Monthly Archives: February 2019

Today’s Scripture – February 27, 2019

Acts 4:1-4 (NIV)
The priests and the captain of the temple guard and the Sadducees came up to Peter and John while they were speaking to the people. They were greatly disturbed because the apostles were teaching the people and proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection of the dead. They seized Peter and John, and because it was evening, they put them in jail until the next day. But many who heard the message believed, and the number of men grew to about five thousand.

The priests were Sadducees, and they, along with other Sadducees, part of the Sanhedrin, saw and heard about this huge gathering of people in Solomon’s Colonnade. So, they brought the temple guard with them to investigate.

They saw that the gathering was peaceful, so they simply listened for a while to what Peter was teaching. And it wasn’t long before they found a huge point of disagreement: Peter’s promise of eternal life, and the promise of resurrection in Jesus’ name.

The Sadducees didn’t believe in eternal life or in any kind of afterlife, because they only accepted the five books of Moses (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy) as Scripture, and there is no clear teaching about an afterlife in those books. They also considered the idea of a resurrection as illogical and fraught with theological complexities (Luke 20:27-33).

They were also troubled by the fact that Peter and John were proclaiming that Jesus had been murdered as an innocent man, contradicting the official story that He was executed as a subversive criminal who had put the whole Jewish nation at risk. And they were also claiming that He had risen from the dead (Acts 3:15), and that faith in His name could produce not only salvation, but miracles.

So, using the authority that they possessed as guardians of the temple grounds, they placed Peter and John under arrest until a hearing could be conducted the following day.

But they were too late. The divine power and authority that virtually shone in those two apostles, as well as the evident truth of their testimony of Jesus’ identity and resurrection, had convinced many of those gathered, and many believed in Jesus on that basis and were converted. That brought the count of disciples in the community to about five thousand men, in addition to the women and children who were part of the Church.

Father, Peter and John’s confident proclamation of the truth of Jesus’ identity and resurrection stands in stark contrast to the reticence with which most Christians today talk about Him. And that’s really sad. We could say that they had an advantage in that they were direct eyewitnesses of the events, and we stand two thousand years distant from them. But the fact is that, if we are saved at all, it must result from a transforming encounter with the risen Christ that makes everything new (2 Corinthians 5:17). And we can, and must, testify about that! Fill our mouths with the proclamation of Jesus, and with the testimony of who He is and what he has done in our lives, so that we can proclaim it just as confidently, persuasively and powerfully as those first apostles. 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: http://eagerpress.webstarts.com/ Thanks, and God bless you all!

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Today’s Scripture – February 26, 2019

Acts 3:24-26 (NIV)
“Indeed, all the prophets from Samuel on, as many as have spoken, have foretold these days. And you are heirs of the prophets and of the covenant God made with your fathers. He said to Abraham, ‘Through your offspring all peoples on earth will be blessed.’ When God raised up his servant, he sent him first to you to bless you by turning each of you from your wicked ways.”

Jesus wasn’t someone who just happened onto the scene. After the prophecies in the books of Moses, He had been foretold from the days of Samuel by many of the prophets whose writings were preserved in the Scriptures. His coming, His actions, even His sacrificial death and resurrection were all part of God’s plan, and He let people know ahead of time what would happen in detail so that they would be ready.

A key prophecy from Genesis, one of Moses’ books, was God’s promise to Abraham: “Through your offspring, all peoples on earth will be blessed.” (Genesis 22:18 and 26:4) This indicated two things about God’s plan. First, that God would grow the descendants of Abraham into a great nation. Second, that Gods’ plan was to use that nation to bless all the peoples on earth. The blessings He would send to them were not theirs to keep, but to share, and to use to spread the knowledge of God throughout the earth.

This massive vision was also spoken about through Isaiah (49:6 NIV) “It is too small a thing for you to be my servant to restore the tribes of Jacob and bring back those of Israel I have kept. I will also make you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring my salvation to the ends of the earth.”

But the people who would bless the world first had to receive the blessing. So, Jesus was sent first to the Jewish people. Indeed, He was one of them. And, after His resurrection, Jesus was revealed first to the Jewish people. It was them that He had come to initially, to turn them from their wicked ways, to lead them to repentance, and to grant them eternal life. Then they were to take all that He had given them and take that light and life out into the world of the gentiles, to bring them into the kingdom of God as well.

Father, Yours was and is an amazing plan. It was two thousand years in the works between your promise to Abraham and its fulfillment in Jesus. But at each step of the way essential work was done, as is attested to in Your word. And not only were those first Christians part of Your plan to save the world, so are we! But we must first draw near to You, repent and receive eternal life, so that we have a blessing to share with those who are still in the dark. Draw us near, Lord, and then send us out to share! 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: http://eagerpress.webstarts.com/ Thanks, and God bless you all!

 

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Today’s Scripture – February 22, 2019

Acts 3:17-23 (NIV)
“Now, brothers, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did your leaders. But this is how God fulfilled what he had foretold through all the prophets, saying that his Christ would suffer. Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord, and that he may send the Christ, who has been appointed for you–even Jesus. He must remain in heaven until the time comes for God to restore everything, as he promised long ago through his holy prophets. For Moses said, ‘The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own people; you must listen to everything he tells you. Anyone who does not listen to him will be completely cut off from among his people.’”

As the terrible reality of Peter’s words sank into the hearts of the men listening to him, they grew increasingly fearful. Had they really missed the Messiah when He finally showed up? Had they, in fact, stood by while He was murdered? If so, and it looked increasingly likely that that was the case, how could they hope to escape the judgment of God that was doubtless hanging over their heads at that very moment?

Peter saw and felt the panic rising among his listeners and moved on to his next step: grace. While still allowing the reality of the people’s collective guilt over Jesus’ murder to stand, he acknowledged that it had occurred because of their ignorance, not just theirs, but the ignorance of the leaders of the people as well. They had grown spiritually distant from God over the centuries and had begun to rely on their own wisdom to guide them, their own intelligence to determine the meaning of the Scriptures, and their own legalistic righteousness to place them in good standing with God. All of that had hardened their hearts, stiffened their necks, and blinded their eyes to who and what Jesus truly was.

And even though that ignorance led the people to unwittingly fulfill every messianic prophecy to the letter, it did not excuse them from the guilt of what had happened. It did, however, open the door to grace. But only if the people truly repented, truly turned away from their old ways of thinking and acting and turned back to God with all their heart, begging forgiveness for their sins, and receiving Jesus as their Savior and Lord.

If they would do that, then God promised to send the Messiah, Jesus, to them, not yet in His second coming, but to live in the people as a present reality through the power of the Holy Spirit dwelling in their hearts. Jesus would return one day but, as Peter pointed out, He had to remain in heaven until the time fully comes for the ultimate restoration of all things.

Peter quoted Deuteronomy 18:15, 18-19 to urge the people to receive Jesus as the Messiah, the Prophet whom Moses told the people to expect. And there is more than encouragement here; the Scripture contains a threat to the people as well. If they refuse to listen to and obey the Prophet, God’s chosen messenger, when He does show up, they are doomed to be cut off from among the people, a Hebraism that implies isolation from God, and thus being liable to ultimate destruction.

Father, Your mercy is not a soft, mushy mercy that winks at sin and simply excuses the guilty. Instead, it is a mercy that opens the door to repentance and holds the possibility of forgiveness IF a person truly turns away from their sins. Thank You for the way that Your mercy made a way for me to pass from death to life, from darkness to light, from doom to hope. And thank You for the way that that mercy continues to work in my life all these years later. 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: http://eagerpress.webstarts.com/ Thanks, and God bless you all!

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Today’s Scripture – February 21, 2019

Acts 3:12-16 (NIV)
When Peter saw this, he said to them: “Men of Israel, why does this surprise you? Why do you stare at us as if by our own power or godliness we had made this man walk? The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God of our fathers, has glorified his servant Jesus. You handed him over to be killed, and you disowned him before Pilate, though he had decided to let him go. You disowned the Holy and Righteous One and asked that a murderer be released to you. You killed the author of life, but God raised him from the dead. We are witnesses of this. By faith in the name of Jesus, this man whom you see and know was made strong. It is Jesus’ name and the faith that comes through him that has given this complete healing to him, as you can all see.

Because of the miracle that Peter and John had just done, bringing healing to a man more than forty years old who had been lame from birth, but who was now “walking and jumping and praising God,” a huge crowd was growing in Solomon’s Colonnade. And, as word of the miracle spread, the crowd continued to grow until it was thousands of men.

Peter began his message with a denial that he and John had healed this man by their own power. But he did not yet tell the crowd how it had been done. This whetted the appetites of the people to know how it had been accomplished.

Peter then gave a brief history of Jesus’ death and resurrection. A few things really stand out in this presentation. First, he identified Jesus as a servant of “the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob” – the God worshiped by the Jews. He noted, however, that Jesus was not like previous servants of God. Instead, he had been glorified by God, given surpassing power, and authority, and victory of a type never before seen.

Next, he focused on the problem of the people. Again, many if not most of them had witnessed the events of Jesus’ trial and crucifixion; most of the men gathered at the temple were residents of Jerusalem. Peter ruthlessly described how the men had turned their backs on the one who had been chosen and exalted by God, handing Him over to the gentiles to be killed, even pressuring and persuading Pilate to kill Him after Pilate had decided to let Him go. The ultimate stroke was that the crowd at the trial had not only forsaken Jesus, they had chosen to have a despicable murderer released instead (Mark 15:6-15).

Next, Peter announced the formal charge against the people: they had killed the author of life, an almost inconceivable crime against God and against His chosen Messenger. Even though many of these men had not personally been crying for Jesus’ blood on the day He was crucified, they knew that, as members of the community, a part of God’s chosen people who had betrayed Him, they bore a share of the guilt for the crimes committed by that community and were posed to suffer God’s indignation and wrath as a result. (See Joshua 7:10-12.)

But that wasn’t the end of the story. From the day of Pentecost onward, the story of Jesus’ death for sins was not told without the fact of the resurrection. And Peter not only told it clearly here, he professed that he and John were both witnesses to the reality of the resurrection. They didn’t merely believe it as a matter of doctrine or theology; they had seen the risen Lord, talked with Him, and even eaten with Him.

Finally, Peter had arrived at the answer to the question of how the man’s healing had been accomplished. It was through faith in the name, the identity, of the Jesus whom these men had allowed to be killed. The resurrected and exalted Jesus had that kind of power and authority.

Also note that it was Peter and John’s faith in the name of Jesus that had resulted in the healing of the man, not the faith of the man who had been healed! Prior to the healing, there had been no explanation to the man of who Jesus was, and even at the pronouncement of the healing “in the name of Jesus,” there had been no chance for the man to profess faith, or even to exercise it. He had immediately been grabbed by the arms and pulled to his feet. Instead, it is the faith of those who are called to pronounce God’s word of healing, those who already believe in Jesus’ name, that facilitates miracles.

Father, it’s amazing how those in the early Church consistently used the same elements in their gospel presentations. It wasn’t “canned” and memorized; it was just the simple facts of the historical evidence. We sometimes complicate the gospel today, trying to load it up with Scriptures and theology, instead of just letting the historical facts and our own first-hand testimony of transformed lives through faith in Jesus speak for themselves as Peter did. Forgive us, Lord, and help us to do better from now on. 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: http://eagerpress.webstarts.com/ Thanks, and God bless you all!

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Today’s Scripture – February 20, 2019

Acts 3:8-11 (NIV)
He jumped to his feet and began to walk. Then he went with them into the temple courts, walking and jumping, and praising God. When all the people saw him walking and praising God, they recognized him as the same man who used to sit begging at the temple gate called Beautiful, and they were filled with wonder and amazement at what had happened to him.
While the beggar held on to Peter and John, all the people were astonished and came running to them in the place called Solomon’s Colonnade.

The key purpose of miracles, both in Jesus’ ministry and in the ministry of the early Church, was to indicate clearly to people that the kingdom of God was breaking into the world, to draw attention to the people of the kingdom (Matthew 5:14-16), and to give credibility to their message. After all, if someone can heal a man lame from birth (Acts 3:2) who was over forty years old (Acts 4:22), people tend to pay attention to what they have to say.

So, Peter, John and the formerly lame man were quickly surrounded by a gathering crowd, amazed at what they had done, and overwhelmed by curiosity as to what all of this meant. They were ready to hear the gospel!

Miracles are much less prevalent these days, but that is not because God’s arm has grown short, because He has grown weaker, or because He “just doesn’t do things that way anymore.” God has not changed, but people’s personal theology of miracles has.

In the days of Jesus and of the early Church, God directed His people to do miracles, not just generally, but specifically, including when to act, and how He wanted to work in a given situation. That is a key reason why there was comparatively little “praying for a miracle” in the gospels and the book of Acts, and more listening and simply pronouncing the miracle once God had directed that it was to be done. (Here, and also all of Jesus’ miracles in the context of John 5:19.) Even Peter, when called to the room where Dorcas lay dead didn’t decide what to do on his own. Instead, he moved everyone out of the room, knelt down, and prayed until he knew what God’s plan was for the situation. Then he walked over to where Dorcas lay and told her to get up. And a miracle happened! (Acts 9:36-42)

Also, many requests for miracles these days are for the healing or benefit of God’s own people, requested within the confines of churches or homes, and without any intention of using the miracle to testify to outsiders about the reality of the kingdom, or to create an opening for sharing the gospel. To be sure, there are often praise reports when Christians see God’s hand at work in their lives, but the praises and testimonies rarely if ever get shared with the unsaved with the specific intention of creating an opportunity for the gospel.

If God’s people would listen more for His voice and spend less time telling Him what we believe needs doing, He would be able to direct us much more effectively to where He intends to work, and in what He intends to miraculously accomplish, and we would see many more miracles. And if God’s people were more intent on sharing with outsiders the miracles that we see or experience, we would find many more open doors for the gospel and would see God perform many more in our midst.

Father, You’re right, as usual. The way we think about, pray about, and expect miracles is completely different than how Jesus and the early Church did it. And we are troubled that we don’t see the same kinds of miracles that they did in accordance with the promise that Jesus made, not just to them, but to us as well (John 14:12-14). Help us, Lord, to realign our theology of miracles with what You have recorded for us in Your word, so that we can not only experience more miracles, but so that those miracles themselves can lead to more saved souls and greater growth of 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: http://eagerpress.webstarts.com/ Thanks, and God bless you all!

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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.

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: http://eagerpress.webstarts.com/ Thanks, and God bless you all!

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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.

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: http://eagerpress.webstarts.com/ Thanks, and God bless you all!

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