Acts 21

Vs. 15, “After this, we got ready and went up to Jerusalem.”  Paul continues his journey across the Mediterranean and finally makes land at Tyre, Ptolemais, and Caesarea (vs. 1-16).  Many of the believers knew the false accusations that began to stir and understood the danger of Paul going up to Jerusalem.  Even though Agabus (prophet from Judea) prophesied Paul’s demise, Paul would not allow such things to dissuade him from his goal.  Once arriving to Jerusalem, Paul is warmly greeted for he comes bearing the offerings to the church (vs. 17).  The next day, Paul reports and testifies of what God is doing (vs. 18-26).  However, the believers in Jerusalem knew the lies that were being shared about Paul and encouraged him to participate in the Jewish custom of purification laws.  This would help prove that Paul was not against the Jewish customs.  Bear in mind, while Paul disagreed with the Jews about salvation for the Gentiles, he was not disapproving of their OT practices.  Unfortunately, this idea backfired as some of the Jews in the temple incited a riot against Paul (vs. 27-40).  These Jews had come to Jerusalem (from Ephesus) for Pentecost and were against Paul from the beginning.  Their false assumptions and accusations nearly got Paul beaten to death had not the Roman soldiers intervened.  Paul would use this opportunity to request in Greek to the Roman soldier to address the rioters.

Regarding application…Courageous Obedience.  Vs. 13, “Then Paul answered, “Why are you weeping and breaking my heart? I am ready not only to be bound, but also to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.”  Question: Why would Paul go to Jerusalem and risk death?  Maybe one day we can ask Paul himself when we go to heaven.  I would venture to say that Paul felt such a burden of love, responsibility and investment.  He wanted to ensure he would be able to clearly witness to the mother church what God had done and hand over the collection himself.  He wanted to finish what he started.  Jesus had called him on the road to Damascus (Acts 9) and he didn’t want to let Jesus down.  It’s important to understand, that Paul didn’t have a death wish.  He had every intention of continuing on to share the Gospel, but he didn’t want the enemies tactics to undermine his faith.  He was putting his trust in God!

Acts 15

Vs. 1, “Some men came down from Judea to Antioch and were teaching the brothers: “Unless you are circumcised, according to the custom taught by Moses, you cannot be saved.”  Our chapter today is one of the most pivotal chapters in the Bible; the meeting of the Jerusalem Council.  Some men from Judea came unauthorized by the church in Jerusalem (vs. 24) to teach that new Gentile believers must adhere to the customs taught by Moses (vs. 1-2).  Question: What is going on here?  The Jewish Christian’s in Judea felt it was heresy for Paul and Barnabas to allow Gentiles to think they were saved by grace alone; they must adhere to circumcision and the Mosaic laws.  Fortunately, they realize this is serious enough to take to the mother church in Jerusalem (vs. 3-4).  The all gather in Jerusalem to discuss this deep theological issue of salvation (soteriology).  Peter is first to respond and step for the Gentiles and the way of salvation for them (vs. 6-11).  Certainly, we know God spoke to Peter clearly when he visited Cornelius’ house concerning salvation for all (Acts 10).  After more witnessing from Paul & Barnabas (vs. 12), James (half-brother of Jesus) who has now taken the prominent role of leading the Jerusalem church speaks up (vs. 12-21).  His speech affirms that Gentiles were always a part of God’s plan as attested from the Scriptures (Amos 9:11-12).  Jesus’ sacrifice put everyone (Jew and Gentile) on the same level.  The Law was setup to protect the Israelites and point them towards Christ, but it cannot save.  The process of salvation is agreed upon, now they had to make some practical decisions (vs. 20-21) about how to live holy lives as a church (consisting of both Gentiles and Jewish believers).  They also wisely sent Judas and Silas who would accompany Paul and Barnabas to help validate the council’s decision (vs. 22-35).  And lastly, we see Paul and Barnabas split up due to an issue with John Mark.  Fortunately, as the years went on, Paul and John Mark reconciled their differences (Colossians 4:10, II Timothy 4:11).

Regarding application…Accommodating Others.  Vs. 19, “It is my judgment, therefore, that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God.”  This is a very difficult topic to address in the church.  Question: Why and how should we accommodate others?  Jesus tells us not to cause others to stumble (Matthew 18).  And in our passage today, the Gentiles should make efforts to not cause the Jewish believers to stumble (vs. 20).  A cultural example today would be the topic of alcohol.  It is not a sin to drink, but we are warned throughout the bible not to get drunk.  There are other cultures, religions, and Christians who choose to completely abstain from alcohol.  As Christians, it would be wise to not drink around them and accommodate their sensitivities.  Question: How can you set aside your freedoms to accommodate others this week?  Whether in the workplace, church or home, we all could be more sensitive to others.

John 1

Vs. 1, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”  In a reference to Genesis, John’s opening statement is a wondrous lesson on theology (Study of God)!  Jesus is the Word and He always existed (vs. 1-2); He is eternal.  Through the Word, God created the universe (vs. 3).  The Greek word for Word is Logos.  Jesus is the Word and that Word is described as light shining in the darkness (vs. 5).  The Apostle John takes time to expound upon John the Baptist’s role as a witness to the light (vs. 6-9; 15-34) and testimony to Jesus’ identity as the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. We are presented with a deep theological understanding of the incarnation; Word became flesh (vs. 10-14).  This is where we are reminded Jesus was 100% human, yet 100% Deity.  The Apostle John also records to us the calling of Jesus’ first disciples as John the Baptist points out Jesus to them (vs. 35-42).  Andrew, Peter, James and John (Mark 1:16-20) are the ones who are called here in this passage.  In our last section (vs. 43-50), Jesus moves onto Galilee where He calls Philip and Nathanael.  Jesus’ interaction with Nathanael reveals His omniscience (knowing everything).  Jesus also give a reference to the “stairway to heaven” (Genesis 28) with the angels ascending and descending on the Son of Man (Stairway) (vs. 51)

Regarding application…What Do You See?  Vs. 9, “The true light that gives light to every man was coming into the world.”  This past week, I was cutting my hair in the shower with a mirror.  The light bulb in the bathroom decides to go out right in the middle of my haircut.  Needless to say, it was much more difficult!  This reminded me how much we take for granted the light that is provided to us.  Certainly, I’m not just talking about the modern day technology and the advancement of light bulbs.  We have the light of Christ in our life.  Yet, I wonder how often we try to navigate life without the light of Christ being a lamp unto our feet (Psalm 119:105).  We need light to find our way in the dark.  We need Jesus to find our way in our spiritual journey.  As we look to the light that gives light, what do you see?  Take time today to consider and be thankful to how Jesus the light of the world brings light to your life.

Matthew 17

Vs. 2, “There he was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light.”  We open our chapter with Jesus revealing His glory to inner three (Peter, James & John) on the mount of Transfiguration (vs. 1-13).  Question: What is the Transfiguration?  It comes from the Greek language that gives us our modern day word: Metamorphosis.  All three Synoptic Gospels record this event.  The Transfiguration is a special glimpse into the glory of the Lord as Jesus reveals His true identity.  The presence of Moses (law) & Elijah (prophets) come to bear witness of Jesus’ identity and mission.  Once again, Jesus admonishes them not to reveal what they have seen (vs. 9); at least until He has done His work on the cross. Jesus reminds them the prophecy of Malachi (Malachi 4:5-6) concerning Elijah coming first is fulfilled through John the Baptist (Luke 1:17).  When they come down the mountain they encounter a failed exorcism (vs. 14-23).  Jesus uses this as an opportunity to give us a fresh understanding of what true faith looks like (vs. 20-21).  Sadly, we are reminded that Jesus’ death will come about because of betrayal of the worst kind; betrayal of their own in Judas Iscariot (vs. 22-23).  The Temple tax incident (vs. 24-27) teaches us that though Jesus being the Son of God (vs. 25) does not have to pay it, He does so to prevent the stumbling of others.

Regarding application…Father’s Approval.  Vs. 5, “While he was still speaking, a bright cloud enveloped them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!”  These words from the Father were identical to His affirmation when Jesus was baptized (Matthew 3:17).  The caveat is, “Listen to him!”  As children, we sought so hard to find the approval of our parents.  Sometimes they were disappointed, other time we were disappointed.  But deep down inside, we want to hear the praises and approval of our parents.  Jesus was obedient; even obedient to death on the cross (Philippians 2:8).  For my leisure reading, I am reading Peter Criss’ biography (the drummer of the rockband Kiss).  He shares a story when they finally performed in MSG (Madison Square Garden) and he had his parents and family attend.  As they performed he saw the tears and proud looks of his parents and it brought this 30 plus year old successful man to tears as he played the drums that night.  No matter how old we are, we want to make our loved ones proud of us.  Just as the Father approves His son Jesus, He also does for us.  Question: Why?  Because we listened to His son and put our faith in Him.  Jesus’ blood brings the approval of our Father in Heaven.  Thank you Father for loving us so much!

James 5

Vs. 8, “You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lords coming is near.”  A timely reminder as we remember Jesus’ first coming and look forward to His second coming.  We are a consumer society and we are exhorted not to treasure the wealth that the world offers (vs. 1-6).  Wealth itself is not a sin, but its when we put it before God or acquire it an unethical way (vs. 4).  We are then reminded to be patient through the trials and suffering of our lives (vs. 7-12).  Just as a farmer must exercise patience to await a fruitful crop, we too must remember things don’t grow overnight.  We are to remember the prophets and Godly people who came before us (vs. 10-11).  Question: What then shall we do when we face trials of many kinds?  We must pray (vs. 13-20).  While we can use our tongues for evil (James 3), we are now exhorted to use it for the highest purpose.  Prayer is so powerful that it can heal (vs. 13-15, it can reconcile (vs. 16), and it can cover over sins (vs. 20).

Regarding application…Power or Prayer.  Vs. 16, “Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.”  Prayer is one of those things that we know is important, yet many of us fail to exercise this part of our life.  Many of those in our nations gave prayers to the Newton elementary tragedy in Connecticut.  We pray because we realize that there is only one source we can turn to in our darkest times.  Prayer is the compass for our life.  It recalibrates our hearts and minds so that we can remember the bigger picture of life.  Let us be people who live righteous and powerful prayer lives!

James 4

Vs. 4, “You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world means enmity against God? Therefore, anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God.”  Question: What is the problem here?  The previous chapter reminded us about human wisdom vs. God’s wisdom.  As people continued living with their own selfish wisdom, their sinful desires took precedence over the Lord.  They began to love the world and what it had to offer.  James does not hold back and denounces such ways of living (vs. 1-10).  Little did people realize that their selfish ways were literally hatred towards God.  We are reminded that when we submit to God, the devil must flee (vs. 7).  In the latter part of our chapter, James addresses two admonitions regarding holy living; speech and money (vs. 11-17).  People were gossiping and slandering their brothers and sisters (vs. 11-12).  When we so quickly judge the actions of others, we are in effect trying to do something that is reserved for the Lord, not us.  And lastly, James addresses the boastful and smug attitude towards their future and attitude towards money (vs. 13-17).  Not much has changed, for we struggle with such goals even today.  With our current economy and the collapse of the value of homes, we know how the things of this world are never certain.

Regarding application…Here Today, Gone Tomorrow.  Vs. 14, “Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.”  Perspective folks…Perspective.  We work so hard for what?  To play and enjoy the temporary things of this world?  Work hard, play hard.  Question: How would you live your life if you only had one week to live?  Given such insight, I think many of us would get things right.  Yet, we have this reality that our lives are but a vapor in the wind.  How foolish to have such a small perspective when it comes to how we look at our lives.  This is an important reminder for all of us as we consider how we conduct our lives and our future goals.

James 3

Vs. 10, “Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be.”  Just as favoritism was divisive in the church (James 1), the tongue can be a very dangerous weapon (vs. 1-12).  In the context of this passage, James is addressing the reality of influence a teacher or leader in the church can have.  Though the tongue is small, it can cause great damage.   That is why not many should so quickly take on the role as leaders (vs. 1).  In the very least, teachers and leaders should be prayerful and ensure they are spiritually mature.  While none of us can control the tongue (vs. 8) on our own, only the Lord working in our hearts can change it.  The Lord is the source of our goodness and our wisdom (vs. 13-18).  I recall one of the most profound prayers requests I ever heard was in a bible study with someone genuinely asking to pray for wisdom.

Regarding application…What is Wisdom?  Vs. 13, “Who is wise and understanding among you? Let them show it by their good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom.”  There are many who seek the accolades of knowledge.  Get the best grades, go to the best schools, have the most prestigious careers.  The say, “knowledge is power.”  But, knowledge without wisdom is nothing.  Just because you know something to be true doesn’t mean we can wisely apply it to our lives.  The building of the Tower of Babel seemed to be a knowledgeable thing to do, but it was quite unwise (Genesis 11).  There is worldly evil wisdom (vs. 14-16) and then there is Godly wisdom from above (vs. 17-18).  Let us be people who seek such wisdom in a world where chaos seems to get the frontpage news.

James 2

Vs. 1, “My brothers, as believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ, don’t show favoritism.”  James now begins to show us practical ways to show our faith and works.  The Jewish society was an honor and shame society.  There was a problem with the church giving favoritism and honor to those who were rich, while neglecting the poor (vs. 1-12).  When we show favoritism, we are not having the mind of God (vs. 4).  Notice how they were not to ignore the rich, it’s just that they were to not give more honor to them.  While many of us know this truth about rich and poor, it is a true paradigm shift to how this world operates.  James reminds his audience about the law since they were well versed in it (vs. 8-13).  Much of their perspective was based on living righteous by obeying the laws of God.  However, they were doing so without love and therefore breaking God’s royal law (vs. 8).  And lastly, we come to one of the central points of the book of James: Faith and deeds (vs. 14-26).  While faith is believing what is true, there is far more to it.  True faith is one that is demonstrated in both belief and action.  Now, one of the big issues in James is the seeming contradiction that James presents verses what the Apostle Paul states (Romans 3:8).  If you have real faith, you were produce good deeds.  Indeed, we are saved by faith and a true believer won’t do works out of obligation, rather out of heart.

Regarding application…Living Faith.  Vs. 22, “You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did.”  I once heard this analogy about a fruit tree.  A fruit tree grows and has one purpose; to grow fruit so others can enjoy.  Technically, if a fruit tree had free will, it might choose to grow rotten fruit or no fruit at all.  But, a fruit tree’s purpose is to bear fruit.  When we put our faith in the Lord, we become a new tree, rooted on the foundation of Christ.  We were created to bear fruit.  However, there are those who think that just being a fruit tree is enough.  But, the very essence of a fruit tree is to bear fruit.  Likewise, the very essence of a Christian it to bear the fruit of good deeds.  Let us have a living faith today!

James 1

Vs. 2, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds.”  We don’t wake up in the morning hoping and praying for trials in our lives.  However, James reminds the Christians who were living in their day that all their trials had its purpose.  Many of the recipients of this letter had lost much of what they had once known; their loved ones, their homes, their community, their means of income.  When we go through such trials, we must persevere and grow (vs. 3-6).  James also reminds us that much of our trials can also be a lack of our own faith (vs. 6-8).  Sometimes we think the grass is greener or that money will take away the trials (vs. 9-11), however, we should be thankful for such situations in our lives.  When those trials come, our response to them can determine our spiritual condition of being alive or dead (vs. 12-15).  In light of our nations tragedies of the Connecticut school shooting and Oregon mall shooting, it is tempting to blame God.  But God is the source of good things (vs. 16-18).  As children of our Father in Heaven, we would do wise to listen to the Lord and others (vs. 19-21).  But James doesn’t stop there, while we may listen, that is only half the battle.  We must take action and be doers of God’s words (vs. 22-25).  But we must not be selective in our doing, Let us be authentic and speech and deed (vs. 26-27).

Regarding application…Persevere.  Vs. 12, “Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him.”  Question: Persevere from what?  From trials.  This is someone who had endured much trials and opposition, but none of that stop their ultimate faith in the Lord.  Think of Job in the Old Testament.  Jesus forewarned us that we would have troubles in this world (John 16:33).  There are troubles and atrocities that we cannot fathom, but let us persevere in our faith to bless the name of the Lord in good times and bad times.

Introduction – James

The book of James was written by James the half-brother of Jesus.  In Jesus’ ministry years, James did not believe Jesus was the Son of God (John 7:5).  However, after the resurrection and the birth of the church, James began to be a prominent leader of the church in Acts.  He presided over the famous Jerusalem council in Acts 15.  One of the notable aspects of James is that this letter would be the earliest recorded scripture in the New Testament, probably written around 45 A.D.  James wrote it to the Jews who had been scattered due to the dispersion from the oppression of Herod Agrippa.  They were getting opposition from the Jews who had rejected the Gospel and had hostile reactions towards Jesus’ condemnation towards their empty traditions.