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.

 

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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.

Diverging responses to Gods calling. How do we respond?

Today’s (Sa 06/05/2017) FDRs are Jonah 4 and Acts 26.

It is easy to be a Jonah and act as he has.  Just find an easy or a lazy way to avoid God’s calling in whatever form it comes!

It is pretty tough, from a human perspective, to do as Paul did?  It takes faith, hope, love, . .

Ah, excuse me?  But aren’t these fruits of the Spirit? (see Galatians 5:22)

But why is Jonah included in the Bible. I can only speculate with some commentators, that it has both an original Hebrew purpose and its current Christian purpose is to teach and compare. For Israel; it is to provide a device to show what would happen to Israel if it did not respond to God’s call to obedience. For Christians; to remind us of our need for obedience and to demonstrate God’s ongoing grace in forgiving us our sinning.

Today’s Acts chapter is Paul’s own summary of how he became a Christian and what he has done, as God’s servant.   While trying to dissemble the Jewish Leaders arguments against Paul, he is working to make the gospel clear   But also his words and purpose aim to do exactly what Agrippa accuses him of (see v28).

Another comparison can be made between Jonah and Paul.  Jonah, disputes God’s grace that is extended to himself and Nineveh.  He gets into an inactive sulk still wanting to see Nineveh destroyed from his safe vantage point.  In fact this last chapter leaves the final discussion between God and Jonah unresolved.

So too the close of the hearing before Agrippa and Festus does not resolve Paul’s circumstances.  (We will read in the next few days about Paul’s next trip.)

While you could assume that in both circumstances God’s purposes have been completed, I’d rather you looked at the two human personalities and their responses to being called and the markedly different personal outcome.  Jonah finally does as God wants and more than 120,000 persons are saved from destruction with their animals.  But Jonah definitely went the long way around to saving Nineveh.

Paul is healed of his blindness and straight away he commences learning and preaching about His Lord even while he is in Damascus. We know from other accounts that Paul commenced a ministry that, through the Holy Spirit’s actions, saved many from eternal damnation.

Perhaps it would be more correct to add that Paul’s ministry goes on through passages like Acts 26 and the Bible that shows us today what is possible with faith.

A prayer – Heavenly Father and Loving God I thank you for who you are in my life and relationships.  I thank you that you bless me with knowledge and understanding of you and forgive me for my sins.   Lord I ask that as I live my life I might do so in faith in you and through your son, Jesus and Holy Spirit.  Lord guide me that I might faithfully and carefully seek to bring others to know you so that your name is glorified.   I ask this in Jesus Christ’s name.  Amen.

Glenn

 

Unashamed?

Our FDR readings today (03/05/2016) are Jonah 1 and Acts 21:37-23:11

Jonah 1

This book has been much appreciated by many of us who came to know of God and Jesus through Scripture classes or Sunday School and in many other ways.

Jonah is portrayed as a man who knows his scripture, who is given a job to do by God and he runs away.  God sends a huge fish and Jonah is kept alive to again be called to go to the big city of his people’s enemies, the Assyrian city called Nineveh, to tell them about God.  When Jonah does as God instructs him the people repent and believe in God.  Wow!

Some context:  Seen as a book of the prophet whose name it bears, it is strikingly different to other prophetic biblical books as a narrative of the actions of those involved.  Here we get a chance to see the role of the Old Testament prophet in some detail although he is the only one who runs away from the charge God has given him. There is humour, satire and parody here as well as a strong message.

Can I encourage you to read Jonah through again seeing a little more as the Spirit shows you?  However you come to Jonah this time – Enjoy?

 

Acts 21:37 – 23:11

These are significant model passages for us as witnesses for Christ.  Here Paul, on a number of occasions is bold in taking opportunities to speak about Christ.  Confident in the faith he holds in Christ and bold enough to speak truthfully about the message of Jesus’ resurrection.

As Paul recounts his conversion on the roadside, he speaks openly of the role Jesus has in that conversion and the following directions to spread the faith through speaking about Christ.  Not just to the Hebrews but to the Greeks and other Gentiles.

Paul’s audiences, the crowd in the street, who, before the Roman Commander arrived  were beating him, and a second in the Sanhedrin, were so disturbed and upset that they had begun to so threaten him that Paul was removed to safety.  Again.

Then in chapter 23 verse 11, God stands at his side and not only encourages him to “. . . take courage . . . “ but also gives him a new mission.

Ephesians 6: 10 – 18 (NIVUK) has some instruction about how we can take our courage and the culminating words have this instruction:

16 In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17 Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

18 And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people.  

 

A prayer – Dear Lord and Father, may we too go unashamed into the world each day in those normal places and with normal people with the courage written of in Acts that we have seen Paul exhibit.  Guide and equip us to serve You through appropriate mission,  that glorifies You as Lord and Father.  We ask this through your Son our Lord Jesus and your Holy Spirit. Amen.

Glenn M.

Turning points

With Job’s companions offering an unsatisfactory understanding of human suffering, Job 28 marks a turning point in the book with a poem about the elusiveness of wisdom which climaxes with the conclusion that man must look to God for He is the source of wisdom.

‘Behold, the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom, and to turn away from evil is understanding.’

The persecution of the infant church outlined in Acts 6-9 set in train a chain of events that ensured not just its survival but rapid expansion. With breaking of a mindset that had been in place for hundreds of years in Acts10, the door is open for outsiders to enter in.

Acts 11:19-30 is another milestone in the life of the early church. Persecution had scattered the believers geographically but not religiously as we are told in verse 19 – travelling as “far as Phoenicia and Cyprus and Antioch, speaking the word to no one except Jews.”

But there were those who were from Cyprus and Cyrene who were prepared to preach to the Hellenists (Greeks) who had come to Antioch and their cross-cultural ministry was blessed with “a great number who believed turned to the Lord.”

As the exciting news of these new converts filtered back to the church in Jerusalem, Barnabas (a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith v 24) was sent to Antioch to water the seed that had been sown there. As the church grew, Barnabas was led to enlist Saul’s help in teaching and pastoring the new believers.

No longer a Jewish sect that had recognised the coming of the Messiah; a greater distinction is made and the new disciples are for the first time identified as Christians.

The church in Jerusalem continued to keep a close eye on the spread of the gospel in Antioch and dispatched prophets to minister to the church there. One of these, Agabus was given insight that a famine would soon devastate the country which prompted the compassion of the new believers in Antioch wanting to give back by sending “relief to the brothers living in Judea”.

In these verses we see how God’s blessing was upon the ministry of church in Antioch as it sought to live out what it meant to be – Faithful, Adventurous and Compassionate.

 

 

It is time …

Today’s Readings:  Luke 23:1-12 and 1 Timothy 1:12-17

As we read this narration in Luke, Jesus is literally hours from his crucifixion … for it is his time.

At this point, Jesus had already been beaten before being brought before Pilate, so physically he would have been a mess (Luke 22:63). This together with the hype of the multitude who led Jesus before Pilate and Pilate’s position, would certainly have meant Pilate would have questioned Jesus more closely than simply asking the one question, to reach the conclusion that there were no grounds for any political charge against Jesus.

When Pilate asks Jesus ‘Are you the King of the Jews?’

Jesus’ response was short, to the point and almost a brush off.
‘It is as you say.’  Luke 23:3

John’s Gospel gives a little more content to the conversation, and certainly Jesus’ explanation of his Kingship was not what the Jews of the time believed.

‘You are right in saying I am a king. In fact, for this reason I was born, and for this reason I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.’  ‘What is truth?’  Pilate asked. John 18:37-38

And truth was about to be revealed in the cross ….  but that’s jumping ahead.

Pilate knew Jesus had committed no crime, but with an insistent and very vocal crowd which was fast starting to get out of control, Pilate was able to draw Herod into the process once Galilee was mentioned, for this was Herod’s jurisdiction. Pilate may even have been seeking Herod to support his decision that Jesus was innocent of charges.

Herod was on hand for Jesus to be redirected for interrogation because both Herod and Pilate were in the one location. It was common practice for them to visit Jerusalem during the Passover period due to the large Jewish crowds that gathered.

When Herod saw Jesus, he was greatly pleased, because for a long time he had been wanting to see him.  Luke 23:8

Herod’s ‘pleasure’ at seeing Jesus was not born out of respect or positive engagement. Earlier in Luke we read of Herod’s opinion of Jesus; what was at the heart of his desire to meet him.

Now Herod the tetrarch heard about all that was going on. And he was perplexed because some were saying that John had been raised from the dead, others that Elijah had appeared and still others that one of the prophets of long ago had come back to life. But Herod said, “I beheaded John. Who then is this I hear such things about?” and tried to see Jesus.  Luke 9:7-9

Then again in Luke 13:31, we read how ‘some of the Pharisees came to Jesus and said to him, “Leave this place and go somewhere else. Herod wants to kill you.”

But brought before Herod, Jesus did not respond to either his questioning or his desire to see Jesus perform ‘tricks’; instead Jesus gave him no answers.  Luke 23:9b

At that moment, Jesus had the resources of heaven at his finger tips and could have performed a miracle to remove himself from Herod, Pilate and the crowd but he chose to do nothing, not because he was not in control, but rather, because he knew God was in total control.

Ridiculed and mocked by Herod and his soldiers, this was the time not to act or react because it was his time; it was what he had shared with his disciples as they sat around the table at the Passover meal and it was what he had prayed before he was arrested;

“I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. For I tell you, I will not eat it again until it finds fulfilment in the Kingdom of God.”  Luke 22:15

….. Jesus looked toward heaven and prayed: “Father the time has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you ….”  John 17:1

Fast forward to the start of the early church in Acts where Luke records for us the prayer of the believers upon the release of Peter and John from interrogation by the Sanhedrin (Acts 4:27-29). As we seek to share with others the good news of Jesus Christ; to boldly step forward it is good to be reminded that we are part of God’s mighty plan for his world.

God has demonstrated through time, over and over again as we read through the scriptures, that he will use all circumstances and free will decisions (even when meant for evil or wrong like Pilate and Herod) to achieve his saving purpose.

Indeed Herod and Pontius Pilate met together with the Gentiles and the people of Israel in this city to conspire against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed. They did what your power and will had decided beforehand should happen. Now Lord, consider their threats and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness.  Acts 4:27-29

So when we feel the world is against us, it is good to be reminded that we too can call on God in prayer for courage and strength against predictable as well as unforeseen opposition. Paul as he wrote to encourage Timothy, speaks words of support as he reflects on his own testimony and God’s saving grace.

I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has given me strength, that he considered me faithful, appointing me to his service. Even though I was once (insert your own personal testimony statement here) I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and unbelief. The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly, along with the faith and love that we in Christ ……. so that in me Christ Jesus might display his unlimited patience as an example for those who would believe on him and receive eternal life.    1 Timothy 1:12-16

KD