness towards us, patiently waiting for us to come to repentance. The power of God awaits a penitent heart in this Gospel, where righteousness and a relationship with God is available by grace through faith.
The Question of Application
What do we believe in life, the truth of God or the lie of self-sufficiency (a belief that we know best)?
Father, there is much to mislead us in life and in our own hearts. By your Spirit help us to see and understand your truth. Reveal the grace of Jesus Christ and enable us to turn to you in repentance and faith and so receive the blessing or your forgiveness and gift of life. In the praise of your Holy Name, Amen.
How Deep the Father’s love for us – Selah
*Jesus taught that all sexual behaviour outside of marriage was against God’s will and plan (the Greek word ‘porneia’ is a catch-all term for sexual behaviour outside of marriage), Mark 7: 20-23. He taught the gift of marriage from God and the gift of celibacy (Matthew 19: 3-12).
This is not a simple subject. Judgement and offence can easily result with careless words and ignorance. Please consider this subject prayerfully and carefully, please speak in grace, truth and love.
Text: Acts 27 - 28
Observe: In the previous chapters, Paul has been tried several times by the Jews in order to stop him from preaching the gospel of Christ, even as he continually proves by scripture how Jesus has fulfilled all the prophecies foretold by the prophets. The Jews still consider him to be a troublemaker and want to condemn him to death, but because he is Roman citizen, the local governor decides to send him to Rome to make his final appeal.
Paul is put the charge of a Centurion named Julius, who takes him, along with some other disciples and various prisoners, aboard a ship in Caesarea on a long voyage to Rome. They make numerous ports of call along the way, but being autumn, the winds seemed always to be against them, and they made very slow progress. In Fair Havens on the Island of Crete, Paul warns the Centurion how dangerous the voyage is becoming. But, because the harbour is not suitable for over-wintering, and on the advice of the ship’s pilot and owner, they continue on, planning to stay in a place called Phoenix. As they continue sailing west, they are battered by hurricane strength winds, and despite taking extraordinary safety measures, they must throw cargo and some of the ship’s tackle overboard to lighten the ship. The storm rages for more than two weeks, and throughout it, Paul encourages the ship’s company to take heart because the Lord had told him that not one member would be lost, although the ship eventually would run aground. Paul even encouraged them eat in order to keep up their strength, and after they had eaten, they even threw the remaining food overboard.
Just as Paul had predicted, ship ran aground on the island of Malta, but everyone survived. The locals showed the survivors usual kindness and built fires to warm them after their shipwreck. While this was going on, a snake bit Paul and the superstitious people thought he must be murderer, but when he was miraculously unharmed, they thought perhaps he was a god instead. While they stayed in Malta, Paul heals a local official’s sick father through prayer, and once word spread of the healing, other people came forward to be healed. After a three month stay, they were resupplied and set sail on a new ship bound for Italy, with a couple more stops along the way.
Their voyage ended in the port of Puteoll, south of Rome, where he was met by some local believers before being moved to Rome. There, he was allowed to live by himself with only one guard assigned to watch him. Once there, he spoke with the Jewish leaders and explained why he was arrested and sent to Rome. They hadn’t heard any of the accusations against him and were interested in hearing what he had to say. Once again, Paul preached the Gospel of Christ and taught from the scriptures as he always did, and once again some people believed and others did not. In his final statement, Paul quoted from Isaiah saying that God’s chosen people would refuse to listen or understand, and so he would go and preach salvation to the Gentiles, who would listen. For the next two years, Paul would welcome anyone who came to him and he preached about Jesus with courage and clarity.
Interpret: God had work for Paul to do in Rome. So all the shenanigans of the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem to convict him of some specious wrongdoing played right into God’s will, and sent Paul on his way to Rome. It was a long and dangerous voyage, fraught with hardship, but Paul never once doubted the Lord’s goodness, and continued to preach the Gospel of Christ, and in the name of the Lord, to perform whatever healing miracles were needed wherever he happened to be. He made the most of each and every opportunity afforded him on this arduous trip. He was a prisoner. He was abused. He endured cold, wind, hunger, high seas, a hurricane, and a shipwreck. And he was bitten by a snake. Now, some people might be somewhat discouraged by these events if they had occurred to them, but not Paul. None of these circumstances presented an obstacle to Paul in sharing the Gospel and talking about the Kingdom of God. He only saw them as new opportunities. The only obstacle that he encountered in all his journeys was the hardness of the people’s hearts. Those whose hearts were willing to listen, became followers of Christ. Those whose hearts were hardened against him, only wanted to be rid of him, and by extension, be rid of the gospel he preached.
Application: One of the reasons we love St. Aidan’s church is because we hear the Gospel of Christ preached every Sunday. No one can come here and say they didn’t hear what Jesus, the Only Begotten Son of God, has done for us. It is a gospel of compassion, love and hope. But it has a difficult side to it as well, one that is opposed to the wisdom of this world, and that too, you will hear preached on a Sunday morning because we preach the whole of the Gospel, not just the nice, comfortable parts.
The wisdom of this world measures success in material ways, by the accumulation of wealth, power and fame. The wisdom of this world puts the “I” (self) into idol. The wisdom of this world puts us at the center of our own little universe. We set ourselves up to be sovereign over all we survey, but in the secret places of our hearts we despair that we will ever be able to deal with all the challenges we face. The bills that keeping coming; our health issues that keep us from enjoying just being alive; our family struggles which consume our energies; the challenges at work that keep piling on the stresses; and a thousand other things that get in the way of the life that we dream about.
But, Jesus knows all about the difficulties we struggle with, and about the world we live in. He has walked the proverbial mile in our shoes, and more. He says in John 16:33, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” He has overcome the trials of this world and He wants to help us deal with our own daily struggles by inviting us into a personal relationship with Him. Matthew 11:28 says, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” We don’t have to do it alone.
Once you know that and believe it in your core, you will want to share that good news with whoever is willing to hear it. But, by believing, preaching, and living the gospel, we will always be opposed by the powers of the world because it threatens the current world view. Yet, regardless of the circumstances we find ourselves in, as disciples of Jesus Christ, God will provide opportunities to for us to share the life-giving good news of the gospel and the means to do it effectively, if we are obedient to Him. And every day, He gives us another opportunity to show the world what it is to be a disciple of Christ. Jesus said, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me”. Luke 9:23.
Questions: Are you in a personal storm right now? Do you believe that Jesus will help you weather it? Can you see yourself sharing your story with someone else who might be floundering in their own storm?
Prayer: Heavenly Father, we pray that by the leading of your Holy Spirit, we might have the wisdom and courage to share the gospel with someone who doesn’t know you. We thank you that through all the trials of our life, you have been a refuge and the source of our strength and hope. Help us always to keep our sights set firmly on Jesus, in whose holy name we pray. Amen.
Song: Until the Whole World Hears: Casting Crowns
OBSERVE: Within these two chapters we read about the following:
At this point in Paul’s life, he had been promised by God through his sense of vocation (Acts 19:21) and has been promised by Jesus though a vision (Acts 23: 11) that he would get to Rome. In these two chapters we read about Paul taking responsibility and acting on the opportunity at hand.
APPLICATION: Paul knew the promises that God had made on his life; which included his eventual arrival in Rome. Recognizing that God had provided the opportunity for him, Paul responded by appealing to Caesar knowing full well the customs of the Romans and his rights as a citizen. Paul took the proper human responsibility to respond to the opportunity that God provided.
There are times in our life that we are to keep still and wait for the Lord to provide. There are other times in our life in which God acts but he will do so through us taking proper human responsibility in the manner. Discerning and discovering which applies in which case is an important aspect in the walk of every Christian. This discernment is an area that we will grow in as we grow in our relationship with Christ. This understanding will continue to develop as we spend more time with Jesus and get to know him better.
REFLECTION: In your own walk with the Lord; have you been able to discern when to “keep still” and allow the Lord to act, and when to take the initiative and take action? Are there any recent examples in your life that you would change how you responded?
PRAYER: Lord God; I appeal to you and you alone. You are my one and only judge. Help me to discern when to wait on you and when to take action. Give me patience to wait on you and wisdom to know when to step out in faith based steps. Thank you for the example of Paul in the scriptures. AMEN.
“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”
First, let me tell you a little story. When I was in my cooking days, I would do special dinners at Banville & Jones wine store. On the second floor was this cute room set up to feel like an Italian restaurant with an open kitchen on one end where I would prepare four or five courses that would be matched up with four or five different wines put forward as pairings by the sommelier. I remember hearing something on a particular night that really stuck with me and that leads me to a little imagination experiment.
Picture a vineyard. What do you see? Probably rolling hills covered in vines, lush soil, and a warm sun somewhere in the French countryside, right? That’s what I thought too. But the sommelier said something peculiar, that the best grape vines are not actually planted in mounds of dark rich soil, but in hard, scrabbly, rocky ground. They said the vine that has to work to put its roots down and find nutrients and water in ground like that produces the best grape. The harder it has to push its roots through hard ground, the better the fruit it yields. Hold that image in your mind as we go through Acts.
These chapters of Acts tell of Paul arriving at Ephesus and finding disciples there who had not been baptized with the Holy Spirit, only into John’s baptism before the coming of Christ. Paul continued to baptize them properly and, after laying hands on them, all twelve of them received the Holy Spirit, prophesying and speaking in tongues. Later on Paul went to the synagogue at Ephesus and spent two years speaking boldly about the kingdom of God, reasoning with and persuading all who would approach him there. The word of the Lord spread rapidly all over Asia Minor as he healed, performed miracles, and cast out demons.
Some Jewish exorcists took it upon themselves to mimic some of what Paul was doing, trying to cast out demons in the name of this Jesus that Paul proclaimed, only to become victims of the evil spirits themselves! Word of this spread as all those who practiced witchcraft and sorcery took their sacred tomes and materials, piled them up, and burned them, adding to the glory of the Lord in that place.
Paul then resolved to travel through Macedonia and Achaia to Jerusalem and then on to Rome. In the meantime, while staying in the countryside, Demetrius the silver smith acted against Paul and his disciples on account of new converts to the Way declining to do business with him as he was a maker of silver shrines to the goddess Artemis. Demetrius went so far as to stir up an angry mob against those preaching Christ in Ephesus, but a clerk dismissed the rioters shortly after. Paul continued to make his way to Greece, eventually coming to Philippi. This is where a young man, sitting on a high window ledge, listening to Paul preach through the night fell several stories and hit the ground where he died. Paul went out and brought the young man up, raising him to life!
Chapter twenty ends with Paul attesting before the elders at Ephesus to his integrity in preaching the word, setting an example for those who would follow after, and warning about ravenous wolves that would quickly make their way into the fold of believers. After much prayer and shedding of tears, they walked him to his ship and waved farewell, knowing they would never see his face again.
Growing up while in Sunday School, I pictured the journey of Paul the Apostle in Acts as some sort of mad dash to spread the Gospel to as many places as he could in as short a time as possible. Reading and rereading this book over the years, I have come to see that it is far more … well, not relaxed, but organic than what I first picture of this man with a mission.
The book of Acts covers such a wide scope of events, each of which are of a differing magnitude than the others. There are incredible Holy Spirit-filled moments where thousands come to faith and simple dinners at a friend’s house. There are miracles everywhere, people let out of prison without the door being opened, raising the dead to life, and tongues of flame; yet there are also severe beatings, simple insults, and life-threatening catastrophe. There’s menial labour, the building of tents and serving of food, yet that is the very building of the church in the real world! There are highs and lows, and though we see women and men of incredible faith doing amazing things, they are each intensely human and do not weather these things without pain and suffering.
Reading Acts as an adult with real hopes, fears, and responsibilities, we can get a sense of the massive uncertainty Paul and the other Apostles and disciples would have felt; the wrestling with fear, the frustration of patience, and the pain of not knowing what God wants you to do. Paul desired more than anything to go to Jerusalem at one point and Rome at another, to travel here and there and do this and that, yet even a man as full of the Holy Spirit as Paul found himself floundering and despairing even to the point of death. God would veil His intentions for Paul at some places and constrain him from going to others, deliberately pulling Paul from the center of action like at Ephesus when the riot occurred. Paul must have felt such responsibility for the good disciples being harassed, yet he was not able to go help. Instead of being able to journey on from Ephesus straight away for Jerusalem, he spent a whole two years in the countryside doing what God wanted him to do; preaching, teaching, and working a job of manual labour so that nobody would be deprived on his behalf.
I bet the shipwreck on Malta wasn’t exactly a part of Paul’s initial plan either, but it was his blind trust and obedience in uncertainty that God used to lead many people to Himself. I bet the hardest part for Paul especially was the patience and waiting. Even beatings and imprisonment would have had more flavour for each blow was evidence that the Gospel was being preached to an evil world, every stripe a reason to rejoice for sharing in the suffering of Christ. After all, Jesus said that they would have trouble, but to rejoice for He had overcome the world!
But patience has very little flavour. Patience doesn’t look like a heroic act; in fact, it can feel lazy and selfish. We are more prone to feel like we’ve been cut off to drift the open waters with neither heading nor rudder. It is harder to see what God is doing and He feels more absent than ever – in that silent, dark, humid atmosphere of doubt is when despair can grow like mold on the inside of your skull. At times like these we can find ourselves parched, desperate for something to quench our thirst, whether that’s giving in to temptation or surrendering to our pride and taking matters into our own hands. Does this sound familiar?
Application and Question:
If it does (and I think it would for anyone who is living their life on God’s terms), take heart knowing this: Patience can be as much of a cross to bear each day as open persecution. We don’t face much of the latter in Canada compared with the rest of the world, but that doesn’t make the bearing of other things any less legitimate. Waiting on God and learning to trust Him in the waiting is a massive, life-long skill to learn and burden to bear!
It goes against our natural instincts to go our own way and do what we think is best. Trusting God with His timing and direction means surrendering your own and learning to grow where you are planted. What difference does it make if He decides to plant you in rocky and barren soil? Does that not yield the better fruit? Have we not walked through the wilderness for the past two years and been forced to dig deep to find that life-giving water? How have you been like that tree in Psalm one? Let’s let the spiritual fruit we bear tell our story.
Lord God, thank you for being our Living Bread and Water in this valley of the shadow of death. Thank you for bringing us up with strong roots, even for planting us in hard and rocky ground. Teach us to listen and wait with patience, to take each day as it comes, and to trust that we truly do live each day on your terms instead of our own. Please be with us who are struggling – do not merely take our cup away, but by your mercy take away the bits of us that still oppose your rule in our hearts. Let us learn to abide in you, bear much fruit, and truly live as your disciples. In the mighty name of Jesus, amen.
Song: Bread and Wine - Josh Garrels
Text: Acts 17-18
Today we follow Paul from Thessalonica, to Berea, to Athens, to Corinth and on to Ephesus.
Paul’s custom in preaching the gospel was to go to the city’s synagogue and preach from the scriptures and to prove that Jesus was the fulfillment of what he was reading. This often persuaded many Jews as well as Gentile men and women.
But not everyone was pleased to hear the gospel. In both Thessalonica and Berea, disbelieving Jews, fueled by their jealousy, stirred up mobs and riots with bad characters so as to cause the city to be in turmoil. This put Paul in great danger so he went ahead of Silas and Timothy to Athens.
Paul gained a few followers from Athens when he saw an altar inscribed “TO AN UNKNOWN GOD”. He used the altar to speak about the Lord of heaven and earth and a few people believed.
Moving on to Corinth, Paul meets Aquila and Pricilla and works with them making tents. Silas and Timothy eventually join him again and this allows Paul to devote himself exclusively to preaching to the Jews. But when the Jews again become abusive toward them, Paul resolved he would only go to the Gentiles. The Lord affirmed Paul’s conviction about this in a vision and so Paul stays a year and a half ministering to the Gentiles in Corinth.
Next Paul sails to Ephesus and revisits his strategy of preaching in the Jewish synagogue. He is met with curiosity from the Jews but leaves them and heads to Antioch. He moved around all over the region of Galatia and Phrygia, strengthening the disciples.
Pricilla and Aquila meet Apollos, who was teaching about Jesus even though he only knew the baptism of John. Pricilla and Aquila invite Apollos into their home and more adequately teach him about Jesus before encouraging him to go to Achaia, where he vigorously refuted the Jews and proved Jesus was the Christ.
What we see in these 2 chapters is a rapid spreading of the church as Paul went on mission to bring the Good News to many cities. As with any leader, he only has so much capacity and we learn about the team he built up around him to sustain his ministry.
Paul had to work making tents to provide for his own needs when he was alone, but when Silas and Timothy joined him, he had a lot more time to preach to the Jews. When the Jews didn’t listen, Paul went to the Gentiles. Whoever is open to the Gospel, these are whom he teaches.
But Paul doesn’t stay anywhere too long—it is vital that he plant the church in the city and then move to the next place so that the gospel continues to spread. Led by the Holy Spirit, Paul is not interested in building one central church in one location. Rather he is laser-focused on building a spiritual revolution according to the Kingdom principals Jesus taught—a worldwide discipleship movement of people transformed by faith in Jesus. He stays only long enough to impart the gospel and then he moves on. He depends on the new converts and capable individuals in the city to continue the work he started and to catch the vision. Silas, Timothy, Acquila, Pricilla and Apollos, (and Mark, Barnabas and Lydia) are all very important team members to grow the gospel movement Paul is spear-heading.
As believers, we are all called to catch this vision and to continue carrying the revolutionary message of Jesus and His Kingdom to the world around us. When Jesus left this earth, he commissioned, “go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely, I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:19-20)
God knows we will need help to do his work. That is why He gave us the Holy Spirit and that is also why he sends people into our lives to partner with so that we can have effective ministry.
Question: How are you participating in the Great Commission? Who are the team members God has placed around you so you can be most effective?
Prayer: Lord thank you for the privilege of working with the Holy Spirit to bring the knowledge of Jesus and His Kingdom into the world around me. Help me to recognize the opportunities, open doors and team mates you provide as I partner with the Holy Spirit to be a light in this dark world.
“But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. He will glorify me because it is from me that he will receive what he will make known to you.’”
John 16: 13-14
Acts 15-16 (Psalm 126)
The Council at Jerusalem is a monumental occasion, a watershed, for the Church. I will consider this matter on Sunday in our service (17th Oct). Today I want to focus on the ‘spiritual realities’ we see in these passages.
Firstly, the dispute between Paul and Barnabas; who was right? In a sense it didn’t matter; Barnabas the encourager, who saw potential in Saul now Paul, sees the same in Mark. The outcome is two mission trips not one. It seems a later reconciliation occurred between Paul and Mark (2 Timothy 4: 11), but what we see here is God bringing good out of all situations as all loved God and were called according to His purposes (Romans 8: 28).
Secondly, the Holy Spirit prevents Paul from entering Asia, where towns like Ephesus and the recipients of the letters we read in Revelation were located. What was God doing? He was opening the door to Europe instead. The Spirit gave Paul a vision which took them to Philippi and the first European convert, a wealthy lady called Lydia. The Spirit is working to spread God’s Kingdom to all.
Thirdly, the opposition Paul then faced which led to a beating and imprisonment. A slave girl possessed by a spirit that gave her the ability to tell the future was making money for her owners. In frustration, and an act of kindness, Paul by God’s power delivered this girl. The retaliation was swift and brutal. Paul, and his mission, came up against the principalities and powers behind the spirit of the world. The Gospel will always bring a reaction.
Finally, in prison the Holy Spirit enabled Paul and Silas to praise God despite their situation and condition (Philippians 4: 4-6). Their witness, and the work of the Holy Spirit in conviction, brought a family to faith
For us the lessons are clear. Firstly, conflict can be healthy if submitted to the Lord; growth will always come. Secondly, God is Sovereign and owns the big plan; we need to keep our hearts open to the prompting of the Holy Spirit to be led by Him and keep in step with Him. Thirdly, opposition will come when we obey God and it can get nasty; we need to remember that He that is in us is greater than He that is in the world (1 John 4:4). Finally, the Holy Spirit can enable us to focus on God in praise despite the situations we may be facing; this is a true source of strength and courage.
These are realities that we may all face. How wonderful that we can face them empowered by the living Holy Spirit of God within rather than on our own.
The Question of Application
How might the Holy Spirit enable and empower you today in a situation that you are facing?
O, Holy Spirit, fulfill in us the work begun by Jesus. Let our prayer on behalf of the whole world be fruitful and unwavering. Hasten the time when each of us will attain a genuine spiritual life. Enliven our work that it may reach all, and may all be accomplished in accordance with your will through Jesus Christ our Saviour. Amen
Fall Afresh - Bethel Music
Holy Spirit, Living Breath of God – Keith and Kristyn Getty
For those wondering why Paul had Timothy circumcised just after the Council at Jerusalem, there is a probable explanation. Timothy was a Jew by birth but his father was a Greek; the Council did not declare circumcision unnecessary for the Jews. An additional note; a mixed marriage would not normally be accepted but Paul, by excepting Timothy as a brother in this way, actually showed how barriers had been broken down
Text: Acts 13 - 14
Observe: In these chapters, we get an account of Paul’s first journey through Asia Minor. He is accompanied by several other disciples; Barnabas, Simeon, Lucius, and Manean. Once in Antioch, the Holy Spirit sends Paul and Barnabas further and, after being blessed by the believers there, they sail to Cyprus. On the island Paul and Barnabas travel around to the various cities and preach the gospel in the Jewish synagogues. Even the Roman proconsul wants to hear them speak, but a Jewish sorcerer and false prophet attempts to stop them, but by the power of the Holy Spirit, Paul causes him to become blind. Seeing this, and hearing Paul’s amazing teaching, the proconsul became a believer.
Moving on to Pisidian Antioch and speaking at the synagogue, Paul addresses both the Jews and the Gentiles who worship God. He gave them a very brief history of Israel from the time of the Exodus all the way through to the coming of Jesus. He then explained how the people and their religious leaders did not recognize Him, and ecen though they could not find any fault in Him, they had Him executed, and in so doing, fulfilled all that had been written about Him. After He was laid in the tomb, God raised Jesus from the dead, and He was seen by many who have become His witnesses. Using several scripture references, Paul explained the significance of Jesus’ resurrection, and how He brought forgiveness of our sins, which could not be obtained through the Law of Moses. The people were so convinced of Paul’s teaching that they invited him back to speak again on the next Sabbath. However the Jewish leaders were jealous of the crowds Paul was able to draw, and so they began to contradict and insult him. Paul answered them boldly by telling them that if they wouldn’t listen, he take the good news to the Gentiles, who were more than happy to hear him. In the end, the Jews threw Paul and Barnabas out of the region.
From there, the two travelled to Iconium, where they again began to preach in the synagogues and performing signs empowered by the Holy Spirit. Once again the local leaders rose up in opposition to their teaching. As a result, some of the people sided with the Jews and some sided with the apostles. Here too, the leaders plotted to kill them, but Paul and Barnabas were warned and they fled to Lycaonia, where they were able to continue their work for the Lord. In Lystra, Paul was enabled by God to heal a lame man, and when the people saw it, they claimed that the pagan gods Zeus and Hermes had come down them. Paul and Barnabas rushed to dissuade them of their wrong ideas, telling them that they just as human as they were, and that they were preaching the gospel of the living God, the Creator and Preserver of all things.
However, as had happened in other places they had preached, some Jews came and persuaded the crowd to stone Paul and drag him from the city, where they left him for dead. However, he wasn’t dead, and was able to make his way back to Barnabas, and the next day they left for another city, Derbe. Here, by their preaching, they were able to win a large number of new disciples. From there, the two journeyed through several more cities preaching and encouraging the believers. They also appointed elders for each new church they planted Upon their return to Antioch, Paul and Barnabas gave a full account of their journey to the gathered church, and how God had opened the way for Gentiles to join in the true faith.
Interpret: Wherever the Holy Spirit sent them, whether by sail or by foot, they went. And wherever they went, Paul and Barnabas tirelessly and boldly preached the good news of the gospel of Jesus. Not surprisingly, they were also often met by opposition from the local Jewish leaders, who were jealous of the following Paul was able to create because it was a threat to their own power and leadership. Whereas many of the people were open to receiving the gospel, the leaders were more interested in maintaining the status quo, and often plotted to get rid of the two troublemakers, sometimes successfully, but often not. Regardless, Paul and Barnabas, empowered by the Holy Spirit, pressed on and won many disciples for Christ travels on their journey.
As we read of Paul and Barnabas’ travels and the incidents that occurred, we can see parallels to the travels of our Lord Jesus Christ. Just as He journeyed from town to town teaching, preaching, and healing the sick, many people came to believe His message of salvation, but, He also stirred up opposition to His message that the Kingdom of God had come near. Rather than accept the truth of Jesus as God’s promised Messiah, the Jewish leaders perceived Him to be a threat to their established order, and sought ways to get rid of Him. Jesus had warned His disciples that they too would face opposition and persecution when spreading the gospel story, and that is exactly what Paul and the other apostles encountered as they took the good news to the far reaches of the known world. Yet, despite these hardships, the faithful apostles did succeed in winning great numbers of new believers to Christ, and were filled with great joy.
Application: The message of the gospel, which is the hope of salvation through repentance and belief that Jesus died for our sins, is not an easy one to hear and accept. It wasn’t easy two thousand years ago, and it’s not easy today. It requires us to admit that we have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, Roman 3:23. It requires us to admit that one day we will have to give an account of our lives before God, Rom 14:12. It requires us to give up authority over our own lives and live for Jesus as a new creation, 2 Cor 5:17.
Many people, when they hear this gospel story, find that it makes perfect sense to them and accept it wholeheartedly, but others feel threatened by it, and are not willing to cede their pride, possessions and power to a merciful and gracious God. They refuse to see past the dim light of this world, and miss the glory of coming King.
When we share the gospel story with others in our sphere of influence, we must do it in the power of the Holy Spirit and do it with bold conviction. But we must be ready to face opposition too, perhaps not as forcefully as Jesus, Paul, and the other apostles did, but it will be there. So, be joyful when someone you share it with hears and accepts, and just shake the dust off your feet when they don’t.
Questions: Are you willing to take the risk of sharing the message of hope in Jesus with someone who may not have heard it before? Are you willing to trust that God will guide you?
Prayer: Heavenly Father, we pray that your Holy Spirit would empower us when we share the Gospel of Jesus with those who have not heard it before. Help us to speak your words with courage, compassion and conviction. Help us to glorify your holy name in all that we say and do to build your kingdom. This we pray in the name of our risen Lord, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Text: Acts 11-12
OBSERVE: Within these two chapters we observe the following:
INTERPRET: After initial opposition from the chief priests and then persecution by a zealous young Pharisee, the followers of Jesus have now come to the attention of Herod. Herod Agrippa 1 begins to persecute the church to gain favor of both the religious leaders and the Romans. Herod either saw, or wanted people to think he saw this new Jesus movement as a political threat. So he took action at Passover time which was thought of as the time when God delivered his people from slavery.
Things appear to be going badly for the church on all accounts. Yet, the God who has revealed himself in and through Jesus remains sovereign, and his purpose is moving forward no matter what efforts attempt to stop it. Even the puppet king (Herod Agrippa 1) is unsuccessful at his attempt at killing off the church’s main leadership, and he himself is suddenly cut down with a swift and fatal disease.
APPLICATION: Despite the efforts of the most powerful authorities of the time, the church continued to grow and fulfill its purpose. When persecution arose, we see a new church emerging in another place. When an effort took place to get rid of the leadership of the church, we witness God providing a miracle; that even the faithful believers had a hard time believing. In addition, we see barriers being removed (Herod) and God carrying His church forward. This is emphasized in the text when we read that the Word of God increased and multiplied.
The church has continued to face opposition for its entire existence. Despite all the trials, the Lord Jesus has continued to increase and multiply his church. These stories in scripture along with the last 2000 years of history; should provide us with great hope that Jesus will continue to help His church overcome all obstacles. Not only will Jesus help us overcome adversity; He will continue to increase and multiply.
REFLECTION: Do the stories of the early church facing persecution help you to face your current hardships and obstacles? Are you praying regularly for the persecuted church around the world today? How does their witness encourage you in your daily walk?
PRAYER: Lord Jesus; time and time again you have shown us that your church will not be overcome. Help me to trust in you and your promises more and more each day. Empower and equip all of those in the persecuted church to stand firm in the face of persecution. May you use their faithful witness to increase the Word of God and grow your church. AMEN.
Acts Ch. 5-6
Acts chapter 5 begins with a well-known (aren’t they all well-known?) story of Ananias and Sapphira, a husband and wife who sold a portion of their property and conspired to lie about the amount it sold for when they claimed to give the entire amount to the Apostles. Peter, full of the Holy Spirit, knew that Ananias was lying, and pointed out to him that it was a senseless lie. After all, Ananias didn’t have to sell the field, and if he sold it then he didn’t have to give the full amount if he were to donate anything. Instead, Ananias and Sapphira claimed to be giving the full amount when they were really holding some back for themselves. As a result, Peter charges first Ananias and then Sapphira with lying to God, at which point both of them are struck down.
The Apostles continued doing many signs and wonders, with great multitudes flocking to them for healing and to listen to them preach the Gospel. In their classic style, the high priest and the Sadducees arrested the apostles and put them in jail, only for the apostles to be met by an angel of the Lord to open the doors and charge them to “go and stand in the temple and speak to the people all the words of this life.” The jail was visited the next day but the Apostles were nowhere to be found until they came to the temple. They were not arrested again, but instead charged not to preach the name of Jesus, to which they answered “We must obey God rather than men … And we are witnesses to these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey Him.”
Those of the council who heard this became enraged, but the Apostles were beaten and released when a certain Pharisee, Gamaliel, said that if the Apostle’s efforts were merely of human origin then they would fail, but if they succeed then they are doing the work of God and woe to those who may be found opposing God!
Some conflict arose upon hearing of the neglect of Hebrew widows. The Apostles resolved to pick seven men of good repute to take care of these people so that the preaching of the word would not be hindered. One of the men selected for this task was Stephen who would become the first New Testament martyr. He was a man full of grace and power who fell victim to a conspiracy of the Freedmen who charged Stephen with fabricated claims of blasphemy. Stirring up a crowd, these people took Stephen and brought him before the council, where “all who sat in the council saw that his face was like the face of an angel.”
What are we to take from these two chapters? Let us first consider the name of this book. Acts is most frequently referred to as the Acts of the Apostles, but reading even these two chapters, we see that it is so much more than that. I believe a much more fitting name would be the Acts of the Holy Spirit whose hand is seen clearly at work all throughout these pages. What is incredible about the account of Acts is not simply what the Apostles did, but the fact that God has clearly revealed that His new, holy temple is not a place of brick and mortar, but of flesh and blood. It is God the Holy Spirit that makes these Acts happen in the first place and He does it using sinful and ordinary people – now that is incredible!
It is because of what God is doing through these ordinary men and women that makes the book of Acts such an epic read. Keep in mind, too, that God doesn’t make waste. There is nothing written in these pages that is there for no reason. Every revelation, every miracle, every Holy Spirit-infused speech given before furious opposition is intended to point us towards Christ and His mighty work on the cross and in the grave. What is written is intended for historical accuracy, true, and to inform us future readers, but it is also an account of a living and active God and is therefore intended to bring us into His living and active work.
Knowing that God doesn’t make waste and that He is residing in us as His new temple, we can deduce that the account of the Acts of the Holy Spirit are not actually over – they’re an introduction! They are a blueprint. They are not meant to be read as a neat story or an interesting narrative, but as a prescription for our walk with Christ. The believers in Acts prayed for boldness, they rejoiced in their suffering for the Gospel, they stood firm and, full of the Holy Spirit, reasoned and debated and preached for the sake of the Gospel. They fulfilled the charge of the angel of the Lord to “go and stand in the temple and speak to the people all the words of this Life.”
Application and question:
My friends, none of these should be absent in our lives! We should be so surrendered to God that He has free reign of our wants, our will, our pride, our decisions, our thoughts, our words. We cannot live as a (fill in the blank) Christian, a lukewarm Christian, a fair-weather Christian, or a part-time Christian. You may be saying to yourself that it’s all well and good for the Apostles to do those things because God was setting up His new church in a new way and had a very specific plan for them and was empowering them for it – but what difference is there between you and them? Were you not called? Were you not washed, sanctified, and justified? Do you not have works put in place ahead of time that you may walk in them?
Do you not have that exact same Holy Spirit within you in a world that’s arguably way more in need of the Gospel than ever before? What are you doing with that Holy Spirit? We must not be content to pull Him off the shelf on Sundays, or to persuade ourselves that we’ll get to know Him later. We must not treat Him as confined to the pages of Scripture as if it were another temple – you have the Holy Spirit within you, right here and right now, eager to get to work not only in your life but the lives of others! Remember, God does not make waste, so any time spent with Him trying better to deny yourself, time spent learning to bear your cross to follow Him is time very well spent. You must pray for boldness, for courage to follow and speak and witness. Though this will look different for everyone, nobody is exempt from this charge to “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age,” (Luke 28-19-20).
Lord God our Father, we thank you for free access into your presence through Jesus in the power of the Holy Spirit. Please awaken us from our comforts and our slumber that we might tread the narrow path with diligence and integrity. Please set us free from the prison of our comfort zone that we might fully rely on you and the power of your Holy Spirit, and so fill us with that Spirit that we might exude Christ in everything we say and do. Please forgive us our sins and renew in us a new heart! Amen.
Song: Oceans - Hillsongs UNITED
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