Today’s Scripture – February 18, 2019

Acts 3:6-8 (NIV)
Then Peter said, “Silver or gold I do not have, but what I have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk.” Taking him by the right hand, he helped him up, and instantly the man’s feet and ankles became strong. He jumped to his feet and began to walk. Then he went with them into the temple courts, walking and jumping, and praising God.

There are several parts to this divine healing that are worthy of note.

First, this healing was done in the name of Jesus. This has nothing to do with saying the words “in Jesus’ name.” It draws on the delegated authority that was conferred on the disciples at the last supper (John 16:23-24). To act in someone’s name means that you are acting as they would act in that same situation, and that you are acting for their interests.

The promise that the disciples would be able to act and make requests in Jesus’ name was made in the context of Jesus’ command to remain in Him (John 15:5-10), to stay in vital communion with Him at all times. The disciples, with the Holy Spirit living in their hearts, were vitally connected to Jesus constantly, and were being instructed by Jesus as to what to do every moment, just as Jesus was continually connected to and instructed by the Father. On this particular day, Jesus told them to heal this man. So, they immediately obeyed, acting in Jesus’ name – at His instruction, and with His authority.

The second thing to note is that this healing event didn’t include any of the things that we normally associate with healing ministry. There was no prayer, no anointing with oil, and no reliance on the faith of the one being healed. It was Jesus’ clearly communicated intention to heal this man – the idea didn’t originate in either the man or the disciples. So, all that was necessary was to pronounce the healing, and then act on its reality.

The final thing to note is that the faith of the apostles in their shared understanding of what they were to do here, how they were to perform the will of Jesus, led them to bold action. There was no doubt, no hesitation, no hedging their bets “in case it didn’t work.” They grabbed the man’s hand and pulled him to his feet, confident that the work was done. And it was.

It is also important to note that there was no hubris here, no assuming on God, no claiming a healing with the understanding that God would reward that “faith”. Instead, there was a vital connection to Jesus, empowered by the Holy Spirit, that enabled Him to continually communicate with His followers. There was a command heard by both Peter and John. And finally, there was unhesitating, complete obedience to that command, accompanied by a clear proclamation that it was Jesus Himself who was performing the healing, so that He received all the glory.

Father, this is so different from the way that most healings today are sought. Too many of us don’t keep that vital, continuous connection to You, and if You do speak, we wonder if it is really You, and that hesitation and doubt works against simple obedience, so the miracle doesn’t happen. Without that clear connection, we substitute ceremony, and try to persuade You with prayers that are heavy on formulas, trying to hit on the right combination of words that will unlock the miracle. How much better it would be if we would just stay connected to Jesus, remaining in Him as He commanded, so that we can hear His voice and His commands clearly. And then we can boldly obey and act in His name. Help us to live this out as a day-to-day reality in our own lives, so that we can bring glory to You. Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – February 17, 2019

Acts 3:1-5 (NIV)
One day Peter and John were going up to the temple at the time of prayer–at three in the afternoon. Now a man crippled from birth was being carried to the temple gate called Beautiful, where he was put every day to beg from those going into the temple courts. When he saw Peter and John about to enter, he asked them for money. Peter looked straight at him, as did John. Then Peter said, “Look at us!” So the man gave them his attention, expecting to get something from them.

Peter and John, as well as many of the other people of the Church, went up to the temple to worship and pray several times each day (Acts 2:46). Although they were worshiping alongside other Jewish people, the worship of the Christians was different in substance and focus. While other Jews praised God for the historic deliverance He had brought them in the biblical past, and prayed to God to fulfill the promises He had made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the Christians were full of praise for the great contemporary deliverance that He had worked through Jesus, and for the promises that He had now kept to the letter.

The temple courts were located at the top of the mountain on which Jerusalem was built, and were surrounded by a great wall, accessed through several gates. The main gate through which people entered the temple was on the east end toward the Mount of Olives and was called the Beautiful Gate. It was covered with gold and adorned with many precious stones donated by people. It was an impressive way to come into God’s presence.

The gate was immensely popular, so the walkway to it was the favorite place for beggars to sit with their alms bowls. Since it was considered a mitzvah, a good deed done in obedience to God’s commands, to give alms to the poor, it was expected that many of those entering the temple would take the opportunity to drop a coin or two into one or two of the bowls thrust up at them as they neared the gate.

This particular man had been brought to this place by his family every day for many years. He was over forty years old (Acts 4:22) and couldn’t walk. He was well known by those who went frequently to the temple (Acts 3:10). In fact, Jesus Himself had walked past the man several times as He walked through this main gate into the temple over the previous years. Some might wonder why, if Jesus saw Him, He hadn’t already healed him. The simplest answer is twofold: the man didn’t ask to be healed, and it wasn’t yet time. God had reserved this man’s healing to bring glory to Himself at the same time as He used it to give prominence to the apostles and to lend credibility to their testimony.

All was normal during this trip to the temple until Peter and John heard the man’s cry for alms and saw his bowl being held out in their direction. At the same moment, the Holy Spirit spoke to their hearts, indicating that this man was to receive from them, not money, but healing. So, they stopped in their tracks and looked straight at the man. The man’s gaze had already move down the line of approaching people, so Peter called his attention back with a loud, “Look at us.” And as the man’s gaze moved back to them, so did his bowl.

Father, this reemphasizes to me that, as people of the kingdom, none of us are lone rangers simply determining for ourselves what we should do next. Jesus made Himself completely dependent on Your direction (John 5:19) as a model for us, and He taught that same complete dependency to His followers. But that also meant that they had to keep their eyes and ears constantly open to Your leading so that they could respond instantly when You spoke. Help me, Lord, to have that same dependency, that same expectant reliance on your guidance, so that I can do all that You tell me to do immediately. Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – February 14, 2019

Acts 2:43-47 (NIV)
Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.

This picture of the early Church is neither an idealistic airbrushed portrait of honestly dysfunctional people like us, nor an example of socialism in action. Instead, it is a picture of the natural outgrowth of the devotion that these new Christians had for the apostles’ teachings, the fellowship, sharing food with each other, and prayer, facilitated strongly by the life-transforming, indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit within each of them.

The wonders and miracles done by the apostles (and others – Acts 6:8) were concrete signs that the whole community was living in the kingdom of God as a current reality. And, just as it was with Jesus, that supernatural ability served as a sign to those in the community that the apostles should be listened to when they taught, as well as serving as a draw to outsiders.

Their sharing of resources was not required by the community, but sprang naturally from hearts that were filled to overflowing with God’s agape love for each other (James 2:14-16). When they saw a need, their first response was to think, “What can I do to help with this need?” doing for others what they would want to be done for them if they were in the same situation (Matthew 7:12).

Their sharing of food from house to house sprang from that same motive. They didn’t have to have a church building in which to hold potlucks. Instead, each of them opened their own homes for other to come and share meals with them. They were now family, brothers and sisters in Christ, so this too came very naturally.

Praise and gladness flowed easily in and through this kind of fellowship. These people knew that they had been brought out of darkness into the light, and they delighted to see that light grow and spread to encompass family, friends, neighbors, coworkers, and even perfect strangers.

And, of course, the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved. People were drawn by the light of Jesus shining through these people of the kingdom (Matthew 5:14-16), because light is a powerful attractant to those who are stumbling in the darkness. Joy and hope are powerful attractants to the sad and disheartened. And peace is a powerful attractant to nearly everyone.

Father, we see this picture of the early Church and we crave what they had, and rightly so. Compared to them, our lives seem so powerless and ordinary. But externally-operated programs and activities are a poor and ineffective substitute for the Holy Spirit-motivated love, compassion, and power that these people had, based on their devotion to You and Jesus and Your word first, and then to each other as coworkers in Your mission to transform the world by helping individuals and families to find transformation through faith in Jesus. Work in us, Lord that same devotion, and fill us with that same Holy Spirit so that we can live out that same kingdom life today. Amen.

If you are enjoying my blog, I invite you to check out my book, When We Listen, A Devotional Commentary on the Gospel of Mark. Just follow this url: Thanks, and God bless you all!

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Today’s Scripture – February 13, 2019

Acts 2:42 (NIV)
They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.

This first Church was a group of people who had been totally transformed by their faith in Jesus, and by the power of the Holy Spirit living and working in their hearts. They devoted themselves to four things:

  • The apostles’ teaching. This consisted of all that the apostles had learned from Jesus about the kingdom of God, and their testimony about all that He had done to show the people what that kingdom was like, and to make it a here-and-now reality. It also included teachings on the prophecies that Jesus had fulfilled which He had taught them about (Luke 24:25-27). We have these teachings preserved for us in the four gospels.
  • The fellowship. Just as Judaism was never designed to be a faith for individuals, so Christianity was built around the concept of community, becoming a part of the people of God. Jesus had taught this to His followers from the beginning, even embedding the concept in the Lord’s prayer, where God is to be addressed as OUR Father, not MY Father. These early Christians quickly learned that life in the kingdom had to play out in community and fellowship, all the parts of the Body of Christ united and working together to accomplish the core mission of making disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:18-20).
  • The breaking of bread. This was not communion, but simply eating together, sharing food. Collective meals have great benefits. The first is simply that eating together solidifies and enhances community. We experience the same thing in churches today when we have potluck meals together. But the second benefit is vital as well. When the group ate together, everyone contributed what they could. Those with means brought a lot of food, and those with limited means brought a little. But even those who had contributed little could eat what they needed. It was a wonderful way of sharing, strengthening the Body of Christ physically as well as socially.
  • Prayer. In addition to social time together, and working time together, the whole group spent frequent time together in prayer. Communion with God lay at the heart of their communion with each other. Times of prayer, listening as well as presenting requests to God, ensured that everyone in the group was on the same page, and fostered a deep unity among the diverse group of people that made up the Church.

This four-fold devotion, not just activities or programs, but key focuses that were at the core of who the Church was, resulted in a unity of purpose and a genuine power among all the people that brought them success in the mission they had been left with, and made them an unconquerable force for life transformation in Jerusalem and beyond.

Father, it is easy to see how a focus on these four areas was a key factor in the success of the first century Church. But the word that really strikes me is “devoted”. Too often we see these things as good, if we can make time for them in our busy schedules. But I don’t see many Christians “devoted” to them. We tend to want our “apostles’ teachings” in bite-sized chunks that we can read in a minute or two so that we can get on with the more important things. We make time for the fellowship and the sharing of meals together if we have time. And even though we pray, we tend to pray mostly alone. And our communal prayer times lack the power and effectiveness that we want. Lord, we need You to work in the midst of us, at the core of every congregation and in the heart of every Christian, to move us back into this living center of who You are and how You want to work in and through us so the we can powerfully live out our mission in Your presence and power, just like those first Christians. We need inspiration and transformation to truly become Your Church today. Help us, Lord! Amen.

If you are enjoying my blog, I invite you to check out my book, When We Listen, A Devotional Commentary on the Gospel of Mark. Just follow this url: Thanks, and God bless you all!

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Today’s Scripture – February 12, 2019

Acts 2:37-41 (NIV)
When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?”
Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off–for all whom the Lord our God will call.”
With many other words he warned them; and he pleaded with them, “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.” Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day.

Peter’s Spirit-empowered message (of which we only have the highlights recorded here – verse 40) struck the hearts of the Jewish people gathered to hear him. Many had seen or heard of Jesus. Many had seen or heard of His arrest and crucifixion. And many of them thought at the time that it was an unfortunate end for someone so obviously gifted.

But now, with their eyes opened by Peter’s words and by the Holy Spirit’s drawing, they were genuinely alarmed. Jesus’ crucifixion wasn’t “unfortunate;” it was a tragedy of the highest degree and opened the whole Jewish nation to God’s judgment (Matthew 23:35, Luke 19:43-44)! They had crucified their own Messiah! Their request, “Brothers, what shall we do?” was not a casual question. It was the anguished cry of convicted hearts that had fully realized the depth of their sin.

Peter’s answer, still the keys to the gospel, are three simple steps:

  • Repent – as John the Baptist pointed out, repentance is more than remorse. It is a U-turn in one’s life, a change of mind and heart resulting in a concrete turning away from sin and a steadfast determination to live for God from that moment forward.
  • Be baptized – baptism was already known by the people, because it was required for those who wanted to convert to Judaism. This new baptism that was required of those who turned to Jesus symbolized in one action the washing away of sins and a participation in the death and resurrection of Jesus, allowing them to enter into a whole new life.
  • Receive the Holy Spirit – this was the result of the previous two actions. The Holy Spirit would come and take up residence in the lives of those who submitted to God’s plan of salvation through faith. The indwelling Spirit would purify the hearts of these converts (Acts 15:8-9), would make them spiritually alive, born again of the Spirit (John 3:3-8) and able to understand the teachings of Jesus (John 16:13-14), and empower them to immediately begin to bear witness to what Jesus had done for them (Acts 1:8). This filling with the Holy Spirit was not for a few select people but was promised to all who believed in Jesus (verse 39).

A huge number of people, convicted by Peter’s message, surrendered to God and put their faith in Jesus to save them “from this corrupt generation.” About three thousand were baptized before sunset and became part of that first faith community.

Father, a few things really stand out to me in this:

  • Peter’s message wasn’t a compilation of theology, and it wasn’t “sold” based on Jesus’ ability to help people to have a more pleasant or more successful life. It was simply the story of Jesus’ death and resurrection, the fact that his listeners were doomed by their own sin, and a very clear explanation of the steps to avoid being doomed forever.
  • This was no cold, canned “gospel presentation.” Peter cared about the eternal destiny of these people and warned and pleaded with them, some of them for a long time.
  • There was no delay. As soon as someone accepted Jesus, they were baptized on the spot and brought into the community.

We do things so differently today. So often we memorize methods and presentations. We avoid pressuring someone or “guilting” them into receiving Jesus. And we hesitate to point out to people that they are doomed, focusing instead of ways that Jesus can fix or improve their here-and-now lives. And we rely on our own ability instead of being filled, empowered, and moved by the Holy Spirit before we even start. Help us, Lord, to do things in this area, not in Peter’s way, but in Your way, so that we can bring loads of people into Your kingdom. Amen.

If you are enjoying my blog, I invite you to check out my book, When We Listen, A Devotional Commentary on the Gospel of Mark. Just follow this url: Thanks, and God bless you all!

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Today’s Scripture – February 11, 2019

Acts 2:33-36 (NIV)
Exalted to the right hand of God, he has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear. For David did not ascend to heaven, and yet he said, “‘The Lord said to my Lord: “Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet.”‘
“Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.””

Both John the Baptist (Luke 3:16) and Jesus (Acts 1:5, 8) had promised the baptism with the Holy Spirit. John especially emphasized that this baptism would come through Jesus Himself. So, Peter rightly declared that the Father had given Jesus the gift of the Holy Spirit, but that Jesus had been the one who had poured it out on His followers.

As Peter spoke, the Holy Spirit reminded him of what David had written in the first verse of Psalm 110. This Psalm had long been understood to be about the promised Messiah, and Peter confirmed it. Jesus had also quoted this same verse (Luke 20:41-44) in order to prove that the Messiah could not be a mere man but had to be God in the flesh.

The Psalm declared that, since Jesus had been exalted to the right hand of the Father, the place of privilege and power, He had put all Jesus’ enemies under His feet. These included the religious leaders of the Jewish people, who had killed Him but couldn’t make it stick. It had also included significant enemies of mankind: satan, sin, and death. From the moment of His resurrection, these enemies were crushed, and no longer had any power over Him, or over those who believed in Him. And His exaltation, demonstrated by the appearing of the Holy Spirit, made His victory complete and permanent

The conclusion was obvious: Jesus, the one whom the Jewish people had themselves executed, had been recognized by their God as who He had always been: Lord, God in the flesh, and Christ, their long-awaited Messiah and deliverer.

Father, even though Jesus’ exaltation to Your right hand was invisible to the people of the world, its reality was clearly seen from the results – specifically the Holy Spirit being poured out on all His followers, the promise kept to the letter. And the fulfillment of that promise bore within it the reality of the fulfillment of every other promise Jesus ever made to His followers. And I can testify to that reality in my own life. Thank You so much! Amen.

If you are enjoying my blog, I invite you to check out my book, When We Listen, A Devotional Commentary on the Gospel of Mark. Just follow this url: Thanks, and God bless you all!

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Today’s Scripture – February 8, 2019

Acts 2:25-32 (NIV)
David said about him: “‘I saw the Lord always before me. Because he is at my right hand, I will not be shaken. Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices; my body also will live in hope, because you will not abandon me to the grave, nor will you let your Holy One see decay. You have made known to me the paths of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence.’
“Brothers, I can tell you confidently that the patriarch David died and was buried, and his tomb is here to this day. But he was a prophet and knew that God had promised him on oath that he would place one of his descendants on his throne. Seeing what was ahead, he spoke of the resurrection of the Christ, that he was not abandoned to the grave, nor did his body see decay. God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of the fact.”

The Holy Spirit showed Peter a great truth from Scripture that had not made sense to the scholars up to that point. In Psalm 16:8-11, David rejoices that the “Holy One” that he was speaking for would not experience decay, so his body could live in hope.

But, as Peter clearly points out, David died and was buried, and his body decayed. Burials in the middle east at that time were far different than they are today. The body was washed, wrapped in cloths, and laid on a slab in a tomb. After a few months, the tomb was opened, and the bones, which would be all that remained of the now decayed body, would be gathered and placed in an ossuary, or “bone box”, which would be placed in a niche in the tomb. The slab would be wiped clean, and the tomb was then ready for the next occupant.

After a few months, it would be clearly seen that David’s body had decayed, so that all that was left were the bones. So, this psalm couldn’t reasonably be interpreted as talking about him. Scholars were divided, but many landed in the camp of David’s hope of being resurrected someday. But that didn’t really fit what he had written.

But, as Peter could now clearly see, these words fit Jesus, a direct descendant of David, perfectly. Jesus’ body was restored to life and health (even though He still bore the wounds from the nails and the spear – Luke 24:51, John 20:20) before it had a chance to decay. And he used this clear prophecy to not only prove that Jesus physically had risen from the dead, but that it had been God’s plan for the Messiah all along.

Father, this shows clearly why we need Your Spirit to guide us as we read the Scriptures. If we rely only on our own intelligence and education, we are bound to make mistakes as to what You are trying to show us. Thank You for living in our hearts so that we can better understand Your word. Amen.

If you are enjoying my blog, I invite you to check out my book, When We Listen, A Devotional Commentary on the Gospel of Mark. Just follow this url: Thanks, and God bless you all!

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