How Did Paul Worship God According to the Way?

TODAY’S READING: ACTS 24-26

“But this I confess to you, that according to the Way, which they call a sect, I worship the God of our fathers, believing everything laid down by the Law and written in the Prophets.” – Acts 24:14

The Way was the first name given to the group of apostles and disciples who believed and followed Jesus. The name implies that believers in Jesus are on a journey, a road, from one place to another.

In Matthew 7:13-14, Jesus said, “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.”

The apostles and disciples were on the narrow way that leads to life. They were called the Way because they were on a journey from death to life.

“In the path of righteousness is life, and in its pathway there is no death.” (Proverbs 12:28)

“Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.” (John 5:24)

“Present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life.” (Romans 6:13)

“We know that we have passed out of death into life.” (1 John 3:14)

“He has delivered us from the domain of darkness [death] and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son [life].” (Colossians 1:13)

Paul was once on the easy way that led to broad gate that opened to destruction, to death. “But Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest, and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. (Acts 9:1-2)

As Paul confessed to King Agrippa, “I myself was convinced that I ought to do many things in opposing the name of Jesus of Nazareth. And I did so in Jerusalem. I not only locked up many of the saints in prison after receiving authority from the chief priests, but when they were put to death I cast my vote against them. And I punished them often in all the synagogues and tried to make them blaspheme, and in raging fury against them I persecuted them even to foreign cities.” (Acts 26:9-11)

Paul went about threatening, persecuting, approving of, voting for, and seeking the murder of those he disagreed with. He was on the broad way, entering the wide gate, going to death and destruction and destruction.

But, something happened to change that changed his way from death to life. “At midday, O King, I saw on the way a light from heaven, brighter than the sun, that shone around me and those who journeyed with me.” (Acts 26:13) Paul encountered Jesus. And, it was Jesus, the Lord, that Paul himself was persecuting, seeking to murder, and putting to death.

Why did Jesus appear to Paul?

“For I have appeared to you for this purpose, to appoint you as a servant and witness to the things in which you have seen me and to those in which I will appear to you, delivering you from your people and the Gentiles – to whom I am sending you to open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.” (Acts 26:16-18)

Jesus appeared to Paul so that Paul could turn Jews and Gentiles from darkness to light.

Jesus appeared to Paul so that Paul could turn Jews and Gentiles from the power of Satan to God.

What is the power of Satan?

“The one who has the power of death, that is, the devil.” (Hebrews 2:14)

Jesus appeared to Paul so that Paul could turn Jews and Gentiles from death to life, the way of death to the way of life.

Paul would turn people from death to life by worshiping God according to the way.

How would Paul worship God according to the way?

“By believing everything laid down by the Law and written in the Prophets.”

Does this mean that Paul believed everything written in the scriptures, the law and the prophets, literally?

Does this mean that Paul believed everything written in the scriptures, the law and the prophets, word for word?

Does this mean that if the scriptures said then Paul believed it, no questions asked?

The answer to each of these questions is no.

Emphatically no.

“And you show that you are a letter from Christ delivered by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts. Such is the confidence that we have through Christ toward God. Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God, who has made us sufficient to be ministers of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit. For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life. Now if the ministry of death, carved in letters on stone, came with such glory that the Israelites could not gaze at Moses’ face because of its glory, which was being brought to an end, will not the ministry of the Spirit [life] have even more glory? For there was glory in the ministry of condemnation [death], the ministry of righteousness [life] must far exceed it in glory.” (2 Corinthians 3:3-9)

At one point in time, Paul believe the scriptures according to the literal letter, word for word. If the scriptures said it, then he believed it. But, Paul said this is a ministry of condemnation and death for the letter, the literal reading of scripture, kills. Indeed, this is exactly what testified to  in front of King Agrippa.

But, not Paul reads the scriptures by the Spirit instead of the literal letter. The Spirit has a ministry of righteousness that gives life. Paul no longer literally read the scriptures word for word. Instead, Paul read the scriptures by the Spirit.

How did this change come about in Paul?

“Since we have such hope, we are very bold, not like Moses, who would put a veil over his face so that the Israelites might not gaze at the outcome of what was being brought to an end. But their minds were hardened. For to this day, when they read the old covenant, that same veil remains unlifted, because only through Christ is it taken away. Yes, to this day whenever Moses is read a veil lies over their hearts. But when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.” (2 Corinthians 3:12-18)

Paul no longer read the scriptures literally, word for word, by the letter because Christ removed the veil that was over them. Christ removed the veil over the scriptures when he was crucified. This was when the veil in the temple that prevented anyone from seeing the most holy place was torn in two.

Therefore, it was Christ’ suffering on the cross and rising from the dead that allowed Paul to read the scriptures by the Spirit instead of literally, word for word, by the letter.

What did reading the scriptures by the Spirit instead of literally, word for word, by the letter, do to Paul’s reading of the scriptures?

Regardless of what the scriptures said, Paul now read all death and destruction as coming from Satan. Paul now saw it just as Jesus said in John 10:10, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.”

Paul even gives us an example of how he assigns death and destruction to Satan even if the Old Testament literally says that God is responsible for it.

Numbers 21:6 says, “Then the Lord sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit people, so that many people of Israel died.”

Numbers 14:26-35 says, “And the Lord spoke to Moses and to Aaron, saying, ‘How long shall this wicked congregation grumble against me? I have heard the grumbling of the people of Israel, which they grumble against me. Say to them, “As I live, declares the Lord, what you have said in my hearing I will do to you: your dead bodies shall fall in this wilderness, and of all your number, listed in the census from twenty years old and upward, who have grumbled against me, not one shall come into the land where I swore that I would make you dwell, except Caleb the son of Jephunneh and Joshua the son of Nun. But your little ones, who you said would become a prey, i will bring in, and they shall know the land that you have rejected. But as for you, your dead bodies shall fall in this wilderness. And you children shall be shepherds in this wilderness for forty years and shall suffer for your faithlessness, until the last of your dead bodies lies in the wilderness. According to the number of the days in which spied out the land, forty days, a year for each day, you shall bear your iniquity forty years, and you shall know my displeasure.” I, the Lord have spoken, Surely this will I do to all this wicked congregation who are gathered together against me: in this wilderness they shall come to a full end, and there they shall die.'”

Who did Moses say sent the fiery serpents that bit the people and caused them to die?

God.

Who did Moses say would kill all the people in the wilderness that grumbled against God?

God.

Paul at one time believed this. But, now he sees it differently because the Christ that suffered and rose from the dead has removed the veil.

“We must not put Christ to the test, as some of them did and were destroyed by serpents, nor grumble, as some of them did and were destroyed by the Destroyer.” (1 Corinthians 10:9-10)

While Moses said these deaths were caused by God, Paul says the deaths of the people in the wilderness were caused by the serpents and the Destroyer. The deaths were caused by Satan.

Remember, Jesus told Paul he was going to turn people from the power of Satan to God. Paul’s ministry is to open the eyes of Jews and Gentiles to the fact that darkness and death belong to Satan but light and life belong to God.

Therefore, Paul interprets the scriptures by the Spirit, who is life and gives life, to show that the Old Testament is wrong when it literally attributes actions that brought death to God. Those actions were actually done by the power of Satan, who is the one with the power of death.

So, Paul concludes his testimony to King Agrippa, saying, “To this day I have had the help that comes from God, and so I stand here testifying both to small and great, saying nothing but what the prophets and Moses said would come to pass: that the Christ must suffer and that, by being the first to rise from the dead, he would proclaim light both to our people and the Gentiles.” (Acts 26:22-23)

Here we are again at the theme of the last week – the Christ must suffer and rise from the dead. This is what we are to see and know from the scriptures. This is what Christ shows the disciples in the scriptures in Luke 24.

That the Christ must suffer and rise from the dead is the meaning of the scriptures.

The Christ must suffer.

God suffers.

The Christ dies.

God dies.

The Christ does not cause suffering.

God does not cause suffering.

The Christ does not kill.

God does not kill.

It was necessary that the Christ suffer and rise from the dead must be firmly rooted in our hearts and minds. It must be written on our hearts by the Spirit. We must have no doubts about this.

If we do doubt this, then we are blinded by Satan, led down the wide way to the broad gate that leads to destruction, to death, which Satan has the power of.

By saying the Old Testament is wrong when it ascribes death to the hands of God, by saying we need to reinterpret the the Old Testament by the Spirit instead of reading it literally, word for word, by the letter,

  • I know I will be mocked
  • I know I will be told I’m wrong
  • I know my salvation will be questioned.
  • I know I will be told I’m leading people astray
  • I know I will be called a false teacher
  • I know I will be told I’m out of my mind

But, that’s exactly what happened to Paul.

“And as he was saying these things in his defense, Festus said with a loud voice, ‘Paul, you are out of your mind; your great learning is driving you out of your mind.'” (Acts 26:24)

Festus told Paul that all his learning and all his study was making him say crazy things. Perhaps, Festus even meant that Paul was creating his own God.

“But Paul said, ‘I am not out of my mind, most excellent Festus, but I am speaking true and rational words.'” (Acts 26:25)

I am not of out my mind.

I am not creating my own God.

I am speaking true and rational words.

I am speaking the only words that make sense when you know that is was necessary that the Christ suffer and rise from the dead.

I am speaking the same words as Paul.

I am speaking the same words as Jesus.

I will worship God according to the way, believing the scriptures say that it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and rise from the dead.

Is Your Zeal for God Saving You?

TODAY’S READING: ACTS 22-23

“I am a Jew, born in Tarsus in Cilicia, but brought up in this city, educated at the feet of Gamaliel according to the strict manner of the law of our fathers, being zealous for God as all of you are this day.” – Acts 22:3

In the first words of his own defense before the Jews who wanted to do violence to him, Paul said that he zealous for God. But, Paul said that he was zealous for God just as were all the Jews were threatening him at that very moment.

To be zealous is to be filled with or characterized by zeal, which is eagerness and ardent interest in pursuit of something, or to be marked by fervent partisanship for a person, a cause, or an ideal.

Zeal can be a good thing.

When Jesus drove the animals out of the temple and flipped over the tables of the money changers, he said, “Take these things away; do not make my Father’s house a house of trade.” And, the disciples remember that it was written, “Zeal for your house will consume me.” (John 2:17)

Jesus had an eagerness and ardent interest in his Father’s house. He was fervently partisan to his Father and his father’s cause. Jesus’ zeal certainly seems like a good thing.

In Romans 12:8, Paul said that “the one who leads [gives aid], with zeal.”

And, in Romans 12:11, Paul said, “Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord.”

And, there are other places in the New Testament where we are encouraged to be zealous.

But, is being zealous always a good thing?

Just after he said that he was zealous for God just as the Jews who wanted to do him harm, Paul said, “I persecuted this Way to the death, binding and delivering to prison both men and women.” (Acts 22:4)

Paul is saying his zeal for God drove him to persecute others just as the zeal for God of the Jews confronting him was driving them to persecute him.

We know our zeal is good based on what it is driving us to do. Zeal is only good if it is driving us to submit to God’s righteousness. Submitting to God’s righteousness is a rather vague notion. What exactly does it mean?

Go back to John 2 and Jesus’ cleansing of the temple. The disciples remembered that according to the scriptures zeal for God’s house would consume Jesus.

What did Jesus’ zeal for God’s house drive Jesus to do?

Jesus said, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” (John 2:19) Of course, Jesus was speaking about the temple of his body. Jesus was saying that he had to suffer and rise from the dead, which has been our theme for several days now.

Zeal is good when it drives us to suffer and die for others. Zeal is good when it drives us to the cross.

Paul talked about this in Romans 10:1-4.

“Brothers, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for them is that they may be saved. For I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge. For, being ignorant of the righteousness of God, and seeking to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness. For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.”

Zeal goes wrong when we are ignorant of the righteousness of God, seek to establish our own righteousness, and do not submit to God’s righteousness.

What is the righteousness of God?

Christ is the end of the law for righteousness. The Greek word for end is telos. It basically means the goal or the fulfillment. Christ is the goal or the fulfillment of the law for righteousness.

How so?

The theme that we have been reading about for the last several days – that it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and rise from the dead. “And he said to them, ‘O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter his glory?’ And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.” (Luke 24:25-27)

Everything in the law pointed to Jesus needing to suffer and rise from the dead. That was the goal, the fulfillment, the end, of the law for righteousness. If you know that, then you are not ignorant of God’s righteousness. If you submit to God’s righteousness – the necessity of suffering, going to the cross, and rising from the dead – then your zeal will lead to good works.

But, if you do not understand that the righteousness of God leads to the necessity of suffering, then you will seek establish a righteousness of your own. You will establish your own righteousness through violence and persecution, verbally and/or physically, of others. This is just what Paul’s zeal drove him to until Jesus shined his light upon him. And, throughout the entire book of Acts, this is what the zeal of the Jews was driving them to do.

Paul says that we can have a zeal for God, but that the zeal we have is not according to knowledge. The Greek word for knowledge here is epiginosko. Ginosko means to know. Epiginosko means a full knowing. It suggests a more special or advanced knowing because of a special participating in or with the thing that is the object of knowing.

Zeal for God that is not according to knowledge leads to persecution because we have not fully known who Christ is – that it was necessary for him to suffer. This zeal is not according to full knowledge because we have not participated with Christ in his suffering.

We have a true zeal for God when that zeal leads us to suffer, to lay down our lives, to go to the cross.

If we, in any way, are persecuting others, doing violence to them, making war, etc., then our zeal is leading us away from God and down a path of destruction.

Look at how Paul addresses zeal and the righteousness of God in Philippians 3:4-11.

“If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law; blameless. But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith – that I may know him and the power of resurrection, and may share in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.”

If our zeal is leading us to do any sort of violence at all, without exception, then it is not true zeal for God.

We have a true zeal for God when our zeal leads us to shun every appearance of evil, wickedness, and violence in our lives. We have a true zeal for God when that zeal is driving us to suffer for the sake of others, to lay down our lives for others, to love our enemies.

If we have this true zeal for God, then our zeal is saving us.

This is what Paul means in Titus 2:11-14.

“For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.”

Go back to Romans 10:1-4. Paul said that his “heart’s desire and prayer to God them [the Jews] is that that may be saved.”

How would they be saved?

Having a zeal for God that was according to knowledge. A zeal for God that drove them to suffer and lay down their lives for others just as their Messiah did.

This is what it means to be saved.

Your zeal for God is saving you when your zeal turns you from persecuting others, from violence toward others, to suffering for others, including loving your enemies.

What Is Repentance toward God and Faith in Jesus?

TODAY’S READING: ACTS 20-21

“How I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you in public and from house to house, testifying both to Jews and to Greeks repentance toward God and of faith in our Lord Jesus Christ.” – Acts 20:20-21

Paul is going to Jerusalem. He doesn’t know exactly what is going to happen to him there, but Paul does know that the Holy Spirit has testified to him repeatedly that imprisonment and affliction awaits him. Yet, this is not a deterrent to Paul.

Nearing the end of his journey to Jerusalem, the ship Paul is on stops in Miletus. He calls for the elders of the church in Ephesus. Ephesus is where Paul had spent several years teaching and preaching. Ephesus seemed to be the base of Paul’s ministry. We could imagine that the elders of the church in Ephesus were some of Paul’s closest and most trusted advisors.

When Paul calls these elders to him, he recounts for them how he had lived with them from the first day he set foot in Asia. And, he tells them that this will be the last time they see him face to face. At the close of Paul’s speech we are told that the elders were sorrowful that they would not see him again.

It’s amazing how Paul’s life mirrored Jesus’ life.

In Luke, we read several times that Jesus set his face toward Jerusalem, knowing that the cross, his ultimate suffering, was before him.

In John, we read of Jesus’ last night with his disciples. Jesus tells the disciples he still has much to say to them, but it cannot be explained, nor would they understand it, that night. But, Jesus tells them it will be for their good.

So, as the end of Paul’s life was drawing near, he spoke of the same things that Jesus spoke of as the end of his life was drawing near.

What were the things Jesus spoke of?

What Is the One Thing Jesus Spoke Plainly?

“And taking the twelve again, he began to tell them what was to happen to him, saying, ‘See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they condemn him to death and deliver him over to the Gentiles. And they will mock him and spit on him, and flog him and kill him. And after three days he will rise.’” (Mark 10:32-34)

Jesus spoke plainly that, as the Christ, he had to suffer and to rise from the dead.

After his resurrection, what did Jesus tell the disciples all the scriptures were about?

“And he said to them, ‘O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?’ And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.” (Luke 24:25-27)

Before his death, Jesus spoke one thing plainly to the disciples. After his resurrection, he spoke the same thing plainly to his disciples, showing them in all the scriptures where the plain thing was.

It was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead.

Why was it necessary that the Christ suffer and rise from the dead?

“Then he said to them, ‘These are my words that I spoke with you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.’ Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and said to them, ‘Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem.'” (Luke 24:44-47)

Why did Jesus speak plainly about the necessity of his suffering and rising from the dead?

Because it is this one word that allows repentance and forgiveness of sins to be proclaimed to all nations.

Why Were the Bereans Examining the Scriptures Daily?

“And Paul went in, as was his custom, and on three Sabbath days reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and proving that it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead, and saying, ‘This Jesus, whom I proclaim to you, is the Christ.’” (Acts 17:2-3)

The Bereans were looking for that one word that Jesus, and now Paul, spoke – it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and rise from the dead.

What Was Paul Occupied With?

Paul’s entire life, his every action and his every word, was occupied by the very same word that Jesus spoke plainly. Paul was compelled to do what he did and say what he said because it was necessary that the Christ had to suffer and rise from the dead so that repentance and the forgiveness of sins could be proclaimed to all nations.

So, in Acts 20, near the end of Paul’s life, he tells us how he spoke this one word – that it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and rise from the dead – so that repentance and the forgiveness of sins could be proclaimed to all nations.

Paul said, “If only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God.” (Acts 20:24)

He said, “For I did not shrink back from declaring to you the whole counsel of God.” (Acts 20:27)

Paul said, “And now I commend to God and the word of his grace.” (Acts 20:32)

Which are all different ways of saying, “How I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you in public from house to house, and testifying both to Jews and to Greeks of repentance toward God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Acts 20:20-21)

The clear, concise, and overwhelming message of Jesus and Paul, the whole counsel of God, the gospel of God’s grace, is that it was necessary that the Christ suffer and rise from the dead so that repentance and the forgiveness of sins could be proclaimed to all nations.

This is everything that Jesus wants us to know in the scriptures.

This is everything that the Holy Spirit speaks to us today.

Jesus said the reason for this one word was repentance and the forgiveness of sins.

Paul said the reason was repentance toward God and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.

Repentance is not changing our mind.

Repentance is changing our mind in a very specific way – toward God.

What does it mean to repent, change your mind, toward God?

Think about, meditate on, the first part of the one word that Jesus spoke plainly.

It was necessary that the Christ had to suffer.

It’s worth repeating.

It was necessary that the Christ had to suffer.

Jesus is the Christ, the son of God. He is God.

It was necessary that God suffer.

Why was that necessary?

Because since the foundation of the world, from Adam on, mankind believe that God caused suffering.

Just look at all the suffering the Bible claims came from the hands of God.

According to the Bible,

  • God drowned all flesh in a global flood
  • God sent plagues of utter destruction on a nation and then drowned its leader and army in the sea
  • God caused fire to come out of the tabernacle and burn men alive
  • God opened the earth so that it swallowed thousands of people, including women and children, alive
  • God practiced genocide, commanding his people to devote seven nations to complete and total destruction
  • God caused infants to be torn to pieces
  • God  caused women to be raped
  • God punished Israel by sending other nations to defeat them in war and bring them into captivity
  • and on, and on, and on.

In other words, mankind believe that God was responsible for everything. Yes, God was responsible for the good that happened to mankind. But, he also caused the evil that happened to mankind too.

That Christ had to suffer so that mankind would know that God did not do these things.

The Christ suffered and died the most shameful death known to man on the cross to show that

  • God suffers instead of causing suffering
  • God is rejected instead of the one rejecting people from his presence
  • God is mocked and ridiculed instead of the one mocking and ridiculing
  • God is pierced through instead of the one doing the piercing
  • God is the one who’s body is torn instead of the one tearing bodies apart
  • God is killed, murdered, and executed instead of the one killing, murdering, executing, and taking life of mankind whenever he feels like it
  • God lays down his life and does not fight or war instead of fighting, warring and committing genocide

We repent, change our minds, so that we move toward God, so that we see God for who he really is.

That is why Jesus the Christ had to suffer. There was no other way to show us how wrong our view of God was and still is.

God is good and only good.

“God is light, and in him is no darkness at all.” (1 John 1:5)

“God is love…There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.” (1 John 4:16, 18)

“If we receive the testimony of men, the testimony of God is greater…And this is the testimony, that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son.” (1 John 5:9, 11)

But, the one word that Jesus, and Paul, spoke plainly does not end with Christ’s suffering.

It was necessary that the Christ rise from the dead.

It’s worth repeating.

It was necessary that the Christ rise from the dead.

Why was that necessary?

Jesus, the Christ who had to suffer and die, could not, would not, be defeated.

“God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it.” (Acts 2:24)

In other words, the grave could not hold Jesus down.

“I am…the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore.” (Revelation 1:17, 18)

Jesus had to rise from the dead “because of his [God’s] own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began, and which now has been manifested through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.” (2 Timothy 1:9-10)

It was necessary that Jesus rise from the dead so “that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery.” (Hebrews 2:14-15)

It was necessary that Jesus rise from the dead to defeat death, which we have feared and been enslaved to from the beginning, so that, through the grace of God, he could bring us life and immortality. God gave us this in Christ – the one who needed to suffer and rise from the dead – before the ages began.

The most dramatic and significant way God could express his life defeating death was for Jesus, the Christ, who had to suffer, in the midst of his most extreme suffering on the cross, when all the wrong thoughts of God throughout the history of man converged on a single person at a single point in time, to say,

“Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:34)

Had Jesus remained in the grave, not rising from the dead, would God had forgiven us?

Jesus had to rise from the dead to confirm that God truly does forgive our sins, all our wrong thoughts about him.

Knowing that we are forgiven by God for the wrong we have done to him is faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.

Repentance toward God and faith in Jesus, the forgiveness of sins is not about adultery, strife, stealing, lying, coveting, mean words, etc.

Mankind knows those are wrong. The Jews knew those were always wrong from the law of Moses. And, Paul writes in Romans that even Gentiles have a law unto themselves and know these things are wrong. Therefore, no one needs to change their mind that these things are wrong. We’ve always known that.

But, we didn’t know what God was like.

In fact, no one had ever seen God.

Until Jesus.

Jesus was God in the flesh.

Jesus was God dwelling among us.

If we see Jesus, then we see God.

So, when we see that it was necessary for Jesus to suffer and rise from the dead, then we see God

God suffers and forgives.

This is the good news.

This is the gospel.

This is God’s grace.

This is the one word that Jesus spoke plainly.

Jesus spoke it, and Paul testified about it to Jews and Greeks, to proclaim repentance toward God and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, the forgiveness of sins.

What Was Paul Occupied With?

TODAY’S READING: ACTS 18-19

“When Silas and Timothy arrived from Macedonia, Paul was occupied with the word, testifying to the Jews that the Christ was Jesus.” – Acts 18:5

Paul was occupied with the word.

A simple statement.

But, it is a statement with a depth of meaning that belies the simple declaration of it.

What is the word Paul was occupied with?

In “Why Were the Bereans Examining the Scriptures Daily?“, I wrote that the word is that Christ had to suffer and rise from the dead. Acts 17:2-3 says, “And Paul went in, as was his custom, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and proving that it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead, and saying, ‘This Jesus, whom I proclaim to you, is the Christ.'”

Jesus, the man who was crucified, is the Christ, the Messiah, the long awaited king. He had to suffer. It was absolutely necessary for Jesus to suffer. Jesus died, but he rose from the dead.

It cannot be stressed enough that the Christ had to suffer. God had to suffer.

God suffers.

He does not cause suffering.

It cannot be stressed enough that the Christ died. God had to die.

God dies.

He does not cause dying.

But, the Christ rose from the dead. “I am the resurrection and the life.” God is the living God.

God resurrects and gives life.

He does not condemn to death.

This is the word, the essential word, the only word, for Paul. This is the word that Paul testified to the Jews, “that the Christ was Jesus.” Paul was testifying to the Jews that their long awaited king was a king that suffered and died but was resurrected.

That’s quite a word for a people who were being oppressed and afflicted by the Roman empire, one of the greatest empires the world has ever known.

Yet, Paul was occupied with this word – it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead.

To say that Paul was “occupied” with the word almost sounds to soft for the Greek word used here. Occupied is the Greek word synecho. Synecho has a range of meanings all tied to the same idea. This is evidenced in that the synecho is used 12 times in the New Testament and the ESV translates it with 12 different English words.

Eleven of the uses are:

  • “oppressed” by demons
  • the greatness of Jesus’ “distress” until the baptism of the cross was complete
  • “hemmed” in on every side by enemies
  • Jesus being “held” in custody waiting to be crucified
  • Simon’s mother-in-law was “ill”
  • “seized” by fear
  • “surrounded” by crowds
  • “occupied” with the word
  • sick “with” fever and dysentery
  • ears that were “stopped”
  • “pressed” between two choices

Synecho literally means to hold together, to compress, to arrest. Figuratively, it means to compel, perplex, afflict, or preoccupy. These figuratively meanings lead to 12th use of synecho.

“For the love of Christ controls [synecho] us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.” – 2 Corinthians 5:14-15

Paul says that he is controlled, seized, compelled by the love of Christ. We could even say that Paul was preoccupied, afflicted, or oppressed by the love of Christ.

We could even say that Paul was perplexed by the love of Christ. To be perplexed is to be made unable to grasp something clearly or to think logically and decisively about something. Paul was perplexed, or occupied, with the word – that it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead – that it was the only thing he could think about.

So, we have the word that Paul was occupied with linked with the love of Christ that controlled Paul.

The word – that it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and rise from the dead – is the same thing as the love of Christ.

Because this word was how the love of Christ, the love of God, was manifested to us.

“Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. In this the love of God was manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.” – 1 John 4:7-11

Love was made manifest in that Christ suffered, died, and rose from the dead.

For the forgiveness of sins.

So that we live through Jesus, through God.

That Paul was occupied with this word, which is the love of Christ, should give new meaning to 2 Corinthians 4:7-12.

“But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So death is at work in us, but life in you.”

When we read Paul say he was afflicted, perplexed, persecuted, and struck down, our minds immediately turn to his enemies doing these things to him.

But, is Paul talking about his enemies?

Perhaps.

Or, is it possible that Paul is saying the word, the love of Christ, that occupied and controlled him was in some spiritual sense afflicting, perplexing, persecuting, and striking him down?

Was Paul perplexed by his enemies?

I doubt it. He was once that enemy. He understand the thinking of his enemy.

Or, was Paul perplexed by the word, the love of Christ?

The word – that it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead – is the love of Christ.

The love of Christ “afflicts” us but does not crush us.

The love of Christ “perplexes” us but does not drive us to despair.

The love of Christ “persecutes” us but does not forsake us.

The love of Christ “strikes us down” but does not destroy us.

Therefore, Paul links afflicted, perplexed, persecuted, and struck down with “always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies.” But, this is none other than the word – it was necessary for the Christ to suffer (the death of Jesus) and to rise from the dead (the life of Jesus) – that compelled Paul to testify, or be a channel of witness, that Jesus was the Christ.

What a word that Paul was occupied with. What a word that Paul testified to the Jews in Corinth.

But, the Jews opposed and reviled Paul because of this word. They rejected that it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and rise from the dead. And, this helps to explain Paul’s answer to the Jews.

Paul said, “Your blood be on your own heads! I am innocent.”

To preach the word that the Christ suffered and died but rose from the dead is to say that the way to life is suffering and dying, picking up your cross. The way to life is not taking vengeance. The way to life is not violence.

“I am the way, and the truth, and the life.”

The Jews rejected this word. They wanted to reach life through a Messiah that was violent and took vengeance upon their enemies not one that suffered and died.

However, as Jesus said, “All who take the sword will perish by the sword.” (Matthew 26:52)

Paul is telling the Jews that by rejecting the suffering and dying Christ they are rejecting the non-violent way to life that God has revealed. Therefore, their own violence is going to come back on their own heads. As Psalm 7:14-16 says, “Behold, the wicked man conceives evil and is pregnant with mischief and gives birth to lies. He makes a pit, digging it out, and falls into the hole that he has made. His mischief returns upon his own head, and on his own skull his violence descends.”

While the Jews rejected the word, many of the Corinthians believed that Paul that Jesus was the Christ who had to suffer and rise from the dead so that their sins might be forgiven and that they might live through him.

“But when Gallio was proconsul of Achaia, the Jews made a united attack on Paul and brought him before the tribunal [the bema, the judgment seat – see “What is the Judgment Seat?“], saying, ‘This man is persuading people to worship God contrary to the law.'”

What did the Jews mean that Paul was persuading people to worship God contrary to the law?

The Jews’ view of God in the law was that God was good and evil. God did both. God would save the Jew but destroy their enemies. God took Israel into the promised land, saving them, but told them devote to destruction the men, women, and children of the nations already in the land. On the other hand God gave and protected life, but on the other hand God took and destroyed life. This was how the Jews read the Old Testament, the law.

But, Paul did not teach that God did these things. He taught that instead causing suffering, God suffered. Instead of causing death, God died. This was not how the Jews interpreted the law or the prophets, the Old Testament. And, this was why the Jews said that Paul was teaching contrary to the law.

However, Paul did teach the Old Testament, the law and the prophets, just as Jesus himself taught it.

“Then he said to them, ‘These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.’ Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and said to them, ‘Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.'” – Luke 24:44-47

This is the word that occupied Paul.

This is the word that should occupy us.

Why Were the Bereans Examining the Scriptures Daily?

TODAY’S READING: ACTS 16-17

“Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so.” – Acts 17:11

Paul and Silas escaped Thessalonica at night and went to Berea. When they got there, Paul and Silas went to the synagogue. The two spoke the word to the Berean Jews. And, the Berean Jews were examining the scriptures daily to see if the word Paul and Silas spoke was true.

Christians make much of these Bereans.

“We need to be like the Bereans, examining the scriptures every day.”

“We should be like the Bereans and read our Bibles every day.”

However, based on how I see many Christians studying the Bible and the beliefs they espouse as a result, I deduce that these Christians are not really examining why the Bereans were examining the scriptures and what they were looking for.

So, why were the Bereans examining the scriptures daily?

Let’s break it down.

The Greek word translated scriptures is graphe, which means a writing, a scripture, a drawing, a letter. Graphe generally means a document. It can mean a picture or a painting. It can even mean an indictment in a public prosecution.

When we see the word scriptures, our minds immediately go to the Bible. However, it is unlikely that any of the New Testament would have been available to the Berean Jews for examining. At best, the Bereans would have been examining the Old Testament.

In Acts 17:11, graphe is plural. Therefore, the Berean Jews were examining the writings, the documents, the scriptures. It is possible that the documents they were examining included documents outside of what we consider scripture today. For example, the Bereans may have been examining documents such as the apocrypha (1 and 2 Esdras, 1 and 2 Maccabees, Tobit, Wisdom, etc.), the books of Enoch, the midrash, and mishnah.

I point this out to demonstrate that if we are going to examine the scriptures like the Bereans then we cannot bring our presuppositions to the text. We have to dig into the text and look at all the possibilities of what it means.

Now that we know something about the writings, let’s look at how the Bereans were examining them. The Greek word for examining is anakrino. The Greek word krino means to judge, pass judgment on, consider, separate, decide, distinguish, or evaluate. The prefix ana means up or severally, but in compound words it typically implies repetition, intensity, reversal.

The Bereans were repetitively judging, considering, separating, deciding, distinguishing, and evaluating the scriptures.

The Bereans were intensely judging, considering, separating, deciding, distinguishing, and evaluating the scriptures.

The Bereans were judging, considering, separating, deciding, distinguishing, and evaluating the scriptures with a mind towards reversing what they previously believed the scriptures to say.

So, the word anakrino means to scrutinize, investigate, interrogate, examine, judge, criticize. To really understand what anakrino means, perhaps we should look at what these English words mean.

  • scrutinize – to examine closely and minutely
  • investigate – to observe or study by close examination and systematic inquiry
  • interrogate – to question formally and systematically
  • examine – to inspect closely, to test the condition of, to inquire carefully into, to interrogate closely, to test by questioning in order to determine progress, fitness, or knowledge
  • judge – to form an opinion about through careful weighing of evidence and testing of premises
  • criticize – to consider the merits and demerits of and judge accordingly

The Bereans were examining the scriptures the way I’m doing right now. They looking into the meanings of the words. They were digging deep into the text. They were picking the text apart. They were looking at all the possible meanings, developing premises and hypotheses and testing them to see if they were true. They were questioning the text. They were mulling these things over in their minds.

The Bereans were doing all of this with the intention of reversing what they previously believed about the text.

What were the Bereans not doing in examining the scriptures?

They were not beholden to the literal meaning of the words only.

They were not sticking with the plain meaning only.

They were not going by what someone else told them, what someone else taught them, or the traditions they had grown up with.

They were not hearing the scriptures once a week when they showed up for church.

When they were examining the scriptures, what were the Bereans looking for?

What was their purpose in scrutinizing, investigating, interrogating, examining, judging, and criticizing the scriptures?

The Bereans were seeking to know if the scriptures spoke the word.

What word?

The same word that Paul and Silas taught in the synagogue in Thessalonica.

What word was that?

“And Paul went in, as was his custom, and on three Sabbath days reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and proving that it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead, and saying, ‘This Jesus, whom I proclaim to you, is the Christ.'” – Acts 17:2-3

Paul had a custom, a pattern that he followed. He reasoned, argued, discussed, conversed, made a speech from the Scriptures to explain and prove that Jesus Christ had to suffer and rise from the dead.

The Bereans were examining the scriptures to see if what Paul was saying – that the Christ had to suffer and rise from the dead – was true. The Bereans were scrutinizing, investigating, interrogating, examining, judging, and criticizing the scriptures to see where, when,  and how they said the Christ had to suffer and rise from the dead.

And, the Bereans were doing this with the intention of reversing what they had previously believed the scriptures said.

The Bereans were not examining the scriptures to prove that the Bible was literally true, that the Bible was inerrant, that the Bible was infallible.

The Bereans were not examining the scriptures to prove that creation was literally created in six days in attempt to fit their scientific understanding with Genesis 1.

The Bereans were not examining the scriptures to know what laws Moses said they should keep and what sacrifices they needed to make.

The Bereans were not examining the scriptures to prove why people should tithe.

The Bereans were not examining the scriptures to prove that everything historical event recorded in the Bible was literally true, word for word.

The Bereans were examining the scriptures for one thing and one thing only.

Did Jesus Christ have to suffer and rise from the dead?

Was Paul correct?

Was this word true?

It is no coincidence that this word, the word that Paul made a custom of teaching in the synagogues, was the same word that Jesus taught the two disciples on the road to Emmaus.

“And he said to them, ‘O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?’ And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.” – Luke 24:25-27

Jesus showed these two disciples in all the scriptures – from Moses to all the prophets – how he had to suffer and rise from the dead, the same word that Paul made a custom of teaching in the synagogues.

Notice that Jesus had to interpret the scriptures for them. That the Christ had to suffer and rise from the dead wasn’t the plain and obvious meaning of the scriptures. It wasn’t the literal meaning of the scriptures.

Jesus did the same thing with all the disciples a short while later.

“Then he said to them, ‘These are my words that i spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.’ Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and said to them, ‘Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead.'” – Luke 24:44-46

Jesus opened their minds.

The word opened is the same word used in Acts 17:3 to say that Paul was “explaining” from the scriptures to the Thessalonican Jews that it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and rise from the dead. Paul was giving the same word that Jesus gave.

Because they were examining the scriptures daily for the word – that the Christ had to suffer and rise from the dead – we are told that the Bereans were more noble than those in Thessalonica.

We tend to think of nobility as your social standing due to birth. And, the Greek word used here can mean that. But, the Greek word also means noble in mind, sentiment, character, and morals. It also can have the connotation of being open minded.

Why the Berean Jews were more noble, dare I say more open minded, than the Thessalonican Jews?

Because “they received the word with all eagerness.”

The Greek word eagerness is prothumia. Thymos means passion, as if breathing hard. It is the word for anger, wrath, indignation, fierceness. The prefix pro means before, in front of, prior to.

Think about the implications of prothumia then.

The Bereans’ eagerness for the word implies that they were breathed into before, prior to, hearing the word – that Christ had to suffer and rise from the dead – from the Paul. This eagerness for the word was a wrath, an indignation, a fierceness that came upon them. (Think about what this says about God’s wrath.)

Therefore, prothumia means a predisposition, alacrity (promptness in response, cheerful readiness), a forwardness of mind, a readiness of mind, a ready and willing mind.

The Berean Jews were more noble than the Thessalonican Jews because they received the word – that Christ had to suffer and rise from the dead – the word that was not literally stated in the scriptures but had to be interpreted, explained, and proved with a predisposition to believing the word.

Therefore, when the Bereans were examining the scriptures they were looking to reverse what they had previously believed about them. The Bereans were eager to change their minds, to repent.

When we get right down to it, the Bereans were examining the scriptures to change their minds about God. They were ready and willing to believe that God suffered for them, that God made himself a sacrifice for them, that God died.

They had to change their minds, reverse the way they understood the scriptures. Because the literal reading of the scriptures said that God killed, murdered, raped, plundered, and utterly destroyed people. The literal reading of the scriptures said that God practiced genocide against those nations in the land of Canaan.

So, yes, let’s be like the Bereans, examining the scriptures daily.

But, let’s not fool ourselves.

We cannot be like the Bereans and come to the scriptures to prove our traditions, to prove what we have been taught, to prove the literal meaning of the scriptures. We cannot be like the Bereans and immediately and continually disagree with our traditions and something that we do not understand. We cannot be like the Bereans and rely on the Old Testament alone, always quoting from it.

Instead,  if we want to be like the Bereans and not the Thessalonican Jews, who by the way persecuted Paul and Silas and drove them from the city, then we must come to the scriptures with an eagerness to have our minds changed, reversed. We must come to the scriptures carefully looking for how we repent – change what believe about God. We have to listen to Jesus.

To be look like the Bereans, examining the scriptures daily, we need to study them for one thing and one thing only.

Christ suffered and rose from the dead.

Does God Require Sacrifice?

TODAY’S READING: ACTS 14-15

“Men, why are you doing these things? We also are me, of like nature with you, and we bring you good news, that you should turn from these vain things to a living God, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and all that is in them..” – Acts 14:15

Barnabas and Paul traveled to Lystra where they spoke about Jesus. Paul saw that a man crippled from birth and unable to walk was listening intently to his preaching. So, Paul said to the man, “Stand upright on your feet.” The man immediately got up and walked.

When the crowd saw this, they thought the gods Zeus and Hermes had come to them as men. Lystra had a temple of Zeus at the entrance to city. So, the priest of temple got oxen and garlands to offer a sacrifice. But, Barnabas and Paul are distressed, tearing their clothes, that the priest and the crowd want to offer sacrifice.

They cried out, “Men, why are you doing these things? We also are men, of like nature with you, and we bring you good news, that you should turn from these vain things to a living God, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and all that is in them. In past generations he allowed all the nations to walk in their own ways. Yet he did leave himself without witness, for he did good by giving you rains from heaven and fruitful seasons, satisfying your hearts with food and gladness.”

“Why are you doing these things?”

Why are you offering sacrifices?

This is what Barnabas and Paul are asking the men of Lystra.

The basic question is this:

Does the God and Father of Jesus require sacrifice?

The Old Testament gives conflicting answers to this simple question.

Leviticus 1:1-2 says, “The Lord called Moses and spoke to him from the tent of meeting, saying, ‘Speak to the people of Israel and say to them, When any one of you brings an offering to the Lord, you shall bring your offering of livestock from the herd or from the flock.” Leviticus 2:1, Leviticus 3:1, Leviticus 4:1-3, 13-14, 22-24, Leviticus 5:1-6, 14-15, and Leviticus 6:1-7 all say something similar.

Moses certainly thought that God required the Jews to offer sacrifices of dead animals to him. So, on the one hand, the Old Testament says that God requires, in fact he needs, a sacrifice for the cleansing and removing of sin.

But, almost every writer of the Old Testament outside of Moses says something different.

“And Samuel said, ‘Has the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to listen than the fat of rams.'” – 1 Samuel 15:22

“For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it; you will not be pleased with a burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.” – Psalm 51:16-17

“To do righteousness and justice is more acceptable to the Lord than sacrifice.” – Proverbs 21:3

“What to me is the multitude of your sacrifices? says the Lord; I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams and the fat of well-fed beasts; I do not delight in the blood of bulls, or of lambs, or of goats. When you come to appear before me, who has required this trampling of my courts? Bring no more vain offerings; incense is an an abomination to me. New moon and Sabbath and the calling of convocations – I cannot endure iniquity and solemn assembly. Your new moons and your appointed feasts my soul hates; they have become a burden to me; I am weary of bearing them. When you spread out your hands, I will hide my eyes from you; even though you make many prayers, I will not listen; your hands are full of blood. Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your deeds from before my eyes; cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause.” – Isaiah 1:11-17

“He who slaughters an ox is like one who kills a man; he who sacrifices a lamb, like one who breaks a dog’s neck; he who presents a grain offering, like one who offers pig’s blood; he who makes a memorial offering of frankincense, like who blesses an idol.” – Isaiah 66:3

“What use to me is frankincense that comes from Sheba, or sweet cane from a distant land? Your burnt offerings are not acceptable, nor your sacrifices pleasing to me.” – Jeremiah 6:20

“For in the day that i brought them out of the land of Egypt, I did not speak to your fathers or command them concerning burnt offerings and sacrifices. But this command I gave them: ‘Obey my voice, and I will be your God, and you shall be my people. And walk in all the way that I command you, that it may be well with you.’ But they did not obey or incline their ear, but walked in their own counsels and the stubbornness of their evil hearts, and went backward and not forward.” – Jeremiah 7:22-24

“For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.” – Hosea 6:6

“I hate, I despise your feasts, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies. Even though you offer me burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them; and the peace offerings of your fattened animals, I will not look upon them. Take away from me the noise of your songs; to the melody of your harps I will not listen. But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.” – Amos 5:21-24

“‘With what shall I come before the Lord, and bow myself before God on high? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousands of rivers of oil? Shall i give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?’ He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” – Micah 6:6-8

Almost all the writers outside of Moses say that God does not require sacrifice of any kind, whether it is the sacrifice of animals or the burning of incense to an idol. In fact, if you do offer the sacrifices that Moses said God requires, then you are just like all the other nations. Further, if you offer the sacrifice of an ox, then it is as if you have killed a man.

And, these writers say that instead of sacrifice God wants people to listen to his voice. God wants people to obey him. According to the writers that said God does not require sacrifice, what does obedience to God look like?

Have a broken spirit.

Have a contrite heart.

Do righteousness.

Do justice.

Remove your evil deeds from before God’s eyes.

Cease to do evil.

Learn to do good.

Correct oppression.

Bring justice to the fatherless.

Plead the widow’s cause.

Walk in the way that God commands you.

Do justice.

Love kindness.

Walk humbly with God.

So, should we offer sacrifices or not?

Who is right – Moses or almost every other writer, the prophets, of the Old Testament?

How do we decided?

We listen to Jesus.

This is the most fundamental thing of being a Christian. Yet, it is the one thing most Christians fail to do. So, let me say it again.

We listen to Jesus.

This is the point of the Jesus’ transfiguration. Moses, the law, and Elijah, the prophets, both appear with Jesus. But, when Peter tries to put them all on equal fitting, Moses and Elijah disappear and only Jesus remains. Then God says, “This is Son, my Chosen One; listen to him!” (Luke 9:35)

We decide what is true, what is really God in the Old Testament, by letting the voices of Moses and the prophets, the voice of the writers of the Old Testament, disappear. And, we listen only to the voice of Jesus, the voice of the Holy Spirit.

Hebrews 1:1-2 says, “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these days he has spoke to us by his Son.”

God spoke through Moses. God spoke through prophets. He gave them many visions, images, symbols, and pictures to communicate to the people. But, because Moses and the prophets had never seen God face to face, they were not able to give a clear picture of who God was and what God required.

But, in these last days, today, God speaks through Jesus. For, no one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side; he has made him known.” (John 1:18) Only Jesus has seen God face to face. Therefore, only Jesus God tell us what God is really like and what he requires.

So, what did Jesus say about sacrifices?

What was Jesus’ answer to the dispute in the Old Testament about God requiring sacrifices?

Did Jesus ever quote from Leviticus, from Moses, to tell us that God requires sacrifices from us?

No.

Did Jesus ever quote from the other writers of the Old Testament that God does not require sacrifices but obedience, justice, mercy, etc.?

Yes he did.

In Matthew 23:23, Jesus alludes to Micah 6:6-8 when he says, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done without neglecting the others.”

In Matthew 9:13, Jesus quotes Hosea 6:6 when he says, “Go and learn what this means: I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.'”

In Matthew 12:7, Jesus quotes Hosea 6:6 again when he says, “And if you had known what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the guiltless.”

Look very closely at what Jesus says in Matthew 12:7.

If you had known that God did require sacrifices but mercy, then you not have condemned the guiltless.

Because the Jews believed God required sacrifices, just like the Gentiles, all the other nations, believed, who was the guiltless one that they condemned?

Jesus.

In John 18:38, Pilate said of Jesus, “I find no guilt in him.”

In John 19:6, the Jews cried out, “Crucify him, crucify him!”

Pilate responded, “Take him yourselves and crucify him, for I find no guilt in him.”

Who demanded the sacrifice, the crucifixion, of Jesus?

The Jews.

Men.

All nations, all men, believed that God required sacrifices. Therefore, Barnabas and Paul said to the men of Lystra, “In past generations he allowed all the nations to walk in their own ways.” Did you notice that this is what the writers other than Moses continually said? The Jews were walking in their own ways and counsels, not God’s, by offering animal sacrifices.

Since men demanded the sacrifice, the crucifixion, of Jesus, who is God, then where does that leave God in the whole equation?

The sacrificed.

God doesn’t require sacrifice.

He is the sacrifice.

Men, all nations, have required a sacrifice. So, Jesus, God in the flesh, became that sacrifice for us.

When we read Moses, Jesus, and therefore God, is not the priest doing the sacrificing.

No, not at all.

Instead, Jesus is the ox, the sheep, the goat, the bird, the grain that is sacrificed. We see Jesus in the innocent animal that was slaughtered and burned on the altar at the hands of men.

Remember, Isaiah said that to offer an ox was the same as killing a man. To offer animal sacrifices is the same as killing, crucifying, Jesus.

Seeing God as the one who sacrifices, the one who demanded Jesus be crucified, the one who requires sacrifice, does not free us from our sins.

No, Jesus, and therefore God, is not the priest who sacrifices.

Instead, seeing Jesus, and therefore God, as the one who is sacrificed by men, by you and me, when we should have offered mercy to him as a guiltless man, when we should have done justice to the one that was oppressed, is what cleanses us from our sin.

It’s seeing Jesus, and God, as the one who is sacrificed that causes us to repent, to no longer be conformed to the world but be transformed by the renewing of our minds.

Seeing Jesus as the sacrifice was meant to open our ear to voice of God, the voice of Jesus.

Therefore, Psalm 40:6 says, “In sacrifice and offering you have not delighted, but you have given me an open ear. Burnt offering and sin offering you have not required.”

God did not delight in the sacrifice of Jesus. But, the sacrifice of Jesus was meant to give us an open ear. The Hebrew literally says “ears you have dug for me.” Jesus becoming the sacrifice on the cross was meant to dig through all the other messages and voices blocking our ears from hearing God. Seeing God as the sacrifice on the cross clears away all religious clutter and tradition that keeps us from truly walking in the ways of God.

Why does God not require the sacrifices of dead animals?

Because God is “a living God.” (Acts 14:15)

God “made the heaven and the earth and the sea.” (Acts 14:15)

Why does Paul say this?

He is referring back the creation story in Genesis 1. Paul is saying, “Look and see what God did. He made the heavens, the earth, and the sea, and he filled them with life.”

God is a living God. Therefore, God brings life to every situation and every circumstance. He is always and only bringing life.

“Yet he not leave himself without witness, for he did good by giving you rains from heaven and fruitful seasons, satisfying your hearts with food and gladness.” (Acts 14:17)

What was God’s witness to us?

A trail of death in animal sacrifices?

No.

God did good.

He gave us rain and fruitful seasons.

In other words, God brought life to us.

And the life God brought satisfied us with food and gladness.

Therefore, why would a living God require sacrifices of dead animals to be given to him?

The answer is that God doesn’t require sacrifices, dead animals, to be given to him.

“I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” – Romans 12:1-2

The whole world, all nations, all men, demands a sacrifice. Paul says that we, as followers of Christ, should no longer be conformed to that way of thinking. Stop thinking that God requires sacrifices of dead animals.

Instead, be transformed by the renewal of your mind. Repent, Change your mind. Instead of demanding the sacrifices of dead animals, the sacrifices of the guiltless – the oppressed, the fatherless, the orphan, the widow – present your bodies as a living sacrifice. Become a living sacrifice to God.

This is how we truly worship God.

Why should we become a living sacrifice?

God is a God of the living.

How do we become a living sacrifice?

Listen to Jesus and Jesus only.

Have a broken spirit.

Have a contrite heart.

Do righteousness.

Do justice.

Remove your evil deeds from before God’s eyes.

Cease to do evil.

Learn to do good.

Correct oppression.

Bring justice to the fatherless.

Plead the widow’s cause.

Walk in the way that God commands you.

Do justice.

Love kindness.

Walk humbly with God.

Stop requiring sacrifices.

Become the sacrifice.

Are You Worthy of Eternal Life?

TODAY’S READING: ACTS 12-13

“And Paul and Barnabas spoke out boldly, saying, ‘It was necessary that the word of God be spoken to you. Since you thrust it aside and judge yourselves unworthy of eternal life, behold, we are turning to the Gentiles.” – Acts 13:46

Jesus came to give us eternal life. This was the message, the word of the Lord, that he came to tell us.

In John 12:49-50, Jesus said, “For I have not spoken on my own authority, but the Father who sent me has himself given me a commandment – what to say and what to speak. And I know that his commandment is eternal life. What I say, therefore, I say as the Father told me.”

In John 6:63, Jesus said, “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life.”

Jesus became a life-giving spirit. He is ever giving life. He only and always gives life.

Jesus asked the apostles if they wanted to leave him like everyone else. “Simon Peter answered him, ‘Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.'”

Jesus’ message of eternal life was not about the afterlife. It was about right here, right now. Jesus’ message was that we should have the life of God, eternal life, now, in this life.

“But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ – by grace you have been saved.” – Ephesians 2:4-5

“And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands.” – Colossians 2:13-14

Eternal life is not about existing forever. It’s about a quality of life now.

We may be existing now, but we were dead in our trespasses. God makes us alive together with Christ now. He gives us eternal life, his life, now. Not after death, when we no longer physically exist.

Notice the similar words lumped together in Ephesians 2:4-5 and Colossians 2:13.

We are made alive together with Christ.

God is rich in mercy. In other words, he has forgiven us all our trespasses, all our sins.

We are saved by grace, having the record of debt that stood against us canceled when Christ nailed it to the cross.

These are the same words and phrases that Paul uses in Acts 13.

Paul says they have been given “the message of this salvation.” (Acts 13:26)

“Through this man [Jesus] forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you, and by him everyone who believes is freed from everything from which you could not be freed by the law of Moses.” (Acts 13:38-39)

In Luke 24:46-47, Jesus said, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.”

Jesus declared that forgiveness of sins, salvation, eternal life, should be declared to all nations, to everyone. Jesus deemed everyone worthy of this message, of eternal life.

So, why do some not receive eternal life?

“Since you thrust it aside and judge yourselves unworthy of eternal life.”

God does not judge anyone unworthy of eternal life. We judge ourselves unworthy of eternal life.

You know who else judged himself unworthy of eternal life?

The prodigal son.

“I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.'” So he arose and went to his father. Even while he was a long way off, the father saw him, felt compassion for him, and ran toward him. The father embraced him and kissed him. Yet, the son said, “Father, i have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer to be called your son.”

When the son says “no longer worthy” it is the same Greek words as Paul uses when he says that we judge ourselves “unworthy” of eternal life. This is just what the son is saying when he says that he is no longer worthy of being the father’s son. He is saying he is no longer worthy of the life of the father.

But, the father will have none of that. The father runs to him, embraces him, and kisses him. The father gives him his robes, puts a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet. The father restores him. The father judges his son worthy of eternal life even his son does not. “For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.”

Are you worthy of eternal life?

Yes.

In God’s eyes, the answer is always yes.

This is why Jesus died on the cross. To show you that you are worthy of eternal life, to forgive all your sins.

We judge ourselves, and others, unworthy of eternal life because we judge according to the flesh.

In John 8:15, Jesus said, “You judge according to the flesh; I judge no one.” When we judge according to the flesh, we judge with condemnation and death.

“For this is why the gospel was preached even to those who are dead, that though judged in the flesh the way people are, they might live in the spirit the way God does.” (1 Peter 4:6)

We judge ourselves and others unworthy of eternal life, worthy of death and eternal punishment, because we judge according to the flesh. But, God judges by the spirit. The Spirit is life. So, God judges us worthy of eternal life that we might live in the Spirit the way God does.

Therefore, Paul said, “From now, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh.” (2 Corinthians 5:16) We no judge people according to the Spirit. We see them as new creations. We see the old passing away and the new coming. This is from God. It is how he is reconciling the world to himself through Christ. “In Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them.” God is forgiving, saving, judging worthy of eternal life the world, everyone.

As Christians, the message is never you are not worthy, you are going to hell, God will destroy you.

As Christians, we proclaim the gospel, the good news, the same message that Jesus was commanded by the Father to give – eternal life. We proclaim you are forgiven. We proclaim you are worthy of eternal life. “Be reconciled to God.” This is our message. No exceptions.

This is how we are light to the world.

Why Did God Anoint Jesus with Power?

TODAY’S READING: ACTS 10-11

“How God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power. He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him.” – Acts 10:38

When we hear the word power, we tend to think of great physical strength, political control or influence, the ability to control or a controlling group, legal authority. We associate all these things with kings and kingdoms.

Speaking of his second coming, Jesus said, “And they will see the Son of Man coming clouds with great power and glory.” (Mark 13:26) We know that at Jesus’ second coming the kingdom of God will be fully realized. Jesus will be king of kings. Since he will be coming to establish the kingdom with power, we jump to the conclusion that Jesus’ coming in power will be with great physical strength, the ability to control others, and legal authority. We tend to think Jesus is going to wield power over others. We even think Jesus will use his power to assign people to hell and eternal torment and eternal fire.

This misunderstanding of power is exactly how the Jews missed Jesus’ first coming. And, many Christians are missing Jesus now because they misunderstand his power in exactly the same way.

But, this understanding of God anointing Jesus with power, the understanding the Jews had and many Christians have today, conflicts with God anointing Jesus with the Holy Spirit. See, we tend to treat the anointing with power as something distinct or different from the anointing with the Holy Spirit. But, they are one and the same.

God anointing Jesus with power cannot conflict with God anointing Jesus with the Holy Spirit.

We know what the anointing of the Holy Spirit looks like. “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.” Other translations include a few different words, such as longsuffering, meekness, and temperance. Do any of these words align with our typical views of power, specifically our view that power is something to be used over someone?

Of course not.

Indeed, the first attribute of fruit of the Holy Spirit, love, is completely counter to our typical view of power. “Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast, it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.” (1 Corinthians 13:4-8)

Love is the power of God. Love is the power that enabled Jesus endure the suffering of the cross for us. But, we would ever say about power the things Paul says about love?

No, for that’s not what we think about power.

But, what Paul wrote about love is what God thinks about power.

Power is patient and kind; power does not envy or boast, power is not arrogant or rude. Power does not insist on its own; power is not irritable or resentful; power does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but power rejoices with the truth. Power bears all things, power believes all things, power hopes all things, power endures all things. Power never ends (or fails).

Does this not change how think of power? Of the power that Jesus was anointed with?

Power bears all things.

“He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree.” (1 Peter 2:24) Jesus was powered to do this.

“Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.” (Hebrews 2:17-18)

Jesus exercised the power he was anointed with when he suffered when he was tempted just as we suffer when we are tempted. Walking the power to suffer, to bear all things, all our sins, was how Jesus became a merciful high priest who is able to help us, to heal us.

Therefore, Peter says, “How God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power. He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him.” (Acts 10:38)

Jesus was anointed with power not for physical strength, for political control or influence, for control of anyone, or legal authority. Jesus was anointed with power to suffer as we suffer, to bear all things, to bear our sins, so that he would be merciful to us, doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil.

Jesus was not anointed with power to rule (as we think of ruling), to have power over anyone.

Jesus was anointed with power to serve, to have power under everyone.

Given Luke’s account of what Peter said about Jesus being anointed with power, it is no surprise then what Luke’s gospel says about the power that Jesus was anointed with and walked in.

“And Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit to Galilee.” – Luke 4:14

Where did Jesus return from?

Resisting Satan in the wilderness.

What was Satan tempting Jesus with?

Using his power for himself. Taking power over creation to feed himself. Taking power over the kingdoms of the world to rule them. Taking power over God.

Jesus resisted all these temptations and returned in the power of the Spirit.

So, Jesus went into the synagogue on the Sabbath, grabbed a scroll, and read, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who were oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Luke 4:18-19)

This is how Jesus was going to walk in the power he had been anointed with.

Then, Luke shows Jesus over and over walking out his being anointed with power.

“And they were all amazed and said to one another, ‘What is this word? For with authority and power he commands the unclean spirits, and they come out!'” – Luke 4:36

“On one of those days, as he was teaching, Pharisees and teachers of the law were sitting there, who had come from every village of Galilee and Judea and from Jerusalem. And the power of the Lord was with him to heal.” – Luke 5:17

“And all the crowd sought to touch him, for power came out from him and healed them all.” – Luke 6:19

When the woman with the issue of blood was healed by touching the hem of Jesus’ garment, “Jesus said, ‘Someone touched me, for I perceive that power has gone out from me.'” – Luke 8:46

“And he called the twelve together and gave them power and authority over all demons and to cure diseases.” – Luke 9:1

“And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father [the Holy Spirit] upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.” – Luke 24:49

Why did God anoint Jesus with power?

To do good, to heal, and to set free all those oppressed by the devil.

Jesus is not going to return with a different power or to wield his power his power in a different way, over people instead of under people.

“So Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin, but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.” – Hebrews 9:28

Christ suffered by his anointing with power to bear our sins, to do good and to heal us, at his first coming. But, he only did this once. Therefore, he is coming a second time with power, with love, to save.

Does God Cause the Scattering of the Church?

TODAY’S READING: ACTS 8-9

“And there arose on that day a great persecution against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles.” – Acts 8:1

I have heard it said that God caused the church to be scattered so that the gospel would be spread throughout the world.

Is that true?

Did God cause the scattering of the church?

I will grant you that when the church was scattered that that the gospel was preached outside of Jerusalem.

“Now those who were scattered went about preaching the word.” – Acts 8:4

“Now those who were scattered because of the persecution that arose over Stephen traveled as far as Phoenicia and Cyprus and Antioch, speaking the word to no one except Jews.” – Acts 11:19

But, my question is not did God bring good out of the scattering of the church.

My question is did God cause the scattering of the church?

How we answer this question says a lot about our view of God. If we say that God caused the scattering of the church, then we believe that God does both good and evil to bring about his purposes. However, if we say that God did not cause the scattering of the church, then we believe that God does good and only good to bring about his purposes.

And, while we are focused on the scattering of the church and the cause of it, this idea can be applied to any evil or wicked thing that happens where good comes out of it. Does God cause the evil or wicked thing only to bring about something good? Or, does God only cause the good to be brought of the evil or wicked thing being done?

Our text in question says the scattering because “there arose on that day a great persecution against the church.” Acts 11:19 says that the scattering was “because of the persecution that arose over Stephen.”

Who persecuted Stephen?

“Then some of those who belonged to the synagogue of the Freedmen (as it was called), and of the Cyrenians, and of the Alexandrians, and of those from Cilicia and Asia, rose up and disputed with Stephen.” – Acts 6:9

“Then they secretly instigated men who said, ‘We have heard him speak blasphemous words against Moses and God.’ And they stirred up the people and the elders and the scribes, and they came upon him and seized him and brought him before the council.” – Acts 6:11-12

So, the people (the Jews), the elders, and the scribes were Stephen’s persecutors. They brought him to the high priest. They provided false witnesses to convict Stephen unjustly.

Stephen said, “You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you always resist the Holy Spirit. As your fathers did so do you. Which if the prophets did your fathers not persecute? And they killed those who announced beforehand the coming the Righteous One, whom you have now betrayed and murdered.” – Acts 7:51-52

Therefore, the people (the Jews), the elders, and the scribes threw stones to kill Stephen.

Was God animating and motivating the persecutors to do these things?

Did God cause Stephen’s persecution?

No.

Stephen had just given a long speech about how God was working throughout the history of Israel. But, the Jews, the elders, and the scribes could not hear him. In fact, they were enraged at his words.

So, in this we see the very words of Jesus. In John 8:43-44, Jesus said, Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot bear to hear my word. You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desire. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is not truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies.”

Therefore, who was the instigator of the persecution of Stephen?

Satan – the father of lies and a murderer from the beginning.

Where was God in all of this?

“But he [Stephen], full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. And he said, ‘Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.’ And as they were stoning Stephen, he called out, ‘Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.'” – Acts 7:55-56, 59

God was in Stephen. God was revealing his glory to Stephen. God was receiving Stephen’s spirit.

It was the persecutors that caused the scattering of the church. They were motivated by the devil. But, God was not in the persecutors.

God was in Stephen. Just like he was in Jesus on the cross.

There is a key portion of Acts 8:1 that I have left out to this point.

“And Saul approved of his execution.”

Saul was right there in the midst of those executing Stephen. He was one of the Jews, elders, and scribes that had convicted Stephen. But, Saul did more than merely approve or consent to the execution. The Greek words has the idea that Saul felt a sense of gratification because Stephen was executed.

So, Acts 9:1-2 says, “But Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem.”

When I read, and I believe others do to, that Saul was breathing threats and murder against the disciples I think of the threats and murder as things Saul was spewing out. These were things coming out of Saul. But, that is not what the text is saying.

The Greek word for breathing is empneo. It literally means to breathe in, to inhale. Figuratively, it means to be animated by, to be inspired by. What the text is really saying is that Saul was breathing in, being animated by, threats and murder against the disciples.

Saul approved of and felt gratified by the murder of Stephen. And, from that day, Saul continued the persecution. He breathed in and was animated by threats, or fear, of punishment (the Greek word implies this) and murder.

Who was animating Saul?

Who was breathing out so that Saul could breathe in?

Satan.

Just like Jesus said in John 8, Satan was Saul’s father at this time. We could say that Saul was the image of his God. Because his god, Satan, lied, accused and threatened, and murdered, Saul did the same things. Satan was breathing these things into Saul.

Notice what in says in Revelation 13:15. “And it was allowed to give breath to the image of the beast, so that the image of the beast might even speak and might cause those who would not worship the image of the beast to be slain.” Satan gives breath to the image of the beast. And, the image of the beast threatens and kills those who will not worship its god.

As Saul continued the persecution of the church, which brought about the scattering of the church, where was God?

“Now as he {Saul] went on his way, he approached Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven shone around him.” – Acts 9:3

Saul was on his way, persecuting and scattering the church. And, he was blinded by a light, Jesus.

“The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world.” – John 1:9

“I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” – John 8:12

“In him was life, and the life was the light of men.” – John 1:4

“This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all.” – 1 John 1:5

God was not the cause of Saul walking in darkness, persecuting and scattering the church.

Rather, Jesus was shining his light of life on Saul. Jesus’ light was driving out the darkness, the threats of punishment and murder, that Saul breathed in from Satan.

“God is love…There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.” – 1 John 4:16, 18

God was loving Saul, who was God’s enemy. God’s perfect love was driving the fear out of Saul. Saul’s fear was motivating him to threaten others with punishment. For whenever you threaten others with punishment, particularly eternal punishment, you are being motivated by Satan. You are breathing in Satan’s desires just like Saul.

What was God doing?

He was reconciling Saul to himself.

Remember, the Holy Spirit was in Stephen. Stephen saw God’s glory as he was being stoned to death. Jesus was receiving Stephen’s spirit. Saul was there to witness all of it.

Just read what Paul went on to write as a result of what the light of Christ revealed to him about where God was in the persecution of Stephen that caused the scattering of the church.

“For if while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life.” – Romans 5:10

“For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility.” – Ephesians 2:15-16

“All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors of Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.” – 2 Corinthians 5:18-20

God does not cause the scattering of his church or people.

God is reconciling the world to himself.

In other words, God is not scattering but gathering people to him.

In John 12:30, Jesus said, “Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters.” Jesus gathers. God gathers. His enemies scatter.

In John 10:11-12, Jesus said, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leave the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them up and scatters them.” Jesus, the good shepherd, gathers his sheep. The wolf, Satan, scatters them.”

In Matthew 23:37, Jesus said, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!”

In Matthew 26:31, Jesus said, “You will all fall away because of me this night. For it is written, ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.'” When Satan struck Jesus on the cross, the disciples were scattered. But, from his resurrection on, Jesus was gathering, never scattering his disciples.

So, if God and Jesus only gather, then what are we to make of the scattering of the church that led those scattered to preach the gospel around the world?

God did not cause the scattering, evil and wicked work of Satan. But, God turned it into good.

Genesis 50:20 says, “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.” Joseph said this to his brothers regarding their selling him into slavery. Joseph’s brothers, not God, were doing evil. God was doing good.

Or, as Paul says in Romans 8:28, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to this purpose.” The verse more literally says, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together into good.”

God is not doing or causing evil so that he can later bring about good. That would mean that God has darkness in him. But, God is light and there is no darkness at all in him. Rather, God is working everything into good. God only does good.

Therefore, God is never scattering his church.

God is always gathering, reconciling, people to him.

What Does The Word of God Increased Mean?

TODAY’S READING: ACTS 6-7

“And the word of God continued to increase, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests became obedient to the faith.” – Acts 6:7

In this verse we find two interconnected themes that are repeated throughout the book of Acts.

The first is the word of God increased.

  • “And the word of God continued to increase.” – Acts 6:7
  • “But the word of God increased and multiplied.” – Acts 12:24
  • “So the word of the Lord continued to increase and prevail mightily.” – Acts 19:20

The second is the number of disciples multiplying and being added to the Lord.

  • “So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls.” – Acts 2:41
  • “And the Lord added to their number day by day those were being saved.” – Acts 2:47
  • “And more than ever believers were added to the Lord, multitudes of both men and women.” – Acts 5:14
  • “And a great many people were added to the Lord.” – Acts 11:24

These two themes are essentially the same thing.

The word of God increasing and multiplying is the same thing as people being added to the Lord.

We first must understand that the word of God is not the Bible. For, how would the Bible increase and multiply? Would the number of its pages grow? Would there be more copies of it? And, even if these were so, what would be the importance of that?

No, the word of God is not the Bible. When we repeatedly say the word of God is the Bible is causes these two interconnected themes in Acts to lose their meaning. Therefore, we must know and say that the word of God is Jesus.

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men.” – John 1:1-4

Jesus, the word of God, creates.

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” – 2 Corinthians 5:17

So, the word of God increasing and multiplying in Acts is the increasing and multiplying of Jesus’ new creation. This is the spreading of eternal life, the kingdom of God, in the present.

How does this actually happen?

Jesus gave a parable about a sower who went out to sow seed. In his explanation of the parable, Jesus said, “The seed is the word of God.” (Luke 8:11) The seed that the sower, the Father, is sowing is not the Bible, not verses to be memorized. The seed the Father is sowing is Jesus.

In the parable, Jesus said when this seed, the word of God, Jesus himself, is sowed in good soil, receptive hearts, that the seed produces grain, “Some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty.” Therefore, the word of God, Jesus, sowed in a receptive heart increases and multiplies. This is exactly what Acts records happening.

In John 12:24, Jesus said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” The grain of wheat is Jesus, the seed, the word of God. Unless he died and was planted in the ground, then he would have remained alone. But, because he died and became the word of God, a seed, planted, he bore much fruit.

In other words, people were added to the Lord, which is just what we see happening in the book of Acts. Three thousand were added to the Lord in one day. The 120 disciples increased nearly thirty fold. Another day 5,000 were added to the Lord. Day by day there were those being added to the Lord. So, the seed, the word of God, Jesus was continually being sown. With patience, it began to bear more and more fruit.

I like how Paul writes about us being added to the Lord because he reveals that when the seed, the word of God, Jesus, is panted in us we become alive.

“But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ – by grace you have been saved – and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus.” – Ephesians 2:4-6

“And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses.” – Colossians 1:13

This circles us back to becoming a new creation in Christ. For that is what matters.

“For neither circumcision counts for anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation.” Galatians 6:15

The word of God increased and multiplied.

People were added to the Lord daily.

God made us alive together with him in Christ.

We are a new creation in Christ.

The Bible does not increase and multiply.

Jesus, the word of God, the kingdom of God, increases and multiplies in and through us as people are added daily to the Lord.