Tag Archives: Acts

You Have Not Seen Him

 

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Acts 2:14a,22-32
1 Peter 1:3-9
John 20:19-31
Psalm 16

Excerpts of sermon one, The Hands of God by Peter Marshall based on John 20:27.  Dr. Marshall was pastor of the Washington DC New York Avenue Presbyterian Church and Chaplain to the US Senate until his early death in 1947.  I have retained his printed style.

When Thomas returned to join the group, he heard the announcement told breathlessly

with shining eyes

as they gripped him by the arm

that the Master had appeared unto them, and that they knew—beyond any doubt—that He was alive.  Partly because of his overwhelming grief, and partly because he was by nature and disposition a skeptic, Thomas would not believe them.

he was, as it were, from some Palestinean Missouri

he had to be shown

he demanded proof

he insisted that he would not be swept

off his feet by any emotional reaction

he would have to be sure

and he refused to believe until the Lord

should appear before him

and until he could stick his unbelieving finger into the nailprints of the hands of the Son of God.

 

Before very long the disciples were again united in the room, and the door still being closed, and without bothering to knock, Jesus stood before them.

 

It was enough for Thomas, and it drew him to his glorious surrender: “My Lord, and my God!”

….

Here is our infinite comfort and strength—

“Behold My hands,” says Jesus.  That gives us confidence, and by this we know that the hands that today lay bricks

dig ditches

plant flowers

operate street cars

mine coal

wield shovels

hold riveting machines

use typewriters

wrap packages

wash dishes

Shall some day be occupied with the affairs of God in the New Jerusalem.

 

Excerpts of sermon two, The Joy of Ascension, preached in Berlin on Ascension Day, May 25, 1933 by Dietrich Bonhoeffer based on 1 Peter 1:7-9.  He was hanged in 1945 for his opposition to Hitler.

“Jesus, my joy”—is what we have just sung, and to be able to say that honestly, from the heart, is the meaning of a life lived with Christ.  If there is someone to whom it sounds very foreign, or who hears nothing in it but mush enthusiasm, then that person has never yet heard the gospel.  Jesus Christ was made a human being for the sake of humankind in the stable at Bethlehem—rejoice, o Christendom.  Jesus Christ became the companion of sinners and sat among tax collectors and prostitutes—rejoice, o Christendom.  Jesus Christ became a convicted criminal for the sake of convicts, on the cross at Golgotha—rejoice, o Christendom.  Jesus Christ, for the sake of his church, went from this earthly home to his heavenly kingdom—rejoice, o Christendom….  Say it out loud: Christ, my joy….

But how can people rejoice when they have been abandoned?  How can those who are left orphans be comforted?  How can those who are torn by homesickness be cheerful?  You orphaned church, left alone in your homesickness for Jesus Christ and his ascension, your ascension, rejoice!  For we are allowed to love him whom you cannot see; you are allowed to believe in him who is lost to your sight.  And nobody can take your love and your faith from you…. Without rejoicing, there is no church.  Let us talk today about joy in Christ….

Joy in the sermon—how hard that is for us people of today.  That’s because we are listening to the preacher and not to Christ.  We turn our own joy sour because we confuse earthly joy with heavenly joy.  Our poor Protestant church doesn’t offer us much earthly joy.  Don’t come looking for it here.  But heavenly joy Christ can give us, even through his frail church, and we should look for it only from him, not from the preacher.  In the sermon it is Christ who wants to visit us and wants to b himself our heavenly joy.

 

Be righteous and do good.

Mike Lawrence

Acts 26- Mark 2

file7781250745849        An Ancient Prison

Things to watch for as you read these chapters.

Monday, March 17, Chapter 26

Paul is in chains before Agrippa, but he manages to take the classical Greek oratorical stance by holding a hand out.  He again assures Agrippa that he is a good and loyal Jew, even a Pharisee.  This is not something he made up for his defense.  In his letters, he also claimed to be a Jew.  He lived as a gentile only when he was with them.  He lived as a Jew when he was with Jews.  My personal belief is that he ate with gentiles, but never ate pork.

Verse 8 is a terrific question for all times.

Paul appeals to Agrippa’s status as a Jew by reminding him of the promise of the prophets.  Note that it is Festus who accuses Paul of being crazy.  Agrippa at the end says that Paul is not guilty and should be released, but he asked to go to the Emperor, so must go.

This shows the big picture.  When Paul claimed Roman citizenship, he saved himself from being killed in Jerusalem, knowing he was intended for Rome.  By claiming the right for a trial before the Emperor, he assured a trip to Rome.  Paul knows that he will die, and he would have been personally thrilled to die at Jerusalem where his Master also died.  But God wanted him to minister in Rome before his execution.

Tuesday, March 18, Chapter 27

We see Luke again in the first verse.  It is likely that he traveled some while Paul was in prison.  Paul was well cared for by the Christians in Caesarea.  As is the case today in many countries, people in prison depend on family and friends to feed, cloth, and nurse them.  The prison is only there to lock the prisoners away.  If no one feeds them, they die, which makes space for new prisoners.

The Mediterranean has claimed tens of thousands of ships over the centuries.  It is more unpredictable than the other oceans because odd-shaped land masses surround it.  Winds sweep down mountains and blast ships into to danger without a hint of clouds.  This trip is an excellent example of what can happen.

It might be helpful to find a map to follow the adventurous journey.  Twice, Luke tells us that they sailed to the lee.  The leeward course simply follows the wind, rather than to sail across the wind.  By doing that, the ships they were on failed to follow the course they wanted.

In verse 12, we see that the ship intended to sail along the coast of Crete, a distance of perhaps 30 miles.  The storm blew them south past the tiny island of Cauda, about 100 miles south.

The storm continued so long the captain ordered all cargo and non-essentials thrown overboard.  They were at the mercy of the winds.  Paul assured them they would live.

After 2 weeks, the ship arrived at Malta and Paul saved them again when the crew tried to abandon them on the ocean.  He became the acting captain.  Thanks to him, all 276 men made it to shore.  It is likely that most of the men were prisoners.

Wednesday, March 19, Chapter 28

Regarding the serpent, Basil the Great (died 628) wrote, If you have no faith fear less the beast than your own faithlessness through which you make yourself susceptible to every type of corruption.

Publius received the power of Paul in the healing of his father.  That led to many others.  No doubt, they left many Christians on the island.

When they finally arrived in Rome, Paul had proven himself to such a degree that the commander allowed him to live where he wanted with only one soldier to guard him.  We can safely assume Paul converted more than one of those guards.

The Jews received and treated him respectfully with several becoming followers of the Way.  Luke gives us a pleasant, if incomplete, end.  Paul preached in Rome for two years.

The record is not clear about what happened to Paul after those two years.  The most widely accepted notion is that he had his head cut off at about the time Peter arrived for his upside-down crucifixion.  Neither account has scriptural support.

There are some hints that Paul may not have faced a trial and did make another missionary journey in Asia and Greece.

It is also possible that he went to Spain.

The truth is, we do not know.

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Thursday, March 20, Mark Chapter 1

We begin the study of Mark with the same statement used to end Acts, we do not know.  Specifically, we do not know who wrote the Gospel.  None of the Gospels have titles; we have attached them over the years.  However, we do have a written source from about 140 AD that names John Mark as the author, and he is quoting an older source, Papias who was alive when most of the New Testament writers were working.  So, I feel safe in assuming it is John Mark, the same young man who deserted Paul.

Most scholars believe that Mark was the first of the Four Gospels  written, and that both Matthew and Luke used his book as a template for their own, each adding points they believe were relevant, but left out of Mark.  Scholars generally believe that John Mark spent most of his missionary life with Peter and wrote down accounts given by Peter as he preached.

Mark begins with the Gospel.  In Greek, the word is evangelion, literally, Good News.  He next uses a neat rhyme in Greek: Iesou Christou. Huiou Theou; Jesus Christ, Son of God.

He next moves us to Isaiah.  Mark wants his readers to know immediately that Jesus is the Promised One and that John the Baptizer prepared the way.  If you are keeping score, verse 2 is a quote from Malachi 3:1, not Isaiah.

John preached repentance; literally an about-face.  ‘You have turned away from God; do an about-face and come back to Him.’

2 Kings 1:8 describes Elijah much the same as verse 6.

People who owned slaves had them untie the straps of their sandals, yet John is not even worthy to do that for Jesus.  It is intriguing that the word used by Mark for strap is also used for prisoner.

The early church struggled with the idea of Jesus’ baptism; he did not need to repent because he was without sin.  We generally say that he took on the sins of the world; it seems likely that this was the moment when that happened.  Baptism for him was a kind of reverse process.

The Trinity is present when the Holy Spirit comes to touch the Son of God and the Voice of God claims him as His own.  It seems a little odd at this point that it took the church 300 years to accept the idea of God in 3 forms.

Mark deals quickly with the forty days before moving to verse 14 with the arrest of John.  Mark has Jesus doing remarkably little until John is off the stage of history.  Now he begins to collect disciples, starting with those who would be his inner circle: Simon, Andrew, James, John.  It is at least possible if not likely that the four were in business together and may have been cousins.

Jesus ministry through chapter 10 will take place in Galilee, so check your map to see where Jesus is.  You will find him in Capernaum a good deal.  The religious leaders see that alone as a sure sign Jesus is not the Messiah.  No man who is ritually pure would go near the disgusting place with its Greeks, Romans, fishermen, and other lowlifes we will meet from time to time.

Mark does something awesome starting in verse 21.  He gives us a series of open and closed doors, all dealing with ritual purity.  The door first opens with an invitation to comment on the scripture read that day at the Sabbath service.  Jesus’ teaching stuns people.

Then a man possessed by an unclean spirit (the proper Greek word) calls Jesus the Holy One of God.  Jesus immediately closes that door.  Yes, Jesus is the Son of God, but the evil one is trying to tempt him with the claim, get him to think more highly of himself than he should.

Driving the spirit out quickly reopens the door and amazes people.  He becomes the talk of Galilee.

Jesus has already shown us that ritual purity is a waste of time if the Holy Spirit has not cleared away the sin inside us.  Think about why you go to church, read the Bible, give money, give up ___ (fill in the blank).  All too often, we step into church to cleanse us.  ‘I go every Sunday, so I’m a really good person.’

Becoming famous is another temptation for Jesus, so he leaves that and goes to Simon’s house.  Simon’s wife’s mother, sick in bed, gets Jesus’ attention.  Notice, Jesus closed the door by leaving the public and quickly opens the door to help someone.  He goes to her bed and holds her hand to help her stand healing her.  But do not miss the fact that Jesus violated two purity rules, he entered the bedroom of a woman and he touched a sick woman.  And you thought it was bad that he was hanging out with stinky fishermen.

Yet, in verse 32, Mark makes it clear that Jesus did not receive the others until the Sabbath was over.  Jesus will get in trouble for healing people on the Sabbath (he did heal the mother-in-law), but he does not look for trouble.

Jesus sneaks off to pray early Sunday morning.  Closing the door on the popularity.  Mark mentions going off to pray two other times (6:46 & 14:32-41), and in all 3 cases, there is a kind of crisis going on.  Not a bad example for us to follow.

This time, Jesus closes the door more firmly by leaving and walking around the region.  The leper represents very nearly the bottom of the ritually pure ladder; a dead person being the bottom.  Jesus could have healed the man without touching him, but he is giving everyone another lesson in purity.  Touching people is not a sin, why we touch people sometimes is a sin.

Jesus follows with instructions to go to the Temple for the ritual cleansing.  That was no small order.  The Temple was a two-day walk at best, through bandit country.  It was necessary because God had commanded that it be done and Jesus NEVER violated God’s Law.  God did not say, ‘Never touch a leper’

Nu 12:9 The anger of the LORD burned against them, and he left them.

Nu 12:10 When the cloud lifted from above the Tent, there stood Miriam—leprous, 27 like snow. Aaron turned toward her and saw that she had leprosy;

Nu 12:11 and he said to Moses, “Please, my lord, do not hold against us the sin we have so foolishly committed.

Nu 12:12 Do not let her be like a stillborn infant coming from its mother’s womb with its flesh half eaten away.”

Nu 12:13 So Moses cried out to the LORD, “O God, please heal her!”

Nu 12:14 The LORD replied to Moses, “If her father had spit in her face, would she not have been in disgrace for seven days? Confine her outside the camp for seven days; after that she can be brought back.”

That is the Word of God.

Friday, March 21, Chapter 2

Middle Eastern hospitality involved opening the door of the house in the morning and closing it at night.  Anyone who wanted to come in could do so.  The wealthy generally placed a servant at the door as a guard, especially if they were Pharisees.

Back in Capernaum, Jesus was likely at the home of Simon Peter where we know he often stayed.  It was standing room only, even outside and around the open windows.

A roof in those days was built by laying thick beams or tree trunks across the opening, then crisscrossing with smaller and smaller wood or tree limbs.  The finish was a thick coat of mud to seal it.  Mud mixed with urine can create a surface impervious to rain.

Imagine how disruptive those men were by digging through the roof, dirt and debris falling on everyone in the room.  I guess Peter would have had a word or two for them.

Why did Jesus not heal the man?

Two reasons.  Most important, that is not what the man needed.  Sin can paralyze.  Doctors see it all the time.  Today we call it psychosomatic, but it is real.  If forgiveness of sin can heal a physical malady, why not do it?

Reason two is that Jesus knew there were religious leaders in the crowd who would object to forgiving sins.  He knew who they were, and he knew what their reaction would be.  Therefore, he created a teaching moment.

Notice, Jesus did not say, ‘I forgive your sins.’  In fact, nowhere in the Gospels does Jesus say that.  He did say, ‘Your sins are forgiven.’  Only God can forgive sins, and even the Messiah did not choose to boast by saying he could do it too.

What is the teaching moment?  Again, two things; Jesus proved his Messiahship by letting the scribes know that he could read their thoughts.  Then he healed the paralytic.

The Lesson: Jesus Is The Messiah.

Jesus, however, never called himself the Messiah and certainly never God.  He almost always called himself the Son of Man.  In Hebrew, it is Ben Adam.

Ezekiel used a form of the name more than 90 times, always showing God’s work being done through the weakness of man.

Daniel used it in 7:13,14,18.

The Book of Enoch, not a part of the Bible, but considered close in the First Century, spoke often of the Son of Man and described him replacing all the kings of the earth.  The book was as popular as it was widely known in Jesus day.  Everyone knew he was claiming the Ezekiel-Daniel-Enoch meaning of the title.  They also knew that it was another name for the Messiah.

Calling Levi is intriguing.  A tax collector was only a notch or two above a leper in purity, not because of money, but because he had to deal with Romans and Greeks every day.  Having the fishermen follow him was tolerable, but not Levi.  The fact that Levi was sitting in the toll booth (it was a tax to use the road) suggests that he was not making enough money to hire others to do the collecting for him.  Remember that any tax collector could ask for any amount above what Herod and the Romans required.  Collecting two or three times that amount was typical.  It was a get-rich-quick position.

The Pharisees could not understand the idea that a person could be free of sin without doing something.  ‘You have to earn it’ they would say, and did.  Jesus says, “No one ceases to be a child of God because of sin.’

Most of us do not get too excited about fasting, perhaps we should.  Leviticus 16:29 calls for a fast on the Day of Atonement.  That is the only one required in the Pentateuch, the Five Books of Moses.  Four more were added after the return from the Babylonian exile (Zechariah 7:5 & 8:19).  But by Jesus time, the Pharisees did those fasts plus every Monday and Thursday.

Jesus did fast according to the command of God.  The Pharisees complained that Jesus was not fasting as they had decided it should be done.

Jesus refers to himself as the bridegroom here; that is a vital image throughout the New Testament, but especially in Revelation.  Jesus says here in Mark that his followers should feast while he is with them; there will be time for fasting when he is gone.  He is also promising a Great Feast in Heaven when we become his bride for eternity.

Should Christians fast?  Yes, if it brings you closer to God.  If all you think about is hunger, no.  In verse 21, Jesus tells us that the form of worship is not as powerful as the willing heart.

Colossians 2:16-23 speaks to the topic above and below.

The Oral Tradition listed 39 acts that were forbidden on the Sabbath.  Almost none of them mentioned in the Bible.  Reaping or harvesting grain was one.  Yet, in Deuteronomy 23:25, God said we can pick grain by hand.

Jesus followed the Scriptures.  But rather than debate with them about it, he, once again, claimed the title of the Son of Man.  If he is the Son of Man, the Messiah, why can he not do what he wants?

 

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

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

Here Is My Servant

Isaiah 42:1-9
Acts 10:34-43
Matthew 3:13-17
Psalm 29

Key verses:

I, the Lord, have called you in righteousness.

God does not show favoritism but accepts men from every nation who fear him and do what is right.

Jesus replied, “Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.”

The Lord blesses his people with peace.

In the first century the difference between a servant and a slave hardly recognizable to 21st Century eyes.  True, a servant could quit, but that was seldom done because no one else would hire someone who quit.  Day-to-day, both did what their master said and both ate the same food, wore the same clothing, and worked the same long hours.

Isaiah records the words of God in speaking of the Messiah by starting with, “Here is my servant.”  Jesus lived the life of a slave.  He did nothing that God did not give to him to do.  He fulfilled all the prophecies about the Messiah, especially the one about bringing justice and righteousness to the world.

John was reluctant to baptize the Son of God, but Jesus insisted it was necessary.  He symbolically took on our sins with that act and carried them into death so that we would not have to do it ourselves.  That is not just important, it is essential.  You and I cannot go to the grave with our sins and expect to live with God.  Only if we are sin-free can we expect to see God.

Peter summed it up by preaching the same Good News that Jesus preached.  God loves all of us and Jesus made it possible for us to die and die sin free.

Be righteous and do good.

Mike Lawrence