Wednesday, May 31, 2023

Blessings From The Holy Spirit

Romans 8:14-17, 22-27

Imagine receiving a very special gift, one that could really help you in a number of situations, but you never really used it.  You opened the gift up, but then you set it aside, and never took advantage of those benefits.  That wouldn’t be too smart of you, would it?  The most intelligent thing to do would be to find out exactly what that gift could do to help you, and then use it whenever you could.  If you’re a Christian, you have been blessed with a special gift from God the moment you were saved.  This is a gift that He gave us to help us through our life.  However, so many Christians are just like the person who was given a gift meant to help them, but then just set it aside and never benefited from the blessings.  Our Scripture for today highlights several benefits we have from the Holy Spirit.  Do we know of these benefits, and are we acknowledging them and receiving the blessings?

As our Scripture from Paul’s letter to the Romans opens, we read that those who have the Spirit of God, (that means all who have accepted the Lord Jesus as Savior), are now the sons of God (vs. 14).   Paul reminds us through many verses in Romans and other letters he wrote, that we have been adopted by the Lord God, and are His special children.  That is one benefit or blessing that we have access to from the Holy Spirit.  Before we were saved, we were under bondage to sin and Satan.  However, now we are no longer cringing and fearful slaves.  Instead, we are the Master’s children.  We share in all of His great treasures as co-heirs with Jesus (vs. 17).

In a loving and accepting family, the children are not afraid of their father.  They don’t cower in fear when he enters a room.  Instead, they run to him, with shouts of “Daddy!  Daddy!”, ready to jump into his open arms.  The children know that they are loved!  This is how the Bible describes the relationship that the Holy Spirit brings us with God the Father (vs. 15).  That is another benefit from the gift of the Holy Spirit.  We can call Him Abba, a word used in Middle Eastern languages to refer to one’s father.  It didn’t mean just the formal term “father”, but an even more intimate and loving one of “daddy”.  The Holy Spirit gives us reassurance that we are God’s children (vs. 16), and as His children, we know that we can come to Him whenever we want or need to.  He is never too busy or disinterested in us.  God will never turn us away.

Paul also informs us in this passage that though we are joint-heirs with our Big Brother Jesus, there is a price for being identified with Him.  Along with the treasures we have with Jesus, we will also face suffering (vs. 17).  Though no one enjoys suffering, however, as children of God, being indwelt with the Holy Spirit, we can turn to God in prayer at any time.  Sometimes, if the need is so great and the trials so heavy and strong, all we might be able to do is to groan within ourselves.  The pain, the heartache or grief can be so strong that we can’t even come up with words to pray with.

Here is where the Holy Spirit, which has been given to us, steps in and prays for us (vs. 22-27).    In certain serious circumstances, whether for ourselves or for others, we might not know exactly what to say in our prayers.  The Holy Spirit does, though.  He knows what is in our hearts, and as part of the Holy Trinity, He knows what the will and mind of God is.  Thus He is able to pray for us most effectively.  This is a benefit we have from the gift of the Holy Spirit  When we don’t know the right words to pray, the Holy Spirit prays with and for us.  No words are necessary, because the Father understands and agrees with what the Holy Spirit thinks and prays.

This work of the Holy Spirit on our behalf parallels the High Priestly work of intercession by the Lord Jesus on behalf of believers (Hebrews 7:27).  When we don’t know what or how to pray, we have the Holy Spirit inside of us making intercession for us, and we have our Big Brother Jesus, standing in as our High Priest, also interceding for us.  As our loving Father, God is always there to hear our prayers and cries to Him, as well as those of both the Lord Jesus, and the Holy Spirit putting into words what we just can’t say on our own.

Are these blessings from the Holy Spirit ones that you know and take advantage of in your daily Christian walk?  Do you know that through the Holy Spirit that you are God’s child, and come running to Him like a child to his beloved Daddy?  Or do you mistakenly cower in fear, thinking He is a harsh Father?  And when you want to pray, but just don’t know what to say, as the burden is too big, do you just give up and forget about it, or do you allow the Holy Spirit to pray on your behalf?  Don’t miss out on the blessings that the gift of the Holy Spirit has for you!

Monday, May 29, 2023

Our Provider

Psalm 104

When you make your weekly trip to the grocery store, are you conscious of where the food you buy comes from?  I’m not specifically referring to the farms, though we should be grateful to all the farmers, fishermen, and ranchers for the work they do.  I am referring ultimately to Who provides for all of the food we eat.  Naturally those who have no faith in God do not give any thought or consideration as to Who ultimately provides the food they eat each day.  Sadly, even some Christians sit down at the table day after day, and forget to thank the Lord for His provisions.  In our psalm for today, the psalmist does not forget that it is the Lord God who ultimately provides the food and drink for all creatures on earth.  Let’s take a quick look at this psalm.

Psalm 104 goes through the different parts of God’s creation.  The first several verses speak of God laying the foundation of the earth, His creating the atmosphere, and all the angelic beings (vs. 1-5).  The psalmist uses very descriptive words.  The light covers God like a cloak, and the heavens, what we look at through telescopes, are His curtains.  The Lord God rides the clouds as His chariot, and soars through the air on the wind.  Some people revere angels so much they almost worship them, however God created them and they are His servants.

Water is very important for life.  We can only last about three days without having any water.  God created water, it didn’t just happen (vs. 6-13).   Our psalmist describes places of water throughout the earth.  He particularly describes the streams of water that come down from the mountain peaks, bringing liquid nourishment to those who live in the valleys, both man and animals.  When we stand on a beach, we might wonder why the ocean stops where it does.  Why doesn’t it stop several hundred yards further inland?  God is the One who has set the limits of the waters in the ocean.  He directs where the rivers go.  The Lord is the One who has provided water to quench the thirst of all beings.  Without water we would not have any other types of beverages, nor any food, and it is the Lord who has provided it for us.

The Lord God not only provides us with water, He also is the One who provides all living beings with the food they eat.  Without any food, a person can last maybe a week or so, depending on whether they are drinking any water, and what their general health is overall.  God provides grass for the cattle to eat, which in turn provides the meat that we consume.  He also provides all of the vegetables that we eat, and grain for our bread (vs. 14-15).  God not only provides water and food for all creatures, He has also provided each animal with a place to live, such as trees for the birds, the hills and mountains for the goats, and burrows for the badgers (vs. 17-18).

As our psalm continues, the writer describes the cycle of day and night, and how this, too, is a creation of God, and has a purpose which He designed for both man and animal (vs. 19-23).  As the earth rotates, we see the sun rising and setting each day, as God ordained it should.  At night the moon and the stars are visible, and we see the cycle of the moon throughout the month.  God created certain animals that are nocturnal, and are active at night seeking their food which He provides for them.  When daylight comes they return to their dens, and man and other animals then rise and go about their day.  All of this is determined by God.  The psalmist particularly highlights the fish and creatures of the oceans (vs. 25-26), noting that there is such a wide variety of sea life, man hasn’t even counted them all.

The psalmist proclaims that it is the Lord God that provides us with all that we need for life (vs. 27-30).  He is the One who gives us our food and our water, and everything that is good.  He has created even the air which we breathe, and without it we would die and return to dust.  It is by His Spirit that we have life.

He concludes the psalm with a chorus of praise for all that God has created (vs. 24, 31-35).  His creation is vast, and was created in wisdom.  As we look around the world at all of creation, as we eat and drink each day, we need to remember to meditate on the wonders of the Lord, and sing His praise.

Saturday, May 27, 2023

The Promise Of The Holy Spirit

Acts 2:1-11

When we’ve been given a promise, we’re usually glad when that promise is kept.  It’s especially pleasing when we’ve had to wait a while for that promise to be fulfilled.   Our Scripture for today gives the account of the fulfillment of a promise that the Lord Jesus gave His disciples, and actually a promise that had been spoken of by several of the prophets in the Old Testament.  On the day of Pentecost, God fulfilled His promise to His people by giving the Holy Spirit.  Let’s look into our Bible passage for this Sunday of Pentecost.

Pentecost was the Jewish festival of offering to God the first fruits of the harvest.  The disciples were in Jerusalem, where they had been since the day that Jesus had ascended back into heaven, ten days earlier.  They were all together in an upper room, possibly the same room that the Last Supper had taken place in.  There they had remained for over a week, in prayer, waiting for the fulfillment of the promise of the Holy Spirit, which Jesus had given them (Acts 1:12-14).

How patient are we for someone to carry out or answer a promise they made for us?  People today are not very patient for anything.  They want what they want right away.  Instant food from the microwave, from fast-food restaurants, or restaurant delivery to their doors.  They want to get from point A to point B in the fastest time.  They want the quickest route, the expressway, not a slower way that might be more scenic.  Instant answers and information on the Internet.  Fast, fast, fast.  God doesn’t always work fast, or at our timetable.  Very often He has us wait for His answers.  When Jesus was preparing to return to heaven, He told the disciples to wait in Jerusalem for the promise of the Holy Spirit (Luke 24:49).  They obeyed, waiting in prayer, and ten days later, on the festival of Pentecost, the promised Holy Spirit was given.  Quite often the Lord wants us to be still and to wait for the answers to our prayers.

In His final discourse to the apostles, Jesus spoke of sending the Holy Spirit to the believers.  He spoke of the Holy Spirit as our Helper, and that this was the Spirit of Truth (John 14:16-17).  He promised that the Holy Spirit would bring to mind all that Jesus had said (John 14:26), and that it was necessary that Jesus return to heaven in order for the Holy Spirit to come (John 16:7).  John the Baptist had prophesied about the coming Holy Spirit.  He spoke of how he baptized with water, but that the Holy Spirit would baptize with fire (Matthew 3:11;Luke 3:16).  And centuries earlier the Prophet Joel had also spoken words about the outpouring of the Holy Spirit (Joel 2:28-29).

When the Holy Spirit came upon the disciples that Pentecost morning, there appeared “divided tongues, as of fire” upon each disciple (vs. 3).  Fire symbolizes God’s purifying presence, which burns away undesirable elements of our lives.  It also sets our hearts aflame, empowering us to witness to others, to bring them the Gospel, in order to ignite the lives of others.

There was a reason that the Holy Spirit came on the festival of Pentecost.  Pentecost was the day that the Jewish people brought an offering to God of the first fruits of their crops.  If they brought a portion of the very first of their crops and offered them to God, then they believed He would bless the remainder of crops to come.  The Holy Spirit came on Pentecost as the first fruits of the believer’s inheritance.  The Holy Spirit was the sign of all that God promised to give to believers, like a down payment of what was promised to come.  Also, these early believers were the first fruits of the full harvest of all believers who would come after.

That Pentecost morning, God sent the Holy Spirit upon the believers gathered there together, and He enabled them to speak to the multitudes of people who were gathered in Jerusalem to celebrate the festival.  These were Jewish folk who came from dozens of different countries throughout Asia and the Mediterranean world.  They immediately began to witness to these people in their native languages (vs. 5-11).

When the Holy Spirit came upon them, the disciples didn’t just sit back and compliment themselves on how privileged they were to be so blessed.  They immediately went out and started sharing the Gospel to others.  The Holy Spirit has been given to us to enable and empower us to share the Gospel with others. There are myriads of people all around our own neighborhoods who need to hear about Jesus.  If we are saved, we have the Holy Spirit, and we have the ability to do as these disciples did, and that is to share the Gospel with all who will listen.

Friday, May 26, 2023

Mission Accomplished

John 17:1-11

When setting out to complete a mission, whether an individual person, a business, or a government, we like to see that everything goes right.  Nobody likes a failed mission.  There are some who look over Jesus’ life, reading through the Gospels, and when they come to His arrest and subsequent crucifixion, they look at it as a horrible, unfortunate event, a mistake, a failed mission.  They may acknowledge that God rectified it by raising Jesus, but they still feel that it was a failed mission.  Let’s look at what the Scripture says about this.  Did Jesus complete what He was sent to do?  Was God pleased with Jesus?  As we look in our Bible passage for today, from the Gospel of John, we will see that Jesus did not fail in the mission the Lord gave Him.

The 17th chapter of John’s Gospel is a prayer that the Lord Jesus prayed to God.  It is the High Priestly prayer He made.  Jesus is talking to the Father, and we get to listen to His prayer.  We are just looking at a brief segment at the start of the chapter, and in this portion we read His prayer for God to bring Him glory, and how He prayed for His disciples.

As our Scripture opens, Jesus prayed to the Father, and spoke of how “the hour has come” (vs. 1).  What was the “hour”?  This refers to the hour or time of Jesus’ death, His upcoming crucifixion, along with the Resurrection and glorification which would follow.  Within just a few hours, Jesus would be arrested, given a phony trial, brutally scourged and beaten, and then crucified.  This was not something that came upon Him unexpectedly.  This was not a surprise, a big “oops, that wasn’t supposed to happen” moment.  Jesus had spoken of His crucifixion to His disciples several times. (Luke 9:22-27; Mark 9:30-32; Matthew 20:17-19; and Matthew 26:1-2).

As Jesus spoke of this hour having arrived, He spoke of it bringing glory, glory both to the Son, Himself, and also glory to God the Father.  How did Jesus glorify God?  He did so by carrying out the will of God in all things. If this was something that was not supposed to happen, it would not bring glory to God.  Jesus prayed that He would be glorified by finishing His mission of redemption, and by bringing people salvation, by bringing them to the Father.  The mission that Jesus had been given was not just to teach people how to live better lives, but was primarily, and most importantly, to redeem mankind, to bring salvation to all who come to Him, which could only be accomplished by His death on the cross.  That was His mission, that was the work He was to do, and in His prayer to the Father, He reported that He was finishing the work He had been given (vs. 4).

Jesus was not only fully God, but He was also fully man, and as a man, knowing that He would soon be going through brutal torture, and the awful death of crucifixion, that must not have been a pleasant thought.  No one relishes the thought of terrible, dreadful pain.  As we see in His prayer, though, Jesus looked past the cross and its horror, to when He would return to the glory that He shared with God the Father before the world began (vs. 5), and the multitudes of souls that would be saved.

As Jesus continued with His prayer in this Scripture passage by praying for His disciples (vs. 6-11).  He acknowledged that they were the ones God gave to Him, and thought they were not perfect, they kept God’s Word, and were true to the Light, the Truth He had taught them.  Jesus prayed that His disciples would be protected, unified, sanctified, and sustained against Satan and the world.

This world is a battleground.  It is a place where the forces of Satan and those of God are at war.  Satan is motivated by bitter hatred of Jesus.  So in His prayers for His disciples, and we see later in the chapter for us as well (John 17:20), Jesus prays for God to keep all believers safe from Satan’s power.  That is His desire, as God is glorified when souls are saved, not in material things.

Jesus’ prayers hamstring Satan.  He is praying for us, and God will hear the intercessory prayers of His Son, as the Son and the Father are One (vs. 10).  As we can see through this priestly prayer of the Lord Jesus, this was not a failed mission, but one that can be triumphantly declared as a “Mission Accomplished”!

Wednesday, May 24, 2023

Those Fiery Trials

I Peter 4:12-19

Did anyone ever tell you that once you became a Christian, once you gave your heart and life to the Lord Jesus, everything would be just rosy?  That your life would be smooth sailing from then on?  You might have been told that only those in sin or unbelievers suffer difficulties, but not the godly.  That teaching, which is one of several that the “health-wealth” preachers espouse, is false.  True, godly Christians from the time of the Apostles to today have often suffered, and gone through all kinds of difficult trials.  In our Scripture for today, the Apostle Peter reminds us that trials and suffering are going to come, and Christians, including godly believers who are living for the Lord, are not immune to them.

The epistle of I Peter was written to believers who were going through persecution from both the unsaved Jewish people and from pagans.  Some of them had been driven out of their homes by unbelieving family members.  Many had lost their jobs and incomes for their faith.  They had been dragged into court and had judgments given against them because they were Christians.  These people Peter was writing to were surprised and discouraged because of this.  Perhaps someone had told them that by becoming a Christian, all their problems would disappear.  Peter told them that this was not a true or accurate teaching.  He told them that the trials they were going through were not to be considered unusual or odd (vs. 12).

Our trials are not unique.  Many others have experienced the same thing.  As we read through the Bible, we see how many went through all sorts of trials, such as Joseph, Jeremiah, Stephen, and Paul.  From the days of the early church, through the centuries following, and on to today, Christians have suffered all types of adversities and persecutions.  When we are persecuted for our faith, we are partners in the same suffering that Jesus endured (vs. 13).  When a believer suffers, God’s presence especially rests with him, and God will bless them with strength and endurance (vs. 14).

Peter warns us that we need to be careful that we are not suffering because of some wrongdoing that we have done (s. 15).  This was God’s instruction back then, and is the same today.  If we do something wrong at work, such as helping ourselves to company funds or merchandise, get caught and then fired, we can’t say that we were being persecuted for our faith.  If we cause a fight in the neighborhood, and the police fine us or put us in jail overnight, we can’t say that they did that because we were a Christian.

However, if we are persecuted because we spread the message of Jesus, and take a stand for His Word, Peter says we are blessed, and should not be ashamed (vs 14, 16).  Jesus spoke of just such persecution for our faith, calling those who endure such as blessed (Matthew 5:11-12).  Whenever we suffer because of our faith and loyalty to Jesus, He will be with us all the way.  When Peter and John were persecuted for preaching the Gospel, they rejoiced because they knew God approved of their work (Acts 5:40-42).  Insults and rejection because of Jesus means there is evidence of Christ in our lives.

God also has a purpose in the trials of our life.  He can use trials to cleanse and purify us.  Adversity will often drive us closer to God.  We begin to focus on Him, and see things from His perspective.  God also uses trials to test our faith, endurance, and devotion to Him.  Hardship and tribulation in our life will also show us God’s power to sustain us through them.

Peter continues by telling us that God’s judgment on mankind begins with believers in order to purify the Church (vs. 17).  If God will judge His own, how much more will He judge the unsaved?  One is only saved by trusting in Jesus and His sacrifice on the cross.  If that sacrifice is rejected and spurned, where does that leave these people?  There is no other hope for them (vs. 18).

In looking back over this Scripture passage, we see that there are four attitudes that we should have in order to be triumphant during persecution.  We need to expect that such persecution will happen to believers (vs. 12).  Next, we should rejoice in God while enduring it (vs. 13-14).  Then we should evaluate the cause of it, making sure that it is not caused by any wrongdoing of ours (vs. 15-18).  And then finally we need to entrust what we are going through to God (vs. 19).

Monday, May 22, 2023

Victory For Our King

Psalm 47

Many of us watched coverage of the coronation of Charles III, King of the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth nations on May 6th.  The streets of London were filled with cheering crowds to welcome the new king.  From newsreel footage I’ve seen, the same occurred 70 years prior when his mother, Queen Elizabeth II was crowned.  The people of the country want to show their love and support to their new monarch.  Back in the past, in the days when kings would go forth to war with their armies, there would be similar scenes of cheer and support when he would return in triumph.  The king would often lead his conquered enemies in subjection.  Our psalm today gives a description of the Lord God as our King, with His people singing His praise and cheer.  Let’s see what we can learn.

This psalm was one of several which were written by the Sons of Korah, a branch of the Levites, descended from Moses’ cousin, Korah.  Korah died with Dathan, Abiram, and their families when they revolted against the leadership of Moses (Numbers 16:1-40).  The Sons of Korah, along with the people of Israel, were familiar with scenes of joy and cheer when a king would return victorious from battles.  This occurred so often during the reign of King David, and later kings, as well.  And the day of the king’s coronation, whether it was David, Solomon, or a later king, was always a time of celebration.

The Sons of Korah took their memories and experiences of witnessing cheers for their physical, human kings, and transferred it to singing praises to the Lord God, who is the great King over all the earth (vs. 2, 7).  The psalmist proclaims that God is not just their personal king, but that He also reigns over all the nations, the universe, even.

This past Thursday, May 18th, many Christian denominations celebrated the feast day of the Ascension, which occurs 40 days after Easter.  That day commemorates the day that the Lord Jesus returned to heaven.  There He is seated at the right hand of God, upon His heavenly throne, crowned King of the whole creation.  We remember the grandeur and ceremony of the coronation of King Charles.  That is nothing compared to the coronation of Jesus upon His heavenly throne!  Our psalm speaks of God going up with a shout and the sound of a trumpet, with the whole world singing praises (vs. 5-7).  When Jesus ascended into heaven, it was as a King going forth in triumph, triumph over His enemy Satan, and all of his minions.

Jesus defeated Satan at the cross, when He shed His Blood and died for our sins, rising victoriously on the third day.  The Ascension and taking His seat at God’s right hand further emphasized Satan’s defeat.  When Jesus returns, all of Satan’s control and influence here on earth will be over.  Satan’s power will be completely subdued.

When He returns, all nations will bow in reverence to the Lord Jesus.  Right now we do not see that.  Most countries, if not all of them, are in rebellion against Jesus and His Holy Word.  Most people around the world disregard Him, scorn Him, toss His Word behind them as they follow a path of more and more sin and debauchery.  Those who follow Jesus are treated with equal scorn.  However, just like the conquering king, when Jesus returns these nations and people will be put under His feet, like the subdued enemies of a conquered country are (vs. 3).

In ancient times, when the leaders of a conquered country came to show their homage and allegiance to the victorious king, they would often bring their weapons, their swords and shields, sometimes their flag or banner, and lay them at the feet of the victor.  In closing his psalm, this son of Korah, relates how all of the shields of the earth belong to God.  He is the victorious King of all the earth.  We may not see it now, as so much of the world shakes their fists in defiance against Jesus, but He will hold their shields in victory.

On that day we, as believers and followers of the Lord Jesus, can clap our hands and shout with triumph for our Savior (vs. 1).  Jesus is seated upon His throne, and will reign, greatly exalted, over all nations.  We will celebrate His kingship over all the earth.

Saturday, May 20, 2023

Some Last Words

Acts 1:1-11

If one searches the internet, one can find several lists of some famous last words given by people right before they died.  Scanning these lists we can find some very interesting last words.  Sometimes these are important words, sometimes confusing or just nonsense.  Last words aren’t always given before a death.  Here in the U.S., and in several other countries high schools and universities often have a valedictorian who gives a type of farewell speech at the graduation ceremonies.  In the past, before the days of computer zoom chats, or even telephones and quick travel, if a family member or friend moved any great distance away, it was quite conceivable that they would never see or talk to one another again.  The moment of their parting would be a type of last, final words.  These last words can be important, and words to treasure.  In our Scripture today we read of Jesus’ physical parting from His disciples, and the final, last words He spoke to them.  Let’s take a look at what Jesus chose to say before He physically left earth.

On the third day after His crucifixion, Jesus rose from the dead.  For forty days following His resurrection, He met and taught His followers (vs. 1-3).  During these days Jesus taught His disciples everything necessary to carry on His work.  Then Jesus led them to the Mount of Olives, just to the east of Jerusalem.  It was there that He gave them some final words and directions.

The first thing that the Lord Jesus told the disciples was a promise of sending the Holy Spirit, and that they were to wait for this outpouring, the baptism of the Spirit, while remaining in Jerusalem (vs. 4-5).  The disciples had to wait until Pentecost for the Holy Spirit to come.  Today believers receive the Holy Spirit as soon as they are saved.  This didn’t happen immediately after Jesus ascended into heaven, which is why Jesus told them to wait.  Rarely does God do things immediately.  They were to remain in Jerusalem and patiently wait.  Ten days later the Holy Spirit came upon them.  Most of us can’t wait ten minutes for our food to cook, let alone wait ten days!  Yet so often that is what God wants us to do - wait, wait and pray.

The disciples then asked the Lord if it was at this time that He would restore the kingdom to Israel (vs. 6-7).  Many of the Jewish people had believed that the coming Messiah would be a strong, powerful political leader who would restore power and authority to the Jewish people, kicking Rome, and any other ruling powers, out of Israel.  Some of the disciples were still believing this.  However, this was not the type of Messiah that God sent.  Another of Jesus’ final words was to tell us that we will not know the exact dates of God’s timetable.  Yes, one day Jesus will return, and all power on earth will come into His hands, but as He said, we do not know when that will be.  We should not believe anyone who says they do.

Jesus proceeded to give another final, and important instruction.  He told them that after the Holy Spirit came upon them, they were to be His witnesses, bringing His message of salvation to the whole world (vs. 8).  The disciples’ mission was to spread the Gospel as the Holy Spirit empowered them.  They were to witness, both in their own home neighborhoods, and then on out into the world.

Those early disciples were simple folk, with no advanced education.  They were fishermen and other basic, honest jobs.  They did not have any powerful, influential careers.  Satan will try to tell you that you aren’t qualified to share the Gospel.  He will use others to say that since you don’t have advanced theological university degrees that you best keep quiet.  However, God tells us all to spread the Gospel, and He gives us the power through His Holy Spirit.  The power that comes from the Holy Spirit will bring courage, boldness, confidence, insight, ability, and authority.

As our Scripture draws to a close, we read how Jesus ascended up into heaven (vs. 9-11).  God the Father took Jesus in His resurrection Body from this world to be seated at His rightful place at the Father’s right hand.  If Jesus had remained on earth, His physical presence would have limited the spread of the Gospel, because the Holy Spirit could only be sent after He returned to heaven (John 16:7).  Also, while Jesus was physically on earth, He could only be in one place at a time.  After He was taken up to heaven, He could send the Holy Spirit, enabling Him to be present everywhere.

One day Jesus will return to earth, to the Mount of Olives, in the same way He ascended with clouds, to set up His Kingdom.  We should be ready for His sudden return (I Thessalonians 5:2), not by standing around looking into the sky, but by working diligently to share the Gospel

Friday, May 19, 2023

A Branch On The Vine

John 15:1-8

After a strong storm we sometimes see branches from trees and bushes that have broken off of the main plant and are strewn on the ground.  Often they still have their green leaves still on them.  Within a day or so, though, those leaves have withered up and died.  The wood, too, dries up and quickly becomes dead wood, as well.  We see this in all plants.  When cut off from the main plant, the branch quickly dies. This occurrence in nature is something that the Lord Jesus spoke about to His disciples, which we read in our Scripture for today.

One plant that was fairly common in the countryside during Biblical times, and one we see a lot today in various parts of the world, are grapevines.  When I was a child, our next-door neighbor grew grapes in his backyard, and even made his own wine.  The scenario that Jesus described for His disciples was one that they could easily understand.  Grapes were a very significant commodity at the time of the New Testament, as production of wine was very important.

Jesus’ disciples knew that having fruitful vines was vital.  A good vinedresser, gardener, and those who care for fruit trees know the importance of keeping the plants or trees well-pruned.  A branch that isn’t producing well is often cut back so that it will produce more, and one that doesn’t bear fruit is cut off.  Sometimes when we see a gardener working on a plant or tree, pruning back fruitless branches, or ones that aren’t doing as well as they could, we might think that they will kill the plant, but they know what they are doing.  By chopping away here and cutting back there, a good vinedresser can bring about a fruitful crop through his careful pruning.

In our Scripture, Jesus told His disciples that He is the vine, and that His followers are the branches.  God wants His children to bear fruit for Him.  The fruit we bear is what we do for His kingdom, such as witnessing and leading others to Christ, doing the work that He has given us to do in His Church or for His kingdom.  God the Father is the vinedresser, and He is always looking over the plants to make sure that each branch is doing what it should, which is to be producing fruit.

As a good vinedresser, when God sees a branch that is not bearing any fruit, He gets rid of that dead wood so that the living fruit-bearing branches can thrive (vs. 2).  The dead wood is a picture of apostates, those who presume to be Christians, but don’t have true saving faith.  They will be taken away in judgment.  They have never had the life of Christ flowing through them, just as the fruitful vines do have His life in them.  Unfruitful branches can infect the plant.  They must be removed.

The Lord God also does pruning on the branches that do have life in them, but which are not producing fruit up to par.  Just like the vinedresser and gardener, God removes all things in the believer’s life that hinders fruit-bearing.  He cuts away sin and hindrances that drain a spiritual life.  God cuts back branches to promote growth.  He also sometimes disciplines us to strengthen our character and faith.

How do we remain a fruitful vine?  Jesus tells us that to be fruitful we must abide in Him (vs. 4-5).  A branch cannot bear fruit on its own.  People cannot sanctify or save themselves on their own.  The branch must stay rooted to the plant.  We must be rooted in Jesus.  We must allow Jesus to live His life in and through us.  Stay close to Jesus, like a branch attached to the vine.  Apart from Him we will only be unfruitful, and even wither and die.  He is the vine, our support, the stability of our faith.  If we cut ourselves off of the root system, our faith will shrivel.

The abiding believer is the only legitimate believer.  Judgment awaits the branches that are cut off, the unbelievers (vs. 6).  A strong and healthy branch, securely connected to the vine, may bend under trials, but it will never break.  Look exclusively to Jesus and what He has done for us at the cross, and you will abide and stay securely on the vine.

Wednesday, May 17, 2023

The Eyes Of The Lord Are On Us

I Peter 3:8-12

When you know that you are being watched, does your behavior change?   Do you act one way when you know your boss is around, but another when he isn’t?  When you were younger, did you act one way when your parents or teacher were there, but another when you knew they were out?   Plenty of people do.  We may think that there are times when no one is watching us, but as Christians, we know that the Lord is always watching what we do and how we treat others, and listening to what we say.  In our Scripture today from I Peter, the Apostle reminds us of this, encouraging us to good behavior.

Today’s verses are a brief reminder to Christians of how, as followers of the Lord Jesus, our behavior should be towards one another.   Peter starts off this passage by telling us that we need to be of one mind (vs. 8).  He’s not telling us that we need to sacrifice being doctrinally sound.  God’s Word never wants us to forsake good sound doctrine, allowing in heretical teachings, just in order to get along.  However in other areas, in areas that are not fundamental doctrines, we should show love towards our Christian brothers and sisters.  We are a family.  We should be tender-hearted, kind, caring and compassionate to each other.  Peter tells us to be courteous, and be friendly-minded to each other.

Do we see this type of genuine caring among church members every Sunday morning?  We should see this, caring, not just on Sunday mornings, but throughout the week, as well.  Way too often in a church, especially in larger churches, but also in smaller ones, as well, we barely give a nod of the head to anyone other than our special close friends, let alone know or care what they are going through..  How often are we feuding among each other over trivial matters, as any periodic church board meeting can attest.  Christians should be examples of peace and unity, not disruption and disharmony.

How should a Christian act when someone does them wrong, whether it is from another Christian, or an unsaved person?  God’s Word tells us here that we should not return evil or reviling treatment (harsh criticism or verbally abusive treatment) to those who have given that to us (vs. 9).  That is not easy to do, as our natural tendency would be to lash out and give that person the same treatment they gave us.  However, rather than seeking our own vengeance, we are to bless.  We extend forgiveness, and wishes of well-being to those who have unjustly wronged us.  Believers are to pay back wrongs by praying for the offender.  Revenge is unacceptable, as is insulting people.  Jesus wants us to act the opposite way that the world would act, which is how He did when He stood before the Sanhedrin and before Pontius Pilate.

Next Peter encourages us to watch what we say, to guard our tongue (vs. 10).  The Bible continually warns us that it is extremely important to guard what we say.  David gave us a similar message in Psalm 141:3, as well as James in his epistle (James 3:2-13).  A response given to others in anger or in spite, or words filled with lies or deceit, will only cause dissension.  God’s Word tells us that our tongue has the power of life and death (Proverbs 18:21).  We can build up others by what we say to them, and even give them words of life when we share the message of Jesus, or we can tear them down and destroy them by what we say.  Both our words and our behavior should cultivate and support peace and goodness (vs. 11).

Peter reminds us that God is watching believers (vs. 12).  He will bless those who trust and obey Him, but He disapproves and will punish those who don’t.  As Christians, if we willfully continue to disobey the Lord, we won’t lose our salvation, but He is not obligated to continue to bless us.

In closing, as we look over our Scripture passage again , we see that there are some key traits that should be in every group of believers.  We should have harmony among ourselves, pursuing the same goals.  We should show sympathy to each other, being responsive to other believers' needs.  Christians should show love for each other, treating each other as brothers and sisters, being compassionate, sensitive, and caring for each other.  And Christians should show humility, encouraging one another, and rejoicing in each other's success.  Do we show these traits, both in our personal life, and in our church fellowship?  Remember, the eyes of the Lord are on us.

Monday, May 15, 2023

Weather In The Bible

Psalm 148:7-14

Since childhood I have had an amateur interest in weather.  Whenever there is a thunderstorm I will often go out onto my front porch and watch the storm clouds, the wind, and the lightning.  I have learned to identify all the different types of clouds, and what types of weather they are associated with.   I am certainly not alone in this interest.   Even the Bible often speaks about the different aspects of weather, including in our psalm for today.  Let’s take a look at these verses, and several others in the Bible, where types of weather are mentioned.

Living in the Chicago area, in the Midwest part of the U.S., I see a lot of different weather all throughout the year.  We get quite cold in the winter, with generally a lot of snow.  Blizzards, with blowing and drifting snow is not uncommon.  Thunderstorms are very common from spring through the fall, with the spectacular storm clouds and lightning.  And along with thunderstorms often comes the threat of tornadoes and occasionally hailstorms.  The only real weather event that Chicago is not subject to would be hurricanes, though when a severe hurricane hits the gulf coast, we sometimes end up having storms that were brought about by it.

Our portion of Psalm 148 tells of all parts of creation giving praise to the Lord God.  We read of all types of animals that praise the Lord (vs. 7, 10).  Plants, trees, mountains and hills sing their praise (vs. 9).  The Scripture also records all types of people, as well, that bring the Lord praise (vs. 11-12).  This is wonderful to proclaim, and we see this in many psalms, and other parts of the Bible.  The one that piques my interest today is that of verse 8, where we read that fire, hail, snow, clouds, and stormy wind bring praise to the Lord.

All throughout Scripture we see that God sovereignly oversees weather.  He uses each of these events to accomplish His will.  God used fire to speak to Moses when He spoke from the burning bush (Exodus 3:2).  He led the people of Israel through the wilderness by a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night (Exodus 13:21-22).  With regards to weather, fire could be described as lightning.  King David, a prolific poet and psalmist, has many times described strong storms as acts of God, including sending lightning to scatter His enemies (II Samuel 22:15; Psalm 144:6).   Centuries later, the Prophet Zechariah also tells how the Lord uses lightning against His enemies like arrows (Zechariah 9:14).  Jesus said that God will send lightning from one part of the sky to the other when He returns (Matthew 24:27; Luke 17:24).

God has used hail many times for His purposes.  The seventh of the ten plagues against Egypt was a plague of hail (Exodus 9:13-35).  When Joshua and the armies of Israel came into their land, God fought for them with hailstones (Joshua 10:11).  Prophets also describe how God used hail in judgment (Isaiah 28:2, 17; Haggai 2:17).  During the Tribulation, God will again judge mankind with great hailstones (Revelation 8:7; 16:21).

Snow is mentioned several times in Scripture, along with cold, and that it is sent by the Lord (Psalm 147:16-17).  Frequently, though, snow is mentioned in the Bible with regards to its whiteness, and as a comparison in how when we come to the Lord in repentance of our sins, we can be washed as white as snow (Psalm 51:7; Isaiah 1:18).

We see clouds throughout Scripture.  God was in the pillar of cloud, leading Israel through the wilderness (Exodus 13:21-22).  There are several verses in the Bible that either explicitly or alludes to the fact that God rides upon the clouds or upon a whirlwind, which could be similar to a tornado (Psalm 104:3; Isaiah 19:1; Isaiah 66:15).  God used a whirlwind to take Elijah up to heaven (II Kings 2:1-11), and He spoke to Job out of a whirlwind (Job 38:1, 40:6).  We see several times in the Gospels where the Lord Jesus calmed the storms over the Sea of Galilee (Matthew 8:23-27; 14:22-33).

I hope you enjoyed this very brief look at some meteorological events recorded in the Bible.  If you like weather as much as I do, there are many other passages in God’s Word that speak of this topic.  All of creation, including the weather, praises and serves the Lord.

Saturday, May 13, 2023

Paul And The Athenians

Acts 17:22-31

Our Scripture for this morning continues in the book of Acts from last week.  Last week we looked at how Paul was preaching the Gospel of Jesus in the Greek city of Thessalonica, in northern Greece.  However, after just a few short weeks he was run out of town by the leaders of the synagogue there.  Paul then moved on to the smaller village of Berea, where he also began preaching the Gospel.  When those in Thessalonica heard he was preaching in Berea, they hurried there, and under threat of harm, chased him out from there, too.  Now, as our Scripture opens today, we find Paul in the city of Athens.

Paul was waiting for his companions to arrive, which would be several days, and while waiting, he didn’t want to waste any time just sitting around.  There were souls in this city, just like everywhere, and they needed to hear the message of Jesus and be saved.  He would use this time of waiting to do what the Lord called him to do, spread the saving message of Jesus.  Paul’s usual practice when coming to any community to preach was to go to a local synagogue and begin witnessing that Jesus was the promised Messiah.  Then as the message spread, he would witness to both Jews and Gentiles.  However, here in Athens, there was no synagogue to attend, and very few Jewish people to begin his ministry with.  Paul would need to use a different approach to reach these Athenians.

When Paul ministered to people, he came to them where they were intellectually when witnessing about God.  He would start at a point they could understand.  For the Jews, it was from Old Testament Scriptures.  For pagan Gentiles, it was nature and creation.  If Paul started witnessing to pagans by quoting from the Old Testament, it would not have been very effective.  Few Gentiles had much, if any, acquaintance with those Scriptures, and that wouldn’t have been the best, most effective way to reach them.

When we speak to people about Jesus, we may have one way that we feel the most comfortable in using, and that way might work for some people.  However, sometimes we need to change our approach to comfortably and effectively reach others. Paul knew he needed to find common ground with the intellectual Athenians, and that was through their religious nature, and their love and appreciation of the world around them.

In his walks around the city while waiting for his friends, Paul had noticed a shrine to “the unknown god” (vs. 23).  Having an astute mind, he thought this was just the key he needed when witnessing.  He would introduce them to the true God, one that was previously unknown to them!  Paul was not endorsing this pagan god, but was using the inscription as a point of entry to begin witnessing.  The apostle then proceeded on by establishing some common ground with them, emphasizing what they could agree on about God, the One who created all things (vs. 24-29).

Paul emphasized that God created mankind, and that all men are equal in His sight, since all came from one man, Adam (vs. 26).  Most Jews did not bother to witness to Gentiles, as they believed that God did not care for them, and many Greeks would have felt their scorn.  Paul, though, told them that this was not so.  He also told them that no man had any excuse for not knowing about God because He has revealed Himself in man’s conscience and in the physical world (vs. 27).

The Apostle did not stay on the topic of nature, though.  He was certainly not pushing a worship of nature.  He moved his message right along, on to Jesus, His death for us, and His resurrection (vs. 30-31).  That is the most important thing to remember when witnessing to others.  We may start at one point, some common ground, or a particular interest that the other person may have, but then the conversation must come around to Jesus and His sacrifice for us on the cross.

Paul knew that the Lord wanted him to bring the message of Jesus to everyone he came into contact with, and he knew his methods would have to change, depending on who he was with.  However, each method would always end with telling them the one and only important thing, and that was Jesus, and salvation through Him.

Friday, May 12, 2023

Knowing The Right Way

John 14:1-6

Many of us have had the experience of following the directions of one person who we thought knew the way to where we were trying to get to, only to find ourselves more lost.  Even with GPS, our directions can get messed up, and we end up in the wrong place.  Sometimes GPS has sent people to buildings that are no longer there, or even right into a pond.  Old-fashioned maps aren’t always reliable, as they can get out of date.  Arriving at the wrong location can be a big disappointment, and sometimes it can even be dangerous.  Our life is a journey, and our final destination is important.  Everybody, if they think about it, wants to end up in heaven when this life’s journey is over.  In order to reach that destination, though, we have to know the correct way.  When it comes to our eternal destination, getting on the wrong road would be the worst mistake we ever make.  Our Scripture for today, from God’s own Word the Bible, gives us directions that we can trust in how we can reach the Lord God, and a place in heaven.

On the night before Jesus would give His life as a sacrifice for sin upon the cross, He gave words of comfort and instruction to His disciples.  In the opening verses from Chapter 14 of John’s Gospel, Jesus tells us about a place that He is preparing for those who believe God and believe in Him, God’s only begotten Son (vs. 1-4).  According to Jesus’ words, one of His top priorities after returning to heaven has to do with preparing a place for His followers, His brothers and sisters.  As a place that God Himself is preparing, it must be something special!  In Bible times, a young man would prepare a house for his bride-to-be.  Then he would come and get her, and bring her to that home.  One day Jesus will return, and take us, His bride, to the place He has prepared.  We can look forward to this eternal home, because Jesus has promised it to all who believe in Him.

After these words of Jesus, the Apostle Thomas asked Him how they could know the way to this place He is preparing for all who believe in Him (vs. 5).  This is important.  As mentioned above, if we want to correctly and safely get to a certain location, it is important to have accurate directions.  Who better to give directions than the person who lives at that location?  Jesus came from God the Father in heaven, so we can definitely trust His directions to get there.

Jesus responded to Thomas’ question by stating unequivocally that He, and He alone, is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, and that no one can get to the Father, to God, except through Him (vs. 6).  Jesus declares that He is the way to God because He is the truth of God, and the life of God.  As the way, Jesus is our path to the Father.  As the truth, Jesus is the reality of all of God’s promises.  As the life, Jesus joins His divine life to ours.

I remember many years ago hearing someone say that just like there are many paths to the top of a mountain, there are many ways to God.  That is a very false, and eternally fatal belief.  Unlike what many people believe, all roads do not lead to heaven.  There is only one way, not many ways, that exist to God, and that is through Jesus Christ.  Apart from Jesus and His saving work on the cross, there is no other way home to God.  God’s Word, the Bible, states beyond a shadow of a doubt that Jesus is the only way to know God the Father.  There is no other path that leads to God but only through Jesus.

Jesus had told His disciples earlier in His ministry about the need to enter into heaven by the narrow gate (Matthew 7:13-14).  The truth is very narrow.  It is not just what anyone or everyone says it is.  There are many false doctrines and religions, each giving their own way to God, but like those false directions to a location you may have been given, these false religions will not lead you to heaven.  The only way someone can come to the Father is through Jesus.  Those who enter by the narrow gate of faith in Christ find the peace and joy of a relationship with Him, and will bring them to their eternal home in heaven.

If we listen to the wrong voices, and follow the wrong directions, we will end up in the wrong location.  When it comes to our eternal destination, it is so important to be listening to the right voice.  God, Himself, gave us the right directions to find our way to the home He is preparing for us.  We can trust His directions, and they clearly state that Jesus is the only way, and that no one can come to Him except through Jesus.  Don’t waste your life getting lost by following some other way through a false religion!  We can thank God that He provided a sure way to get to Him, and that is through Jesus Christ!

Wednesday, May 10, 2023

Drink Your Milk

I Peter 2:1-5

It’s been quite awhile since I’ve had a newborn in the house, as my youngest child is close to 28 years old now.  However, a mother never forgets how important it is for a newborn to be fed milk.  They should have milk alone for at least the first five months or so.  Then slowly soft cereals are added, and then pureed fruit or vegetables.  As teeth begin to come in, then harder foods can be added.  However, as a newborn, the baby needs their milk.  In our Scripture for today, the Apostle Peter talks about spiritual babies, and what is important for them.  Let’s look at what God’s Word will teach us.

The Word of God teaches us that when we have accepted the Lord Jesus as our Savior, we become a Christian, and a member of God’s family.  Just like with a human family, a new Christian is like a baby. We are like spiritual babes, with very little knowledge or understanding of spiritual matters.  We need to learn and grow, just like a human baby does.

The way a human baby grows is by being fed good, healthy food, first the milk, and then on to other foods.  The way a baby Christian grows is by being fed spiritual food, and that food is God’s Word, the Bible (vs. 2).  If we are spiritually healthy, we desire to grow.  We will find nourishment in God’s Word, and the more of the Bible we read and study, the more we will start to grow.  A newborn baby desires to be fed often throughout the day.  We know this, as the baby starts to cry when hungry, and the mother quickly establishes a schedule for how often the baby needs to be fed.  Spiritual growth is always marked by a craving, a desire for God’s Word, just as the baby craves milk.

A good and responsible parent will make sure that their baby, and later their young child, eats good, healthy food. They should not feed them a lot of junk food, and especially nothing that is poisonous or dangerous.  Good food will help their child grow into a strong and healthy adult.  The same holds true with the “baby” Christian.  They need to be very careful about what they are allowing in their life.  The Christian’s new life cannot grow unless sins are renounced.  When that is done, the Word can do its work of helping the believer to grow into the likeness of the Lord Jesus.  We must rid ourselves of anything that hinders our walk with the Lord (vs 1).  Just like new babies desire good, wholesome milk, a new Christian will desire pure, spiritual milk, rather than deceit, malice (the desire to do evil), and other sins.  We need spiritual nourishment, not things that can bring spiritual destruction.  A new believer needs to develop the habit of repenting of all sin as soon as it crops up in their life, and to deal with any sinfulness, so that God’s blessings will flow.

Sometimes a parent will encounter a picky eater in their child.  As the parent introduces new foods as the child grows, occasionally that child may not like it, and refuses.  They think it tastes yucky, and they make a face, turning their head away.  Many of us can remember one particular food that we didn’t like at all when we were a young child, one that perhaps our parents kept trying to get us to eat.  One thing that we can count on is that our spiritual food isn’t something nasty tasting, like that one yucky food we don’t like.  Taste and see that the Lord is good (Psalm 34:8).  God’s Words are sweet (Psalm 119:103).  When we are saved, we taste that God is gracious (vs. 3).

As Christians we are all part of God’s family, and as Peter finishes up our passage we read that we are being built up as a spiritual house and a holy priesthood (vs. 4-5).  All born-again believers are members of the holy priesthood, with Jesus as the Great High Priest.  Jesus is also the chosen Cornerstone of the Church, the body of believers throughout the world.  God is building a spiritual house, putting all believers in place.

In closing, since the day of your spiritual birth, have you been growing as a Christian?  We know that there is something wrong when a baby stays the same size, and doesn’t grow or learn new skills.  The same goes if a new Christian doesn’t grow spiritually, either.  We are to grow up, putting aside sin.  We grow, like a baby does, by having milk - the Word of God.  So, are you getting your daily servings of milk?

Monday, May 8, 2023

Refined As Silver

Psalm 66:10-12

Many people have some pieces of gold or silver jewelry.  Perhaps you have some genuine silver or gold coins.  The more pure the silver or gold is, the more valuable it is.  The process of making these metals pure is through refining it in intense heat.  The longer and more times it goes through the refining process, the purer the metals will be, and more valuable it becomes.  Heat, often intense heat, is used in the refining process of many things.  Our portion of Scripture from Psalm 66 today mentions some things that are refined.   Let’s take a look at what this Psalm says.

If you could speak to a piece of silver, and talk to it about what it went through to become a fine piece of jewelry, or into a valuable coin, it would have quite a story to tell you.  That piece of silver is quite happy now to be a beautiful pair of earrings, a necklace, or ring.  That valuable piece gets to adorn its owner on special occasions, and when not in use, gets to keep company with other valuable gems in a nice jewelry box.  The silver coin is happy to have a place, perhaps in some special coin case on display.  But either one will tell you that the process of getting to that honored spot was not a pleasant one.

In order to become pure, silver, gold, and many other things, including even white sugar, must go through a refining process.  The refining process for most things includes significant heat, where the item becomes molten, and all of the impurities are skimmed off and removed.   This might be done several times over, depending on how pure it is desired to be.  Typically silver is refined until it is 99.9% pure, or even greater, so in order for this to occur, the silver goes through the refining process several times over.  Talking to us, that piece of silver would tell us how terrible that was.  Being put through intense heat multiple times, each time so hot that it became molten so that the impurities could be removed, would not have been fun.  The silver would tell us about how painful that was.

Then, depending on what the silver would be used for, the silver would go through more pain and discomfort.  For jewelry the silver is cut into smaller pieces, maybe formed into a ring, earrings, or necklace.  Often the silver jewelry is engraved, and also the silver coin is engraved with its particular design.  So while talking with the silver, it would tell us about how painful this was for it to endure.  Now, though, as valuable jewelry or coins, the silver is happy!  I am sure that the silver would confess that all of the pain it went through was worth it, worth it to become something of value and a treasure.

Our psalmist today knew that precious metals, such as silver, were not the only items that are refined.   People can be refined too.  God wants to refine His children so that they can become pure and valuable to Him (vs. 10).  When we become saved, we are like something unrefined, filled with impurities and sins. God wants us to become more like His Son, Jesus, and to become something useful and valuable to Him.  In order to do that, we must be refined, just like silver is.  In order to do that, we often must go through some heat, some pressure, some difficult and trying times.  Just like what the silver would tell us, we might not like or enjoy the process, however, the end results are worth it.

Just as fire refines silver in the smelting process, trials refine our character.  They bring deeper wisdom, and help us discern truth from falsehood, and help bring us discipline.  The refining process helps us to become more like Jesus, which should be our goal throughout our life.

Do we want to become something of value to God, just like a valuable piece of silver or gold jewelry, or like a valuable coin?  Allow God to refine you, just as the silver is refined.  The end result is well worth it!

Saturday, May 6, 2023

Search The Scriptures

Acts 17:1-15

Are you one of those people who believes anything you hear or read?  You might later find out that the information you were told was false.  You were the victim of some scam, hoax, or lie.  Maybe you are just the opposite.  You are very skeptical of anything you are told, and instead of considering and looking into what you are told, you just toss it all out.  You might miss out on some important or vital truth that way.  The best course to follow is to carefully check out what you are told.  That way you don’t accept a lie or toss out the truth.  In our Scripture today we read about a group of people that God’s Word commends for doing just that.

As our Scripture passage opens, Paul was continuing his second missionary journey, which had taken him into Greece.  The apostle had been witnessing and establishing a church in the city of Philippi, when he was arrested, beaten, and then run out of town.  As Chapter 17 of Acts begins, Paul, Silas, and his companions arrive in the city of Thessalonica.

Paul had a certain pattern that he typically followed each time he came bringing the Gospel to a new city.  After entering the city, he would search out if there was a Jewish synagogue.  If there was, he and his companions would attend the Sabbath day services.  As was typical in synagogues in Bible days, visitors were often invited to speak, read a portion of Scripture, and give commentary.  Paul looked forward and counted on this custom, as this was an opening to select Scripture pertaining to the Messiah, and from there he would preach about Jesus.  Paul followed this pattern of his in Thessalonica, and began to witness about Jesus being the Messiah (vs. 2-4).

As is the case whenever we bring the message of Jesus to a group, some might believe, and a lot will reject the Gospel.  Here in Thessalonica, some believed Paul’s message, but many of the Jews in the synagogue rejected his words.  Not only did this group reject the Gospel, they began to get violent, and started a riot (vs. 5-8).  If the Jewish leaders had looked deep into the Word of God, they would have seen that Paul’s words matched what was said in the Bible, but they didn’t check it out.  They couldn’t refute the theology of Paul‘s message, and instead they became jealous of the popularity of the message.  They became so angry about Jesus who Paul preached, that they decided to cause a riot. Everywhere there are “religious” people who refuse the Light of the Gospel.  Then they set about to stop the propagation of that Light.  When they can’t stop the Light of Jesus with their arguments, they then often resort to stronger measures, as these men in Thessalonica did.

After a few short weeks, plus a lot of violence and a riot, Paul, Silas, and their companions were run out of town again.  This time they traveled about 50 miles southwest of Thessalonica to the smaller city of Berea.  Paul followed his pattern again, searching out a synagogue to visit (vs. 10).  Rather than immediately rejecting the message with anger and violence, the Bereans went home following the religious services and took out their Old Testament Scriptures and studied Paul’s words for themselves (vs. 11).  The Bereans listened to Paul's words eagerly, and then went and checked everything they heard with Scripture.  They didn’t just rely on Paul’s word that the Old Testament prophesied the ministry, sufferings, and resurrection of Jesus.  They went home and studied those Scriptures for themselves.

No matter how gifted, charismatic, or well-trained and experienced some preacher or teacher may be, we need to check what is being said against the Scriptures.  The Bible should be our measuring tool for making sure that the teaching we receive is straight and true.  There are countless false prophets out there today.  Some who are preaching false doctrine in order to get money.  Some to gain power over others.  Satan is using others to keep people from hearing and accepting the true message of salvation in Jesus.  If we can’t support the message with Scripture, there is something false about the teaching.  If the message contradicts God’s Word, we are building on sand.  The Bible is our ultimate authority for faith and life.

Satan wants to stop the message of Jesus at all costs.  He instigated those in Thessalonica to follow Paul and Silas and stop them from preaching anywhere else (vs. 13-15).   The devil will use many means to keep people from accepting Jesus as Savior.  He will use violence from people who have closed their minds to God’s truth.  He will use deception to lure people into accepting false words and messages.  God commended the Bereans for being honorable and fair-minded.  They didn’t automatically accept or reject the message.  They wanted to know the truth, and they knew that the truth was in God’s Word.  They took the message Paul gave, and measured it with the Words of the Bible.  The Bereans saw that Paul’s words measured up fine against Scripture, and then they believed.

When we hear a messenger who claims to have a word from God, we should not automatically accept it as truth, nor automatically reject it.  Hold it up to what is said in the Bible, just as the Bereans did.  If the words match what the Bible says, as Paul’s did, it is safe.  If it doesn’t, then reject it.

Friday, May 5, 2023

Jesus Is The Door

John 10:1-10

We come across doors every day, and knowing which door to go through can be very important.  When we go into an office building for an appointment, we should double check the suite number before going through the door.  A mistake can be embarrassing.  On some game shows, choosing the wrong door can make the difference from winning an expensive prize or getting something worthless.  Sometimes choosing the wrong door can be a matter of life or death.  There is a tale about the lady or the tiger, where a king often decided legal cases by having the prisoner choose one of two doors.  Behind one was a lady who he could marry, and behind the other was a ferocious tiger.  There is one door that we each need to make a decision about whether we go through it or not, and that decision will have eternal consequences for us.  Let’s learn about this door.

Our Scripture for today comes from the Gospel of John, and gives the third of seven “I am” sayings of Jesus.  Here in our passage Jesus says that He is the Door through which all must enter in order to be saved and come to God (vs. 9).   In this passage, Jesus speaks about how a shepherd guards and protects their sheep, keeping them safe within the sheepfold (vs. 1-6).  As Jesus describes this scenario, He tells us of those who try to get into the sheepfold through illicit and unlawful ways.  They aren’t the shepherd, but are ones who are trying to steal the sheep, and to cause them harm.  As Jesus said, they are thieves and robbers.

Those of us who have accepted Jesus as our Savior are part of His flock.  We are His sheep.  Just like literal sheep quickly learn the voice of their shepherd, and will only respond to his or her voice, so too we can learn to respond to the voice of our Shepherd.  We learn His voice through the Scriptures.  True sheep hear the voice of the true Shepherd.  The one who truly wants to know the Word of God will be led into all truth (John 16:13).

There are other voices out there, voices that try to lure us away from God’s truth.  Just like scammers who sound very convincing, and try to lure unsuspecting buyers to purchase their junk, these religious scammers try to lead us astray.  We need discernment, and to only listen to Jesus as He speaks through the words of Scripture.  Sheep won’t follow just any voice.  They only perk up, listen, and follow the voice of their shepherd.  We need to listen to the voice of Jesus, and follow Him (vs. 3-5).  The true sheep will know Jesus’ voice, but the false sheep will follow others.

Jesus continues on by proclaiming He is the Door, just like the gateway to the sheepfold (vs. 7-10).  The true shepherd of the sheep will only go in and out of the sheepfold through the gateway, not by climbing through some other way.  There is only one Door, and that Door is Jesus.  Jesus is the only way to the Father.  He is the sole means to approach God and receive salvation.  One cannot find salvation through some other way, or by some other false shepherd.  Jesus is the only true source for knowledge of God, and the only basis for spiritual security.  Any who claim to have the way of salvation without Jesus Christ are thieves and robbers.

We often hear that just as there are many paths that lead to the top of a mountain, so thus there are many paths that lead to God and heaven.  As we clearly see in our Scripture today, this is false.  There is only one door to heaven.  Jesus is not one route among several to a saving relationship with God.  Jesus is the only way.

Satan and his emissaries are there to steal, to kill, and to destroy (vs. 10).  They try to peddle a false way of salvation.  We need to understand that Satan wants to destroy us.  Jesus came to set us free.  We can encourage our faith and discourage our doubts by keeping our mind fixed on what God’s Word, the Bible says.

In closing, we need to select the correct door before we pass from this life.  However, unlike the fable with the lady and the tiger, or unlike on a game show, we know which door is which.  God’s Word, the Bible, states the truth that Jesus Christ is the only Door that will lead one to heaven.   All other ones will lead to eternal death and destruction.  Select the correct door, which is Jesus.  Blessed is the one who rests his hope of admission to glory upon the Crucified Redeemer.