Acts 11:16 Then I remembered what the Lord had said: 'John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.'
A friend related to me a story concerning a brother in Christ who had been engaged in evangelism on the streets for some number of years. This evangelist did not see many converts in the course of his ministry but remained faithful to his Gospel duty. Upon attending a national street evangelism conference, he was excited to encounter a man preaching who had been converted in this brother's very home city through street evangelism. It turned out that the sower of the Gospel seed and the resulting harvest experience a joyous reunion!
It is such a joy to bear witness to Christ with a full view of God's sovereignty for the burdens and worries of evangelism are lifted from our shoulders. We find that we need not obsess over the results of our efforts in the end. It is God who grants repentance that leads to life (Acts 11:18). He sets people apart for the Gospel labor (Romans 1:1) and gives the gift of faith to His chosen people. It is amazing the number of powerful and Spirit-filled preachers that I have encountered who have lisps or speech impediments of some type. God has truly chosen the weak and foolish to shame the strong and wise (1 Corinthians 1:27).
This means that we are free of the burden of thinking that the salvation of souls is contingent upon our work. Instead, we are liberated to concentrate on the task of being faithful to the Gospel call. We are to faithfully proclaim the Word regardless of the converts who may or may not come. Our success is not gauged by numbers, but by faithfulness to God's calling. We can rest secure in the knowledge that God sends some to sow the seed and others to reap the harvest. Whether you are given the privilege of being instrumental in many lives at the point of conversion or planting the seed of God's Word in their hearts, you are doing the LORD's work.
This in no way means that we can simply avoid our calling to evangelism based on some simplistic fatalism. While God does sovereignly work salvation by His own hand, He has chosen to do so through the preaching of His Word (Romans 10:14). We must come humbly and confidently to this task with the understanding that the salvation of souls is completely a work of our Sovereign LORD and that we have the responsibility and privilege of preaching the Word through which salvation comes.
Christian, do you boast of the souls you have saved? No one but God is the Redeemer of men. Are you discouraged by the scarcity of converts in your ministry? Rejoice in the privilege of planting for others to reap. Are you tempted to add to the Gospel in order to make it more attractive to sinners? A convert saved by grace plus anything is a false convert. Trust in the effective calling of Christ to His sheep. Some will sow and others will reap. All do so out of the sovereign grace of God.
God's sovereignty should empower us as believers to evangelize with confidence and humility.
Father, you are a sovereign God. You know the end from the beginning. You know our hearts and the Scripture says that you look to and fro to see if anyone will follow after you. Lord, you also know those that are yours and will be yours. It is all by your sovereign grace. Let us recognize our calling to share the Gospel, while also acknowledging your work to the glory of your name to draw people unto yourself. We pray this all in Jesus' name. Amen.
Acts 13:10 "You are a child of the devil and an enemy of everything that is right! You are full of all kinds of deceit and trickery. Will you never stop perverting the right ways of the Lord?
This story is the official record of the Gospel breaking into Satan’s domain.
Of course, the earth is the LORD’s and always has been. He is the creator of all things and rules over all by His sovereign decree. All things work according to the counsel of His own will.
Nevertheless, it is a part of His sovereign plan that mankind would fall under the temptation of Satan and be taken captive by him. Therefore, the Bible also tells us that “the whole world is under the sway of the wicked one” (1 John 5:19) and that “the god of this world has blinded the minds of those who do not believe” (2 Corinthians 4:4). Up until the coming of Jesus, all of the nations except Israel were given to Satan to rule within certain limitations that the LORD set.
But with the coming of Jesus there was a great change. It had been promised to Abraham that in his seed all of the nations would be blessed and that blessing meant that they would no longer be under the dominion of Satan. God the Father promised that He would give the nations to God the Son after He had come as mediator and made Himself an offering for sin. Not only would He be given authority to judge them at the last day, but also authority to gather His elect out of every nation. That is, what He has been doing for 2,000 years now, and after that work is complete, the final Day of Judgment will come.
In Acts 13, the time had come for the Gospel to begin to penetrate those regions outside the Promised Land. As soon as Paul and Barnabas got to the capital city of Paphos, they came face-to-face with Satan’s gatekeeper, a Jewish sorcerer named Bar-Jesus.
This guy would be like what we would call a fortune-teller today who claimed to be able to prophesy about the future. He would use various rituals to try to evoke the dead and to communicate with ancestral spirits for advice. He might also have practiced astrology and magic spells. He was looking to all sorts of things instead of God for salvation and blessing!
Paul rebukes Bar-Jesus in the name of the LORD and he is left to wander about blind looking for someone to lead him. After this, his leader, Sergius Paulus, repents and trusts in the LORD for salvation. The conversion of Sergius Paulus is the beginning of the kingdom of God breaking in among the Gentiles!
The account of what happened in today’s text is a clear display of how the LORD works when the Gospel breaks in anywhere. The overthrow of the stronghold at Cyprus is the forerunner of the conquest of the whole earth for Jesus Christ. From that time on, Jesus will lead His church into one nation after another and people from one nation after another will believe. All the powers of hell can’t keep this from happening. It has gone on now for 2,000 years and it is still going on as strong as ever.
What about you? Has the teaching of the LORD astonished you? Has it struck you? Has it gripped you so that you see clearly that this is the truth and that you must trust in Jesus and follow Him?
Father, I confess that I am not always continually amazed like the early Christians as I should be about what you have done for us and who you are. Forgive me, Lord. There is nothing greater than to go deeper and wider in glorious work in your Son for us, Father. Thank you that we will be amazed for all eternity! We pray this in Jesus' name. Amen.
Acts 14:9 "He listened to Paul as he was speaking. Paul looked directly at him, saw that he had faith to be healed."
Paul and Barnabas were ministering in Galatia and have had great blessing and trouble in Antioch, great blessing and trouble in Iconium, and they had the same in Lystra. Today’s story records another miracle as the means of people becoming interested in the Gospel.
Similar to Peter at the Beautiful Gate in Jerusalem in Acts 3-4. As Paul spoke (probably preaching) this man who have never walked, kept looking into Paul's eyes. Paul, recognizing a real interest, said “'Stand upright on your feet.’” And he sprang up and began walking.”
The crowd looking on was amazed, for they were pagan unbelievers with no idea of the real God. They were so amazed that they thought Paul and Barnabas were actual gods. There was a reason for thinking this: Ovid, a great Latin poet in his “Metamorphosis” wrote of two gods, Jupiter (Zeus), the supreme god, and his son, Mercury (Hermes). They once visited the hill country of Phrygia disguised as mortal men. They sought hospitality but were refused a thousand times. At last, they were offered lodging in a tiny cottage, thatched with straw and reeds from the marsh. There lived an elderly peasant couple who entertained them out of their poverty. Later the gods rewarded them by destroying the homes which would not take them in.
The Lystra people knew this story well and they thought that perhaps here were the same gods—or similar gods—to test them! Inscriptions in stone in Lystra state that Zeus and Hermes were worshipped as local patron gods. This is the reason why the locals worshipped them.
You must really understand what is being said here. These were pagan, unbelieving people who had no knowledge of God before them (save general revelation—Rom. 1:18-20). They had no Bible to read and no previous ministry of direct divine revelation (as far as we know).
God has revealed Himself in two distinct ways—through general and specific revelation. General revelation refers to the witness of God in nature, His providence, the conscience, and human nations, to name a few. No one is excluded from this type of revelation.
Man is made in God's image. Every man and every woman, that is. That is why every man has a hunger within him—an unsatisfied yearning to know God. Man needs to worship a Greater Being than himself.
That is why Paul and Barnabas scarcely restrained the people from offering sacrifice to them. These people, when they saw the wonders of God's power in Paul and Barnabas they felt this need to worship.
What a challenge!
How often have people seen something of God in you or me that makes them want to worship our God? Your life should make those around you want to worship the true God! As the old saying goes, “You may be the only Bible people ‘read.’'"
Father, for whatever reason, you have used the calling and glory of the local church to be your visible presence in this world. I pray for my local church, Lord, that we would a place where people see the love you gave us and one for another. I also thank you that you made us your ambassadors, Lord. We know that we are called to appeal to those without Christ. Yet, Lord, we fall short. Remind us that you restore us through grace upon grace. And we know that you will use our lives to reach those without you. In Jesus' name. Amen.
Acts 14:22 Strengthening the disciples and encouraging them to remain true to the faith. "We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God," they said.
Paul got up after he was stoned in Lystra and taken out of the city and left for dead. It would have been Jews who executed this punishment. Paul was considered a blasphemer for his insistence that Jesus was the Messiah. Jews punished blasphemers by stoning. The Gentiles supported the execution because they saw that the Gospel threatened their way of life.
The next day, Paul and Barnabas departed for Derbe, a city that lay some 20 miles east of Lystra and near the border of Galatia. The preaching there was very fruitful. Luke doesn’t tell us how long the apostles spent in Derbe, but it was the end of their first missionary journey. They then retrace their journey back through the cities they evangelized. This time, instead of preaching publically, their aim is to strengthen the disciples.
Gospel work is no luxury tour of exotic places. It is dangerous work, as Paul shows in 2 Corinthians 11:21-29. This kind of work requires more character that ordinary people possess. It must be divine purpose driven and Holy Spirit-enabled. Jesus will build His church, but He will use His servants to accomplish the task. That is what the apostles return to do. These Gentile believers must be established in the truth.
Why did they consider it so important to go back? They knew it was important because new converts (and old ones, too) are subject to many difficulties or tribulations. These new believers hadn’t yet been rooted and grounded in the faith. They were like young plants that needed to be supported as they faced many things that might unsettle them and even uproot them.
The LORD does not lie to us about this. Jesus frequently told would be followers that if they wanted to follow Him, they would have deny themselves and take up their cross. He told His disciples that they would be hated by all men for His sake.
Then there are the temptations from your own family and friends. Maybe your parents ridicule you for following Christ and try to prevent you from doing so. Maybe your family tries to pressure you to compromise in your morals or to neglect worship. Or, maybe your friends laugh at you and act like you are a simpleton for believing the Bible, putting pressure on you to deny it.
Paul and Barnabas knew for certain that the pressure would be great for the new believers in Lystra, Iconium, and Pisidian Antioch. There was such hostility in every city. And that is why they went back despite all the difficulties that were associated with returning.
How thankful we should be for all that we have learned from God’s work through them! They completed their mission God gave them in those cities. It was before the great debate between Jewish Christian and Gentile ones.
Let us endeavor to follow their example and complete whatever God has given us to do!
Father, we know that this world is full of toils, dangers, and snares. There's nothing in this world that is not passing through a storm, preparing for a storm, or coming out of one. Yet, the psalmist reminds us that you teach us these things so we might learn your law and your decrees. Fit us for heaven, Lord. Thank you that you who began a good work in us will complete it until the day of redemption. Thank you for not giving up on us. In Jesus' name. Amen.
Acts 15:32 Judas and Silas, who themselves were prophets, said much to encourage and strengthen the believers.
Were you ever discouraged by a teacher in school to quit pursuing one subject or interest altogether? Well, this happened to one the most famous inventors ever, Thomas Edison. As a young boy whose IQ was estimated to be about 80, Edison was good at mechanics. However, his most beloved teacher told him, ""Thomas, you don't seem to have a knack for math or science. Why don't you do something more in keeping with your ability?” But Thomas Alva Edison had other bright ideas in mind. As history records, he stuck with the encouragement from his close friends and family to become one of the greatest inventors this world has ever known (Christianglobe.com).
Fortunately, the words of this well-meaning critic did not destroy the spirit of young Edison as he pursued his inventions. But I have to wonder how many other people's plans and desires have been delayed or destroyed over time just because someone discouraged them. That’s why it is so important for us as Christians to learn and practice the fine art of encouragement rather than the critical and judgmental attitude of discouragement. We all need encouragement from others to keep going, and we should all give it to others so they can keep going. We should especially encourage each other in our Christian faith.
Perhaps one of the greatest biblical examples of encouragement comes from the early church leader Barnabas. A glimpse of this can be seen when Barnabas arrived at Antioch after a stint of persecution separated the disciples and early believers. Instead of casting doubt on the situation or scorning the people for the fearful attitude, Barnabas “encouraged them all to remain true to the LORD with all their hearts” (Acts 11:23). It was this attitude that made Barnabas a vital asset to the early formation of the church in its darkest hours.
The early church faced a difficult decision. Word came to Paul and Barnabas that some freelance Christians had gone up to the city of Antioch and had begun preaching the necessity of circumcision for all Christians. The issue was far from a trivial matter. Paul, a former Pharisee and zealot for the Law, quickly noticed that the Jewish culture had captured the Church in a part of legalism.
Appointed leaders quickly began to assemble in the power of the LORD not to fight for position or authority, but to hear the mind of the LORD. Peter then arose to describe his experiences with the centurion by the name of Cornelius. After he had finished, the assembly fell into silence (Acts 15:12). What followed as a unified commitment to reject the false teachers from Antioch and instruct the believers in the area about the truth of the Gospel of Christ.
Today's topic verse records that ""Judas and Silas...said much to encourage and strengthen the brothers"" (Acts 15:32). Like these two well-respected leaders in the early church (15:22), let's make sure our words are always helpful, beneficial, and encouraging to those around us, including the saved and unsaved.
A simple word, letter, email, or call of encouragement to someone struggling can make all the difference in the way they view his life and God-given mission.
Father, on this first week of the new year, I remember that even in these past few weeks many, many people have spoken biblical, encouraging things to me. They have pointed me back to the Scripture, your character, ways, and Gospel. They have rebuked me, challenged me, and edified me--all for your glory. Nothing I can do will ever compare to the surpassing greatness of knowing Jesus Christ our Lord. Help me to do the same this day to others within the Body of Christ. In Jesus' name. Amen.
2 Samuel 12:7 Then Nathan said to David, "You are the man! This is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says: 'I anointed you king over Israel, and I delivered you from the hand of Saul.
Nathan, the prophet of God, knows what David had done and he comes to David with a fictional story.
It is the story of a rich man, who had a large flock of sheep. He was very wealthy. There was also a poor man who had one small female sheep that he loved like a member of his family.
When a stranger visits the rich man, the rich man doesn’t want to give up one of his many sheep to feed his visitor. So, instead, he steals the only sheep of the poor man. He then kills that sheep and feeds it to the man who was the guest at his home.
When Nathan told King David this story, David was furiously enraged. The king said, “Bring me that man! That man deserves to die! He stole, he coveted, and he killed someone else’s property.”
David didn’t think that man should live.
Nathan, being a prophet of God, a man of integrity, and a man of courage, pointed at the king and said, “King, you are the man!” And David was immediately convicted of his sin. He knew that he was that rich landowner in that story and that Uriah the Hittite was like the poor man—all he had was his wife. He understood that that poor man was Uriah, whom he had killed and stole his wife.
God looks at many today and says the same thing: “Young man. Young woman. You are the man! You are the woman!”
How many times have we said, that, “Man, wow! You know what, these rich CEO criminals who steal left and right from people, man, they should be punished!” They should be thrown in jail, right, while we download music that doesn’t belong to us and we steal people’s creative and intellectual property on the Internet?
It is so easy for us to look at the sin of others and say, “That person deserves to be judged. That person deserves to be punished.”
But God looks at each of us and says, “You are the man! You are the woman!” Because all sin is wicked in God’s eyes, God will judge all sin. Not only the sins we don’t like in others, but the sin we feel comfortable doing in our own lives.
Yes, my friend, you are the man or you are the woman! I am the man, too!
God is opposed to the proud but He gives grace to the humble (James 4:6). David, the greatest king on the planet at the time, realized that he had sinned and done what is evil in God’s sight and he humbled himself before God. He didn’t try to justify it, he didn’t try to come up with excuses for it, and he didn’t say to God, “LORD, look at all these good things I’ve done; surely that outweighs my sin.”
God will not despise a heart that is broken and contrite before Him. God will not turn His back on the person who humbles himself before God, and pleads to Him for mercy.
But you must come to God on His terms—only through the Gospel of His Son (1 Cor. 15:1-9).
Father, as we begin a new week, may what is before us be that of quick repentance and acknowledgment of our sins. May the gospel come with power tomorrow; convicting us of sin and convincing us of grace. Reveal Jesus clearly! Thank you that there is no condemnation for our sin, even though the consequences may abound. We pray this today in Jesus’ name. Amen.
Acts 16:7 When they came to the border of Mysia, they tried to enter Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus would not allow them to.
There is a mansion in San Jose, California with an unusual makeup. The mansion was created by Sarah Winchester—the brand name for rifle purchases at the turn of the 20th century—to communicate with spirits that had died at the hands of her family’s invention. The floor plan was ghoulish. Corridors snaked randomly, some leading nowhere. One door opened to a blank wall, another to a fifty-foot drop. One set of stairs led to a ceiling that had no door. Trap doors. Secret passageways. Tunnels. Finding your way around the house was an adventure in itself.
Sometimes this is how we may feel when trying to discover God’s will. We go to door after door trying to get inside. Most are locked and do not budge. Some are so inviting the temptation is overwhelming. Still others are opened when we least expect them to in the midst of our prayerful searching.
Sometimes when following God’s leading it will seem like we have come to a blank wall. Paul and his friends most certainly understood this when the “Spirit did not permit them” (Acts 16:7) to minister in Asia. Why would God slow down the advance of the Gospel? The answers just didn’t add up.
Yet, in the middle of a deep sleep, Paul had a vision of a man in Macedonia. The man begged Paul to come and help them minister (Acts 16:9). God’s direction answered all questions the apostle had about not being able to share the Gospel in Asia. Paul immediately left and went to minister across the sea in Europe.
A similar experience occurred in Acts 8:26-40. During a large revival in Jerusalem, Philip received a call to leave and go the desert. Luke doesn’t record any instance of complaining or second guessing God’s call on Philip’s part. He went on faith to serve God. I can imagine what my response would be, “LORD, why are you sending me to the desert? Why am I going when there is so much happening in Jerusalem? Is this really worth my time?” The Holy Spirit closed a door in Jerusalem to save a eunuch who, as tradition holds, became an instrumental part in the formation of the church in Ethiopia.
When the Holy Spirit leads you another way than what you planned, it does mean you will not revisit old territory or come back (though it may!). It means, at the very least, you are being prepared to come back with a fuller sense of God’s purpose. What opportunities are before you today that may be closed either temporarily or forever? Make absolutely sure you never resist the leading of the Holy Spirit. A small door may lead to a wide opportunity.
God’s direction is always clear to those who are sincerely, diligently, and expectantly searching for Him.
Father, thank you that you will never lead us astray. We know simply that we often mistake our longings for the opposite what you have. Lord, help us to test all things according to your Scripture, be faithful in prayer, and seek out the wisdom of those who are mature in the faith. All to your glory. Father, thank you, above all, that you led me to know Jesus Christ. All by grace. In your name. Amen.