Monthly Archives: January 2019

Today’s Scripture – January 30, 2019

Acts 1:15-20 (NIV)
In those days Peter stood up among the believers (a group numbering about a hundred and twenty) and said, “Brothers, the Scripture had to be fulfilled which the Holy Spirit spoke long ago through the mouth of David concerning Judas, who served as guide for those who arrested Jesus–he was one of our number and shared in this ministry.”
(With the reward he got for his wickedness, Judas bought a field; there he fell headlong, his body burst open and all his intestines spilled out. Everyone in Jerusalem heard about this, so they called that field in their language Akeldama, that is, Field of Blood.)
“For,” said Peter, “it is written in the book of Psalms,
“‘May his place be deserted;
     let there be no one to dwell in it,’
     and, “‘May another take his place of leadership.’

As the days progressed, more and more people gathered with the apostles, both men and women. These were not new converts, but long-time followers of Jesus, heartened by the news of His resurrection, many of whom had seen Him in person after He rose from the dead (1 Corinthians 15:6). Some of these had been followers of Jesus from the first days of His ministry all the way to the present day (Acts 1:21-23), although they had not been selected by Jesus to be part of the twelve apostles.

As this large group prayed together and talked about their experiences with Jesus, something kept nagging Peter in the back of his mind. Jesus at one point had told the twelve, “I tell you the truth, at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man sits on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.” (Matthew 19:28 NIV)

That made perfect sense at the time, when there were twelve apostles. But now Judas was gone. After he betrayed Jesus, he was overwhelmed with grief and hanged himself (Matthew 27:5). Before long, his body decayed and fell from the noose, falling to the ground and bursting open, and was discovered in that state a short time later. A disgusting but fitting end for the one who had betrayed the Son of God.

Judas had received thirty pieces of silver from the high priests for his betrayal, fulfilling a messianic prophecy in Zechariah 11:12. He returned it, throwing it into the temple area before he killed himself, but the high priests could not take it into the temple treasury, nor would they receive it themselves, since it was tainted, blood money that had betrayed an innocent man to death.

But they hit upon what they believed was a wonderful idea. They decided to buy the potter’s field to be used as a burial ground for foreigners (Matthew 27:7) (also inadvertently fulfilling the prophecy in Zechariah 11:13), and to buy it in Judas’ name. Thus, it would be listed as his property, and the high priests’ names would not be associated with the transaction at all. But people found out that the field had been purchased with the blood money, so it acquired the nickname “Hakeldama,” or “Blood field.”

Peter knew that Judas would not occupy one of the twelve thrones Jesus had talked about due to his betrayal of Jesus, and recalled Scriptures from Psalms 69:25 and 109:8 that seemed to foretell it. But the thought of the empty throne ate at him, and he decided that something needed to be done about it.

Father, Jesus was very clear about the glorious future that lay before His closest followers if they would simply stay true to Him. But, for some reason that I can’t fathom, Judas decided that a somewhat richer present was better than the completely blessed future that Jesus had painted for them all. In the end, he didn’t even repent; he simply gave into despair and threw away the greatest give he had been given: his life. Lord, help us to continue to keep our sights high, focused on the future that You have so clearly painted for us in the words of the Scriptures, so that we never lose hope, never turn away to the baubles and trinkets of this world, and most definitely never betray You or Jesus by our thoughts, our words, or our deeds. 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 – January 29, 2019

Acts 1:12-14 (NIV)
Then they returned to Jerusalem from the hill called the Mount of Olives, a Sabbath day’s walk from the city. When they arrived, they went upstairs to the room where they were staying. Those present were Peter, John, James and Andrew; Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew; James son of Alphaeus and Simon the Zealot, and Judas son of James. They all joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers.

The disciples were instantly obedient to Jesus’ command, and after His ascension, they walked the three-quarters of a mile back to the upper room in Jerusalem where they had been staying. This was the same guest room where they had eaten the Passover meal with Jesus just six weeks earlier (Mark 14:12-16), and which had become their base of operation in the city.

Luke lists the apostles, those eleven disciples that Jesus had specifically chosen to be with Him, to learn His ways, and to be sent out by Him. Other than slight changes in the order and the conspicuous absence of Judas Iscariot, the names on this list are identical to those that appear in Luke 6:13-16.

But it was not only those eleven who were there. Luke tells us that “the women” were also present, those who had accompanied Jesus on His journeys and met His needs out of their own resources, including Mary Magdalene and the mother of James and John, Zebedee’s wife (Matthew 27:55-56). Also present were Mary, Jesus’ mother (called by Matthew “the mother of James and Joses – Matthew 13:55, 27:56), as well as His brothers themselves. This is significant, because before His death and resurrection, Jesus’ brothers didn’t believe in Him (John 7:5).

But this solid and growing group of people were not merely hanging out together. They went to the temple daily to worship and pray (Luke 24:53), and when the gates to the temple were closed at sunset, they prayed together in the upper room. In this way, they grew into a community, a whole group of people with a single focus, who lived together in anticipation of the coming gift of the Holy Spirit from the Father.

Father, when I was younger, I heard the saying: “The church that prays together stays together.” And these verses strongly support that. So often our prayers as a congregation are not uniting, because I am praying about what is important to me, and others are focusing their prayers on what is important to them. We rarely focus our prayers on what is import to US, the mission You have given us as a congregation, and the specific promises You have made to us. What a powerful difference that kind of focus would make! Help us, Lord, as Your people, to unite our hearts and our prayers around all that You have revealed to us, both regarding our mission and Your promises, so that we can be molded and shaped into a real community. 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 – January 28, 2019

Acts 1:9-11 (NIV)
After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight.
They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. “Men of Galilee,” they said, “why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.”

Jesus stayed with the disciples long enough to give His final instruction to them. Then, suddenly, He rose up into the air and disappeared into a cloud high above them.

The disciples were so stunned at this that they all stood there, heads craned back, staring at where He had gone into the cloud. They didn’t even notice the two men clothed in white that were standing right next to them until they spoke.

The point of their speech was that Jesus was gone, and that they had been given an assignment to do: to go back to Jerusalem and wait until they had received the promised Holy Spirit. Jesus would return, visibly and from the sky, just as they had seen Him go. But it would be a while, and their continual staring into the sky would not make Him come back sooner. Obedience was what was now required.

Even today, many are preoccupied with Jesus’ return, searching the skies for any sign of His return. But now, as then, this focus is not productive. It will not speed His return, nor will it prepare a person for that return when it does happen.

Instead, now as then, the correct focus is obedience. We are to listen to God’s commands, allow Him to fill us with the Holy Spirit so that we are cleansed and empowered, and then go and bear witness to Jesus’ life, His ministry, and His death and resurrection, so that the number of those who become His disciples continues to increase, and multitudes will be ready for Him when He does return.

Father, it is so easy for us to fall prey to the temptation to watch for signs of Jesus’ return, or to try to determine the day and the hour, in direct contradiction to His command (Matthew 24:36, Acts 1:7). Help us instead, Lord, to keep our focus on remaining open and completely obedient to Your every command, so that we are found actively at the work that Jesus left for us when He does return. 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 – January 27, 2019

Acts 1:4-8 (NIV)
On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave them this command: “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.”
So when they met together, they asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?”
He said to them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

Jesus’ focus in His times with His disciples during these final days was very precise, very narrow. These were not merely times of rejoicing over His resurrection, or praising God for what He had done through that resurrection to defeat sin and death. It was all about intense preparation for mission.

Sometimes the disciples got off track, as in their question here, demonstrating that they had not quite gotten rid of their old paradigm of Jesus kicking out the Romans and setting Himself up as the rightful king of Israel. But when they did get off track, Jesus simply cut off that line of questioning and redirected them back onto the correct path.

The correct path consisted of two interconnected focuses. The first was that the disciples were to be witnesses of Jesus, sharing the story of His life, His ministry, and of His death and resurrection, all of which they had been eyewitnesses to. It was this eyewitness testimony that would open people’s hearts to receive Jesus as their Lord and Savior (John 1:12-13), leading to eternal life.

But the second focus was crucial. As critical as the need was, as urgent as the work was going to be, they were not to begin immediately. Instead, they were to wait for a few days in Jerusalem until they received the promised gift from the Father, the Holy Spirit.

The Holy Spirit would completely overwhelm them, as a body is overwhelmed by water when it is submerged in baptism. He would cleanse them internally, as metal is cleansed from its impurities when it is plunged into fire. And it would provide them with all the divine power that they would need in order to be witnesses.

This divine power was not going to supply mere fireworks, but was an eminently practical power, the same power that Jesus had during His ministry. It was power to heal, power to cast out demons, and power to do miracles, all as concrete signs that the kingdom of heaven was a present reality. And it included power to hear the leading of God clearly, as well as power to communicate their witness powerfully, even in cases where that required the supernatural ability to speak in other languages (Acts 2:4, 7-12).

And ten days later, on the day of Pentecost, they were filled with the Holy Spirit, and given the green light to begin their job of acting as witnesses immediately, starting in Jerusalem. As Jesus directed here, their mission and God’s leading would ultimately take them all over Judea and Samaria, and then thrust them out all over the known world, drawing people into the kingdom and showing them how to live out their lives as God’s new covenant people.

Father, we still need Your Holy Spirit to baptize us, to overwhelm us, to purify our hearts, and to empower us. Lord, we are far too powerless, far too ineffective at bringing people into Your kingdom. Only Your Spirit can give us what we need. Fill us now and send us out to bring the light of Your kingdom to all those wandering in darkness 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 – January 25, 2019

Acts 1:1-3 (NIV)
In my former book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach until the day he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles he had chosen. After his suffering, he showed himself to these men and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God.

To Luke, the author of both the Gospel According to Luke and the Acts of the Apostles, this was not a separate narrative, but simply the continuation of what Jesus was doing. But instead of being more of the history of what Jesus did in the flesh, the story now pivoted to what He was continuing to do through His followers now that He had ascended into heaven.
At the end of his gospel, Luke tells us briefly about Jesus’ ascension from a place near Bethany on the south slope of the Mount of Olives forty days after His resurrection. And he tells of Jesus’ disciples afterwards returning to Jerusalem with great joy, and that “they stayed continually at the temple, praising God.” (Luke 24:53)
Over the forty days between His resurrection and His ascension, Jesus appeared to His disciples several times. And even though some aspects of those appearance were mysterious, with Jesus suddenly appearing and disappearing in rooms where all the doors were locked, He gave many convincing proofs that He was not a ghost, a spirit, or an illusion, but was really alive again. He allowed the disciples to touch Him to reassure them that He had real flesh and bones, and even ate some fish in their presence to prove that He was not a ghost (Luke 24:39-43).
And over those forty days, Jesus taught them about the kingdom of God. He had already taught them much about the kingdom before His arrest and crucifixion, but a lot of that information didn’t stick in their heads. They had no frame of reference to help them understand the information, no context that would enable them to understand all that He was saying.
But the resurrection itself provided a context for understanding much that He had already told them. And after He rose from the dead, Jesus was also able to impart to them a foretaste of the Holy Spirit that would later completely fill them (John 20:22), and that made all the difference. Not only were these followers hungry to understand all that had happened, they were now able to assimilate what Jesus was telling them, and to blend it all into a coherent whole in their minds.

Father, we often forget that the kingdom cannot be understood by mere human logic and reasoning. It doesn’t operate by human strength or creativity, but is a divine economy, guided and empowered by Your Spirit, transforming lives supernaturally from the inside out, and moving us in ways that fulfill Your plans when we simply follow and obey. But all too often we try to go it alone. We try to understand Your word from our own intelligence, to change our lives by our own will power, and to do Your will in our own strength. And, of course, it never works! You didn’t leave us with a plan for self-improvement, but with a way to come into Your kingdom, and to submit ourselves to Your work in and through us. You are still working, even today. Help us, like those first disciples, to follow You, to rely on You, and to work in the power of Your Spirit, so that we can succeed in completing Your plans and bring glory to You in everything. 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 – January 24, 2019

John 21:24-25 (NIV)
This is the disciple who testifies to these things and who wrote them down. We know that his testimony is true.
Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written.

This closing to John’s gospel does two very important things. First, in the context of the previous section, it identifies the writer of this gospel as the always unnamed “disciple that Jesus loved.” Of all the disciples mentioned specifically in the gospel, John’s name is the one that is conspicuously omitted, even though he was one of Jesus’ inner circle, and even though periodic mention is made of “the sons of Zebedee.”

John was quite old when he wrote his gospel, and other than the couple of years he spent in exile on Patmos, he lived in Ephesus until his death. Among those who knew him there, some of whom became pillars in the Church, are some who provide support of his authorship of this fourth gospel.

The phrase “We know that his testimony is true,” has been taken by scholars to indicate the possibility that these last two verses were appended by followers of John as a testimony to his authorship and verification of the truthfulness of all that he included in the gospel. Even though John’s gospel is the only one to include such a certification statement, his gospel’s late appearing and the fact that it includes so much that is not included in the other three gospels could have easily provided the motive for such certification.

John also includes an interesting statement in his final sentence: an admission that his gospel does not include everything that Jesus said or did. All the gospels are selective in what they include, the selection being based on the author’s purpose in writing the gospel in the first place.

The first three gospels include much of the same material, sometimes arranged chronologically, and sometimes thematically. This is why they are often called “synoptic” (“seeing together”) gospels. The events and teachings that these three gospels include formed the backbone of what was preached and taught about Jesus for many years.

But John seems to have purposefully chosen to not do a rewrite of the ground the others had covered. Instead, he includes things Jesus said and did that the other writers did not include, but that seemed very significant to him.

His statement that Jesus said and did many more things than he had been able to include in his gospel is an open admission that in the course of his nearly four years of public ministry, Jesus said and did much that was not included in any gospel. Many of the four gospels include vague references to Jesus “healing everyone,” without detailing the healings. John even indicates that while Jesus was in Jerusalem at the first Passover of His public ministry, “many believe in His name when they saw the signs he was doing,” (John 2:23) without providing any details about those signs. And Paul includes a saying of Jesus in one of his speeches, “It is more blessed to give than to receive,” (Acts 20:35) that appears nowhere in the gospels.

John’s epilogue gives the explanation for all of these. Even though Jesus’ ministry was less than four years long, it was so packed with the miracles He did, with the things He taught, and with personal interactions with people at all levels of society, that there was simply no way that they could all be written down. But, and this is just as vital to understand, what the gospel writers did include in their various writings is more than enough to help us to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, so that by believing we may have life in His name. (John 20:30-31)

Father, as much as the gospel writers recorded, it is fascinating to think about the fact that Jesus said and did so much more. But we have in the four gospels enough to know who He really was and what He taught, so that we have no excuses for rejecting Him or for not living according to His teachings. Thank You for moving these men, including John, to write all these things down for us, so that we can believe, be saved, and live as Your people. 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 – January 23, 2019

John 21:20-23 (NIV)
Peter turned and saw that the disciple whom Jesus loved was following them. (This was the one who had leaned back against Jesus at the supper and had said, “Lord, who is going to betray you?”) When Peter saw him, he asked, “Lord, what about him?”
Jesus answered, “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? You must follow me.” Because of this, the rumor spread among the brothers that this disciple would not die. But Jesus did not say that he would not die; he only said, “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you?”

Peter was still processing Jesus ‘words that seemed to indicate that at some time in the future, no indication of when, he would end up being crucified, just like Jesus. Even though John wrote that this was the kind of death by which he would one day “glorify God,” it didn’t feel like a positive thing to Peter right then.

That was when he noticed that John, the disciple Jesus loved, was following them. Peter pointed over his shoulder, indicating John, and asked, “What about him?” meaning, “Is John going to end up dying a horrible death like that, too?”

In view of Jesus’ forecast about him, it was only natural for Peter to wonder. Was he the only one of the now eleven apostles, the only one of the inner circle of three, that would die horribly, or was it a fate that would be shared by all of them?

Jesus’ answer was indirect, but His meaning was clear. Simply put, it didn’t matter what His plans were for John. Each disciple of Jesus has his or her own path to follow, his or her own contribution to make to God’s overall plan to save the world, and his or her own way of dying through which they will glorify God. Each one must not focus on or be curious about the others, but must simply follow Jesus, wherever the path takes them.

At the time that John wrote his gospel, he was well into his nineties, the last of the original apostles still living. And that fact gave rise to the rumor that by saying, “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you?” Jesus was prophesying that John wouldn’t die until His return. But, as John was quick to point out, it wasn’t actually a prophecy. It was simply Jesus’ way of saying, “Don’t focus on other people and what I have planned for them. Just follow me!”

Father, we do have a tendency to watch other people, other Christians, and to concern ourselves with what You might have planned for them. But the proper focus for each of us is to simply keep our eyes on Jesus (Hebrews 12:2) so that we can faithfully follow Him into our own future, our own destiny, regardless of where the path of others may take them. Thank You for this reminder. 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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