Judges 19, Ezekiel 8, Acts 25

Read Judges 19, Ezekiel 8, and Acts 25 today. This devotional is about Acts 25.

Acts 24:27, which we read on Friday, told us that Paul had been in prison in Caesarea for two years. Caesarea is a nice place, right on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea but, if you’re in prison, that doesn’t matter. If I had to be in prison somewhere, I ‘d rather be locked up in Miami or Hawaii than in Alaska or Minneapolis, but I’m sure prisoners in Hawaii don’t feel like they’re in paradise, even though they technically are.

Anyway, Paul was in prison there in Caesarea for two years. He was left there by Felix, a Roman government official over Judea. Felix detained Paul for two years without a trial because he was looking for a bribe from Paul (24:26). When he didn’t get his bribe, he decided to do a favor to Paul’s Jewish opponents (24:26-27). Leaving Paul in prison without a trial was unjust but Felix was a sinful man, so I doubt he felt any guilt in his conscience about it.

The Jewish leaders asked Felix’s successor, Festus to send Paul back to Jerusalem from Caesarea for trial (vv. 1-3a) because they planned to kill Paul en route (v. 3b). Paul argued against a transfer back to Jerusalem and, to ensure his safety, appealed to Caesar (vv. 4ish-11). Paul had the right to that appeal because he was a Roman citizen (remember Acts 22:27).

King Agrippa–Herod Agrippa–was a Jewish client king over the same area as Festus, and Agrippa came with is wife to Caesarea to congratulate Festus on his sweet new job (v. 13). What do a Roman governor and a Jewish “king” have to talk about? Not much besides work, so that’s what Festus and Agrippa talked about–including Paul’s case (vv. 14-21). Agrippa was intrigued by Paul’s case so Festus set up a meet-n-greet between Agrippa and Paul (v. 22). The end of our passage today (vv. 23-27) set the table for Paul’s speech to Agrippa which we’ll read tomorrow in Acts 26.

Paul used his valuable Roman citizenship back in Acts 16:37 to avoid a beating by a Roman solider and to protect his life from the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem back in Acts 22:25. Here in Acts 25, Paul used his citizenship again. This time, he used it to get a free trip to Rome where he wanted to go next anyway (Rom 15:23-33). That was a wise move; Paul creatively used what he had at his disposal to move toward the goal he wanted to reach for the glory of God.

But notice this one thing: in Acts 22:28 Paul said, “I was born a citizen” of Rome. That was a highly unusual status for a Jewish man or anyone else who lived in a territory Rome had conquered. For Paul to be born a Roman citizen, his father must have forked over a lot of money (see 22:27) or he did some heroic act for the Roman empire that got him honored with citizenship. Either way, Paul’s Roman citizenship came to him as a gift. He did nothing to earn it; it was conferred on him at birth.

The fact that Paul was able to use it for the Lord’s work shows us the importance of God’s providence.

The word “providence” speaks of God’s working his will in this world without using miracles.

Often God’s providence is only visible to us when we look back at events in the past. When things are happening to us in the present, we don’t necessarily see God working out his will but, if we look back at our lives, we can often see how seemingly “random” things were actually given or arranged by God to accomplish his will in us. Maybe Paul’s dad was proud to be a Roman citizen or maybe he was embarrassed about it and lost some credibility with his Pharisaic friends. Maybe as Paul was growing up he thought his Roman citizenship had very little use to him but now he could see why God gave it to Paul. I’m certain he was grateful to have that benefit when Acts 25 was happening.

Think back over your life as a Christian for a little bit. Have there been any “chance” events in your life that protected you from harm or helped you serve God or walk with Him? Think back over what God has done in you and for you. Do you see anything that happened before you were born that made you the man or woman you are now?

Make a list of those things, then thank God for his providence and how it has worked out in your life. Then determine, as Paul did, to use whatever advantages you have–be they small or insignificant or great and valuable–to the glory of God by the expansion of the gospel.

Judges 14, Ezekiel 3, Acts 22

Read Judges 14, Ezekiel 3, and Acts 22 today. This devotional is about Acts 22.

Yesterday we read in Acts 21 about Paul’s return to Jerusalem, his attempt to placate 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, is the written record of 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 the time in his life when he persecuted 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 carjacker or whatever.

Let Paul’s example here encourage you to think about your testimony and write it out, even, to help you prepare to share Christ when the door to speak for Jesus opens.

Numbers 17-18, Isaiah 41, Acts 16

Read Numbers 17-18, Isaiah 41, and Acts 16 today. This devotional is about Acts 16.

Paul’s second missionary journey got off to a great start! On one of his early stops, he met Timothy who became a trusted fellow-servant and a dear friend (vv. 1-3) and God was blessing each visit with spiritual and salvation growth (vv. 4-5).

Then God directed Paul and Silas away from where they intended to go and into Greece (Macedonia) (vv. 6-12). At first, things started off great there in the city of Philippi when Lydia became a believer and gave these missionaries a place to stay (vv. 13-15). Then Paul and Silas liberated a woman from the demons that possessed her (vv. 16-18) and things changed quickly and drastically. The woman who had been demon possessed was a big money maker for others. Now that her powers were gone, these men wanted revenge so they pressed charges against Paul and Silas of inciting a riot (vv. 19-21). As a result of the criminal charges against them, Paul and Silas were “…stripped and beaten with rods” (v. 22b)… “severely flogged [and] thrown into prison” (vv. 22b-23a).

I don’t think my reaction to these circumstances would have been very happy but instead of being dragged down emotionally, Paul and Silas “were praying and singing hymns to God” (v. 25). God worked miraculously and saved the jailor (vv. 26-34) then worked providentially and had Paul and Silas released (vv. 35-40). So it seems clear that the bad treatment these men received was both to teach them to trust God and to bring salvation to the Philippian jailor. The painful, unpleasant circumstances were part of his plan.

James 1 commands us to consider it pure joy when we encounter many kinds of trials. Paul and Silas practiced that truth and God used them. Are you facing a trial, a difficult time, an unexpected setback after a period of good spiritual growth and blessing? Choose to sing God’s praises and glorify him while waiting to see how he wants to use you in that circumstance.

Numbers 3, Isaiah 28, Acts 13

Read Numbers 3, Isaiah 28, Acts 13 today. This devotional is about Acts 13.

Being part of the first church in Jerusalem must have been an amazing experience. People were being saved all the time and everyone who believed started meeting in one another’s homes for prayer, instruction, and fellowship. Here in Acts 13, the first Gentile church at Antioch, seems to have had a similar experience. Verse 1a told us that there were “prophets and teachers” there and they are named in the latter half of that verse. Although they enjoyed great worship and fellowship, God’s work needed to go forward so that more and more people would become part of the church and, when Jesus returns, experience eternity in the kingdom of God. So God spoke in the person of the Holy Spirit and called on the church to send Barnabas and Saul out to evangelize people and form new churches.

Thus began both the “first missionary journey” of Paul and Barnabas and the final stage of the Great Commission as described in Acts 1:8: “…to the ends of the earth.”

God worked through Barnabas and Saul (and, for some reason, Luke the author of Acts, switched to calling him “Paul” in verse 9). People came to believe in Jesus and they were organized into local churches. But I want to focus for this devotional on the importance God’s mission over our comfort. The church at Antioch sounds like an amazing experience and, human nature being what it is, Paul and Barnabas may have desired to stay there for many years doing the Lord’s work. It took the direct voice of the Holy Spirit to compel the church to send Barnabas and Paul out on their first missionary journey. They needed God’s prompting to do what Jesus had commanded us to do in Acts 1:8–just as the Jerusalem church needed the prompting of persecution to move to “Judea and Samaria” (Acts 1:8).

God acts sovereignly to make sure that his will is done so we never have to worry about the mission failing.

What we should remember, however, is that until Jesus returns, we have work to do. It is easy to get very comfortable with the familiar–even (especially?) when God is using us and ministry is going well. But God did not call us to be comfortable, he commissioned us to spread the gospel and start churches.

This means that our church will sometimes have to part with people we love who are obedient to the mission. It has already happened to us in recent years and it will happen again.

This is also why we send 8-10% of our giving as a church away into missions and church planting. If we spent 100% of what God provided to us on our own work–even good, spiritual work–we would be disobedient to what God commanded us to do.

Maybe you’ve been considering some kind of change–giving more to the church or to missions, starting a new ministry here at Calvary, or going into church planting yourself. If comfort with the present situation is stopping you from taking on a new challenge for God’s glory, will you reconsider that in light of this passage?

Numbers 2, Isaiah 27, Acts 12

Read Numbers 2, Isaiah 27, and Acts 12 today. This devotional is about Acts 12.

In this chapter, Herod wanted the accolades of the Jewish people under his rule (v. 3), so he killed James and intended to kill Peter (vv. 1-5).

God answered the prayers of the church and rescued Peter miraculously (vv. 6-18). Then the people of Tyre and Sidon appealed to Herod’s pride by praising him as a god after they settled a dispute with him (vv. 19b-22). God took Herod’s life for accepting this blasphemous praise (v. 23) but God’s word kept on growing and reaching more and more people (v. 24).

This incident was a taste of the kingdom clash that Jesus began and will complete when he returns. This world wants to suppress God’s word and silence God’s messengers so that it can take the praise and adoration that belongs to God alone. Although God rarely brings the kind of immediate judgment on the foolish, proud kings of this world, he will eventually defeat them and rule all creation. Then he alone will finally receive the worship that he alone deserves.

Until his kingdom comes in its fullness, the gospel of it continues to spread and grow, making more and more citizens who will worship him now and rejoice with him when his kingdom finally does come.

Very few rulers today would demand or even accept overt worship as God but there are plenty of people who still enjoy the ego boost that comes from the praise of people. The power they have, however, is not due to them because they deserve it; it is entrusted to them temporarily as managers of God’s authority as king.

We should never give much credit, praise, or admiration to men or women who are politically powerful. Our Lord and king is Jesus; only he will rule perfectly.

Leviticus 23, Isaiah 21, Acts 8

Read Leviticus 23, Isaiah 21, and Acts 8 today. This devotional is about 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.

Leviticus 21, Isaiah 17-18, Acts 6

Read Leviticus 21, Isaiah 17-18, and Acts 6 today. This devotional is about Acts 6.

A couple of things are important to keep in mind as we read these chapters describing the first church in Jerusalem.

  • First, remember that all of the disciples except for Judas were from Galilee, the northern part of Israel.
  • Second, most of Jesus disciples before his crucifixion were Galileans, too. 
  • Third, Jesus death, burial, resurrection, and the coming of the Holy Spirit in power in Acts 2 happened in Jerusalem. Jerusalem is in Judea, the Southern part of  Israel. Jesus had told the disciples to stay there in Jerusalem until the Spirit’s power descended on them (see Acts 1:4).

After the Spirit came on the disciples in power, people began to trust Christ in large numbers (see Acts 2:41, 47; 4:4). Many of those who trusted Christ lived in Jerusalem and the early church met in their homes (see Acts 2:42). But many of them lived outside of Jerusalem like the Twelve disciples of Jesus did. These new believers, though, wanted to stay in Jerusalem and experience what God was doing in the church. So there are some new believers in the Jerusalem church who lived in Jerusalem and made their living in Jerusalem but many others (more?) who did not live in Jerusalem and, therefore, had no income for as long as they remained in Jerusalem.

These facts explain the need for so much sharing of homes, food, and money in the early church in Jerusalem. It wasn’t that the church was communistic or socialistic by nature; it was that many believers had no means of support while they stayed in Jerusalem, but they wanted to stay there and experience what God was doing. So, their brothers and sisters who had financial means generously shared with those who did not.

Here in Acts 6, then, we see that there were problems–gaps, even–in how people were being cared for in the early church. According to verse 1, there was some discrimination–intentional or not–regarding how people with needs were supported and cared for. In verse 2 the Twelve disciples gathered to discuss how to address this problem. It was a true dilemma because the needs of the people were legitimate and important; however, enough needed to happen logistically that some or all of the apostles could have had their time consumed by making sure all the needs were met.

The answer the Twelve came up with was to distribute responsibility to other people (vv. 3-4). This was to allow the Twelve to give their full attention to “prayer and the ministry of the word” (v. 4). Although the task given to these men did not require any particular spiritual gifting or skill, the disciples felt it was important to give the task to godly men (v. 3). Although this passage does not directly say it, many people (me included) think that this paragraph is how the office of deacon began in the church.

The men who were chosen for this ministry were “known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom” (v. 3). Yet they did not consider this task to be beneath them. In keeping with their reputations for godliness, these men had servants hearts and took on willingly the responsibility they were chosen for.

When you are asked to serve somewhere in the church, do you see it as a chance to serve the Lord or as a burden to bear? It is true that some people can be overburdened if they take on too many ministries, but it is also true that many people are unwilling to serve when asked. It is a blessing to serve the Lord and, as believers, we should be honored to serve him by serving his church when we are given the opportunity.