Acts 10

Read Acts 10 today.

Two days ago in Acts 8, we read about how God used Saul’s persecution to move the church and the gospel out of Jerusalem and into Judea and Samaria, just as Jesus said would happen in Acts 1:8. Then yesterday in Acts 9 we read how Jesus redeemed Saul and told Ananias how Saul was the Lord’s chosen instrument to take the gospel to the Gentiles.

Taking the gospel to the Gentiles was the final phase of Jesus’ great commission in Acts 1:8. But transitioning the Christian church from a Jewish sect to a worldwide movement was going to be difficult. Gentiles were allowed to convert to Judaism before Jesus came, but they were always second class citizen to native Jews. For Gentile Christians to have full acceptance in the church, God would have to move in a special way.

That’s what we read about today in Acts 10. Although Saul was God’s chosen instrument to take the gospel to the Gentiles, God used Peter to be the first apostle to see Gentile converts to Christianity. Notice how God did this here in Acts 10.

First, God sent a vision to Cornelius in verses 1-8. Verse 2 of Acts 10 said, “He and all his family were devout and God-fearing….” The phrase “devout and God-fearing” indicates that he was a Gentile convert to Judaism. When God spoke to him, he was told to send for Simon Peter and he was told where to find him.

Second, just before Cornelius’ messengers arrived, God sent a vision to Peter telling him to eat foods that were unclean according to the law of Moses (vv. 11-14). Peter saw this vision three times (v. 16)–probably so that he would be completely convinced of what he saw. But verse 17 told us, “Peter was wondering about the meaning of the vision…” which shows us that the larger meaning–the broadest interpretation and application of this revelation–was unclear to Peter. Surely God was not concerned about Peter’s diet, but what could be the greater lesson of this vision?

According to verse 17, the men sent by Cornelius arrived “while Peter was wondering about the meaning of the vision.” Peter understood that the timing was not coincidental and he went to see Cornelius despite the fact that “it is against our law for a Jew to associate with or visit a Gentile” (v. 28b) In verses 28b-29, Peter applied his vision about the unclean food to this meeting with Cornelius. Peter realized then and there “that God does not show favoritism but accepts from every nation the one who fears him and does what is right” (vv. 34-35). Therefore, Peter gave them the gospel. That brings us to the next step in God’s process of bringing Gentiles into the church:

Third, “the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message” (v. 44b). The Jewish Christians who heard this “were astonished that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on Gentiles” (v. 45b). This is telling us that these new Gentile believers had the same experience that Jesus’ disciples had in Acts 2 on the day of Pentecost and that the Samaritan disciples had in Acts 8. The purpose of that dramatic, miraculous demonstration of the Spirit’s power was not to show us that all Christians must have these signs; rather, it was to demonstrate that Gentile believers are equal to Jewish believers in Jesus in every way. As a result of this experience, Peter “ordered that they be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ” (v. 48a).

The full implications of a church integrated with Jews and Gentiles alike would still have to be worked out by the early church. We’ll read about that in some of the chapters ahead.

But the point of this chapter was to show that God viewed and treated Gentile believers as equal in the church to Jewish believers. It would be wrong for the church, therefore, to discriminate against any believer.

Although we no longer have those Jewish-Gentile tensions in every Christian church, there are other ways in which the church is sometimes divided by race. Churches here in America are still divided along racial lines with “mostly white” churches, like ours is, frankly, and churches that are mostly African-Americans, or Latinos/Latinas, or Romanians, or Chinese Christians, and so on.

Language differences create some of these distinctions, but all of them are contrary to how God views true believers. In Christ there are no “white Christians” or “black Christians” or any other human category of Christians. To Jesus, there are only believers and unbelievers. All believers are accepted fully into God’s family through Him.

We cannot solve the divisions of churches in America on our own, but we can and should fully accept, welcome, and integrate anyone into our church family who has faith in Christ, is baptized in his name, and is seeking to do what the Lord commands. We should strive for this kind of unity, then, because it is pleasing to God.

Hebrews 8

Today, read Hebrews 8.

Christianity is rooted in Judaism. Most of our scriptures are Hebrew documents written for Jewish people living in Israel. Our Lord Jesus was the Messiah who was prophesied in those Hebrew scriptures. His death on the cross was the final, perfect sacrifice foreshadowed by the uncountable number of animals who were offered on the altar of the tabernacle and the temple.

Given all of this, why are we Christians not more Jewish in our practice of Christianity? The answer is here in Hebrews 8. It, too, is rooted in the Hebrew scriptures. In Jeremiah 31:31-34, quoted here in Hebrews 8:8-12, God promised to make “a new covenant with the people of Israel and Judah” (v. 8). Verses 9-12 describe this covenant and, among other things, they tell us, “No longer will they teach their neighbor, or say to one another, ‘Know the Lord,’ because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest. For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.” This promise has begun to be fulfilled in Jesus. He mentioned this when he turned the elements of the Passover feast into the Lord’s Supper and said, “this cup is the new covenant in my blood” (Matt 26:28, Lu 22:20, 1 Cor 11:25). The fact that we Gentiles would be part of this new covenant is indicated here in Hebrews 8:11, “No longer will they teach their neighbor… ‘Know the Lord….’” We Gentiles are “their neighbor.”

The reason, then, that we don’t practice Jewish feasts and festivals and keep the Law of Moses is that, according to verse 13, “By calling this covenant ‘new,’ he has made the first one obsolete; and what is obsolete and outdated will soon disappear.” These Old Testament ceremonies, symbols, and laws are unnecessary anyway because, as verse 10 put it, “I will put my laws in their minds and write them on their hearts.” We have a new nature and the Holy Spirit dwelling within us! There are still blessings promised in the new covenant that await us, but we have God’s power within us to wait for them, to grow in our knowledge and love of him while we wait, and to call others to “know the Lord.”

Hebrews 7

Read Hebrews 7.

Unless you have a Roman Catholic background, priests have probably not occupied much of your attention during your life.

But if you were Jewish, especially during the time when the New Testament was written, priests were very important to your religious practice. If you loved God, loved the temple, or thought the life of priests was something to be envied, you were out of luck if you weren’t from the tribe of Levi. The only people who could serve the Lord as priests were those who were born into priestly families, that is families from the Levite tribe.

The author of Hebrews, however, wanted to point out that there were different kind of priesthoods. Yes, there was the priesthood of Aaron and his descendants, but before Aaron came along there were other men who served as priests. One of them, Melchizedek, is brought up in this passage and is compared to Christ throughout this chapter. By the end of the chapter, however, Melchizedek is forgotten and Christ is exalted as the greatest priest of all for three reasons:

  • First, unlike any other priest, Jesus lives forever so his priesthood is likewise permanent (v. 24). In other words, Christ’s priesthood is superior because it transcends death. The result of his permanent priesthood is his ability to save us completely. Although we sin with astonishing regularity, we do not need to worry that someday we’ll sin but there will be no one to secure God’s forgiveness for us because he is dead. Instead, we can be confident that when we come to God through Christ, our salvation is eternally secure because Christ “always lives to intercede” for us (v. 25). Christ is a superior priest because his priesthood will never suffer a gap caused by death.
  • Second, Christ’s priesthood transcends disqualification. Because of who Jesus was—God in the flesh—he will never be disqualified from saving us because of his own sin. This makes his priesthood superior to anyone else’s because every other priest had to atone for his own sin before he could ask God to do anything about our sin (vv. 26-27a). 
  • Third, Christ’s priesthood transcends disappearance. Other priests had to keep offering sacrifices because the sacrifices didn’t really atone for anything. The forgiveness they secured was on credit, waiting by faith for Christ’s death to really pay for them. In order to teach his people that animal sacrifices were not a permanent solution, God ordered that the sacrifices be offered daily. In other words, their power to forgive disappeared almost immediately. Christ’s sacrifice, since he was offering himself instead of an animal, did not disappear for according to verse 27b: “He sacrificed for their sins once for all when he offered himself.” 

You may not think of priests very often, but you need a faithful one who is pleading with God, based on his perfect sacrifice, for your sins constantly. And Christ met our need (v. 26a) in every way because, unlike any other priest, Christ cannot die, will not disqualify himself by sinning, and won’t see the value of his sacrifice disappear. Yesterday’s devotional referenced the doctrine eternal security but today’s explains why we are secure. Not only is Christ’s sacrifice perfect and potent enough to save us forever, he advocates for us forever as our perfect priest.

Numbers 9, Isaiah 34, Galatians 3

Today we’re reading Numbers 9, Isaiah 34, and Galatians 3. This devotional is about Galatians 3.

Paul had strong words for the Galatians in this chapter because so much was at stake. If the Christian faith became tied to obeying the law of Moses, then the gospel itself would be corrupted.

The main issue in this chapter is how can Gentiles be legitimate spiritual descendants of Abraham. Jewish people, of course, are physical descendants of Abraham. God’s promises to Abraham were about his human descendants. The Messiah–Jesus–descended from Abraham physically and the kingdom he promised was tied to the covenant God made to Abraham. So what about these people–“Gentiles”–who did not physically descend from Abraham? How can they be blessed without being physically descendants of Abraham?

There were people–they are called Judaizers–who wanted to connect following Christ with keeping the Old Testament law. They had come to the church in Galatia and were preaching the false gospel of faith + works. They saw obedience to the law as the way to connect Gentile believers to the covenant God made with Abraham.

Paul wanted to stop anyone from believing that false doctrine, so in this chapter he gives a better answer: Faith makes a person a spiritual relative of Abraham (v. 7, 29) not obedience to the law.

This is because:

  1. Abraham was a man of faith himself (vv. 6, 9) so faith matters in spiritual things, not physical descent.
  2. God prophesied the Gentile conversion when he told Abraham that all the nations would be blessed through him (v. 8).
  3. In Christ, who was Abraham’s “seed,” believers are connected to the promises given to Abraham (vv. 15-17). Since Christ kept the law and died as an atonement for the penalties of the law, the law has fulfilled its purpose and is no longer necessary as a covenant structure for God’s people (vv. 23-29).

These things may not seem directly relevant to us but they are. Throughout church history there have been teachers and groups who have tried to argue that faith alone is not enough. They say that faith + something else = salvation. That “something else” is sometimes a series of religious rituals. Sometimes it is a religious experience, such as speaking in tongues. Aspects of Judaism, too, are still insisted on by some who call themselves Christians.

While understanding the Jewish background of scripture and Christianity can be helpful in interpreting the Bible, the New Testament is clear that we are not under the law of Moses in any sense because Christ fulfilled it all. Don’t allow anyone to undermine your faith by offering you a deeper experience of Christianity by keeping the law or by “doing” anything else. Christ is all we need and in him is more than we can appreciate in this life.

Galatians 3

Today’s we’re scheduled to read Galatians 3.

Paul had strong words for the Galatians in this chapter but that is because so much is at stake. If the Christian faith became tied to obeying the law of Moses, then the gospel itself would be corrupted.

The main issue in this chapter is how can Gentiles be legitimate spiritual descendants of Abraham. Jewish people, of course, are physical descendants of Abraham. God’s promises to Abraham were about his human descendants. The Messiah–Jesus–descended from Abraham physically and the kingdom he promised was tied to the covenant God made to Abraham. So what about these people–“Gentiles”–who did not physically descend from Abraham? How can they be blessed without being physically descendants of Abraham?

The Judaizers who wanted to connect following Christ with keeping the Old Testament law apparently saw obedience to the law as the way to connect Gentile believers to the covenant God made with Abraham. Paul wanted to stop anyone from believing that false doctrine, so in this chapter he gives a better answer: It is that faith makes a person a spiritual relative of Abraham (v. 7, 29) not obedience to the law. This is because:
(a) Abraham was a man of faith himself (vv. 6, 9) so faith matters in spiritual things, not physical descent.
(b) God prophesied the Gentile conversion when he told Abraham that all the nations would be blessed through him (v. 8).
(c) In Christ, who was Abraham’s “seed” believers are connected to the promises given to Abraham (vv. 15-17). Since Christ kept the law and died as an atonement for the penalties of the law, the law has fulfilled its purpose and is no longer necessary as a covenant structure for God’s people (vv. 23-29).

All of these things seemed like they were not directly relevant to us, until recently. Sure the principles in this passage have indirect, extended relevance and application to us in the sense that they teach us not to look to religious actions for justification but faith alone in Christ. Recently, however, new movements have emerged which seek to return Christianity to its Jewish “roots”. A pastor friend of mine is dealing with elements of this in his church. While understanding the Jewish background of scripture and Christianity can be helpful in interpreting the Bible, the New Testament is clear that we are not under the law of Moses in any sense because Christ fulfilled it all. Don’t allow anyone to undermine your faith by offering you a deeper experience of Christianity by keeping the law. Christ is all we need and in him is more than we can appreciate in this life.

Hebrews 8

Today, read Hebrews 8.

Christianity is rooted in Judaism. Most of our scriptures are Hebrew documents written for Jewish people living in Israel. Our Lord Jesus was the Messiah who was prophesied in those Hebrew scriptures. His death on the cross was the final, perfect sacrifice foreshadowed by the uncountable number of animals who were offered on the altar of the tabernacle and the temple.

Given all of this, why are we Christians not more Jewish in our practice of Christianity? The answer is here in Hebrews 8. It, too, is rooted in the Hebrew scriptures. In Jeremiah 31:31-34, quoted here in Hebrews 8:8-12, God promised to make “a new covenant with the people of Israel and Judah” (v. 8). Verses 9-12 describe this covenant and, among other things, they tell us, “No longer will they teach their neighbor, or say to one another, ‘Know the Lord,’ because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest. For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.” This promise has begun to be fulfilled in Jesus. He mentioned this when he turned the elements of the Passover feast into the Lord’s Supper and said, “this cup is the new covenant in my blood” (Matt 26:28, Lu 22:20, 1 Cor 11:25). The fact that we Gentiles would be part of this new covenant is indicated here in Hebrews 8:11, “No longer will they teach their neighbor… ‘Know the Lord….’” We Gentiles are “their neighbor.”

The reason, then, that we don’t practice Jewish feasts and festivals and keep the Law of Moses is that, according to verse 13, “By calling this covenant ‘new,’ he has made the first one obsolete; and what is obsolete and outdated will soon disappear.” These Old Testament ceremonies, symbols, and laws are unnecessary anyway because, as verse 10 put it, “I will put my laws in their minds and write them on their hearts.” We have a new nature and the Holy Spirit dwelling within us! There are still blessings promised in the new covenant that await us, but we have God’s power within us to wait for them, to grow in our knowledge and love of him while we wait, and to call others to “know the Lord.”