Monthly Archives: May 2019

Today’s Scripture – May 31, 2019

Acts 12:11-17 (NIV)
Then Peter came to himself and said, “Now I know without a doubt that the Lord sent his angel and rescued me from Herod’s clutches and from everything the Jewish people were anticipating.”
When this had dawned on him, he went to the house of Mary the mother of John, also called Mark, where many people had gathered and were praying. Peter knocked at the outer entrance, and a servant girl named Rhoda came to answer the door. When she recognized Peter’s voice, she was so overjoyed she ran back without opening it and exclaimed, “Peter is at the door!”
“You’re out of your mind,” they told her. When she kept insisting that it was so, they said, “It must be his angel.”
But Peter kept on knocking, and when they opened the door and saw him, they were astonished. Peter motioned with his hand for them to be quiet and described how the Lord had brought him out of prison. “Tell James and the brothers about this,” he said, and then he left for another place.

After the angel vanished, Peter realized that he was still outside and that the wind was still cool on his face. This must not be a dream after all; this must be God’s deliverance!

His first instinct was to go to the home of Mary, John Mark’s mother, the house where the upper room had served as the location for the Last Supper, and which still served as the central meeting place for the Jerusalem Church. He knew that his release meant that the Church was praying, and he knew that they would be praying at Mary’s house.

The door was locked as usual. The Church had been on the defense since the beginning. But now, with the arrests first of James and now of Peter, security was even more vital. Peter knocked firmly, and when those inside heard the sound, they immediately grew silent. Rhoda, a servant girl, was sent to see who it was.

Rhoda didn’t open the door, but called out, “Who is it?” from inside. Peter answered, not nearly as loudly, “It’s me, Simon Peter.” Rhoda knew Peter’s voice and recognized it at once. She was so excited that she didn’t even think to open the door. She just ran back into the room where the disciples were gathered and announced, “Peter is at the door!”

The first reaction of those who were praying was disbelief. Yes, they had been praying for Peter to be saved. But they hardly expected that he would simply walk out of the prison and knock at the door! But Rhoda was adamant that it really was Peter. She had recognized his voice. Some were suddenly fearful. Maybe they had already executed him, and his spirit had come to tell them!

Meanwhile, Peter was wondering what was going on. He couldn’t just stand out there in the street. The guards could come looking for him any moment. So, he knocked again, a little louder each time until the sound was heard over the conversation going on inside. Rhoda, suddenly red-faced, realized she had left him standing outside at the door, and ran to let him in.

As soon as the door opened and the people could see that it really was Peter, they were astonished. Peter quieted them down with a wave of his hand, and quickly shared the story of his miraculous escape.

Peter didn’t want to put these people in danger, so he decided that he couldn’t stay in the house. He would leave town for a bit until things cooled down. But as he left, he instructed them to bring James and the other leaders up to date on these events. Then he was gone.

Father, how often do we pray without really believing that You can or will answer? Thank You that, in so many instances, our sometimes-shaky faith doesn’t prevent You from acting in answer to our pleas. And then, when You do answer with mighty miracles, we are awed and even fearful. Forgive us, Lord, for our lack of faith. Help us to continue to pray even though our faith is shaky, even if we must admit, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24 NIV) And when You do answer, help us to share the story with everyone, so that You receive all the praise and glory. 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 – May 29, 2019

Acts 12:6-10 (NIV)
The night before Herod was to bring him to trial, Peter was sleeping between two soldiers, bound with two chains, and sentries stood guard at the entrance. Suddenly an angel of the Lord appeared and a light shone in the cell. He struck Peter on the side and woke him up. “Quick, get up!” he said, and the chains fell off Peter’s wrists.
Then the angel said to him, “Put on your clothes and sandals.” And Peter did so. “Wrap your cloak around you and follow me,” the angel told him. Peter followed him out of the prison, but he had no idea that what the angel was doing was really happening; he thought he was seeing a vision. They passed the first and second guards and came to the iron gate leading to the city. It opened for them by itself, and they went through it. When they had walked the length of one street, suddenly the angel left him.

Peter was scheduled to be executed in the morning, but the night found him sleeping soundly, as if he didn’t have a care in the world. The four soldiers assigned to him for that part of the night were vigilant, dutifully guarding the sleeping man, one chained to each of his arms, and two outside the cell door.

But God heard the prayers that were even then rising before His throne, and He dispatched a messenger with heaven’s glory shining all around him, although the guards didn’t see a thing. They were not completely blinded, but just prevented from seeing what was happening right in front of them.

The angel woke Peter and urged him to get dressed quickly. The chains fell from his wrists and clattered to the floor. Peter looked up quickly at the guard on either side of him, but the two men simply looked straight ahead as if nothing unusual was going on. This was all so surreal that Peter thought he was experiencing an unusually vivid dream.

The door to the cell swung open, and Peter followed the angel past the other two guards stationed outside, both of which continued their vigilance, completely unaware that their prisoner was walking right past them, his way lighted by a brightly glowing companion. Finally, they reached the steel gate that opened onto the street. The gate swung open by itself, and the pair passed through.

As they went out into the dark, silent street, the cool fresh air hit Peter’s face, making him wonder if this was a dream after all. And after they had gone a single block, the angel suddenly vanished without a word, leaving Peter staring around himself in awe.

Peter had given himself up for lost. He figured that this was the moment when he would fulfill Jesus’ prophecy of his death (John 21:18-19), which spoke of how, but not when. And he was fine with that. But the Church had not given up. Even though it was the middle of the night, they were all still awake, praying intently for God to intervene. And that made all the difference.

Father, sometimes we grossly underestimate what fervent prayer can really do. Thankfully, the Church in Jerusalem did not, and their petitions reached Your throne and unleashed Your power to save. Lord, inspire our prayers, even today. We face many difficult, sometimes impossible, situations, but our tendency even then is to try to fix things on our own. We fail to pray consistently or passionately, so You allow us to do what we can ourselves. But that’s not the way You set things up to work. You designed us to work like Jesus, to turn to You immediately and to rely on You for the answers we need. Help us to do better, today and every day. 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 – May 28, 2019

Acts 12:1-5 (NIV)
It was about this time that King Herod arrested some who belonged to the church, intending to persecute them. He had James, the brother of John, put to death with the sword. When he saw that this pleased the Jews, he proceeded to seize Peter also. This happened during the Feast of Unleavened Bread. After arresting him, he put him in prison, handing him over to be guarded by four squads of four soldiers each. Herod intended to bring him out for public trial after the Passover.
So Peter was kept in prison, but the church was earnestly praying to God for him.

This King Herod was Herod Agrippa, the grandson of the Herod who tried to kill Jesus at the time of the nativity, and nephew of the Herod of the time of Jesus’ ministry. He wasn’t accepted by the Jewish leaders any more than the Romans were. The whole Herod family were Idumeans, not Jewish by blood, and they were definitely not in the line of David, but were assigned to the kingship by the emperor, in this case Emperor Claudius. So, they could never be accepted by the people as legitimate rulers.

But this Herod had inadvertently found himself on the same side as the Jewish leaders against the Christians in Jerusalem. The leadership didn’t know how to handle them at all. The Christians didn’t respect their authority, and they did things (like miracles and healings) that drew people after them.

Herod had arrested and executed James the son of Zebedee, John’s brother, for some slight to the crown. (If it had been a matter of law, it would have been the Roman governor, not the king, who would have arrested and executed him.) Herod couldn’t have cared less if the people were displeased with this. But when he found out that the Jewish leaders were actually overjoyed that he had taken out one of the Nazarene ringleaders, he doubled down and arrested Peter during the Festival of Unleavened Bread, intending to have him executed right after the festival was over. For Herod, this was a political move more than anything else, and he knew that the Romans wouldn’t interfere.

Peter was treated as a high-priority prisoner, with four guards assigned to him at a time, one chained to each arm, and two at the door of his cell. This made the people believe that he had done something terribly wrong, and that he was probably dangerous.

The Church, of course, was powerless to get Peter out. They were not politically connected, quite the opposite in fact. But they were connected to something far more powerful than politics: the throne of God Himself. The one big benefit of being unable to do something in their own strength is that it causes the people of God to go straight to prayer, the most powerful force in the universe. And they prayed passionately and continually for Peter to be freed.

Father, we read in James 5:16b that the prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective. I’m afraid that all too often we don’t think to pray until every other (less powerful) option is exhausted. It would be humorous if it wasn’t so tragic! Forgive us, Lord, for thinking of You as our last resort instead of our first option. Forgive us for holding You and Your almighty power in reserve until we have exhausted all our feeble efforts. 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 – May 24, 2019

Acts 11:25-30 (NIV)
Then Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul, and when he found him, he brought him to Antioch. So for a whole year Barnabas and Saul met with the church and taught great numbers of people. The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch.
During this time some prophets came down from Jerusalem to Antioch. One of them, named Agabus, stood up and through the Spirit predicted that a severe famine would spread over the entire Roman world. (This happened during the reign of Claudius.) The disciples, each according to his ability, decided to provide help for the brothers living in Judea. This they did, sending their gift to the elders by Barnabas and Saul.

Ever since the apostles had sent Saul away from Jerusalem so that things would quiet down a bit, he had been quietly working in his home areas of Tarsus in Cilicia, northwest of Antioch. God had used this down-time to show him more of His plan for him and, like so many before him, he was kept in a holding pattern until the time was right for him to get back in the game.

That time had now come, and Barnabas, full of the Holy Spirit and of wisdom, sensed it. He saw the leadership needs that were present in the Antioch Church and heard the voice of God clearly directing him to Saul. So, he left at once for Antioch to find him.

At the same time, Saul recognized that it was God’s leading that he should go with Barnabas to strengthen and encourage the Antioch Church. He was a gifted teacher and prophet (one who speaks the words of God to the people), and the Church was indeed strengthened through his ministry.

The word Christian, first applied to believers in Antioch during this time, carries the sense of one who is specially devoted to the Christ (Messiah), as well as one who is like Christ in character and action. And, in the case of the Antiochian disciples, both were true. Whether this term was originally derogatory or not, the Scripture here gives no indication, it points to the fact that the non-believers in Antioch saw the devotion and character of those who were believers, and in them saw a reflection of Jesus Himself.

The prophet Agabus appears twice in the book of Acts, here and in Acts 21:10-11, both times as a bearer of bad news. In this instance, he was warning the believers through the area of a coming famine that would soon ravage the Empire.

The famine left the area around Antioch largely untouched so the believers there, mostly gentile converts, decided to send provisions and funds to the brothers and sisters in Judea, which had been very hard hit, an act conforming not only to Jesus’ general “Golden Rule” (Matthew 7:12), but even to his more specific standard of self-sacrificial love for those in the Church (John 13:34-35). They gathered all they could possibly spare and sent it south, with Paul and Barnabas overseeing the transportation and ensuring that the gift made it into the proper hands.

Father, your guiding hand was so evident in all these activities: helping Barnabas to find Saul, letting Saul know that this was Your calling, the success in deepening the Antiochian disciples, Agabus’ warning, and Your moving the hearts of the Antiochian Christians to send relief to the Church in Jerusalem. Help me, Lord, to listen for Your voice with that same intensity, to hear jut as clearly as they all did, and to respond with the same celerity. 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 – May 23, 2019

Acts 11:19-24 (NIV)
Now those who had been scattered by the persecution in connection with Stephen traveled as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus and Antioch, telling the message only to Jews. Some of them, however, men from Cyprus and Cyrene, went to Antioch and began to speak to Greeks also, telling them the good news about the Lord Jesus. The Lord’s hand was with them, and a great number of people believed and turned to the Lord.
News of this reached the ears of the church at Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas to Antioch. When he arrived and saw the evidence of the grace of God, he was glad and encouraged them all to remain true to the Lord with all their hearts. He was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and faith, and a great number of people were brought to the Lord.

Cornelius and his household were the first pure gentiles to be intentionally evangelized, but that was only the opening salvo in God’s campaign to push the boundaries of the kingdom of God far beyond the limits of the Jewish people.

As previously noted in Acts 8:4, all those who were scattered from Jerusalem after the murder of Stephen, preached the gospel everywhere they went. At first this preaching was confined to Jews and a few Samaritan villages. These people had been prepared for the gospel by their familiarity with the Jewish Scriptures and the prophecies of the coming Messiah.

But as they moved further out into the Roman Empire, the believers encountered a much higher concentration of gentiles and far fewer Jewish communities. But rather than pull back, they pushed forward and shared the good news with the gentiles as well.

The starting point in sharing with these people was, of necessity, different than when they were sharing with Jewish people, Samaritans, or even gentile God-fearers. Those had at least some knowledge of the Scriptures and of God’s moral law. But most of the gentiles that they met now were pagans, polytheists, and people who, while their code of honor was very strong, their moral standards were far below God’s.

But a key element to the remarkable success of the outreach efforts of the Christians was the fact that the Lord’s hand was with them. God had gone ahead of them to open the hearts of the people; to plow up the hard-packed soil of their hearts; to convict them of sin, righteousness and judgment (John 16:8); and to instill in them a genuine hunger and thirst for righteousness (Matthew 5:6).

When the apostles in Jerusalem heard about the large number of gentiles coming into the kingdom, their initial response was concern. They had seen Cornelius and his group as outliers, an anomaly that probably would not be repeated. But now there were credible reports of thousands of gentiles coming in, and of churches composed predominantly, even solely, of gentiles. This needed to be checked into!

So, they sent Barnabas to go and see what was really happening and to report back to them. And what he found thrilled his heart. These gentiles had really become disciples of Jesus and were serving Him and the gospel wholeheartedly. He found nothing to criticize, so he simply encouraged them all to remain true to the Lord. And that encouragement caused everyone to redouble their efforts, and the work of the kingdom, making disciples of ALL nations, moved forward briskly, resulting in even more people saying yes to Jesus.

Father, our prejudices (pre-judging people as part of a group instead of seeing them as individuals) can really get in the way of us wholeheartedly sharing the gospel. It is very easy to look at someone and, on the basis of an impression they make on us, determine in advance that they won’t be open to the gospel, or that they will be difficult to reach and will probably take more time than we want to spend. But if Your hand is with us, going before us, working in their hearts before we even see them, that changes everything. Instead of looking at the outside of people and evaluating their readiness based on what we see there, help us to simply listen for Your voice and act based on what You tell us to do, just like those first Christians. Help us to be powerful and successful in reaching out because we are working WITH You, not jus FOR 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 – May 22, 2019

Acts 11:4-18 (NIV)
Peter began and explained everything to them precisely as it had happened: “I was in the city of Joppa praying, and in a trance I saw a vision. I saw something like a large sheet being let down from heaven by its four corners, and it came down to where I was. I looked into it and saw four-footed animals of the earth, wild beasts, reptiles, and birds of the air. Then I heard a voice telling me, ‘Get up, Peter. Kill and eat.’
“I replied, ‘Surely not, Lord! Nothing impure or unclean has ever entered my mouth.’
“The voice spoke from heaven a second time, ‘Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.’ This happened three times, and then it was all pulled up to heaven again.
“Right then three men who had been sent to me from Caesarea stopped at the house where I was staying. The Spirit told me to have no hesitation about going with them. These six brothers also went with me, and we entered the man’s house. He told us how he had seen an angel appear in his house and say, ‘Send to Joppa for Simon who is called Peter. He will bring you a message through which you and all your household will be saved.’
“As I began to speak, the Holy Spirit came on them as he had come on us at the beginning. Then I remembered what the Lord had said: ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ So if God gave them the same gift as he gave us, who believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I to think that I could oppose God?”
When they heard this, they had no further objections and praised God, saying, “So then, God has granted even the Gentiles repentance unto life.”

In the face of attacks against his actions, and even his character, Peter chose the path of rationality. He didn’t lash out, or even get defensive. Instead, he merely recounted the chain of events that had led him to take the actions he had taken.

He began with a simple retelling of the vision of the sheet loaded with unclean animals that had descended from heaven, including his protestations at the very idea of eating anything unclean, as well as the chiding from God’s own lips. He then told about the messengers who arrived at that very moment, calling him to go with them to Caesarea, and the Holy Spirit clearly commanding him to go with them with no hesitation.

Peter took six brothers with him, all of whom were standing there with him. While they couldn’t verify what Peter had testified to so far since it had all happened while Peter was alone and in his heart, not externally where it could be seen by others, they would be able to add their assurance of his accuracy and honesty in all that came next.

Peter’s testimony next emphasized Cornelius’ story of the angel that had appeared to him and commanded him to send for Peter, and the fact that the angel had promised Cornelius that through Peter’s message, Cornelius and his whole household would be saved. This was a clear indication that the plan for bringing salvation to the gentiles had originated with God Himself, and not with Peter.

The key point, however, one which Peter’s six companions easily verified, was the Holy Spirit’s descending on Cornelius and all the others gathered to hear Peter speak. Even the most stringent hard-liners, those who believed that Jesus could save only Jews, was brought up short by this, as it was very well understood that only those who were legitimately saved would be given the Holy Spirit, a fact reemphasized by Peter’s recollection of Jesus’ words in Acts 1:5.

That was all it took, not only to exonerate Peter, but also to persuade the hard-liners that God really was expanding the reach of His kingdom to the gentiles. And, to their credit, they rejoiced over that realization.

Father, it is gratifying to see that even the “hard-liners” had hearts that were open enough that the facts were able to convince them, instead of them simply digging in and resisting what You were doing. Help us all to have the same kind of open hearts that both Peter and his listeners demonstrated as you continue to help us to grow and as You lead us into successive phases of your kingdom work in our own areas. 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 – May 20, 2019

Acts 10:44-48 (NIV)
While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message. The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astonished that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles. For they heard them speaking in tongues and praising God.
Then Peter said, “Can anyone keep these people from being baptized with water? They have received the Holy Spirit just as we have.” So he ordered that they be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked Peter to stay with them for a few days.

Peter believed that it would take a long time to bring the gentiles into the kingdom. After all, they were largely ignorant of the Scriptures (meaning the Old Testament; the New Testament had not yet been written), and all the traditions that lay behind the reality of Jesus, who He was and what He had done. But these gentiles, at least, were much further along than he realized.

As God-fearers, these gentiles were already familiar with some of the Scriptures, and with God’s moral requirements for His people, and they were complying with them. They had heard of Jesus and some of what He had done and taught. And God had already been at work in their hearts, preparing the soil for the seed of the gospel. So, when Peter told them (verse 43) that believing in Jesus would result in forgiveness of sins, they believed and were saved!

Filling these new believers instantly with the Holy Spirit, including their demonstrating some of the same external signs that the first believers had experienced (Acts 2:1-4), was done as a sign to Peter and those who had come with him in order to remove any doubt in their minds as to what was going on. It was clear, both from Jesus’ teachings and from their own experience, that God only poured His Spirit out on believers. Therefore, if these people, men, women, and even children, had been filled with the Holy Spirit, that was a clear sign that they had believed and had received salvation.

Peter deduced exactly this. But he didn’t want to skip any steps. Jesus had ordered that new believers be baptized in water (Matthew 28:19), and the fact that these believers had seemingly moved on to being filled with the Holy Spirit didn’t remove that requirement. So, Peter ordered that these people be baptized immediately. Thus, everything was done in order, and these new believers were accepted by Peter and company no longer as gentiles and foreigners, but as brothers and sisters in Christ. And Peter stayed with them a few days to teach them more about Jesus and to hep them get a good start as disciples.

Father, Peter was sometimes reluctant to step into new territory, but once he understood what was happening, he stepped up in full cooperation with Your plans. And, as a result, miraculous things happened, like the sweeping salvation of a whole house-full of gentiles, opening a new chapter in the history of the Church. Thank You for continually moving us out to the edges, into the new territories You are working, so that we can be part of what You are doing! 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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