Tuesday, October 25, 2016

"Good news for all who hear and believe!"

Day #299

Scripture Reading:  Acts 9 - 10 …

Just less than 2,000 years ago God's plan to save those who believe in Jesus Christ entered a new "phase."  Up until this time God had revealed Himself almost exclusively to one nation, the people of Israel, the physical descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  Having promised that all nations would be blessed through the "Seed" of Abraham, God now begins to orchestrate events so that the Gospel will be preached not only to the Jews, but also to the Gentile nations around Israel.  Most of us who believe in Jesus today can trace our heritage back to the events that took place in these chapters.

It is just like God to use the most unlikely people to accomplish His eternal purposes!  Saul was a Pharisee, a Jewish teacher of the law who was present when Stephen was stoned to death (8:1).   He hated the Christians, believing that they were starting a new religion and rejecting the God of Abraham.  He was going from city to city trying to find believers and throwing them into prison.  As he neared Damascus on one of these journeys a bright light from heaven flashed around him, striking him blind and causing him to fall to the ground in fear.  It was Jesus, whom Saul was convinced was dead!

A more dramatic conversion has never been recorded, and with good reason.  As God sent a man named Ananias to speak with Saul, He told him, "This man is my chosen instrument to carry my name before the Gentiles and their kings and before the people of Israel" (9:15).  God had chosen this man to spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ throughout the world.  Ananias gave Saul the message God had given him:  "Brother Saul, the Lord - Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you were coming here - has sent me so that you may see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit" (9:17).  Paul got up and was baptized in the name of Jesus and then spent several days with the other believers in Damascus.

He immediately began to preach in the Jewish synagogues that Jesus is the Son of God!  The Jews could not believe that this was the same man who had just days earlier been persecuting believers and having them thrown into prison!  At first they didn't trust him, but he grew more and more powerful and debated with the Jews who did not believe, proving from the Scriptures of the Old Testament that Jesus was the Christ, the Messiah, the Anointed One (9:22).  Those who did not believe conspired to kill him, but those who now knew that he was a true believer protected him.  He left Damascus and returned to Jerusalem, but the apostles were afraid of him, not believing that he was really a disciple of Jesus.  Yet, after Barnabas had brought him to them, they saw that the Holy Spirit was indeed at work in this man.

It didn't take long for some of the Jews in Jerusalem to try to kill him, too, so some of the brothers took him to Caesarea and then to Tarsus.  For a brief time the church through Judea and Galilee and Samaria enjoyed a time of peace and was strengthened and encouraged by the Holy Spirit (9:31).  God was allowing them a deep breath before more persecution would come. Paul, as he would be called, would suffer much for the Gospel.  Meanwhile, God was revealing to Peter what He had already revealed to Paul - that He was going to call many from among the Gentiles to be followers of Jesus Christ and heirs of His kingdom.  This is no small thing.  This is the fulfillment of God's promises to Abraham and in understanding this you begin to see God's plan for the Church today.

The Jews had been taught that certain animals (and people) were unclean.  God had instructed them through the laws of Moses that sin separated mankind from Him and that only through the sacrifices and ceremonies could the people approach His holiness.  All of that was a picture pointing to the utter impossibility of sinful man ever being good enough, righteous enough to earn God's favor or to enter His presence. More than two thousand years of history from Abraham to Jesus had revealed the sinful tendency of even the nation God had chosen towards idolatry and rebellion against the God who had created them.  Were it not for grace … were it not for grace, ALL would face God's judgment.  Yet as clearly as the Bible proclaims this message, the majority of people in the world today - sadly, even in the church, refuse to believe it!!

God came to Peter and gave him a vision of unclean animals, then told him to kill and eat.  When Peter protested that he had never eaten anything unclean, God said, "Do not call anything impure that God has made clean" (10:15).  Then God sent Peter to the home of Cornelius, a Roman centurion who feared the God of Israel and in whom God was already working.  After Cornelius sent messengers to Peter and Peter came with them to his house, Peter said, "I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism, but accepts men from every nation who fear Him and do what is right” (10:34).  Peter did not yet fully understand what God was doing, but he would.

As Peter shared the message of Jesus' death and resurrection the Holy Spirit came on those who listened and they began to speak in different languages, as the apostles had done on the day of Pentecost. The Jews who were with Peter were astonished that God had given the Holy Spirit to the Gentiles and Peter said, "Can anyone keep these people from being baptized with water? They have received the Holy Spirit just as we have" (10:47).  This is the key to the book of Acts and the beginning of the Church, God's plan to bring Jews and Gentiles together as one body, the people of God, the temple of the Holy Spirit.  Speaking in other languages was not and is not normative for the Church, but was a sign given to validate the ministry of the Apostles as the Church was being formed and the Gospel was being proclaimed.

Praise God for the gift of His Spirit, who performs the miracle of new life in all who are called to be the children of God through faith in Jesus Christ.  The Gospel of Jesus Christ is good news for all who hear and believe! 

"Thank You, Father, for Your amazing grace in first sending Your Son to pay the penalty for my sin on the cross, and then for raising Him from the dead, exalting Him to reign at Your right hand and finally pouring out Your Spirit into my heart.  My life is yours and by the power of Your Spirit I desire to live for You alone, proclaiming the joy of Your salvation from day to day, for Your glory.  In Jesus' name, Amen"

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