Acts 5

\Read Acts 5.

The growing church we’ve been tracking since Acts 1 felt the weight of persecution here in Acts 5, but that was nothing new for them.

What is new as that the church encountered internal problems for the first time. This happened when Ananias and Sapphira wanted both to make money and get credit for generosity (vv. 1-11).

Sometimes people misunderstand the issue in this passage. The problem was not that Ananias and Sapphira wanted to keep some of the money. In verse 4 Peter said, “And after it was sold, wasn’t the money at your disposal?” This question, which assumes a “yes” response, affirmed that this couple had every right to do what they wanted to do with their property and with the money they gained from selling it. The Bible affirms the right of people to own private property which is the foundation of capitalism. The problem was not that they kept some of the money or wanted to keep any of the money.

No, the issue in Acts 5 was that they “lied to the Holy Spirit” in verse 3.

By lying to the Holy Spirit they had “not lied just to human beings but to God” (v. 4d). The lie they told was regarding the price of the land. Verse 2 told us that Ananias “kept back part of the money for himself” but “with his wife’s full knowledge” (v. 2) they told the church it was sold at a lower price (v. 8) and that they were giving all the money to the church, just as Joseph had in 4:36-37. By doing this, they were taking credit for more generosity than they were truly giving. That’s why they were judged for “lying” not for being stingy.

Wealthy people have funded health care institutions, art, schools, libraries, parks, concert halls, and other civic institutions. Usually, though, the giver puts his name on the gift so that everyone will know who funded that project. And by getting credit for it, Jesus would say “they have their reward in full” (Matt 6:2).

But if you give to the Lord’s work AND act like it was more of a sacrifice than it really was in order to get people to think well of you, then you have a sinful attitude compelling your act of goodness.

Whenever we give money or do any kind of ministry to get the praise and admiration of others, we are trading financial income for praise income. Although it is not always possible to do ministry without being noticed for it, the heart of a believer is to give to God so that He is glorified and we are not. May God purify our hearts and motives so that we give to his work and his people for His glory not to enhance our own reputations. But, in God’s amazing grace, he promises to reward us eternally anyway when we give with a servant’s heart.

Matthew 20

Today’s reading is Matthew 20

There are billions of people living on earth today. Those of us who live in developed countries have millions of signals clamoring for our attention. Phone calls, text messages, emails, social media, billboards, websites, tv shows, radio shows, books, magazines, newspapers, and, of course, other people in real life around us all insist that we stop whatever we’re doing and pay attention to them.

Getting attention is important. You won’t experience love without someone else’s attention, but you also won’t find a job or get promoted or generate new leads for your business or find new friends without getting others to pay attention to you.

And, once you have someone’s attention, the message you convey is, “Choose me! I’m great” or “I’m more helpful” or “I’m better” in some way than the person you have now. This kind of self-selling is essential to moving up in the world.

We might be tempted to think that it is necessary to sell ourselves to God, too.

After all, there are billions of people in the world and many of them are trying to get his attention. Once we’ve trusted Christ, we still may be tempted to promote ourselves within his church either to gain notoriety for ourself or our cause or to try to earn God’s favor. James and John (“the sons of Zebedee” in verse 20, see Mark 10:35) tried this. They even enlisted the help of their mother to get Jesus’ attention. And they came with a big ask: “Grant that one of these two sons of mine may sit at your right and the other at your left in your kingdom.”

Wow!

“Make us your vice-regents, Jesus. That’s all we’re asking for.”

Talk about self-promotion.

Jesus responded by alluding to the cost of following him, namely to “drink the cup I am going to drink” (v. 22). Without knowing at all what he meant, they affirmed their ability to do the job in verse 23.

Jesus knew that they would indeed suffer just as he would suffer, but he declined to appoint them to the positions they wanted (v. 23).

Their request, however, miffed the other disciples and created a teaching moment for Jesus. He agreed that the way of this world is a way of self-promotion and heavy-handed authority (v. 25) but taught that this approach was inappropriate and backward in his kingdom (v. 26a). Instead of promoting ourselves, Jesus commanded us to humble ourselves. He told us that the way to advance in his kingdom was to take on the role of a slave (v. 27). When we act this way, we mirror the servant’s heart of Christ himself who acted as a slave and sacrificed his life to save us (v. 28).

We are disciples of Jesus, but we have different gifts, different callings, different opportunities and responsibilities. Living like a servant, then, means different things for each one of us.

But Christ’s command to live this way should be the motivation behind what we do and the goal for whatever we do. Think about your life–your family, our church, your workplace, and everything else.

What does it look like to be a servant for the Lord Jesus Christ in your life?

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.

Leviticus 7, Isaiah 2, Luke 22

Read Leviticus 7, Isaiah 2, and Luke 22 today. This devotional is about Luke 22.

There are moments in life when it is hard to think about or care about anything other than the big thing that is about to happen. It might be a really big thing like major surgery or something a bit less scary like a job interview, your wedding, or the birth of a child. When we were kids, a big game or major exam might fit with what I’m describing.

You remember how it felt to be waiting for one of these big things. You might have gotten so nervous that you couldn’t sit down. You tried to watch TV or do something else to distract you but you couldn’t concentrate. When we’re faced with moments and events that scare us, it is hard to think about anything else.

At the end of this chapter, Jesus betrayed by Judas, arrested by the chief priests, and put on trial (vv. 39-71). He knew this time was coming and had predicted it to the disciples. In the first part of Luke 22, then, it would be normal for a person in Jesus’s position to be nervous and unable to think about anyone but himself.

That was not Jesus’s mindset, however. Instead, he sought to make the most of the time he had left with his disciples by having the Passover–his last supper–with them.

While Jesus was not focused on himself, the disciples certainly were. Oblivious to the danger that Jesus was about face, they were arguing openly with each other about which one of them should be “considered to be greatest” (v. 24).

Jesus used their argument as a teaching moment. He flipped their expectations about greatest and taught (as he had before) that the greatest servant is the one who matters (vv. 25-26).

So often we are defensive about our rights, sensitive about perceived slights from others, and miffed when we don’t get something that is owed to us. And, at our worst, we compare ourselves to others, accentuating in our own minds the ways in which we feel superior to those we measure ourselves against.

But the words of Christ in Luke 22:27 cut through all of that like a knife: “For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who is at the table? But I am among you as one who serves.” The greatest of all came to serve us and he served us well, bearing our sins in order to be our salvation.

As his followers, he calls us to emulate his example—serving him by serving each other. Do you have a servant’s heart or a “serve me” heart? How can you follow the pattern of Christ today? Who can you serve for the glory of God?

1 Kings 3, Ezekiel 34

Today’s readings are 1 Kings 3 and Ezekiel 34.

This devotional is about Ezekiel 34.

Because the title “pastor” originally meant shepherd, we might read this chapter and think that the condemnation the Lord gives is to spiritual leaders like the priests. While this passage would apply to any leader, the Lord is primarily addressing the kings of Judah and those who served in the administration of those kings. God trusted them to “take care of the flock” (v. 2f) meaning to strengthen the weak, heal the sick, bind up the injured, bring back the strays and search for the lost (v. 4). In other words, they existed to watch over those who could be exploited by others and make sure those vulnerable people were not exploited but rather cared for. Instead, “You have ruled them harshly and brutally” (v. 4). Instead of using the power of government as a stewardship, a vehicle for protecting and helping the helpless, they used it as a means to enrich themselves. The Babylonian exile was, in part due to the exploitation of the people by their (so-called) leaders. That’s why God said in verse 10, I “will hold them accountable for my flock. I will remove them from tending the flock.”

This passage, however, offers the greatest hope for the future of God’s people. In verse 15 God, “I myself will tend my sheep and have them lie down, declares the Sovereign Lord.” And again in verses 23-24, “I will place over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he will tend them; he will tend them and be their shepherd. I the Lord will be their God, and my servant David will be prince among them. I the Lord have spoken.” The “my servant David” part of that promise was not a prediction that God would raise David from the dead and install him on the throne again. Instead, Christ would come from the “house of David” and he would be king in the Davidic line and tradition. This passage will be fulfilled when Christ reigns literally in his kingdom on earth.

Government is not run by a collection of wise public servants who sacrifice themselves to benefit the people. That’s what government should be and would be in a perfect world but what we have is broken world. Any collection of leaders who are merely human will have problems because merely human people are sinners. In eternity, however, we will live in a perfect society ruled by Jesus. He will care for all us and rule with righteousness and justice.

Until he comes, we should strive to lead in the same way that this prophecy describes the leadership of Christ. None of us is perfect but every leader among us should see ourselves as shepherds and do our best to serve God’s people as Jesus himself would (and will) serve them. Who looks to you for leadership in this life? Are you seeking to lead them the way that Christ would lead them, like a shepherd who cares for his sheep?

1 Samuel 12, Jeremiah 49

Today’s readings are 1 Samuel 12 and Jeremiah 49.

This devotional is about 1 Samuel 12:2b-4: “‘I have been your leader from my youth until this day. Here I stand. Testify against me in the presence of the Lord and his anointed. Whose ox have I taken? Whose donkey have I taken? Whom have I cheated? Whom have I oppressed? From whose hand have I accepted a bribe to make me shut my eyes? If I have done any of these things, I will make it right.’ ‘You have not cheated or oppressed us,” they replied. “You have not taken anything from anyone’s hand.’

In this chapter, Samuel made his farewell to Israel as the leader and judge of the nation. One thing that was important to him was his integrity. Could anyone in the entire nation accuse him of exploiting them in any way? No; the people affirmed that Samuel’s life and ministry as Israel’s judge was free of any kind of scandal at all.

It takes either a clean conscience or incredible hubris to say what Samuel said in this passage. He knew that he had never used his position of power to exploit anyone. Still, there is always the chance of misunderstanding so Samuel invited anyone in the nation to present their grievance so he could make it right (v. 3).

Many national leaders throughout history have used their position of authority to enrich themselves at the expense of the people they lead. This happens when a leader feels entitled. If he believes that he got to be the leader because he is special or that he is special because he is the leader, then instead of seeing others as people to be led, the leader begins to see them as resources to be used for his own benefit.

In other words, someone who uses a position of power to enrich and enjoy himself at the expense of others is not a leader; he is a leech. A true leader, a godly leader, a leader that people respect and want to follow uses resources to benefit others, not to enrich himself.

There are abundant examples in our own world of “leaders” who practice “leechership.” There are examples of leaders who lead like Samuel, too, but you don’t usually get credit for doing the right thing.

Think about the areas where you lead. Do you lead others for their benefit or for yours? What would it mean to change your leadership to bring the most benefit to others for the glory of God?

Judges 9, Jeremiah 22

Today we’re scheduled to read Judges 9 and Jeremiah 22.

This devotional is about Jeremiah 22 which is entirely dedicated to calling out the final kings of Judah. There are three kings addressed in this chapter. The first was “Shallum son of Josiah” (v. 11) who is also called Jehoahaz (2 Chron 36:1-4). He is named here in Jeremiah 22 but only to say that he would never see Jerusalem again (v.12). According to 2 Chronicles 36:1-4, he reigned for only three months and was carried off to Egypt by Pharaoh Necho.

Pharaoh installed Shallum/Jehoahaz’s brother Jehoiakim as king of Judah (2 Chron 36:4b-8) and he reigned for eleven years but Jeremiah prophesied exile for him (vv. 18-23) which he experienced at the hands of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon (2 Chron 36:5-8).

Finally, Jehoiachin became king of Judah for all of three months and ten days (v. 9) before Nebuchadnezzar took him away to Babylon, too (vv. 24-27, 2 Chron 36:9-10).

All of these men are lumped together in Jeremiah’s prophecy in this chapter because they were selfish leaders. The ever-present issue of idolatry was still a problem (v. 9) but these three kings were condemned for failing completely to do what kings are supposed to do. Instead of giving justice to those who are robbed or protecting the weak from mistreatment (v. 3), these kings of Judah were entirely self-serving (v. 13-15a, 17). They dreamed of palaces for themselves (v. 14) then used unjust means to build them, conscripting their own people into slavery to build their castles without any compensation at all (v. 13). Instead of bringing good things to their people, Jehoiachin was “a despised, broken pot, an object no one wants” (v. 28). This image of a broken pot primarily describes Jehoiachin as someone nobody cared about but the image also conveys his worthlessness.

This is what happens when leaders fixate on what they want and use others to get what they want rather than serving their people by establishing and defending what is right and just. Many people look at leadership as a platform for receiving perks that others don’t receive but God calls any and all of us in leadership to see our position as a stewardship, a means to deliver what is good in the eyes of God to those under our leadership. The power a leader has is to be exercised for the glory of God, emulating his righteousness, justice, and moral goodness. When a leader uses power to enrich himself, he puts himself outside of the moral will of God who will punish him accordingly.

What areas of leadership do you have? Are you using the power of that leadership to serve others or yourself?

Genesis 45, Job 11, Psalm 43

Today, read Genesis 45, Job 11, and Psalm 43.

This devotional is about Genesis 45.

When Joseph was a young man, still at home with his parents and brothers, he was the favorite. His father favored him over all of his brothers, and God favored him, too, revealing to him in two dreams that someday his family would bow before him. So, at home, Joseph had power and his brothers had very little.

When they saw Joseph alone, his brothers felt that the tables had turned. They now had the power over him and they chose to use that power against him. First they plotted to kill him; then they decided to sell him into slavery.

Here in Genesis 45, the tables have turned again. Joseph here had the very power that God had prophesied he would have. How would you have treated Joseph’s brothers if you were in Joseph’s position of power?

Most people would be tempted to extract some rough justice for how his brothers treated him. Many people wouldn’t just be tempted; they would use that power to punish severely, with great vengeance.

Joseph, however, saw the power he had as a stewardship, an opportunity to do good. God had promised his ancestor Abraham that his descendants would become a great nation and that he would bless them. Joseph understood that his position now gave him the power to bless his family as part of God’s promise to them. In verse 5b he said, “…it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you.” In verse 7 he told them, “But God sent me ahead of you to preserve for you a remnant on earth and to save your lives by a great deliverance.” And, in verse 8 he concluded, “So then, it was not you who sent me here, but God.” This realization, plus the realization that his brothers were repentant for what they had done to him (see 42:21), prevented Joseph from abusing his power to punish his family. Despite how badly he suffered, he now saw how God was using all of it to put him in a position to bless his family, just as he had promised to do.

Think about where you are in your life–your family position, your position at work, your ministry in our church, and anything else. These positions can benefit you and, in some cases, might enable you to punish others who cross you. But, as believers in God like Joseph was, we have the opportunity to look at our positions in life as a stewardship. They give us the power to serve and bless others, not to benefit ourselves or extract vengeance. Look for ways today, then, to serve those around you and not to force them to serve you.

Acts 6

Today we’re reading 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. 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 also lived outside of Jerusalem but they wanted to stay 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.

Luke 24

Today’s reading is Luke 24.

Remember those women in Luke 8:2-3 that Luke said traveled with Jesus and the disciples? Luke named a few of them: “Mary (called Magdalene) from whom seven demons had come out; Joanna the wife of Chuza, the manager of Herod’s household; Susanna; and many others” (v. 2b-3a). He had told us that they “were helping to support them out of their own means” (v. 3b). That passage in Luke 8 is the only insight we are given in the Gospels–at least, that I can think of–about the financial support of Jesus ministry. Think about 13 men traveling to different villages, towns, and cities. Where did they sleep? Where did they get their meals in an age before restaurants? These women provided them the money they needed to buy food; they probably also prepared food when needed, found places for everyone to sleep at night, brought Jesus and the disciples water during the day. Maybe they helped mend clothes and wash them, too, but it seems clear that they volunteered to help Jesus and his disciples in whatever way was needed.

Here in Luke 24 these women emerge from the shadows again (v. 1, 10). The passage says they came “very early in the morning” (v. 1) to the tomb where Jesus’ body had been buried. My guess is that they figured this would be the last of their unheralded acts of service on behalf of Jesus. When Jesus’ burial was complete, they might have stayed for a few days to mourn his death and remember his life, then they would return to Galilee and re-enter daily life.

Instead of doing the sad, unpleasant, and difficult work of embalming Jesus’ body, the women were surprised to hear the message that Jesus was risen from the dead (vv. 3-7, 10)! The angels that reported this news to them said to them in verse 6, “Remember how he told you, while he was still with you in Galilee: ‘The Son of Man must be delivered over to the hands of sinners, be crucified and on the third day be raised again.’” That happened back in Luke 9:22. It was just after Peter’s confession that Jesus was the Messiah. One of the benefits of being on Jesus’ support team was that they could listen to him teach as they served or during the moments when there was nothing immediate to do. Verse 8 here in Luke 24 says, “Then they remembered his words” which tells us that they were in the audience when Peter declared Jesus to be the Messiah so they heard Jesus predict his death and resurrection. Now God had chosen them to be the first people learn of Christ’s resurrection.

Although it isn’t the point of this passage, this story suggests a truth that may encourage you today which is that some of the greatest blessings of following Jesus occur when we are doing the difficult, unpleasant, unnoticed work of serving him. If you are discouraged because you feel like your life and or your ministry in the church is often overlooked, unnoticed, unappreciated think of these women. You may be tempted to think that your life doesn’t matter much, but God sees. He knows what our love for Christ leads us to do for him even if nobody else ever knows. And, God may just surprise you one day with an unexpected blessing; it won’t be anything as big as an angel informing you that Jesus has risen from the dead, but it will be a blessing nonetheless. So don’t be discouraged or give up serving Jesus.


BTW: Logos Bible Software, the Bible study software I use has created a pretty cool webpage describing what the tomb where Jesus was buried was probably actually like. Click here to see it: https://www.logos.com/encounter-easter