Friday, November 28, 2014

"Testifying to the Gospel of God's grace in Christ Jesus … "

Day #336:  Daily Bible Reading Plan - November 29th

Scripture Reading:  Acts 19 - 20 …

We who believe in Jesus Christ are called to testify, to proclaim the message that God has entrusted to us in the Gospel.  People talk about a lot of things and a lot of what they say has to do with what they believe to be true.  Listen carefully and you will hear people around you stating their opinions as though they were fact, but as the old saying goes, "Opinions are a dime a dozen."  In other words, opinions aren't worth much.  Another saying puts it this way, "Everyone's entitled to their opinion."  But is that really true?  Perhaps it is in some things, but not when it comes to God's Word and the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

From its beginning, the truth God reveals in His Word claims to exclude all opinions that are contrary to it.  The Bible begins, "In the beginning GOD created …"  That is either true or false.  There is no other opinion that can contradict what God says is true without coming into direct opposition to God's Word.  So the Gospel of Jesus Christ excludes all philosophies, ideas and theories of mankind as to who Jesus is, why He came, what He did and what it means for us and for all of mankind.  If any other idea or theory or philosophy of man is true, then the Gospel is false.  That's why the move towards "tolerance" of any and all religions reveals man's foolishness.  BOTH cannot be true.  The Gospel sits on one side and every other thought of man sits on the other side.  One is true, the other is false.

When it comes to the truth about Jesus and the Gospel of God's grace, your opinion or mine doesn't matter!  As Paul and others went out into the world preaching about Jesus Christ, they didn't offer the Gospel as one of many possibilities.  They didn't ask people to give them a chance to share with them or to consider that Jesus might be the promised Messiah.  As they preached they declared the truth that Jesus IS the Christ, the Messiah, and that only by believing in Him could anyone be saved from God's judgment.  They testified to the truth that Jesus' blood, shed on the cross, was the perfect and only sacrifice for sin and that it was only by God's grace, His undeserved favor, that anyone could be saved through faith in Him.

When Paul came to Ephesus he found some people who said they were disciples of Jesus, but they didn't know anything about Jesus' death and resurrection.  They hadn't heard the Gospel of grace.  When Paul asked them if they had heard about the Holy Spirit, they said, "No."  They had been baptized, but it was "John's baptism," a baptism of repentance.  John the Baptist was the forerunner that Malachi had talked about (Malachi 4:5-6), who prepared the people to receive the Gospel by calling them to repentance.  His baptism was a "baptism of repentance," (19:4), calling people to confess their sin and to turn from it.

But now Jesus had died on the cross to pay the penalty for sin and He had risen from the dead to declare victory over death and the grave for all who believed.  Those who believed in HIM were now called to be baptized into a relationship with Him that pointed to God's grace in the Gospel, that to all who believed righteousness was credited to them by faith.  The Gospel always points not to what WE do, but to what GOD has done in Christ and what He is doing through His Spirit.  Anything that points to something other than grace is not the Gospel!

As he always did, Paul entered the synagogue and offered the Gospel first to the Jews.  He talked to them "about the kingdom of God" (19:8).  But when they stubbornly rejected his words, he went to the town hall and spoke continually about Jesus and who He was and what He did … for two years!!  All the Jews and Gentiles who lived in the whole province of Asia came and listened to him and many believed as God did many miracles to confirm His Word.  There is always opposition to the Gospel because it demands a response.  "Maybe" isn't a response!  It's either "Yes" or "No."  If Jesus is who He says He is and He did what He said He did, and if He died and rose again and ascended into heaven and sent His Holy Spirit to open the eyes of those who are spiritually blind, then you either believe and are saved or you don't believe and you're not saved!

Christians are persecuted today because we stand firm in our belief that Jesus is God and that He alone is the Way, the Truth and the Life.  Isn't it interesting that those who have other beliefs are not persecuted for what they believe?  Have you ever thought about that?  Christians in this country have never persecuted those who worship other gods, or those who worship nothing at all.  In countries where there are more Christians than Muslims, the Muslims are not being persecuted.  Even in Ephesus, a riot broke out because those who worshiped the goddess, Artemis, felt threatened … but not so much because of their "faith" in her, but because if people believed in Jesus they wouldn't buy statues of Artemis any more!!

So to defend their business selling idols, they declared their fear that "the temple of the great goddess Artemis will be discredited, and the goddess herself, who is worshiped throughout the province of 
Asia and the world, will be robbed of her divine majesty" (19:27).  Well, someone is being robbed of their rightful place of honor and worship … but it's NOT Artemis!!  Imagine, for two hours they all shouted in unison, "Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!" (19:34).  Oh, how patient God is!  They were willing to believe that an image of Artemis had fallen from the sky and they declared, "these facts are undeniable," (19:36), but they refused to believe the eyewitness accounts of those who had seen Jesus, who had heard Him speak and who were now testifying of God's grace to all who believed.

How foolish and hardened are the hearts of those who have not received the Spirit of God.  As Paul continued on his journey he taught wherever he went.  His message didn't change.  He continued to testify to God's grace in Jesus and wherever he went some believed and others did not.  Some today try to change the message to get more people to believe it.  They may attract a crowd to themselves, but the Gospel draws people to JESUS for forgiveness and eternal life.  Only the power of the Spirit of God can bring new birth and move the heart of man to say, "Yes!" to faith in Jesus Christ.  That's what grace does:  "It is by grace you have been saved, through faith (and that not from yourselves), it is the gift of God, not of works so that no man can boast" (Ephesians 2:8-9).

As they heard that message in Ephesus and throughout Asia, so we need to hear that message today and proclaim it to all people.  Paul wanted to return to Jerusalem to share what God was doing throughout the region, even though he knew that he would continue to face severe opposition from some of the Jews.  He called the Elders from Ephesus and encouraged them, saying, "I have declared to both Jews and Greeks that they must turn to God in repentance and have faith in our Lord Jesus" (20:22).  Paul understood the mission God had given to him:  "I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me - the task of testifying to the Gospel of God's grace" (20:24).  That is OUR task, our mission, today!!

Paul explained that he would not see them again and said, "Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers.  Be shepherds of the Church of God, which He bought with His own blood" (20:28).  He warned them that false teachers would come, even from among them, and that they would "distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them.  So be on your guard!!" (20:29-31).  Oh, how we need that warning today, for there are many false teachers within the church who are not testifying to the Gospel of God's grace in Christ Jesus.  Instead, they offer their opinions, which are, as we said at the beginning, worth very little.

It was certainly not his own opinions that Paul preached.  As he leaves the Ephesian Elders he says, "Now I commit you to God and to the word of His grace, which can build you up and give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified" (20:32).  God's Word brings life to those who are dead.  And once you have received His grace through faith in Jesus, you understand that "it is more blessed to give than to receive" (20:35).  The greatest gift you can offer is the Gospel of God's grace in Christ Jesus!  Be bold in testifying to this Gospel and see what God will do in you and through you!

"Heavenly Father, having heard the Gospel of Your grace in Christ Jesus, I pray for a holy boldness to proclaim this life-giving message to all I meet.  Give me wisdom to seek You always and to be on guard against those who would arise from within the church and distort Your truth, leading some away to make disciples for themselves.  Keep me faithful to You, O God, as I testify to the Gospel of Your grace in Christ Jesus, my Savior and my Lord.  In Jesus' name, Amen"

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