No Greater Burden

Today’s reading is Acts 15.

James recommended and the congregation wrote in its letter to the Gentile congregations impacted by the men who had gone out from Jerusalem, that they would lay no greater burden on the Gentiles than to abstain from 1) what has been sacrificed to idols, 2) blood, 3) what has been strangled, 4) sexual immorality. Does James mean Gentile Christians can steal? Can we murder? Not at all. On a general level, the point is that just because the Gentiles are not amenable to the Law, doesn’t mean every legal stipulation of the Law has been abrogated by the gospel. In specific, James is addressing the major baggage the Gentile of his day had to face. No, they didn’t have to surrender to the Law, but they weren’t allowed to hang out in idolatry. They needed to flee it. They needed to get away from idolatry and abandon all its accoutrements. As we have seen on multiple occasions, converts often want to bring their baggage in with them. We need to drop our baggage at the door. Be devoted to Jesus. Get rid of everything else.

Today’s reading is Acts 15.

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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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The Prophet

Today’s reading is Acts 7.

If you have been able to read with us earlier in the week, you’ve already noticed some great parallels between Moses and Jesus. Both were rejected by their brethren. Both performed signs and wonders. Both were raised up by God to be the ruler and redeemer of His people. In the midst of all this, Stephen brings to mind a promise given by Moses: “God will raise up for you a prophet like me from your brothers.” Moses had promised this. In other words, allowing another prophet to come along and supersede Moses was not rejecting Moses at all, but believing him. However, the Israelites were making their same mistake over again. But it is an interesting and subtle mistake. Israel didn’t worship the golden calf because they had no trust for Moses or because they hated him or because they simply rejected him. It is actually trickier than that. The problem was the people got scared because it seemed to them Moses had disappeared. They had a leader they had followed and trusted, but now he had gone up into the mountain and been gone for 40 days. It may be that God had even killed him up on that fiery mountain. Rather than trusting God, who had just told them not to make idols, they had put their trust in Moses. Because Moses wasn’t coming back, they freaked out and rejected God. What happened here? It wasn’t that they didn’t trust Moses, it was that they put too much trust in Moses and the devil was able to twist that very trust to get Israel to abandon God for idols. In Stephen’s day, they were doing the same thing again. They were putting too much trust in the man Moses, and the devil was twisting that trust to get the people to ignore the very words of the man they supposedly trusted. He had said the Prophet was coming. He had said they should listen to the Prophet. But the people weren’t listening to him. What an amazing and shocking twist. It also shows how the devil works. He is subtle and crafty. His tricks run deep. The point for us is Jesus is the Prophet. Jesus is the one God was bringing. Don’t put your faith in Moses the man, but in the God who spoke through him. We have a Prophet. We have a Redeemer. We have a Ruler. His name is Jesus. Let’s put our faith in Him.

Tomorrow’s reading is Acts 7.

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Focus on God, Not Places

Today’s reading is Acts 7.

In Acts 6, the Jews had accused Stephen of speaking against the temple in Jerusalem. You would think that they could start getting creative with their misleading accusations, but they were essentially making the same accusation against Stephen they had against Jesus (see Matthew 26:61). The interesting thing is this accusation actually may not be completely off base. Stephen may well have been saying Jesus would destroy the temple. After all, that is exactly what Jesus did in 70 AD. In his sermon, Stephen does not make a defense saying, “No, you’ve completely misunderstood me. I would never say the temple is going to be destroyed.” Instead, just as he was weaving together stories that showed we should focus on God and not men, he wove together stories that explained we should not focus on holy places, but on the God who made them holy. As Stephen told the stories of the men God used, he also told stories of the places God met them. The God of glory (don’t forget that the glory of the Lord dwelt in the temple) met Abraham not in Jerusalem but Mesopotamia. God was with Joseph, of all places, in Egypt. God first met Moses, not at the temple in Jerusalem, but on Mt. Sinai. Further, God told him to take off his shoes because it was holy ground. There is a subtle reminder that even when they got into the Promised Land it wasn’t until David that the tabernacle was brought to Jerusalem. We know it had been in Bethel, in Shiloh, and in Kiriath-Jearim. Finally, it wasn’t until Solomon that the temple was built. The point behind all of these stories is simple. As important as the temple was, it really wasn’t the temple that was important, but the God who dwelt there–the God who made the temple Holy. Because the Jews had focused too much on the temple, they had missed God when He came into their midst in the person of the Son, Jesus Christ. We must not make that mistake. The focus is not on holy places, but on the Holy God. Hang on to Him no matter where He leads.

Today’s reading is Acts 7.

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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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Repent and Give God the Glory

Today’s reading is Revelation 16.

Of course, there are some differences, but don’t these bowls of wrath sound familiar? Painful sores, darkness, water turned to blood, hail. Obviously, the Holy Spirit is again calling to mind the plagues of God on Egypt. Further, He is calling to mind Pharaoh’s own hardness of heart that refused to repent and give glory to God. However, notice right in the middle of this the interjection, “Behold, I am coming like a thief! Blessed is the one who stays awake, keeping his garments on, that he may not go about naked and be seen exposed!” Does that sound familiar to you? It should. It is a mixture of what Jesus said to the church at Sardis in Revelation 3:2-3 and to the church at Laodicea in Revelation 3:18. Smack in the middle of all this judgment coming on the Bride’s enemies, there is a reminder that these messages are for us, the Bride, the church, as well. This is not simply an issue of insiders and outsiders. This is not just an issue of having gone through some entrance requirements, having our name on the role, paying our weekly dues, and now it doesn’t matter how we live. We who make up the Bride are to stand against the enemy as much as God is to judge the enemy. How often do Christians end up turning their back on the Lord because of hardship instead of repenting and giving glory to God. Remember, no matter what, God is the Savior. He is the Lord. He is the deliverer. Even when it looks like He is going to lose, even when we can’t understand why He is behaving as He is, He deserves glory. Whether you are in the church or without, let God’s disciplines accomplish their goal. Do not curse God and die, rather surrender to God and give Him the glory. I promise you, in the end, you’ll be glad you did.

Tomorrow’s reading is Revelation 17.

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Friends of the Groom

Today’s reading is Revelation 11.

Every hero has friends. Remember Fezzik and Inigo in “The Princess Bride”? In modern weddings, we carry on this idea with the best man and the groomsmen. These are the men who were supposed to support the groom and fight off any who would challenge the groom for his bride. Our Hero, the groom of the church is no different. He has two friends, the descriptions of whom remind us of Moses and Elijah. Then we see the same story cycle repeated over and over in Revelation. At first, these friends are unstoppable. If any would harm them, fire pours from their mouth and consumes the enemy. However, the seemingly unstoppable get stopped; the beast makes war on them and kills them. The people celebrate the death of the Hero’s friends. It looks like the Hero is going to lose. However, then the unimaginable happens. Just when the enemy believes it has won, the Hero’s friends are resurrected (just like the Hero) and are called to the Father’s throne. Judgment rains down on the enemies. God is glorified. Praise the Lord, Jesus always wins!

Tomorrow’s reading is Revelation 12.

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Why Water to Wine?

Today’s reading is John 2.

Why on earth does John give such primacy to such a seemingly minimal miracle? Why does he treat the water to wine as if it is the first miracle Jesus ever did (though what he actually says is that it was the first in Cana of Galilee)? You would think John would want to pick something more public, something more amazing, something more phenomenal. Almost nobody even knew this miracle took place. So why does John even tell us about it? He doesn’t tell us about it to teach us something about drinking intoxicants. (Honestly, I have a hard time believing Jesus was at a drinking party full of drunk people to whom he gave more intoxicating alcohol.) He doesn’t tell us about this miracle in order to place a stamp of approval on marriage. (As if we needed another stamp of approval other than the one God gave in the beginning.) Nope. This miracle is all about Moses. Rather, it is all about demonstrating Jesus is greater than Moses. What was the first plague/sign God gave through Moses to all of Egypt and Israel? Water turned to blood. As amazing as that was, it was a sign that produced death and misery. Jesus, on the other hand, provides something drinkable and life-sustaining. Jesus is like Moses. But Jesus is not just like Moses, Jesus is greater than Moses. Moses delivered Israel from the bondage of Egypt. Jesus delivers all who believe from the bondage of sin and death. Praise the Lord!

Tomorrow’s reading is John 3.

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The Faith of Jesus

Today’s reading is Hebrews 11.

Think about it from the Jewish perspective. How could the Messiah suffer and die? Surely, if He were really God’s chosen one, life would have been a little more blessed and filled with less suffering and sacrifice, right? How can you expect me to believe this guy, Jesus, who died on a cross is actually the Messiah? Because, in reality, His story fulfills the story of every “chosen one” God ever brought into Israel’s past. Like Abel, He offered an acceptable sacrifice and was killed at the hands those who were angry and full of sin. Like Enoch, He was taken and no one can find His body. So don’t be surprised that like Noah, He provided the way of salvation for all His household. Like Abraham, He left His home and “tented” among us (seeĀ John 1:14). Like Sarah, He was able to have life from death so that innumerable offspring according to the promise could be found. Yes, He died in faith, not having received the promise, but by doing so, He demonstrated that His kingdom and home were not of this world. Like Abraham offering Isaac, God offered His Son Jesus and would receive Him back from the dead. Like Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph, Jesus had the faith to offer blessings, worship, and give directions regarding the future of His body even at the point of death. We could go on, but perhaps you get the picture. God’s chosen ones have always suffered. God’s faithful, God’s judges, God’s deliverers, God’s patriarchs have always suffered. Jesus walked in the footsteps of all God’s faithful, may we walk in Jesus’ footsteps of faith as well.

Tomorrow’s reading is Hebrews 12.

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Disbelieve and Disobey

Today’s reading is Hebrews 3.

We often get into arguments about salvation, wanting to know which matters more: belief or obedience. Today’s reading gives some insight. But it answers a different question. Which matters more: disbelief or disobedience? The answer is…both. God told those who were disobedient that they wouldn’t enter His rest. But they were disobedient because they disbelieved. In other words, you can’t really separate the two. Disobedience stems from and follows on the heals of disbelief. If you have one, you automatically have the other. I can tell someone doesn’t believe because they refuse to obey. This answers our other question. People obey when they believe. They disobey when they don’t. If they don’t believe, they won’t obey. If they believe, they won’t disobey. The point is, biblically, you really can’t separate faith and obedience. They go together. They are heads and tails of the same coin. And so, the author of Hebrews tells us we need to believe and obey Jesus better than the Israelites did Moses, because Jesus is better. Believe Him, obey Him, and enter His rest.

Tomorrow’s reading is Hebrews 4.

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