Friday, September 26, 2014

"It's all about God's kingdom!"

Day #273:  Daily Bible Reading Plan - September 27th

Scripture Reading:  Acts 1 - 2 …

From Genesis through Revelation the Bible talks about one thing a thousand different ways:  the "kingdom of God!"  You will never understand God's Word or the Gospel of Jesus Christ or your place in God's plan until you grasp this truth.  As God had revealed His power and authority to and through the people of Israel, so now God expands His activity, in fulfillment of His promises to Abraham back in Genesis, through the pouring out of His Spirit and the proclamation of the Gospel to people from all nations.

Luke is the author of Acts and he picks up here where he leaves off at the end of his Gospel account of the life of Jesus.  He explains that he wrote about "all that Jesus began to do and to teach until the day He was taken up to heaven" (1:1-2).  He explains that Jesus "showed Himself to these men and gave many convincing proofs that He was alive.  He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God" (1:3-4).  From Luke's perspective … from the Spirit's perspective, all that Jesus taught the disciples in those forty days could be summarized by saying that He "spoke about the kingdom of God."

And it is also significant that as Jesus was about to ascend into heaven, the disciples asked Him, "Lord, are You at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?" (1:6).  They, too, were thinking about the kingdom of God, but from a different perspective than Jesus was giving them.  The disciples were still thinking only about Israel, about the Jews, the physical descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  They had not yet understood that God's promise was to establish His reign over all the earth and to call some from every people, tribe, nation and tongue to be part of His eternal kingdom.  Few today seem to understand this either!

All that God did up to this time, and all that He accomplished through the life, ministry, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus had led up to this point:  to the expansion of His kingdom in the hearts and lives of those who would hear the Gospel and place their faith in Jesus, the Christ, the promised King of God's kingdom.  The continuity of the Bible and of human history from beginning to end hangs upon this truth, and all that is happening in our world today is leading towards the coronation of King Jesus when He returns to judge the living and the dead.  He WILL reign over all the earth, it is just a matter of time.

Until then, it is God's purpose to establish His reign in the hearts of those whom He chose to be His before the creation of the world (Ephesians 1:4; I Peter 2:9) through the work of His Spirit.  The importance of Pentecost in God's plan cannot be overestimated.  Jesus told the disciples to wait in Jerusalem until they were "baptized with the Holy Spirit" (1:5), explaining, "You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth" (1:6).

The day of Pentecost was the "Feast of Weeks" described in Leviticus 23:15-22.  The Jewish feast days were important days in the Hebrew calendar.  Jesus was crucified during the celebration of the Passover and Unleavened Bread and He rose on the celebration of Firstfruits.  The Feast of Weeks was celebrated 50 days later and was a time when the spring harvest, or the first harvest was gathered.  It was not by accident that these events in the life of Jesus fell precisely on these feast days.  God was revealing all the way back in the days of Moses that there would be a "harvest of souls" for God's kingdom in a future time.  During His ministry Jesus had appointed and sent out seventy-two disciples and told them to go out and proclaim, "The kingdom of God is near you" (Luke 10:9).  And He said, "The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few.  Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into His harvest field" (10:2).

Now God was doing just that as He poured out His Spirit on the disciples and all those gathered with them in Acts 2.  Contrary to what some believe today, this experience is not common to all believers, and the disciples did not speak in some "angelic" or unknown heavenly language.  Those around them "heard them speaking in his own language" (2:5) and declared, "we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues" (2:11).  The Spirit empowered them to speak a language they did not know so that the Gospel would begin to spread to other regions of the world rapidly.  This, too, was part of God's plan.

Peter explains that this is the beginning of what the prophet Joel had predicted (2:17-21).  Those verses contain the entire history of the church age, from its beginning to its end.  Moved by the Spirit of God, Peter makes it clear that Jesus was alive and was much more than a dead prophet!  "This man was handed over to you by God's set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put Him to death by nailing Him to the cross.  BUT God raised Him from the dead, freeing Him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to hold Him" (2:23-24).  God was in control of all of these events, moving them toward the desired outcome:  the establishment of His kingdom in and through the Church, all who would believe in Jesus Christ through the proclamation of the Gospel.

There can be no question what Peter and these early disciples believed:  "God has raised this Jesus to life and we are all witnesses of the fact.  Exalted to the right hand of God, He has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear" (2:32-33).  "Therefore let all Israel be assured of this:  God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ!" (2:35).  Jesus is the "Anointed King" of Psalm 2, the descendant of David, sent to reign over the throne of His Father, Jacob, as the angel had said to His mother, Mary, only a few short decades earlier:  "The Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David.  And He will reign over the house of Jacob forever; His kingdom will never end" (Luke 1:32-33).

Like pieces of a puzzle everything begins to fall into place when you focus on the kingdom of God.  How then should we respond to this information?  "Repent and be baptized, every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins.  And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit" (2:38-39).  These verses have lost their true meaning for many because they have been taken out of the context of what was happening.  It is questionable, in the context, whether Peter was talking about baptism with water or more likely, baptism with the Spirit.  God had told John the Baptist, "The man on whom you see the Spirit come down and remain is He who will baptize with the Holy Spirit" (John 1:33).  And in the immediate context, Jesus had said, "For John baptized with water but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit" (Acts 1:5).

Jesus had said to Nicodemus in John 3:  "I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again. … no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit" (John 3:3,5).  "Water" here quite probably refers back to Ezekiel 36:25-27, where God says, "I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; … I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you …"  It is the cleansing power of the blood of Jesus, applied through the work of the Holy Spirit, moving the heart to repent and believe that brings forgiveness of sins!  And "the promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off - for all whom the Lord our God will call" (2:39).  All of this points to one thing:  the coming of God's kingdom in the hearts and minds of people from all nations.

As about 3,000 believed in Jesus and were empowered by His Spirit, the Church began and would spread to the far corners of the earth.  The early believers learned together, worshiped together, lived together and served together.  God's harvest had begun, and it continues to this day.  One day the time will be fulfilled and the appointed day will arrive when Jesus returns to gather all who believe to Himself.  The dead will be raised and we who are alive will be transformed and we will together ascend to heaven with Jesus to celebrate the truth that HE IS KING!!  Then we will return with Him to establish His kingdom on the earth, and after a thousand years, God will create a new heavens and a new earth, where His kingdom will endure FOREVER!!

If you have believed in Jesus Christ, then your life today is all about God's kingdom!  His Spirit lives within you and Jesus reigns as Lord in your heart and your mind.  Your life has purpose and meaning as you live it with Him and for Him, and you can KNOW that you will one day enter into His perfect presence, where "there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away" (Revelation 21:4).  Jesus is on the throne at this moment and He is coming again to establish His kingdom and to gather His followers into it.  Rejoice in the Lord today and praise Him, for He is worthy.  Declare to those around you that our God reigns and stand firm in your faith because you know that it's all about God's kingdom!

"My Lord and my God, I praise You, King Jesus, and come to my Father in heaven in Your Name!  I trust in Your promise, Father, that I have been washed by the blood of Jesus and given new life by Your Spirit.  My sins are forgiven and I give thanks for Your love and grace.  Use my life as a constant testimony of the life of Jesus as I live to glorify You and to declare to the world that You alone are God and Jesus alone is King!  Let Your kingdom come and Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven, in Jesus' name, Amen"

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