Tag Archives: apostles

Today’s Scripture – June 26, 2019

Acts 14:24-28 (NIV)
After going through Pisidia, they came into Pamphylia, and when they had preached the word in Perga, they went down to Attalia. From Attalia they sailed back to Antioch, where they had been committed to the grace of God for the work they had now completed. On arriving there, they gathered the church together and reported all that God had done through them and how he had opened the door of faith to the Gentiles. And they stayed there a long time with the disciples.

Paul and Barnabas had established full-fledged Churches in four cities of Galatia, including selecting and ordaining elders in each city. There were likely several congregations in each town, meeting in homes and public spaces. But all the Christians in each community were considered one Church, one body, working together to move God’s kingdom agenda forward by bringing more and more people to salvation.

Paul and Barnabas’ last stops in Galatia were the coastal towns of Perga and Attalia, where they preached before they sailed back to Syria to report on all that God had done through them.

When they arrived, they gathered the whole Church at Antioch together so that everyone could hear the report and rejoice. There had been at least four Churches started in Galatia, composed not only of Jewish believers, but of gentiles as well! This was unexpected news. The thought of most of the people was that the pair would go to the synagogues and show the Jewish men and women why they should trust in Jesus as the Messiah and Savior. Instead, these Christians, who were predominantly gentile themselves (Acts 11:20-24), rejoiced that God was throwing the doors of the kingdom even wider and bringing in more and more gentiles.

Several years are covered by the phrase “they stayed there a long time with the disciples” in verse 28. Paul and Barnabas were not missionaries in the modern sense who go and live with a people group for many years, often a lifetime. Instead, they were apostles. They would go, make disciples, organize them into a Church, establish leadership, and then move on, staying in touch with the Churches they had established, and sometimes returning for a visit to strengthen the disciples. And in between trips to strengthen the Churches and to open new works, they returned to their home base of Antioch to not only recharge, but to continue their service there.

Father, it is easy to overlook how important it is to have a solid home base from which we can go, and to which we can return to rest, recharge and serve until our next mission. This is as true for those of us who are called to serve primarily in a local area as it is for those who are called to go far away. Help me, Lord, to use the down time with my brothers and sisters more intentionally, to rest, restore, rearm, serve, and to be ready for whatever mission I am called to next. 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 – March 18, 2019

Acts 5:21b-26 (NIV)
When the high priest and his associates arrived, they called together the Sanhedrin–the full assembly of the elders of Israel–and sent to the jail for the apostles. But on arriving at the jail, the officers did not find them there. So they went back and reported, “We found the jail securely locked, with the guards standing at the doors; but when we opened them, we found no one inside.” On hearing this report, the captain of the temple guard and the chief priests were puzzled, wondering what would come of this.
Then someone came and said, “Look! The men you put in jail are standing in the temple courts teaching the people.” At that, the captain went with his officers and brought the apostles. They did not use force, because they feared that the people would stone them.

No man can stand in God’s way or foil His plan. The chief priests had put the apostles into jail, intending to stop the proclamation of the gospel by force. But God miraculously released them from the jail and sent them out with orders to continue their proclamation.

Even though the high priests and other Jewish leaders professed to believe in God and regularly proclaimed the miracles He had done for His people in the ancient past, they really had a difficult time believing that He could still work that way in their day.

So, when the apostles mysteriously disappeared from the public jail, leaving the doors locked and the guards still standing alert at their posts oblivious to what had happened, the Sanhedrin’s reaction, sadly, was not to believe that God had done a miracle, and see these men as favored by Him. They were simply confused and troubled by events that did not fit into their worldview.

When the announcement came that the apostles were found preaching on the temple grounds to a sizeable crowd, the leaders decided that caution must be used in bringing them back in, so as not to start an uprising. But it would have gone much better for them if they had taken the opportunity to step back and reexamine their assumptions about who these men were and what they were doing in light of these most recent events.

Father, so many people over the ages have resisted Your plans, and have even set themselves against Your anointed messengers, always to their hurt. But still the enemies of Your kingdom don’t learn the lessons of the past. Even today, those who oppose Your gospel and who live in fear of the expansion of Your kingdom allow themselves to feel emboldened and to act even more strongly purely on the basis of initial victories. “They say, ‘God has forsaken him; pursue him and seize him, for no one will rescue him.’” (Psalm 71:11 NIV) But even though the enemy may seem to have the upper hand at times, You never lose the upper hand; Your plan will always have the last word, and Your name will be glorified. Thank You, Lord, for this inspiration and reassurance for our time. 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 – March 13, 2019

Acts 5:12-16 (NIV)
The apostles performed many miraculous signs and wonders among the people. And all the believers used to meet together in Solomon’s Colonnade. No one else dared join them, even though they were highly regarded by the people. Nevertheless, more and more men and women believed in the Lord and were added to their number. As a result, people brought the sick into the streets and laid them on beds and mats so that at least Peter’s shadow might fall on some of them as he passed by. Crowds gathered also from the towns around Jerusalem, bringing their sick and those tormented by evil spirits, and all of them were healed.

In a very real sense, the ministries of the Church were simply a continuation of the ministry of Jesus, just expanded to work through more people. The apostles were in the vanguard, doing many signs and wonders, although these things were also being done by other spirit-filled members of the community as well (Acts 6:8).

The Church continued to gather daily in Solomon’s Colonnade, the only location in the city big enough to hold them all. There they spent time together, ate together, worshiped together, and listened to the apostles’ teachings, learning by heart the life, ministry and teachings of Jesus from those who had experienced it first-hand.

The reaction to this group included both a drawing and a repulsion, sometimes manifested in the same people. God was so palpably present in their midst that many people feared getting too close. They remembered the stories from the Old Testament about the dreadful fates of those who got too close to God’s presence with “unclean hands”. And the story of the fate of Ananias and Sapphira seemed to confirm the danger.

But at the same time, there was a tremendous draw to the Church. The Christians had obviously experienced something profound through their faith in Jesus. They were amazingly good people, often with stories of how they had been anything but good before they had come to believe in Him. And God’s power and glory were clearly visible among them when they met.

So, with fear and trembling, people listened from the edges. And, as they listened, they believed what they were hearing about Jesus, who He was and what He did for the people of the world, and they were saved, and transformed, and baptized, and finally brought into the living center of the community.

There were also those who needed a healing or release from the domination of demons, either for themselves or for others. Those who were brave enough or desperate enough came right into the center of the group with their requests and received what they needed. Others were too timid for that, and merely brought their loved ones into the streets in the hope that Peter’s shadow might fall on them as he passed by. And even among these, as timid and fearful of God’s actual presence as they were, were those who received the healing they needed in answer to the small faith that they displayed.

Father, it is encouraging as well as frustrating to see Your presence and power so tangibly present in Your Church at the beginning. Those kingdom people not only did a lot of good in the lives of those who had profound needs, but Your presence and power were such a powerful draw to those who hungered for something profoundly real, and who ultimately found it in Jesus. Somewhere along the way we seem to have lost that tangible presence and power. A spark of it flares up in the Church from time to time, but it quickly dies out as the focus shifts to the signs and wonders and away from living in Your kingdom as conduits to bring more in. Lord, bless Your people with Your presence once again. Melt us, mold us, shape us, and fill us with Your presence so that we can truly live as the people of the kingdom, not in a philosophical or theological sense, but tangibly, powerfully, and effectively, to Your 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 – February 1, 2019

Acts 1:21-26 (NIV)
Therefore it is necessary to choose one of the men who have been with us the whole time the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from John’s baptism to the time when Jesus was taken up from us. For one of these must become a witness with us of his resurrection.”
So they proposed two men: Joseph called Barsabbas (also known as Justus) and Matthias. Then they prayed, “Lord, you know everyone’s heart. Show us which of these two you have chosen to take over this apostolic ministry, which Judas left to go where he belongs.” Then they cast lots, and the lot fell to Matthias; so he was added to the eleven apostles.

Peter, moved by Jesus’ prophecy of His twelve apostles sitting on twelve thrones at the last judgment (Matthew 19:28), urged the other believers to choose one from among their number to replace Judas as the twelfth apostle. The only criteria was that it had to be someone who had faithfully and consistently followed Jesus from the days of John the Baptist’s ministry all the way to the present.

In most people’s minds, as Jesus went about during His ministry, He was accompanied by the “twelve disciples,” and others came to Him for healing, or perhaps followed Him for a short time. But the reality was that He had quite a large group of committed followers. In fact, at one point, after He had sent the twelve out to teach in the towns and villages ahead of Him (Luke 9:1-9), He was able to send out another group of seventy-two (Luke 10:1-24), all of them consistent and committed followers.

It was from followers such as those, followers who had been eyewitnesses to the things that Jesus had said and done in the years before, and who were now present in the upper room that day, that the group was to nominate candidates. And the people brought forward two names: Joseph son of Sabbas, and Matthias.

This is the only time that the assembled apostles made a decision by casting lots. After Pentecost, they received God’s instructions directly from the Holy Spirit who spoke directly to their hearts. But, since they didn’t yet have that ability to hear His voice clearly, they relied on an older method of determining God’s will: casting lots.

In its simplest form, which was deciding between two options, casting lost could be likened to flipping a coin and relying on God to cause it to fall with the side up that represented His choice. Sometimes casting lots was done by placing names on pieces of parchment or shards of clay that had the choices written on them, and drawing one out of a bag or a bowl. Sometimes this was done using two stones in a bag, one representing one choice, and the second the other choice, much like the Urim and Thummim kept in the breastplate of the high priest (Exodus 28:30, Leviticus 8:8). A prayer would be said, and then someone would reach into the bag and pull out the first stone they touched, trusting that God would guide their hand to the correct one. In this case, the lot indicated that Matthias had been chosen by God to fill the twelfth slot on the roster of apostles, and it was treated as His will from that moment on.

Father, it’s interesting to get this glimpse of the way that the Church made decisions before Pentecost. And it is instructional to realize that, after that day, they didn’t have to rely on those methods to determine Your will, since You could speak directly to their hearts. We still need to hear Your voice today, Lord. Work in our hearts with Your Spirit, carve a channel from our hearts to our spiritual ears, and help us to learn Your voice, so that You can easily guide us every moment of 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 – January 30, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

If you are enjoying my blog, I invite you to check out my book, When We Listen, A Devotional Commentary on the Gospel of Mark. Just follow this url: http://eagerpress.webstarts.com/ Thanks, and God bless you all!

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Today’s Scripture – December 9, 2018

John 17:24-26 (NIV)
“Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world.
“Righteous Father, though the world does not know you, I know you, and they know that you have sent me. I have made you known to them, and will continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them.”

In this closing section of His prayer, Jesus petitioned the Father that those in His inner circle (“those you have given me”) would be able to live in His presence for all eternity and to see His true glory. Jesus knew that this would not apply to Judas, whom He knew would ultimately choose to betray Him even as He named him one of the twelve. But the rest, despite their weaknesses and flaws, would ultimately prove true to Him and to His mission.

Jesus also assured the Father that these eleven apostles knew that Jesus had come from Him. Jesus states that He Himself knew the Father, that is that He had experiential knowledge of Him, not mere information. But at this point, the disciples only knew that Jesus had come from the Father. At the same time, Jesus had shared as much information as they could assimilate about who God was and what He was doing in the world. And He knew that when the Holy Spirit came, He would be able to use that head knowledge to open a path into their hearts for that same kind of experiential knowledge. And He knew that, at that point, genuine agape love would fill their hearts and transform them.

This whole section of Jesus’ prayer touches on the two-fold nature of the kingdom of God. There is a powerful aspect of the kingdom that is present today, wherever God’s people love Him and do His will. We are able to live here and now in vital relationship with God, and to experience His power and glory flowing through our own lives.

But at the same time, there is a “not yet” aspect of the kingdom. We who live in God’s kingdom while still residents of this world see God’s glory dimly, as if in a darkened mirror. But when this world is left behind, we will see Him face-to-face, and will know Him even as we are known (1 Corinthians 13:12). And we will then be able to live out the answer to Jesus’ petition forever.

Father, it is the tension between what we can experience here and now (which is actually a LOT), and what we are promised when our work here is done, that draws us ever forward, and instills in us a hunger for the righteousness that only comes to us through an intimate relationship with You. The amazing reality that Jesus prayed for these things for His disciples, and by extension, for us as well, is so easily lost as we face the struggles of life in this alien land. But His petition was real, sincere, and sure to be answered by You. Thank You for the hope that that puts into 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: http://eagerpress.webstarts.com/ Thanks, and God bless you all!

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Today’s Scripture – December 3, 2018

John 17:6-8 (NIV)
“I have revealed you to those whom you gave me out of the world. They were yours; you gave them to me and they have obeyed your word. Now they know that everything you have given me comes from you. For I gave them the words you gave me and they accepted them. They knew with certainty that I came from you, and they believed that you sent me.”

This core group of followers, only eleven men at this time, were given to Jesus for the specific task of propagating God’s kingdom around the world. Jesus had many other followers, both men and women, but these eleven were specifically selected by the Father (Luke 6:12-16) to be His inner circle, and to be His apostles, those who would be sent out from Him (the root meaning of “apostle”) to spread the good news of the kingdom.

They were a diverse lot. Some were professional men, like Matthew the tax collector. Some were laborers or business owners. And one was even a zealot. The thing they had in common, the thing that united them, was that they had all left everything behind to follow Jesus (Luke 18:28).

Into the hearts and minds of these men Jesus had poured the knowledge of the kingdom of God, what it is and how it works. And upon His departure, these eleven would be filled with the Holy Spirit and tasked with making disciples of all nations. They would have to teach all that Jesus had taught them to all those who received Him by faith, starting with those who had already chosen to follow Him, who had received some of His teachings, and who would make up the bulk of the 120 that gathered at Pentecost (Acts 1:15).

Even though these eleven men had only been able to assimilate a small portion of all that Jesus had taught them, He knew that they had believed as much as they could understand at the moment, and that they would believe the rest as the Holy Spirit continue to teach them.

Father, it is helpful to realize that these apostles, who we so look up to, didn’t start out as spiritual superstars. Instead, they were simply men who were completely devoted to Jesus, and who relied on the Holy Spirit to help them learn all they would need to know and to empower them to do all that they were called on to do. And all that, from the devotion to the empowerment and insight that the Holy Spirit gives, is available to us just as it was to them. Help us, Lord, to give ourselves entirely to You, to be used by You to grow Your kingdom, so that we can glorify You just as they did. 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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