Friday, December 19, 2014

"The Gospel … a light to the Jews and the Gentiles … "

Day #357:  Daily Bible Reading Plan - December 20th

Scripture Reading:  Acts 25 - 26 …

What must it be like to be on trial for preaching the Gospel?  Perhaps one day I will know … but in some ways every true believer, every disciple of Jesus faces the trial of public opinion … or should!  If you are "preaching Christ" as you live your daily life, pointing people to Jesus for forgiveness, calling them to repentance, letting your light shine, you will inevitably face some opposition.  You will be "judged" as guilty of "judging" others, and though you confess that you, too, are a sinner, and testify to God's grace toward you, people will accuse you of thinking you are better than they are and will hate you for what … for whom you represent!!  If you aren't, in some way, being put on trial for "preaching Christ," why not?!

Paul had faced what we might say was more than his share of suffering for preaching the Gospel.  He had been beaten, put in jail and treated horribly ever since he believed in Jesus as the Messiah, the Christ, and began preaching the Gospel.  It had been more than two years now since Felix, the governor of Caesarea, had placed Paul in jail, not because he found him guilty of anything, but to pacify the Jews who wanted to stop Paul from preaching the Gospel and making disciples of Jesus.  Now Festus had replaced Felix and the Jews saw an opportunity to kill Paul, so they asked Festus to transfer him to Jerusalem, hoping to ambush him along the way.  Paul, however, appealed to Caesar, so Festus ordered that he be sent to Rome.

Before he was transferred there, however, King Agrippa and his wife arrived in Caesarea to pay their respects to Festus.  As God ordained it, Festus shared the details of Paul's case with Agrippa.  His explanation is classic!  After listening to the Jews' accusations and Paul's testimony, this is what Festus had come away with:  "When his accusers got up to speak, they did not charge him with any of the crimes I had expected.  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" (25:18-19).  How is that for a summary of the conflict between the Jewish leaders who had rejected Jesus and Paul, who had come to believe in Him?  Truer words have never been spoken!!  It's about "a dead man named Jesus who Paul claimed was alive!"

If Jesus is alive, then the Gospel is true; if He is dead then Christianity itself is a cruel hoax.  Many in the church today talk about Jesus as though He was dead!  They talk about Him and what He did, but forget that He is alive today and that He is coming again to judge the living and the dead and to establish His eternal kingdom in a new heaven and a new earth.  Before that He will reign over the nations of the earth for a thousand years, defeating the Antichrist and all His enemies, and executing God's judgment on all who have not believed in Him.  The world today lies in the darkness of spiritual death, unwilling and unable to see the light of the glory of Christ in the Gospel.

Paul wrote to the Corinthians, "The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.  For we do not preach ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus' sake.  For God, who said, 'Let light shine out of darkness,' made His light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ" (II Corinthians 4:4-6).  Jesus is the light of the world because the path to eternal life is faith in HIM … believing that He died for our sins and paid our penalty and rose again and ascended into heaven!  Festus was right when he said that the issue was that the Jews said Jesus was dead and Paul testified that He was ALIVE!!

Are you living as though Jesus is alive?  Or like so many, are you living as though Jesus was no different than other religious leaders who have come and gone and left behind some rules to follow?  Is "Christianity" just a religion to you, or is it a relationship with the living God through faith in Jesus and the empowering presence of His Spirit within you?  The difference is like day and night, light and darkness, life and death!!  Paul had been testifying to the truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ throughout the region and now GOD (not Festus) was sending him to Rome.  But before he went, he needed to testify to King Agrippa.

Like Festus, and Felix before him, these political leaders cared more about pleasing the Jews and others under them than about truth … especially "religious" truth.  After all, what does religion have to do with politics?  Sounds familiar, doesn't it??  But Paul did not miss an opportunity to share the Gospel and to call anyone, even kings and rulers, to repentance and faith in Jesus.  Perhaps that's why Paul would write to Timothy, amidst the persecution of those days, "I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone - for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness" (I Timothy 2:1-2).  As Christians it should not be our goal to stir up trouble unnecessarily, but to be a light in the darkness to all we meet and to use every opportunity to speak of Jesus.

As he stood before Agrippa, Paul declared his innocence of any wrongdoing, but said, "it is because of my hope in what God has promised our fathers that I am on trial today" (26:6).  As a Pharisee, Paul knew the Old Testament scriptures well, but he had missed the truth that the Messiah would be the "suffering servant" of Isaiah 53.  His eyes had been opened and now he used the Old Testament to support his claim that Jesus was, in fact, the promised Messiah, who came to suffer for the sins of His people and to redeem them from the coming judgment of God.  Paul knew that he was a sinner, saved by grace, and he wanted to tell everyone the good news!

He explained his conversion on the road to Damascus and recounted what Jesus had told him:  "I am sending you to them (the Gentiles) 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" (26:17-18).  The message of the Gospel is clear.  Faith in Jesus Christ is necessary for salvation, for forgiveness, for life.  There is no other way to be saved.  It is impossible to read through the book of Acts and come to any other conclusion.  The Gospel is the same for Jews as it is for Gentiles:  "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved" (Acts 16:31).

Paul again appealed to the Scriptures of the Old Testament as he made his defense before King Agrippa and Festus:  "I am saying nothing beyond what the prophets and Moses said would happen - that the Christ would suffer and, as the first to rise from the dead, would proclaim light to His own people (the Jews) and to the Gentiles" (26:22-23).  Some years ago I wrote a book entitled, "Judaic Christianity - the One True Religion," pointing out from numerous Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments that Christianity is the fulfillment of true biblical Judaism.  People today who believe these are two different religions have utterly and totally missed the truth revealed in the Bible, God's own testimony concerning Jesus, the Christ, the promised Messiah.  Doing so leaves people without the necessary foundation to proclaim the Gospel, the good news of salvation.

No other religion, be it Judaism, Islam or any other declares the truth concerning the one way of salvation through faith in Jesus, the Christ.  That's why Peter, himself a Jew, answered the way he did when Jesus asked, "Who do you say I am?"  Led by the Holy Spirit, Peter responded, "You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God!" (Matthew 16:16).  Jesus replied, "Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven" (16:17).  On the rock of Peter's confession (not Peter!), Jesus said He would build His Church, "and the gates of Hades will not overcome it" (16:18).

We who believe today are part of Jesus' promise to build His Church; Jews and Gentiles brought together through the one message that has the power to save.  As Paul wrote to the Romans, "I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes; first for the Jew, then for the Gentile" (Romans 1:16).  When Paul referred to the Scriptures, Festus responded the way blind people do today:  "You are out of your mind, Paul!  Your great learning is driving you insane" (26:24).  So it may seem to those who are spiritually dead, but the Gospel brings light to those whose hearts and minds God opens by His Spirit.

King Agrippa's response was also sadly typical of many today:  "Do you think that in such a short time you can persuade me to be a Christian?" (26:28).  Paul replied, "Short time or long - I pray God that not only you but all who are listening to me today may become what I am, except for these chains" (26:29).  Such must be our heart's desire today, moving us to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ at every opportunity, for without the Gospel, without the Spirit, there can be and will be no repentance, no faith and no life in Jesus.

In the words of Isaiah, "The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned. … For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on His shoulders.  And He will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace" (Isaiah 9:2,6).  May this message be on our lips as we live in this world, testifying to the truth that Jesus is the Christ, that He is alive, and that through faith in Him there is forgiveness and life.  This message, and this message alone, is the Gospel … a light to the Jews and the Gentiles … bringing salvation to all who believe!

"O Lord our God, Creator of the heavens and the earth, our Father in heaven through Jesus, the Christ, to YOU and You alone I come, trusting in Jesus for forgiveness and life.  I believe that Jesus IS the Christ, the fulfillment of Your promises to Adam and Eve, to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and to all whom You have chosen to be Yours.  I believe that in Christ I find all I need and I live now to testify to the truth of who He is and what He has done, pointing people to what is yet to come when He returns.  Use me, Father, to be a light to all I meet, pointing them to Jesus, calling them to repent and believe and be saved.  Thank You, Father, for calling ME to be yours!  In Jesus' name, Amen"

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