Friday, October 28, 2016

"Sent to proclaim the Word of God ..."

Day #303

Scripture Reading:  Acts 17 - 18 …

Following the death and resurrection of Jesus, and then His ascension into heaven and the pouring out of His Spirit on the day of Pentecost, God's plan to bring salvation to all who believed in Jesus began in earnest.  Yes, there were some who were saved from God's wrath against sin and His judgment in the days from creation to the birth of Jesus, but relatively few.  With good reason, we are told that "NOW is the time of God's favor, NOW is the day of salvation" (II Corinthians 6:2).  The "now" is the time between Christ's first coming and His second.

As Paul began his second missionary journey he continued going from city to city, speaking in the Jewish synagogues to the Jews and often to "God-fearing" Gentiles (Greeks).  His teaching is described in chapter 17, verses 2-3:  "He reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and proving that the Christ had to suffer and rise from the dead."  Then he added, "This JESUS I am proclaiming to you IS THE CHRIST!!"

It is important to remember that the only "Scriptures" ("writings") that Paul and the Jews had at this time were the Old Testament Scriptures:  the Book of Moses (the Law), the Psalms and the Prophets.  Paul, himself a Pharisee well-versed in the Scriptures, began with God's Word.  His "authority" was the authority of the written word and it was God's intention then, as it is now, to prove that Jesus is the Christ, the promised Messiah, God's "Anointed One," who came in fulfillment of the prophecies of the Old Testament.

Just as the Bereans "examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true" (17:11), so you and I must do the same.  False teachers arise today and lead many astray because they twist and distort the Scriptures to their own destruction and to the destruction of those who hear them because their hearers do not examine the Scriptures and see if these things are true!!  You need to be a student of the Word of God!  Remember Paul's words to Timothy:  "All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful …" (II Timothy 3:16).  AND … it all talks about Jesus!!  

So Paul came to Athens and saw all of their statues and idols and taught them about their "unknown God" (17:23).  Today many in the church seem fine with allowing people to believe in idols, in false gods that are no god at all!  Paul told the men of Athens, "What you worship as something unknown I am going to proclaim to you" (17:23), and then he began at creation:  "The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by hands …" (17:24).  He then goes on to explain that "now He commands all people to repent (to turn around, to change their minds) … For He has set a day when He will judge the world with justice by the man He has appointed.  He has given proof of this to all men by raising Him from the dead" (17:30-31).

There are always two responses to the preaching of the Gospel, and you can see them here in verses 32-34:  Some believed and some didn't.  Every time the Gospel is preached the hearts of those who hear are moved one direction or the other - either closer to faith in Christ or further away.  Either the Spirit uses the Word to soften their hearts or the Word makes them hardened to the truth.  It is our responsibility to proclaim it and only God can do the rest.

Having left Athens, Paul went to Corinth, where he stayed for a year and a half.  When the Jews rejected his preaching, he determined to go to the Gentiles.  God spoke to Paul and told him that He had many people in Corinth, a very large city at the time (18:10).  Some of the Jews continued to try to make trouble for him, but those who believed helped him wherever he was and from Corinth he went to Ephesus and then back to Caesarea, to Antioch, where he had begun his journey.

Paul was not alone in proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus Christ throughout Asia Minor.  He was teaching and equipping others, and people like Apollos and Priscilla and Aquila were aiding the spread of the Gospel.  In his letter to the believers in Ephesus, Paul explains that the Church, the Body of Christ, was and is GOD's idea.  He says the Church is "built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus Himself as the Chief Cornerstone" (Ephesians 2:20).  In Christ, Jews and Gentiles were brought together as one body through faith in Him, a faith produced by the Holy Spirit through the hearing of the Word (Romans 10:17).  

When he wrote to the Romans Paul explained that he was "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).  In Romans 10, Paul says, "My heart's desire and prayer to God for the Israelites is that they may be saved" (10:1).  Being a Jew by birth does not save you, any more than being born to believing parents saves you.  Faith in Jesus Christ saves.  "Faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the Word of Christ" (Romans 10:17).

Why did Paul and others risk their lives to preach this Gospel, and why are many doing the same today?  Because they and we believe that "the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, BUT to those who are being saved it is the power of God … " (I Corinthians 1:18).  Jesus said that "this Gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come" (Matthew 24:14).

You and I who believe in Jesus today are sent into our homes, schools, workplaces and communities, indeed, into the whole world, to proclaim God's Word.  Let us be doing so with zeal and commitment, willing to bear persecution and to endure suffering for the Gospel, for it is still the power of God unto salvation for those who believe!!

"Father in heaven, I believe the message of Your Word that points me to Jesus, for I have found in Him the only hope for forgiveness and life.  Through the Gospel You save all who believe and by Your Spirit You open the eyes of the blind to see Your kingdom and allow us access to Your throne.   How can we possibly thank You for Your gift of grace?!  Use me, Father, to declare this message at every opportunity, pointing people to Jesus Christ and showing them who He is and what He did on the cross for all who believe in Him.  May You receive all the glory and the praise from the thankful hearts of those who come to know Your love, in Jesus' name, Amen"

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