Wait! What? That’s not right. Wicked people are chaff driven by the wind. They are not green trees, spreading out and growing. Just reread Psalm 1.
Yet, David has seen wicked trees. They look a lot like the fruitful trees of the blessed. They have their eye on the blessed, the righteous. They are doing what they can to afflict the righteous, to cut them off, to put them to death. All the while parading about like blessed trees. However, they are diseased.
David’s wise lesson on this? Don’t fret. They may look like a tree for a short time. But give it some time; the wicked tree will disappear. That is, though it appears to be a solid, stable tree, it will demonstrate that it is actually no more substantial than the chaff the wind blows away.
In fact, we Christians might remember Jesus’s own teaching here. You will know the tree by its fruit. And the tree that doesn’t produce healthy fruit gets cut down and thrown into the fire (see Matthew 7: 17-20).
When you see the wicked looking like the blessed, don’t get bent out of shape. Just wait on the Lord. He’ll set things to rights in His time. And those who are His will be the ones truly blessed.
Imagine yourself at the fork of two paths where two guides encourage you in opposite directions. You know one of them leads where you ultimately want to go, but the other looks fun. It is more pleasing to the eye. It doesn’t look quite as difficult. “Besides,” the guide for that path tells you, “after you’ve had all your fun on my path, you can always hop over to the other path. Just look at how close together they are.” They do seem pretty close. That sounds like a pretty solid plan.
The problem is the guide is lying. That isn’t how it works. Once you start walking on Transgression’s path, you get farther and farther from God’s path. While it is true you always have the option to repent and make your way to God’s path, the farther down Sin’s path you go, the more settled, the more deceived, the more entrenched you become. It is not that repentance becomes less of an option, it simply becomes less likely.
David shows us the path in sin, reminding us again of the very first psalm. In Psalm 1, we see the general settling and entrenchment of the wicked. They start by walking according to the counsel of the wicked, progress to standing in the way of the sinner, and finally settle down to sit in the seat of the scoffer. In Psalm 36, Transgression begins with flattery. “No one will know. You won’t get caught. It’s not that big of a deal. Just this once.” But it is trouble and deceit that ends by having evil thinking and plotting at all times, even when lying in bed. The wicked, no doubt, always assumes eventually they’ll get back to God’s path. But they end up on an evil path that is increasingly difficult to abandon.
That voice telling you today’s sin doesn’t matter that much is lying. Don’t trust it. Trust God. He knows the way of the righteous. His steadfast love is precious. He delivers.
On the one hand, we can easily recognize why there might be persecution. The kingdom of Christ will have enemies. We are in a fight. We expect the soldiers of the other kingdoms to attack. But this shipwreck isn’t persecution. It is neither the Romans nor the Jews attacking Paul. This is just an “act of nature.” It is just a hardship. It something anyone might end up having to go through. But you would think God would keep His children out of such difficulties. You would think God would make the path to Rome a little easier for Paul. Why does God allow this? First, God has never promised to keep His children from all hardships and troubles. Life is full of trouble. Everyone’s life is full of trouble, Christian and non-Christian alike. Second, because God had plans for His own glory that He was going to fulfill through this shipwreck. His glory was displayed by the saving of the sailors and prisoners despite the loss of the ship. We will see God’s glory displayed on Malta in the next chapter. God’s glory is far more important than our ease. And sometimes, God’s glory is displayed by how we endure suffering and hardship. As we go through hardship, rather than asking God merely to deliver us or remove it, we should seek God’s glory. That’s tough, but it is what is most important.
Paul makes a subtle but profoundly powerful argument in his sermon at Antioch of Pisidia. The people, Paul explains, asked for a king. So God gave them Saul the son of Kish. As far as the worldly minded would be concerned, Saul was a pretty good king. The Benjamites still honored him. After all, why do you think Paul was originally named Saul? And don’t forget, Saul didn’t take the kingship to himself, God gave it to him. Yet, God removed Saul and gave the kingship to David. Why is Paul even reminding his audience of this change of kings? Because Paul is expressing to them another change. The change of moving from the Law to the Faith. The change of moving from Moses to Jesus. The change of kings from David to Jesus. You can imagine that objections the Jews would make. Why would God give the Law if He was just planning on removing it? Paul’s essential answer is to recognize this is how God has always works. He works in stages. Just because God gave a king didn’t mean God wouldn’t replace the king. Actually, it means God is the only who really can replace the king. In like manner, some might object to removing Moses and the Law from the place of authority it had for the Jews. But just because God gave the Law didn’t mean He couldn’t change it. In fact, because He gave it, He is the only one who can. God gave Saul, but removed Him and replaced him with David. God gave the Law, but removed it and replaced it with the Faith and the Gospel. Praise the Lord!
Hey kids, did you catch the parallel I shared with your parents? Paul provides another parallel along these lines. He brings up John, whom the Father sent to prepare the way for Jesus. However, distinct from many of the Jew’s response to Jesus, John was able to let Jesus take preeminence. He knew Jesus must increase while he decreased. He didn’t get upset about it. He didn’t fight against it. He recognized that while God did send him, God only sent him to play the role God had given him. That role was, like the Law, to prepare the way for the Christ, the Messiah, to prepare the way for Jesus. When he recognized the work had been fulfilled, he was willing to step away. May we always be like John. May we always be ready to let Jesus increase while we decrease.
Philip came into Samaria, but someone had gotten their first–a sorcerer named Simon. He was practicing magic and amazing the people. They were convinced Simon was the great power of God. However, when Philip came into town, the people could tell the difference. Whatever chicanery Simon had been perpetuating, it was no comparison to Philip. What breaks my heart is that in modern day, there are plenty of Simons. Sadly, they practice their fraud “in the name of Jesus,” but they use Simon’s same methods. They use talk, tricks, and testimony to drum up business and convince people they are something special. However, when we open the Word and see the true Jesus, we will see the true power of God. Regrettably, the fakes and frauds give Jesus Christ and Christianity a bad name. However, there is still room for faith in this day and age. The power of Christ to save souls is still found in His gospel. As we learn to proclaim it, there will be people willing to receive it. Let’s keep passing the faith along. Who knows? Some of the frauds may even come to faith in time.
As Luke digs into the story of who Jesus is, he doesn’t say, “Long ago, in a land far, far away.” He doesn’t say, “Once upon a time.” He gets specific. It was the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar. Pontius Pilate was the governor of Judea. Herod was the tetrarch of Galilee. Philip was the tetrarch of Ituraea and Trachonitus. Lysanias was the tetrarch of Abilene. The high priesthood was shared by Annas and Caiaphas. Wow! That is pretty specific. Of course, critics try to poke holes in these details while supporters have found evidence that every bit of this fits exactly right. Luke isn’t writing a fairy tale. He is not sharing a myth or a legend. He is recording historical events. He is not providing a metanarrative. He is not trying to write a series of stories to help us organize our way of thinking about life and the world. He is claiming these events happened in real time in real places. They can be dated on the calendar. They can be pinpointed on the map. This story of Jesus matters because it happened. He really lived. He really taught. He really died. He really rose again. And because these things really happened, they mean something even today. You may disagree. You may think Luke is wrong. You may think Luke lied or was mistaken. You may think Luke completely made it up. If so, feel free to state your case. However, please don’t make the very silly mistake of claiming Luke believed he was passing on mythic stories to help explain the world and how we should live. He didn’t. He believed he was writing history. He believed he was writing a biography. And everyone reading it in his day would have known that was what he was attempting. For Luke, this story needed to be recorded because it actually happened. Since it actually happened, it actually means something, it actually has consequences for our lives. Keep reading to consider what those consequences are.
“Why is it thought incredible by any of you that God raises the dead?” What an interesting question. Once again, I think of the skeptics today who think the reason Christianity took off is because folks were so superstitious during the Bible times that they would just accept anything. Yet, once again we see that people during the times of the Bible believed exactly what we believe. People don’t come back from the dead. Yet, if God exists, why would it be incredible to think He could make that happen? And this highlights the circular argument some make. Consider the following:
Skeptic: “Jesus wasn’t resurrected because we know that can’t happen.”
Christian: “But if God exists, couldn’t He choose to make an exception to the general rule and raise someone from the dead?”
Skeptic: “But God doesn’t exist, so no one can be raised from the dead.”
Christian: “But doesn’t the historical testimony and evidence that Jesus was raised from the dead suggest God exists?”
Skeptic: “Absolutely not! People don’t rise from the dead, so Jesus’s resurrection can’t be evidence of God’s existence because it simply can’t have happened.”
Christian: “And yet, if God does exist, couldn’t it have happened?”
Skeptic: “But God doesn’t exist, so it can’t have happened.”
On and on the circle goes. Where it stops, nobody knows. But please notice, the above is not an argument based on evidence or testimony, it is based on a philosophical predisposition against God. And Paul is amazed at such a predisposition. So am I.
I certainly know our goal is not to get people to speak against us. I know we don’t want to conduct ourselves in such a way that people hate and despise us because of our attitude or treatment of them. Yet, at the same time, I can’t help but notice when the early Christians and churches did what was right when it came to disciple making, they weren’t lauded by the world. They weren’t lifted up and asked to stay. They were spoken against everywhere. While we shouldn’t conduct our disciple making with goal of being spoken against, we must not make the opposite mistake. That is, we must not make the goal of our disciple making keeping people from speaking against us. Let’s just speak for the Lord and let people respond how they will. Only then will God be glorified.
There is no magic bullet that will cause everyone to believe. Paul preached his heart out in defense of the gospel when he stood before the Areopagus. Some people mocked him. Some people were on the fence. But some believed. Be ready for that. Keep on defending the gospel because some will believe. But be ready for all the responses. Don’t let any of them cause you to quit. You aren’t a failure because some mock; they are. Some who are on the fence and have questions will respond later. But there will always be people who will see the truth in the gospel and submit. Keep teaching and proclaiming in order to find more of those people.
Well, I am humbled again today. How often do I back away from evangelism and disciple making because I’m afraid of what I might suffer? Yet, here are the apostles motivated by what they might suffer. They saw it as an honor to suffer. How often am I convinced God doesn’t expect something from me because it will mean suffering? Yet, here are the apostles believing God wants something from them because it did cause suffering. Certainly, the point is not we are only evangelizing right when we suffer. However, may we keep on teaching no matter what suffering may come. And when we do, let us glorify and thank God for the opportunity.