Wednesday, October 26, 2016

"Sent by the Holy Spirit ... to all the world!"

October 27th, Day #301

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.  The congregation in Antioch, led by Paul and Barnabas and others, worshiped, fasted and prayed, and the Spirit moved them to send Barnabas and Saul (now called "Paul") on the first missionary journey.  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!!  

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).  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:  "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.

Paul made it abundantly clear that their message was "… 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).  As they proclaimed the message many were born again by the Spirit and believed in Jesus. Once again, 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).

"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) and "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).  Christ was building His Church, as He had promised.  "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. 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!  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, and 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.

We must have the same passion and be willing to risk our 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 backtracked 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.  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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