Acts 28

Acts 28 July 24, 2017

The final chapter of Acts easily divides into two sections. The first section explains Paul’s witness on Malta and the second his witness in Rome. In the first section, Paul recovers from the shipwreck, survives a viper bite, and heals many diseases. In the second section, he preaches Jesus to the Jews in Rome. On Malta, the miracles validate his preaching. In Rome, it is his reasoning from Moses and the prophets that the Spirit uses to bring men to repentance. God always uses the right method to set the battlefield for the witness to be heard. The Gentiles on Malta were most impressed with signs and wonders. The Jews at Rome were well versed in the Law and prophets. They already knew of the power of God. They only needed to know how Jesus fulfilled the law and the prophets.

It is rather interesting that the leading Jews of Rome had heard to the divisions within their ranks over the Gospel but had not heard of the accusations against Paul. It is also rather interesting that they would come in a  large crowd to hear Paul. It is good for us to be reminded that although the Jewish religious leadership rejected Jesus, many of the countrymen received Him, Paul being one as well as the other 11 Apostles. The final chapter of Acts demonstrates Paul’s effective witness to both Jews and Gentiles.

Reflecting on the missionary efforts of Paul as recorded in Acts, reveals the seasons of his ministry. He spent time as a church planter, a church strengthener, and in the final season, he is one who simply receives those who would come to his place of arrest to hear him. He then devotes himself to writing. All the seasons of life are directed by the Lord. Following the example of Paul, every season of life is to be used to its fullness.

Many students of Scripture are inquisitive about the seemingly abrupt end to the book of Acts. Most all serious students of Scripture raise the question, what happened to Paul after his two years of house arrest. Legend has it that Paul was released after the two years recorded in Acts. There is some evidence in extra biblical writings that Paul may have gone to Spain. This line of speculative reasoning concludes with Paul being again arrested. His final arrest and execution are believed to have occurred at the hands of Nero. Historical records indicate Nero to have become especially violent toward both Jews and Christians. The exact truth will not be known this side of heaven.

While there are many unknowns surrounding the early church, our primary focus really should be on what we do know. We know Jesus ascended to Heaven and is preparing a place for His own. We know the  Holy Spirit has come to indwell believers and to make them witnesses. We can follow that line of reasoning to understand, God is in the witness making business. If we are his servants and he is in the business of making witnesses, then it does follow, that is what he is doing in each of our lives. The words of the Apostle John in the opening verses of his first epistle serve to capture the heart of the lives of the Apostles including Paul, “What was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands concerning the Word of Life — and the life was manifested, and we have seen and testify and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was manifested  to us — what we have seen and  heard we proclaim to you also, so that you may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ (1 John 1:1-3).

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Nehemiah 1

Nehemiah 1 July 25, 2017

Prayer is the greatest path to change known to mankind. Not just any prayer, but prayers directed to the living God with a broken and contrite heart find a listening ear. And so it is with the book of Nehemiah. The prayer found in the first chapter is the very key necessary to unlock the many hidden treasures found in this book of God’s mighty hand in redeeming a promised people back to their promised land. First, the heart of Nehemiah was broken, then he prayed, and finally, God worked through him using his high position to gain the necessary favor of the rulers to accomplish great things for his people.

Nehemiah’s prayer in chapter 1 contains several characteristics that reveal just why it was effective. In others words, it is prayed with an attitude that moves the heart of God. These characteristics are also found in other prayers, including the model prayer given in Matthew 6. The first of these characteristics is that of a heart broken for others. His prayer was prefaced with mourning and fasting. The concern of Nehemiah for his countrymen was deep and compassionate.  Perhaps it was in his weeping and fasting that he came to realize, only God could change the circumstances.

The second characteristic of Nehemiah’s prayer is that of praise given to God. He used words like  God of Heaven, awesome God, preserver of the covenant, and notes the loving nature of God. This verbalizing of praise to God demonstrates his humility. After a time of praise, the third characteristic appears, it is one of petition in the form of intercession. After a time of mourning and fasting, and after a time of giving praise to God, Nehemiah’s heart was in a contrite position and he was now ready to ask the Lord to intervene. He asks to for God to listen to his prayer.

The fourth characteristic of Nehemiah’s prayer was one of confession. He confessed his own sin and the sins of the nation. He was not casting a judgmental eye praying for them, but rather prayed an inclusive prayer as one of the transgressors. There was a sense in which the entire community of Israel joined in the sin raising the need for Nehemiah to confess as a part of that community. His confession led to the fifth characteristic which was standing on the promise of God. He uses Scripture to leverage his confession as to why God should forgive his people and restore their land. He also reminded the Lord of His investment in this people.

The final characteristic is found in verse 11 where Nehemiah notes his prayer is in the name of God. The standard form of praying in Jesus’ name was not yet in place, but Nehemiah understood his prayer needed to line up with the will of God and the results needed to bring glory to God. It was not so much for his own benefit that he prayed but in accordance with God’s will and the glory of His name.  These characteristics can serve to guide the prayer life of a New Testament saint as well as it did a servant of God from the Old Testament.

The final verse is also very interesting. Nehemiah notes his position in the Kingdom. He acknowledged that God could use his privileged position to accomplish His will. Not only was Nehemiah broken and prayerful, he was willing to be used as part of the solution. Perhaps he understood he had been uniquely positioned in this world for, “such a time as this.” May we find ourselves broken for the sins of our land, may we find ourselves calling on God for intervention and may we find ourselves willing to be used to bring resolution to the issues. May we be putty in the hands of the living God.

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Acts 27

Acts 27 July 21, 2017

Although walking in the center of God’s will is the safest place on earth, that does not mean it is without hazard. In fact, Paul’s journey with the Lord seems anything but safe. He has been beaten within inches of his life and has spent years being locked up for nothing save the preaching of the Gospel. In this chapter, he faced one of the most fearful circumstances life has to offer, a shipwreck. Keep this in mind when you read in Philippians 4:11 “…for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am in.” and remember this verse is a precursor to the more popular, “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.”

The Mediterranean Sea is one of the most treacherous sailing seas in all the world. It is populated by islands, unseen reefs, and the ever occurring down sloping winds. The most dangerous time to sail this sea is in the winter. Considering the primitive sailing vessels of the 1st century, a voyage in late summer to early fall was dangerous, to say the least. However, men will take on great challenges for the sake of financial gain, and so it was with the ship’s owner, the captain, and the crew. Paul and the other prisoners were simply cargo forced to travel.

One of the most interesting parts of this story is how God exalts Paul to a place of respect. When he boarded the ship, he was simply a prisoner of the Roman guard on his way to the great court of Caesar in Rome. He was not one to be heard. He was one to have kept quiet in the belly of the ship. Sometimes God is in the calm and sometimes God is in the storm. Do you remember the primary themes of Acts discovered weeks ago in reading Acts 1:8? The disciples were to be made witnesses by the power of the Holy Spirit. Paul later joined the ranks, but here he is being made a witness to be heard when his place was one of the most humble of all who boarded the ship.

Due to the promise given a few chapters earlier, there was no doubt Paul was going to get to Rome. While he was safe in the midst of the storm, no one else was guaranteed safe passage But the purpose of God was to make Paul a witness. In order to be a witness, you need credibility. A prisoner on his way to court has little credibility to those he meets along the way. But through this horrific storm, God established Paul in the eyes of the people. By the end of the story, even the captain of the ship listened to Paul. This story is nothing short of the hand of God exalting his servant.

You can trust the Lord. You can trust the Lord in all things. You can stand with confidence knowing he has prepared you for the calling he has placed on your life. But that is not all. You can trust God to set the stage for the drama he is playing out in your life. Just as Paul learned to be content, each of us can learn to be content as well. Contentment such as that of Paul, comes only through faith. Not just faith for salvation on the last day, but faith for God to work in all the circumstances of our lives. Faith that God is setting the table to make us witnesses. In reading stories such as this from the life of Paul, is it any wonder that he could say, “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.” The key here is to realize you are called according to the purposes of God. Every circumstance in your life is arranged to make you a witness of the living God.

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Acts 26

Acts 26 July 20, 2017

One of the fascinating elements of Paul’s witness was his sensitivity to his audience. You might remember his encounter on Mars Hill where he began his Gospel presentation in speaking to the crowd about the marker they had erected to an unknown God. In his previous defense he began with the hope of the resurrection. In chapter 26, he begins with the prophets. Paul had learned the need to meet the people where they are in order to lead them where hoped they would go. Sometimes he made a simple presentation. At other times, he made a more theological argument. In this case, he turned rather theological connecting the teaching of the prophets to the coming of Jesus. Even so, he always ended  up a the same place, the death and resurrection of Christ.

Paul also used his testimony. He began with his actions prior to conversion, explained  how God led him to understand his need of salvation, and finally told of his life after his conversion. King Agrippa failed to make the connection between what he was hearing and the voice of God. His response was that Paul would not persuade him in such a short time. The issue was not Paul’s persuasive powers but those of the Holy Spirt. It is evident that Paul was not persuaded by men but by the hand of God. If any man is to come to God, it will be through the persuasive powers of the Holy Spirit. It is the responsibility of the Holy Spirit to convict the lost world of sin. For the believer, the key element is to learn to hear the voice of the Holy Spirit for guidance.

Under the leadership of the Holy Spirit, Paul made a strong plea regarding the forgiveness of sins and walking in light rather than darkness. The darkness represents a lack of understanding. The light represents a new way of understanding. Paul’s testimony after conversion was a complete allegiance to Jesus and a commitment to preach the Gospel to all kinds of men. And consistency was a key characteristic of his life.

As King Agrippa and Festus weighed the evidence, they almost seem perplexed that Paul had been brought before them. They can find nothing credible in the witness against him. His words line up with his actions and there is no cause to take his life. The temptation for Paul might have been to develop the victim syndrome and complain of his imprisonment. Instead, Paul recognized God’s hand on his life providing an opportunity to preach to the most powerful people in all of Rome. Paul’s example could provide us with a filter through which we can interpret life’s circumstances. We might need to add the words of Joseph from the Old Testament to fully grasp the gravity of the situation: “you meant it for evil against me, God meant it for good.” Let us filter everything that we consider to be evil against us as something God means for good.  Opportunities often come through great tribulations.

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Acts 25

Acts 25 July 19, 207

The unbelieving world had no idea what to do with Jesus and it has no idea what to do with someone who strongly believes in his death and resurrection. Since they killed Jesus, they will also kill his followers. At this point in Christian history, only the religious Jews were seeking to kill followers of Christ. Just a few years later the Roman government joined in the persecution. Just as Jesus did not die until the right moment, God protected Paul to be delivered to Rome. Remember, God had decreed that Paul would go to Rome.

First it was Felix, then it was Festus, and finally, it would be Agrippa. All these men were part of the Roman system. The appellate system was not nearly as structured as the judicial system practiced in the US, but if you were a Roman citizen there were procedures to be followed. It was these procedures God was using to keep Paul out of the hands of the blood thirsty Jewish leadership. There is a strong theme in this section of Acts reminding readers of the sovereignty of God. God is in control. His purposes and plans will not be thwarted by the actions of rebellious men.

Paul rested in the protection of the living God because he was in the center of God’s purposes and plans. He was one who responded to the call of God and reoriented his life for the cause of the Gospel. Consequently, the only charges that could honestly be brought against him were the preaching of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Neither Felix or Festus could find any valid accusations beyond what they considered to be a small disagreement over the beliefs of Paul and that of the Jewish leaders. They were misguided. It was no small difference. It is the difference between life and death.

The Jews were correct to assume that Paul’s doctrine of the death and resurrection of Christ served to eliminate their place in the work of God in the modern era. That modern era is referred to in Scripture as the latter days. It is the age in which we live. The work of God is continuing in the same dispensation and covenant as that of Paul. God continues to call out servants in this day just as he did in Paul’s day. The message has not changed and the purpose has not changed. Paul’s message is found in the 10th chapter of his letter to the church at Rome, “Call upon the name of the Lord and you shall be saved.” Paul’s idea of calling upon the name of the Lord was clearly demonstrated in his Damascus Road experience. In that experience, he recognized Jesus for who he really is, and Paul surrendered to the leadership of Christ.

Walking in obedience to God through difficult days requires the kind of faith that Paul possessed. The faith that Paul possessed comes only after a personal encounter with Christ. Are you feeling a little anemic in the power of God today? Then it is time to revisit two encounters with God. The first is when he called you to salvation. Do you remember when He made his presence known to you and you knew you needed him to save you? The second is the last clear word he spoke into your life. What was the last thing God told you? For Paul, it was the word that he would go to Rome. That word created confidence in all circumstances. What was the last word God gave to you and how does it build your confidence?

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Acts 24

Acts 24 July 18, 2017

There is a strong theme running throughout the Bible encouraging all of mankind to live in a way they are found blameless. One key example of this is when God told Abraham to walk before him uncovered. He was not speaking of without clothes, he was speaking in terms of without reason to be ashamed. It is without hypocrisy man is to live with his actions matching his words. Paul lived that kind of life. His offense even became his best defense. The key ideas of his preaching were the death and resurrection of Christ. When he was on trial before the council and later the Jewish officials, he simply used the heart of his preaching for his defense.

According to verse 26 of chapter 24, Paul was kept in confinement in the city of Caesarea for over two years. He was granted some freedom and his friends could come and go ministering to him. You could say Paul had his own Roman body guards to protect him from the Jews with the freedom to move about. While it is speculative, it is also likely that Paul found ways to evangelize during this time of freedom. One can only imagine the jailors brought before him and the other guards. There is little doubt they heard of the death and resurrections of Jesus. Even Felix the governor was curious. He was also greedy. Perhaps he saw Paul as a valuable prisoner. While he was hopeful Paul’s friends would pay a bribe, Paul used the opportunity to live off the Romans, meet with his friends in the faith, and probably to evangelize in Caesarea. Paul did not seem to be one who would wallow in self-pity missing an opportunity to preach the Gospel.

Another key element of this chapter is Felix’ knowledge of the way. This was a term used to describe Christianity prior the name Christians being used at Antioch. The early church was known as followers of the way based on Jesus words, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” The Gospel was openly preached and talked about and it was finding its way into the most intricate places of government. God was truly making witnesses in the land.

There was a great price to pay by the early church in order to fulfill the prophecy of Jesus that the Holy Spirit would make witnesses. Some paid with their blood and others, such as Paul, lived a life of persecution because he preached the Gospel. He truly suffered for the namesake of Jesus. For Paul, the suffering was a privilege. That is to be counted worthy to suffer for the Gospel. This observation begs the  question: “Are modern day believers willing to  suffer for Jesus in order to be the witness that is empowered by the Holy Spirit?” Perhaps the time has come for a few of God’s people to gather for prayer and seek the fire of the Holy Spirit in order to be made witnesses.

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Acts 23

Acts 23 July 15, 2017

There is no greater assurance in life than when the Lord has given his perspective on a situation. In the midst of a very difficult circumstance, Paul is given a revelation that provided hope when hope seemed like a distant dream. Just as Paul’s friends had warned, there was an uprising in Jerusalem by the Jewish leadership. In order to gain this much attention, Paul had to be perceived as a formidable threat to the Jewish faith. While many Bible students quickly note that Jesus was rejected by many of his own people, it is worth remembering that he did gain large enough of a following to be crucified and for his followers to encounter a well-positioned assault by the Jewish leadership. The defensiveness of the Jewish leadership is understandable. After all, they were living reluctantly under Roman rule and reminded daily of their lack of freedom to govern. There was a natural dissension between the two primary sects known as the Sadducees and Pharisees. And now, there was another internal threat of what they considered to be a heretical theology.  Some days, it is just difficult to be a leader.

Paul’s means of defense, when brought before the council is priceless. Knowing of the primary points of contention between these two sects, he was able to use it as a wedge issue in order to shift the accusations to an internal leadership conflict. Consequently, the leaders begin to argue among themselves resulting in his rescue by the Romans. In the middle of this kind of environment, one full of chaos, the Lord made an appearance to Paul and gave him a Word. The Word was that he would live long enough to go to Rome and serve as a witness. Hearing the Word, Paul was now in a position to face his current circumstance by faith. Believing God, he knew this was not the end.

The rest of the story is just as revealing of God’s work in the circumstances as the first. A conspiracy against Paul is discovered by an unsuspecting relative and relayed to the authorities. Paul’s is rescued from the underhanded plot again by the Romans. God can and will use many means in order to accomplish his purposes. Walking in obedience to Christ results in protection by the love of Christ.  And so, Paul was delivered to Caesarea. He is no longer on the home turf of the Jewish leadership. Their home court advantage has been taken away.

The pattern of God’s work in Paul’s life provides a good lesson. When a person is walking hand in hand with the Lord, the enemies are held at bay while God accomplishes his work through his servant. The odds were well against Paul in Jerusalem, with the exception of the God factor. When you have the God factor in your life, nothing else really matters. How do you get this God factor? How is it someone can walk in the favor of God? The answer to that question is found in Hebrews 11:6 and it is summed up in the word faith: “And without faith, it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to him must believe that he is and that he is a rewarder of those who diligently seek him.”

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