Category Archives: Scripture Meditations

Today’s Scripture – December 4, 2019

Acts 26:24-29 (NIV)
At this point Festus interrupted Paul’s defense. “You are out of your mind, Paul!” he shouted. “Your great learning is driving you insane.”
“I am not insane, most excellent Festus,” Paul replied. “What I am saying is true and reasonable. The king is familiar with these things, and I can speak freely to him. I am convinced that none of this has escaped his notice, because it was not done in a corner. King Agrippa, do you believe the prophets? I know you do.”
Then Agrippa said to Paul, “Do you think that in such a short time you can persuade me to be a Christian?”
Paul replied, “Short time or long–I pray God that not only you but all who are listening to me today may become what I am, except for these chains.”

Festus was impressed by Paul’s wisdom and learning. He was an impressive individual. But all this talk about visions and resurrection from the dead was too much for him. That was the source of his exclamation that Paul’s great knowledge had driven him insane.

But Paul pushed back against the accusation. He knew that he was not insane but was merely presenting the facts as they had happened. Many of the Romans prided themselves on being very rational. Unfortunately, that usually meant that they discounted entirely anything supernatural. And Paul’s testimony was chock full of the supernatural.

Paul’s appeal to Agrippa was reasonable. These ideas might be novel to Festus, a newcomer to the region. But Agrippa had been brought up in the area and was still frequently in and around Jerusalem for religious feasts and would have been quite aware of many of the things that Paul was talking about.

But Paul went one step further. He was not willing to let what might be his only chance to urge Agrippa to receive Jesus go by without finding out if he was ready to do that. He had made the case that everything that Jesus said and did was foretold in the Scriptures, in both the law and the prophets. Agrippa claimed to be an adherent to the Jewish faith, although not of Jewish blood. So, Paul began by asking if Agrippa truly believed the prophets. If he did, there was a basis to move forward with him.

But Agrippa was not ready yet. Even though he had read or heard the prophets, he had not heard before that they had predicted the life, ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus. His response to Paul sounded dismissive. But He was really just saying that many of the ideas Paul was presenting were so new to him that he was unwilling to make a snap decision to become a Christian.

Paul had the information that he needed. He had planted the best seed that he had, but the soil of these hearts was not ready to be harvested yet. But he closed with his simple statement that, even if they were not ready right then, he was still praying that the seed would continue to grow, and that everybody in the room would come to the point where they could become a Christian just like Paul (except for the chains, of course!).

Father, Paul always impresses me. He was never off duty, and never off message. Even at his own trials he consistently lifted up the name of Jesus and was looking for every opportunity to urge his hearers to believe in Him. Help me, Lord, to have that same passion, that same 24/7 devotion to the cause of Christ, today and every day. Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – December 3, 2019

Acts 26:19-23 (NIV)
“So then, King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the vision from heaven. First to those in Damascus, then to those in Jerusalem and in all Judea, and to the Gentiles also, I preached that they should repent and turn to God and prove their repentance by their deeds. That is why the Jews seized me in the temple courts and tried to kill me. But I have had God’s help to this very day, and so I stand here and testify to small and great alike. I am saying nothing beyond what the prophets and Moses said would happen–that the Christ would suffer and, as the first to rise from the dead, would proclaim light to his own people and to the Gentiles.”

Paul had put his own repentance into immediate action. He immediately began to preach the gospel that he had fought against for so long. He was so passionate about it that the Jews in Damascus laid a plot against his life, and he had to be spirited out of the city, lowered over the wall in a basket after dark (Acts 9:23-25).

He then went to Jerusalem. Again, he preached so passionately that the Grecian Jews there tried to kill him. The disciples then sent him to his hometown of Tarsus far to the north in Cilicia, just to keep him out of harm’s way.

Paul made no secret of the fact that he had spent the last several years spreading the gospel throughout the empire, not just to the Jews, but also to the gentiles. This had inflamed the Jewish sensibilities against him even further and was the real reason why he had been seized and assaulted in the temple two years earlier. It was merely a continuation of the persecution he had endured since his conversion.

Paul’s final point was that the gospel he preached was not heresy or a new theology that should be opposed and persecuted, but was clearly foretold throughout the Jewish Scriptures. This included the promise of the Messiah as far back as Genesis 3:15, that he would suffer and die on behalf of the people, and that his death and resurrection would open a way into God’s presence for both Jews and gentiles.

In these few short paragraphs, Paul communicated the key points of the previous thirty years of his life, the mission that drove him, and the history of the persecution committed against him by the Jewish people, of which his current imprisonment was merely the culmination. He also clearly communicated the core of the gospel message to this small group of unbelievers: the death and resurrection of Jesus and the transformation of his own life by faith, a transformation that they themselves could experience if they would just believe.

Father, the main points of the gospel really are that simple. And the proof of them is not the depth of our theology or the breadth of our understanding of the Bible, but our own transformation and the evidence of the holiness of our lives, the righteousness that comes by grace through faith in Jesus. Help me, like Paul, to keep it simple when I share my own testimony with those who need to hear, and to keep on sharing 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: Thanks, and God bless you all!

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Today’s Scripture – December 2, 2019

Acts 26:12-18 (NIV)
“On one of these journeys I was going to Damascus with the authority and commission of the chief priests. About noon, O king, as I was on the road, I saw a light from heaven, brighter than the sun, blazing around me and my companions. We all fell to the ground, and I heard a voice saying to me in Aramaic, ‘Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads.’
“Then I asked, ‘Who are you, Lord?’
“‘I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,’ the Lord replied. ‘Now get up and stand on your feet. I have appeared to you to appoint you as a servant and as a witness of what you have seen of me and what I will show you. I will rescue you from your own people and from the Gentiles. I am sending you to them to open their eyes and turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.’”

A centerpiece of Paul’s evangelistic efforts was always his own testimony, especially among the Jews who had known how zealous he had been in persecuting the Church at an earlier stage of his life. Something had to justify the abrupt about-face he had experienced, his complete transformation, and a face-to-face encounter with the risen Jesus was exactly that something.

Paul noted that one of the foreign cities to which he had pursued Christians with the full authority of the chief priests was Damascus, far to the north in Syria. His intent was to find any Christians in the city, arrest them, take them back to Jerusalem in chains, to see them tried and executed as heretics.

But as he neared the city, the brilliant light of Jesus flashed around him, outshining the sun itself. The light was visible to Paul’s companions as well (Acts 22:9), but they did not see the form of Jesus. And though they heard a sound (Acts 9:7), they couldn’t discern the words that Jesus spoke (Acts 22:9).

As soon as Jesus identified Himself, Paul was filled with terror. This was the one he had rejected, refusing to believe the eyewitness testimony of His resurrection, choosing instead to believe the myth of collusion cooked up by the Jewish leadership (Matthew 28:11-15). In his own mind, he had placed himself, far above the “ignorant people” who dared to believe in Jesus. But now that he was lying at the feet of this glorious person, definitely not a ghost and seemingly far more than a man, his mind and heart instantly surrendered.

Jesus’ commission to Paul had four parts to it as he recounted it in greater detail than in the other two places it is reference in the book of Acts:

  • Paul’s job from that moment forward was to bear witness to Jesus, to both what Paul had already experienced of Him, and to what Jesus would reveal to him later.
  • Paul would need to be rescued from the people Jesus as going to send him to, because there were many out there who would consider him a rebel and a heretic, just as he had considered followers of Jesus to be until that moment. But Jesus would provide the deliverance that he would need.
  • Paul’s purpose from that moment forward would be to spread the good news of the kingdom to Jews and gentiles alike, not just out of obedience, but so that the people walking in the darkness could have their eyes opened to the light of Jesus (Isaiah 9:2), just as his own had been.
  • By receiving Jesus, those people would be enabled to not only receive forgiveness and sanctification by faith, they would be able to turn away from their enslavement to Satan, and instead serve God wholeheartedly.

Paul was doing far more than merely sharing his story at that moment. He was aiming it directly at the hearts of those who were listening, in the hope that they would see their need of the same kind of transformation that he himself had receive. Being freed from prison would be great, but continuing his mission, leading Festus, Agrippa and Berenice to a place where they could meet Jesus for themselves was the real goal that morning.

Father, Paul was always on duty, always looking for a place into which he could speak the name of Jesus. He never saw evangelism as an activity that he did. It was his mission, his reason for existing. So, he shared constantly, always alert for the next opportunity, and then stepping into any space that presented itself. He wasn’t always successful in leading his hearers into your kingdom, as was the case with those listening that day. But if they didn’t come that day, he looked for another chance soon. Lord, when we come to You and receive life through Your grace, we become Your servants as much as Paul was, and with the same commission to go and make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:19-20). Help me to give that mission my all, 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: Thanks, and God bless you all!

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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.

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 – 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.

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 – 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.

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 – 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.

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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