Monthly Archives: November 2019

Today’s Scripture – November 27, 2019

Acts 26:1-11 (NIV)
Then Agrippa said to Paul, “You have permission to speak for yourself.”
So Paul motioned with his hand and began his defense: “King Agrippa, I consider myself fortunate to stand before you today as I make my defense against all the accusations of the Jews, and especially so because you are well acquainted with all the Jewish customs and controversies. Therefore, I beg you to listen to me patiently.
“The Jews all know the way I have lived ever since I was a child, from the beginning of my life in my own country, and also in Jerusalem. They have known me for a long time and can testify, if they are willing, that according to the strictest sect of our religion, I lived as a Pharisee. And now it is because of my hope in what God has promised our fathers that I am on trial today. This is the promise our twelve tribes are hoping to see fulfilled as they earnestly serve God day and night. O king, it is because of this hope that the Jews are accusing me. Why should any of you consider it incredible that God raises the dead?
“I too was convinced that I ought to do all that was possible to oppose the name of Jesus of Nazareth. And that is just what I did in Jerusalem. On the authority of the chief priests I put many of the saints in prison, and when they were put to death, I cast my vote against them. Many a time I went from one synagogue to another to have them punished, and I tried to force them to blaspheme. In my obsession against them, I even went to foreign cities to persecute them.”

Agrippa allowed Paul to speak for himself since he had no attorney to represent him and had not had one during this whole process. In this case, it was not as much of a problem because the stakes were lower than they had been at other times. Paul was not on trial for his life here. This was a hearing to allow Paul to plainly state his case so that Festus would have something to write about his case when Paul was sent to the emperor.

Paul was actually grateful that Agrippa was present for this hearing. While definitely not a Christian nor even a devout Jew, Agrippa had grown up in and around Palestine and so was aware of the culture of the place as well as many of the controversies that had occurred over the past couple of decades.

Paul’s defense was in three parts:

  • His background. Paul was raised not only in Tarsus of Cilicia, but in Jerusalem as a student of Gamaliel, the honored and conservative teacher of Israel (Acts 22:3). Paul himself had become a Pharisee, the most conservative branch of Judaism, at the earliest opportunity, and had lived faithfully under the Pharisaical interpretation of the law for many years.
  • The present situation. Paul identified the main crux of the case against him as his belief in the resurrection of the dead, especially the bodily resurrection of Jesus, and of an afterlife spent in the presence of God. Though denied by the Sadducees, these doctrines are found all throughout the Old Testament, sometimes overtly, but usually more subtly. The entire Sanhedrin had concocted a story designed to explain away the clear eyewitness testimony of Jesus’ resurrection (Matthew 28:11-15), a story which had spread widely among the Jews, successfully immunizing many of them against belief in Jesus.
  • His past. Paul had been such a staunch believer that the Christians were both deceived and deceivers that it had launched him on a crusade against the Church and all its people. This included not only arresting Christians, even in far-away cities, and voting for their deaths on the charge of blasphemy, but also mistreating them in an effort to get them to deny Jesus.

This testimony demonstrated two key things. First is that Paul had once been the same as his accusers were now in his opposition to Jesus and had been actively working against the Church. Second is that something extraordinary had to have happened to turn someone that rabidly against the faith into one of its greatest advocates. That extraordinary something is where Paul turns next.

Father, what Paul is pointing to in all this testimony is the power of the gospel to literally transform a person’s life from the inside out. Whereas Judaism was a system of laws and structures to which a person who wanted to convert agreed to submit themselves, Christianity begins with a life-transforming encounter with Jesus. Obedience to His commands comes, not from external lists of rules, but from a changed heart, motivated by a love for Jesus that springs out of gratitude for the redemption that He has made possible. Paul evidenced all this in both his history and in his present life and demeanor, and the remarkable transformation was clearly evident to any who had known Paul in his Saul of Tarsus days, a group that included many of those calling for his death! Thank You, Lord, for the complete transformation You have brought to my life, and for the testimony of that transformation that You have given me to share with others. Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – November 21, 2019

Acts 25:23-27 (NIV)
The next day Agrippa and Bernice came with great pomp and entered the audience room with the high ranking officers and the leading men of the city. At the command of Festus, Paul was brought in. Festus said: “King Agrippa, and all who are present with us, you see this man! The whole Jewish community has petitioned me about him in Jerusalem and here in Caesarea, shouting that he ought not to live any longer. I found he had done nothing deserving of death, but because he made his appeal to the Emperor I decided to send him to Rome. But I have nothing definite to write to His Majesty about him. Therefore I have brought him before all of you, and especially before you, King Agrippa, so that as a result of this investigation I may have something to write. For I think it is unreasonable to send on a prisoner without specifying the charges against him.”

This opening speech by Festus was a normal opening for all Roman legal procedures. In a single speech, Festus made it clear why they were meeting, the legal basis for the hearing, the state of the case to date, and the desired outcome. Paul was present for this speech since, as the accused, he had every right to hear the state of the case against him.

A lot of what he heard was well-known to him. The whole Jewish community, meaning the Jewish leadership who represented them, were shouting that he deserved the death penalty. Paul knew very well that, under what the Jewish justice system had become, his life would be in real danger in a trail superintended by them. That was why he had appealed to Caesar in the first place. At least a Roman court would be willing to look objectively at the evidence (or lack of it!).

But, new to Paul was the fact that all the impassioned arguments that Festus had heard from the Jewish leaders had failed to convince him that Paul was guilty of anything deserving of death, either at their hands or at Rome’s. Instead, this “hearing” was being held purely for the purpose of figuring out what to write on the referral to the emperor’s court. So far, all that had been presented to Festus had seemed completely bogus, unable to stand up to cross examination. But Paul had appealed, he had to be sent to Rom, and something had to be written. Paul couldn’t simply be sent to the emperor with no explanation.

All this was greatly encouraging to Paul. Up to this time, he hadn’t been sure where he stood in the governor’s eyes. But now he realized that God had put him in a place where he would be sent to Rome under the very important presumption of innocence.

Father, I’m sure that Festus was amazed that this whole thing had gotten as far as it had with Felix. There had been so much subterfuge going on for so long that it would have been easy for the essentials to have gotten completely lost in the muddle. But You had brought new clarity to the process, and new assurance to Paul that You were in the midst of it all. Thank You for Your love and care for us all the time, Lord. Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – November 20, 2019

Acts 25:13-22 (NIV)
A few days later King Agrippa and Bernice arrived at Caesarea to pay their respects to Festus. Since they were spending many days there, Festus discussed Paul’s case with the king. He said: “There is a man here whom Felix left as a prisoner. When I went to Jerusalem, the chief priests and elders of the Jews brought charges against him and asked that he be condemned.
“I told them that it is not the Roman custom to hand over any man before he has faced his accusers and has had an opportunity to defend himself against their charges. When they came here with me, I did not delay the case, but convened the court the next day and ordered the man to be brought in. When his accusers got up to speak, they did not charge him with any of the crimes I had expected. Instead, they had some points of dispute with him about their own religion and about a dead man named Jesus who Paul claimed was alive. I was at a loss how to investigate such matters; so I asked if he would be willing to go to Jerusalem and stand trial there on these charges. When Paul made his appeal to be held over for the Emperor’s decision, I ordered him held until I could send him to Caesar.”
Then Agrippa said to Festus, “I would like to hear this man myself.”
He replied, “Tomorrow you will hear him.”

Agrippa’s visit to Festus with his sister Berenice was a courtesy call. While Agrippa was not a king in the same sense as his great grandfather, Herod the Great, he had been given the rulership over several territories on the borders of Palestine, as well as the supervision of the temple in Jerusalem and the right to assign the high priest. He was answerable to the governor of the province, so he came to see Festus as soon as he could after his arrival.

Festus used the opportunity to see if perhaps Agrippa could provide a little insight into the puzzling case of Paul. Unlike Felix, his predecessor (Acts 24:22), Festus had little or no information about “the Way” that seemed to be at the center of the controversy surrounding Paul. He hoped that, on the basis of his responsibilities for the temple and his interactions with the priests, Agrippa might be able to shed a little light on the issue.

To his disappointment, Agrippa was not as useful or informed in this area as he had hoped. But he was intrigued by the case and interested in hearing more, an offer which was eagerly seized upon by Festus, who arranged a hearing on the spot for the very next day.

Father, a big part of Festus’ discomfort with Paul was that the whole case did not concern normal legalities and the issues and things of this world. Instead, they dealt with spiritual matters and miracles, chiefly the resurrection of Jesus. How, indeed, was an earthly governor supposed to judge something like that? To his credit, Festus recognized his own inadequacy, and was looking for help wherever it might be found. It is clear that we, as Your people, need to remember that the people of the world are poor judges of what is and is not valid in the kingdom, and what is true and not true about You Yourself (1 Corinthians 2:14). So, we always need to pay attention to You and Your word, not to them. Thank You for Your word and the guidance of Your Holy Spirit through which we may discern both Your truth and Your will for us. Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – November 18, 2019

Acts 25:6-12 (NIV)
After spending eight or ten days with them, he went down to Caesarea, and the next day he convened the court and ordered that Paul be brought before him. When Paul appeared, the Jews who had come down from Jerusalem stood around him, bringing many serious charges against him, which they could not prove.
Then Paul made his defense: “I have done nothing wrong against the law of the Jews or against the temple or against Caesar.”
Festus, wishing to do the Jews a favor, said to Paul, “Are you willing to go up to Jerusalem and stand trial before me there on these charges?”
Paul answered: “I am now standing before Caesar’s court, where I ought to be tried. I have not done any wrong to the Jews, as you yourself know very well. If, however, I am guilty of doing anything deserving death, I do not refuse to die. But if the charges brought against me by these Jews are not true, no one has the right to hand me over to them. I appeal to Caesar!”
After Festus had conferred with his council, he declared: “You have appealed to Caesar. To Caesar you will go!”

Even after more than two years, the Jewish leaders were intent on taking Paul down. They showed up at Caesarea and, as soon as the trial convened, they immediately began hurling accusations against him, charges which had grown in number and seriousness over the time span.
As Luke points out, none of the charges that they leveled against Paul came with any proof. Instead, they seemed to hope that by the sheer volume of accusations they would find something that would resonate with governor Festus.
But Festus was more frustrated than convinced. Everything about this case was very irregular. There seemed to be no logic or reason going on, but simply emotion, which, in the Roman legal system, was not the way things were done.
Festus wanted the situation to be resolved as quickly as possible consistent with Roman law. He was unwilling to either condemn Paul unjustly, or to release him and spark a rebellion among the Jewish leaders. So, instead of judge, he suddenly found himself cast in the role of diplomat.
Festus could simply have ordered Paul to stand judgment in Jerusalem, but instead, he asked Paul if he were willing for the court venue to be moved there, a clear sign that he knew that this whole thing really had no merit. If they could move the venue, the Jewish leaders would be placated. And then, after hearing the evidence, which all seemed spurious at this point, he could declare Paul not guilty, and release him. Everybody could win.
But Paul knew that there was still a plot against his life boiling away in the background. He realized that as soon as he was outside the walls of the governor’s estate, he would be vulnerable. So, he did the most logical thing he could think of: he appealed to Caesar.
An appeal to Caesar meant that he would be shipped off to Rome, which would serve a double purpose. It would get him to Rome, where he wanted to go anyway (Romans 15:23-29), and it would immediately put him out of the reach of the Jewish leaders and whatever assassins were lurking in the shadows.
It didn’t take a long conferral for Festus to determine that Paul’s request was a real godsend. He could wash his hands of the whole mess simply by granting the perfectly legal request of the accused to stand trial in Rome!

Father, Your hand is powerfully evident in this whole event. You had kept Paul safe for more than two years. Now, when it would have been very easy for him to fall victim to the plots of the Jewish leaders, You inspired him to appeal to Caesar, which would not only provide continued safety, it would move the kingdom agenda forward as well. Lord, when I am in any troublesome spot, help me to hear Your voice just as clearly as Paul did, so that I can follow Your guidance with all my heart. Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – November 13, 2019

Acts 24:23-26 (NIV)
He ordered the centurion to keep Paul under guard but to give him some freedom and permit his friends to take care of his needs.
Several days later Felix came with his wife Drusilla, who was a Jewess. He sent for Paul and listened to him as he spoke about faith in Christ Jesus. As Paul discoursed on righteousness, self-control and the judgment to come, Felix was afraid and said, “That’s enough for now! You may leave. When I find it convenient, I will send for you.” At the same time he was hoping that Paul would offer him a bribe, so he sent for him frequently and talked with him.

Felix knew that Paul was innocent, but the delicate balancing act he had to play with the Jewish leaders, the power structure of the land, caused him to act cautiously, slowly. In effect, Paul became a political prisoner.

Paul, on the other hand, flourished wherever he was planted. He had some freedom, even in prison, and Felix didn’t treat him as a normal prisoner.

In verse 24, Luke reveals why Felix was so knowledgeable about “the Way.” His wife, Drusilla,” was Jewish, and the Christians were a perennial hot topic among the Jews. So, he had doubtless heard all about it, perhaps a bit one-sided, from his wife and her family.

Felix thought it might be interesting for Drusilla to hear about the Way directly from one of those in a strong position in the Church. So, he invited her to listen to Paul and summoned him to speak.

But Felix got more than he bargained for! As Paul was answering questions and expounding on the beliefs of the Way, he moved into the need for righteousness before God, a righteousness that can only come through faith in Jesus, and without which we stand condemned. He talked about the need for self-control, not just doing whatever we want, but bending ourselves to God’s will. And he talked about the judgment to come, when all people will stand before God’s throne and answer for the life that they have lived and the things that they have done (Revelation 20:11-15).

When he heard about all this, not spoken about philosophically, but passionately, and with a clarity that showed more than mere religious belief, it freaked Felix out. He was deeply convicted about his own lack of righteousness. But rather than repent, Felix used his authority to remove the convictor, ordering Paul back to his cell.

Still, Felix found Paul to be fascinating, and listened to him often over the two years that he held him prisoner. Luke tells us that part of the reason for his regular visits to Paul was that he hoped Paul would offer him a bribe to get freed. But neither Paul nor his friends who came to see to his needs had appreciable money, and none of them ever thought about gaming the system through a bribe. They simply trusted that God was at work in the situation, and that God would free Paul when it was time.

Father, I appreciate Paul’s spirit. He never was one to sit weeping in a corner when things didn’t go right. He simply looked for and took advantage of every opportunity to be useful in growing Your kingdom. In prison he had access to the governor of the land, so he used that access to speak Your words at every opportunity. There is no sign that Felix ever repented, but Paul never let an opportunity go by. And he doubtless spoke to his fellow prisoners and the guards as well, likely having greater success with them. Help me, Lord, to be like Paul, never idling, but always looking for opportunities wherever I am. Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – November 14, 2019

Acts 24:27-25:5 (NIV)
When two years had passed, Felix was succeeded by Porcius Festus, but because Felix wanted to grant a favor to the Jews, he left Paul in prison.
Three days after arriving in the province, Festus went up from Caesarea to Jerusalem, where the chief priests and Jewish leaders appeared before him and presented the charges against Paul. They urgently requested Festus, as a favor to them, to have Paul transferred to Jerusalem, for they were preparing an ambush to kill him along the way. Festus answered, “Paul is being held at Caesarea, and I myself am going there soon. Let some of your leaders come with me and press charges against the man there, if he has done anything wrong.”

Paul’s imprisonment in Caesarea lasted two whole years – much longer than anyone would have imagined. But, as we saw in the last section, Paul had become a political prisoner. Even though Felix knew that Paul was innocent of the charges against him, he couldn’t figure out how to release him without causing a major uproar. So, when he was summoned back to Rome, he left Paul in prison as a “favor” to the Jewish leadership, a problem for his successor to deal with if he saw fit.

The next governor, Porcius Festus, knew nothing about Paul when he arrived in Jerusalem, but the Jewish leaders there gave him an earful of information. They figured that, being new to the province, Festus would probably be open to acceding to their request in order to save himself the problem of having to deal with this political prisoner. All he needed to do was to send Paul to Jerusalem, to the Sanhedrin, so that he could be “legally” tried in the correct venue.

But these leaders, whitewashed tombs indeed, had no plans to conduct a trial, legal or otherwise. Instead, they had already set up an ambush designed to intercept the transport and kill Paul before he ever arrived in Jerusalem.

Thankfully, Festus was a justice-minded man. His discernment showed him that something was not quite right about this request, so he denied it, foiling the plot. He was anxious to clear up this matter, but it had to be done in accordance with the high standards of Roman law, not Jewish law. Therefore, anyone with charges against Paul must come to Caesarea with him and present their case in his legal court.

Even though two years had passed since Paul’s arrest and transfer to Caesarea, God still had not forgotten him, as he himself knew. God was still moving people and events toward the end that He had planned. And so, Paul simply waited and worked.

Father, as a rule we are an impatient species. Once we have an objective or goal in mind, we want to get there in the shortest time possible. But You don’t work that way. It was literally thousands of years from Your first promise of the Messiah (Genesis 3:15) to its fulfillment (Galatians 4:4-5). But in those thousands of years, You worked in and through people to orchestrate events so that, when Jesus finally arrived, things were ready, not just for him, but for the explosive growth and expansion of Your kingdom through Him and His followers. It has been two thousand years since Jesus promised to return, and we are still waiting. But in that time, You have been working in and through people to greatly increase the reach of Your gospel in order to save more and more people before the final trumpet (2 Peter 3:8-10). Lord, help us to have patience, to wait expectantly, diligently doing Your work in the waiting time, just like Paul. Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – November 12, 2019

Acts 24:10-22 (NIV)
When the governor motioned for him to speak, Paul replied: “I know that for a number of years you have been a judge over this nation; so I gladly make my defense. You can easily verify that no more than twelve days ago I went up to Jerusalem to worship. My accusers did not find me arguing with anyone at the temple, or stirring up a crowd in the synagogues or anywhere else in the city. And they cannot prove to you the charges they are now making against me. However, I admit that I worship the God of our fathers as a follower of the Way, which they call a sect. I believe everything that agrees with the Law and that is written in the Prophets, and I have the same hope in God as these men, that there will be a resurrection of both the righteous and the wicked. So I strive always to keep my conscience clear before God and man.
“After an absence of several years, I came to Jerusalem to bring my people gifts for the poor and to present offerings. I was ceremonially clean when they found me in the temple courts doing this. There was no crowd with me, nor was I involved in any disturbance. But there are some Jews from the province of Asia, who ought to be here before you and bring charges if they have anything against me. Or these who are here should state what crime they found in me when I stood before the Sanhedrin–unless it was this one thing I shouted as I stood in their presence: ‘It is concerning the resurrection of the dead that I am on trial before you today.”
Then Felix, who was well acquainted with the Way, adjourned the proceedings. “When Lysias the commander comes,” he said, “I will decide your case.”

Paul’s defense was very simple, very clear. When found in the temple by rabble rousers he wasn’t making a scene but was merely worshiping. Far from desecrating the temple, he was there alone and was ritually pure. Far from being an enemy of the people, he had brought a substantial charitable gift for them. In short, the core of the Sanhedrin’s case against him was demonstrably false.

Next, Paul laid out the real basis of the smears against him. He was a follower of the Way, which the Jewish leaders dismissively called a “sect”. But even in this Paul had a defense. The followers of the Way pursued the promise of a resurrection from the dead and of an afterlife as foretold by the prophets. And on the basis of that promise, Paul always strived to keep a clear conscience before the same God that the Jews worshiped, and before men by living a holy life and doing harm to no one.

Paul also pointed out a glaring irregularity in the legal proceedings. In Roman law, the accusers had to appear at the trial. The high priest and his group were not present when Paul had supposedly been seen making a disturbance and defiling the temple by bringing gentiles into the sacred precincts. But the Asian Jews who had started the uprising against him by making those accusations were nowhere to be seen. To ensure justice, then, the charges against Paul should have been dismissed immediately.

But Felix found himself in a predicament. The Jewish leaders were a powerful bloc in Palestine, and he didn’t want to dismiss their case out of hand for fear of inciting a revolt. On the other hand, he was well-informed about the Way, and had found that the people who followed it (or, more precisely, Him) to be a benign people, whose focus was on helping others, and on worship and righteous living rather than instigating unrest and violence. But rather than making a decision on the spot, he decided he would buy some time by delaying until commander Lysias arrived and was able to give his testimony.

Father, it is clear that the charges against Paul were baseless, and that he should have been immediately released. And it is easy when things don’t go the way they “should” to wonder what You are doing, or if You have somehow lost control of the situation. But You never lose track or lose control. Everything in this situation was being overseen and guided by You with the single-minded goal of moving the kingdom agenda forward. Paul would get to testify in Rome, and have the empire pay for his trip. In the meantime, Paul was kept safe, housed and fed on the empires dime, and would have many opportunities to share the good news with people in high places that would have been inaccessible before. Thank You, Lord, for this assurance that You are always in control, even when we can’t clearly see it. Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – November 7, 2019

Acts 24:1-9 (NIV)
Five days later the high priest Ananias went down to Caesarea with some of the elders and a lawyer named Tertullus, and they brought their charges against Paul before the governor. When Paul was called in, Tertullus presented his case before Felix: “We have enjoyed a long period of peace under you, and your foresight has brought about reforms in this nation. Everywhere and in every way, most excellent Felix, we acknowledge this with profound gratitude. But in order not to weary you further, I would request that you be kind enough to hear us briefly.
“We have found this man to be a troublemaker, stirring up riots among the Jews all over the world. He is a ringleader of the Nazarene sect and even tried to desecrate the temple; so we seized him. By examining him yourself you will be able to learn the truth about all these charges we are bringing against him.”
The Jews joined in the accusation, asserting that these things were true.

The Jewish leaders had no choice now but to play by the rules. With Paul safely ensconced in a Roman prison, they had to officially accuse him in court. Since it was a Roman court, they hired a Roman Lawyer, Tertullus, to present their case.

As Paul stated in his defense (verse 11), the time from the riot in the temple to this day had been only twelve days. But the scene had changed radically. The Jewish leaders were no longer on their turf in Jerusalem, but in the Roman city of Caesarea on the coast. And they were not in charge of the proceedings as they would have been in the Sanhedrin. Instead, they were merely one side in the legal proceedings, presided over by the Roman governor, Felix.

As was normal in Roman court proceedings, the prosecution began by presenting the case against the accused. In this case, the charges brought against Paul were those tending toward sedition, attempts at undermining peace in the empire, and thus indirect assaults against the emperor and his authority. Specifically:

  • That Paul was an agitator, causing unrest in many places throughout the empire. There actually had been much unrest in many places that Paul had gone, but the unrest was not directly fomented by Paul. Instead, it was almost always caused by the Jews’ jealousy and their attempts to remove Paul so that he and his message would cease to be competition for them.
  • That he was a ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes, the people also known as Christians. This was true. But that in and of itself was no crime in the empire. Until Nero blamed the great fire of Rome (AD 64) on the Christians and used them as scapegoats to turn suspicion away from himself, Christians were considered by Rome to merely be a sect of Judaism. But the words used by Tertullus, especially the characterization of Paul as a “ringleader”, and Christianity as a “sect”, were designed to cast him in a sinister light.
  • The he tried to desecrate the temple, presumably by bringing gentiles into its sacred areas (Acts 21:28-29), thus disturbing the peace. This was a risky charge, first because it wasn’t something that the Roman government would really care about. But also, because it was not true and couldn’t be proved. But it provided the only grounds for the initial uprising and detention of Paul so, risky as it was, it had to be presented as part of the case.

Like many false accusations, most of these charges had a grain of truth to them. But to be seen as legitimate, the truth in them had to be skewed and twisted so as to make Paul appear in the worst possible light. Similar tactics were used in the framing of Jesus before Pilate, which was successful in winning a condemnation and execution. The leaders were hoping for repeated success. But God had other plans.

Father, Paul was bolstered by the clear promise of Jesus that he would not die in Israel but would at least make it to Rome to testify. So, even though the deck seemed irredeemably stacked against him (he was provided no lawyer in the roman court), he knew that his ultimate fate was in far more competent hands than his own. Help us to have that same assurance whenever we face troubles, trials, hardships, even persecutions, because we also have many good promises from Jesus (John 14:27, 15:10, 17:33 and many others). 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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