Acts 26:17-18

Isaiah 38-39, Acts 25:23-26:32


Acts 26:17-18 (New International Version)

17 … I am sending you to them 18 to open their eyes and turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.”


Saul of Tarsus was going about his business when he was dazzled by a light, brighter than the sun. When he opened his eyes again he could see nothing. Later, Ananias placed his hands on Saul and Saul’s sight was restored. This incident may lie behind the words we read today. Either way, the words we read today are a compact expression of the gospel.

Jesus sent Paul on mission to those in the dark:

  • to open their eyes

Spiritual blindness is a dreadful affliction. Until someone’s spiritual eyes are opened, they cannot see the most patent spiritual truth.

  • to turn them from darkness to light

Walking with God and walking without God are complete opposites. One is darkness and leads to death. The other is light and leads to life.

  • from the power of Satan to God

Evil is real. Satan is real. The Christian journey is not from neutrality to God, but from Satan to God.

  • so that they may receive forgiveness of sins

Here is the core of the gospel – forgiveness of sins.

  • and a place among those who are sanctified

The result is holiness of life, good deeds that reflect one’s new orientation.

  • by faith in me

All this is by trust in Jesus.

In other words, the unfolding of mission is to open the eyes of the spiritually blind, to turn them from the darkness of Satan to the light of God, with the result that their sins are forgiven, and that they live a loving and pure life. And all this through faith alone in Christ alone.

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Claims of life

Today’s readings are from Isaiah 37:21-38 and Acts 25:1-22

Every now and then we hear claims of life on other planets. Not only do they come with all sorts of conspiracy theories, but with all sorts of emotion about what the discovery of life on other planets would mean for life as we know it. For some, there’s great excitement and intrigue surrounding such discoveries. For others, there’s fear that such discoveries would destroy long held ideologies or perhaps even change life for humanity (image the invasion of a super power from another planet).

Claims of life had been circling for a few years in Paul’s time, and as he approaches the end of his life the reason some are gunning for his death is due to these claims of life he is sprouting.

Having put his case before Felix, Paul now finds himself 2 years down the track defending himself before Governor Festus. Festus has been trying to solve this problem left for him by Felix, and discusses it when he entertains King Agrippa. Festus recounts (Acts 25:18-19) the situation when he heard from the Jews the charges laid out against Paul:

 

 When his accusers got up to speak, they did not charge him with any of the crimes I had expected. 19 Instead, they had some points of dispute with him about their own religion and about a dead man named Jesus who Paul claimed was alive.

It’s quite a bizarre statement. Festus had no doubt expected breaches of Jewish or Roman law. He discovers just some points dispute about a dead man. Some points? I’m thinking the Jews were saying he was dead and Paul he was alive! Not just “some point”. Not just a dispute… Though, from the governors perspective it was hardly a crime to claim someone had risen from the dead and left him with no clear way forward.

These claims of life brought fear for some. If the claim was true their entire ideology was being transformed in an instant, and they had no idea of how it would change life for them or broader humanity. For Paul though, the excitement and intrigue that had come from his discovery (as a Jew) that Jesus actually was alive (see Acts 9) has totally changed his life.

Paul knew he was doing no wrong in proclaiming Jesus was alive. He also knew this was no small dispute, and so was prepared to die rather than put his claim aside. The claim of resurrection is a claim that people will want to silence. Ironically, the claim of life can bring fear.

Our challenge may be to not allow our fears of peoples response to the claim of resurrection to soften our willingness to proclaim its reality.

What opportunities might God put before us today to proclaim in thought, word, attitude and action the incredible reality “about a dead man named Jesus that Paul claimed was alive”?

Ruthlessness and the Lord’s renown

Today’s readings are From Isaiah 25-26 and Acts 20:13-38

It doesn’t take much to observe evil in our world today. Evil has been around since Adam was a boy (or a young man at least…). Each generation not only has to deal with this significant life issue, but also with the manifestation of evil in our world.

Living where we do, at the time we do, we have the blessing of living free of many types of evil. However, as much as our culture wants to tell us that we can live in some evil free utopia, we know that it is not true. Evil finds a way to manifest itself. Lately, I have been noticing evil rear it’s head in ruthlessness.

Ruthlessness is seen by some as a good thing. Business decisions get made, profits can soar and concerns for anything outside of myself and (perhaps) my relational sphere become unnecessary. Yet the lack of compassion that stems from ruthlessness is as evil as the dropping of bombs. The ruthless have no need to care for the weak, to provide for the poor or defend the marginalised. Whether it be in politics, business or even in morality, a new ruthless edge has been rising in our culture. The new moral majority (with a very different morality to the moral majority of 30 years ago) are ruthless in crucifying anyone who does not fit in to their idea of how the world should run.

Both our readings today remind us of how to approach ruthlessness. Paul gives the summary of our response in Acts 20:24:

However, I consider my life worth nothing to me; my only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the good news of God’s grace.

Paul’s aim isn’t to attack evil – whether it be ruthlessness or the hardships and injustices that will face him in Jerusalem (v23). His aim is to testify to the good news of God’s grace. In testifying to God’s grace though, evil is attacked. Paul says later (v35):

In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’

Testifying to God’s grace will result in compassion, and the overturning of evil. It will have this effect because that is what God is doing in the world through his people. Isaiah (25:1-5) picks up the same ideas. In his faithfulness, God has overcome the ruthless. God has overcome evil.

Toward the end of our Isaiah reading (26:4-6) we read:

Trust in the Lord forever,
    for the Lord, the Lord himself, is the Rock eternal.
He humbles those who dwell on high,
    he lays the lofty city low;
he levels it to the ground
    and casts it down to the dust.
Feet trample it down—
    the feet of the oppressed,
    the footsteps of the poor.

The imagery in Isaiah 25-26 if of God making things that are evil and bad, good again. There is much worthy of quoting, but in the context of Ruthlessness, I think verse 6 speaks loudly. While the ruthless trample on others in this day, another day is coming where justice will come for the ruthless. God is not putting up with evil, he is overcoming evil.

We know, as Paul did, that he has overcome evil through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. And so, in the midst of evil, whether it be ruthlessness or some other kind, we get on with the task of testifying to God’s grace and trusting that he is making all things good again.

In his letter to the Romans (12:21), Paul reminded them:

21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

The people of Israel trusted what God was doing:

Yes, Lord, walking in the way of your laws,[b]
    we wait for you;
your name and renown
    are the desire of our hearts.
My soul yearns for you in the night;
    in the morning my spirit longs for you.

May our desire also be for the name and renown of the Lord God.

Wait…. what?

Todays FDR is Isaiah 19-20 and Acts 19:1-22

Our Old Testament reading today continues with a range of messages (prophecies) to the nations, today Isaiah moves on to address Egypt. I found this chapter to be quite powerful, the might of the  Lord is revealed against Egypt, bringing down their cities, crops, rivers, livelihoods, intellect and rulers. It is a dire scene of judgement that ‘makes Egypt stagger as a drunkard staggers around in his vomit’ (v14).

And yet, that is not the end of the story… God somehow, miraculously, turns judgement into healing. The Egyptians in their weakened state ‘will turn to the Lord, and he will respond to their pleas and heal them’ (v22).

And yet STILL it is not the end of the story…. Perhaps most baffling and miraculous of all, God not only heals Egypt but subsequently blesses them…’Blessed be Egypt my people, and Assyria the work of my hands, and Israel my inheritance’. These are the nations that oppressed the nation Israel, sold her into slavery, waged war upon her and systematically destroyed her… yet here is the Lord, including them as equals! What a stark and wonderful vision of God’s intent to reconcile even gentiles into his salvation plan! God’s plan of salvation history reconciles his enemies (us!) through Christ’s death.

…but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Rom 5:8)

This is indeed foolishness to the world’s way of thinking, yet that very ‘foolishness’ – the wisdom of God –  brings us life!

For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God (1 Cor 1:18)

This is the eternal message of salvation – demonstrated throughout the millennia. Let us rejoice in Christ’s victory and the wonderful, ‘foolish’ grace of God!

____________________________-

In our New Testament reading today, the gospel continues to spread out across ‘all the residents of Asia’ (v10). In some places this brings extraordinary miracles and change of life and in other places extraordinary imitation and deception… and through it all ‘the word of the Lord continue to increase and prevail mightily‘ (v20)

As we read through the word each day, may we ask God to change our lives and allow his word to prevail mightily!

Here Comes the Son

Isaiah 4:2-5:30

I feel for our farmers. Many, many hours of hard, physical work in all weather conditions. Timing of annual events to ensure the highest quality of the final product. Waiting…. Waiting…. watching for crops to become plump, colourful, healthy and these changes totally dependent on the weather. Drought, flood, hail, dust, gales, greedy insects, the list goes on.

In our reading from Isaiah there are many references to the agricultural world. Everything looks bleak. But then the sun comes out, the approaching good news is mentioned. In this passage there are many references  to the coming of Jesus about which a large number of learned people have written copious words. I like this quote from Matthew Henry: The success of the gospel is the fruit of the branch of the Lord; all the graces and comforts of the gospel spring from Christ. With God’s perfect timing there is no angst here waiting for the best climatic conditions. We thankfully acknowledge Christ’s presence, growing us, shaping us to be the best version of ourselves, transformed to His likeness and not subject to weather conditions but changed in God’s perfect timing.

Acts 11:19-30

As we read in previous chapters in Acts, the first Christians scattered throughout the Roman Empire only preached to Jews. In the immoral city of Antioch, the gentiles were included in the evangelistic talks. Verse 21 And the hand of the Lord was with them, and a great number who believed turned to the Lord. Great fruit, produced again in God’s perfect timing.

We read of Barnabus, one of the leaders, previously known for his generosity (Acts 4:36-37) and his warm acceptance of Saul after he was converted (Acts 9:26-28) being sent to the fledgling church in Antioch. As a respected leader of the church God used Barnabus’ presence to grow and encourage His people.

When he came and had seen the grace of God, he was glad, and encouraged them all that with purpose of heart they should continue with the Lord. For he was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith. And a great many people were added to the Lord. Two reminders: that any changes in the hearts of people are brought about only by the grace of God and it’s a great idea to encourage each other.

What a great difference it makes to have leaders who are full of the Holy Spirit and of faith. They are the ones who teach, plant seeds, nurture and encourage people to produce great fruit. We can be thankful for our leaders here at Figtree and must remember to prayerfully, and personally, encourage them in their faithful, everyday walk as they remain strong in the Lord.

May we all be open to the leading of the Holy Spirit as He continues to ripen and grow us into people with hearts like Jesus.

 

Acts 11:18

Isaiah 3:1-4:1, Acts 11:1-18


Acts 11:18 (English Standard Version)

18 And they glorified God, saying, “Then to the Gentiles also God has granted repentance that leads to life.”

 


GENTILES GRANTED REPENTANCE; GLORY TO GOD!

Gentiles

Jews and Gentiles don’t fraternise. For a strict Jew to eat with a Gentile is like Tony Abbott joining the Labor Party. Not likely. Yet here Peter discovers that following Jesus is not restricted to Jews. Non-Jews can follow Jesus. Any one can follow Jesus. Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male or female (Galatians 3:28). Circumcised or uncircumcised, Barbarian or Scythian (Colossians 3:11). Rich or poor, healthy or unwell, young or old, Australian or not. Anyone can, but not everyone does.

Granted Repentance

Not everyone does because to follow Jesus means to unfollow all else. To unfollow the world and the flesh and the devil. This is what ‘repent’ means: to turn from anything else and to turn to Jesus. This turning is a gift from God. Repentance is a gift from God. It is a gift from the Father God (Acts 11:17) embracing believing in the Lord Jesus (Acts 11:17) and being baptised with the Holy Spirit (Acts 11:16).

Glory to God!

When Peter’s audience heard this news, they gave glory to God. So should we! Not so much because Gentiles were accepted by Jews – although that is astounding – but because Gentiles were accepted by God, which is better. Anyone who receives the word of God and repents and believes inherits life. Glory be to God!

New beginnings

Today’s FDR is Joshua 23 and Acts 1:12-26

What a feast we have before us in our FDR today!

Our journey through Joshua is nearly complete and here, near the end of his life, Joshua gathers the Israelite leaders together for a final few words. He could have waxed lyrical about his role in the times spent wandering the desert, bringing down the walls of Jericho, getting hoodwinked by the Gibeonites or the shenanigans involving rocks falling from the sky… ahhhh, good times, remember when we did all that? Only he doesn’t… Instead he points to God and reminds the people that it is God who fought for them (Josh 23:3). He urges them in light of this knowledge to stay strong, to be obedient, to be singularly focussed on serving Him. In fact he says the same thing to them at least twice… and he warns them of the consequences if they transgress. Perhaps he knows their hearts (and himself) too well?

Indeed if we were to read on into Judges we would find that things slip south pretty quickly and eventually, the very thing he warns them of comes true and the land that they currently possess is taken away. Praise God that the narrative arc of salvation history doesn’t stop there! God enacts his rescue plan for his wayward people, through Jesus.

Which brings us to the opening of Acts….

At the start of this book, we see Jesus ascend into heaven and he promises the Holy Spirit which will empower them to be His witnesses to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8). Now the disciples return and take the strange step of seeking suitable nominations and casting lots to find someone to fill Judas’ place (who apart from betraying Jesus, meets a rather icky end). Why was this so important? Well, there must be something important in having 12 apostles – it harkens back to the 12 tribes of Israel, a completeness which is echoed throughout God’s word.

What I also find interesting is the qualifications of those who would be considered as a suitable replacement for Judas. Specifically they had to be a first-eye witness to Jesus and have accompanied him through his ministry years. And while this is key, there is also something else, a hint that the call depends on the heart of the nominated (v24). I try not to read too much into the casting of lots as the example of all decision making – however under the circumstances this is done without pretence or suggestion that this is they way all decisions will be made into the future.

What shall we do with our scriptures today? First of all, let us give thanks for Jesus, our risen King who sends his spirit to guide and strengthen us. Secondly, let us consider our hearts before him – as Joshua did and no doubt as Matthias, Barsabbas and the early Christians did. May our hearts be renewed daily to pursue Christ more wholly and more completely. Finally, let us look forward to a heavenly future where God brings all things new and we are reunited with Christ our saviour.