Monday, October 31, 2016

"Called to TESTIFY!"

Day #306

Scripture Reading:  Acts 23 - 24 ...

He stood there, accused by the Jews of teaching things contrary to their law … the very law that he had been trained to teach and which he had been defending by persecuting those who believed in Jesus as the Christ, the Son of God.  This is the same man who in Acts 9 "went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found any there who belonged to the Way, whether men or women, he might take them as prisoners to Jerusalem" (Acts 9:1-2).  This was the same Paul who had watched as Stephen was stoned in Acts 7, "giving approval to his death" (8:1).  Something had obviously changed and the rest of Acts 9 reveals that Paul (then Saul) had come face-to-face with Jesus.

Unafraid of his accusers, Paul stared straight at them and said, "I have fulfilled my duty to God in all good conscience to this day" (23:1).  Could THEY say the same thing?  You and I exist FOR God - for no other purpose.  As Paul testifies, he realizes that from a human point-of-view his fate lies in the hands of these men, so he pits them against each other.  The Pharisees believed in a resurrection of the dead, but the Sadducees didn't, so Paul shouted out, "My brothers, I am a Pharisee.  I stand on trial because of my hope in the resurrection of the dead" (23:6).  Such a violent dispute broke out that the Roman commander in charge of Paul took him away.  That night the Lord testified to Paul, "Take courage.  As you have testified about me in Jerusalem, so you must also testify in Rome" (23:11).  God had more for Paul to do!

Yet here were the Jews in Jerusalem, some of the same men, perhaps, who had plotted against Jesus, who were now earnestly bent on trying to kill Paul, His witness. As in the case of Jesus, Paul was sent to another court. The commander in charge of Paul ordered two hundred soldiers, seventy horsemen and two hundred spearmen to protect Paul on his journey from Jerusalem to Caesarea.  And he wrote a letter to Felix, the Governor there, saying, "I found the accusation had to do with questions about their law, but there was no charge against him that deserved death or imprisonment" (23:29).  So Paul was taken to Herod's palace and kept under guard until being brought before Felix.

The Jews followed and once again accused Paul of being a "troublemaker, stirring up riots among the Jews all over the world.  He is a ringleader of the Nazarene sect …" (24:5-6).  Incredibly, the Jews and their lawyer offered only false accusations against Paul, whose only "crime" was preaching the truth.  
As he made his defense, Paul explained, "They cannot prove to you the charges they are now making against me.  However, I admit that I worship the God of our fathers as a follower of the Way, which they call a sect (and which Paul had called a sect before he met Jesus!).  I believe everything that agrees with the Law and that is written in the Prophets, and I have the same hope in God as these men, that there will be a resurrection of both the righteous and the wicked" (24:13-15).  

Paul had come to understand, as the Spirit worked in him and gave him wisdom, that Jesus was the fulfillment of the Old Testament … that the Law and the Prophets pointed to HIM!  It is not that God's Word is not clear, it is that the sinful mind is blind to the truth!!  As Paul testified, Felix and others listened … but they did not hear.   When Isaiah had said, "Here am I.  Send me!" (Isaiah 6:8), God had said, "Go and tell this people:  'Be ever hearing, but never understanding; be ever seeing, but never perceiving'" (Isaiah 6:9).  We must continually pray that God would open the blind eyes and unlock the deaf ears.  

Several days later, Felix sent for Paul and "listened to him as he spoke about faith in Christ Jesus.  As Paul discoursed on righteousness, self-control and the judgment to come, Felix was afraid and said, 'That's enough for now.  You may leave.  When I find it convenient, I will send for you'" (24:24-25).  How many today respond in similar ways.  They try to make us be quiet because the truth makes them afraid and uncomfortable.  They want to be "religious," but not to the "extreme."  They want to believe that God loves everybody, that He will forgive everybody, that faith in Jesus isn't necessary to be saved, that maybe there isn't even anything to be saved FROM!  

But then, what about the cross?  What really happened there?  Paul knew what happened there!  "God made Him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God" (II Corinthians 5:21).  What we could not do, because we are sinful by nature, Jesus did for us.  He took our place, He paid our debt, He died for us that we who believe might live for Him.

The tragedy of the human race goes beyond the consequences of sin that we see all around us … the sickness, disease and death that plague mankind … the endless conflict and wars that exist in our homes, in our nations and in the world.  Greater than the horror of all these things is the spiritual blindness that causes people to reject God's offer of grace and forgiveness through faith in Jesus.  

I pray that you know the truth and that through faith in Jesus Christ you HAVE eternal life, that His Spirit lives within you and your heart warms out of love for God, for you know that Jesus is your Savior and your Lord.  And if not … if you have heard the message, but have foolishly resisted God's call to die to self in order to truly LIVE in Christ, I pray that His Spirit may even now prick your heart and produce the transformation in you that He did in Paul as he came face-to-face with Jesus, who is the Way and the Truth and the Life!

All of us who know Jesus are called to testify … whether to kings and rulers … or to our family and friends, or our neighbor or classmate or co-worker.  Fulfill your calling and be a witness for Jesus Christ today, testifying that He is your Savior and Lord! 

"Father in heaven, You have enlightened my heart and mind through Your Word and Spirit and have drawn me to Yourself through faith in Jesus.  My life is Yours!!  Give me a holy boldness to stand before men and to testify of Jesus Christ.  Give me wisdom to know the truth as I study Your Word and to desire above all else to be Your witness as I live in this world for Your glory.  When I am weak, make me strong, for You are my Rock and my Redeemer!  In Jesus' name, Amen"

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