Tag Archives: God

Acts 1-5

 

Drawing above: When the day of Pentecost came. Mark A Hewitt, Pastel & pen. 26 May 2012.

Things to watch for as you read these chapters.

Monday, February 10, Chapter 1

Writing sometime around 390 AD, John Chrysostom remarked, “To many people this book, both its content and its author, is so little known that they are not even aware it exists.”  He then did his best to bring the Acts of the Apostles to light.  Remember that he was writing only about 200 years after the last Apostle died and before the books of the New Testament were agreed upon.  Many did not accept Acts as scripture, only as an interesting read.

We will find it more than just interesting.  Luke, having written a Gospel, now describes events of the early church.  Beginning in verse 2, he stresses the importance of the Holy Spirit in that experience.

When we read the end of Luke and the beginning of Acts, we find no contradictions.  The Gospel account is a quick summary, expanded in Acts.  Now we see Jesus rising into a cloud, but not just any cloud, He rose into the Cloud of God, the Cloud that led the Israelites through the desert to the Promised Land.

In verse 14 we read that the 120 apostles met every day in prayer.  In the Gospel, Luke adds that they met continually in the Temple.  There was no other place indoors where that many people could gather, not even in Herod’s palace.

Since Jesus chose the Twelve to represent the Twelve Tribes of Israel and since Judas killed himself, the Eleven suggested two men to replace Judas: Joseph and Matthias.  We can speculate that Jesus treated both men with special favor, but we do not know anything about them.  Lots were cast and Matthias became an Apostle, much the way we decide which goal a team will defend.  Neither man appears again in the Bible.

Tuesday, February 11, Chapter 2

Pentecost deserves some explanation.  The word is Greek, meaning 50, because it took place 50 days after the Saturday following Passover.  In Hebrew it was, and is, called the Feast of Weeks (Shavuot), also sometimes Feast of Harvest or First Fruits.  On the first day of the festival, priest harvested wheat, ground it, made it into bread, and offered it at the Temple as the first fruit of the harvest.  An earlier first fruit harvest of barley took place earlier on the first Sunday after Passover.  We as Christians should celebrate it because Jesus rose from the grave that very day, becoming the First Fruit of the Eternal Harvest.

Forth-nine days later, the Holy Spirit filled 120 followers with a power that must have felt like fire.  Peter preached his best sermon and thousands of lives were changed forever.  All of the followers spread throughout the city like a flood, preaching and teaching through the power of the Holy Spirit.  They could speak Aramaic but be understood by a Greek speaker as speaking in Greek and a Syrian in his language at the same time.  The Holy Spirit became a universal translator.

In the days that followed, only the Twelve did the miracles, but all joined together in complete trust, sharing all that they had.  The phrase, ‘breaking bread’, simply means they ate together.  Spreading the Word all started just as Jesus said it would, in Jerusalem, then Judah, Samaria, Galilee, and the world.  It is fitting that the Romans aided the rapid spread of the Way, as it was first called.  Their transportation system was one of the best known before modern times.

Wednesday, February 12, Chapter 3

Peter and John healed a crippled man, well, not really.  Jesus through the Holy Spirit healed a man, a man who accepted the power of God on faith.  The message of this chapter is that everyone is crippled and in need of the healing power of Jesus.  Peter said, ‘Repent, then and turn to God that your sins may be wiped out.’  It is sin that cripples us; it is sin that we need to repent.  Understand though that God forgives sin and we are healed in that, but we still live in a world with worldly bodies that decay and die.  Asking God to cure a disease will only postpone the death all Christians look forward to.

Thursday, February 13, Chapter 4

Remember that the Apostles and disciples were preaching and teaching in the Temple and in the synagogues to Jews almost exclusively.  They were not peddling a new religion, but rather claiming that Jesus was the Messiah promised by the Scriptures and that he rose from the grave.  The religious leaders believed they were rid of the problem when they had Jesus killed, but his followers continued to spread the same message, adding the resurrection to what the leaders perceived as blasphemy.  When Peter and John healed the crippled man, the leaders decided to go on the attack once again.

A note on the high priest.  In the days of Jewish kings, the high priest was the second most powerful person in the land because the nation was ruled by the religion, somewhat like Iran today.  In the time of Jesus, the political rulers were Roman, so the high priest was the most powerful Jewish leader.  Annas had been appointed to the position at the time of Jesus birth and held it for 21 years when the Romans forced his removal.

However, Annas was rich and powerful and able to control the office through the next six office holders, five of whom where his sons and one his son-in-law.  In the years of Jesus ministry and the beginnings of the church, the high priest was the son-in-law, Joseph Caiaphas.

The Captain of the Temple Guard was the highest ranking officer of the small Jewish army, small because the Romans kept it that way.  He, none-the-less, held a powerful position, in part because he worked closely with both the high priest and the Roman legions.

Notice in verse seven the leaders get right to the issue of blasphemy.  The scriptures say that only God can heal, so it they claimed they did it or that Jesus did it, they would be guilty of blasphemy.  Peter threw it in their faces, ‘it is by Jesus the Messiah, the one you murdered.’  The leaders had a problem: healing comes from God and the man was clearly healed.  He was a man they had all seen before.  To claim it was faked was absurd.  In the end they warned Peter and John to stop preaching and let them go.

The response of Peter and John was to pray for even more of the Holy Spirit to speak the bold words they knew angered the authorities and put their own lives in jeopardy.

Luke reminds us of how the Followers of the Way lived.  It was a true commune, each sharing what they had as it was needed.  We are introduced to Barnabas who will later become one of Paul’s closest associates.

Friday, February 14, Chapter 5

What was the sin of Ananias and Sapphira?  The answer takes us back to Luke’s first book when Jesus spoke with the rich young ruler.

18:24 Jesus looked at him and said, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!  18:25 Indeed, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.”  18:26 Those who heard this asked, “Who then can be saved?” 18:27 Jesus replied, “What is impossible with men is possible with God.”  

 

Note that in verses 4:35, 4:37, and 5:2, Luke uses the same phrase, ‘put it at the apostles’ feet.’  An important Greek word is used here, nosphizein, meaning to misappropriate. The difference is that Ananias tried to pass it off as the full amount.  All he had to do was announce, ‘Here is part of the sale. I can give you more as needed.’  Keep in mind what Jesus said in Matt 6:2-4.  Ananias was being a hypocrite.

The Greek word translated ‘died’ was used in ancient times only to describe a person struck down by God.  Why was the penalty so heavy?  Ananias and his wife were no longer controlled by the Holy Spirit but by Satan, by greed.  The Holy Spirit is Life, Satan is death.

In verse 11, the Greek word, ekklesia, is used for the first time.  In English it is church.

Solomon’s Colonnade or Portico, located along the eastern wall of the Court of the Gentiles, was used by many groups for teaching and meetings.  The followers of the Way seem to have taken control of a portion of it.

Verse 17 starts the first great escape.  We see the leaders filled with jealousy.  That tells us much about the true nature of their attacks on the still tiny Messianic movement.  Nothing is said about the jailers here, but remember that if a prisoner escaped, the jailer was killed.  Later, we are told they were still at their posts.

In verse 20, the angel tells the Twelve to ‘stand firm’ in the Temple.  They had to wait for sunrise when the gates were opened again.  While they were teaching, the captain took his men to bring them, carefully, to the Sanhedrin to be questioned.

Notice in verse 28 the leaders will not even speak the name ‘Jesus’, perhaps out of fear the very name contains powers they cannot control.  Peter speaks for the group and claims Jesus to be the Prince of God and the Savior of man.  The word for savior is used in the Old Testament only of God and of those defeating evil.

Gamaliel was important because he is still considered the greatest teacher of the Law.  He is important to the early church because Saul who became Paul was his student.  Later, in Acts 22:3, Paul claimed he was well trained by Gamaliel.  Here in chapter 5, Gamaliel, perhaps with Saul standing beside him, suggests that the Sanhedrin allow Peter and crew to destroy themselves as did all the other would be Messiahs.

Pay special attention to verse 39 and compare it to Deut 18:20-22.

They were flogged according to Deut 25:2-3.  We do not know how many lashes their ‘crime’ required.  It did not matter to the Twelve, they rejoiced for their bloody backs.

Be righteous and do good.

Mike Lawrence

Matthew 6-10

Things to watch for as you read these chapters.

Monday, January 13, Chapter 6

A good Jew in Jesus’ day preformed three acts of righteousness : charity, prayer, and fasting.  Pharisees and many others did all three like theatre, only with an audience present.  The message from Jesus is to do these things from the heart.  Giving money in our time is easy, but it separates us from those in need and most of the time does not help them.  Only ten percent of charity dollars in the US actually help those in need.

When we pray, we should be listening to God.  Jesus gave us a sample prayer encouraging us to pray only for the basics of life, after that, we listen.

Fasting is not very popular in the US, we prefer feasting.  There are many ways to fast, but it should always be built around prayer.  The whole purpose is to give up something so we can concentrate on God for at least a day.  For modern Americans a gadget/electronic fast would be a good choice.  Try going a Sunday without TV (after the Super Bowl) and read or go for a long walk to talk with God.

We also like to feast on money and the things money can buy.  We are always on the lookout for whatever we especially like, cars, clothes, toys, what-nots.  Storing up treasures is not the same as a 401k or passbook account.  We live in a society where we expect to live 85 years without any help from our families, so we need to prepare for that.  Storing treasures is collecting beyond our needs and focusing on that instead of God.  Anything standing between me and God is darkness.

Jesus ends this section with a kind of summary.  If we trust in God, all those possessions we think we need fall away.  Living in trust makes life simple.  The only day we can live is today.

Tuesday, January 14, Chapter 7

Judging others is another hard teaching from Jesus, for we Americans especially. We are number 1 with the best way of life possible; everyone should follow our example.  As a Christian, I look at non-Christians, and fellow Christians, as not being as close to God as I am; exactly like the Pharisees.

We need  open fellowship with everyone, just the way Jesus did it.  Fellowship, not proselytizing or converting, until they knock on that door.

God will answer our knock at the door.  He will answer our questions and help us find what we seek.  Always remember that what we seek is Heaven.

Consider this passage from The Cost of Discipleship by Dietrich Bonhoeffer.  The path of discipleship is narrow, and it is fatally easy to miss one’s way and stray from the path, even after years of discipleship.  And it is hard to find.  On either side of the narrow path deep chasms yawn.  To be called to a life of extraordinary quality, to live up to it, and yet to be unconscious of it is indeed a narrow way.

Again from Bonhoeffer:  There is someone standing by my side, who looks just like a member of the Church.  He is a prophet and a preacher.  He looks like a Christian, he talks and acts like one.  But dark powers are mysteriously at work; it was these who sent him into our midst.

We must be ever watchful for false prophets, they are not just in ancient times.  They are members of every church.  They misuse the Word to get us to follow them, not God.  Watch.

Jesus concludes the Sermon on the Mount by reminding us to build our Faith on the Solid Foundation of the Word of God.

Wednesday, January 15, Chapter 8

Now Matthew has Jesus move into a healing ministry, taking up all of chapter 8 and most of 9.  He begins with the healing of a leper, a task considered  as likely as raising the dead.  Note that the man knelt before Jesus, a word which often meant to worship.  The man knew that Jesus could heal him and Jesus did so.  The man’s faith was the important element.

Telling the man to say nothing indicates that this event did occur early in Jesus ministry.  Jesus was still trying to avoid conflict with the Temple authorities.  He had much to carry out before that last fateful encounter leading to the cross.  None-the-less, Jesus sent the man to the Temple to asked for cleansing by the priests, showing us that Jesus was no enemy of the Temple of God, only of those who corrupted it.

The centurion’s servant is an unsual healing in several ways.  Capernaum was Jesus headquarters, but was also a Greek/Roman city.  This centurion commanded a cohort or century of about 80 men, one of six in a legion.  The legion stationed in Capernaum was not Roman.  It was working for Herod Antipas, though trained by the Romans.  A centurion would equal a captain in the US Army.

He had wealth and power, but he came to Jesus in much the way the leper had, in a state of faith.  While none of the men in the legion in Capernaum were Jewish, this centurion, a gentile, believed.

With the healing of Peter’s mother, we again see Jesus touching her, but nothing else. He spoke no words, made no reference to faith.  Three different types of healing: a man of faith healed with a touch, a gentile’s request for another healed from a great distance, and Mary simply touched.

In verses 18-22, Jesus is again telling us to keep our full attention on God.  We cannot use excuses when God asks us to do something for him.  We must always do God’s work first.

Jesus gives us a great example of how to live that last section of chapter 6.  He knew God was taking care of him, so he slept through the storm.  The storms in our own lives continue to upset us because we are not willing to put our complete trust in God.

The demonic men on the eastern shore of the Sea of Galilee (really a lake) present a strange picture as the demons fly into pigs.  We can see that the story is more about the reaction than about the men being healed of possession.  The region of Gadarenes was not Jewish, so we wonder why Jesus went there.  In this account, Jesus spoke only the word, go.  He traveled some distance through a storm for that one brief encounter.

Mark and Luke include the story as well and show more about the men, but for Matthew, the reaction of the people was important.  They told Jesus to get out of Dodge, he had messed with their livelihoods.

Note that the disciples had just questioned among themselves who this Jesus was, but the demons knew at once and announced it loudly.

Finally, note that the death of the pigs did not mean the death of the demons, that comes at the end of time.  But we do see the power of Jesus the Messiah over them.

Thursday, January 16, Chapter 9

Jesus sails back to the western shore, to Capernaum, where he meets a paralyzed man.  It is reasonable to assume the man was well-known and since Capernaum was the hometown of Andrew, Peter, James, and John, it is reasonable to assume they knew him personally.  In other words, he was not a plant, he could not walk.  On this occasion, Jesus teaches a different lesson.  He tells the man his sins are forgiven.

Only God can forgive sins, so the learned rabbis and scribes were fuming.  Jesus cleared it up by healing the man.  Since only God could do that, Jesus is God.

Jewish society of the day had an informal ranking of occupations, with priests and rabbis at the top of respectability and tax collectors near the bottom; hide tanners were lower and shepherds were only a little above the tax men.  For Jesus to call such a sinful man to follow him was a sure way of getting kicked off the social A-list.

Jesus did fast and maybe the disciples did as well, but Jesus kept it private.  There is no sign that John himself questioned Jesus.  It was some of his followers.

The raising of the dead girl becomes more dramatic by having the woman stop Jesus’ progress to save her first.  Back with the girl, Jesus does not make any claim to raising the dead.  He insists that she is asleep.  The flute players and the noisy crowd tells us that the house was already in mourning for the girl.  They believed she was dead.

The woman,  bleeding for 12 years, healed by touching the tassel of Jesus’ prayer shawl.  Jews used the words for tassels and hem interchangeably in regard to the prayer shawl.  There were four tassels representing connection with the priest and with God.

None-the-less, it was her faith that healed her.

The blind, also by their faith.

Driving out demons was becoming so common that Matthew does not bother to describe the event.

With 7 billion people in the world, we followers of Jesus have much to do.

Friday, January 17. Chapter 10

In verse 1, the 12 are disciples, and in verse 2, they are apostles.  The Greek word apostolos means messenger.  Jesus chose 12 for special duties from a group of a hundred or more disciples.  Here, for the first time,  Matthew calls them apostles and has them sent into the harvest field and be  messengers of the Good News.

The rest of the chapter is a lengthy set of instructions.

Jesus’ ministry was always to Israel.  After his resurrection, the 12 would be commissioned to go to the rest of the world.

On this journey, depend on the people to support you. Do not even take a change of clothes.  If a town rejects you, move on.

Try to avoid trouble with the legal authorities.  For Jesus, having his apostles arrested could encourage the authorities to arrest him as well.

Remember that you are my students.  Do what I do, do not go your own way.  Do not be afraid.

Back in Matthew 5:9, we read, Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God.  Here, he says he has come to bring a sword.  It is a figure of speech.  Jesus is about Peace, but that gets people upset, so they think he and his followers are dangerous.  The stories in the New Testament tell us what happens; families are split, people attacked, beaten, jailed, killed.  Jesus does not wield a sword, but he has brought one into play.

Our families are important, but Jesus comes first. Nothing in this life is greater than Jesus.

Be righteous and do good.

Mike Lawrence

The Word

Isaiah 61:10-62:3
Galatians 3:23-25;4:4-7
John 1:1-18
Psalm 147 

In the beginning was the Word.  God spoke the Word and the universe came to be.  God spoke the Word to save humans from their own mistakes.

The Word was given to Solomon and by it he gained great Wisdom.  Wisdom is also the Word.

Proverbs 3:18-20

She is a tree of life to those who embrace her; those who lay hold of her will be blessed.
By wisdom the Lord laid the earth’s foundations, by understanding he set the heavens in place;
by his knowledge the deeps were divided, and the clouds let drop the dew.

Proverbs 4:6-8

Do not forsake Wisdom, and she will protect you; love her, and she will watch over you.
Wisdom is supreme; therefore get wisdom.  Though it cost all you have, get understanding.
Esteem her, and she will exalt you; embrace her, and she will honor you.

Proverbs 8:22-31

The Lord brought me forth as the first of his works, before his deeds of old;
I was appointed from eternity, from the beginning, before the world began.
When there were no oceans, I was given birth, when there were no springs abounding with water;
before the mountains were settled in place, before the hills I was given birth,
before he made the earth or its fields or any of the dust of the world
I was there when he set the heavens in place, when he marked out the horizon on the face of the deep,
when he established the clouds above and fixed securely the fountains of the deep,
when he gave the sea its boundry so the waters would not overstep his command, and when he marked out the foundations of the earth.
Then I was the craftsman at his side.  I was filled with delight day after day, rejoicing always in his presence,
rejoicing in his whole world and delighting in mankind.

Jesus is the Word and the Wisdom.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W1Ou4H4Qig0

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_YA4vOz5dTw

Be righteous and do good.

Mike Lawrence

A Little Child Will Lead them

2nd Sunday of Advent 

Isaiah 11:1-10
Romans 15:4-13
Matthew 3:1-12
Psalm 72:1-7, 18-19

God gave sight to Isaiah allowing him so see the coming child who will lead all nations, all peoples, into the promised land.  Isaiah saw the child as a descendant of David, son of Jesse.  He saw that the child will rule over a kingdom free of anger, hatred, bitterness, greed, envy, or corruption.  No person will attack another just as the leopard and the goat will eat and sleep together.

Isaiah also saw the man preparing for the child.  He shouted to the people to build a highway for the child, a highway in our hearts.  Clear away the debris of our crooked lives.  Level off the mounds of our animosity.  Fill in the depths of our jealousy.

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7NCO6UzZ2R8

Be righteous and do good.

Mike Lawrence

Let Us Walk In The Light Of The Lord

First Sunday of Advent 

Isaiah 2:1-5
Romans 13:11-14
Matthew 24:36-44
Psalm 122

James tingles with excitement.  Jesus blasted the Temple leaders, showered them with fire and brimstone.  Now is the time.  Now Jesus must claim His proper place as King and throw out all these hypocrites.  Tell us, Jesus, when will it happen and how will we know?

I cannot tell you when it will happen.  I do not know.  The angels do not know.  Only my Father knows.  Many things will happen before I come.  Do not be fooled by them.  They are only signs that I will come.  They are not signs of when I will come.  It is not now.

But Master, Isaiah promised that all nations will come to the Temple seeking to know God, yet you say the Temple will soon be destroyed.  How can this be?  If there is no Temple, how will the people come to you?

God will provide the Temple at the proper time.  When Daniel asked when that time would be, the answer was “It will be for a time, times and half a time.”  Then God told Daniel, “Go your way, Daniel, because the words are closed up and sealed until the time of the end.”

Master, what do we do until then?

Do all that has been given to you.  Care for all you meet.  Offer hatred to no one.  Do not worry about the time.  Trust the time to the hands of God the Father and walk in His Light.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B0A_1LovZJc

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MOIkm_Lq2Jw

Be righteous and do good.

Mike Lawrence