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.
Read Leviticus 14, Isaiah 9:8-10:4, Acts 2. This devotional is about Acts 2.
Christians use the phrase, “the Day of Pentecost” to describe the event in this chapter. To us, the “Day of Pentecost” is when the Holy Spirit came upon the disciples in a way that could be observed. There was “a sound like the blowing of a violent wind” (v. 2) and the sight of what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them” (v. 3). These were supernatural, outward, observable evidences of a spiritual reality which is that “all of them were filled with the Holy Spirit” (v. 4a). The result of being “filled with the Holy Spirit was that they “began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.” (v. 4b). There is a lot of discussion about whether this is supposed to be the normal Christian experience or whether this kind of power was unique to this time in church history. A devotional on this passage is not the best place to talk about that dispute.
What is important to understand, however, is what happened after this demonstration of the Holy Spirit’s power, after Peter’s message of the gospel, and after “those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day” (v. 41). What happened after the Day of Pentecost is “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer” (v. 42). They did not devote themselves to speaking in tongues or doing other miraculous works. In fact, verse 43 references “wonders and signs performed by the apostles” not “performed by everyone.” No, what followed this experience was great teaching and fellowship around God’s word and prayer as well as “praising God” (v. 47a) and having “those who were being saved” added “to their number” (v. 47b). In other words, the effect of God’s power was salvation, teaching, fellowship, and worship.
We need God’s power as much as they needed it on the Day of Pentecost and the days that followed. And, we have the promise of God’s power, too, just as they did then. What we should be looking for as believers is not the proof of God’s power through miracles but the results of God’s power in true spiritual change–people coming to Christ, hungry for God’s word, fellowship, and prayer. May God give us hearts that desire these things more than we desire great, dramatic displays of his power.
Today’s reading is 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 stayed 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 should reconsider that in light of this passage?
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.
Congratulations, after you read Matthew 28, you’ll have read the first book of the New Testament all the way through.
After some very long chapters covering the final week of Jesus’ life in detail, Matthew wrapped up his account of the ministry of Christ very rapidly. Jesus’ dead body was hastily prepared for burial and buried on Friday afternoon because the Sabbath was coming. Remember that in the Jewish world a day begins at sundown the night before. So, Friday evening is when the Sabbath begins.
Mary & Mary came to give Jesus’ body a more thorough embalming (v. 1). When they came to the tomb, the did not find Jesus there; instead, they found an angel who informed them about his resurrection (vv. 2-7). Then they saw Christ risen and received instructions to pass on to Jesus’ disciples (vv. 8-10). The men who were supposed to guard Jesus’ tomb concocted a story to explain his disappearance (vv. 11-15), Meanwhile, Jesus and his disciples met up in Galilee where they received final instructions from him. Note that Matthew didn’t record or describe the ascension of Christ into heaven; he ended his Gospel with the last words of Jesus.
The last words of Jesus, the famous “Great Commission” begins with a reminder of Christ’s authority in verse 18: “Then Jesus came to them and said, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.’” This authority belonged to him all along because he is the creator of all things. When humanity rebelled against God in the garden of Eden, Satan began a titanic struggle to wrest control of God’s creation. Although millions worship and serve him and the kingdoms of this world operate largely under his moral control, when Jesus rose from the dead he accomplished two other things in addition to securing our salvation.,
Christ began the redemption of his creation when he rose from the dead. Romans 8:19-23 describes the fact that, when Christ returns and establishes his kingdom, creation will be redeemed. By rising from the dead, Jesus re-asserted his Lordship over creation and demonstrated his power to redeem it.
Christ began the process of establishing his kingdom when he rose from the dead. Christ’s kingdom has not yet been established, but he is gathering citizens into it through the gospel. His command to the disciples in verses 19-20 to “make disciples, baptizing them… and teaching them” all flow from the truth of verse 18: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” The reason why we go to “all nations” is that Christ is Lord over all nations. His kingdom will supersede all human governments (see Rev 11:15). The laws of earthly governments mean nothing if they seek to restrict the spread of the gospel because Jesus has all authority over them.
These are Christ’s final words to his disciples and they remain our responsibility until he comes and finishes what he began to establish his kingdom. What is your role in this and how can you use the place the Lord has put you to help all of us, as his followers, be obedient to this commission?