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Acts 13:13-52

900165955_466ceaa8d7_mAt bedtime, I read to my son the scriptures where Paul and Barnabas visited the synagogue in Antioch and after the reading from the Law and the Prophets,  the rulers of the synagogue asked them if they had any words of encouragement for the people.  What struck me is when Paul stood up, he used this opportunity to preach about Jesus.

He didn’t start off talking about Jesus.  Instead, he gave a brief summary of Israel’s history beginning with when the Israelites were in the wilderness for forty years.  He spoke about how the Jewish people were ruled by judges until the prophet Samuel and how they wanted to be like the other nations who had kings ruling over them.  They wanted a king too even though God was their King.  They got their wish when Saul, the son of Kish was chosen to be their king.  However, God removed him because of his disobedience and chose David to be his successor.  Then, Paul introduced Jesus, saying,  “From this man’s descendants God has raised a Savior for Israel, Jesus, according to His promise.”

He spoke of the role the people had played in the arrest and death of Jesus. By doing these things they had fulfilled the Word of God.  The Good News, though was that God raised Jesus from the dead and through Him are the forgiveness of sins.  Paul made it clear that we are justified by faith in Jesus and not by the law.  His words encouraged the Gentiles who begged him to preach again to them the following Sabbath.

Has God given you an opportunity to share the Good News about Jesus with others as He did with Paul?  Would you do as Paul did and share your faith so that people will come to know the Savior who died for them as well?  You don’t have to give a history lesson like Paul did.  You can share your own testimony of how you came to know the Lord like the woman at the well.  She told her community that Jesus must be the Messiah that they had been waiting for because He knew everything about her.

What about the challenges you will face when you share the Gospel?  The following Sabbath when Paul and Barnabas returned to preach the Gospel to the Gentiles, they were met with opposition from the Jews who were envious.  They contradicted what Paul said but he and Barnabas didn’t allow them to spoil things for them.  Instead, they boldly declared to them that since they rejected the Word of God which was supposed to be given to them first, it would be given instead to the Gentiles for the Lord commanded them, “‘I have established you to be a light of the Gentiles, that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth.'”  Verse 48 says that when the Gentiles heard this, “they were glad and glorified the word of the Lord. And all who were ordained to eternal life believed.”

Don’t be discouraged when people oppose you and contradict what you say.  It’s Satan, your enemy at work, trying to prevent you from doing what God has called you to do.  Like Paul and Barnabas did, act boldly, knowing that the Lord is your side and He will not allow His work to be hindered.  Share the Gospel for the sake of those who will gladly receive it. Don’t let the Satan or anyone put out your light.  Keep it shining for those who will come to it and receive salvation through faith in Jesus.

Today, if God gives you an opportunity to encourage people with the Good News about Jesus, grab it.  And don’t worry about what to say.  The Holy Spirit has that covered.

 For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ. For it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first, and also to the Greek – Romans 1:16

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Galatians 1:13-17

paul-king-agrippa_1219951_inlIn his letter to the Galatians, Paul shares how he became a Christian. It wasn’t something he ever dreamed would happen. He was a staunch believer in Judaism and its traditions. He was filled with a jealous zeal to protect his religion and was determined to stamp out any other religion he believed was contrary to God and His law. He was bent on destroying the church. He thought he was doing God a favor. In fact, I couldn’t help thinking of Paul when I read these words of Jesus, “They will put you out of the synagogues. Yes, the time is coming that whoever kills you will think that he is offering a service to God. They will do these things to you, because they have not known the Father nor Me.  I have told you these things, so that when the time comes, you may remember that I told you about them (John 16:2-4, MEV).

Paul was there when Stephen was stoned to death. He kept the clothes of those who stoned him. It was clear that he agreed with what was happening. The scripture stated, “And Saul was consenting to his death” (Acts 8:1). The stoning of Stephen seemed to add more fuel to his fight to destroy the church. It says that while devout men carried Stephen away to bury him and lamented over him, Saul ravaged the church, entering house by house and dragging out both men and women and committing them to prison (verses 2,3) .

Before his conversion, Paul was on fire. He was like a dragon, breathing out threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord. He was determined to stamp out what he perceived to be heresy so he went to the high priest and requested letters from him to the synagogues of Damascus, so that if he found any there of the Way, either men or women, he might arrest them and bring them to Jerusalem (Acts 9:1, 2). This was an attack on religious freedom. People were being persecuted and imprisoned for their faith. Satan, through Paul was impeding the work of the saints and the Lord had to intervene. His people had to be free to carry out His commission, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19, 20).

So, on his way to Damascus, Saul encountered Jesus. This experience changed his life forever. Jesus got his attention in a big way. As Saul was nearing the city, a bright light shone from Heaven shone around him and he fell to the ground. Then, Jesus spoke to him. “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute Me?” It doesn’t occur to people that when they persecute Christians, they are persecuting Jesus too. It’s the same as when we neglect to care for the needy. When we neglect doing good to others, it’s as if we are neglecting Jesus too. When the people rejected Jesus during His ministry, they were rejecting the Father who sent Him. When Saul asked Jesus who He was, Jesus said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.” There was no room for doubt. Saul was persecuting Jesus when he persecuted the church, after all, Jesus is the Head of the church. Saul was attacking the body of Christ.

Can you imagine Saul, who a moment ago was breathing fire, ready to hunt down and throw Christians into prison or do worse, was now trembling like a leaf and in total shock? Probably sounding like a man who realized now that he was fighting a losing battle, he asked, “Lord, what will You have me do?” When Jesus points out something we are doing in our lives that needs to be changed, do we ask, “Lord, what will You have me do?”

Jesus said to him, “Rise up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.” What a testimony of God’s grace and forgiveness. Saul had been wreaking so much havoc on His people yet Jesus did not condemn him. Instead, He reached out to him, opening his eyes to what he was doing—that instead of working for God, he was working against God. And Jesus was going to use him. The Lord always has use for us—He will by no means cast us aside once we humble ourselves before Him and are willing to do whatever He asks of us. Saul was willing to do whatever Jesus asked of him. So, now Jesus will find good use for him. We learn in Acts 26:16-18, that Jesus revealed His plan for Saul to him. “For I have appeared to you for this purpose, to appoint you as a servant and a witness both of what you have seen and of what I will yet reveal to you.  I will deliver you from your people and from the Gentiles to whom I now send you,  to open their eyes and to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who are sanctified by faith in Me’

All the time Saul was there on the road in the light, his eyes were closed but when he opened them, he couldn’t see anything. He was physically blind but could see spiritually. His sight was restored and he was baptized. And he began preaching. There was some skepticism of course as people remembered that this was the same man who had done many evil things to the believers at Jerusalem (verse 13). There are a lot of times when we are shocked to see certain people become Christians. We never saw that coming but we forget that with God all things are possible. If anyone could change people, He can and He does. Saul became Paul and his letters are what we have today to help us in our walk with the Lord. That day on the road to Damascus changed not only one life but many.

What is your testimony? How did Jesus reveal Himself to you? Are you willing to share your testimony with others as Paul did?

James 4:4

spiritual-adultery-editedFriends usually do things together and have similar interests.  Being friends with the world means adopting the ways of the world–accepting or condoning the things of the world.  James refers to those who are friends with the world as adulterers and adulteresses.

Adultery is straying outside of your marriage.  When the Israelites turned to other gods and indulged in idolatry, they were seen as committing adultery.  They were turning away from God to pursue other gods.  When we turn away from God and pursue the things of the world, we are having an adulterous relationship with the world.  It is like we are going outside of our relationship with God to find something else.  It seems we are no longer satisfied with our relationship with God and are searching for something better which we think the world can give us.  We cannot have it both ways.  We either choose one or the other.

John 3:16 states that God loves the world but the key words or message here is that whoever believes in His Son should not perish but have everlasting life.  The key is for those in the world to believe in Jesus and this will lead to eternal life.

God does not want us to be friends with a world which rejects His offer of salvation and lives in rebellion.  These are the people in the world with whom we are to have nothing to do with.  These are people who love the things of the world more than they love God or people who want nothing to do with God.

This is not to say that we should not go out into the world and interact with people.  We can’t avoid people.  However, we are not to forsake our faith or compromise it because we want to maintain new or old friendships or relationships.  Jesus, when He was praying for His disciples, did not ask the Father to take them out of the world.  They had work to do in the world.  He asked the Father to protect them from the Devil.  He said that like Him, the disciples were not of the world.  So, keeping ourselves unspotted  in the world (James 1:27) and not being friends with the world, means that we live in the world but don’t have the mindset of the world.  We cannot allow ourselves to be worldly.  We are to have the mind of Christ who kept Himself unspotted from the world.

In his first letter to the Corinthian believers, Paul wrote, “In the same way, the Lord has ordained that those who preach the gospel should live from the gospel” (1 Corinthians 9:14).  As Christians and disciples of Christ, we are to practice what we preach.  We are to live our lives in such a way that the world will know that we belong to God and that it is Christ who lives in us (Galatians 2:20). 

Read John 1:35-42

p_0003John the Baptist, when he was with his two disciples, acknowledged Jesus as the Lamb of God–thereby, revealing the Messiah to his disciples.  Immediately, the two disciples followed Jesus.  They heard what John had said and heeded his words.  How many of us have heard about Jesus and know of what He did on the cross but still don’t follow Him?  How many of us have been given the opportunity to know Him but have decided not to?  Our indecision is a decision in itself.  Andrew and the other disciple seized the opportunity to follow Jesus–to have a relationship with Him.  They left John who had prepared the way for others to follow the Messiah.  They didn’t doubt John.  In faith, they took him at his word, believed that the One he pointed out was the Messiah and they went after Him.

Jesus saw them following Him and He asked them what they were looking for.  He already knew because He was omniscient but, perhaps He wanted them to state their reason.  What would you say to Him if He were to ask you, “What seek ye?”

The disciples’ question answered Jesus’ question.  They wanted to abide with Him so they asked Him where He was dwelling.  Jesus invited them to go and see.  They were willing to be with Him wherever He was.  They went with Him to see where He was staying and they stayed with Him.  How many of us are willing to leave the past behind and pursue a new life–a future with Jesus? How many of us are willing to forsake our old lives for a new one with Jesus?  How many of us are willing to leave the familiar and comfortable behind and pursue the unfamiliar and sometimes hard, uncomfortable future?  Yet, Andrew and the other disciple did so.  They left their familiar life with John whom they knew, to follow Jesus whom they did not know but had long heard of.  Their faith in God’s promise of the Messiah and John’s testimony led them to go after Jesus.  We have more than John’s testimony and those of the prophets.  We have the testimony of Jesus Himself yet many of us do not follow Him.

Andrew went to his brother, Peter and told him that he and the other disciple had found the Messiah.  He took Peter to Jesus.  When we find Jesus, like Andrew, we should be eager to share Him with others.  When Jesus saw Peter, He identified him as the son of Jona and named him Cephas (Peter) which means stone.  It was Peter whom He asked to feed His sheep.  It is interesting that Jesus asked Peter three times if he loved Him in front of the other disciples.  Why did Jesus do that?

Was it to give Peter a chance to redeem himself?  Was it to show Peter that though he had denied Him three times it by no means meant that he didn’t love Him?  Was it to reassure Peter who might have questioned his love for Jesus because of his denial?  Was it to show Peter and the others that despite what had happened that Jesus had forgiven him and still wanted him to be a big part of His flock?  He wanted Peter to carry on the ministry–to spread the Gospel–to feed the lambs and the sheep.

Peter denied Jesus three times and three times he was forgiven.  My study Bible says that Peter had been restored privately and personally but now it was to be a public matter.  He had disowned Christ in public three times.  Now he must own Christ three times in front of the other disciples.  Peter had sinned but Christ forgave him.  Handling the responsibility of Christ’s ministry was Peter’s way to redeem himself.

Jesus founded His church on Peter’s confession that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of the living God.  This was revealed to Peter by God Himself.  Jesus recognized that Peter would be a great follower–that he would achieve great things in His name, that he would bring many to God.  Like Peter, Jesus sees great potential in each of us.  He knows us better than we know ourselves.  He knew Peter would deny Him but He also knew that Peter would further the ministry, leading many to repentance.  He knew that far from denying Him, Peter would glorify Him, teach others about Him even at the risk of persecution and death.

Peter counted it worthy to suffer shame for His name (Acts 5:41).  Far from denying Him, Peter and the others continued to teach and preach about Jesus though they were commanded not to.  Love for Jesus and his desire to carry out His command to feed His sheep far surpassed any fear Peter might have had.  If we truly love Jesus we should be willing to teach and preach about Him despite the risks, persecution, rejection we may face.  Like Peter and the other disciples we are to take up our crosses and follow Jesus no matter what.  Like Andrew and the other disciple, we should seek Him and abide with Him.

“So then, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath; for the wrath of man does not produce the righteousness of God” (James 1:19, 20).

person-listening-300x200James is saying that sometimes we need to listen more and speak less or say nothing.  King Solomon says in Proverbs 10:19, “In the multitude of words sin is not lacking, But he who restrains his lips is wise.”

There are times when we speak instead of listening and later regret it because our words lead to bitter quarrels and fights.  Feelings can get hurt and relationships can be jeopardized or destroyed because of words spoken in a fit of anger.  There are times when we ought to just listen and other times when we ought to speak.  We have to have the wisdom to know when to do which.

Problems arise when we stop listening to God and to each other.  Whether in the home, at work, or in the church, arguments ensue when listening stops.  When that happens, talking begins to accelerate and anger builds.  This slippery slope of sinful communication, like the uncontrolled inward desires of James 1:14, 15, can never produce the righteousness of God.  That is why James juxtaposes God’s righteousness with human wrath.  As long as we rely on what bubbles up naturally from our sinful nature, the creative power of God’s Word is blocked, and our own unhelpful or even hurtful words arise instead (The Book of James Sabbath School Quarterly, p. 26)

Notice James advises us to be “swift to hear”.  We must be quick to hear what the other person has to say first before we have our say.  In doing so, we might learn something and diffuse an otherwise volatile situation.   How many times have we been quick to speak and slow to listen and gotten ourselves in trouble?  It takes wisdom to hold our tongue.  It takes maturity to listen. 

We have to be careful of what we say.  If we have nothing good or helpful to say in a situation , it is best to keep quiet.

Proverbs 15:1 says, “a soft answer turns away wrath but a harsh word stirs up anger.  When we respond to something someone says in a quiet, non-combative way, it will diffuse the situation or prevent it from getting worse.  Once when my husband, Dave made a request, he didn’t like the tone of his co-worker’s reply but he responded in an agreeable manner.  The co-worker, initially surprised, responded positively.  Dave chose a gentle answer instead of a harsh one and turned what could have led to a bad situation into a peaceful resolution.  Both men benefitted from Dave’s wise handling of the problem.

The prophet Isaiah tells us that we should know how to speak and when to speak (Isaiah 50:4).  Paul encourages us to speak only words that will encourage and benefit others.  Our words must not be corrupt or harmful (Ephesians 4:29).  Our words should not be filthy, foolish or coarse.  They should be fitting and full of thanksgiving (Ephesians 5:4).  Our words should always be filled with grace, seasoned with salt so that we know how to answer people appropriately (Colossians 4:6). 

Be a good listener.  Hear what the other person has to say.  The same rule applies to God.  Too often when we spend time with Him, we have our say but don’t wait to hear what He has to say.  Be still and listen for that small, still voice.

He who guards his mouth preserves his life, but he who opens wide his lips shall have destruction (Proverbs 13:3)

 

 

 

Now when evening had come, because it was the Preparation Day, that is, the day before the Sabbath,  Joseph of Arimathea, a prominent council member, who was himself waiting for the kingdom of God, coming and taking courage, went in to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus.  Pilate marveled that He was already dead; and summoning the centurion, he asked him if He had been dead for some time.  So when he found out from the centurion, he granted the body to Joseph.  Then he bought fine linen, took Him down, and wrapped Him in the linen. And he laid Him in a tomb which had been hewn out of the rock, and rolled a stone against the door of the tomb.  And Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses observed where He was laid (Mark 15:42-47).

Now Jesus is in resting in the tomb.  He lay there while others prepared for the Sabbath.  The temple was destroyed (He was crucified) but on the third day, He will be raised up.

This makes me think of all those who have died and will die in Christ.  Their temples will be destroyed (death and decay) but on that day they will be resurrected incorruptible.  Right now they are resting before their resurrection.  The next sound they will hear is the voice of the One who was pierced.

When Jesus was on the cross, He said, “It is finished.”  He had spent three and a half years doing the work His Father had sent Him to do.   He went about preaching and teaching, performing miracles, casting out demons, healing the sick.  He was alone in His agony in the Garden of Gethsemane.  He was betrayed and deserted.  He was arrested like a common criminal and brought before the council at night.   He was mistreated by the Jewish leaders and the Gentiles.

The members of the Sanhedrin who liked to think they were better than the Gentiles behaved no differently from the soldiers who mocked Him.  The chief priests, elders and scribes condemned Him to be worthy of death; spat on Him, blindfolded Him; beat Him and said to Him, “Prophesy!”  The soldiers who were present joined in–they struck Him with the palms of their hands (Mark 14:63-65).  Isaiah 50:6 says:  I gave My back to those who struck Me, And My cheeks to those who plucked out the beard;  I did not hide My face from shame and spitting.  He was given thirty lashes (the same number of coins Judas was paid for his betrayal) and then handed over to be crucified.

As He hung on the cross, He was mocked,  “You who destroy the temple and build it in three days, save Yourself!  If You are the Son of God, come down from the cross” (Matthew 26:40).

Jesus suffered for our sake as the prophet Isaiah prophesied.  “Surely He has borne our griefs And carried our sorrows; Yet we esteemed Him stricken,Smitten by God, and afflicted.   But He was wounded for our transgressions,  He was bruised for our iniquities;  The chastisement for our peace was upon Him,  And by His stripes we are healed.  All we like sheep have gone astray; We have turned, every one, to his own way; And the LORD has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.  He was oppressed and He was afflicted,
Yet He opened not His mouth;  He was led as a lamb to the slaughter,
And as a sheep before its shearers is silent, So He opened not His mouth.
He was taken from prison and from judgment, And who will declare His generation? For He was cut off from the land of the living; For the transgressions of My people He was stricken.  And they made His grave with the wicked— But with the rich at His death, Because He had done no violence, Nor was any deceit in His mouth. Yet it pleased the LORD to bruise Him; He has put Him to grief (Isaiah 53:4-10).

Jesus went through a great deal for us and it must have pained Him to see the people pointing and laughing at Him and to hear their jeers yet, He asked His Father to forgive them.  It must have been horrible to feel the Father’s presence which He had known since the beginning of time leave Him.  You could almost hear the despair in His voice when He cried out,  “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” (Mark 15:34).  Afterwards He cried out in a loud voice and then took His last breath.

Now He is resting in the tomb.  His disciples and those who love Him are mourning.  The bridegroom is no longer with them.  Now they are fasting.  But in a little while, their mourning will turn to laughter and their sorrow to joy.  Let us remember and take comfort in these words, “Most assuredly, I say to you that you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice; and you will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will be turned into joy” (John 16:20).



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