Today we will look at Acts 18:18-28
18:18 Paul, after staying many more days in Corinth, said farewell to the brothers and sailed away to Syria accompanied by Priscilla and Aquila. He had his hair cut off at Cenchrea because he had made a vow. 19When they reached Ephesus, Paul left Priscilla and Aquila behind there, but he himself went into the synagogue and addressed the Jews. 20When they asked him to stay longer, he would not consent, 21but said farewell to them and added, “I will come back to you again if God wills.” Then he set sail from Ephesus, 22and when he arrived at Caesarea, he went up and greeted the church at Jerusalem and then went down to Antioch. 23After he spent some time there, Paul left and went through the region of Galatia and Phrygia, strengthening all the disciples.
24Now a Jew named Apollos, a native of Alexandria, arrived in Ephesus. He was an eloquent speaker, well-versed in the scriptures. 25He had been instructed in the way of the Lord, and with great enthusiasm he spoke and taught accurately the facts about Jesus, although he knew only the baptism of John. 26He began to speak out fearlessly in the synagogue, but when Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they took him aside and explained the way of God to him more accurately. 27When Apollos wanted to cross over to Achaia, the brothers encouraged him and wrote to the disciples to welcome him. When he arrived, he assisted greatly those who had believed by grace, 28for he refuted the Jews vigorously in public debate, demonstrating from the scriptures that the Christ was Jesus.
Priscilla, Aquila and Apollos, three of the under-sung heroes of the faith. We hear lots about Paul, Peter and a number of others, but those that carry the day are most often left unnamed. The less splashy work of guiding people to the truth in the slow, gentle ways, has resulted in so many more conversions than we could possibly count. I don’t mean to take away from the more dramatic actions of the apostles, I am very thankful for them! But the Lord has largely chosen to work through the ordinary people of faith to bring about the work of saving this world.
I want to thank each of you for your slow quiet and gentle witness. Your longsuffering in this time of quarantine and painful isolation has given testimony to the grace of Jesus. You have carried yourselves well and I hope that the peace that was given to you in Jesus was enough to help you stay focussed on him and his love for you. As we begin to open the doors to the church, I want to thank you for your continued concern and caution for others as we try to move forward as safely as we know how.
This will be the last of these devotions for the foreseeable future. I am sorry that they were inconsistent.
You are my under-sung heroes. Thank you so much.
“’I say of the holy people who are in the land,
‘They are the noble ones in whom is all my delight.’” Psalm 16:3
Today we will look at Acts 15:22
15:22 Then the apostles and elders, with the whole church, decided to send men chosen from among them, Judas called Barsabbas and Silas, leaders among the brothers, to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas. 23They sent this letter with them:
From the apostles and elders, your brothers, to the Gentile brothers and sisters in Antioch, Syria, and Cilicia, greetings! 24Since we have heard that some have gone out from among us with no orders from us and have confused you, upsetting your minds by what they said, 25we have unanimously decided to choose men to send to you along with our dear friends Barnabas and Paul, 26who have risked their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. 27Therefore we are sending Judas and Silas who will tell you these things themselves in person. 28For it seemed best to the Holy Spirit and to us not to place any greater burden on you than these necessary rules: 29that you abstain from meat that has been sacrificed to idols and from blood and from what has been strangled and from sexual immorality. If you keep yourselves from doing these things, you will do well. Farewell.
30So when they were dismissed, they went down to Antioch, and after gathering the entire group together, they delivered the letter. 31When they read it aloud, the people rejoiced at its encouragement. 32Both Judas and Silas, who were prophets themselves, encouraged and strengthened the brothers with a long speech. 33After they had spent some time there, they were sent off in peace by the brothers to those who had sent them. 35But Paul and Barnabas remained in Antioch, teaching and proclaiming (along with many others) the word of the Lord.
The church was in trouble, they were stuck in confusion with opposing messages. Paul and Barnabas had one message and others from Judea said something completely different. The argument was whether or not the new Gentile believers had to follow the law of Moses or not. The disagreement was so strong and important that they sent a delegation back to Judea, to Jerusalem to get the straight goods. The council met and affirmed the message of Paul and Barnabas sending, not just Paul and Barnabas back, but others to confirm their decision.
Do we have to follow the law of Moses? Is it necessary for salvation? Jesus made a new covenant with us. Peter stood up in the council at Jerusalem and affirmed that we are saved by grace through faith in Christ. That is the gospel! Those who were preaching a different message were wrong and leading people away from the Gospel. That is why the argument was so intense.
This is also why our church exists. It was essentially the same issue that separated the church in the reformation period. We are saved by grace through faith. Jesus has also given us commandments to obey, the difference is that we are not saved by them, we are simply taught how to live by them.
You are saved by your faith in Christ, saved to live a life that honors the one who gives it to you. Live your life well.
Today we will look at Acts 13:42-47
13:42 As Paul and Barnabas were going out, the people were urging them to speak about these things on the next Sabbath. 43When the meeting of the synagogue had broken up, many of the Jews and God-fearing proselytes followed Paul and Barnabas, who were speaking with them and were persuading them to continue in the grace of God.
44On the next Sabbath almost the whole city assembled together to hear the word of the Lord. 45But when the Jews saw the crowds, they were filled with jealousy, and they began to contradict what Paul was saying by reviling him. 46Both Paul and Barnabas replied courageously, “It was necessary to speak the word of God to you first. Since you reject it and do not consider yourselves worthy of eternal life, we are turning to the Gentiles. 47For this is what the Lord has commanded us: ‘I have appointed you to be a light for the Gentiles, to bring salvation to the ends of the earth.’”
Jealousy poisons many things. It often leads us to attack persons instead of ideas. It damages and even destroys relationships that should be close ones. The leaders of the synagogue were jealous of the crowds that Peter and Barnabas were attracting. They could never attract so many. They were losing their position of prestige and power. These travelers who should have been their welcomed guests, are now their enemies.
Amazing what God can do with even our own sinful reactions to his grace. In this case, from a bad case of jealousy, God opens up the good news from being presented only to the Jews, to being presented to the rest of the world. Thanks be to God that he is not limited to our best actions but can use our mistakes as well.
Are you jealous? Why not simply rejoice in the graciousness of God for others? After all, he sent Jesus for you. What more could we want?
Today we will look at Acts 13:13-41
13:13 Then Paul and his companions put out to sea from Paphos and came to Perga in Pamphylia, but John left them and returned to Jerusalem. 14Moving on from Perga, they arrived at Pisidian Antioch, and on the Sabbath day they went into the synagogue and sat down. 15After the reading from the law and the prophets, the leaders of the synagogue sent them a message, saying, “Brothers, if you have any message of exhortation for the people, speak it.” 16So Paul stood up, gestured with his hand and said,
“Men of Israel, and you Gentiles who fear God, listen: 17The God of this people Israel chose our ancestors and made the people great during their stay as foreigners in the country of Egypt, and with uplifted arm he led them out of it. 18For a period of about forty years he put up with them in the wilderness. 19After he had destroyed seven nations in the land of Canaan, he gave his people their land as an inheritance. 20All this took about four hundred fifty years. After this he gave them judges until the time of Samuel the prophet. 21Then they asked for a king, and God gave them Saul son of Kish, a man from the tribe of Benjamin, who ruled forty years. 22After removing him, God raised up David their king. He testified about him: ‘I have found David the son of Jesse to be a man after my heart, who will accomplish everything I want him to do.’ 23From the descendants of this man God brought to Israel a Savior, Jesus, just as he promised. 24Before Jesus arrived, John had proclaimed a baptism for repentance to all the people of Israel. 25But while John was completing his mission, he said repeatedly, ‘What do you think I am? I am not he. But look, one is coming after me. I am not worthy to untie the sandals on his feet!’ 26Brothers, descendants of Abraham’s family, and those Gentiles among you who fear God, the message of this salvation has been sent to us. 27For the people who live in Jerusalem and their rulers did not recognize him, and they fulfilled the sayings of the prophets that are read every Sabbath by condemning him. 28Though they found no basis for a death sentence, they asked Pilate to have him executed. 29When they had accomplished everything that was written about him, they took him down from the cross and placed him in a tomb. 30But God raised him from the dead, 31and for many days he appeared to those who had accompanied him from Galilee to Jerusalem. These are now his witnesses to the people. 32And we proclaim to you the good news about the promise to our ancestors, 33that this promise God has fulfilled to us, their children, by raising Jesus, as also it is written in the second psalm, ‘You are my Son; today I have fathered you.’ 34But regarding the fact that he has raised Jesus from the dead, never again to be in a state of decay, God has spoken in this way: ‘I will give you the holy and trustworthy promises made to David.’ 35Therefore he also says in another psalm, ‘You will not permit your Holy One to experience decay.’ 36For David, after he had served God’s purpose in his own generation, died, was buried with his ancestors, and experienced decay, 37but the one whom God raised up did not experience decay. 38Therefore let it be known to you, brothers, that through this one forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you, 39and by this one everyone who believes is justified from everything from which the law of Moses could not justify you. 40Watch out, then, that what is spoken about by the prophets does not happen to you:
41 ‘Look, you scoffers; be amazed and perish!
For I am doing a work in your days,
a work you would never believe, even if someone tells you.’”
Paul and Barnabas set out on their journey and did the most natural of things. They went to those who should be receptive to the good news that God has fulfilled his promises. In fact that was what Jesus wanted them to do, to go first to the house of Israel.
We are all called to make disciples of every nation. That is a big and seemingly impossible task. Where to start? We start at home and with those we know or have some connection with. That is the best way to begin. Begin with our families and then with our friends and those we have natural opportunity to talk to, to interact with. We could get paralysed by the shear size and scope of the work before us. The trick, if there is one, is to do the task that is immediately before us and then move on to the next step and so on until we accomplish what the Lord has set before us.
One step at a time,
Today we will look at Acts 13:1-12
13:1 Now there were these prophets and teachers in the church at Antioch: Barnabas, Simeon called Niger, Lucius the Cyrenian, Manaen (a close friend of Herod the tetrarch from childhood ) and Saul. 2While they were serving the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” 3Then, after they had fasted and prayed and placed their hands on them, they sent them off.
4So Barnabas and Saul, sent out by the Holy Spirit, went down to Seleucia, and from there they sailed to Cyprus. 5When they arrived in Salamis, they began to proclaim the word of God in the Jewish synagogues. (Now they also had John as their assistant.) 6When they had crossed over the whole island as far as Paphos, they found a magician, a Jewish false prophet named Bar-Jesus, 7who was with the proconsul Sergius Paulus, an intelligent man. The proconsul summoned Barnabas and Saul and wanted to hear the word of God. 8But the magician Elymas (for that is the way his name is translated) opposed them, trying to turn the proconsul away from the faith. 9But Saul (also known as Paul), filled with the Holy Spirit, stared straight at him 10and said, “You who are full of all deceit and all wrongdoing, you son of the devil, you enemy of all righteousness – will you not stop making crooked the straight paths of the Lord? 11Now look, the hand of the Lord is against you, and you will be blind, unable to see the sun for a time!” Immediately mistiness and darkness came over him, and he went around seeking people to lead him by the hand. 12Then when the proconsul saw what had happened, he believed, because he was greatly astounded at the teaching about the Lord.
“Then, after they had fasted and prayed and placed their hands on them, they sent them off.”
Paul, Barnabas and John were sent off with prayer and the laying on of hands, that part does not seem unusual to me. We often to the same for missionaries or other workers in God’s kingdom. What surprises me is that they fasted. I would normally fast when I am seeking God’s direction, not afterwards. Why is that? Could it be that I think I have to somehow pay a price before God will stoop to speak to me? Do I think I have to somehow earn my way into God’s favor or somehow attract his attention? If so I am dead wrong.
A gift of focus and sacrifice as an offering of thanksgiving is really the more appropriate way of behaving. I can’t earn any favor before God, but if he calls and sends me out, that is an opportune time to give thanks.
I do not think that I actually thought that I could earn favor with God by my fasting or anything else that I have done, and I don’t want to suggest that it is wrong to fast when seeking him. Those are good and healthy practices. Just don’t fall into the tempting train of thought that we are earning his favor or catching his attention in some way by doing so. The best we can achieve at those moments is to focus our thoughts on him so we can hear him speak.
In his thankful service.
Today we will look at Acts 10:9-23
10:9 About noon the next day, while they were on their way and approaching the city, Peter went up on the roof to pray. 10He became hungry and wanted to eat, but while they were preparing the meal, a trance came over him. 11He saw heaven opened and an object something like a large sheet descending, being let down to earth by its four corners. 12In it were all kinds of four-footed animals and reptiles of the earth and wild birds. 13Then a voice said to him, “Get up, Peter; slaughter and eat!” 14But Peter said, “Certainly not, Lord, for I have never eaten anything defiled and ritually unclean!” 15The voice spoke to him again, a second time, “What God has made clean, you must not consider ritually unclean!” 16This happened three times, and immediately the object was taken up into heaven.
17Now while Peter was puzzling over what the vision he had seen could signify, the men sent by Cornelius had learned where Simon’s house was and approached the gate. 18They called out to ask if Simon, known as Peter, was staying there as a guest. 19While Peter was still thinking seriously about the vision, the Spirit said to him, “Look! Three men are looking for you. 20But get up, go down, and accompany them without hesitation, because I have sent them.” 21So Peter went down to the men and said, “Here I am, the person you’re looking for. Why have you come?” 22They said, “Cornelius the centurion, a righteous and God-fearing man, well spoken of by the whole Jewish nation, was directed by a holy angel to summon you to his house and to hear a message from you.” 23So Peter invited them in and entertained them as guests.
On the next day he got up and set out with them, and some of the brothers from Joppa accompanied him. (NET Bible)
When Adam and Eve turned away from God in the garden, God had a plan for saving us all. During the time of the Old Testament, some of God’s chosen people had forgotten that God’s plan for saving the world was always intended to be for all people. God loves everyone and longs for them to come into his salvation through Jesus. Today’s story from acts is about the church, the chosen apostles, opening up their understanding of the scope of the gospel to include all people who would turn to him.
Any time we develop a group or society they can become exclusive. Sometimes there are good reasons for doing so, but once someone has become part of an exclusive group, there is a danger in thinking of those outside the group as unworthy or somehow less than those who are included in it. The dangers I see in the text today are not like the ones that are so explosive in our world today with the Black Lives Matter movement and their various tag along groups (the message of racism needs to be proclaimed and change needs to happen), what I see are the dangers of thinking our faith is just for us, or those like us. That the message of the gospel is intended for only a certain group of people.
God’s love is too big to limit its proclamation to just a few types of people. God’s good news is for everyone. It was a message that the apostles needed to hear and learn and it is a message that we need to remind ourselves of as well. We are all equal before God, equally guilty and equally loved. May God give us eyes to see as he does and hearts to love as he does, without prejudice. May we be moved to call all people to follow Christ and lovingly teach them to obey his commands. Remember that we were once on the outside, but by his grace we are now safe in his arms.
Today we will look at Acts 7:54-8:8
7:54 When they heard these things, they became furious and ground their teeth at him. 55But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked intently toward heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. 56“Look!” he said. “I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!” 57But they covered their ears, shouting out with a loud voice, and rushed at him with one intent. 58When they had driven him out of the city, they began to stone him, and the witnesses laid their cloaks at the feet of a young man named Saul. 59They continued to stone Stephen while he prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit!” 60Then he fell to his knees and cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them!” When he had said this, he died. 8:1 And Saul agreed completely with killing him.
Now on that day a great persecution began against the church in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were forced to scatter throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria. 2Some devout men buried Stephen and made loud lamentation over him. 3But Saul was trying to destroy the church; entering one house after another, he dragged off both men and women and put them in prison.
4Now those who had been forced to scatter went around proclaiming the good news of the word. 5Philip went down to the main city of Samaria and began proclaiming the Christ to them. 6The crowds were paying attention with one mind to what Philip said, as they heard and saw the miraculous signs he was performing. 7For unclean spirits, crying with loud shrieks, were coming out of many who were possessed, and many paralyzed and lame people were healed. 8So there was great joy in that city.
Saul was a nasty one. Apparently presiding over the stoning of Stephen and hunting other believers down throwing them into prison. Why? Because they believed in the fulfilment of something all the Jews had been foretold, the coming of the messiah. Tempting to relate this incident with what we witness today in the black lives matter movement. We have injustice happening at the hands of those who are supposed to be upholding it. They say they believe in equality for all but do not live it. Saul and the other leaders of the faith community said they believed the messiah would come, but would not live that way. Violence ensues in both cases. Injustice abounds.
I see in some, anger building over our current restrictions, the forced isolation and the loss of accountability for our government. The freedom of our chief elected official who wants to keep us bound. Injustice, anger waiting for a trigger to explode. Elected officials and persons in authority need to be very wise and careful in their steps or there could be an eruption of violence that nobody wants.
There is one major difference. Not in the actions of those in power, but in those who are oppressed. Stephen does not strike back. He prays for his attackers instead. I am sure that there are very many in our current struggles that behave as Stephen does and pray for those who are doing the oppressing. And it is they who are the real heroes in these days. Those who stand for what they believe, but only respond with love and care for those who oppose them. That is the response that changes everything. That is the response that brings hope and life. That is the response that reveals the truth, calls out the sin, offers a way forward and freely gives grace. That is the way of Jesus.
How are you responding to your own situations?
Today we will look at Acts 7:35-53
7:35 This same Moses they had rejected, saying, ‘Who made you a ruler and judge?’ God sent as both ruler and deliverer through the hand of the angel who appeared to him in the bush. 36This man led them out, performing wonders and miraculous signs in the land of Egypt, at the Red Sea, and in the wilderness for forty years. 37This is the Moses who said to the Israelites, ‘God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your brothers.’ 38This is the man who was in the congregation in the wilderness with the angel who spoke to him at Mount Sinai, and with our ancestors, and he received living oracles to give to you. 39Our ancestors were unwilling to obey him, but pushed him aside and turned back to Egypt in their hearts, 40saying to Aaron, ‘Make us gods who will go in front of us, for this Moses, who led us out of the land of Egypt – we do not know what has happened to him!’ 41At that time they made an idol in the form of a calf, brought a sacrifice to the idol, and began rejoicing in the works of their hands. 42But God turned away from them and gave them over to worship the host of heaven, as it is written in the book of the prophets: ‘It was not to me that you offered slain animals and sacrifices forty years in the wilderness, was it, house of Israel? 43 But you took along the tabernacle of Moloch and the star of the god Rephan, the images you made to worship, but I will deport you beyond Babylon.’ 44Our ancestors had the tabernacle of testimony in the wilderness, just as God who spoke to Moses ordered him to make it according to the design he had seen. 45Our ancestors received possession of it and brought it in with Joshua when they dispossessed the nations that God drove out before our ancestors, until the time of David. 46He found favor with God and asked that he could find a dwelling place for the house of Jacob. 47But Solomon built a house for him. 48Yet the Most High does not live in houses made by human hands, as the prophet says,
49 ‘Heaven is my throne,
and earth is the footstool for my feet.
What kind of house will you build for me, says the Lord,
or what is my resting place?
50 Did my hand not make all these things?’
51 “You stubborn people, with uncircumcised hearts and ears! You are always resisting the Holy Spirit, like your ancestors did! 52Which of the prophets did your ancestors not persecute? They killed those who foretold long ago the coming of the Righteous One, whose betrayers and murderers you have now become! 53You received the law by decrees given by angels, but you did not obey it.”
This is part of Stephen’s speech to the Sanhedrin, a speech that ended with him getting stoned to death. While it is clear that Stephen condemns the actions of these people for their stubbornness of heart and failure to listen to God as well as their part in killing Jesus, there is a real message of grace for us. God knew what would happen, he knew that in sending Jesus, he would be sending him to die. God knew that Jesus would be betrayed and executed and still, he sent him! God knows how great a sinner we all are. He knows everything we do and don’t do, and still he loves us. That is not an excuse to remain in our sins, but it gives us the courage to ask for forgiveness and try again.