evangelism

John 19

Today’s reading is John 19.

Pontius Pilate was a Roman. He was assigned a powerful position in the Roman Empire over the area of Judea so he had to keep tabs on potential threats and problems in his region. But there was really no reason for him to fear anyone in Israel. With Roman soldiers at his disposal, any uprising by the Jewish people could be easily squelched. Any political would-be leaders could be dispensed with easily.

It is surprising, then, to read in verse 8 that “Pilate... was even more afraid” when he heard that Jesus claimed to be the Son of God. I would expect a man as Roman and as powerful as he was to laugh at such a claim. Pilate, however, did not laugh. He seems to have taken the charge very seriously. In verse 9b he asked Jesus where he was from and in verse 10 he scolded Jesus for not answering him. When Jesus finally did answer Pilate, stating that all the power he had was allowed him by God (v. 11), Pilate did not react as one who was insulted. Instead, “From then on, Pilate tried to set Jesus free” (v. 12). It took some political bullying by the Jewish leaders (v. 12bff) to get Pilate to send Jesus off for crucifixion (vv. 13ff).

What caused Pilate to be so fearful of Jesus? Remember that anything Jesus said was God’s word by definition. Since it was God’s word, it had the power of God behind it. That power, plus the witness of the Spirit, gave Jesus’ words self-authenticating power. Pilate knew that he was hearing the word of God and, on some level, knew that Jesus was the Son of God.

Do you understand the self-authenticating power of God’s word? Unbelievers like Pilate may resist God’s word and evade accountability to it. But, because it is God’s word, they feel the conviction of sin within when they heard God’s word. They know through the convicting work of the Spirit that Jesus is truly God.

Let’s harness this power of the word and share frequently and scripturally the message about Christ.

John 12

Today, read John chapter 12.

There is a strong contrast between a disciple who loves Jesus and is unashamed of being his servant and those who believe in Jesus but want to follow him secretly.

We can see the contrast right here in John 12. It opens with Mary anointing the feet of Jesus with “about a pint of pure nard, an expensive perfume” (v. 3a) which she poured on his feet then removed with her hair (v. 3b). Her appreciation for who Jesus is, her gratitude for what he had done, and her desire to glorify and worship him overcame any inhibitions she had. Giving this gift of anointing to Jesus was far more important to her than blessing the poor with it (vv. 5-6), not because the poor were unimportant but because she was devoted to Jesus.

The opposite of her unique act of worship was exemplified by the “leaders” (v. 42a) who “believed in him. But because of the Pharisees they would not openly acknowledge their faith for fear they would be put out of the synagogue” (v. 42b). They wanted to follow Christ in secret. Why? Because “they loved human praise more than praise from God” (v. 43). Mary was unashamed because she was devoted to God and, therefore, worshipped his Son openly without shame. These men who were leaders feared God but they feared social ostracism more.

Most, if not all of us, go through phases in our lives where we want to hide our faith in Christ because we fear people. It is a common spiritual issue, one that even the great Simon Peter experienced when he denied our Lord three times. So if you’ve ever hidden your faith or been embarrassed to admit that you’re a Christian, that does not automatically mean that you are not sincerely saved.

Eventually, though, the time comes when we must confess Christ openly. We must do so to become part of the local church through baptism. We must confess him openly to tell others about salvation in him. And, some of us must confess him openly by giving up our lives to follow him. As Jesus said in verses 24-25, “Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.”

Are you willing to die for Jesus? Then why are you afraid to talk about him in your workplace? Why are you unwilling to sacrifice financially for his work? May God use this chapter to pull us out of our protective shells, to teach us to fear Him more than we fear others and even to love him more than we desire the praise of men. Then we will show ourselves to be his true disciples.

John 4

[Sorry. I accidentally posted yesterday's devotional from John 3 twice--once yesterday under John 3 and once today under John 4. Here's the real one that was supposed to go out this morning, Thursday, October 26, 2017]

Today’s reading is John chapter 4.

Who knows what was on her mind when she came to the well that day. The Samaritan woman (aka “the woman at the well”) certainly knew that she needed water. What else was she thinking about? We have no idea.

Jesus was thinking about her and in ways that were different from most of the men (v. 17b) she had encountered in her adult life. She came seeking water and what she received was internal, spiritual life that was satisfying to her and life-giving to others (v. 14, 23-26, 29-30).

What’s more striking to me as I read this text today is the attitude Jesus had while he waited for her to return with the people of her town. There was more than enough time for him to eat and strengthen himself physically as the disciples wanted him to do (v. 31). But Jesus was so energized by the spiritual life he was about to give that he had no interest in food at the moment (vv. 32-34a).

He shared this excitement with the disciples and tried to wake them up to the reality of the spiritual harvest around them (vv. 35-38). His words were an invitation to be part of what God was doing, gathering in new believers by his grace. They saw Samaritans--whom they were taught to hate--who had mundane lives with daily needs like water. If they had known about the Samaritan woman’s romantic life, they would have rolled their eyes and thought, “Typical ungodly pagan.” Their inability to focus on the spiritual work going on around them caused them to miss out on the harvest Jesus enjoyed.

Do we find ourselves in the same place as the disciples? We’re busy gathering food and daily provisions and see others doing the same around us, but we’re unaware (and unconcerned?) about the spiritual hunger of those around us that makes them ripe to be reaped for God’s kingdom.

I don’t start spiritual conversations with people because I’m afraid I will say something awkward or won’t know what to say. I also don’t do it because I’m preoccupied with my own life, my own schedule, my own responsibilities, needs, and desires. If that describes you, too, then Jesus wants to open our eyes. People around us need God and God is working on many of them, getting them ready for harvest day. When we wake up to the eternal opportunities in front of us, we’ll be ready to talk to people who need to desperately need some Good News.

1 Timothy 2

Today we’re reading 1 Timothy 2.

One of the common objections heard against our faith is that it is exclusive. If Jesus is the only way to God, then what about people who worship God through other religions. Will they miss salvation even though they have a desire to know God?

The answer is yes, according to verse 5 of our passage today: “For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus.” It is common to hear that every religion is worshipping the same God, just by a different name. The Bible, however, calls worship of any other god than the true God idolatry. The reason is that “there is one God.” Verse 5 went on to say that there is “one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus.” The only way to know the one true God, to worship him, and receive his forgiveness is through Jesus. Why? Because he “gave himself as a ransom.” Only the death of Christ on our behalf made reconciliation with God possible. Any other religion, in addition to saying things about God that contradict the Christian description of God, lacks a solution to the problem of sin.

But notice the next phrase in verse 6: “...for all people.” This truth goes against the idea that our faith is exclusive. It is exclusive in the sense that there is only one way--Jesus--so he is the exclusive way to God. But our faith is not exclusive in the sense that it is restricted to only one type of person. The salvation Jesus purchased, and the good news about knowing God he brought us, is for every kind of person on earth--Jew or Gentile, slave or free, wealthy or poor, male or female, Japanese or Lebanese, or any other way that people can be categorized.

This is why Paul began this chapter by urging us to pray “for all people” (v. 1). We should pray for the gospel to go everywhere there are people. In verse 2, Paul specified that we should pray “for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives....” This is a request for the authorities of the world to leave us alone so that the gospel can advance to all the world without interference or persecution.

When you pray, remember to pray for the world. Specifically, pray that people all over the world will learn about the one true God and the one mediator, the man--our Lord--Christ Jesus. Pray that those who are taking the gospel everywhere will do so without being persecuted or interfered with so that all kinds of people will be “saved and come to a knowledge of the truth” (v. 4).

Mark 13

Today’s reading is Mark 13.

I enjoy architecture and appreciate a well-designed and good-looking building. Don’t get me wrong, I know nothing about architecture; I just like places when they are done right. At least one disciple of Jesus shared this quality with me. According to verse 1, “As Jesus was leaving the temple, one of his disciples said to him, ‘Look, Teacher! What massive stones! What magnificent buildings!’” If he’d said that to me, I would have said, “I know! Aren’t they cool! Herod has his problems, but he did build us a nice temple!”

Jesus, however, was not impressed and he told that disciple not to get too attached to that building. In verse 2 he said, “‘Do you see all these great buildings?’ replied Jesus. ‘Not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down.’”

Ahem.

Well, at least Jesus called the buildings “great.” Though..., maybe he just meant large.

Peter, James, and John--his closest disciples--asked Jesus privately about this. Peter’s brother Andrew also got in on the discussion, according to verse 3. What Jesus said in the rest of this chapter is called “The Olivet Discourse” because Jesus spoke these words on the mount of Olives while overlooking the temple. Going into what Jesus taught in this chapter is beyond what I could cover in a devotional, but there is a message here for us just in the first two verses. The magnificent temple that awed at least one disciple was gone within 30 years or so after Jesus said these words. It happened during the lifetime of these men. Long before the temple was destroyed, though, it stopped mattering to these men. On the day of Pentecost, God’s Spirit moved powerfully and saved thousands of people. And he kept moving and kept saving men, spreading his work throughout the rest of the world in waves that ripple out to us. No longer did they need a great building to have a spiritual experience with God. They had their memories of Jesus and his words, the Holy Spirit’s work, and thousands of disciples to nurture. Buildings are impressive and incredibly useful but if we love the building more than God or the souls of men, we’re doing it wrong.

Suzanne and I were part of a few church plants before we came to Calvary so we know what it is like to use someone else’s building. One thing that does for you is make you thankful for the building you have when you get one. I like our building here at Calvary and I’m so grateful that the Lord provided the funds we needed to fix the leaky roof and (finally!) carpet the upstairs. But this building will be destroyed someday--hopefully a long time into the future, but someday. The impressive monuments in Washington and the stately buildings there will not last forever. Someday everything we know will burn up and be replaced by a city made by God where righteousness dwells. We can’t take any buildings with us to that city, but we can take people who hear the gospel message and are rescued from an eternity apart from God.

So, let’s be thankful for the stuff we have--our church building and grounds, our homes, clothes, cars, etc. But don’t fall in love with those things; use them to reach and disciple and love people for Jesus Christ.

Start with your own family and you’ll be on the right track.

Mark 4

Today we’re reading Mark 4.

This chapter contains some of Jesus parables about the kingdom (vv. 1-34) followed by the incident where Jesus miraculously calmed the storm (vv. 35-41). Some of these parables explain the same truths I taught in yesterday’s message. The parable of the soils here in Mark 4:1-25, for instance, describes how failure to receive the gospel is due to the hearts of people, not the seed or the sowers. The parable in verses 26-29 also teaches one of the truths I’ve talked about the past two Sundays. Jesus said in verses 26-27 that the kingdom of God is like a farmer. He scatters the seed into the ground and.... that’s it. He just leaves it there. It doesn’t matter how else the farmer spends his time for verse 27 says, “whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed spouts and grows.” Once he has done the work of sowing, the land and the seed take over the work and work together. Verse 27c even says, “...though he does not know how.” The farmer knows that process of sowing and reaping works, but he didn’t know why it works. He has no idea how the process of germination happens. Neither did I until I read this hideously ugly webpage about it. Once the seed is planted, the process works “all by itself” (v. 28a). If the farmer waits patiently, he will reap the results.

Although the farmer didn’t know how the seed germinates, he knew that it would germinate if he planted it. He did not have to understand the process to benefit from the process. So what was Christ teaching us about his kingdom here? He was teaching that God will sow the gospel into the world and then it will bear fruit. You and I, the sowers, don’t need to understand how it works nor do need to anything else but plant the seed. We don’t need to “know... how” (v. 27c); God uses the gospel to his work “all by itself” (v. 28a).

As I mentioned in yesterday’s message, many of us never witness for Christ or we stop witnessing for Christ because we fear failure. But the only way to fail is not to plant or not to reap. If we stay in the farmhouse, we will fail. If we plant the seed of the word, Jesus said it would work “all by itself” (v. 28).

When was the last time you tried to invite someone to church? When did you last open a spiritual conversation with someone and tell them about Christ? The kingdom is growing and when Christ returns, the harvest will come. Are you planting anything?

While we’re on this subject, some of our church members are involved in campus ministry and they will be attempting to share the gospel with thousands of incoming students. Pray for them to find the good soil and plant the seed of the word. And, if you have time to help and want a bootcamp in evangelism, contact Bryce or EJ and volunteer to help them.

Mark 2

Today’s Bible reading is Mark 2.

Who is most deserving of the chance to hear the gospel?

You and I both know the right answer to the question, “Who deserves to be saved?” The right answer is “nobody” because we’re all sinful and guilty before a holy God. But who among us guilty sinners most deserves to hear the gospel message? If not everyone on earth can receive the gospel witness in his or her lifetime, then who should we evangelize first?

Jesus answered that question here in Mark 2:17 when he said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” This statement of Jesus was in response to the Pharisees’ criticism that Jesus ate with “tax collectors and sinners.” Jesus explained that these sinners received his attention because they needed it the most.

At this point in his ministry, a disinterested observer might argue that Jesus should have spent his time with the Pharisees because they had already demonstrated a clear interest in spiritual things. The sinners he chose to be with, by contrast, had turned away from God’s word. They had heard it in their homes and synagogues growing up but had chosen to live a different kind of life. For these reasons, the Pharisees would appear to have been a more receptive audience to Jesus than the tax collectors and other sinners. But the key word in that last sentence is “appear.” The Pharisees were all about appearances and their spiritual interests were about appearing righteous before others, not really becoming righteous. Sinners, by contrast, had the appearance of righteousness ripped from them when they sold out to become tax collectors, or thieves, or prostitutes, or whatever. The benefits they had received at first from their sinful lifestyles were diminishing when Jesus came into their lives and they were now experiencing the heavy costs of a sinful lifestyle. In a society as judgmental and rigid as theirs, it would be impossible to reverse course, stop collecting taxes, and become a respectable man again. These companions of Jesus--these sinners--were ripe for the grace of repentance and faith. That’s why Jesus wanted to be with them.

Who then is most deserving of the chance to hear the gospel? Well..., all sinners need it, of course, so we shouldn’t be picky when opportunity comes along. When it comes to who we intentionally try to reach, however, we should think like Jesus did. So many churches have started in our area recently. How many of them are seeking to reach the poorest areas of Ypsilanti. How many are attempting to reach the working class family that’s out of work or the single mother on welfare? How many of them are reaching out to the Muslims who have moved into our area? How many have created prison ministries or outreaches to addicts?

How about our church? Literally surrounded by corn, we are a church located where the suburbs and the farms meet. That’s where God put us so we should try to reach those around us. But God also put us right around the corner from the only women’s prison in our state. We have a ministry to that prison called Bridge Builders, but they can always use more servants who will go in to share the gospel. In addition to the Bridge Builders ministry, there are women entering that prison every week who are willing to meet and talk with someone personally. Would you be willing to talk to them about Christ? They are as ready to listen as anyone you may ever meet.

We have poor people around us, too, that we serve through our food pantry. There are addicts and alcoholics in every place--urban, suburban, and rural--so we have those around, too. Have we done as Jesus did and looked for people who may be ready to hear about true hope in Christ?

Colossians 4

Today we’re scheduled to read Colossians 4.

This chapter began by continuing to describe how being raised with Christ and setting our minds on things above (3:1-2) changes our daily lives. After applying this truth to masters (4:1), the scripture turned to our prayer lives (vv. 2-4) and how we share the gospel (vv. 5-6). The rest of the chapter was concluding personal remarks (vv. 7-18) that closed the book.

For our instruction today, let’s turn to verses 5-6: “Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” These verses speak to us about how we speak with unbelievers. Verse 5 encouraged us to to “be wise.” The word “wise” simply refers to skill. In the Old Testament, God called some men who were “wise” in craftsmanship to create the furniture for his tabernacle (see Exodus 31:1-5. Here the wised we are commanded to have refers to the “soft” skill of communication. Part of our faith, the result of being raised with Christ, means learning how to skillfully talk with unbelievers about Christ. Verse 5b encourages us to think about talking with unbelievers as an “opportunity” that we should “make the most of.” In addition to understanding the gospel message well enough to explain it clearly to someone else, we should develop our conversational skills so that we can speak of Christ in ways that draw the interest of unbelievers. Think about how Jesus skillfully spoke with Nicodemus, the woman at the well, and others about himself. He did not use a canned speech, a one-size-fits-all approach. Instead, he engaged the other person at the level of their own interest and then lead them to see that they needed him.

What does this kind of evangelistic conversation look like? Verse 6 says it is “always full of grace.” Grace, of course, is an undeserved gift. In evangelistic conversations, we want to get to God’s grace, to tell people what Christ can give them by faith. But I think Paul means more than just filling our conversation with God’s grace. I think he means that the tone of the conversation is giving so that the unbeliever understands we have something to offer them. We have hope and joy and peace to offer them. We can show them how to truly know God, so the way we speak to them should be inviting, encouraging them to “taste and see that the Lord is good” and that we can “take refuge in him” (Psalm 34:8. Verse 6 (here in Colossians 4) tells us that these conversations should be “seasoned with salt.” Again the image is that our talks with unbelievers are stimulating and pleasant. It might be taking the “salt” image too far, but what if “seasoned with salt” means that our talks with unbelievers about Jesus makes them want to talk with us again about him in the future? Of course we don’t ignore the problem of sin or give them reassurances that everything will be OK whether they believe in God or not. Instead, we show them the possibility of a better life--the ability to know God, to feel that he is listening to us, the opportunity to understand why the world is so beautiful but also broken and how the world Christ promises will be the perfect one that we all deeply crave.

What would you need to do to be able to speak the gospel to unbelievers like this? Have you read any books about it or taken a class to learn how to engage in a spiritual conversation like this? This is part of growing in grace--learning to speak gracefully to unbelievers about the grace of God. May God give us opportunities to hone our skills in evangelism and opportunities to practice those skills among unbelievers with hungry hearts.

Acts 28

Today, read Acts 28.

This is the end of the New Testament’s record of Paul’s ministry. Although it is the end of the record, it seems clear that it was not the end of Paul’s ministry. According to tradition, Paul won his trial in Rome (the first time) and was released. He continued traveling for the gospel until he was later captured again and executed.

We read yesterday of his shipwreck; in the early verses of this chapter, we see how God used that to demonstrate His power to the pagan people of Malta (vv. 1-10). Eventually Paul did reach Rome where he received the welcome he had hoped from the Roman believers (vv. 14-15). He was also able to live privately under house arrest (v. 16) instead of in an actual prison. This gave him the opportunities he wanted to share the gospel, starting as he always did, with the Jewish people (vv. 17-23). Notice the results of teaching the gospel in verse 24: “Some were convinced by what he said, but others would not believe.” This is what will happen whenever any of us shares the gospel. Not everyone will respond to the gospel in faith. That’s one reason why we are hesitant to tell others about Christ--because we know many will reject it.

Here’s the thing about witnessing for Christ: many will reject the gospel message but some will believe. This was Paul’s confidence expressed in verse 28: “God’s salvation has been sent to the Gentiles, and they will listen!” Don’t let rejection by some in the past to the truth of Christ shut you down from telling others about Jesus. Rejection of the gospel is part of sharing the gospel but if you faithfully deliver it to others, some of them “will listen!” (v. 28b).

Acts 24

Today’s reading is Acts 24.

So, Paul was taken from Jerusalem to Caesarea to protect his life from a plot by his Jewish opponents at the end of yesterday’s reading in Acts 23. Five days (v. 1) after Paul arrived in Caesarea, his Jewish opponents showed up there to charge him with stirring up conflict among the Jews (vv. 2-9). Paul answered the charges against him by appealing to what actually happened and the lack of proof his opponents had for their charges (vv. 10-13). Paul skillfully wove the gospel into his defense starting in verse 14. Felix, the governor who was handling this case, punted the case to a later date (vv. 22-23).

But a few days later, Felix and his wife Drusilla set up a private meeting with Paul (vv. 24-26). This meeting allowed Paul to specifically bring the gospel to this couple. An interesting aspect of this is that Felix was a Gentile, a Roman governor, but his wife Drusilla was Jewish (v. 24b). So Paul had a mixed audience religiously when he spoke to this couple. How did he handle this opportunity? According to verse 25, “Paul talked about righteousness, self-control and the judgment to come....” Let’s break that down:

  • “righteousness” refers to what is right, how someone measures up to a standard. In this case, the standard is God’s perfect holiness as revealed in his Law.
  • “self-control” has to do with a person’s ability to say no to his sinful impulses and choose to do what is right instead.
  • “judgment to come” of course, refers to the fact that every person will stand before God to give an account of his or her life.

In other words, Paul spoke to Felix and Drusilla about right and wrong, about their inability to control themselves enough to do what is right, and about the fact that God would judge them individually for doing what was wrong. What was the reaction? “Felix was afraid and said, ‘That’s enough for now! You may leave...” (v. 25b). In other words, Paul’s conversation with them caused Felix to feel the conviction of sin and his need for a savior.

Unfortunately, he did not repent at Paul’s teaching and find forgiveness in Christ. But once again Paul’s approach when talking to him is instructive for us when we speak about Christ to unbelievers. Almost any point of sin is an adequate starting point for the gospel. When you are talking with an unbeliever, if they complain about an injustice in the news or about crime or about the lack of self-control they see in others or in young people, that is an opportunity to talk about Christ. Why do people dislike it when others can’t exercise self-control? Because an uncontrolled population is dangerous and difficult to live in. But what standard do unbelievers use to complain about the sins, injustices, and failures of self-control in others? They appeal to God’s standards, even though they may not know it or even may deny it. The Bible says that the law is written on the heart of every human. That means that we have an intuitive sense of right and wrong. Use that! Show them how they too fall short of the standards they apply to others and admit to them that you, too, fall short but that Jesus didn’t. This will give you the opportunity to share what Christ has done for us to deliver us from the coming judgment of God at the end of the age.

Acts 22

Today we’re scheduled to read Acts 22.

On Friday we read about Paul’s return to Jerusalem, his attempt to mollify the Jewish people by submitting to a Jewish purification rite, and his arrest which had been foretold repeatedly by the Holy Spirit. At the end of Acts 21, Paul asked his arrestors for a chance to speak to the crowd that had rioted. Today’s chapter, Acts 22, recorded that speech.

Given this opportunity to speak to such a large number of his fellow Jews, what did Paul say? He gave his personal testimony. He began with his background as a carefully observant Jew from the Pharisaic tradition (vv. 1-3). He moved to his persecution of Christians for their divergent beliefs (vv. 4-5). He described his conversion experience on the road to Damascus (vv. 6-13) and his commission to reach the Gentiles with the good news about Jesus (vv. 14-21).

People can reject arguments and counter them with other arguments but it is extremely difficult to argue with someone’s personal experience. The personal experience of another person is also very persuasive, one of the most persuasive forms of communication. Paul’s testimony here did not get him released, but it did give him an opportunity to witness for Christ. A straight up sermon about Jesus would have been interrupted a lot sooner, probably, than Paul’s testimony was here so this was a wise way to use the opportunity.

Do you realize how powerful your personal testimony can be when you speak to others about Christ? You don’t have to have a dramatic Damascus road-type conversion story. In fact, if you were saved as a child, your testimony might focus more on what being a Christian has meant to your life than about how much you changed from when you were an 8 year old contract killer or whatever. Let Paul’s example here encourage you to think about your testimony and write it out even to help you be prepared to share Christ when the door to speak for Jesus opens.

2 Corinthians 4

Today’s reading is 2 Corinthians 4.

Though I did not write about it, yesterday’s chapter began with Paul defending his ministry to the Corinthians (3:1-6) and arguing that the Corinthians themselves were a proof that God was working in Paul and his partners as they ministered. In both 1 and 2 Corinthians, Paul addressed an undercurrent of disrespect from the Corinthians. If God used you to establish a church, then some of the people there started disrespecting you, it would be natural and very human to become discouraged about the ministry. Add to that the kind of persecutions and pressures that Paul and his team faced (4:8-12) and it is easy to see how someone might quit serving the Lord altogether.

Paul did not downplay the problems he faced for the gospel, but he opened this chapter by saying that, despite these problems, “we do not lose heart” (v. 1). Instead, the ability he and his team had to keep serving the Lord despite the very human weaknesses they had reminded them that it was God working through them, not their own power or ability (vv. 7-12, 16-17).

Today’s chapter also touched on the method they used to reach people for Christ. Their method was to set “forth the truth plainly” (v. 2). There was no need to use deception or pressure or any other tactics to get people to trust Christ (v. 2a) because the problem unbelievers had believing the gospel was a spiritual problem, a blindness from Satan that veiled the glory of Christ in the gospel (vv. 3-5). The right approach, then, was to “preach Jesus Christ as Lord” (v. 5a) and depend on God’s power to save people (v. 6).

What were their qualifications for this ministry, then? Simply that they believed in Jesus: “It is written: ‘I believed; therefore I have spoken.’ Since we have that same spirit of faith, we also believe and therefore speak, because we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus from the dead will also raise us with Jesus and present us with you to himself” (vv. 13-14). They gave the gospel and called people to repent and trust Jesus because that is the truth they believed when they became Christians.

Too often we are quiet about our faith because we think we don’t have the best arguments or the right answers or that we are not personally persuasive. These are excuses; what matters is that we have believed the gospel ourselves (v. 13) and that we are relying on God to work through us when we speak (vv. 5-6). Is there someone in your relationships--at work, in your family, in your neighborhood--who has not heard you share Christ? Is one of these excuses the reason why? Let the truth of this chapter encourage you and embolden you to speak up. Only Christ can remove the veil of unbelief from a person’s spiritual eyes. Our job is to faithfully and plainly share the message. If you get a chance today, step up to the opportunity to speak about Christ.

Acts 14

Here’s a link to today’s scheduled reading, Acts 14. Note that tomorrow we leave Acts for a bit to read Galatians. It’s all in the printable guide which you can get here.

Anyway, about Acts 14: Paul and Barnabas are still on that first missionary journey which concluded here at the end of Acts 14, specifically verses 26-28. As God’s miraculous power worked through these chosen men (vv. 8-10), it was inevitable that someone would ascribe deity to these men (vv. 11-13). Unlike Herod back in Acts 12, Barnabas and Paul did not receive the worship that was offered to them; instead, they turned the attention back to the one true God (vv. 14-15) and used this misunderstanding as another avenue to deliver the true gospel. In just a few short verses--verses 15b-18, to be exact, Paul began to describe the religious history of humanity:

  • First, God created everyone and everything. Verse 15b says, “...the living God, who made the heavens and the earth and the sea and everything in them.”

  • Second, humanity rebelled against God by sinning. As families developed into nations, God chose Abraham and the nation that would come from him and let all other “nations go their own way” (v. 16).

  • The third point would have been “but now he commands all people everywhere to repent” (Acts 17:30b) but Jewish opponents interrupted Paul’s message in verses 19-20.

Going back to the second point where God “let all nations go their own way” (v. 16), one might think that it would be unjust for God to punish pagan nations that did not receive his law and his promises like Israel did. Paul and Barnabas anticipated that objection in verse 17a and said, “Yet he has not left himself without testimony....” God did not speak directly--theologians call this “special revelation”--to other nations as he did with Israel. But he did communicate with these nations through “general revelation.” Barnabas and Paul specified what this general revelation--the “testimony” they referenced was in the next few phrases of verse 17: “by giving you rain from heaven and crops in their seasons; he provides you with plenty of food and fills your hearts with joy.”

We tend to focus on the hardships of living in a fallen world and there are severe hardships. Some of these hardships are death and the sorrow it causes, physical pain due to illness and injury, sin and the consequences and pain it causes, natural disasters, and others. But the truth is that God has been very good to us all--believers and unbelievers alike. During our lifetime, we enjoy food, friendships and family, physical affection, excitement, joy, rest, and many other blessings. These are all gifts of God; he could have punished Adam and Eve with immediate death that would have disallowed the human race from ever growing beyond them. That would have prevented us from ever knowing the joys of God’s creation and from wondering about the Creator who is the source of them all. Unbelievers, then, know enough about God to damn their souls for eternity. This knowledge gives us a starting point for evangelism, just as it did for Paul and Barnabas in this chapter.

As Christians, now that we know God and have the better light of his word--“special revelation”--we have all the things Paul and Barnabas listed here and more to lift our hearts in praise and worship to God. Think of one blessing in your life that you may have taken for granted today. Now let that be the starting point for your prayers and praise to God today.

Acts 8

Today, read Acts 8.

When Stephen was martyred in Acts 7, two distinct--but related--things happened next. First, a man named Saul became part of the story of the New Testament church (v. 1). Second, “a great persecution broke out against the church in Jerusalem.” The result of this persecution was that “all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria.”

Now think about that phrase--“all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria” and this verse from Acts 1:8b: “...you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” Keeping those two verses in mind, remember how people who lived in other areas of Israel and even other countries stayed in Jerusalem because they were enjoying so much worship and teaching and fellowship and evangelism together. The incredible joy they had as the church was growing was keeping them from doing the mission Jesus sent them to do, so God allowed persecution to disperse the first church to “Judea and Samaria.”

And it worked because according to verse 4 here in Acts 8, “Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went.” Persecution is the hostile response of unbelief toward the gospel. Sometimes God in his grace restrains unbelievers from persecuting His people and we enjoy seasons of peace; other times God allows persecution to come to purify us and to disperse us into the world to spread the good news in other places where it is needed.

On a smaller level, God works this way in our lives, too. When we get too comfortable, complacent even, in our faith, God allows trials into our lives to purify us and to re-focus our attention on him and his work. Don’t fear, then, trials or even persecutions that may come in your life sooner or later; use them as opportunities to grow in your faith and to bring you into new opportunities to share the Lord’s word.

Acts 4

Today’s reading is Acts 4.

This chapter continues the story we started yesterday. Remember that Peter and John were going to the temple to pray and by the power of Christ, Peter healed a man who had been unable to walk for his entire life and then used the attention from the man’s healing to call people to repentance and faith in Jesus.

This chapter described the fallout from that event. The religious leaders who engineered the Roman execution of Jesus were very unhappy to see his power on display through the disciples and to hear the message about Jesus going out through them (vv. 1-2). In response, they jailed Peter and John (v. 3) but the gospel did its work as “But many who heard the message believed; so the number of men who believed grew to about five thousand” (v. 4). Unable to deny the miracle that had happened (vv. 5-16), the religious leaders of Jerusalem commanded them to stop evangelizing (vv. 17-18).

What if they would have stopped? Verses 19-20 describe how Peter and John refused to obey the command to stop teaching about Jesus. Verse 33 says, “With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all” which shows that they did not stop spreading the gospel message. But what if they had?

First, the advance of the gospel would have been much different. Jesus had said that the gates of hell would not prevail against the church, so he would have chosen others to spread the gospel even if the disciples had been disobedient. We can see that somewhat in his choice of the Apostle Paul to take the gospel to the Gentiles.

Second, and more importantly, I think the unity, selflessness, and joy of the early church as described in verses 31-37 would have dissipated. When the church gets focused on itself, conflicts and strife come in. Satan wants to disrupt God’s work and get us off mission by stirring up conflict and strife. When we’re reaching outside of ourselves, however, there is a lot less time and energy available for internal factions, arguments, and strife. Outreach and evangelism isn’t going to ward off problems; those are inevitable in a fallen world. But spreading the gospel keeps us focused on Jesus--his work and our need for his power--which helps us keep our focus off of ourselves. So let’s not forget that we are here to introduce Christ to the world. This Sunday gives you an excellent opportunity to do that by inviting someone to come to church, hear the gospel, and be saved if God wills.

Acts 1

Today let’s read Acts 1.

Acts continues the story of Jesus’ ministry after he left this earth as told by Luke, the author of the Gospel we just finished reading. Here in chapter 1, Luke briefly addressed Theophilus in verse 1. This is the same original reader Luke was writing for when he wrote the Gospel According to Luke (see Luke 1:3). As we saw in Luke 24 on Friday, Luke ended that volume with a brief description of Jesus’ ascension. Here in Acts 1, Luke rewound the tape a bit and described for us some of Jesus’ final words to his apostles in verses 4-8.

Remember way back in Luke 3:16 that John the Baptist said that Jesus would “...baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.” Here in Acts 1:5 Jesus echoed that saying of John when he said, “For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.” So Christ told the disciples to wait in Jerusalem (v. 4).

Now that Jesus had died and was raised from the dead, the disciples are curious about what would come next. Their question to Christ in verse 6 was, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” That’s what they had expected of Messiah all along. They expected him to become king of Israel, defeat the Romans, and then establish Israel as God’s eternal kingdom.

Jesus ducked their question. In verse 7 he told them that the restoration of the kingdom to Israel was none of their business. But notice that he didn’t refute the idea that the kingdom would be restored to Israel; instead he said, “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority.” God’s promise of a kingdom for Israel is still valid; it’s the time period we call “The Millennium” and it still awaits at a future day and time set in God’s will.

Until the Millennium comes, God’s will for us is clear and simple: “you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (v. 8). The rest of the book of Acts unfolds how the first generation of Christians obeyed this command. Since Jesus has not returned yet, however, the responsibility for obedience to this passed down from the apostles to the rest of us who make up the church at this time. One of the easiest ways to contribute to this mission Christ gave us is to invite people to church with you. Studies show that most Americans would attend church if a friend invited them and Easter Sunday is when people who don’t go to church normally are most likely to attend a service. Those of you from Calvary know that I include the Gospel in my message every Sunday and this week it will get a more complete explanation than usual. So one way you can participate in the Great Commission of Jesus is to invite someone to our Good Friday service at 6:30 this Friday or one of our Easter Sunday services at 8:30 or 10 a.m. on Sunday.

Luke 23

Today’s passage to read, if you’re keeping up with the schedule, is Luke 23.

Yesterday we read about Jesus’ religious trial in Luke 22:66-71. That trial was for blasphemy (see Matt 26:64-66). Since Jesus claimed to be “the Son of God” (vv. 69-70 here in Luke 23) and that he would “be seated at the right hand of the mighty God” the religious leaders of his era concluded that he was speaking irreverently of God, which is what “blasphemy” means. This was worthy of death in Jewish law (again, Matt 26:66); the problem was that these religious leaders did not have the legal authority to perform capital punishment. If they killed Jesus themselves, they could have been charged with murder by the Roman government. So, here in Luke 23, Jesus was taken to Pilate, the Roman governor of their area, for trial (v. 1).

Their religious reasons for killing Jesus were insufficient for Roman law, so they charged Jesus with sedition (v. 2) before Pilate. Pilate found the charge unpersuasive since Jesus answered indirectly and didn’t seem like much of a threat (vv. 3), so Pilate ruled in Jesus’ favor in verse 4. The “chief priests and the crowd” in verse 5 tried to muster some evidence against Jesus so they talked about how many multitudes had been following him in Galilee. Galilee was under the political government of Herod Antipas who happened to be in town (vv. 6-7). Note that Pilate was governor of Judea, the southern part of Israel while Herod was in charge of Galilee, the northern part of Israel. Jerusalem is in Judea, the South, so they were in Pilate’s territory when Jesus was arrested, but as a Galilean, Herod could be responsible for dealing with Jesus (v. 7). Pilate tried to dodge responsibility by letting Herod deal with Jesus. Herod tried to talk to Jesus, but Jesus refused so, after mocking Jesus, Herod sent him back to Pilate (vv. 8-12).

Once again Pilate tried various ways to release Jesus, knowing that his death would be unjust (vv. 13-22), but he finally buckled to the pressure of the crowd and approved Jesus for the death penalty (vv. 23-26).

Jesus was not alone in his crucifixion. Two other men were crucified with Jesus (vv. 32-43) but they had very different reactions to him. One man joined the mocking of the crowd (v. 39) but the other man spoke up and rebuked the first criminal (v. 40). Notice the words of the criminal who spoke up for Jesus: “We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.” Here is someone who understood sin and punishment. In his own case, and apparently based on what he knew of the other man, he knew that he was guilty and deserved the death penalty. But how could he know that Jesus was innocent? Did he overhear the trial of Christ before Pilate? Had he heard Jesus teaching at some point earlier in his life? Maybe one or both of these things is true and maybe that’s what caused him to say, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” But whatever he knew of Jesus and however he knew it, he believed that Jesus was the Messiah and that even though Jesus was dying, he would still be king! What a remarkable thing! Yet it is a testimony not to the man’s keen spiritual insight but to God’s saving grace. In the final hours of his life, this man turned to Jesus in faith and believed that his eternity would be safe in Jesus’ hands. Jesus comforted him with the promise, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise” (v. 43). Despite all the sinful things he had done, sins so bad they got him executed, he found forgiveness in Christ at the end of his life.

Time seems to harden people to the gospel. It is very rare to see an elderly person--even someone who is dying--accept Christ as savior. Many prisoners who hear the gospel profess faith in Christ but certainly not all of them. Facts like these sometimes cause me to be pessimistic when giving the gospel to adults but my pessimism is wrong. God can save anyone he chooses to save. Hardened criminals who have done wicked crimes can be changed by the power of Jesus Christ. The conversion of this criminal should remind us and encourage us not to pre-judge whether someone will be saved or not. We shouldn’t decide in advance whether or not we think someone will turn to Christ in faith; we should understand that God is saving people all over the world at different points in life and, in some cases, with very little knowledge about Jesus. Let’s trust God, then, and be faithful to give the gospel when we can.

Hebrews 13

Today we finish reading the book of Hebrews by reading Hebrews 13. Congratulations! You’ve read two books of the New Testament already; only 25 more to go.

The author of Hebrews wrapped up his message by giving believers some ways to put our faith into action. It starts with love (v. 1) which shows itself in how we act toward other believers (again, v. 1), how we receive and care for outsiders (v. 2), and how we pray for and care for those who are suffering under persecution for Christ (v. 3).

Living for Christ in this age means honoring marriage with purity (v. 4), living without greed and materialism (vv. 5-6), acting properly toward the leaders of our church (vv. 7-17), and praying for all those who are serving the Lord (vv. 18-19). Finally, the author of Hebrews prayed a beautiful benediction over the original readers of this book (vv. 20-21) and closed (vv. 22-25).

For today’s devotional thoughts I’d like to focus on verses 15-16: “Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise—the fruit of lips that openly profess his name. And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.” These verses follow verses 11-14 where the author of Hebrews made one final reference to Jesus as our priest. Just like the body of a sin offering is offered outside the camp, Jesus was sacrificed outside the city of Jerusalem (v. 12). Going to him for salvation is, metaphorically, like leaving the “city” of Judaism. All who follow Christ are now outsiders but that’s OK because we’re looking for an eternal city anyway (v. 14).

But just as there were thank offerings and free will offerings in the Old Testament whereby a worshipper could bring a sacrifice just because he loved God, now the author of Hebrews says that we Christians bring a thank offering in our words. He tells us to offer this offering “continually;” that is, many times throughout our lives. And the content of this offering is “the fruit of lips that openly profess his name.” This is evangelism. One of our acts of worship as Christians is to claim Jesus openly and tell others about our faith in him.

The second type of Christian sacrifice is described in verse 16: “ And do not forget to do good and to share with others....” This consists of being generous to others. It may be others who have a need or simply others whom we choose to bless by giving. So we do not bring a sacrifice for our sins, to appease God’s wrath for what we have done. Jesus paid the penalty for this himself and his blood makes “the people holy” (v. 12). Like an Old Testament worshipper who brings freewill offerings just out of love for God, we bring sacrifices of worship to God when we openly identify with Christ and share his eternally life-changing message and when we are generous to others around us.

Here’s an opportunity, then, for us to look at serving God this week. Are there lost people around you who don’t even know that you are a Christian? Look for an open door to speak to that person about Christ. Are there others around you who have needs or who just would be blessed by your generosity? Reach out to bless them with what you have--a financial gift, a meal, whatever. God loves these kinds of Christian sacrifices because they show our love and devotion to Jesus. Yes, the Lord loves our worship and praise in singing and prayer, but he also is delighted in our actions through evangelism and showing kindness to others.

Matthew 22

Today we’re reading Matthew 22.

This chapter began with Jesus’ parable about the wedding banquet. The point of the parable was that God freely invites people into his kingdom but instead coming to his kingdom, those you would expect to be there reject the invitation and abuse those sent to invite them. In other words, the very religious Jewish leaders that people expect to be saved have in fact rejected Jesus and will suffer for it. Meanwhile, the common person will come into Jesus’ kingdom as an honored guest (vv. 9-10) provided they come clothed in the righteousness of Christ (vv. 12-13).

As if to illustrate the point, Jesus faced one encounter after another with religious leaders in Israel in the rest of this chapter. The Pharisees and Sadducees took turns trying to expose Jesus as a fraud by getting him to say something stupid. Jesus countered their rhetorical traps and exposed their self-serving tactics and lack of understanding of God’s word. At the end of today’s passage, Jesus gave the Pharisees a taste of their own medicine. He asked them a question that seemed like a softball: Whose son is the Messiah? (v. 41). They gave the predictable answer (v. 41b) and Jesus replied by quoting Psalm 110:1 in verses 43-44. The big question he called them to reflect upon was this: “If then David calls him ‘Lord,’ how can he be his son?” It is true that the title “lord” was used of human rulers and authorities. That was not Jesus’ point. But your son could never be your lord--your ruler or authority. Their culture revered fatherhood and your father was the leader of your clan until his death. So it was extraordinary for David to refer to any descendant of his as “lord.” Jesus called out this extraordinary statement in scripture to emphasize that messiah wasn’t not going to be just another man, another mere descendant of David to take his turn on Israel’s throne. No, by calling him “lord” David was giving him honor that suggested the true nature of Christ as both human and divine.

Remember that this section of Matthew records Jesus’ life during “Passion Week,” the week he was crucified. The identity of Christ is the key issue at this point. The crowd received him when he came to town, ascribing to him the title reserved for Messiah (21:1-16), calling him “Son of David” (v. 9, 16b)--the very title that is at issue here in Matthew 22:42. But the religious leaders were deeply offended that Christ received this title (Matt 21:16a). They tried again and again to show that Christ did not deserve this title and, eventually, they would conspire and kill him for receiving it because they did not truly believe in God and he threatened their religious authority.

All of this was part of the plan of God. Christ came to the Jews who should have received him but they rejected and crucified him. Instead of the crucifixion being his end, it was the beginning of his kingdom’s message spreading to the rest of the world and leading to the culmination of history. Like the invited guests from the parable in verses 1-14, the gospel goes out to many, but few respond and those who do respond are not the ones we would expect.

We don’t know how much longer God has ordained for the gospel to keep going out before Christ returns. There are still many people in the world who do not have a gospel witness. But as we wait for the wedding banquet to begin, we should be looking around us and inviting others to join. Yes, only the chosen will get in (v. 14) but God wants us to invite as many people as we can. Remember, though, that God loves to save the unexpected. The person you think will never trust Christ may be one of the very ones God has chosen. Let’s be liberal, then, in spreading the gospel message, not keeping it to ourselves but talking about Christ with as many people as we possibly can.

1 Samuel 23, 1 Corinthians 4, Ezekiel 2, Psalm 38

If you’re following the schedule, you should read these chapters today: 1 Samuel 23, 1 Corinthians 4, Ezekiel 2, Psalm 38. Click on any of those references to see all the passages in one long page on BibleGateway. If you can't do all the readings today, read Ezekiel 2.

Jeremiah and Ezekiel lived and prophesied during much of the same era of time. This was the time when the Northern Kingdom (Israel) had been displaced by the Assyrians and the Southern Kingdom (Judah) was in decline and would eventually be taken captive by the Babylonians. The difference between them is that Jeremiah prophesied before Jerusalem fell to the Babylonians and after it fell where as Ezekiel’s prophetic ministry began only after Jerusalem fell while he was with the other exiles in Babylon (1:1).  Instead of serving God as a priest, which he would have by birth (1:2), Ezekiel was called by God to see visions (chapter 1) and to prophesy to God’s people in exile. Here in Ezekiel 2 he received a direct message from God himself, a message that commissioned him to call the rebellious people of Israel to repent. Jeremiah had faithfully proclaimed the word of the Lord, even when he was imprisoned for his message and when the Lord’s enemies plotted to take his life. Ezekiel, too, was told to be faithful with the message the Lord gave him (vv. 4-8) regardless of whether people responded in repentance and obedience or not. The reason God sent Ezekiel and told him to keep prophesying even when there were no results was that “they will know that a prophet has been among them” (v. 5c). God’s people may have rejected his message, but God would not withhold that message from them. 

What purpose was served by sending prophets to people who would not listen and repent? The answer is that it removes their excuse and renders them guilty before God (see Rom 3:19). While it is hard to keep speaking truth in a hard-hearted world, God has a purpose for his word going out even when there is no response to it. Messengers like Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and us are not held accountable for how people respond to the message. Only God can transform a heart that his hard to his message through the power of the Spirit. What we are responsible for is to be faithful—faithful in speaking what God said without subtractions, additions, or apologies and faithful in living the truth in our own lives.

Maybe you’ve been praying for someone and witnessing to them when you can or maybe you’ve been praying about witnessing to someone but feel like it will be useless to do because you’re sure they won’t respond in faith. Let God’s word to Ezekiel in this chapter speak to you, too. God put us where he put us for a purpose and he commanded us to be faithful in speaking his word for his purposes. Success in evangelism is always encouraging, but lack of success isn’t an indictment of you as a messenger. The only time we have failed to serve God in evangelism is when we have failed to speak for God when we have the chance. Let’s learn to trust the Lord’s word and his purposes and just be faithful in giving the message—as clearly, compassionately, and convincingly as we can, yes. But none of those is as important as speaking faithfully.

Now for your thoughts: What stood out in your Bible reading for today? What questions do you have about what you read? What are your thoughts about what I wrote above? Post them in the comments below or on our Facebook page. And, feel free to answer and interact with the questions and comments of others. Have a great day; we'll talk scripture again tomorrow.