Acts 23

Vs. 1, “Paul looked straight at the Sanhedrin and said, “My brothers, I have fulfilled my duty to God in all good conscience to this day.”  Paul knew the Sanhedrin were unjustly accusing him, so with indignance claimed his innocence (vs. 1-5).  This incensed the Ananias the high priest so much that he ordered to have Paul struck on the face.  Paul’s boldly responded, but did not realize who Ananias was.  This could easily be explained due to an informal meeting, the high priest may not have had his priestly garments on.  Or Paul was sarcastically responding to the Ananias.  Paul shrewdly shared his belief in his faith while bringing a sharp dispute between the Pharisee’s and Sadducees (vs. 6-10).  The following morning, some of Paul’s enemies had formed a conspiracy to have Paul assassinated (vs. 12-22).  But Paul’s nephew had overheard the plot and forewarned Paul.  Paul knew that the only protection he had was to utilize his Roman citizenship.  The commander in Jerusalem would have Paul transferred to Caesarea where the governor of Judea (Felix) resided.  This would also protect Paul from the dangers in Jerusalem.

Regarding application…Needed Reassurance.  Vs. 11, “The following night the Lord stood near Paul and said, “Take courage! As you have testified about me in Jerusalem, so you must also testify in Rome.”  Everyone needs reassurance.  No matter how godly a person may be; everyone needs that extra encouragement.  This would be the reassurance Paul would need to persevere; especially since the next morning he would hear a plot of 40 men proclaiming they will not eat again until Paul dies (vs. 12-13).  I think that’s part of the reason that we gravitate towards sports.  We see how important it is to be reassured and encouraged by other teammates and the audience.  That’s why the home team will often have a better record.  The Lord directly spoke to Paul, and He still speaks to us through His living Word.  That’s why we do spend time in reading and prayer.  But, not only does God reassure us, take time to reassure another this week.

Paul to Caesarea

Luke 20

Vs. 2, “Tell us by what authority you are doing these things,” they said. “Who gave you this authority?”  The Jews had relished the authority they exercised under the Mosaic Law, so they confidently come to challenge Jesus’ authority (vs. 1-8).  However, Jesus wisely looks past their disrespectful tone and turns their question to his own question for them regarding John the Baptist.  Jesus goes on to share with the Jews the Parable of the Tenants (vs. 9-19) in which He utilities the vineyard as a picture of Israel.  In this parable, Jesus exposes the Jews for they were the tenants who beat the servants and even killed the owner’s son.  Jesus quoted Psalm 118:22 (vs. 17) which was a Messianic psalm and the Jews were infuriated because they knew this Parable was exposing them.  The Jewish leaders continue to plot and devise a plan they are sure will work.  They will challenge Jesus with questioning whether it is right for Jews to pay taxes to Caesar (vs. 20-26).  If Jesus supports Rome, they can question Jesus’ allegiance to Israel.  If Jesus supports the Jews, they can bring Rome upon Him.  Jesus masterfully answers their trap (vs. 25).  Now the Sadducees also come with their own challenge as they question Jesus on resurrection and marriage (vs. 27-40).  It’s important to note that the Sadducees only believed the first five books (Pentateuch) and did not believe in angels, spirits, and the resurrection of the dead.  Their hypothetical question is nearly absurd as the oldest brother of seven marries and dies.  Due to the levirate law (Deuteronomy 25:5-10), the next brother in line marries the woman.  However, in their hypothetical, she ends up marrying each of the seven brothers because each one dies early.  When the supposed resurrection comes (since they did believe this either) who is she married to?  But, Jesus points out that the eternal life will not be like our temporary life on earth.  Jesus now directs a question to them about Christ being the son of David, yet David calling Christ the Lord (vs. 41-44).  The question challenged their knowledge of Scripture for in it they had to admit that the Christ was both God and man at the same time.  Lastly, Jesus warns His disciples (vs. 45-47) of the errors of the teachers of the law.

Regarding application…Stern Warning.  Vs. 46, “Beware of the teachers of the law. They like to walk around in flowing robes and love to be greeted in the marketplaces and have the most important seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at banquets.”  This was a stern warning indeed, for these men would seemingly win as their plot to have Jesus killed succeeded.  The disciples grew up all their lives respecting such men with their knowledge and titles.  It was time for them to have a paradigm shift in their thinking.  Question: Who are our teachers of the law today?  Certainly, I’m reminded of Jesus warning that false prophets will come like sheep, but they are really wolves (Matthew 7:15).  Brothers and sisters, not only are their false religions, but there are false teachings even in the church.  The more you know God’s word, the better you will be equipped to have a discerning heart and mind.  Let us exercise our freedom in Christ with knowing God’s word!  Happy 4th of July!

Matthew 16

Vs. 1, “The Pharisees and Sadducees came to Jesus and tested him by asking him to show them a sign from heaven.”  Though the Pharisees and Sadducees did not often get along, they would join together for the purpose of being threatened by Jesus and His followers (vs. 1-4).  They challenged Jesus to show them a sign, but signs never saved a person.  Jesus was the Son of God in flesh and they still did not believe.  The next section about comparing the religious leaders to yeast is almost comical (vs. 5-12).  The disciples keep thinking Jesus is speaking literally about bread.  It’s a good lesson for us to understand the context of the Bible less we interpret incorrectly.  When Jesus and the disciples come to the region of Caesarea Philippi (a place known for many pagan worship), Jesus uses this background to ask them a very important question (vs. 13-16).  Peter eloquently declares the identity of Jesus being the Christ (Anointed One) and the Son of the Living God (vs. 16).  It is here that Jesus uses the opportunity to exhort Peter as the leader to help build the church (vs. 17-20).  It is Jesus who is the foundation of the church and Peter is used to help build it.  And lastly, the road to the cross has commenced as Jesus’ Galilean ministry comes to a close (vs. 21-28).  While Jesus predicts His death, the disciples do not understand.  Peter allows his emotions to get the best of him as he rudely tries to speak against Jesus (vs. 22).  Jesus declares Peter does not have the mind of God and therefore rebukes Satan (vs. 23).  We are either for God or against God.

Regarding application…Carrying the Cross.  Vs. 24, “Then Jesus said to his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”  Certainly, the meaning of the cross back in Jesus’ time was not a comforting thought.  The cross represented one of the cruelest means of capital punishment.  Question: What are you holding on to?  If we hold on to our own lives, we will lose it.  It is a paradox.  Question: How can we lose our life if we try to save it (vs. 25)?  Yet, the way to save our life is to carry the cross.  Brothers and sisters, Jesus set the example for us.  His death gives us life.  Our spiritual death from sin gives us eternal life!  I believe I’m slowly learning the burdens of walking with Jesus more and more.  The suffering of carrying the cross today is nothing compared to the joys of eternal life with our Savior!

Matthew 3

Vs. 1, “In those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the Desert of Judea.”  Over twenty-five years have passed and Matthew now takes us from Jesus’ early childhood to His adult ministry.  All four gospels feature John the Baptist.  Question: Who is John the Baptist?  He is the last and greatest prophet (Matthew 11:11).  John was a cousin of Jesus, for his mother was Elizabeth and his father Zechariah.  It was the angel Gabriel who announced John’s birth and his future ministry would have the spirit and power of Elijah (Luke 1).  John the Baptist was an important link from the Old Testament prophet to connecting Jesus in the New Testament.  His one very important message was for the people to repent (vs. 2) because Jesus was bringing the kingdom of heaven (kingdom of God) to them.  In essence, John’s role was getting the people ready to receive Jesus by offering baptism.  The baptism was different than others done at that time for it was a one-time baptism that called for a commitment to God as the future unfolded.  John’s ministry was so charismatic and powerful that it caught the attention of many the religious leaders (vs. 7-12).  John did not pull any punches when it came to calling out the responsibility of their life.  I’m impressed by John’s fortitude and wisdom to keep Jesus on the forefront of the ministry God called him to.  John is quite surprised to see Jesus the Messiah come to him out in the desert to be baptized in the Jordan.  Naturally, John wants to be baptized by Jesus.  Question: Why would Jesus want to baptized?  While there are differing speculations, ultimately this public baptism endorses Jesus as the true Messiah.  The baptism acknowledges John’s ministry and also signifies Jesus’ identity with His people by setting the example of submission to God.  And certainly, God was well pleased with His son (vs. 17).

Regarding application…Judgment is Near.  Vs. 10, “The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.”  Recently, I went to see the movie “Lincoln.”  As we sat down to watch the previews, my wife and I were astonished at all the post-apocalyptic type of movies that show the world is ending.  Yet, ever since John’s preaching and Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross, we have been awaiting a time of judgment for nearly 2000 years.  There are many today that find no need to repent and believe they are already saved.  John’s rebuke was towards Pharisees and Sadducees who believed they were in the right.  Likewise, there are so-called Christians and other faiths out there who find no need to delve further into a real saving faith of the Bible.  Yet, this idea of bearing fruit is a constant theme throughout the Scriptures.  Question: What kind of fruit are you bearing?

John the Baptist

Acts 5

Vs. 1, “Now a man named Ananias, together with his wife Sapphira, also sold a piece of property.”  This is reminiscent of Achan’s sin in Joshua 7.  Question: What happened here?  It was a very big sin of lying and the early church needed to make a statement.  More than likely, the Holy Spirit had revealed to Peter this deception.  We can only speculate that it was God’s immediate judgment, but one thing we can deduce is that we see how important it is to deal with problems in the church.  Our churches today should follow this example of dealing decisively with sin.  This was a time in the early church where God still worked in very powerful ways (vs. 12-16).  We then see the persecution of the Apostles led by the Sadducees and brought before the Sanhedrin (vs. 17-42).  I preached a message from Daniel & the Lion’s Den today and spoke about the jealously of the Persian leaders towards Daniel.  This is kind of what was happening in response to all of the attention the Apostles were receiving.  The Sanhedrin thought they had gotten rid of Jesus, but there were certainly very wrong!

Regarding application…Rejoicing in Suffering.  Vs. 41, “The apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name.”  In my Seminary class last week, we had talked about the passage in James 1:2 where we should consider it joy when we receive trials.  While this “joy” is not necessarily an emotion that we jump up and down when we lose a loved one…this case of rejoicing from the Apostles, is certainly an oxymoron.  Question: How can you rejoice when you just got flogged and almost put to death (vs. 33, 40)?  They were putting all their trust in the Lord!  It brought them so much joy that they were counted worthy to be persecuted (Matthew 5:10).  Brothers & sisters, let us be ready to rejoice in all circumstances!  Have a blessed week!

Luke 20

Vs. 2,Tell us by what authority you are doing these things,” they said. “Who gave you this authority?”  It was Passover feast, so the population of Jerusalem increased.  The Pharisee’s and Teachers of the law had a predicament; there were still many who were supporting Jesus.  How could they find a way to arrest Jesus?  So they came trying to test and corner Jesus into saying something blasphemous.  Question: Who did this Jesus think He was?  But Jesus masterfully throws back another question that keeps them quiet (vs. 1-8)  Jesus goes on to share the Parable of the Tenants.  The original audience would have full well known Jesus was referring to the tenants (workers) in the vineyard as themselves (vs. 9-19).  Jesus also teaches us to rightfully respect the nation we live under, but ultimately, God is number one (vs. 20-26).  Then the Sadducees come with a question to stump Jesus (vs. 27-39).  The Sadducees didn’t believe in Resurrection in the first place, but Jesus once again gives an answer that puts them in their place.  Jesus also turns the tables and asks them a question (vs. 41-47).  Question: How can the Messiah be the son of David and be called David’s Lord?  Doesn’t make sense, huh?  Jesus was both…He is God and He was the also the human descendant of David.  This is what we call the incarnation.  Jesus was in the flesh and yet also God, Amen!

Regarding application…What is Your Response?  Vs. 13, “Then the owner of the vineyard said, ‘What shall I do? I will send my son, whom I love; perhaps they will respect him.”  First of all, Happy New Year!  It’s amazing how 2012 is upon us.  The vineyard owner is God and He sent His one and only Son.  Many tenants rejected him.  Question: What is your response?  Are you respecting Jesus enough to put Him first?  Perhaps we have all heard the adage, “half-obedience is disobedience.”  As this New Year is upon us, let’s keep our eyes focused Heavenward.  We see the slippery slope the vineyard workers had as they continued down the road of sin.  Their continual rejection led to crucifying our Lord.  Start building your house on the foundation of Jesus this New Year!  We can do this dearest brothers & sisters in Christ!  I pray that you would have a blessed week turning to the Lord and living this life wholly in Christ!