The Mountain of God

 

Exodus 24:12-18
2 Peter 1:16-21
Matthew 17:1-9
Psalm 99

Ambrose: If anyone therefore desires to behold this image of God, he must love God so as to be loved by him, no longer as a servant but as a friend who observes his commandments, that he may enter the cloud where God is. (333-397 AD)

Starting with chapter 19, Moses makes several trips up and down the mountain.  Just to clear away the Charlton Heston mistake, the first time the Ten Commandments, and others, were given, Moses and all the people were standing on the plain just outside the camp.  They were not burned into stone.

But the mountain is what we are considering today.  In Exodus, God descends to the mountain and Moses (with others at different times) ascends the mountain.  We could say they met half-way except that God was already with them.  In Psalms, we are to go to God at His Mountain.  In Matthew, Jesus went up the mountain to talk with Moses and Elijah, kind of reversing the roles from the Exodus account.  Finally, Peter comments on what he heard on that same mountain when he, James and John were invited along.

What does it take for us to ‘enter the cloud where God is’?  The scriptures tell us that Jesus had 120 faithful disciples, 12 of whom he appointed apostles.  Yet, when it was time to climb the mountain of God, he invited 3.  Why?  They were ready; they had grown in their faith and could look upon the heavenly body of the Messiah without dying.

Consider what it would do to look upon Perfection with sinful eyes; to feel the heat of Truth on our false flesh.  I want to be ready to go to the Mountain of God, but for me and most of us, it might be best to do it after we have given up these bodies.

Be righteous and do good.

Mike Lawrence

Acts 11-15

158452014   Ancient church at Antioch, Turkey

Things to watch for as you read these chapters.

Monday, February 24, Chapter 11

The first 14 verses are a repeat of chapter 10.  In 15-18, gentiles receive the Holy Spirit, even before baptism or profession of faith.  Only God and the Son of Man get to choose, not humans.  Even Peter chose not to argue with Jesus this time.

Antioch became the second leading center of church growth and remained for centuries as a center of the faith.

When the faithful at Jerusalem heard what was happening there, they sent Barnabas to investigate and make sure they were staying true to the teaching of Jesus.  Barnabas, impressed, preached and then went to Tarsus to get Saul to join him in a year-long ministry in Antioch.  In that time, those who opposed the church branded the sect with the derogatory name of Christians.

Notice that Barnabas was the leader with Saul in support.  Their roles would reverse, but not for another few years.

Tuesday, February 25, Chapter 12

You have to have a score card to keep track of the Kings Herod.  This time it is Herod Agrippa I, the grandson of Herod the Great.  He took over from the exiled Herod Antipas.

The events described in this chapter took place around 10 years after the resurrection.  Agrippa beheaded James the Apostle, but Luke chose not to tell us anything else about it.  The public reaction did encourage Agrippa to arrest Peter for the same purpose.

The prison escape is compelling reading, but do not lose sight of why God chose to free Peter here, but did not free him later in Rome.  Even after 10 years, Peter was the leader of the Church.  James, the brother of Jesus was the leader of the church in Jerusalem, but his influence was far less than Peter’s.  Luke only mentions John with Peter and the other ten not at all.  Paul was still some years away from his full authority.  Peter was the center of the church in the human sense.

Peter made his way to Mary’s house.  This is the Mary who is the mother of John Mark, yet another helper to Paul years later, after they made up over a misunderstanding.  Many scholars today believe John Mark as a youth, was present at the arrest of Jesus.  More on that in a later book.

Syphilis may have caused the death of Agrippa, but God arranged the timing.

Wednesday, February 26, Chapter 13

With this chapter, Saul, finally called Paul, begins to move to the center stage.  The church at Antioch, instigated by the Holy Spirit, commission Barnabas and Saul to a specific missionary journey to Cyprus.  The two are becoming equals even as Barnabas gets top billing.  Their assistant was the young John Mark.

The two move on to Pisidian Antioch in Asia Minor, what is now Turkey, with John Mark going on to Jerusalem.  In a synagogue there, Paul, invited to speak, gives the now familiar outline of the scriptural testimony to the Messiah.  This time, their words pleased the people who invited them to return the following Saturday.

Jealousy interceded and some Jews started speaking against Paul and Barnabas, so Paul announced he would turn to speaking to the gentiles.  However, being chased from the area quickly became a way of life.

Thursday, February 27, Chapter 14

Here in verse 4 and again in 14, Luke calls Paul and Barnabas apostles, the only times in Acts.  However, a number of other people are called apostles at different times.  It is not reserved for the Twelve.  The New Testament holds apostles to the highest standards, assuming for them the duties of missionaries, healers, and representatives of Jesus on earth.  The First Century Church seems to have had a large number of apostles of the caliber of Paul and Barnabas, not to mention the Twelve.

The difficulties in Iconium were common experiences for early Christians, not just for Paul.  Every apostle and disciple preaching the Word met with both acceptance and rejection.  An important lesson for us is in verses 6-7.  There comes a time when we have to move on.  Not everyone will receive the Word of God.

One of the more recent early church fathers, Bede, writing in the early 700’s in England, had this to say on the miracle:

Just as that lame man whom Peter and John cured at the door of the temple prefigured the salvation of the Jews, so too this sick Lycaonian prefigured the people of the Gentiles….

Paul tried to help his listeners understand what God does for all of us; that we should thank Him every day for those great gifts.  He might have won the day, but the trouble makers from Iconium arrived to promote ugliness to the crowd; again, a common occurrence for Paul.

I turn again to the writing of Chrysostom about 390, only a few decades after Christianity became accepted by the Roman Empire:

Believe me, it is possible to suffer things now worse than what Paul suffered.  Those enemies pelted him with stones, but it is now possible to pelt with words that are worse than stone.  What then must one do?  The same that he did.  He did not hate those who cast the stones.  After they dragged him out, he entered their city again, to be a benefactor to those who had done him such wrongs….  Such things are worthy of crowns, worthy of proclamations by the heralds, worthy of ten thousand good things, not worthy of stones.  And yet having suffered the opposite, he did the opposite to what was expected.  For this is the splendid victory.

The two missionaries retraced their path and encouraged those who became followers.  They also selected men and women, strong in the Spirit, to become church leaders.  The Greek word used for ‘elders’ is presbutevrou, presbyterian, a term used generally of leaders.

Antioch, by the way, was the home church of Chrysostom, just 3 centuries later; Paul and Barnabas did excellent work there.  Having set those churches on the right road, the exhausted travelers returned to their home church in Antioch where they presented a slide show of their trip.

Friday, February 28. Chapter 15

Reading the first 35 verses of this chapter, you may not get the full sense of what was happening.  The young and growing church faced a crisis that could have split them into a civil war that could have damaged the church and the faith for centuries, even to today.  The emotions on both sides were high, and both sides had proofs to offer from the scriptures.

This Cliff Note version gives us the impression that Paul and Barnabas let the Jerusalem church serve as the senior elders as was their place.  Both Peter and Jesus’ brother James spoke wisely and strongly in support of the Gentile ministry, James using significant scriptural support.

Sadly, the chapter ends with Paul and Barnabas going separate ways over the issue of John Mark.

Be righteous and do good.

Mike Lawrence

Teach me, O Lord

Leviticus 19:1-2,9-18
1 Corinthians 3:10-11,16-23
Matthew 5:38-48
Psalm 119:33-40

What a great set of readings.  Leviticus has the Ten Commandments, Corinthians describes us as God’s Temple, Matthew has us loving our enemies, and Psalm 119 (the letter H of the alphabet Psalm, the longest at 176 verses) starts, “Teach me, O Lord.” 

We need to learn from God, not from men, though we learn from God through men, men of God.  From Lev 9-10, we learn that God expects us to give a fair share of everything to the poor and from v. 15 to judge everyone fairly.  Generally, Americans think that smacks of socialism, so it is a hard sell.  Yet, that is God’s word.  How should it work?  Instead of paying Lawrence J. Ellison, CEO of Oracle Corporation $96,160,000, why not pay him $160,000 and spread the $96 million among the other employees?  Why should Mark G. Parker get $35.2 million from Nike when there are thousands of workers for the company making $5 a day?  You get the idea.  In the world of humans, greed rules, but God commands generosity.

Notice in Lev 19:18 the verse quoted by Jesus that has a way of making us uncomfortable.  If I choose to follow Jesus, I must give up the ways of the world.  Negotiate a contract that gives you a living wage and pays the rest to other workers; or take the ‘extra’ money and give it to a charity that actually helps people in need (for feeding people, Action Against Hunger and Bread for the World Institute have great ratings).  Why not give it all to your church?  Most of that goes to keeping the doors open.  That is good and we need to support it, but it is not the same as helping the poor, healing the sick, etc.

Be righteous and do good.

Mike Lawrence

Acts 6-10

new year fireworks @ port vincent

2008. Mark A Hewitt

Things to watch for as you read these chapters.

Monday, February 17, Chapter 6

We learn a couple of intriguing details about the early church.  First, we do not know how much later this occurred, but it was still a Jewish congregation, both Judean Jews and those from around the Roman world. Judeans had always believed they were superior to other Jews and it carried over in the early church experience.

Second, church structure came out of necessity.  The Messianic Jews, the first followers of Jesus, went to synagogue, and the Temple, so followed the organization they knew.  Over the years, as the church spread throughout the empire, the structure became different in North Africa, Syria, Egypt, Gaul, Spain, etc.  The church in Rome adapted the Roman governmental structure for their own use; as the modern churches in the US now use many organizational features of the US government, for better or worse.

The choice of the number seven may have been how many people they thought it would take to do the work.  However, seven in the Bible generally represents perfection.

The most relevant detail of this story is to introduce us to both Stephen and Philip.  Philip is one of the few followers at the time who was not Jewish by birth.  More importantly, he will play an vital role later in Acts.

Stephen moves to center stage right away with his arrest.  Notice that he was attending services in a synagogue serving non-Judeans; he was with his own people.  As a follower of Jesus, he spoke out about the scriptural proof of Jesus as the Messiah and that upset the others there.

We should be able to take pride in having people upset with us when we speak the Truth.  If we speak and no one reacts, perhaps we are not speaking the Truth.

Tuesday, February 18, Chapter 7

Stephen was defending himself against a death sentence.  The fact that his speech contains some inaccurate details should cause us no problem.  The history he describes is of people who responded to the Word of God.  He reminds the leaders of the harsh treatment the prophets received and uses that to lead into their killing of both John and Jesus.

In verse 51, Stephen unloaded on the Sanhedrin, “stiff-necked people.”  At verse 55, it becomes clear that God intended for Stephen to become the first martyr of the church and Stephen gladly accepts the assignment.

Stoning, by the way, included all sizes of rocks, many requiring two men to carry and drop on the accused.

Luke, I would guess with Paul’s blessing, went to some trouble to name the young man who held the outer robes.  Luke worked with Paul for several years and wants us to know his background so that we can see the change that Jesus made in him.

Wednesday, February 19, Chapter 8

God’s hand shows as the church is forced to leave the city center of the faith and go into the world as promised.  Saul/Paul is one of the persecutors who seemed to do the job with more zeal than necessary.

Phillip went north into the dreaded Samaria.  His preaching and healing brought in many believers, including, it seemed, Simon the Sorcerer.  It is not clear in this chapter if Simon was a true believer or if he just saw Christianity as another form of magic.  Peter seemed to think that was the case.  We need to be careful we do not become Simons.  It is tempting to ask God to give us all the comforts we want.  A young pastor friend was videoing his young son playing in the snow. The son looked up and shouted, “Jesus, make it warm.”  It is funny in a child, but how often do we resort to such tactics?

Phillip was next directed to the road going south out of Jerusalem.  He traveled at least a day just to get out of Samaria, plus another day to get through the city.  The angel directed him to a man simply called the Eunuch.  He may have been a Jewish convert, but was more likely a gentile who believed in the God of Abraham, a God fearing man.

He invited Phillip to explain the scriptures and Phillip listed all the references that promised the coming Messiah and explained how Jesus met every one of them.  It was the same message the early church used for all Jews and God fearing people, one we should study more closely.

At the end of the chapter Phillip simply disappeared, transported by Spirit Express to Azotus, some 20 miles north.  Oddly enough, Luke gave us no explanation of this strange event, but had him preach his way from there to the powerful Roman dominated city of Caesarea, 60 miles farther north.  Luke does not refer to Phillip again until 20 years have lapsed.

Thursday, February 20, Chapter 9

We now have the wonderful story of Saul’s blinding conversion.  It is entirely consistent with how God works in the world by using weakness to achieve extraordinary things.  In this story, he uses an enemy to create a powerful Apostle for the Word.  Saul likely traveled with assistants who probably took him to a house prepared for them near the Governor’s Residence, adding to the trepidation of Ananias.  Saul’s blindness, though real, was also a symbol of his lack of understanding of Jesus.  He had much to learn.

Saul at once preached about Jesus as the Messiah.  Remember that he was a student of the great Gamaliel, so he already knew all the passages of scripture that promised the Messiah.  Saul’s blindness fell away only when he accepted Jesus as that Messiah.

Going to Jerusalem does seem a strange choice given all that had happened.  Luke fails to explain how Barnabas knew of Saul’s conversion, but his word was enough to convince the Apostles.  As we read, Saul eventually fled to Tarsus, his home town.

Two more healings round out the chapter with Peter at the center again.  Tabitha is Aramaic and Dorcas is Greek; both mean gazelle.  More people believed as a result of the healings.

Simon Peter moved in with Simon the tanner.  It looks to be such a simple thing, but in Jewish belief, tanners were at the bottom of a strict social scale because they handled dead flesh every day.  Tanned leather presented no problems, but the tanner was beneath contempt.  A tanner was worse even than a Jewish tax collector.  Peter was starting to move away from his strict belief system and accept people in whatever station of life.

Friday, February 21. Chapter 10

Now Peter moves from a tanner to a Roman from a prominent family who is rising through the ranks of the military.  Being a centurion of the Italian Cohort, it is likely that he was a man on the rise, yet he was also one of the God fearing men.  At that time, it was not a disadvantage to his military and political career to follow the practices of a local religion.  Cornelius was a Centurion, but if he commanded the first Centuria of the Cohort, he would have had responsibilities more in line with a Lieutenant Colonel today, responsible for supervising five other Centurions.

We need to note how God looked on Cornelius, a man who had not taken the next step to become Jewish.  Cornelius was living in two worlds, yet God looked on him with favor.

The Cornelius affair is a lesson for Peter to prepare him for ministry to gentiles.  The vision of unclean animals and Jesus telling Peter to eat them was difficult for Peter, but the message did sink in.  When the angel told him to go with the men, he was ready to do it.

What happened in the home of the Roman officer can be called an ice breaker.  Not only Cornelius, but his whole family with friends received the Holy Spirit.  Do not miss this point: none of those people made a profession of faith nor had any been baptized.  Still, they were made pure, just like the unclean animals shown to Peter.

Only those whom Jesus makes pure can stand before God, but we do not decide who those people are.  Many who have never heard his name will be saved, if this account is any indication and I believe it is.

Be righteous and do good.

Mike Lawrence

Now Choose Life

Child born

Deuteronomy 30:15-20
1 Corinthians 3:1-9
Matthew 5:21-37
Psalm 119:1-8

Step back a few verses to Deut. 30:11.  “Now what I am commanding you today is not too difficult for you or beyond your reach.”  God simply commanded us to choose prosperity or destruction; life or death.

If everything had a label, ‘Life’ or ‘Death’, it would be simpler.  In the day-to-day living though, we too often miss the labels that are there, or we fail to understand them.  Jesus gave us some clarification.  Do not murder, but more, do not be angry.  What am I supposed to do when someone hits me, steals my car, fires me from my job, has sex with my spouse?  Anger is the preferred response, yet that is the way of death.

Why death?  Anger breaks the connection with God.  God is life.  When we lose, God we die.  That is the story of the first sin.  Adam and Eve disobeyed God, separating themselves from God.  When God called out, “Where are you,” He knew where they were and why.  God was commenting on their disconnect, their sense of loss.  They could no longer feel God, even though He could feel them.

Jesus goes on through adultery, divorce, breaking oaths, and one beyond today’s reading, an eye for an eye.  He summed it all up with, “I tell you:  Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you….  Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

Anything that causes a division, a separation, with another person, causes a division or separation from God.  God is in both of us.  God wants us close to Him.  Therefore, I must choose life; kindness, politeness, friendliness, even in the face of hostility.  It will not always win them over, but anger never does.

Be righteous and do good.

Mike Lawrence