Tag Archives: Acts

Through the Bible, September 14

Reading: No scheduled reading

Thoughts and Reflections: Today is the regularly scheduled day for the second week of September to catch up if you’ve fallen behind in reading. Otherwise, below are some thoughts for your consideration for today from this week’s readings.

  1. The address of the book of James to “the Dispersion” may seem unusual to us, but was a common thought among first century Jews. During Jesus’ ministry, He said to ones sent to apprehend Him, “You will seek me and will not find me.  Where I am you cannot come.”  Not understanding Jesus’ meaning, the Jews said, “Where does this man intend to go that we will not find him? Does he intend to go to the Dispersion among the Greeks and teach the Greeks?” (John 7:34-35).  Following the time of Babylonian captivity more of the Jews lived outside of Palestine that within.  A condition referred to as “the Dispersion.”
  2. Why is so much of Acts focused on the work and ministry of Paul? Undoubtedly, others of the apostles also traveled and preached.  We know, for instance, that Barnabas and Mark—though not apostles—upon parting with Paul sailed to Cyprus (Acts 15:39).  What happened there and where else they may have gone we are not told.  Additionally, early church history tells of a strong representation of Christians in Alexandria, Egypt.  Someone took the gospel there.  We simply don’t know who and when.  So why the nearly exclusive attention given to Paul?  In part, it may well be the purpose for which the book was written. It, along with Luke, is addressed to one named Theophilus as an account first of Jesus, then of the spread of his message—primarily through Paul.  With Acts’ abrupt ending with Paul in prison, it is suggested that perhaps the books were written initially as a part of Paul’s defense for his trial and that Theophilus was somehow involved.
  3. Paul’s mission efforts were hardly individual endeavors. In addition to Barnabas and Silas as primary companions, he obviously enlisted the efforts of many other preachers.  Reading his letters, in addition to Acts, one pieces together a picture of a traveling band who evangelize a town, and sometimes a larger region, with Paul at some point in time moving on while others remain behind to assist and teach these fledgling churches.
  4. Luke’s participation in the work of Paul can be traced by following the personal pronoun “we” in the accounts of Paul’s travels. The first person plural pronoun, which would include the narrator of the story—Luke—is found in Acts 16:10-17; 20:5-15; 21:1-18; 17:1-28:16.

Devotional Thought:

It’s Not In the Bible

Just so you’ll know, this devotional is really based on what’s not in the Bible.  That might sound a little dicey but stay with me.

We are quite familiar with Paul and his evangelistic efforts because the book of Acts devotes so much attention to them.  We ought to be duly impressed.  What Acts doesn’t tell us about are the mission efforts of the other apostles.  Is that because they didn’t do anything?  No, I do not believe that to be true.  The Bible is always selective in what it chooses to record.  Just like with Jesus, John says he did and said many other things that aren’t recorded in his Gospel (John 20:30; 21:25).  The same, I believe could be said of the rest of the apostles.

A very popular tourist attraction in Kiev, Ukraine is called Saint Andrew’s Slope.  It is a street on a steep hill rising from the Dnieper River.  The street is cobble stone and near the very top is situated Saint Andrew’s Cathedral, a comparatively small, yet very ornate Russian Orthodox Church.  Inside is a portrait of Andrew, probably ten or twelve feet tall.  The legend is that Peter’s brother, the apostle Andrew, traveled north across the Black Sea (the very southern portion of which usually shows up the very top of the map at the back of your Bible of Paul’s journeys) and evangelized the region that is today covered by parts of Ukraine and Russia and perhaps beyond.

We don’t know if he did or not.  Many legends are based in fact and we have not definitive records of his or any other of the apostles’ travels, so, perhaps it’s true.

I’d love to know the stories of Andrew’s travels.  I’m sure many are no less thrilling than those from Paul’s travels.

Here’s the point.  What we and others do in service to God does not have to be, or need to be, known by others.  As far as history is concerned these other faithful servants of God worked in anonymity—compared to Paul—and that’s OK.  It could be said we only know 1/13th of the apostolic work in taking the gospel into all of the world (the number is actually much smaller because we don’t even know all that Paul did).

Don’t let the fact that others don’t know what you’re doing discourage you.  As a matter of fact, there’s inherent danger if they do (see Matt. 6:1).

Might one of the great joys of heaven be learning the stories of all the other things Jesus, Paul, and the twelve other apostles did that Scripture didn’t record?

Through the Bible, September 13

Reading: Acts 19-20

Summary: Paul’s third journey is dominated by his time spent in Ephesus.  This is Paul’s lengthiest stay in any one location as far as the record of Acts is concerned.  It becomes a basis of operation for the evangelization of all of Asia, likely including the beginning of many of the congregations of which we later learn in the New Testament.  As several of Paul’s epistles are written during the time of his journeys (particularly the second and third), we will turn our attention in our daily reading to these letters—beginning next week—before returning to the historical account of Acts (during the second week of November).

Devotional Thought:

The Way

“If we don’t change direction soon, we’ll end up where we’re going.” (Professor Irwin Corey).

That showed up today in my “Quotes of the Day” widget on my browser’s homepage.  In today’s Bible reading, the Christian faith (or we could say the church or the kingdom or Christianity—as used biblically, not popularly) is referred to as “the Way” (Acts 19:9).  That’s not the only time this happens (see also Acts 9:2; 19:23; 22:4; 24:14,22).

The word literally and simply means a way, a road, or a path. So the Christian faith is seen as the way to God and life and eternal bliss.  The native American’s name for Christianity was “the Jesus road.”

Of course, Jesus famously spoke of two possible roads on which one might travel.  One is narrow and restrictive, the other very broad and accommodating.  The first, as Jesus said, leads to life, the second to death (Matt. 7:13-14).

Now, back to the quote of the day.  Few people take the time to consider where they are going; that is, where the path on which they currently travel in life will take them.  Most need to change direction—sounds kind of like repentance, doesn’t it?  Most are on the path leading to destruction, Jesus says.

“The Way,” by all means, is the way to go; otherwise we’ll end up where we’re going.

Through the Bible, September 12

Reading: Acts 17-18

Summary: This eventful journey of Paul and Silas continues.  Having read yesterday of Paul’s first venture into Europe in response to the “Macedonian call” (16:6-10), the gospel has come to Philippi and now also to Thessalonica, Berea, Athens, and Corinth.   Before the conclusion of chapter 18, Luke tells of Paul’s start of his third journey and the arrival in Ephesus of another prominent and effective preacher, Apollos.

Devotional Thought:

Necessary

Isn’t what Jesus has done wonderful?  His care and His love for people?  His marvelous teaching?  His dying for me?  Wow! It’s just all pretty amazing.

Has someone ever done something for you that was very nice and for which you were quite appreciative, but it wasn’t really necessary?  You could have done it yourself, someone else could have done it, or maybe it didn’t really have to be done at all—though it was still a wonderful thing they did?

None of that is true of what Jesus has done.  Paul explained and proved to the Thessalonians that it was necessary for Jesus to suffer and rise from the dead (Acts 17:3).  Necessary.

It was necessary because of sin.  It was necessary because of God’s justice and mercy.  It was necessary because only He could accomplish receiving sin’s penalty on our behalf. It was necessary so that we might have salvation and hope, which every person needs.  It was necessary because it answered the “finality” of death.

It was necessary because it had to be done; I could never do it for myself, and He alone was able to accomplish it.

Is what Paul proved lost on me?  Has the weight of the necessity of Jesus suffering and rising from the dead fallen fully upon me?

Through the Bible, September 11

Reading: Acts 15-16

Summary: The first missionary journey concludes with Paul and Barnabas rejoicing over the fact that the “door of faith” has been opened to the Gentiles (14:27).  These men soon learn that not all their brethren are as joyful as they concerning this turn of events.  A major gathering of prominent leaders in the church takes place in Jerusalem in order to address this contentious subject of Gentile conversions to Christ. Though the leaders come to a definite conclusion as to how this matter should be handled, the question is far from over and would continue to plague Paul’s efforts for the rest of his life.  The books of Galatians and Romans devote significant space to addressing this subject.

Following the “Jerusalem conference”, so-called, Paul and Barnabas find it impossible to continue to work together, due to strongly differing opinions regarding the inclusion of John Mark in their effort.  The two part ways and consequently now two mission teams go out.  Acts traces the work of Paul and his new companion Silas.

Devotional Thought:

A Good Heart or a Clean Heart?

The condition of one’s heart is of extreme importance.  Yes, that is true literally and physically, but we’re talking figuratively and spiritually.

A frequently spoken, well-meaning and kind pleasantry is that a person has a “good” heart.  That’s better than a bad one for sure.  It’s rather ambiguous, though, isn’t it?  Is this merely a pleasant person?  a well-intentioned, nice, and otherwise innocuous kind of a person?  Good-hearted is hard to nail down.

When the controversy about Gentiles becoming Christians came under discussion in Jerusalem, Peter observed that God “made no distinction between us and them, having cleansed their hearts by faith” (Acts 15:9).  Such was also David’s desire when his pled, “Create in me a clean heart, O God” (Psa. 51:10).

Sincerity does not cleanse a heart.  Neither does good intentions or fervent desires.  Those may make a heart good; one that would not hurt or harm and one that would favor what’s good and right.  But hearts must be cleansed.

Peter says that for the Gentiles—no doubt thinking of Cornelius and his household, see Acts 10—that cleansing happened by faith.  That’s consistent with other Scriptures.  God is both “just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus” (Rom. 3:26).  Salvation is “by grace…through faith” (Eph. 2:8).

Cornelius’s heart wasn’t cleansed by his pious, benevolent life, nor by the coming of the Holy Spirit and speaking in tongues.  It was only by faith; his “faith in the powerful working of God” as he was baptized into Christ, making his appeal to God for a good conscience (Col. 2:12; Acts 10:48; 1 Pet. 3:21).

Is my heart clean or just good?

Through the Bible, September 10

Reading: Acts 13-14

Summary: Today brings us back to the historical book of Acts.  Our previous reading from this book—from September 6—left off with the spread of the kingdom among the Gentiles.  Beginning with the conversion of Cornelius and his household (Acts 10) and continuing to tell of the dynamic, and predominately Gentile, congregation at Antioch of Syria, Luke is setting the ground work for the spread of the gospel to distant regions.  We left off with Barnabas and Saul (he will come to be called “Paul” first in 13:9) in Antioch and chapter 13 opens with their being singled out by the Holy Spirit “for the work to which I have called them” (13:2).  So begins the primary focus for the remainder of this great book, the evangelistic endeavors of the apostle Paul.

Devotional Thought:

Like David or Not? 

Few biblical characters can compare to King David.  About him many remarkable statements are made.  He is the one by whom subsequent kings of Israel are measured and compared.  He repeatedly “inquired of the Lord” (1 Sam. 23:2, 4; 30:8; 2 Sam. 2:1; 5:19, 23). “David strengthened himself in the Lord his God” (1 Sam. 30:6).  “David became greater and greater, for the Lord God of hosts was with him” (2 Sam. 5:10).  The opening words of the New Testament introduce “Jesus Christ, the Son of David” (Matt. 1:1).

There are many others.  Perhaps the best known is actually found in the New Testament where he is called “a man after my [God’s] heart, who will do all my will” (Acts 13:22).   Just a few verses later is what might be considered the most meaningful accolade of the great king of whom it is said, “he had served the purpose of God in his own generation” (Acts 13:36).

Many of the things that are said of David will never be said of us; different people, different times, different circumstances, different needs.  But what possible better thing could ever be said of us than that which was said of him; that we served the purpose of God in our own generation?

I may not be king, I may not slay a giant, I may not write many psalms of praise, I may not stand before and lead God’s people.  But I can serve God’s purpose in my life, in my family, in my job, in my community, in my church, in my….

To do that, I must—again like David—determine to do all of God’s will.

September Week 2 Bible Reading Introduction

Week 2: The Gospel Spreads (James, Acts 13-20)

September 8-14

The epistle of James is widely recognized as one of the earliest New Testament books written, some believing it to be the very first—others suggest Galatians or 1 Thessalonians.  It likely was not written as early as prior to Paul’s first missionary journey, of which we’ll read the last part of this week, but this is a good place to insert the reading of this letter.  Moving from chapters 12 to 13 in Acts marks a significant transition in the emphasis of the book.

The book of James likely bears the name of Jesus’ brother, who plays a prominent role in the life of the early church in Jerusalem.  The book of James has been called the “Proverbs of the New Testament” or the “practical Gospel.”  Unquestionably it affords great benefit to the Christian with very practical instruction in Christian living.

The reading from Acts for this week covers all of Paul’s missionary journeys, that is, the three prior to his ultimate arrest in Jerusalem and first Roman imprisonment (with which the book of Acts concludes).  Several of Paul’s letters are based on this time of his ministry and will be the subject of the readings for the remainder of this month as well as October.

Through the Bible, September 7

Reading: No scheduled reading

Thoughts and Reflections: Today is the regularly scheduled “Catch Up” day for the first week of September.  If needed use it to go back and cover some readings where you may have fallen behind—it happens.  Otherwise, below are some thoughts for your consideration for today from this week’s readings.

  1. We have already noted how the beginnings of the Gospel of Luke and the book of Acts correspond. It is also noteworthy how the end of Luke and the beginning of Acts dovetail.  Luke is the only one of the Gospels to reference Jesus’ ascension.

Incidentally, though Paul wrote the most books of the New Testament—either 13 or 14 depending on your view of the authorship of Hebrews—Luke wrote the most words as Luke and Acts are longer than all of Paul’s letters combined.

  1. It is a point of great curiosity that Stephen was a man of such great ability and effectiveness in preaching the gospel and reasoning against those who opposed the church and its message, yet God allowed this great man to die at the hands of his opponents. The human viewpoint of this turn of events yields no reasonable understanding; nor does it have to.
  2. A point of emphasis in these early chapters of Acts is God’s intention that men play a critical role in the spread of the gospel for the salvation of man. Though God’s hand was obviously at work on Pentecost it was to the message preached by men to which the 3,000 responded.  God saw to it that a man, Philip, was brought into contact with the sincere and searching Ethiopian to whom he preached Jesus.  Likewise, though an angel appeared to Cornelius, his instructions were for him to send for a man, Peter, who would deliver to him the message he so needed to hear.

Devotional Thought:

God Has Plans for You; Are You Ready?

Bible readers love Jeremiah 29:11. “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.”  One survey found it to be the second most popular of all Scriptures, following only John 3:16.

We like the idea of God having plans for us, don’t we?  Failure seems virtually impossible.  With God on our side, what could possibly go wrong?

Think about the early church of which we read in Acts.  Jesus had a plan for them.  It would start in Jerusalem and spread “in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8).  We might anticipate that all to play out without a hitch, and we’d be wrong.

It’s beginning is very dramatic and impressive on Pentecost (Acts 2).  It’s not very long at all before opposition rises.  Arrests and threats become a part of their lives.  Not only that but from within their swelling—or should we say exploding—numbers troubles stir.  Accusations of unfair treatment surface, pride, and selfish ambition incur God’s lethal wrath.  A great champion of the cause is silenced under the blows of stones cast in rage. And that taste of blood inflamed the opponents to forceful and violent widespread persecution.

As the brave saints fled their homes they went everywhere preaching the word.  They went throughout Judea and into Samaria.  The gospel crossed formidable ethnic boundaries spreading to the Gentile world.  Then the former-persecutor-turned-disciple begins to venture out with the message of salvation into the Mediterranean world

Jesus’ plan was working, just like He said.  We would expect nothing different.

What about His plans for me?  They will work too.  Maybe not like I had thought.  Maybe not like I would choose, but they will work.  Obstacles, pitfalls, weaknesses, and severe opposition may all be a part of the scenario, but still, God’s plan will work.

Are you ready for God’s plans for you?

Through the Bible, September 6

Reading: Acts 11-12

Summary: Peter’s visit to the house of a Gentile to preach would not go unchallenged.  Jewish attitudes and biases were too deeply ingrained.  Though some of his brethren were willing to accept the Gentiles right to receive the gospel, many Jews never did and so one of the greatest challenges in the church’s early years was set; one which Paul would fight throughout his life as a preacher of the gospel.

One of the church’s outside of Jerusalem that grew significantly was located in Antioch of Syria.  It’s here that Barnabas and Saul (not yet called Paul) work together for a time prior to their missionary efforts.  During this time the church in Jerusalem suffered some difficult times both through a famine that plagued the region as well as rekindled persecution that resulted in the death of James, the brother of John, as well as an attempt on Peter’s life.

Devotional Thought:

The Trouble with Changing Your Mind

When is the last time you embraced as being true, something you previously had denied and even vehemently opposed?  Been a while?  It’s just not an easy thing to allow previously held truths to be overturned and set aside.  Most of us are just stubborn and prideful enough that clear evidence can be easily overpowered by our long-held prejudices.

When Peter returned to Jerusalem from converting the household of Cornelius, news of the event beat him home.  And, he was predictably challenged by his Jewish brethren about what he had done.  That should be no surprise.  Remember that Peter’s own change of heart and attitude had required divine intervention (see Acts 10:9-16).

Peter laid it all out for them; from his vision to the visitors from Caesarea, to the Holy Spirit falling on Cornelius and his household (Acts 11:4-17).  Luke records, “When they heard these things they fell silent. And they glorified God, saying, ‘Then to the Gentiles also God has granted repentance that leads to life’” (Acts 11:18).

I’d like to think I would have been like these Jerusalem Christians and believed and accepted this new truth and reality (it was brand new to them).  Obviously, not all the Jewish brethren were (see Acts 15).  This issue became a major thorn in Paul’s side in regard to his evangelistic work as is evidenced by the amount of ink he devoted to it in his letters.

But notice this progression.  These people expressed their concerns and misgivings to Peter when he arrived in Jerusalem.  They allowed Peter ample opportunity to explain himself.  Being confronted with this truth, they accepted the reality.  They then “fell silent” and glorified God.

That’s how it’s supposed to work, but often it does not.

How willing am I, when a long-held belief or understanding is challenged, to set aside my prejudices and assumptions and to seriously consider it as honestly and objectively as possible?  And if the evidence demands it, to turn loose of the old and embrace the new?

Through the Bible, September 5

Reading: Acts 9-10

Summary: Saul of Tarsus rises to prominence among the Jews as a persecutor of Christians.  God intervenes in this zealous Pharisee’s life and brings about a dramatic conversion.  That event, along with the resurrection itself, serves as the greatest evidence for the validity of Jesus’ claim to be God’s Son.  That this event is recounted three times in Acts (chapters 9, 22, 26) bears witness to its vast importance.

Also of monumental import is the gospel being taken to the Gentiles.  This major shift also required God’s intervention to not only direct Cornelius’ actions, but also change Peter’s own attitudes and feelings.

Devotional Thought:

Two Conversions Considered

All conversions are not the same, but then again they are.  Is the stereotypical conversion one of a person who previously lived in rebellious defiance of God changing and now serving God in all humility?  That’s true of some conversions, but not all.  They are not all about a person changing from being bad to being good.

Think about Saul of Tarsus.  Here was a man zealously devoted to serving God in the way he thought he should.  How sadly and tragically mistaken he was.  His conversion included a radically changed understanding of God’s will and God’s people.  His zeal and fervor needed redirecting.

Think about Cornelius. This man is quite admirable even before his conversion.  He’s a devout, benevolent, God-fearing man.  Still, conversion was needed.

Neither of these men needed convinced to believe in God, to quit unrighteous living, or seek religion. Their greatest need was a changed relationship with God through Jesus Christ.  That change was affected by their immersion into Christ (Acts 9:18; 10:48).

Not all men need radical transformation in their lives and conduct, but all do need a critical change in their standing with God.

Through the Bible, September 4

Reading: Acts 7-8

Summary: One of the most prominent and influential people in the church’s early days, who as not an apostle, was Stephen.  He becomes a lightening rod of opposition from the Jews.  Unable to adequately respond to His message of Jesus as the Messiah—the one foretold and the one opposed by them, as had been the prophets beforehand whom their fathers had also killed—they silenced this powerful preacher, as they had Jesus, by taking his life.

Stephen’s death serves as a spark that sets ablaze a severe persecution against the church—enter Saul of Tarsus. God uses this persecution and the consequent dispersing of Christians from Jerusalem as the means by which the gospel is first taken from Jerusalem and Judea to Samaria and beyond, just as Jesus had said it would spread.

Devotional Thought:

A Troubling Illustration

The fact that God causes all things to work together for good is a greatly reassuring fact.  That is evidenced by the fact that Romans 8:28 is considered a favorite Bible verse by so many people.  Sometimes people try to make that passage say what it does not.  It’s not an assurance that God only allows good things to happen.  It doesn’t say that everything will come out to our satisfaction.  It doesn’t even say that God causes everything to happen that does happen.  What it does say is that whatever happens, good or bad, God can cause it to work together for good.

A powerful illustration of this truth plays out in the life and death of Stephen.  This man was an incredible preacher, defender of the truth, and champion of the cause of Christ in the hostile environment of Jerusalem during the church’s earliest days.  For his effectiveness, he pays with his life.

I’ve often wondered, why?  Why did God allow this tremendously effective proclaimer of truth be silenced?  Later—in Acts 12— the apostle James is also killed but Peter is spared.  Why did God save the one but not the other?  Why didn’t God rescue Stephen?  Can you imagine the devastating impact of this loss on the church?  We know it was big because the church made “great lamentation over him” (Acts 8:2).

To complicate things, this murder sparked such intense persecution against the church that the Christians all fled Jerusalem.  All-in-all things were really tough for the church.  Then there’s this—“Now those who were scattered went about preaching the word” (Acts 8:4).

Think about it.  Stephen’s death ignited great persecution; persecution scattered the Christians; the scattered Christians spread the gospel from Jerusalem throughout Judea and Samaria.  This was precisely the scenario Jesus promised (see Acts 1:8).

God caused good to come from horrible circumstances.  It didn’t bring Stephen back to life. It didn’t restore these fleeing Christians to their homes.  But it did work together for good; ultimate and eternal good.

For this passage to be of real reassurance, then our interest in “good” is for God’s good, not mine.