J-E-S-U-S is not the Name of Jesus

Today’s reading is Acts 19.

Paul baptized in the name of Jesus. He preached in the name of Jesus. He cast out demons in the name of Jesus. So Sceva’s seven sons decided to ride on his coattails. They confronted a man possessed by an evil spirit saying things like, “I adjure you by the Jesus whom Paul proclaims.” But the evil spirit didn’t listen. Instead, he attacked them, whipped them, and sent them packing. “Jesus I know, and Paul I recognize, but who are you?” And we learn a significantly important point. The name of Jesus isn’t merely the word “Jesus.” Just pronouncing the collection of letters J-E-S-U-S does not mean we are acting in the name of Jesus. Acting in Jesus’s name means actually acting based upon the authority and power that He offers. You can’t just tack His name onto something and suddenly spiritualize or Christianize it, or even make it right. Cycling for Jesus. Karate for Jesus. Cooking for Jesus. Just adding the word doesn’t actually make it for Jesus. It really has to be what Jesus has asked for or authorized. Only then are we really doing something for Jesus.

Tomorrow’s reading is Acts 19.

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Another King, Jesus

Today’s reading is Acts 17.

When the Jews wanted to bring charges against Paul, Silas, and the Christians, they turned to a favored ploy. “They are acting against Caesar. They are saying there is another king, Jesus.” Hmmm. Do you remember when the Jews wanted to have Jesus crucified? “We have no king but Caesar,” they shouted. Once again, these Jews, who were actually hoping for a Messiah to come, conquer Rome, drive out Caesar, and establish Israel as the world dominating nation, want to get the Christians in trouble for calling Jesus king. But let’s not miss that they could base that on something. The Christians really were saying there is another king. That King is Jesus. Caesar is not the ultimate king. And while surrendering to King Jesus does not mean becoming militantly subversive to the earthly kingdom in which the Christians lived, it really does mean something to call Jesus King. Jesus is really and truly our King. He is not just kind-of our King. He is not a puppet King or a figurehead. He is not a King in title only. He is our ruler. He gets to tell us how to live. He gets to direct us. And why wouldn’t we want Him to do that. After all, He is not only our King, He is our deliverer, our savior. You can’t have a much better King than that. Praise the Lord!

Tomorrow’s reading is Acts 17.

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Listen to the Lord

Today’s reading is Acts 7.

We’ve been swimming in the deep end of Stephen’s sermon throughout the week. Let’s rise up, get some fresh air, and get down to the final point. Throughout history God had worked through various men and in various places. What made it all successful was the hand of the Lord, not the people He used or the places He met them. The faith of the people should not be in holy men or holy place, but in the God who made them holy. But Israel had made a mistake over and over and over again. They were stiff-necked and uncircumcised of heart and ears. Just as the brothers had rejected Joseph, just as the Israelites rejected Moses, just as the Israelites rejected God at Mt. Sinai, they were now rejecting Jesus–the one God had chosen to be their redeemer and ruler. They persecuted all the prophets (think especially Elijah, Elisha, Jeremiah). They killed those who announced the coming Messiah. It is, therefore, not surprising that they killed the Messiah Himself. And sadly, though these Jews had received the Law as if it were delivered to them as if from angels, they were about to do with this man, who had the appearance of an angel (see Acts 6:15), what they had done with the prophets and the Messiah. They were going to stubbornly reject his words, turn on him, and kill him. So now we have a choice. We will either listen to the Lord or we won’t. We will either soften our hearts and surrender to the Prophet. Or we won’t. I hope you get the message. The only viable option is this: Listen to the Lord. He is King. He is Priest. He is Prophet. He is Redeemer. He is Ruler. Hear Him.

Next week’s reading is Acts 8.

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Focus on God, Not Men

Today’s reading is Acts 7.

Back in Acts 6, the Jews had accused Stephen of speaking blasphemous words against Moses. They essentially equated that with speaking blasphemy against God. On the one hand, Stephen hadn’t spoken anything against Moses. However, on the other, he had made and will make one really strong point. The Jews were putting too much emphasis on Moses and not enough emphasis on the God who used Moses. Stephen proves his point by weaving together several stories. What do they all have in common? The focus was not supposed to be on the man God used, but on the God who used the man. Stephen points out that Moses was not the only man God ever used. There was Abraham, Joseph, Joshua, David, Solomon. The consistent point in the stories of all these men was God, not the men themselves. Stephen, of course, was not saying that these men should not be remembered with honor for their part in God’s plan. He was saying, however, that the important part was God, not the particular man. Therefore, don’t get fixated on a particular person. Stay focused on God. And with that in mind, how shocking is it at all that God had raised up another man and used another man to be the redeemer and ruler of His people? That man is Jesus. Of course, the difference there is Jesus is not just a man, He is the God upon whom we should focus. Let’s stick with God. Let’s stick with Jesus no matter what.

Today’s reading is Acts 7.

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Where is the Body?

Today’s reading is Acts 2.

Peter was certain David wasn’t strictly talking about himself in Psalm 16 because he could take the Jews to find David’s tomb. Are you catching the subtle test Peter is throwing out for all who were listening? It’s as if Peter was saying, “Do you want to prove me a liar? Take me to Jesus’s tomb.” That would have been easy. They could have questioned Pilate about who took the body. They could have found Joseph of Arimathea. They could have rolled back the stone. They could have produced the body. But they didn’t. We can find where Mohammed is buried. We can find where Joseph Smith is buried. We can find where Pope after Pope and Anglican Archbishop after Archbishop were buried. The world is littered with the tombs of religious leaders. Their followers pilgrimage to them year after year. But not Jesus. There is no tomb. We can’t find it because they couldn’t find the body. Praise God! Jesus arose!

Tomorrow’s reading is Acts 2.

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A Sequel

Today’s reading is Acts 1.

“In the first book,” Luke begins reminding us that Acts is a sequel. In the first book, Luke dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach. This implies that the book we are about to read is about all Jesus is going to continue to do and teach. This isn’t really the Acts of the Apostles, it is the Acts of Jesus. Of course, Jesus isn’t physically present, rather He is working through the apostles and through the church that gets established. But that reminds us exactly what the church is. It is Christ’s body. The church is the incarnation of Christ in the world today. With that in mind, “Acts” is continuing on today. In a real sense, we are part of the sequel. It is not being recorded in Luke’s account, but it is being recorded in heaven. Christ is the head, we are His body. In our doing and teaching, when we follow where the head leads, Christ is continuing to act in the world today. Let’s be Jesus today.

Tomorrow’s reading is Acts 1.

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He Is Not Here, But Has Risen

Today’s reading is Luke 24.

“While they were perplexed about this, behold, two men stood by them in dazzling apparel. And as they were frightened and bowed their faces to the ground, the men said to them, ‘Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen.'”

What else do we need to say?

He is risen. He is risen indeed!

Praise the Lord!

Tomorrow’s reading is Luke 24.

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What’s Up with Barabbas?

Today’s reading is Luke 23.

What on earth is this about a guy named Barabbas? Okay, okay, you may have read the other gospel accounts about this guy and understand what is going on. But imagine for a moment that this was your first exposure to the gospel story. Luke doesn’t give us many details. All we have is some rebellious, murdering insurrectionist who gets to go free because the people ask that he be set free while innocent Jesus gets executed essentially for the same kinds of crimes Barabbas actually committed. And in this trade off, we see a powerful picture of what is actually happening as Jesus dies on the cross. A man, whose name literally means “son of the Father” by the way, guilty of insurrection and murder should go to the cross. He should be executed for his crimes. However, he doesn’t. On the other hand, a man, whose name means “God is salvation” by the way, completely innocent should never see a cross. But He does. Barabbas is us. We are the children of the Father who are guilty. We deserve the death. However, we are released. Jesus endures the death in our place. The one contrast between us and Barabbas is he was freed because the word of the people prevailed, we are freed because the Word of God prevailed. I often wonder how Barabbas behaved after witnessing Jesus condemned for his crimes and sins. How should he have behaved? How should he have thought of and related to Jesus from that day forward? That leads me to wonder about me. How should I behave? How should I relate to Jesus? What about you?

Tomorrow’s reading is Luke 23.

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Looking for Signs

Today’s reading is Luke 23.

When my oldest daughter was a toddler, Marita and I had to learn an important lesson. We would teach her how to sing a little song or recite a memory verse or she would say something really cute, then we would put her on display as if she were a little puppy trained to perform tricks. At first, she played along. But at some point, even as a little child, she realized something wasn’t quite right about this. Then it was like pulling teeth from a chicken to get her to perform on command. At first, we would get upset and treat these infractions like a matter of respect, obedience, and submission. However, we came to realize God didn’t bless us with children to entertain us, impress you, or perform tricks on command. She was our child, not our pet. This is a lesson we need to learn about Jesus. Since the very beginning, some have treated Jesus like a trained pet who is supposed to perform tricks on command. This was Herod’s approach. He had heard about the signs Jesus had performed. Rather than wanting to meet Jesus in order to worship Him, learn from Him, or submit to Him, he wanted to meet Jesus in order to get Jesus to perform for him. Jesus wasn’t playing along because He is neither pet nor court jester. He is King. He has demonstrated plenty of signs. We can either accept them or reject them. We can believe the testimony or disbelieve. What we cannot do, however, is demand He perform on command as the condition for our submission. After all, demanding He perform for us is the exact opposite of us submitting, and it is the exact opposite of faith. If He did act that way, it wouldn’t lead us to the proper relationship with Him anyway. If you don’t want to believe the testimonies recorded of the numerous signs Jesus performed, that is your business. But, please, don’t make the egregious mistake that Jesus is not exactly what and who the Bible says He is simply because He won’t act like your trained pet. Because, if He did, then He wouldn’t be exactly what and who the Bible says He is, would He?

Tomorrow’s reading is Luke 23.

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Not Guilty!

Today’s reading is Luke 23.

“I find no guilt in this man.” That’s what Pilate said. He also said, “I did not find this man guilty of any of your charges against him.” Herod didn’t find any guilt in Him either. “Nothing deserving of death has been done by him.” “I have found in him no guilt deserving death.” The second thief on the cross even says, “This man has done nothing wrong.” The centurion at the foot of the cross, once Jesus has died, says, “Certainly this man was innocent!” Do you think Luke is trying to make a point? Is there something he wants to make sure we know about this whole sordid mess? Absolutely. This is an incredible miscarriage of justice. The guilty person isn’t being punished. Jesus is innocent. That is important because that point makes this death something more than merely a criminal execution. That makes this death a sacrifice. A lamb who silently faced His slaughter, Jesus faced the cross. He didn’t deserve it. I do. Yet because He endured it, I won’t. Thank You, Lord!

Today’s reading is Luke 23.

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