Paul’s Gospel for the Jews: Acts 13

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Today’s reading: Acts 11-13.

“How do I tell a Jewish person the Good News?”

Paul left with Barnabas and John Mark on his first missionary journey in 48 AD, about eighteen years after the death of Jesus. It had been about fourteen years since his conversion. Persecution had scattered the church leading to a widening circle of influence. King Herod had executed James, the brother of John. Paul and Barnabas sailed to Cyprus, then to Asia Minor. He visited the Synagogue there and preached to the Jews the good news of Jesus Christ. His message gives us an outline of one way to share that good news, including with those of the Jewish faith.

“The people of Jerusalem and their rulers did not recognize Jesus, yet in condemning him they fulfilled the words of the prophets that are read every Sabbath. Though they found no proper ground for a death sentence, they asked Pilate to have him executed. When they had carried out all that was written about him, they took him down from the tree and laid him in a tomb. But God raised him from the dead, and for many days he was seen by those who had traveled with him from Galilee to Jerusalem. They are now his witnesses to our people. We tell you the good news: What God promised our fathers he has fulfilled for us, their children, by raising up Jesus.” Acts 13: 27-33

Before Jesus.

  • David’s descendant; God brought a savior from the line of David as he promised.
  • Elijah’s entrance; John the Baptist prepared the way for the Messiah as foretold by Isaiah and Malachi.
  • Promised prophecies; Jesus’ life and death mirrored all the words of the Law and the Prophets read weekly in the Synagogue.

Jesus’ resurrection. He did not remain in the grave but rose to life as the scriptures promised.

After Jesus.

  • Sin forgiven; “Through him everyone who believes is justified from everything you could not be justified from by the law of Moses.”
  • Warning given; Don’t ignore the revealed truth and fulfilled promises and become hardened as the prophets predicted.

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It should come as no surprise that any people, including the Jews, resist the gospel. Jesus Himself experienced in his own body the full force of rejection by his own people. He did not cry out in amazement, “What’s wrong with you people? Don’t you know who I am? Can’t you just read Isaiah 53?” As He wept over Jerusalem, He cried out, “Oh, Jerusalem who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her.” He did not see His own rejection as an isolated event in the history of Israel, but as the culmination of a long history of resistance and rejection of the messengers of God. The Apostle Paul understood this when he declared that “the man without the spirit does not accept the things that come from the spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him and, he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned.” (1st Corinthians 2:14). There is no difference between Jews and Gentiles when it comes to the sinfulness of the human heart, which is the first and primary reason for Gospel resistance. – David N. Brickner

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The church is born: Acts 2

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Today’s reading: Acts 1-3.

Jesus poured himself into his twelve disciples for three years, but when he returned to heaven there were only 120 persons who could be counted as believers (Acts 1:15). However, with God little is much. As a result of his discipling, and by the power of the Holy Spirit, thousands of new believers were soon filling the homes and crowding the temple in Jerusalem. The church, literally the assembly or gathering, sprang up and grew rapidly.

With many other words he (Peter) warned them; and he pleaded with them, “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.” Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day. They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Acts 2:40-42

The longing of the church: Jesus’ return. As the disciples watched Jesus ascend to heaven, they were told that he would return in the same way. “Even so, come quickly, Lord Jesus” is the cry of believers who watch and wait for his return.

The power of the church: the Holy Spirit. The believers were gathered together on Pentecost, fifty days after Passover, when the Holy Spirit came and filled them. Jesus had been sacrificed on Passover, and had risen from the dead at the time of the First Fruits celebration. Pentecost celebrated the first of the wheat harvest, and a great harvest of new believers came into the church as a result of the work of the Spirit on Pentecost.

The growth of the church: preaching to the lost. I think it’s significant that the growth came from preaching outside the gathering of believers, but in view of the remarkable work of God among the believers. So much of our preaching focuses on the people already in the church. Peter’s effective preaching reached the outsiders. Our preaching would be more effective if today’s believers showed more evidence of God’s power in their lives.

The maintainance of the church: fellowship. Acts mentions four things going on in the early church. Teaching was done by the apostles. Fellowship involved sharing time with each other and sharing resources with each other as needed to meet needs. They had a common purpose and held their possessions loosely in order to fulfill that purpose. They broke bread together, an everyday word for everyday eating, but they likely followed the meal with a celebration of the Lord’s Supper. Finally, they prayed together, uniting them in communication with God.

They kept up the communion of saints. They continued in fellowship, and continued daily with one accord in the temple. They not only had a mutual affection to each other, but a great deal of mutual conversation with each other; they were much together. When they withdrew from the untoward generation, they did not turn hermits, but were very intimate with one another, and took all occasions to meet; wherever you saw one disciple, you would see more, like birds of a feather. See how these Christians love one another. They were concerned for one another, sympathized with one another, and heartily espoused one another’s interests. – Matthew Henry

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Not of this world: John 17

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Today’s reading: John 16-18.

For me, there may be no truth so difficult to hold onto as the truth that I am not of this world. All I have ever known, physically, is in this world. The people I love most are the ones I have known in this world. The times I have enjoyed most have been spent in this world. Yet Jesus declares, and I believe it to be true, that I am not of this world.

I have given them your word and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world. My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of it. Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world. John 17: 14-18

Jesus means that in the truest and deepest sense believers are not of this world. Spiritually we belong to the kingdom of God. Eternally we will be in Heaven. We are citizens of another country. We may live here now but we will not live here long. In yesterday’s post I wrote that we must abide in Christ by remaining with him in presence, by remaining with him through the duration of time, and by remaining with him in like character. In a similar way, true believers are already in the heavenly realm in presence, will remain there throughout eternity, and have a character modeled after Jesus rather than the ways of the world.

The ways of the world. There is the problem. The ways of the world envelop us like the weeds in Jesus’ parable. They weigh us down and trip us up like the entangled runner in Hebrews 12. They lure us away as the prodigal was led astray. They threaten to make us ignore God’s saving grace as the man with bigger barns ignored his salvation. They flood over us like the man who built his house on the sand.

But we are not of this world. Look how Jesus describes us:

  • We belong to God.
  • We obey his word.
  • We accept Jesus and believe he was sent by God.
  • We glorify Jesus.
  • We are hated by the world.
  • We are sent into the world.
  • We are one in Christ.

If you want to know how to define a disciple of Jesus, this makes a good definition, and it is straight from the Lord. John expands on these proofs of a believer in 1st John.

What are we meant to do then, as believers who are not of this world?

We claim heaven as our home. “But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ” (Philippians 3:20).

We focus on the eternal things. “Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things” (Colossians 3:1-2).

We are united with other believers. “So then you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with the saints, and members of God’s household” (Ephesians 2:19).

We abandon the ways of the world. “Dear friends, I urge you, as foreigners and exiles, to abstain from sinful desires, which wage war against your soul” (1 Peter 2:11).

We engage the world to glorify God. “Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God” (2 Corinthians 5:20).

He did not pray that his disciples should be removed out of the world, that they might escape the rage of men, for they had a great work to do for the glory of God, and the benefit of mankind. But he prayed that the Father would keep them from the evil, from being corrupted by the world, the remains of sin in their hearts, and from the power and craft of Satan. So that they might pass through the world as through an enemy’s country, as he had done. They are not left here to pursue the same objects as the men around them, but to glorify God, and to serve their generation. The Spirit of God in true Christians is opposed to the spirit of the world. – Matthew Henry

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Resolved, to be… John 13-15

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Today’s reading: John 13-15.

“What kind of New Year’s resolution would Jesus make?”

I don’t usually make resolutions. I’m skeptical about their staying power. I don’t think Jesus would have made them, either. At his last supper, however, he laid down some commands that have the kind of authority that might make me change my mind.

 Be a servant.

When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. “Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them…”I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. I tell you the truth, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him.” John 13:12,15

In opening his account of the last supper, John says that Jesus (1) knew everything that God had put into his hands, (2) knew where he had come from, and (3) knew where he was going. If there was any doubt before about his divine knowledge, John removed it. Yet knowing all this, what did our Lord do? He didn’t exalt himself, but dressed himself like a slave and performed the servant’s job of washing dirty feet. His challenge to us is to humble ourselves daily and do the servant’s work.

Be loving.

“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” John 13:34-35

The command to love mirrors the commandment to love our neighbor as ourself. We are to love as Jesus loved, meaning sacrificially, unconditionally, faithfully, and whole-heartedly. Such love will open the eyes of the lost world.

Be comforted.

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” John 14:27

Anxiety is the disease of the modern age, but Jesus offers the cure. We can be comforted because:

  • Jesus is preparing an eternal home for us (v. 3).
  • He shows us the way to get there (v. 6).
  • He now sits beside the Father interceding for us, so our needs will be met and we will be able to minister powerfully as Jesus did (v. 13).
  • The Holy Spirit is with us now, counseling and teaching us. (V. 16, 17, 26).

Be fruitful.

“I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing…This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.” John 15:5,8

The secret of the vine is this: if we abide in Jesus the fruit will come in the proper season. Abiding has three characteristics. We can abide in place, remaining with Jesus, living where he is. We can abide in time, meaning that we remain faithful to him through the years without forsaking him. We can abide in character, remaining like him by obeying his word.

Resolutions are only words. These commands of Jesus call for action. Are you resolved to act? “Father, give each of us the will to act in obedience to your commands, by being humble servants, loving one another as Jesus loved, taking comfort from your provision, and remaining with you in place, over time, and in character. Amen”

God has designed his church so that its members endure to the end in faith by means of giving and receiving faith-sustaining words from each other. You and I are the instruments by which God preserves the faith of his children. Perseverance is a community project. Just like God is not going to evangelize the world without human, faith-awakening voices, neither is he going to preserve his church without human faith-sustaining voices. And clearly from the words, “exhort one another” (Hebrews 3:13), it means all of us, not just preachers. We depend on each other to endure in faith to the end. – John Piper

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Witness like Jesus: John 4

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Today’s reading: John 3-4.

“How do I engage people to tell them about Jesus?”

It can only help to go to the master when learning, and Jesus was a master at witnessing. He crossed all divides. He got people talking about spiritual matters. They didn’t always commit to follow him, but he brought them to the point where they knew whom they were rejecting. One of his most dramatic encounters was with the Samaritan woman at the well. Jesus overcame many barriers and brought her to the point where she begged for the truth that he offered.

Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.” “Sir,” the woman said, “you have nothing to draw with and the well is deep. Where can you get this living water? Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did also his sons and his flocks and herds?” Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water so that I won’t get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water.” John 4:10-15

Paul E. Little did an excellent job of outlining Jesus’ method in How to Give Away Your Faith. We complain about the difficulties in witnessing today, but it was no different in ancient Palestine. Barriers such as their different sexes, different ethnic backgrounds, and different religions separated Jesus and the woman at the well. Look how he broke down the walls.

He met the woman where she was. One of the biggest obstacles for many believers, including myself, is that we aren’t around unbelievers. Jesus positioned himself at a common social gathering spot, the well, and waited. He met the woman on her territory. He didn’t sit in a church and expect her to show up.

He found common ground on which to engage her. He was thirsty. She had the means to draw water from the well. He asked for a drink, and his request started the conversation. They didn’t begin by talking about God, but about something which interested the woman. At this stage, listening is just as important as talking.

He piqued her interest. He didn’t blurt out the gospel, but instead drew her in gradually with comments that aroused her curiosity. Why was he interested in talking with her? What did he mean by “living water”? Sometimes this is called “raising a faith flag.” Mention something related to your faith or belief, and watch how the other person responds. If they respond with interest, it is an indication that God is drawing them to himself. ( “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him.” John 6:44)

He didn’t tell the whole story right away. The woman said, “Sir, give me this water,” but Jesus saw that she was focused on the natural rather than the supernatural. He slowed down in order to let her understand him better, and so that she could see her own need.

He didn’t condemn her. Jesus wasn’t shocked by her lifestyle and he didn’t let it deter him from leading her to the truth. At the same time, he didn’t hesitate to acknowledge her sin, a step she had to take in order to repent.

He didn’t get sidetracked. The woman wanted to talk about where she should worship. There are many rabbit trails that a person may want to argue about. Don’t get caught in that trap. Stick to the main point – the good news about Jesus.

He confronted her with Jesus. At the conclusion of their discussion, the woman wanted to know about the Messiah, and Jesus made sure she understood that he was that Savior.

Jesus’ encounter with the woman at the well isn’t a formula that will guarantee success every time we share the gospel.  It does serve as a reminder of important truths that we shouldn’t ignore:

  • You’ve got to meet and engage the lost person
  • You need to find common ground to cross the barriers between you
  • You unfold the gospel gradually according to the person’s acceptance
  • You make Jesus known to them

The Holy Spirit can’t save saints or seats. If we don’t know any non-Christians, how can we introduce them to the Savior? – Paul Little

Image from Wikemedia Commons, public domain

How to give: Luke 21

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Today’s reading: Luke 21-22.

“How much should I give back to God?”

Christians disagree on how much we should give in our offerings. Some promote the Old Testament practice of tithing, giving ten percent of their income. Others insist the New Testament doesn’t set a limit but says we should give out of gratitude, as stewards of all God has given us, and as the Holy Spirit leads. The fact is that on average believers give only a small percentage of their income, around three percent among Southern Baptists. Many give nothing. Yet Jesus was emphatic that the man who stored up everything for himself and gave nothing back to God was a fool.

Jesus sat down in the temple to rest after an extended dispute with the scribes and Pharisees. He was sitting beside the collection boxes, and many people were dropping in various amounts of money as they passed by.

As he looked up, Jesus saw the rich putting their gifts into the temple treasury. He also saw a poor widow put in two very small copper coins. “I tell you the truth,” he said, “this poor widow has put in more than all the others. All these people gave their gifts out of their wealth; but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.” Luke 21:1-4

Jesus didn’t hesitate to make a comparison between the widow and the other givers. He found much about her to commend to his disciples and therefore to us.

She gave by faith in God’s mercy.  “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care” (Matthew 10:29). The two small coins she gave added up to one penny, the cost of two sparrows. The woman gave by faith, not trusting in her own resources but trusting in God’s care for her.

She gave greatly in comparison to the wealthy givers. God “estimates money gifts not by what we give, but by what we keep – not by the amount of our contributions, but by their cost in self-denial … The others reserved what they needed or wanted for themselves, and then gave out of their superabundance (perisseuontos). The contrast is emphatic; she ‘out of her deficiency,’ they ‘out of their super-sufficiency.’ ” – Rev. Arthur T. Pierson

She gave for eternity. The rich gave a little of their abundance, like crumbs from a feast, but they spent the greater part on themselves. The widow invested everything she had in God’s economy, investing for an eternal return and reward, and trusting God to meet her present needs.

Here are a few questions we can ask ourselves about our own giving:

  • Am I giving with eternity in mind, or keeping for my present use?
  • Am I giving with faith that God will provide for my needs, or keeping out of fear of want?
  • Am I denying myself in order to give, or giving the crumbs that are left after filling my own needs?

Reading the whole counsel of God reveals many other considerations about giving. We are told to provide for our families, including our extended families. We are told to give out of our means, and not beyond them. We are to give according to our prosperity. Our plenty should supply those who are in need. Perhaps most important of all, we should give willingly and joyfully, not regretfully.

But I do say again, if Christianity were truly in our hearts; if we were what we professed to be; the men of generosity whom we meet with now and hold up as very paragons and patterns would cease to be wonders, for they would be as plentiful as leaves upon the trees. We demand of no man that he should beggar himself; but we do demand of every man who makes a profession that he is a Christian, that he should give his fair proportion, and not be content with giving as much to the cause of God as his own servant. We must have it that the man who is rich must give richly. – Charles Spurgeon

Image, “The Widow’s Mite,” by Tissot

Legalism: Luke 11

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Today’s reading: Luke 10-11.

A pharisee is hard on others and easy on himself, but a spiritual man is easy on others and hard on himself. – A. W. Tozer

The Pharisees probably began with the best intentions. They were the guardians of the Law. Israel had kept the Law so poorly and suffered tremendous losses for so many centuries. They took it upon themselves to set an example of devotion to the Law, in order to please God and set an example for the nation. At some point, however, their zeal gave way to pride and unbending legalism. They lost sight of God as they focused more on their own system of righteousness. The Law, with hundreds of rules they added, became their God. Jesus condemned their legalism repeatedly.

“Woe to you Pharisees, because you give God a tenth of your mint, rue and all other kinds of garden herbs, but you neglect justice and the love of God. You should have practiced the latter without leaving the former undone. Woe to you Pharisees, because you love the most important seats in the synagogues and greetings in the marketplaces … And you experts in the law, woe to you, because you load people down with burdens they can hardly carry, and you yourselves will not lift one finger to help them.” Luke 11:42, 43, 46

Legalism magnifies the outer appearance while ignoring the inner heart attitude. The Pharisees were famous for their zeal in hand washing. In one famous case a Pharisee in prison almost died of dehydration because he used his water ration for hand washing rather than drinking. Legalism focuses on what can be seen and measured. Today it may criticize the style of clothing or length of hair. It ignores the inner spiritual life which gives meaning and purpose to the outer behavior.

Legalism magnifies the rules while downplaying the relationship with God. The Pharisees were so attentive to the rules that they would give a tithe from their kitchen spices, but then they would bend the rules to suit their own purposes. The Sabbath rules were the most stifling and also the best example of how they could work around the rules. As Jesus discovered, they had no compassion for healing on the Sabbath, since it was work, but God had ordained the Sabbath for good. Today a Christian given to legalism might think that whether he goes to church on Sunday is all that matters; the rest of the week he does as he pleases.

Legalism magnifies self rather than God. The constant observing and measuring of outer appearances inevitably leads to pride. It becomes a contest. Who is best at keeping the rules? Who looks the best? People can put on a wonderful “game face” that hides a world of hurt inside. True faith begins with humility and a continuing recognition of personal sinfulness. It exalts the gracious God who forgives us.

Legalism magnifies what I do to earn righteousness while forgetting that only Jesus can pay the penalty for my sin. Legalism is, at heart, a works-based religion. I earn my salvation by what I do. I earn God’s favor by how well I keep the rules. Nothing could be further from the heart of Christianity. Jesus paid the price to redeem me from my sin. Any good thing I do is a thankful response to his gift of salvation. My obedience maintains a healthy relationship with God, but by itself it cannot save me.

So long as the externals of religion were carried out that was all that mattered. Their hearts might be as black as hell; they might be utterly lacking in charity and even in justice; but so long as they went through the correct motions at the correct time they considered themselves good in the eyes of God. A man may be regular in his church attendance; he may be a diligent student of his Bible; he may be a generous giver to the church; but if in his heart there are thoughts of pride and of contempt, if he has no charity in his dealings with his fellow men in the life of the everyday, if he is unjust to his subordinates or dishonest to his employer, he is not a Christian man. No man is a Christian when he meticulously observes the conventions of religion and forgets the realities. – Barclay, Daily Study Bible

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