Friday, November 7, 2014

"Sent by the Holy Spirit … to all the world … "

Day #315:  Daily Bible Reading Plan - November 8th

Scripture Reading:  Acts 13 - 14 …

This is where it all began … the spreading of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  From Jerusalem to Antioch to Asia.  A strong congregation of believers had grown in Antioch, led by Paul and Barnabas, along with two other men, Lucius and Manaen.  But this was only the beginning!  As they worshiped, fasted and prayed the Spirit moved them to send Barnabas and Saul (now called "Paul") on the first missionary journey.  You need to understand the significance of this journey, for it was the beginning of a missionary effort that continues to this day!  Millions of people from every nation all across the earth have been and are being reached with the same message Paul and Barnabas risked their lives to bring to those who had not yet heard.

And it was not without opposition!  Almost immediately the Jews who did not believe became jealous of the number of people who were believing the message and following Jesus.  But a trademark of those who are filled with the Spirit is BOLDNESS!!  You can note this throughout the book of Acts.  It may be easy to overlook that these were people just like you and me.  While Paul was educated as a Pharisee and had a dramatic conversion on the road to Damascus, the same Spirit that empowered him lives within every true believer.  As John would write some time later, "the One who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world" (I John 4:4).  Jesus had promised that the disciples would receive power when the Holy Spirit came upon them and that is still true today.

Because they went first to the Jewish synagogues (meeting-places), Paul and Barnabas recounted the history of God's dealings with Israel and then led them to Jesus, the promised "Seed" of David, and declared that He was the Savior who had been promised.  Paul said, "Brothers, children of Abraham, and you God-fearing Gentiles, it is to US that this message of salvation has been sent" (13:26).  Anyone who says that those who believe in other gods can be saved without believing in Jesus is a false teacher.  Paul pointed out that when the Jews put Jesus to death they were actually fulfilling God's Word (Isaiah 53 in particular).  Then he proclaimed the resurrection and pointed to Psalm 2 as having been fulfilled in Jesus.

How important is it that people understand how Christianity is the fulfillment of biblical Judaism!!  Here is Paul, a Jew, a Pharisee, a Teacher of the Law, declaring that Jesus is the fulfillment of the prophecies of the Old Testament.  Some of the Jews would oppose the Gospel and reject the good news, but this was the One whom the prophets spoke about.  "We tell you the good news:  What God promised our fathers, He has fulfilled for us, their children, by raising up Jesus!" (13:32-33).  Jesus was the One that Psalm 16 declared would "not see decay" (13:35,37; Psalm 16:10).  To fail to see the coming of Jesus as the fulfillment of the Old Testament Scriptures is to totally miss God's plan to bring salvation, eternal life, to all who believe in Him.  This is the core teaching of Christianity, and it is the fulfillment of true Judaism.

The Pharisees and the Jewish religious leaders since continue to teach the Books of Moses, calling people to obedience to the Law and to the observance of mere rituals that were intended to point them to Christ for salvation.  Paul makes it abundantly clear that their message was declaring this good news:  "… that through Jesus the forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you.  Through Him everyone who believes is justified from everything you could not be justified from by the law of Moses" (13:38-39).  This is amazing, incredible truth that for the first time in the history of mankind was being proclaimed to both Jews and Gentiles.  This was God's plan from before the world began taking a giant step through the death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus and the pouring out of His Spirit, who alone can bring new birth to those who are spiritually dead!

This is GOOD NEWS!!!!!  It was good news for those who heard it then, and it is good news for those who hear it today with ears that have been opened by the same Spirit.  As Jesus speaks to the churches in Revelation 2-3, He says, "He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches."  So it is today.  The evidence that the Holy Spirit is at work in you is that you will hear the Gospel of Jesus Christ and you will repent and believe in Jesus for the forgiveness of yours sins and receive God's gift of eternal life … life that begins now and lasts throughout all eternity!  As they proclaimed the message in this city of Perga, many were born again by the Spirit and believed in Jesus.  So many, that some of the Jews became jealous and drove Paul and Barnabas from the city.  But they could not be discouraged.  Instead, quoting Isaiah 49:6, they said, "The Lord has commanded us:  'I have made you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth'" (13:47).

And who was it that believed?  You need to hear this, too:  "When the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and honored the Word of the Lord; and all who were appointed for eternal life believed" (13:48).  God knows those who are His because He chose some, before the creation of the world (Ephesians 1:4).  Our zeal and confidence in proclaiming the Gospel is that those whom God has chosen will believe.  We do not become discouraged when we face opposition, but trust in the sovereign grace of God to produce repentance and faith in the hearts and minds of those who are born again by His Spirit as they hear the Word of life.  In spite of severe persecution at this early stage in the missionary efforts of the early church, "the disciples were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit" (13:52).

From there Paul and Barnabas went further into Asia and as they preached the Word "a great number of Jews and Gentiles believed" (14:1).  Paul's later explanation of the formation of the Church in Ephesians 2 explains that "now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away (Gentiles) have been brought near through the blood of Christ.  For He Himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier … His purpose was to create in Himself one new man (one Body) out of the two (Jews and Gentiles), thus making peace, and in this one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross …" (Ephesians 2:13-16).  God couldn't have made it any clearer!  Yet many then and now have missed it and foolishly reject the message of the cross and the good news that through Jesus the forgiveness of sins is now being proclaimed.  Again, "Through Him everyone who believes is justified from everything you could not be justified from by the law of Moses!" (13:39).  Oh, amazing grace!!!!

At this time God also confirmed the Gospel through signs and miracles.  This was not the norm then, nor is it now, though God can do a miracle at any time or any place, for His own purposes.  Luke, who wrote the book of Acts, explains that it was the Lord "who confirmed the message of His grace by enabling them to do miraculous signs and wonders" (14:4).  Paul writes in II Corinthians 12:12 that these were "things that mark an apostle - signs, wonders and miracles …"  We should not expect or demand such signs and miracles today, though God is able and may use these means to confirm His Word if He so chooses.  The power to save, however, is not in the signs and wonders but in the message of the cross!

People who are always looking for signs and wonders can easily end up doing what the people of Lystra did:  they tried to worship the messengers instead of the One to whom the message points!  They thought that Paul and Barnabas were gods, but the apostles were quick to declare that they were mere men with a message FROM God.  "We are bringing you good news, telling you to turn from these worthless things to the living God, who made heaven and earth and sea and everything in them" (14:15).  They declared that Jesus was from God, that He was the fulfillment of the prophecies of the Old Testament Scriptures and that by believing in Him people received forgiveness, being justified through faith.

That message has not changed!  It is the same message that the true Church proclaims today, for through faith in Jesus the guilt of our sin is removed and the perfect righteousness of Jesus is credited to our account.  And what did Paul receive for preaching this Gospel?  "They stoned Paul and dragged him outside the city, thinking he was dead.  But after the disciples had gathered around him, he got up and went back into the city … leaving the next day for Derbe" (14:19-20).  What would possibly move people to continue to preach a message that met with such powerful resistance?  Quite simply, they believed it was true!  They believed that through faith in Jesus people received forgiveness and eternal life and they were compelled to tell people this good news.

Shouldn't we be compelled to do the same?  Shouldn't we have the same passion and be willing to risk our very lives, giving up everything to proclaim this message to as many as we can before our lives are over or Jesus returns, whichever comes first?!  They went from Lystra to Derbe and "won a large number of disciples" there, then back-tracked and encouraged those who had become believers.  The pattern for the governing and oversight of the Church was laid out immediately as "Paul and Barnabas appointed elders for them in each church and, with prayer and fasting, committed them to the Lord in whom they had put their trust" (14:23).

Paul and Barnabas then returned to Antioch, where they had begun their journey, and "gathered the church together and reported all that God had done through them and how HE had opened the door of faith to the Gentiles" (14:27).  All God's plan, carried out by God's power at work in His chosen messengers, bringing salvation to those "who were appointed unto eternal life" by the God of salvation.  And we who believe are part of this ongoing mission to proclaim the Gospel to all nations.  Through our modern technology we are drawing near to the return of Jesus, for God knows those who are His and when that number is completed, the end of this age will come.  In this way we "speed His coming" (II Peter 3:12).  May we be found trusting in Jesus Christ and spreading the good news of forgiveness and life through faith in Him when He returns!!

"My Father in heaven, Your grace and mercy has saved me and given me new life.  I trust in Jesus for forgiveness and pray for boldness to proclaim the Gospel to all those I meet.  You have promised that Your Word will not return empty, but will accomplish the purpose for which You send it, whether that be to bring life or to confirm that Your judgment is just.  Use me, O Lord, as a messenger sent by Your Spirit, to declare this good news … until the whole world hears!  In Jesus' name, Amen"

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