Monday, February 18

The Zeal of the Lord

9:1Now Saul was still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord. He went to the high priest 2and requested letters from him to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found any men or women who belonged to the Way, he might bring them as prisoners to Jerusalem. 3As he traveled and was nearing Damascus, a light from heaven suddenly flashed around him. 4Falling to the ground, he heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?”

“Who are you, Lord?” Saul said.

“I am Jesus, the one you are persecuting,” he replied. 6“But get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.”

7The men who were traveling with him stood speechless, hearing the sound but seeing no one. 8Saul got up from the ground, and though his eyes were open, he could see nothing. So they took him by the hand and led him into Damascus. 9He was unable to see for three days and did not eat or drink.

10There was a disciple in Damascus named Ananias, and the Lord said to him in a vision, “Ananias.”

“Here I am, Lord,” he replied.

11“Get up and go to the street called Straight,” the Lord said to him, “to the house of Judas, and ask for a man from Tarsus named Saul, since he is praying there. 12In a vision he has seen a man named Ananias coming in and placing his hands on him so that he may regain his sight.”

13“Lord,” Ananias answered, “I have heard from many people about this man, how much harm he has done to your saints in Jerusalem. 14And he has authority here from the chief priests to arrest all who call on your name.”

15But the Lord said to him, “Go, for this man is my chosen instrument to take my name to Gentiles, kings, and Israelites. 16I will show him how much he must suffer for my name.”

17Ananias went and entered the house. He placed his hands on him and said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on the road you were traveling, has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.”

18At once something like scales fell from his eyes, and he regained his sight. Then he got up and was baptized. 19And after taking some food, he regained his strength.

Saul was with the disciples in Damascus for some time. 20Immediately he began proclaiming Jesus in the synagogues: “He is the Son of God.”

21All who heard him were astounded and said, “Isn’t this the man in Jerusalem who was causing havoc for those who called on this name and came here for the purpose of taking them as prisoners to the chief priests?”

22But Saul grew stronger and kept confounding the Jews who lived in Damascus by proving that Jesus is the Messiah.

23After many days had passed, the Jews conspired to kill him, 24but Saul learned of their plot. So they were watching the gates day and night intending to kill him, 25 but his disciples took him by night and lowered him in a large basket through an opening in the wall.

26When he arrived in Jerusalem, he tried to join the disciples, but they were all afraid of him, since they did not believe he was a disciple. 27Barnabas, however, took him and brought him to the apostles and explained to them how Saul had seen the Lord on the road and that the Lord had talked to him, and how in Damascus he had spoken boldly in the name of Jesus. 28Saul was coming and going with them in Jerusalem, speaking boldly in the name of the Lord. 29 He conversed and debated with the Hellenistic Jews, but they tried to kill him. 30When the brothers found out, they took him down to Caesarea and sent him off to Tarsus.

31So the church throughout all Judea, Galilee, and Samaria had peace and was strengthened. Living in the fear of the Lord and encouraged by the Holy Spirit, it increased in numbers.

(Act 9:1-31 CSB)

What happened to a Pharisee named Saul on the road to Damascus was the perhaps the most pivotal event in the early Church. Lest we miss the centrality of the Damascus road, Luke repeats the story three times in the book Acts; Acts 9 narrates an abbreviated version, and later Paul tells his story twice while addressing different audiences, filling in relevant details. While the tale is certainly dramatic, what makes it so significant?

The road to Damascus isn’t just about Saul’s conversion, it’s about his calling.

We hear this calling from Jesus Himself when He tells poor Ananias to pray over Saul: Go, for this man is my chosen instrument to take my name to Gentiles, kings, and Israelites.  I will show him how much he must suffer for my name.

I have often wondered what Ananias felt as he walked down Straight Street and knocked on the door. I used to imagine his fist pausing before the first knock, his voice low as he asked for Saul, hopeful he wasn’t there, but that’s not what I imagine anymore. Ananias raised his concerns, Jesus responded, and Ananias went in bold faith. This is the only time we meet Ananias, yet despite his fleeting appearance he fulfills a grand calling—to pray and anoint the one whom Jesus had chosen as the greatest evangelist in the history of the Church. 

Have you ever wondered…why Saul?! He stood there, smug and self-righteous, as a mob brutally murdered Stephen, and then he initiated a campaign to drag others back to Jerusalem to face the same fate. As reprehensible and evil as those activities were, though, is was his (misguided) zeal for the Lord that motivated him. While jealousy and fear of losing power might have motivated the priests, Saul had no power—spiritual or political—to protect. He was all in for protecting the name of the Lord.

Saul was a Pharisee—a self-described “Pharisee of Pharisees.” Pharisees were a strict sect within Judaism zealous for the Law of the Lord (the Torah). Pharisees did not need to be priests or even from the tribe of Levi (the only tribe allowed to serve as priests and Temple ministers); they were Jews who learned Torah under a Teacher (called a Rabbi), debated Scripture, and then strictly adhered to Torah in hopes of hastening the Messiah’s appearance. (If you’re noticing similarities, you are correct—the way Jesus gathered, taught and discussed Scripture was in the Pharisee rabbinical tradition, which is why followers often called Him Rabbi). Pharisees knew Scripture, memorized Scripture, discussed Scripture, lived Scripture. Jesus criticized the Pharisees’ hypocrisy and legalism, but never their passion or knowledge. And Saul was the star student.

With Saul at the helm of the Gentile mission—the expansion of God’s people to non-Jews—no one would be able to say that these Jesus-followers didn’t take the Law & Prophets seriously or that they had abandoned the Jewish faith. Few people in all of Judaism at the time took Torah observance and the hope of the Messiah more seriously than Saul.

When Saul encounters Jesus on that Damascus road, everything and nothing changes. Nearly every scholar of Acts notes the parallels between Saul’s experience and Ezekiel’s vision in Ezekiel 1. Most of us cannot describe Ezekiel’s vision off-hand (it’s Ezekiel), but Saul absolutely knew every detail of angelic beings surrounding a movable throne, the glory of God all around, and just out of sight above the throne…Yahweh Himself. On the Damascus road, Saul saw Jesus, but Jesus wasn’t just standing in the middle of the road. I think (as do most scholars) that Saul saw Ezekiel’s vision in real life, and then saw what Ezekiel couldn’t: Saul saw the throne…and standing on right hand of God’s throne, he saw Jesus. Saul was a Pharisee training in Jerusalem, a process of years, so sure-shootin’ he had seen Jesus teaching in Jerusalem prior to the crucifixion; Saul might have witnessed his death, which was still less than a year prior. On the Damascus Road Saul sees this same Jesus, alive, and in the place of glory and honor and power. In the place of Yahweh. 

There are things in life that, once we see them or hear them, change the way we see everything from that point on. Reality does not change—just the way we see it. This is Saul. His zeal for the Lord, commitment to Judaism, love of the Scripture—that’s still the same. But now he sees. Literal scales fall from his eyes. Every law, every prophecy, every psalm he now sees through the lens of Jesus. This is why he immediately transforms into an evangelist. He debates Scripture with any Jew he can find, proving Jesus is the promised Messiah.

While Saul does not need training in Scripture, it seems he might need some training in tact (which is true of the rest of his career, but he gets better!).  Despite his 180 degree turn, Saul is still causing trouble for Christ-followers, because now Saul is the one angering the Jews. The Church is sure glad Saul is on their side, but they’re also glad when he’s not in their city! These initial threats to his life are a meager sampling of what Saul will face. Saul’s calling is not just to preach…it is also to suffer. That will come, but Saul will endure and triumph by what has always driven him: the zeal of the Lord.



Reflection

Whew. Thanks for hanging with me through that. The last half of Acts centers on Saul’s—soon to be called Paul’s—mission to the Gentiles, so it is important to understand his calling, both to preach and to suffer. 

Saul’s skill, knowledge, and zeal were ideal components for God to transform and use. In the entire history of Christianity, the manner in which Jesus called him and the mission to which God called him is entirely unique. God calling and commissioning His people to His work is not unique, though, and our callings do not have to be as grand or globe-encompassing to be essential. Ananias was called to pray for an enemy; it is his only role in the entire NT, but what a role it was! How has God equipped you? What does he long to transform through His lens? What have you dismissed because it seemed inconsequential? God calls and equips and uses all for His glory when we obey in faith.

Prayer

Lord Jesus, give me ears to hear Your call and the faith to answer it. Whether it is to face death over and over as Paul did, or merely to knock on an enemy’s door as Ananias did, give me a passion and zeal for you that trumps all fear. Take the scales from my eyes so that I may see all things through the lens of Christ and of faith, and not my own limited and sometimes blind perspective. You are the only reality worth seeing. Amen.

Bonus

We looked at the practical reasons Saul was ideally qualified to spearhead the mission to the Gentiles, but there is another element to Saul’s conversion I think you’ll love as much as I do: it was an answer to a specific prayer.

Stephen knelt down and cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them!” After saying this, he died.

On that Damascus road, God granted Stephen’s last request. Saul had stood there and watched Stephen die, believing to his bones that Stephen’s death honored God. Stephen’s death did honor God, but it was Stephen’s self-sacrifice, not the Jews bludgeoning him to death, that glorified God. After God transforms the Apostle Paul’s understanding, he introduces thousands to Christ and establishes churches throughout the Roman Empire. He wrote a few letters, too, that have been helpful in teaching about Christ for two millennia. While Paul’s legacy is immeasurable, Paul is Stephen’s legacy—the innocent man forgiving his murderer. 


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Megan NessonComment
Friday, February 15

The African Eunuch

26 An angel of the Lord spoke to Philip: “Get up and go south to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” (This is the desert road.) 27 So he got up and went. There was an Ethiopian man, a eunuch and high official of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, who was in charge of her entire treasury. He had come to worship in Jerusalem 28 and was sitting in his chariot on his way home, reading the prophet Isaiah aloud.

29 The Spirit told Philip, “Go and join that chariot.”

30 When Philip ran up to it, he heard him reading the prophet Isaiah, and said, “Do you understand what you’re reading?”

31 “How can I,” he said, “unless someone guides me?” So he invited Philip to come up and sit with him. 32 Now the Scripture passage he was reading was this:

He was led like a sheep to the slaughter,
and as a lamb is silent before its shearer,
so he does not open his mouth.
33 In his humiliation justice was denied him.
Who will describe his generation?
For his life is taken from the earth.


34 The eunuch said to Philip, “I ask you, who is the prophet saying this about—himself or someone else?” 35 Philip proceeded to tell him the good news about Jesus, beginning with that Scripture.

36 As they were traveling down the road, they came to some water. The eunuch said, “Look, there’s water. What would keep me from being baptized?” 38 So he ordered the chariot to stop, and both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water, and he baptized him. 39 When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord carried Philip away, and the eunuch did not see him any longer but went on his way rejoicing. 40 Philip appeared in Azotus, and he was traveling and preaching the gospel in all the towns until he came to Caesarea.

(Act 8:26-26 CSB)

God will arrange divine appointments, if we’re willing to listen and go. Philip had led many Samaritans to faith in Jesus, and building that community would have been worthwhile ministry, but God sends him south. Then, God tells Philip to approach a chariot carrying a high court official—so, not the type of transportation or traveler that an ordinary person wanders over to for some casual conversation. Officials of a queen don’t fly coach.

Scripture provides the common ground, though.

As a court official from Ethiopia, this man was most likely not Jewish, not even a Jew who had moved to Africa as a result of the Exile. He was, however, what Luke often refers to in Acts as a God-fearer—a Gentile who believed in and worshipped the God of the Jews. As biblical commentator F.F. Bruce points out, given the pantheon of warring and petty gods most ancient peoples worshipped, the wisdom, sovereignty and shalom (peace) proffered by the sole deity of the Jewish faith was immensely attractive to surrounding nations (as Moses said it would be). Some God-fearers even converted to the Jewish faith, meaning they were baptized, and males underwent the rite of circumcision. This man could not convert, though, because the Torah (Jewish law) prohibited him from entering the Lord’s assembly. The assembly gathered in the holy presence of Yahweh, so all those entering had to meet purity standards, both for sin but also for ritual cleanness. Ritual purity involved cleansing oneself not from sin, but from those things that were an aberration to life, and thus an aberration from the way Yahweh—who’s very essence is life and being—created life to be. This type of ritual purity is why there all those weird chapters in Leviticus about bleeding, discharge and skin disease. It’s also why, in Deuteronomy 23:1, castrated males are excluded from the Lord’s assembly; their condition, while not sinful, places them in a sort of permanent impurity. This is a brief explanation of a complicated and foreign issue, but important for understanding the Ethiopian official’s reality. Court officers were often castrated in ancient times, but no matter how much honor there was in his political position, it kept him permanently outside of the presence of the God he worshipped.

Yet he worshipped. And studied. Even when he didn’t understand. God honored this man’s devotion, and sent Philip to explain the Gospel—God’s very good news, especially for someone like this official. Luke tells us that Philip ‘began with the Scripture’ he had been reading, which was Isaiah 53. Philip likely  led the man on a Bible study through Isaiah, explaining how Jesus was the fulfillment of all these glorious promises. Then they would have read Isaiah 56:3-7:

No foreigner who has joined himself to the LORD should say, 

“The LORD will exclude me from his people,”

And the eunuch should not say, 

“Look, I am a dried-up tree.”

For the LORD says this:

“For the eunuchs who keep my Sabbaths, 

And choose what pleases me,

And hold firmly to my covenant,

I will give them, in my house and within my walls,

A memorial and a name

Better than sons and daughters.

I will give each of them an everlasting name

That will never be cut off.

As for the foreigners who join themselves to the LORD

To minister to him, to love the name of the LORD,

And to become his servants…

I will bring them to my holy mountain

And let them rejoice in my house of prayer…

For my house will be called a house of prayer for all nations.”


This man was a dark-skinned foreigner. A eunuch. No children to remember him and carry on his name and memory. Permanently excluded from the house of the God He worshipped. 

The Gospel is such good news for him. In Jesus, the doors are flung open wide. Jesus’ purity becomes our purity and all are invited, welcomed, included. No outsiders, no foreigners. None unworthy, none disgraced. All loved.

Can you hear the excitement in the eunuch’s voice when he sees the water? What would keep me from being baptized?!? Before, his skin color and sexual status had kept him permanently excluded, but not anymore.

The eunuch came out of that water a new man, a whole man, a Jesus-following man, and “he went on his way rejoicing.” Christian tradition holds that this man became the first evangelist in Africa.

This man was, by the old system, a hopeless outsider. We’re starting to see a pattern: first Samaritans, now an African eunuch. We often get lost in the details of the stories in Acts 8 and miss the grand narrative. A massive shift is happening. The Gospel hasn’t just gone beyond the geographical boundaries of Jerusalem, it’s going beyond every ethnic, cultural and religious boundary.



Reflection

Re-read Isaiah 56:3-7 through the eyes of the African eunuch, and let the good news wash over you. God’s salvation was for his sin, yes, but he also redeemed every element of that man’s life—elements beyond his control—that made him feel isolated, lonely, hopeless. When we diminish the Gospel to just the forgiveness of sins, we strip it of the radical fullness of the message that, in Jesus, all are invited. All welcomed. All loved. All included. All have a future. All have a family. All have a role and honor.

Look for your divine appointment today, this week, or this month. There is a person who desperately needs to hear the fullness of the Gospel, and you just might be their Philip.

Prayer

Father, thank you for the greatness of your salvation in Jesus. Set up a divine appointment for me that I might share this good, good news with someone who feels permanently excluded from Your love and promises. Amen.


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Megan NessonComment
Thursday, February 14

Seeds of the Church

8:1Saul agreed with putting him to death.

On that day a severe persecution broke out against the church in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout the land of Judea and Samaria. Devout men buried Stephen and mourned deeply over him. Saul, however, was ravaging the church. He would enter house after house, drag off men and women, and put them in prison.

So those who were scattered went on their way preaching the word. Philip went down to a city in Samaria and proclaimed the Messiah to them. The crowds were all paying attention to what Philip said, as they listened and saw the signs he was performing. For unclean spirits, crying out with a loud voice, came out of many who were possessed, and many who were paralyzed and lame were healed. So there was great joy in that city.

A man named Simon had previously practiced sorcery in that city and amazed the Samaritan people, while claiming to be somebody great.10 They all paid attention to him, from the least of them to the greatest, and they said, “This man is called the Great Power of God.” 11 They were attentive to him because he had amazed them with his sorceries for a long time. 12 But when they believed Philip, as he proclaimed the good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, both men and women were baptized. 13 Even Simon himself believed. And after he was baptized, he followed Philip everywhere and was amazed as he observed the signs and great miracles that were being performed.

14 When the apostles who were at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent Peter and John to them. 15 After they went down there, they prayed for them so the Samaritans might receive the Holy Spirit because he had not yet come down on any of them. 16 (They had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.) 17 Then Peter and John laid their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit.

18 When Simon saw that the Spirit was given through the laying on of the apostles’ hands, he offered them money, 19 saying, “Give me this power also so that anyone I lay hands on may receive the Holy Spirit.”

20 But Peter told him, “May your silver be destroyed with you, because you thought you could obtain the gift of God with money! 21 You have no part or share in this matter, because your heart is not right before God.22 Therefore repent of this wickedness of yours, and pray to the Lord that, if possible, your heart’s intent may be forgiven. 23 For I see you are poisoned by bitterness and bound by wickedness.”

24 “Pray to the Lord for me,” Simon replied, “so that nothing you have said may happen to me.”

25 So, after they had testified and spoken the word of the Lord, they traveled back to Jerusalem, preaching the gospel in many villages of the Samaritans.

(Act 8:1-25 CSB)

The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church.

Early church father and theologian Tertullian wrote those words in the 2nd century, referring to the fact that persecution in the first and second centuries by Rome had not accomplished its goal of stamping out Christianity; instead it had been the means by which it grew. While this adage does not prove true in all times at all places, it is an apt description of what we read about in Acts 8.

After Stephen’s murder, intense persecution began against those who professed faith in Jesus, causing many to flee Jerusalem for the surrounding Judea and Samaria. While Saul, the young zealous Pharisee heading up the campaign, thought he was eradicating this dangerous threat to the Jewish faith, he was actually helping fulfill its purpose. 

Jesus’ last words to the disciples before he ascended into heaven were that they would be his witnesses “in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8). The first seven chapters describe the growth and development of the early Church, but they do not describe them formulating a long-term plan with strategic growth goals to meet their given mission statement. They didn’t need to, though. Jesus does not send His people on missions for which He is not ultimately responsible for the planning and success of said mission. To those early Church followers, the resistance, persecution, and  dispersion of their close-knit community must have felt like failure. They might have wondered as they left Jerusalem if it was the beginning of the end. They could have given up, but instead they kept preaching. And everywhere they preached, new communities began and grew and spread. It might have felt like the end, but it was only the beginning.

Among the Samaritans is not where a Jew would have expected, or wanted, a new beginning, though. Samaritans were despised as half-breeds by ‘true Jews.’ Samaritans did worship the God of Abraham, though, and were awaiting the Messiah (see John 4). They accept Philip’s message about Jesus readily and joyously. The fact that they do no receive the Spirit with their baptism has caused a lot of theological speculation, but as N.T. Wright points out, the delayed arrival of the Spirit has more to do with the Samaritan’s full acceptance and equal status in the Jesus-movement than with some sort of ‘Spirit baptism.’ Philip was one of the seven Hellenistic Jews chosen (along with Stephen) back in Acts 6 to serve the Church; he was not an original disciple. Peter goes to Samaria not as a sign of distrust in Philip, a fellow evangelist, but as a sign that the Samaritans, historically ostracized as less-than, second-class citizens, were equal participants.



Reflection

As you read Acts from this point on, notice how Luke is describing the fulfillment of the Great Commission—from Jerusalem, to all Judea and Samaria, and soon to the ends of the earth. Also notice how each new shift is preceded by persecution or change that might have felt like an intense loss, failure, or end in the moment. Have you ever noticed the same pattern in your own life, when opposition or failure felt like the end of what you thought was God’s plan? Remember, the difficulties are often the seeds of growth.

Prayer

Father, grant me the faith to see circumstances through Your eyes. When I face opposition or even failure, remind me of your earliest followers who turned persecution and scattering into new communities. I am their legacy, and may I follow their example by continuing to declare your Truth, build community, and follow your mission for my life and the life of Your Church. Amen.


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Megan NessonComment
Wednesday, February 13

Chance, Coincidence, Pattern

7:51“You stiff-necked people with uncircumcised hearts and ears! You are always resisting the Holy Spirit. As your ancestors did, you do also.  52Which of the prophets did your ancestors not persecute? They even killed those who foretold the coming of the Righteous One, whose betrayers and murderers you have now become. 53You received the law under the direction of angels and yet have not kept it.”

54 When they heard these things, they were enraged and gnashed their teeth at him. 55 Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven. He saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. 56 He said, “Look, I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!”

57 They yelled at the top of their voices, covered their ears, and together rushed against him. 58 They dragged him out of the city and began to stone him. And the witnesses laid their garments at the feet of a young man named Saul. 59 While they were stoning Stephen, he called out: “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit!” 60 He knelt down and cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them!” And after saying this, he died.

(Act 7:51-60 CSB)

Pause. 

Bible stories can become so familiar that we breeze through them without reflecting much on what we’ve actually read. Or we forget that the Bible is describing real historical events that happened to real people.

Stephen was stoned to death. An angry mob surrounded him and hurled stone after stone at him, taking off their outer garments so that they could throw better. Until Stephen collapsed. Bloody mouth, bruised eyes, cracked skull. It was gruesome and brutal. Take a moment and give Stephen’s life, death, and testimony the honor it deserves.

.

.

.

Stephen’s death may not have been familiar to you, but it might have sounded familiar:

So they came, seized him, and took him to the Sanhedrin. (Acts 6:12)

They seized him [Jesus], led him away and brought him in to the high priest’s house. . .and brought him before their Sanhedrin.  (Acts 22:54, 66)

. . .

They also presented false witnesses who said, “This man never stops speaking against this holy place and the law. For we heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place…” (Acts 6:13)

Some stood up and gave false testimony against him, stating, “We heard him say, ‘I will destroy this temple made with human hands, and in three days I will build another not made by hands.’”  (Mark 14:57-58)

. . .

“Are these things true?” the high priest asked [Stephen].  (Acts 7:1)

They all asked, “If you are the Messiah, tell us. . .Are you, then, the Son of God?”  (Luke 22:67, 70)

Then the high priest stood up before them all and questioned Jesus, “Don’t you have an answer?”  (Mark 14:60)

. . .

He [Stephen] said, “Look, I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!”   (Acts 7:56)

But he [Jesus] said to them…“But from now on, the Son of Man will be seated at the right hand of the power of God.”   (Luke 22:69) 

. . .

They dragged [Stephen] out of the city…  (Acts 7:58)

They led [Jesus] out to crucify him…(Mark 15:20)…at the place called the Skull.  (Luke 23:32)

. . .

While they were stoning Stephen, he called out: “Lord Jesus, receive my Spirit!”  (Acts 7:59)

And Jesus called out with a loud voice, “Father into your hands I entrust my Spirit!”  (Luke 23:46a)

. . .

He knelt down and cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them!”   (Acts 7:60a)

Then Jesus said, “Father forgive them, because they do not know what they are doing.”  (Luke 23:34)

. . .

And after saying this, he died.   (Acts 7:60b)

Saying this, he breathed his last.  (Luke 23:46b)

. . .

Devout men buried Stephen and mourned deeply over him.  (Acts 8:2)

There was a good and righteous man named Joseph…[he] asked for Jesus’s body. Taking it down, he wrapped it in fine linen and placed it in a tomb”  (Acts 23:50, 52-53)

There is an adage that says: Once is Chance. Twice is Coincidence. Third Time is a Pattern.

Luke wasn’t lazy. He wasn’t using a ‘death scene’ template or just using copy/paste from his first letter. 

Luke is creating a pattern. 

With this pattern, Luke does not mean to compare Stephen to Jesus, but to make the point that the life of a follower of Jesus will pattern the life—and death—of Jesus.  The disciples were to live radically pure and loving lives, as taught and demonstrated by Jesus. They were to evangelize, baptize, and teach. Worship, prayer, and fellowship were to be daily activities. Violent opposition, false and twisted testimony, and gruesome death were also part of the pattern, though.

American Christianity has been infiltrated by a pattern of thought that says if you believe in Jesus, God will take care of your problems. We [rightly] reject the message of the prosperity gospel that declares God’s will for you is to bless you with health and wealth, but vestiges remain. We often feel offended when God allows continued suffering, and we can become downright angry when our ‘religious rights’ are in any way infringed. We consider policies like restrictions on prayer in public venues persecution, when it is more accurately a political debate that reveals our unprecedented freedoms and privilege in American society. The truth is, we have not yet resisted to the point of shedding [our] blood (Hebrews 12:4). The truth is, we’ve never had to face stones being hurled at our face.

That is our calling, though. Jesus never promised religious liberty. He did promise trouble. Suffering, sacrifice, and being misunderstood are part of the job description. We can be thankful and defend the amazing laws of our land, but let us make sure that we do not focus our primary energies in defense of laws and human systems, but instead fix our eyes on Jesus—the Son of Man standing at the right hand of the power of God.



Reflection

Therefore, since we also have such a large cloud of witnesses [in the Greek, martus, the same word for martyr] surrounding us, let us lay aside every hindrance and sin that so easily ensnares us. Let us run with endurance the race that lies before us. Keeping our eyes on Jesus, the source and perfecter of our faith. For the joy that lay before him, he endured the cross, despising the shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.  (Hebrews 12:1-2)

Prayer

Father, I don’t have the endurance to face the stones, to face a cross. The faith to do that can only come from you. Whatever trouble I may encounter, grant me the faith to stay true to the faith and keep my eyes focused on you. In Jesus name, Amen.


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Megan NessonComment
Tuesday, February 12

False Witnesses, True Story

6:8 Now Stephen, full of grace and power, was performing great wonders and signs among the people. Opposition arose, however, from some members of the Freedmen’s Synagogue, composed of both Cyrenians and Alexandrians, and some from Cilicia and Asia, and they began to argue with Stephen. 10 But they were unable to stand up against his wisdom and the Spirit by whom he was speaking.

11 Then they secretly persuaded some men to say, “We heard him speaking blasphemous words against Moses and God.” 12 They stirred up the people, the elders, and the scribes; so they came, seized him, and took him to the Sanhedrin. 13 They also presented false witnesses who said, “This man never stops speaking against this holy place and the law. 14 For we heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place and change the customs that Moses handed down to us.” 15 And all who were sitting in the Sanhedrin looked intently at him and saw that his face was like the face of an angel.

7:1“Are these things true?” the high priest asked.

“Brothers and fathers,” he replied, “listen: The God of glory appeared to our father Abraham when he was in Mesopotamia, before he settled in Haran, and said to him: Leave your country and relatives, and come to the land that I will show you. 

“Then he left the land of the Chaldeans and settled in Haran. From there, after his father died, God had him move to this land in which you are now living. He didn’t give him an inheritance in it—not even a foot of ground—but he promised to give it to him as a possession, and to his descendants after him, even though he was childless. God spoke in this way: His descendants would be strangers in a foreign country, and they would enslave and oppress them for four hundred years. 7 I will judge the nation that they will serve as slaves, God said. After this, they will come out and worship me in this place.[bAnd so he gave Abraham the covenant of circumcision. After this, he fathered Isaac and circumcised him on the eighth day. Isaac became the father of Jacob, and Jacob became the father of the twelve patriarchs.

“The patriarchs became jealous of Joseph and sold him into Egypt, but God was with him 10 and rescued him out of all his troubles. He gave him favor and wisdom in the sight of Pharaoh, king of Egypt, who appointed him ruler over Egypt and over his whole household. 11 Now a famine and great suffering came over all of Egypt and Canaan, and our ancestors could find no food. 12 When Jacob heard there was grain in Egypt, he sent our ancestors there the first time. 13 The second time, Joseph revealed himself to his brothers, and Joseph’s family became known to Pharaoh. 14 Joseph invited his father Jacob and all his relatives, seventy-five people in all, 15 and Jacob went down to Egypt. He and our ancestors died there, 16 were carried back to Shechem, and were placed in the tomb that Abraham had bought for a sum of silver from the sons of Hamor in Shechem.

17 “As the time was approaching to fulfill the promise that God had made to Abraham, the people flourished and multiplied in Egypt 18 until a different king who did not know Joseph ruled over Egypt.[c19 He dealt deceitfully with our race and oppressed our ancestors by making them abandon their infants outside so that they wouldn’t survive. 20 At this time Moses was born, and he was beautiful in God’s sight. He was cared for in his father’s home for three months. 21 When he was put outside, Pharaoh’s daughter adopted and raised him as her own son. 22 So Moses was educated in all the wisdom of the Egyptians and was powerful in his speech and actions.

23 “When he was forty years old, he decided to visit his own people, the Israelites. 24 When he saw one of them being mistreated, he came to his rescue and avenged the oppressed man by striking down the Egyptian. 25 He assumed his people would understand that God would give them deliverance through him, but they did not understand. 26 The next day he showed up while they were fighting and tried to reconcile them peacefully, saying, ‘Men, you are brothers. Why are you mistreating each other?’

27 “But the one who was mistreating his neighbor pushed Moses aside, saying: Who appointed you a ruler and a judge over us? 28 Do you want to kill me, the same way you killed the Egyptian yesterday? 

29 “When he heard this, Moses fled and became an exile in the land of Midian, where he became the father of two sons. 30 After forty years had passed, an angel appeared to him in the wilderness of Mount Sinai, in the flame of a burning bush. 31 When Moses saw it, he was amazed at the sight. As he was approaching to look at it, the voice of the Lord came: 32 I am the God of your ancestors—the God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob. Moses began to tremble and did not dare to look.

33 “The Lord said to him: Take off the sandals from your feet, because the place where you are standing is holy ground. 34 I have certainly seen the oppression of my people in Egypt; I have heard their groaning and have come down to set them free. And now, come, I will send you to Egypt. 

35 “This Moses, whom they rejected when they said, Who appointed you a ruler and a judge—this one God sent as a ruler and a deliverer through the angel who appeared to him in the bush. 36 This man led them out and performed wonders and signs in the land of Egypt, at the Red Sea, and in the wilderness for forty years.

37 “This is the Moses who said to the Israelites: God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your brothers and sisters. 38 He is the one who was in the assembly in the wilderness, with the angel who spoke to him on Mount Sinai, and with our ancestors. He received living oracles to give to us. 39 Our ancestors were unwilling to obey him. Instead, they pushed him aside, and in their hearts turned back to Egypt. 40 They told Aaron: Make us gods who will go before us. As for this Moses who brought us out of the land of Egypt, we don’t know what’s happened to him. 41 They even made a calf in those days, offered sacrifice to the idol, and were celebrating what their hands had made. 42 God turned away and gave them up to worship the stars of heaven, as it is written in the book of the prophets:

House of Israel, did you bring me offerings and sacrifices
for forty years in the wilderness?
43 You took up the tent of Moloch
and the star of your god Rephan,
the images that you made to worship.
So I will send you into exile beyond Babylon. 

44 “Our ancestors had the tabernacle of the testimony in the wilderness, just as he who spoke to Moses commanded him to make it according to the pattern he had seen. 45 Our ancestors in turn received it and with Joshua brought it in when they dispossessed the nations that God drove out before them, until the days of David. 46 He found favor in God’s sight and asked that he might provide a dwelling place for the God of Jacob.47 It was Solomon, rather, who built him a house, 48 but the Most High does not dwell in sanctuaries made with hands, as the prophet says:

49 Heaven is my throne,
and the earth my footstool.
What sort of house will you build for me?
says the Lord,
or what will be my resting place?
50 Did not my hand make all these things? 

Resisting the Holy Spirit

51 “You stiff-necked people with uncircumcised hearts and ears! You are always resisting the Holy Spirit. As your ancestors did, you do also. 52 Which of the prophets did your ancestors not persecute? They even killed those who foretold the coming of the Righteous One, whose betrayers and murderers you have now become. 53 You received the law under the direction of angels and yet have not kept it.”

(Acts 6:8-5:53, CSB)


People know Stephen as the first martyr (sorry….spoiler alert), but they rarely know the exact reasons for his murder. He was killed for his faith is too vague, and does a disservice both to Stephen and to the intense conflict that was building between the first followers of Jesus and their Jewish faith.

Stephen’s problems started when, by the power of the Spirit, he was too smart for some out-of-towners who couldn’t accept that a local-yokel could be smarter than them. They resorted to a cheap trick of making up stories against him. These false witnesses made two claims:

  1. Speaking blasphemous words against Moses and God.

  2. Saying Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place [the Temple] and change the customs that Moses handed down to us.

The customs Moses handed down were the Torah. That’s the whole Law. Everything it meant to be Jewish. These were serious charges.

But the witnesses were false. Instead of pointing out that these men were nothing but bad losers at Bible trivia, though, Stephen begins this grand speech tracing Israel’s history, and through this history Stephen explains the ‘false’ charges against him. Even though the witnesses were false, what they said was true. Just not in the way they thought.

Stephen was not blaspheming Moses or God, and he was not saying that Jesus was going to destroy the physical Temple structure. If our weeks studying Acts have shown us anything, it is that the early Church—the followers of “The Way”—knew and proclaimed that the center of God’s presence and activity and salvation had shifted from the Temple and the sacrificial system to those who believed in Jesus. Jesus was the fulfillment of the Temple and of all the customs Moses handed down. When you’re the ones in charge of the old system, though, “fulfilled” and “destroyed” aren’t that different. Either way, their world (and power) was over.

Stephen doesn’t make that point immediately. He traces Israel’s history, and he has his audience nodding in agreement.  He’s setting them up, though, because even as he retells the story of Moses, God’s chosen deliverer and prophet, he highlights the Israelite’s resistance and rebellion against Moses (and hence God). When he gets to the building of the Temple, he turns the tables drastically when he says, “but the Most High does not dwell in sanctuaries made with hands.” As his grand finale, he accuses the religious leaders of having not kept the Law.

Not much of a defense. Stephen proves their point for them. The old system is over, fulfilled in Jesus, and those who resist are actually the ones in rebellion against God.

Jesus’ followers had delivered similar messages before, but Stephen’s speech was too much, and the weeks of tension came to a brutal and bloody end. From this point on in Acts, the Temple fades into an occasional background rather than being a main character, and the Torah—the customs handed down from Moses—are understood in previously unimaginable ways. The Way is about to part ways from its Jewish identity.



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Megan NessonComment
Monday, February 11

Conflict Management

In those days, as the disciples were increasing in number, there arose a complaint by the Hellenistic Jews against the Hebraic Jews that their widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution. The Twelve summoned the whole company of the disciples and said, “It would not be right for us to give up preaching the word of God to wait on tables. Brothers and sisters, select from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Spirit and wisdom, whom we can appoint to this duty. But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.” This proposal pleased the whole company. So they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit, and Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolaus, a convert from Antioch. They had them stand before the apostles, who prayed and laid their hands on them.

So the word of God spread, the disciples in Jerusalem increased greatly in number, and a large group of priests became obedient to the faith.

(Act 6:1-7 CSB)

Up to this point in Acts, Luke has twice described how this new community of Jesus-followers acted—meeting together daily, sharing meals, praying, celebrating the Lord’s Supper, giving generously so everyone’s needs were met. The description is nearly idyllic, but today’s passage reminds us that, although this community was God’s new covenant people, they were not yet perfected. They were still very human. Church conflict is nothing new.

This particular conflict was between Hebraic and Hellenistic Jews. This was not a dispute between Jews and Gentiles, but between Jews and Jews. They shared ethnicity and religion, but they were from different geographical locations. Hebraic Jews were from Jerusalem and the rest of Israel; Hellenistic Jews were from all over the Greek-speaking world, from Egypt to Babylon to Rome. Hebraic Jews spoke Aramaic as their primary language; Hellenistic Jews spoke primarily Greek, and probably disdained Aramaic as crude and country. For various reasons, these international Jews had settled in Jerusalem and were part of the growing group of Jesus-followers, but the Hellenes originated from larger and more cultured cities than the backwaters of Israel and its simpler inhabitants. On the other hand, those who were Israel born-and-bred were lifelong residents of the Promised Land; they had suffered hard times yet remained in their homeland, the land of God’s promise, the place of His Temple.

The Bible doesn’t go into much detail, but, human nature being predictable, we can assume that these geographically-based biases and prejudices leaked out in actual favoritism, exacerbated by perceived slights, until the conflict reached a head in the issue of the widow’s portions. The apostles’ response, that they didn’t have time to ‘wait tables,’ sounds curt, but perhaps that is part of the point: they really didn’t have time for it. Handling the situation would have taken them away from their God-given tasks of prayer and ministry of the Word, prayer being the primary. They could have spent less time in prayer and still fit it all in, but they knew that to skip prayer in favor of activity or accomplishments was the surest path to failure.

So the apostles called for the appointment of men who were wise and had a good reputation. The requirements were not record keeping or logistics, because the problem was not administrative. The task was not simply distributing food, but overcoming bias and bitterness so that the Church could truly be one. Rather than nominating the men themselves, the apostles instruct the Church to select the men. By nature of their responsibilities, leaders and teachers aren’t always among the people—and when they are, people tend to be on their best behavior. But the people know who the gossipers and ring-leaders are. They also know who the true leaders are.

Interestingly, the seven men chosen have Greek—not Hebrew—names. At least one was from Antioch, beyond the geographical borders of Israel. This local Jesus-movement is becoming more international with every passing chapter, and God uses this leadership, born out of crisis, to become the launch team for His international mission.


Reflection

Acts shows us that the tendency towards church factions—the desire to clump together with those like us against those who are different—is nothing new, but it also shows us that the solution is not splitting or declaring a winner, but restoring unity through wisdom. Do we seek people who are recognized as wise and have good reputations, or do we prefer to be the leaders of our cliques, the ones in the know, the ringleaders of dissent?

And/Or, perhaps what struck you was the apostles’ refusal to add another task to their job description at the expense of their primary work. We live in a culture that constantly bombards us with the message to achieve “work/life balance” or books that tell us to pick ourselves up and go after it all. We refuse to believe the timeless truth that we are finite creatures, and a “yes” to one thing is always a “no” to something else. The apostles refused to say “no” to prayer. Do you need to say “no” so that you can be more effective at the tasks God has called you to? Do you need to recognize the gifting of others and allow them to step into roles God wants for them?

And/or, do we need to stop expecting so much of our leaders? Do we allow others to do tasks so that pastors and teachers can devote themselves to their main tasks? Including prayer? Too often we downgrade prayer, rather than prioritizing its place as the primary task of all followers of Christ.

Prayer

 Lord Jesus, there is truly nothing new under the sun. As your Church, through your Spirit, we have the power to be a distinct community that lives and loves radically and generously. May we recognize and encourage the various giftings within our body so that we can be as vibrant and effective as possible. Yet we recognize that we are still a body full of humans, prone to pride and prejudices that jeopardize our identity as Your people. Forgive us, and give us wisdom so we may be people of good reputation to all around us.


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Megan NessonComment
Friday, February 8

Can’t Fight It

17Then the high priest took action. He and all his colleagues, those who belonged to the party of the Sadducees, were filled with jealousy. 18So they arrested the apostles and put them in the city jail. 19But an angel of the Lord opened the doors of the jail during the night, brought them out, and said, 20"Go and stand in the temple complex, and tell the people all about this life." 21In obedience to this, they entered the temple complex at daybreak and began to teach. 

When the high priest and those who were with him arrived, they convened the Sanhedrin-- the full Senate of the sons of Israel-- and sent orders to the jail to have them brought. 22But when the temple police got there, they did not find them in the jail, so they returned and reported, 23"We found the jail securely locked, with the guards standing in front of the doors, but when we opened them, we found no one inside!" 24As the commander of the temple police and the chief priests heard these things, they were baffled about them, wondering what could come of this. 

25Someone came and reported to them, "Look! The men you put in jail are standing in the temple complex and teaching the people." 26Then the commander went with the temple police and brought them in without force, because they were afraid the people might stone them. 27After they brought them in, they had them stand before the Sanhedrin, and the high priest asked, 28"Didn't we strictly order you not to teach in this name? And look, you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and are determined to bring this man's blood on us!" 

29But Peter and the apostles replied, "We must obey God rather than men. 30The God of our fathers raised up Jesus, whom you had murdered by hanging Him on a tree. 31God exalted this man to His right hand as ruler and Savior, to grant repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins. 32We are witnesses of these things, and so is the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey Him." 

33When they heard this, they were enraged and wanted to kill them. 34A Pharisee named Gamaliel, a teacher of the law who was respected by all the people, stood up in the Sanhedrin and ordered the men to be taken outside for a little while. 35He said to them, "Men of Israel, be careful about what you're going to do to these men. 36Not long ago Theudas rose up, claiming to be somebody, and a group of about 400 men rallied to him. He was killed, and all his partisans were dispersed and came to nothing. 37After this man, Judas the Galilean rose up in the days of the census and attracted a following. That man also perished, and all his partisans were scattered. 38And now, I tell you, stay away from these men and leave them alone. For if this plan or this work is of men, it will be overthrown; 39but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them. You may even be found fighting against God." So they were persuaded by him. 40After they called in the apostles and had them flogged, they ordered them not to speak in the name of Jesus and released them. 41Then they went out from the presence of the Sanhedrin, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to be dishonored on behalf of the Name. 42Every day in the temple complex, and in various homes, they continued teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Messiah. 

(Act 5:17-42 CSB)

As this section of Scripture begins, the high priest and Sadducees were “filled with jealousy,” but by the time Peter is done speaking “they were enraged and wanted to kill him.”  What did Peter say that threw them into such a rage? The Jewish leaders had been hearing this same message for weeks—that Jesus had been resurrected, that He was the Messiah, that they were responsible for His death. This was nothing new. But Peter threw in a closing zinger:

“We are witnesses to these things, and so is the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey Him.”

Subtext: We have the Holy Spirit. You don’t. We obey God. You don’t.

Challenging a priest’s or Pharisee’s or Sadducee’s obedience to God is not a good idea. These men’s lives were devoted to Torah observance. They made up more rules so as to build a hedge around the law, protecting themselves from even coming close to breaking one rule. Yet here is Peter, calling them disobedient. And that’s not all. He claims to have the Holy Spirit.

The Holy Spirit was not a new idea. In the Old Testament, the Spirit was given to people, but only to specific people for specific tasks. The universal outpouring was a future promise. Now a Galilean fisherman was claiming that he and a bunch of common people permanently possessed the Spirit—and those who had devoted their entire lives to the Torah and the Temple did not. 

Peter’s comment strikes at the heart of the religious leaders’ identity. It is more than a wound to their pride (though it is that)—it is an attack to their entire worldview. 

This is the source of their rage, but it is checked by a wise and steady-headed Pharisee named Gamaliel (remember that name). His advice is to calm down and wait. Movements had arisen within Judaism before, then fizzled out. He also warns them, though, that “if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them. You may even be found fighting against God.”

They take Gamaliel’s advice, but not before giving some…encouragement…to the disciples to drop the issue. If the Sanhedrin had seen the disciples as they left though, bruised and bloody from being beaten, yet thanking God for that beating…they might have realized they were indeed fighting God. Which is always a losing battle.


Reflection

Have you ever found yourself fighting against God? Have you ever reacted badly because your pride and/or identity was attacked? Alternately, like Peter and the disciples, have you ever met resistance to something you knew was God’s work? In what areas do you need to say I must obey God rather than people?

Prayer

Lord God, we must obey you rather than people—even people in our family, work, community, and sometimes even religious leaders. Help us discern the Holy Spirit’s leading so that we might know when we must be joyfully resistant to the commands of others. Also, free us of our pride and self-made identities so that we do not find ourselves fighting against you. In Jesus’ name, Amen.


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Megan NessonComment
Thursday, February 7

What In God’s Name is Going on Here?

32 Now the large group of those who believed were of one heart and mind, and no one said that any of his possessions was his own, but instead they held everything in common. 33 And the apostles were giving testimony with great power to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was on all of them. 34 For there was not a needy person among them, because all those who owned lands or houses sold them, brought the proceeds of the things that were sold, 35 and laid them at the apostles' feet. This was then distributed for each person's basic needs. 36 Joseph, a Levite and a Cypriot by birth, the one the apostles called Barnabas, which is translated Son of Encouragement, 37 sold a field he owned, brought the money, and laid it at the apostles' feet. 

5:1But a man named Ananias, with his wife Sapphira, sold a piece of property. 2 However, he kept back part of the proceeds with his wife's knowledge, and brought a portion of it and laid it at the apostles' feet. 

3Then Peter said, "Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and keep back part of the proceeds from the field? 4 Wasn't it yours while you possessed it? And after it was sold, wasn't it at your disposal? Why is it that you planned this thing in your heart? You have not lied to men but to God!" 5 When he heard these words, Ananias dropped dead, and a great fear came on all who heard. 6 The young men got up, wrapped his body, carried him out, and buried him. 

7There was an interval of about three hours; then his wife came in, not knowing what had happened. 8 "Tell me," Peter asked her, "did you sell the field for this price?" 

"Yes," she said, "for that price." 

9Then Peter said to her, "Why did you agree to test the Spirit of the Lord? Look! The feet of those who have buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out!"

10Instantly she dropped dead at his feet. When the young men came in, they found her dead, carried her out, and buried her beside her husband. 11 Then great fear came on the whole church and on all who heard these things. 

12Many signs and wonders were being done among the people through the hands of the apostles. By common consent they would all meet in Solomon's Colonnade. 13 None of the rest dared to join them, but the people praised them highly. 14 Believers were added to the Lord in increasing numbers-- crowds of both men and women. 15 As a result, they would carry the sick out into the streets and lay them on cots and mats so that when Peter came by, at least his shadow might fall on some of them. 16 In addition, a large group came together from the towns surrounding Jerusalem, bringing sick people and those who were tormented by unclean spirits, and they were all healed. 

(Acts 4:32-5:1 CSB)

We’ve seen some amazing and miraculous things as we’ve worked our way through Acts, but today’s section of Scripture takes it to a new level:

Socialism. 

People dropping dead.

Shadows healing.

It’s all right there in the Bible, so we nod our heads and smile, but inside we’re asking, God, all this is happening in Your name…but what is going on here?!

Socialism. That’s how modern readers interpret this section, but we must be cautious of reading contemporary ideas into an ancient text. While Christianity certainly has political implications, Luke is not describing a political ideology here. He mentioned the same type of generosity among the believers at the end of Acts 2; in between these two sections, he wrote of the escalating conflict between Jesus’ followers and the Temple. This is the conflict Luke is highlighting—between what was thought to be the centerpoint of God’s community and this new community that actually acts like God’s covenant people. Luke’s wording that the believers were “of one heart and mind” and “there was not a needy person among them” allude to Old Testament Scripture that describe what God’s covenant community should look like: Deuteronomy 15 describes a community with “no poor among them”; Jeremiah 32 promised to make the people of “one mind.” These Jesus followers are living out the generous and selfless lifestyle that Scripture says would characterize God’s people, while the established religious order is full of jealousy, pride, and active resistance to God Himself.

Drop Dead Judgment. The story of Ananias and Sapphira dropping dead cannot be properly understood outside of its preceding context, or else we are rightly bothered by it. This type of immediate and severe judgment is not typical in the Bible. God is usually patient, allowing people time to repent. There are a few times in the Old Testament, though, where there is similarly swift judgment. In Leviticus 10, two priests (Aaron’s sons) are consumed by fire when they attempt to offer the wrong fire and incense in the Temple. There is also Korah’s rebellion in Numbers 16,  Achan’s theft in Joshua 7 and Hezekiah’s offering in 2 Chronicles 26. The consequences are quick and severe, and leave us scratching our heads or closing our Bibles. While the sin in each story seems difference, each guilty party has committed the same offense: the have treated lightly the holiness of God. Each story is a sin against the holiness of the Temple or things devoted (separated as holy) to Yahweh. God’s holiness cannot and will not be trifled with. Luke’s description of the church prior to Ananias and Sapphira’s death made it clear that the community was now functioning as God’s holy space, and hence their sin was not just a lie—but a blatant disregard for God’s living and active holy presence.

Healing Shadows. This type of healing is unprecedented. Never before and never again in Scripture will you read of a healing shadow. Due to the unusual nature, we should not expect that God to still work in this way. The amped-up miraculous nature serves to amp-up the growing tension between these Jesus-following Jews and the Temple. One would think healings would be a good thing, but don’t miss where these unusual healings were happening. In the streets. Power and authority follow these disciples, causing the people to follow them, and the powers-that-be of the Temple are not happy about this power shift. 


Reflection

Each of the three elements we looked at today—‘socialism,’ drop dead judgment, and healing shadows—are all elements of Luke’s point that the early Church is God’s covenant community, characterized by His holy presence. In which area—selfless generosity, respect for God’s holiness, or a break from religious systems—do you feel God’s conviction? What one step might you take this month to be more like the Temple of God?

Prayer

Lord, You have called us to be holy because You are holy. We are to be holy because we are Your living, breathing, walking-around Temple on this earth. Sanctify us by Your Spirit so that we might accurately reflect Your character to the watching world. In Jesus’ name, make others wonder why we are so different. Amen. 


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Megan NessonComment
Wednesday, February 6

Bold Move

4:5The next day, their rulers, elders, and scribes assembled in Jerusalem 6with Annas the high priest, Caiaphas, John and Alexander, and all the members of the high-priestly family. 7After they had Peter and John stand before them, they asked the question: "By what power or in what name have you done this?" 

8Then Peter was filled with the Holy Spirit and said to them, "Rulers of the people and elders: 9If we are being examined today about a good deed done to a disabled man-- by what means he was healed-- 10let it be known to all of you and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene-- whom you crucified and whom God raised from the dead-- by Him this man is standing here before you healthy. 11This Jesus is 

the stone rejected by you builders,

which has become the cornerstone.

12There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to people, and we must be saved by it." 

13When they observed the boldness of Peter and John and realized that they were uneducated and untrained men, they were amazed and recognized that they had been with Jesus. 14And since they saw the man who had been healed standing with them, they had nothing to say in response. 15After they had ordered them to leave the Sanhedrin, they conferred among themselves, 16saying, "What should we do with these men? For an obvious sign, evident to all who live in Jerusalem, has been done through them, and we cannot deny it! 17However, so this does not spread any further among the people, let's threaten them against speaking to anyone in this name again." 18So they called for them and ordered them not to preach or teach at all in the name of Jesus. 

19But Peter and John answered them, "Whether it's right in the sight of God for us to listen to you rather than to God, you decide; 20for we are unable to stop speaking about what we have seen and heard." 

21After threatening them further, they released them. They found no way to punish them, because the people were all giving glory to God over what had been done; 22for this sign of healing had been performed on a man over 40 years old. 

23After they were released, they went to their own people and reported everything the chief priests and the elders had said to them. 24When they heard this, they all raised their voices to God and said, "Master, You are the One who made the heaven, the earth, and the sea, and everything in them. 25You said through the Holy Spirit, by the mouth of our father David Your servant: 

Why did the Gentiles rage

and the peoples plot futile things?

26The kings of the earth took their stand

and the rulers assembled together

against the Lord and against His Messiah.

27"For, in fact, in this city both Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles and the people of Israel, assembled together against Your holy Servant Jesus, whom You anointed, 28to do whatever Your hand and Your plan had predestined to take place. 29And now, Lord, consider their threats, and grant that Your slaves may speak Your message with complete boldness, 30while You stretch out Your hand for healing, signs, and wonders to be performed through the name of Your holy Servant Jesus." 31When they had prayed, the place where they were assembled was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak the word of God boldly.  

(Act 4:5-31 CSB)

An arrest.

A gathering of the rulers, elders, scribes, and high priest.

The question: by what authority?


As we studied yesterday, for Jews there is only one right answer to the authority question: Yahweh. Only he the power and authority to heal. We’ve heard this question before, though. Luke has written this scene before. The Ruling Council asked Jesus the same question at His trial. Jesus’ response? I am. Or, as they correctly heard it….I AM. The meaning of God’s name, Yahweh: I AM.

Luke intentionally draws parallels between Jesus before the Sanhedrin (the Jewish religious leaders) and Peter and John before the same group. In fact, Luke will allude back to his earlier work several times throughout Acts, emphasizing that the life of a follower of Jesus Christ will imitate the life of Jesus—His character, His actions, and even His sufferings. 

In repainting this particular scene, though, Luke makes an additional point. While Jesus pronounced His own position and power, Peter and John proclaim Jesus’ power. They claim no authority of their own. They claim only the “the name of Jesus Christ.” I’m sure the Sanhedrin were having a bit of déjà vu themselves. They’d had that man killed months ago. Couldn’t he stay dead?! Apparently not. Reports of a man rising from the dead could easily be dismissed, though, except for the bothersome problem of proof in the form of a well-known lame man leaping around the Temple court. 

And there was more proof. Peter and John themselves. These men were bold and well-spoken, attracting a lot of attention, but they were really backwoods Galilean fishermen. The Jewish leaders “were amazed and recognized that they had been with Jesus.” It is easy to assume that Luke’s point here is that being with Jesus transforms ordinary unskilled people, but Luke’s allusion to Luke 22 suggests a different point. In Luke 22, before Jesus’ trial, Luke also told a story about Peter.

Peter is recognized. He is recognized as a Galilean. As one who had been with Jesus.

And Peter denies it. He denies it three times. He denies it with curses.

Three months later, they recognize him again. They would have loved if, once again, Peter denied it all and ran off. But not anymore. Being with Jesus hadn’t transformed Peter, but witnessing the resurrection and being filled with the Spirit had.

The Spirit has transformed Peter so much that, when he is released, he gathers with the believers and prays, Lord, consider their threats, and grant your servants. . .all boldness. God answers that prayer, and the priests have a problem.


Reflection

We can spend a lot of time with Jesus and never be transformed by the power of the Spirit. Let’s be honest—when faced with uncomfortable situations because of our faith, do we pray for boldness? Or do we pray for protection? Are we people who spend time with Jesus but flee when difficulties arise, or are we people filled with the Spirit who pray for more power and head right back out there?

Prayer

Lord Jesus, I confess that I would prefer the easy way. The comfortable way. The non-confrontational-yet-highly-effective way. That is not Your way, though. You warned that Your followers would encounter opposition, persecutions and sufferings. But you also promised power, so fill me with Your Spirit’s power and grant that your servants may speak your word with all boldness, while you stretch out your hand for healing, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of your holy servant Jesus. Amen.


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Megan NessonComment
Tuesday, February 5

Power in the Name

3:1Now Peter and John were going up together to the temple complex at the hour of prayer at three in the afternoon. 2And a man who was lame from birth was carried there and placed every day at the temple gate called Beautiful, so he could beg from those entering the temple complex. 3When he saw Peter and John about to enter the temple complex, he asked for help. 4Peter, along with John, looked at him intently and said, "Look at us." 5So he turned to them, expecting to get something from them. 6But Peter said, "I don't have silver or gold, but what I have, I give you: In the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene, get up and walk!" 7Then, taking him by the right hand he raised him up, and at once his feet and ankles became strong. 8So he jumped up, stood, and started to walk, and he entered the temple complex with them-- walking, leaping, and praising God. 9All the people saw him walking and praising God, 10and they recognized that he was the one who used to sit and beg at the Beautiful Gate of the temple complex. So they were filled with awe and astonishment at what had happened to him. 

11While he was holding on to Peter and John, all the people, greatly amazed, ran toward them in what is called Solomon's Colonnade. 12When Peter saw this, he addressed the people: "Men of Israel, why are you amazed at this? Or why do you stare at us, as though we had made him walk by our own power or godliness? 13The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the God of our fathers, has glorified His Servant Jesus, whom you handed over and denied in the presence of Pilate, when he had decided to release Him. 14But you denied the Holy and Righteous One and asked to have a murderer given to you. 15You killed the source of life, whom God raised from the dead; we are witnesses of this. 16By faith in His name, His name has made this man strong, whom you see and know. So the faith that comes through Him has given him this perfect health in front of all of you.  

17"And now, brothers, I know that you did it in ignorance, just as your leaders also did. 18But what God predicted through the mouth of all the prophets-- that His Messiah would suffer-- He has fulfilled in this way. 19Therefore repent and turn back, so that your sins may be wiped out, that seasons of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, 20and that He may send Jesus, who has been appointed for you as the Messiah. 21Heaven must welcome Him until the times of the restoration of all things, which God spoke about by the mouth of His holy prophets from the beginning. 22Moses said: The Lord your God will raise up for you a Prophet like me from among your brothers. You must listen to Him in everything He will say to you. 23And everyone who will not listen to that Prophet will be completely cut off from the people. 

24"In addition, all the prophets who have spoken, from Samuel and those after him, have also announced these days. 25You are the sons of the prophets and of the covenant that God made with your ancestors, saying to Abraham, And all the families of the earth will be blessed through your offspring. 26God raised up His Servant and sent Him first to you to bless you by turning each of you from your evil ways." 

4:1Now as they were speaking to the people, the priests, the commander of the temple police, and the Sadducees confronted them, 2because they were annoyed that they were teaching the people and proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection from the dead. 3So they seized them and put them in custody until the next day, since it was already evening. 4But many of those who heard the message believed, and the number of the men came to about 5,000. 

(Act 3:1-16, 4:1-4 CSB)

During our dating days, my husband took me to a local restaurant his uncle recommended. In addition to the recommendation, the uncle told us that we should ‘tell them he sent us.’ I figured he knew the owners and we would receive a discount. When we arrived, though, they wouldn’t even let us in—at which point we mentioned the uncle’s name. 

“Welcome! Right this way!”

Turns out the restaurant was a private supper club which required membership to dine there. It was the first time I had ever experienced the power of a name to literally open doors.

Besides rare incidences like this, we don’t often think about names having “power” in our culture. For ancient peoples, though, names were more than a way to identify and distinguish one person or place or thing from another. Names had meaning and actual, real-life power.

In the Old Testament, God tells Moses to tell the Israelites that Yahweh—I AM—had sent him. The name Yahweh was and is much more than a personal moniker. The name itself expresses His self-existent, all-encompassing power. Creator, not created. The name was so powerful, so holy, so special that Jews would not speak it aloud, hence the use of “LORD” in the Old Testament in place of what is actually written in the Hebrew text—Yahweh.

Healing a man who could not walk—a man people had passed every day for years—was something that could only be done in the name of the LORD. When the people witnessed him walking around and praising God, they looked at Peter and John in wonder—how had they done it? Only Yahweh had the power to heal like this. And that seems to be what Peter is about to say: Why are you amazed at this? Or why do you stare at us, as though we had made him walk by our own power or godliness? 13The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the God of our fathers. . .has healed this man. That’s what the people are expecting. That phrase would have been well known to his audience; it quotes Exodus 3 when God introduces Himself to Moses and sends Moses to rescue the Israelites from slavery. This phrase introduces God. It commissions miraculous, salvific work. But Peter makes an unexpected declaration: The god of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the God of our fathers has glorified His Servant Jesus.

It was in the name of Jesus Peter had told the beggar to walk, and Peter makes sure the people understand that it was by faith in this name—Jesus—that the man was healed. Standing in the middle of the Temple courtyards, those are blasphemous words. Though the name of Jesus in Hebrew means Yahweh saves, the name of Yahweh alone has this type of power to heal. If Peter is saying that the name of Jesus, that crucified criminal, has the power to heal, then he is making heretical claims.

With the healed man standing in front of them, though, the truth of that claim was hard to argue. If only Yahweh can heal, and this man was healed in the name of Jesus, then this Jesus must be…

Cue the temple guards. As quickly as they can, the religious powers whisk away Peter and John. The religious authorities are annoyed by these wannabe teachers proclaiming heretical things, but not overly concerned. They’re practicing a policy of containment.

Except the lame man is still standing there. In the name of Jesus. And five thousand people believe what Peter and John were saying. In this Jesus, there is power to heal, to forgive sins, to raise the dead. If that’s true, then there won’t be any containing it.


Reflection

As Christians we often attach Jesus’ name to our prayers like a magic word. When we pray In Jesus’ name, though, do we mean it? Do we believe it? Do we understand the power available in that name—the power to heal, forgive sins, raise the dead? What might that kind of faith look like? How might that kind of faith pray?

Prayer

All hail the power of Jesus’ name, let angels prostrate fall. Bring forth the royal diadem and crown Him Lord of all. For Your name, Jesus, is the name above all other names, and there is no other name under heaven by which we can be saved. By Your name we are saved, healed, and will be raised to life. At Your name demons tremble and flee. By faith, may I realize the power available to me when I pray in Your powerful and glorious name. In the name of Jesus, Amen. 


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Megan NessonComment
Monday, February 4

A Tale of Two Temples

This week we begin to pick up the pace as we work our way through Acts, but before we continue much further, let’s pause and observe the forest, rather than peering intently at each individual tree. Throughout the first seven chapters of Acts, Luke alternates between events happening among gathered believers in homes and events happening at the Temple, and he is setting the two up on a collision course. If you have time, you read all of chapters 2-7, but here’s the highlights:

Acts 2:1-4a: When the day of Pentecost had arrived, they were all together in one place. 2Suddenly a sound like that of a violent rushing wind came from heaven, and it filled the whole house where they were staying. 3And tongues, like flames of fire that were divided, appeared to them and rested on each one of them. 4Then they were all filled with the Holy Spirit. . .

Acts 2:46-47: Every day they devoted themselves to meeting together in the temple complex, and broke bread from house to house. They ate their food with a joyful and humble attitude, 47praising God and having favor with all the people. And every day the Lord added to them those who were being saved. . . 

Acts 3:1: Now Peter and John were going up together to the temple complex at the hour of prayer at three in the afternoon. . .  

Acts 4:1-4: Now as they were speaking to the people, the priests, the commander of the temple police, and the Sadducees confronted them, 2because they were annoyed that they were teaching the people and proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection of the dead. 3So they seized them and put them in custody until the next day, since it was already evening. 4But many of those who heard the message believed, and the number of the men came to about 5,000. . . 

Acts 5:17-21a: Then the high priest took action. He and all his colleagues, those who belonged to the party of the Sadducees, were filled with jealousy. 18So they arrested the apostles and put them in the city jail. 19But an angel of the Lord opened the doors of the jail during the night, brought them out, and said, 20 "Go and stand in the temple complex, and tell the people all about this life." 21In obedience to this, they entered the temple complex at daybreak and began to teach. 

Acts 5:42: Every day in the temple complex, and in various homes, they continued teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Messiah. 

In first-century Judaism, the Temple was the center of all religious activity because the Temple was where Yahweh God resided on earth. It was the location where heaven and earth met. The system of sacrifices, offerings, and increasingly restricted spaces separated the holy from the profane—separated God’s perfection from the common, impure, human, death-tinged reality of earth. The system also protected impure humans from the absolute purity of God. This idea of the Temple as God’s residence was not some pagan idea that had infiltrated Judaism, but was initiated by God Himself. After the Israelites left Egypt, while they were still in the desert, God gave instructions for a dwelling that would allow Him to be present on the earth, yet remain separate as His holiness demands. That structure was a movable tent known as the Tabernacle, and when it was completed the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle. . . the cloud of the LORD was over the tabernacle by day, and there was a fire inside the cloud by night, visible to the entire house of Israel throughout all the stages of their journey (Exodus 40:34, 38).

Clouds and fire signal the presence of God throughout the Old Testament. From the burning bush to the top of Sinai to the Temple, these dual phenomena are the visible signs of an invisible God’s presence. Centuries after the Tabernacle, Solomon built the Temple as a permanent dwelling, and a similar expression of God’s glory occurred as God filled the Temple. Before that Temple’s destruction in 586 BC, Ezekiel saw a vision of that glory—with cloud and fire—leaving the Temple.

The Temple was eventually rebuilt and once again became the center of Jewish faith and worship. This is the Temple where Luke opens his gospel; Zechariah reports for service at the Temple, and receives word via angel that God is about to enact His salvation plan. The Temple is also where Luke closes his gospel; the disciples gather for prayer and worship there every day, awaiting the power Jesus had promised. 

The Temple is not where Luke opens the second part of the story, though. At Pentecost, the believers are not at the Temple—and yet wind and fire descend upon them. Sound familiar? God is back in town, but He’s not staying at His old place. Because of Jesus’ perfect, purifying sacrifice, humans no longer needed to be protected from God’s holy presence. The Temple was no longer the place where earth and heaven met—each Spirit-filled believer was. 

The Temple would continue to serve as a meeting place for early believers, but, in the early chapters of Acts, Luke shows the growing conflict between the old Temple—with its systems and powers and priests—and the new Temple—the people of God. The next two weeks, we will read these chapters and see this conflict come to a deadly climax, leaving the old building and systems behind.

Unlike the Gospel of Luke, Acts is no longer a story enclosed by the Temple. It is the story of a new, living, moving, breathing Temple spilling into all nations. God has broken out of His box.


Reflection

Have you kept God in a box? The Temple is no longer the center of our faith and practice, but have you kept God confined to a physical structure, a system of rules, or to only certain areas of your life? Where is God longing for you to experience His breakthrough into the entire world? Where is He encouraging you to spill out as His presence into all the world?

Prayer

Holy God, we cannot comprehend that, by Your Son’s death, You have come to reside in each one of us. Your living presence within each believer is a mystery and honor we do not deserve and do not understand. In spite of our deficiencies, fill us with Your presence that we might go out into all the world as ambassadors of Your holy presence. In Jesus’ name, Amen.


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Megan NessonComment
Friday, February 1

What Must We Do?

36 "Therefore let all the house of Israel know with certainty that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah!" 

37 When they heard this, they came under deep conviction and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles: "Brothers, what must we do?" 

38 "Repent," Peter said to them, "and be baptized, each of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 For the promise is for you and for your children, and for all who are far off, as many as the Lord our God will call." 40 And with many other words he testified and strongly urged them, saying, "Be saved from this corrupt generation!" 

41 So those who accepted his message were baptized, and that day about 3,000 people were added to them. 

42 And they devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching, to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread, and to the prayers. 43 Then fear came over everyone, and many wonders and signs were being performed through the apostles. 44 Now all the believers were together and held all things in common. 45 They sold their possessions and property and distributed the proceeds to all, as anyone had a need. 46 Every day they devoted themselves to meeting together in the temple complex, and broke bread from house to house. They ate their food with a joyful and humble attitude, 47 praising God and having favor with all the people. And every day the Lord added to them those who were being saved. 

(Act 2:36-47 CSB)

The Spirit blew in with mighty power, heralding that the Day of the Lord had in fact arrived.

Peter preached that the Messiah had in fact come in the person of Jesus of Nazareth, and not only did they fail to recognize him but they murdered him.

Peter’s closing words echoed in their hearts and minds: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah.

Imagine how Peter’s Jewish audience felt. The single thing they had waited for, hoped for, prayed for—He had come! But they didn’t recognize him, and so they killed him. What now? What hope remained? How would God react now that His people had rejected His promised final redemption? In fear and desperation, they asked Peter: what must we do? But the deeper question, the one they were too afraid to ask, was porbably: is there any hope left for us?

Yes. Yes, there was still hope. Despite their failure God’s grace remained and Peter assures the people that the promise is still for them, their children, and anyone who would believe that Jesus was indeed both Lord and Messiah. The necessary response was simple:

Repent. 

Be Baptized.

Receive the Holy Spirit.

As essential as these three elements are, though, they did not define the life of the believers. After joining the body of believers, their lives were defined by various activities:

Teaching.

Fellowship.

Breaking Bread.

Prayer.

Selfless Giving.

Humility.

Joy.

Having repented, been baptized, and filled with the Spirit, these new Jesus-followers formed a radical new community, not by leaving their old lives but by transforming the way they lived their everyday, ordinary lives. Their new faith was not defined by one-time events or a list of the correct beliefs. It was a lifestyle defined by learning, worship, celebrating Christ’s sacrifice, meeting together, and loving others more than themselves. And they were joyful and humble about it the entire time.

This is not normal human behavior, and people noticed. Criticism, hostility and outright persecution were coming, but most of that negative attention came from political and spiritual elite. With ordinary, everyday people, the Church found “favor.” It is hard to find fault with people who are joyful, humble, and self-sacrificing. And the result? The Church grew. Everyday.


Reflection

Churches across the United States are decreasing in numbers, and Jesus-followers do not have the favor of the people. From your experience, what are some of the reasons people find the Church repulsive rather than attractive? What behaviors from the list of early-Church activities are often missing from churches and the lives of Christ-followers? What can we do, individually and as a local Church body, to gain the favor of the people in our communities so that daily we might see more saved?

Prayer

We do not need or seek the favor of the people. We seek only Your face, Your favor, yet Your Word demonstrates that living our lives as true Jesus-followers will be attractive to others. Lord, there are people in darkness, in need of Your salvation. Make us like You. Through learning, fellowship and prayer may we become people who are humble, joyful and self-sacrificing. Make us people that other people notice, and add daily to the number of people being saved. In the name of Jesus, the only name by which we can be saved, Amen.


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Megan NessonComment
Thursday, January 31

Lord & Messiah

Today’s reading focuses on Peter’s Pentecost sermon, but we need to talk about it before we read it. This speech is hugely significant because it is the first time a disciple publicly teaches Scripture and proclaims who Jesus is. Because of its importance, we feel like we should be really moved by this speech, but if we’re honest…it’s a bit strange. Peter mostly quotes Old Testament Scripture, and not the familiar prophecies from Isaiah about virgin births and suffering servants. He’s talking about blood moons from Joel and patching together a whole bunch of Psalms…and he doesn’t mention one of the four spiritual laws. He doesn’t even use the phrase ‘died for your sins.’ Peter could have learned a thing or two about proper evangelistic technique from Billy Graham.

Peter wasn’t addressing a crowd of 20th century Americans, though. Peter was talking to first-century Jews, and what he was saying was shocking. Every single Jew was waiting for one thing: the Day of the Lord. The Day when their God, Yahweh, would show up and execute judgment on their enemies and save His people. The day when He would put His anointed King (Messiah is Hebrew for “anointed one”) on David’s throne, forever. Based on prophecies like Joel, they knew that day would be accompanied by a massive outpouring of the Spirit and great signs and wonders—maybe not blood and fire and smoke, but something equally supernatural and unmistakable. Something like mighty wind and flames of fire that did not burn and the miraculous gift of speaking in different language. 

These supernatural events at Pentecost are what Peter points to as proof that the Day of the Lord had arrived. But if the Day of the Lord had arrived, the obvious questions was—where is the Messiah? Peter’s answer: Jesus. Peter then begins a grand exposition of well-known prophetic Messianic texts. He expertly stitches together a variety of Psalms, all of which were known as “royal psalms.” These psalms referenced Israel’s kings, usually David, but also came to be understood as prophecies about the coming King from the line of David who would rule forever. Using those words, which would have been familiar and hopeful and cherished to this Jewish audience, Peter demonstrates how Jesus’ death—which seemed like a pretty big disqualifier for being the Messiah—was actually part of the prophecy, because it is only through death that God could resurrect the Messiah to eternal life—and eternal rule.

And after he delivers the shocking news that the man crucified a few short weeks ago is not only alive but also the Messiah, Peter delivers the biggest shocker of all: He is Lord. While Lord was a political title, it was also the name used by Jews in place of God’s holy name, Yahweh. Messiah was a political designation, and by quoting Psalm 110 (which would become the most quoted Old Testament Scripture in the New Testament) Peter is pointing out that even David knew his own descendant would be superior to him. Would be his Lord. Would be Yahweh.

Our modern western ears may not hear it, but Peter is making radical claims, and he has the power of the Spirit to back up those claims.

You may be reading Peter’s sermon on a 21st century smart phone, but listen with first century Jewish ears. The marvel of technology in your hand pales in comparison to the marvel of what Peter is declaring: This Jesus is Messiah and Lord.

14 But Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice, and proclaimed to them: "Men of Judah and all you residents of Jerusalem, let me explain this to you and pay attention to my words. 15 For these people are not drunk, as you suppose, since it's only nine in the morning. 16 On the contrary, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel: 

17 And it will be in the last days, says God, that I will pour out My Spirit on all humanity; then your sons and your daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, and your old men will dream dreams. 18 I will even pour out My Spirit on My male and female slaves in those days, and they will prophesy. 19 I will display wonders in the heaven above and signs on the earth below: blood and fire and a cloud of smoke. 20 The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the great and remarkable Day of the Lord comes. 21 Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.

22 "Men of Israel, listen to these words: This Jesus the Nazarene was a man pointed out to you by God with miracles, wonders, and signs that God did among you through Him, just as you yourselves know. 23 Though He was delivered up according to God's determined plan and foreknowledge, you used lawless people to nail Him to a cross and kill Him. 24 God raised Him up, ending the pains of death, because it was not possible for Him to be held by it. 25 For David says of Him: 

I saw the Lord ever before me; because He is at my right hand, I will not be shaken. 26 Therefore my heart was glad, and my tongue rejoiced. Moreover, my flesh will rest in hope, 27 because You will not leave me in Hades or allow Your Holy One to see decay. 28 You have revealed the paths of life to me; You will fill me with gladness in Your presence. 

29 "Brothers, I can confidently speak to you about the patriarch David: He is both dead and buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. 30 Since he was a prophet, he knew that God had sworn an oath to him to seat one of his descendants on his throne. 31 Seeing this in advance, he spoke concerning the resurrection of the Messiah: He was not left in Hades, and His flesh did not experience decay. 32 "God has resurrected this Jesus. We are all witnesses of this. 33 Therefore, since He has been exalted to the right hand of God and has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit, He has poured out what you both see and hear. 34 For it was not David who ascended into the heavens, but he himself says: 

The Lord declared to my Lord, 

'Sit at My right hand 

35 until I make Your enemies Your footstool.' 

36 "Therefore let all the house of Israel know with certainty that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah!"  

(Act 2:14-36 CSB)


Reflection

Critics of Christianity often claim that neither Jesus nor his disciples ever said that Jesus was God. How does the declaration “Jesus is Lord” declare that truth even more profoundly? How should that truth affect the way we relate to Him? How does His position as Messiah (or Christ, the Greek translation) affect the way we relate to Him?

Prayer

Jesus, You are both Lord and Messiah, seated at the right hand of the Father. Proven by miracles and exalted by Your resurrection, You are my God and King. I worship you. I submit to you. I thank you. I adore you. Amen.


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Megan NessonComment
Wednesday, January 30

What We Have Here is a Failure to Communicate

4 Then they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in different languages, as the Spirit gave them ability for speech.

 5 There were Jews living in Jerusalem, devout men from every nation under heaven. 6 When this sound occurred, a crowd came together and was confused because each one heard them speaking in his own language. 7 And they were astounded and amazed, saying, "Look, aren't all these who are speaking Galileans? 8 How is it that each of us can hear in our own native language? 9 Parthians, Medes, Elamites; those who live in Mesopotamia, in Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, 11 Cretans and Arabs-- we hear them speaking the magnificent acts of God in our own languages." 12 They were all astounded and perplexed, saying to one another, "What could this be?" 13 But some sneered and said, "They're full of new wine!" 

14 But Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice, and proclaimed to them: "Men of Judah and all you residents of Jerusalem, let me explain this to you and pay attention to my words. 15 For these people are not drunk, as you suppose, since it's only nine in the morning. 16 On the contrary, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel: 

17 And it will be in the last days, says God, that I will pour out My Spirit on all humanity; then your sons and your daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, and your old men will dream dreams. 18 I will even pour out My Spirit on My male and female slaves in those days, and they will prophesy. 19 I will display wonders in the heaven above and signs on the earth below: blood and fire and a cloud of smoke. 20 The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the great and remarkable Day of the Lord comes. 21 Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.  (Act 2:4-21 CSB)

If you hang around church long enough, you’ll eventually hear the phrase spiritual gifts. This phrase is the Christian-ese way of referring to the teaching in the New Testament that God, through His Spirit, bestows each believer with various gifts for the good of the Church and the building of His kingdom. In his first Spirit-filled address, Peter immediately tells the crowd that this manifestation of power is the fulfillment of prophecy. Peter provides just a primer on spiritual gifts here, but the first ones he mentions are prophecy, visions, and dreams. 

And, of course, there is the other obvious spiritual gift in this chapter. The elephant in the room that no one likes to talk about (except Pentecostals). The first act of the Holy Spirit is not to heal the sick or raise the dead. He doesn’t even send a check to pay off the mortgage for a new church building. Instead, every single person in the newly-founded church is. . .speaking in tongues.

{And every Baptist squirmed uncomfortably.}

Some people don’t believe in ‘speaking in tongues.’ Some Christians don’t believe in spiritual gifts at all anymore, arguing this particular gifting was only for the early Church. However, all of these conversations (and all too often heated arguments), focus on the gifts themselves, rather than the purpose. The Spirit’s gifting is never about the individuals or the means, but the end result: the edification of the Church.

The tongue-speaking at Pentecost was not the incoherent prayer language often associated with the gift, but a miraculous gift of real-world language, to meet the real-life need of declaring the Gospel. Luke mentions a handful of the crowd’s homelands. These geographical locations represented every direction of the compass for hundreds of miles beyond Jerusalem. All of these travelers were Jews or converts to Judaism, but the Exile hundreds of years earlier had scattered them across the known world. Still Jewish, though, they had journeyed to Jerusalem for the holy festival of Pentecost. Despite being Jewish, their homes were far from Jerusalem and the historic borders of Israel, and so they likely only knew basic Hebrew. The language of commerce and learning in the Roman Empire (which ruled all of these lands) was still largely Greek, so they likely spoke passable Greek (much like English serves as an international language today). For all these people, though, their primary native languages were as varied as the lands Luke mentions. Basic communication and communal worship was possible, but deep theological conversations would have been impossible.

Language is a powerful and necessary tool for accomplishing group tasks. When communication breaks down, so does the work. That is why, at the Tower of Babel, God foils the tower-building by confusing the language. Babel was motivated by the people’s arrogance and pride, an attempt to manipulate God and make themselves great. Pentecost, though, is the reversal of Babel. Jesus’ followers did not formulate a plan and immediately head out to build this new movement. Instead, as instructed, the waited. In repentance and humility, they waited for the power from God, preparing through prayer, until motivated by repentance and humility God would send the tools to build His Church, in order to make great the name of Jesus. One of the most essential tools needed, provided by the power of His Spirit, was the ability to communicate.


Reflection

For most of us, our primary language is English, so we do not need the gift of foreign language like they did at the first Pentecost. That does not mean communication does not continue to be a barrier to fulfilling God’s purposes for us as His Church. How has a breakdown in communication caused a breakdown in your life, your church, or your community? In what areas do you need to repent of pride and selfishness, in order that the Spirit might be able to work? What fruit or gifts of the Spirit do we need most so that we can reverse our Babels and turn them into Pentecosts?

Prayer

Lord, we confess that we, like those at Babel, too often act out of pride and selfishness. We seek your gifts for our own glory instead of Yours. We humbly ask that you would fill us with Your Spirit in whatever way best builds up the body of Christ.  Amen.


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Megan NessonComment
Tuesday, January 29

The Day of Pentecost

When the day of Pentecost had arrived, they were all together in one place. 2 Suddenly a sound like that of a violent rushing wind came from heaven, and it filled the whole house where they were staying. 3 And tongues, like flames of fire that were divided, appeared to them and rested on each one of them. 4 Then they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in different languages, as the Spirit gave them ability for speech.

 5 There were Jews living in Jerusalem, devout men from every nation under heaven. 6 When this sound occurred, a crowd came together and was confused because each one heard them speaking in his own language. 7 And they were astounded and amazed, saying, "Look, aren't all these who are speaking Galileans? 8 How is it that each of us can hear in our own native language? 9 Parthians, Medes, Elamites; those who live in Mesopotamia, in Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, 11 Cretans and Arabs-- we hear them speaking the magnificent acts of God in our own languages." 12 They were all astounded and perplexed, saying to one another, "What could this be?" 13  (Act 2:1-12 CSB)

Years ago I was on a mission trip where our main task was helping lead vacation Bible school. One lesson was about Pentecost, and we performed a short skit, for which we cut out construction paper flames and glued them to construction paper headbands. They looked like the (very politically incorrect) headdresses we made in elementary school at Thanksgiving time more than actual fire, and I’m certain that our depiction was not at all like that actual first Pentecost.

I would love to know what it was like, though. I hope God has some divine video-recording system, because the image Luke attempts to describe defies language. A rushing wind. Flames of fire. People speaking in every language. Our attempts at recreating the scene often end up like that VBS skit—simplistic and a bit silly, falling far short of Luke’s point: when the Spirit shows up, it is like wind and fire.  Powerful and untamable phenomena that take over and change the course of human history.

The Spirit filled every single person who had gathered for prayer that historic day. Peter emphasizes that reality as he addresses the crowd: the outpouring they were experiencing was the fulfillment of prophetic promise, and it was non-discriminatory. Male and female, young and old, rich and poor. The Spirit was no longer the particular gifting for a particular person for a particular task. Through Jesus, the Spirit was the sure and certain possession of all who believed in the Messiah. What the crowds witnessed that day was the beginning of a new reality where this kind of wild, forceful, and history-changing behavior would be typical of God’s people.

The Spirit’s presence attracted every person in the vicinity, and those people had one of two reactions: repentance or insults. While their interpretations of the event differed drastically, neither group could deny something was happening; when the Spirit shows up and fills devout Jesus-followers, people notice. The Spirit transforms ordinary people into untamable forces, doing extraordinary feats for the kingdom, and this power is the birthright of every child of God. 


Reflection

What kind of reactions have you received from other people on account of living as a follower of Christ? Have you ever been accused of being drunk? When the Spirit is present, there are still only 3 groups of people: those filled, those attracted, and those who think you’re drunk. If we’re not drawing any response—both positive and negative—we must question whether we are allowing ourselves to be filled with God’s powerful Spirit. What extraordinary feats might God be wanting to empower you to do?

Prayer

Almighty God, Your Holy Spirit is as powerful and untamable as rushing wind and flames of fire. May I never cease to be in awe of Your power. That power is also my birthright as Your child, so may I not ignore, quench or despise this incredible gift. Fill me and every member of Your Church with this power. Whether we are met with accusations or repentance, may we always strive to live as Spirit-filled people.


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Megan NessonComment
Monday, January 28

The Day of Pentecost

When the day of Pentecost had arrived, they were all together in one place. 2 Suddenly a sound like that of a violent rushing wind came from heaven, and it filled the whole house where they were staying. 3 And tongues, like flames of fire that were divided, appeared to them and rested on each one of them. 4 Then they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in different languages, as the Spirit gave them ability for speech. 5 There were Jews living in Jerusalem, devout men from every nation under heaven. 6 When this sound occurred, a crowd came together and was confused because each one heard them speaking in his own language. 7 And they were astounded and amazed, saying, "Look, aren't all these who are speaking Galileans? 8 How is it that each of us can hear in our own native language? 9 Parthians, Medes, Elamites; those who live in Mesopotamia, in Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, 11 Cretans and Arabs-- we hear them speaking the magnificent acts of God in our own languages." 12 They were all astounded and perplexed, saying to one another, "What could this be?" 13  (Act 2:1-12 CSB)

In modern Christianity, we celebrate Pentecost (if we celebrate it at all) as the day that God poured out His Spirit on those who believed in Jesus. While that is what happened—and what we should celebrate more than we do—Pentecost was already a holy day prior to Acts 2.

Pentecost, also called the Festival of Harvest or Festival of Weeks, was one of three annual pilgrimage festivals when Jews from all over would travel to Jerusalem to celebrate and make sacrifices. Passover was the first major pilgrimage festival, and Pentecost followed ‘a week of weeks’ (7 weeks) after the first Passover—or 50 days. This festival celebrated the harvest, and worshippers brought offerings to thank God for His provision. Also, the celebration commemorated the giving of the Law on Sinai (which occurred approximately 2 months after the first Passover), and this holy day is still observed by Jewish communities today as Shavout.

Whenever we read the New Testament, it is important to remember that Jesus, His disciples, and many of the new Church were Jews, and continued to consider themselves Jews. When that first post-resurrection Pentecost arrived, the apostles had spent the last 49 days being taught the Scriptures by Jesus Himself. Jesus explained how He was the fulfillment of all the Scriptures—including all the Jewish festivals. His death during the Passover was not coincidence. The disciples understood that Jesus was the perfect Passover Lamb. They recognized that His perfect sacrifice obliterated the need for any further sacrificial system. They knew that His death had literally ripped apart the priesthood and Temple system of mediated access to God.

As they gathered for their first post-resurrection Pentecost, they must have wondered how this celebration had been fulfilled in Jesus. As they celebrated the harvest and God’s provision for another year, surely one of the disciples remembered Jesus’ words that “the harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few.” In the moments before the Spirit descended, were they praying that the Lord of the Harvest would empower and send more workers?

And as they celebrated the giving of the Law—when Yahweh met with Moses in the midst of cloud and smoke and made a covenant with His people, providing His instruction on how to live as God’s people—one of the disciples must have recalled the prophecy of Jeremiah that God would one day write His law on their hearts and put His Spirit in them.

God’s timing is never coincidental. Pentecost was not just a random day on the calendar. This year, as Jews gathered to celebrate just as they had been doing for hundreds of years…this year, the God of Sinai rushed in once again in wind and fire. This year, the Lord of the Harvest rushed in with power upon His workers. This year was the year they had waited for.


Reflection

In Jesus’ time, Jews traveled hundreds of miles and stayed in town for a week to celebrate Pentecost. In Jesus, we have the perfect fulfillment of what that Old Testament festival foreshadowed, yet we barely note the day on the calendar. What greater reason do we have to celebrate on the holy day of thanksgiving for the Harvest and the Law? How could we more jubilantly celebrate what God did on that day?

Prayer

Lord of the Harvest, empower us to be your workers. The fields are ripe, and the harvest is abundant—in our own homes, communities and countries and beyond. Holy Spirit, we await in joyful anticipation. Fill us, instruct us, transform us, send us. Amen.


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Megan NessonComment
Friday, January 25

What’s One More?

15 During these days Peter stood up among the brothers-- the number of people who were together was about 120-- and said: 16 "Brothers, the Scripture had to be fulfilled that the Holy Spirit through the mouth of David spoke in advance about Judas, who became a guide to those who arrested Jesus. 17 For he was one of our number and was allotted a share in this ministry." 18 Now this man acquired a field with his unrighteous wages. He fell headfirst and burst open in the middle, and all his insides spilled out. 19 This became known to all the residents of Jerusalem, so that in their own language that field is called Hakeldama (that is, Field of Blood). 20 "For it is written in the Book of Psalms: Let his dwelling become desolate; let no one live in it; and Let someone else take his position. 21 "Therefore, from among the men who have accompanied us during the whole time the Lord Jesus went in and out among us-- 22 beginning from the baptism of John until the day He was taken up from us-- from among these, it is necessary that one become a witness with us of His resurrection." 23 So they proposed two: Joseph, called Barsabbas, who was also known as Justus, and Matthias. 24 Then they prayed, "You, Lord, know the hearts of all; show which of these two You have chosen 25 to take the place in this apostolic service that Judas left to go to his own place." 26 Then they cast lots for them, and the lot fell to Matthias. So he was numbered with the 11 apostles.    (Act 1:15-26)

After Jesus’ ascension, the first order of business for the apostles was not church planting, fundraising or a book deal. It was appointing a replacement to the leadership team. Peter reminds the remaining group of 120 believers that Judas’s betrayal was both necessary and predicted (while Luke fills in the grisly details), and then Peter recalls the prophecy that while this wicked man’s house (his legacy) was to remain vacant, his position was not. 

Why was a replacement necessary though? Eleven disciples still remained, and the small band of Jesus followers had recently experienced a sharp decline, not increase, in numbers. The 12 apostles (the term Luke generally reserves for the original 12 disciples) had to be twelve because their importance went far beyond teaching and leading; in fact, their number might have been the most important thing about the 12 apostles. To a modern, Western audience the significance is not immediately obvious, but to a Jewish audience the significance was so obvious it need not be stated. Jews were awaiting the restoration of their nation, Israel, which took its name from the patriarch Israel—whose 12 sons formed the 12 tribes of Israel. Israel had split into two kingdoms, and both fell to conquerors between roughly 700-600 BC. The new powers dispersed the defeated Israelites throughout the known world. In exile, Jeremiah 31, became one of the most beautiful promises of restoration: “At that time. . .I will be the God of all the families of Israel, and they will be my people.” In the Old Testament books of Ezra and Nehemiah, small groups of Jews do return from Babylon and even build a new Temple, but Israel was still ruled by foreign power, the new Temple paled in comparison to the splendor of the old one, and, perhaps most importantly, people from all the tribes had not returned. Exile was not truly over. 

Jesus’ choice of 12 apostles signaled not just the restoration of Israel and the fulfillment of God’s promises to His chosen nation, but the beginning of a new Israel. Peter later uses God’s words for Israel to describe the Church: a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his possession (1 Peter 2:9a). The book of Acts is simultaneously something entirely new that the Spirit of God is doing—and the fulfillment of God’s oldest promises. In selecting a replacement apostle, the original 11 weren’t merely filling board seats, but acting in faith that this Jesus-movement they had signed up for was just beginning.

How right they were, because God was about to show up, fulfill His promises, and restore His people.


Reflection

Why is it still important to us today that Jesus chose 12 disciples to build His Church? How might the Church’s identity as the new Israel change the way we view our calling and mission, both as individuals and as a collective body?

Prayer

O Yahweh God, You are a faithful God and not one of your promises will fail. You promised your servant Abraham that you would make him into a great nation. You promised to bless all the nations through him. You promised to restore your exiled people. Not only are You faithful to those promises, but Your answers are bigger than we could ask or imagine. Through Jesus, You have included me in Your chosen race, Your holy nation. I am Your possession, so may I declare Your praises for calling me out of darkness into Your marvelous light. Into Your Church. Into Your family. Amen.


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Megan NessonComment
Thursday, January 24

The Ascension

After He had said this, He was taken up as they were watching, and a cloud took Him out of their sight. 10 While He was going, they were gazing into heaven, and suddenly two men in white clothes stood by them. 11 They said, "Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up into heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come in the same way that you have seen Him going into heaven." 12 Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called the Mount of Olives, which is near Jerusalem-- a Sabbath day's journey away. 13 When they arrived, they went to the room upstairs where they were staying: Peter, John, James, Andrew, Philip, Thomas, Bartholomew, Matthew, James the son of Alphaeus, Simon the Zealot, and Judas the son of James. 14 All these were continually united in prayer, along with the women, including Mary the mother of Jesus, and His brothers.    (Act 1:9-14)

Jesus didn’t go to the moon. The disciples did not think He ascended up through the clouds to somewhere among the stars. Rather, Luke describes Jesus’ ascension as a disappearing into a cloud. This cloud is not meteorological coincidence. Throughout Hebrew Scripture, the presence of Yahweh, the God of Israel, is associated with a cloud: a cloud guides the Israelites by day from Egypt; a thick cloud settles on top of Sinai, the Tabernacle, and finally the Temple; Isaiah’s and Ezekiel’s visions are filled with the cloud of Yahweh’s presence.

As Luke describes Jesus’ physical, earthly body entering God’s space, he is making a revolutionary claim: Jesus is where heaven and earth meet. The last time this happened was in the Garden, when God’s space and human space were in the same location. After sin, though, the two had to be carefully distinguished. Purity laws, Tabernacle blueprints, and a sacrificial system were strictly maintained in order to create a small space for a brief period where God and humans could dwell together. The story arc of the entire Bible follows this main problem—how can God dwell among humans?

The answer is Jesus. 

As the disciples witnessed His glorious disappearance, straining their eyes as long as possible, two angels reminded them that this was not the end. Jesus would come back, and bring the presence of God to earth for eternity. 

Until that glorious appearance, the solution to the problem is Christ’s bride, the Church. The book of Acts records how an unlikely group of rag-tag apostles, women, and Jesus’ brothers grows not just into the greatest religious movement in history, but how—by the presence of the Spirit and power of prayer—become the place where God is present with His people.


Reflection

How does Jesus change the way we can approach God? As His Church, how can we—both individually and corporately—mediate the presence of God to others?

Prayer

Father, thank you that you made a way for us to live in your presence without laws, temples, or sacrifices. May I never take for granted the privilege and joy of your constant presence. Help me to mediate Your presence to others, until You come again and dwell physically among us forever.


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Megan NessonComment
Wednesday, January 23

Are We There Yet?

So when they had come together, they asked Him, "Lord, are You restoring the kingdom to Israel at this time?" 7 He said to them, "It is not for you to know times or periods that the Father has set by His own authority. 8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come on you, and you will be My witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth."   (Act 1:6-8)

First century Jews—like centuries of Jews before them—expected the Messiah to overthrow Israel’s oppressors, restore Israel’s sovereign independence, and increase their national prosperity. In all fairness, their Scriptures (our Old Testament) uses this language, and the centuries of silence between Old and New Testament saw numerous attempts to restore Jewish rule over their ancestral land. Expectations were high and clear.

Throughout the Gospels, Jesus attempted to correct the disciples’ expectations, but they continually display the old thought patterns of a military Messiah defeating the Romans. One would think the crucifixion, resurrection, and 40 day teaching intensive would have finally corrected this line of thinking, and yet at their last earthly meeting with Jesus, the disciples ask, “Now?! Is it finally time?!”

Jesus doesn’t yell at them or even roll His eyes. Instead, He reorients their thinking one final time. Make no mistake, there will be a time when Jesus will sit on an earthly throne, fully visible and fully in charge, but God’s plans are so much bigger than what the disciples expected. 

The disciples would receive power. Not military or political power, but power nonetheless. And this power would give them the skill and courage to be witnesses. We often assume, like modern evangelism, Jesus is sending them out to tell about His life, death, and resurrection. All that was part of the message, but is encapsulated in one main point: Jesus is Lord. 

Jesus’ resurrection and ascension were His enthronement as King of Heaven and Earth. The disciples’ task would be to proclaim this reality not just to ethnic Jews, but in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.

In ancient times, heralds were sent throughout the realm—as far as Britain—to announce the enthronement of a new king. Jesus did not yet have an earthly throne, but He was no less in charge, and not just of Israel as Jews had anticipated, but of all the earth. The task of Jesus’ followers would be to his heralds—his witnesses—that a new King had been enthroned and that a new Kingdom had begun.


Reflection

Do you consider the announcement of “Jesus is Lord” as an integral part of the Gospel message? How does this change the way we live our lives and share Jesus with others?

Prayer

Lord Jesus, like the disciples before us, we get it wrong so often. We are blinded by our historical and cultural expectations of what you should do and how you should act. Forgive us, and by Your Spirit embolden us to announce Your reign to all people in all places, as we joyfully submit to your rule in our own lives. 

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Megan NessonComment
Tuesday, January 22

Wait for It

I wrote the first narrative, Theophilus, about all that Jesus began to do and teach 2 until the day He was taken up, after He had given orders through the Holy Spirit to the apostles He had chosen. 3 After He had suffered, He also presented Himself alive to them by many convincing proofs, appearing to them during 40 days and speaking about the kingdom of God. 4 While He was together with them, He commanded them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait for the Father's promise. "This," He said, "is what you heard from Me; 5 for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now."  (Act 1:1-5)

Jesus spoke frequently of the coming Spirit, which was not an unknown promise to Jewish believers. Scriptures such as Joel 2 clearly pointed to the outpouring of God’s Spirit as a sign of the long-anticipated Day of the Lord:

28 After this I will pour out My Spirit on all humanity; then your sons and your daughters will prophesy, your old men will have dreams, and your young men will see visions. 29 I will even pour out My Spirit on the male and female slaves in those days. (Joel 2:1)

The concept of the Spirit was not new to the disciples, but how God’s kingdom would look was. Even after three years of traveling with and learning from Jesus, witnessing the crucifixion and resurrection, and then spending forty days learning from the resurrected Jesus…the disciples had not fully grasped what God was doing. They had not fully released their expectations of what the Messiah should do. So Jesus admonishes them to wait.

The disciples were not to run ahead with their own plans and ideas. Unlike us, they had no idea how the rest of the book of Acts would unfold. How the Gospel would spread, the Church would grow, and what the Kingdom would look like. Without the wisdom and guidance of the Spirit, they were more likely to build a Kingdom in their own image rather than the image of God. And so they waited.


Reflection

Running ahead of God’s timing and gifting is never a good idea. When have you run ahead of God’s timeline or out of step with His plans? In what areas is He asking you to wait right now, or is He saying the wait is over and gently nudging you ahead?

Prayer

Thank you, Jesus, that your Spirit provides all the wisdom and guidance we need. Forgive us for the times we have run ahead and messed things up. Forgive us for the times we have allowed fear to keep us paralyzed and stuck in place. May we wait patiently on You, and when the Spirit moves may we follow.

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Megan NessonComment