Jesus and Paul, Paralleled

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Acts 23

The Apostle Paul was no stranger to persecution. He saw it from both sides. He was at times the persecutor and the persecuted. While he was a zealous Pharisee in Jerusalem, he targeted Jews who joined the sect of followers of Jesus called the Way. When he became a follower himself and preached the Gospel throughout Asia Minor and Macedonia, he was imprisoned multiple times and warned by friends not to return to Jerusalem, because if he did, he would likely be killed. Yet in chapter 23, we see Paul is not only in Jerusalem but in the custody of the Romans, facing the Sanhedrin.

About a quarter century earlier, another Jewish preacher stood in front of the same group of religious leaders. The name of that preacher was Jesus, and it was because of him that Paul found himself in an identical position. Like Paul, Jesus had also returned to Jerusalem that final time knowing it could mean death. And both times, each was the target of a treacherous plot. But neither Paul nor Jesus were moved from their mission because of this threat. They were both willing to die for the cause.
But there are several important differences between Paul and Jesus during their final days in the Jewish Holy City. Unlike Paul, Jesus put up no defense while in front of the Sanhedrin and Roman rulers. The prophecy in Isaiah 53:7 puts it this way: “He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth.” Paul, on the other hand, started his remarks to the Sanhedrin by stating that he has lived his life with a clear conscience. Then, after inadvertently insulting the High Priest, he cleverly changed the subject from himself to a disagreement between the Pharisees and Sadducees. The ensuing bruhaha allowed Paul to get out of there without facing any penalties.
The following night Paul was told by the Lord that he would not die in Jerusalem but would make it to Rome to testify there also. Despite the fears of his friends, Jerusalem would not be the end of the road for Paul. And this is the other difference between Paul and Jesus. Because Jesus would not defend himself when he had the opportunity, the intimate Passover meal he shared with his twelve disciples would be their last together; the following day he was beaten and crucified.
Paul and Jesus both went to Jerusalem to save lives. The latter accomplished this goal by taking on the sins of the world and offering his life as a sacrifice for all. The former did this by telling any who would listen about that sacrifice and how to receive the salvation offered as a result of it.
Usually, I would say that we should follow the example of Christ. But when it comes to facing charges that are unfounded, we should look to Paul as the model. Yes, Paul was willing to die for what he believed in, but he didn’t intend to because of false accusations. Paul defended himself so he could advance the Gospel; Jesus didn’t so he could guarantee it. We must be willing to die for the cause of the Kingdom, yet always seeking to put ourselves in the best position to champion it.
-Joel Fletcher

Rehashing the Road to Damascus

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Hello! My name is Joel Fletcher and I am going to be writing the daily devotions for this week. I live in Minnesota with my wonderful wife, delightful daughter, and as of next Friday, a pastoral puppy. I like adjectives, alliteration, and Aussiedors.

This week we’re going to wrap up the book of Acts.

Since chapter 9, Luke has been chronicling the campaigns of one Saul of Tarsus (now called Paul), a Jewish Pharisee turned Christian Missionary. Now the story of how this up-and-coming member of an exclusive Jewish religious group became the follower and apologist of a so-called radical who was crucified has already been told, but over the next few chapters, it will be reiterated.

At the end of chapter 21, Paul is arrested due to a ruckus caused by his presence in Jerusalem. From this moment until his presumed death in Rome, Paul will be in the custody of the Romans. This incarceration will enable Paul to spread the Gospel to people he would have not met otherwise.

The method Paul will use to do this is called witnessing. Witness or testimony is the attesting of facts or events. A witness is someone with personal knowledge of something. What happened to Paul on the road to Damascus is the central point he uses when sharing his testimony. As we will see throughout this week, Paul does not shy away from sharing what he knows to be the truth—even if it means facing death.

As you read through these final chapters of the Book of Acts this week, be mindful of how passionate Paul is in defense of his beliefs. Paul uses every opportunity he has to persuade people of the power of God, demonstrated in the resurrection of the Christ and his coming Kingdom. We may not have the same powerful testimony of being struck blind by the risen savior, but each one of us who believes has the opportunity and mandate to witness to any who will listen.

 

-Joel Fletcher

Are You Ready?

ACTS 21

Acts 21_13

In Acts 21 we see Paul as he is heading towards Jerusalem.  He wants to report to the apostles what has been done during his ministry.  While on his way there he is warned that he will be beaten by the Jews and handed over to the Romans if he enters Jerusalem.  This does not deter Paul and he says “For I am ready not only to be bound, but even to die at Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus”.  When Paul arrived in Jerusalem he met with James and the other elders of the church and reported to them about the gentiles that had come to Christ during his ministry.  They rejoiced with him, but were worried that he would be attacked by the zealous Jews in Jerusalem because they thought that he was telling people to forsake the Law of Moses.  In order to prove to them that he was not preaching that he went through a purifying ritual in the temple that lasted seven days. Even with this display of acceptance for the Law the Jews still mobbed him and beat him and turned him over to the Romans.

 

There are many people today who have a preconceived notion of what Christians believe and will not believe you about your faith even when you show them with your actions.  I have had people tell me various versions of, “You are a Christian, therefore you believe/do such and such, and you are wrong”. And it doesn’t matter what you say to them, they are not there for a conversation, they just want to tell you that you are wrong and they are right.  Now I wasn’t beat in the streets for my beliefs, but it can be discouraging and intimidating. As Christians we need to be like Paul and listen to Christ, not our detractors. We all have Paul’s boldness to thank for our Christian culture, because it was his boldness that enabled Christianity to be spread to the western world.  I just hope that years from now people can look back and praise God for our boldness in following him.

In Acts 15-21 we see the hardships and adventures that Paul had while he was preaching the gospel to cities in modern day Turkey and Greece.  In many ways these hardships that he endured seem like something that would only happen far away or to missionaries in a third world country. Historically we have not had much anti-Christian public in the US, but that has been changing for a while now.  It is no longer socially acceptable in some areas of the US to be a Christian, and is frowned upon to voice Christian values. I think that during my life these situations that Paul found himself in will become more and more relevant to modern Christians as we are continually more and more ostracized from society for our beliefs.  It will help us to stay strong to the end if we have a bold faith and a strong prayer life so that we are in tune with the leading of the Holy Spirit just as Paul was.

Thanks to all who have read along this week, I really enjoyed studying these chapters and hope that you grew from this as well.

I’ll see you around,

Chris Mattison

Damascus Road Illumination

Acts 9

Acts 9 3 4

Saul was a man of deep convictions. He was deeply convicted that he was doing the right thing in the eyes of God. Not only did he feel he was right in the eyes of God, I believe he truly thought his vehement persecution of Christians was God-honoring work. Perhaps he even thought he was on a special mission from God. Saul was a Pharisee and Pharisees were known for their strict adherence to the law. I think the law was like a blanket of security for him, a metaphorical checklist that he could check off point by point and be assured he was in good standing with God. How dare these Jesus followers, pushing their radical message of grace and echoing the teachings of Jesus that the contents of one’s heart far outweighed any outward action. Heresy! Something HAD to be done!

 

Is it possible that we are deeply convicted about something that we feel is God-approved- or even God-honoring- that in fact might not be? While we are not likely to have a flashing, blinding light from heaven to illuminate our paths and pinpoint the error of our ways, rest assured, our Heavenly Father does illuminate our paths. We have assurance from the well-known verse found in Psalms 119:105, “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path” (NASB). We are also told in Hebrews 4:12: “For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (NASB). Our Damascus Road illumination often comes in the form of scripture. We must be brave enough to continually compare our convictions up against scripture and prayerfully consider if those convictions resonate with the heart of God. In many ways our Christian walk is like a perpetual Damascus-road experience- if we are open to it. If we allow Him, God will continually refine our hearts and shape us. We read in Isaiah 64:8: “Yet you, Lord, are our Father. We are the clay, you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand.”

 

The beauty of being a Christ-follower is that we can have a new identity in Christ. We become a new creation. Saul’s conversion was marked by a change in name to Paul. Does our name-tag still read Saul? Or are we continually striving to be a Paul for Christ?

-Kristy Cisneros

Waiting for the Gift – and His Timing

Acts 1

Acts 1 4

It is amazing for as much time this group of men spent with Jesus, they were still confused. Just as we long for the kingdom, the disciples were ready for it. And like us – they didn’t want to wait. After the resurrection, Jesus spent forty days popping in and out on the disciples. While he was with them he was calming their doubts and promising a future gift. When he left, they were preparing his take over to free them from Roman domination.

On one of his visits he gives one of the hardest commands – wait! Stay where you are and wait. This prompts multiple questions that have been on the minds of all the people: Has the time finally come? Are you going to restore the Kingdom to Israel? How long do we have to wait?

His response: it is not for you to know – or in other words; none of your business! He then picks up where he left off – the promised gift – the holy spirit. Following his answer and promise, he was taken up before their eyes never to be seen again.

The disciples get the lesson of patience we all need. God is at work but is not working on our schedule. Christ was preparing his followers to join the work God was doing while they were distracted with their own plans.

We often face trials in life that are less than desirable and we long for the problems to be taken away. We know of God’s overall plans but want them to be done now! We want insight and details – the who, what, where, when, why and how – and often times the response is that is not for you to know. Stay in your lane, bro!

Like the disciples we are given what is needed to do the work that has been set up for us to do. They were given the same power that was at work in Christ and told go be a witness to the world. We also have access to that power and are given that same mission.

-John Wincapaw

Paul’s Mess, God’s Message

acts 28 31 (1)
At the end of the book of Acts we are following Paul in his ministry as he shares his testimony and all he is learning from God with established groups of believers as well as with those who have not yet heard the good news of Jesus Christ. He is told through a prophet that he will be bound by the Jewish leaders and sent to the Gentiles to share his story.  He is accused by the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem, then arrested and imprisoned while the Roman authorities try to figure out which side of the story to believe.  Over the course of Paul’s imprisonment he is moved to various cities and meets with several governors as well as King Agrippa.  Then finally he is sent to Rome.  During each of these transitions, Paul has an opportunity to share the story of his conversion…who he was…who he is and who he will continue to be through God’s grace.  Every time he is questioned he says something like the following phrase from Acts 23:1 “My brothers, I have fulfilled my duty to God in all good conscience to this day.” 
Paul faced so much opposition during this period of time and yet he continued to stand firm in his belief that God had a purpose for him which would be fulfilled no matter what…arrest, false accusations, storms, shipwrecks, imprisonment, isolation, death threats, nothing was going to stop God’s message from being spread.
As the book of Acts closes we are given a chance to witness Paul as he teaches a group of Jewish leaders in Rome. 
Acts 28:23-30
They arranged to meet Paul on a certain day, and came in even larger numbers
to the place where he was staying. He witnessed to them from morning till evening,
explaining about the kingdom of God, and from the Law of Moses and from the Prophets
he tried to persuade them about Jesus. 24 Some were convinced by what he said,
but others would not believe. 25 They disagreed among themselves and
began to leave after Paul had made this final statement: “The Holy Spirit spoke the truth
to your ancestors when he said through Isaiah the prophet:
26
“‘Go to this people and say,
“You will be ever hearing but never understanding;
you will be ever seeing but never perceiving.”
27
For this people’s heart has become calloused;
they hardly hear with their ears,
and they have closed their eyes.
Otherwise they might see with their eyes,
hear with their ears,
understand with their hearts
and turn, and I would heal them.’[a]
28 “Therefore I want you to know that God’s salvation has been sent to the Gentiles,
and they will listen!” [29] [b]
30 For two whole years Paul stayed there in his own rented house and welcomed all
who came to see him. 31 He proclaimed the kingdom of God and taught about the Lord
Jesus Christ—with all boldness and without hindrance!
Some of those who were listening, heard Paul’s message and their lives were changed.  Others found that they couldn’t believe what Paul was preaching and left.  They heard but didn’t understand, they saw but didn’t allow comprehension. Paul kept right on teaching, preaching and sharing his mess so that God’s message could get through.
Oh to have Paul’s boldness and eloquence!  There are many times that we are provided the opportunity to share our own stories of faith with others and we often let them pass us by.  Are we afraid?  Maybe we don’t think they would be interested, or that we’ll be bothering them if we share.  Or maybe we don’t want to offend anyone…but if we are learning from Paul’s example, we need to be sharing our stories of faith regardless of the personal costs.  God’s message will be heard, don’t you want to be a part of that exciting adventure? I promise it’ll be a good one!
-Joyanne Swanson

ON PURPOSE – Fellowship

1 Cor 12 27

We have been looking at living our life on purpose – choosing goals that are pleasing to God and then striving to live by them.  So far, we have covered the purposes of Worship and Discipleship.

 

Today, we consider the exciting fact that we are not the only disciple of Christ.  Rather, we are a part of a body of believers – the body of Christ.  It is God’s desire that we remain connected to the body of Christ in order to be more effective and to better fulfill the 2nd Commandment: love others.  This purpose can be called Fellowship.

 

Hebrews 10:25 gives great counsel to the family of God: “Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another – and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”   Unfortunately, sometimes the church body fails at this.  In a survey of people who have stopped attending church, 75% said they gave up meeting together because they didn’t feel like people cared if they were at church or not.  They failed to get encouragement from the body of Christ.  This should not be!   As disciples of Christ we have a responsibility to each other – to encourage, to listen, to greet, to show concern, to value the other members of God’s family.  The church is no place for cliques or loneliness.  And each one of us can be part of the solution.

 

Take a minute today to read Acts 2 (particularly verses 36-47).  Look for what the early church was doing together.  How were they creating a powerful body of believers that were on fire for God’s truth and a love for one another?   What will you do today and throughout the week to strengthen your bonds with God’s family?  They need you – and you just might find out you are better off with them, too.

 

A Part of His Body,

Marcia Railton

 

Are you Ready for Truth?

Acts 22

acts 22 1

Oh Paul! You are a Jew! And you know the Jews so well. In the past you worked hard to be not simply a Jew, but a Jew worthy of being called a Jew. You know how the Jews can be. You know that going to Jerusalem is a terrible idea. You know that taking Greeks into the temple will not be accepted by the Jews. You know this isn’t going to end well. And yet you went…

Chapter 22 shows us the best of Paul. We have seen the worst and in this speech he admits his worst. I love the emotional appeal that Paul puts into his speech. “Listen to me, brothers. I understand you. I was just like you and I was shown a better way. Please, let me show you a better way.” It’s an effective strategy especially because it bears truth. Unfortunately, the Jews were not ready for truth. Look what they did to Jesus. It really wasn’t that long ago that Jesus, too, went to Jerusalem and the Jews didn’t accept him either.

Ultimately Paul’s message was the same as Jesus’. The Jews could NOT consider a message that tore up their religious traditions. How heartbreaking for Paul. We must ask ourselves if we stand behind our traditions for tradition’s sake or if we are continually seeking God.

-Melissa New

Dream Small?

Acts 20 24

Acts 20

Every chapter in life has its own busy, stressful times. I’m currently a freshman in college. This week we are preparing to register for next semester’s classes. With this comes looking at every course I need to take for the next three years and what my life could look like after I graduate. I like to plan things. I like to have big goals and dreams and then work toward accomplishing them. Some of my dreams (short term and long term) include building new and strengthening old friendships, graduating and then going on to be a teacher in an elementary school classroom, finding the man I want to marry, and raising lots of children – all while serving and praising God with all my heart.

Just the other day, I was driving and listening to a Christian radio station when a song started that I’ve never heard before. I was listening when two words stuck out to me – “Dream small”. I was confused. It didn’t make sense to me. I tried to think of times it would be better to dream small.  I wasn’t getting very far. I looked up the lyrics later (Dream Small by Josh Wilson) and I understand a little more where the artist was going. The beginning of the chorus says,

“Dream small

Don’t bother like you’ve gotta do it all

Just let Jesus use you where you are

One day at a time”

The song explains how you should be living your life for God and those little things you do can make a difference. You don’t need to wait for your dreams to become a reality. Living your life for God will make the best dreams fall into place, and the other ones will be replaced with even better ones we could never have imagined. Be used where you are now. I don’t need to dream big because God has got my life planned out. He knows how he’s going to use me, and that’s something I find special.

This finally brings me to the chapter for today, Acts 20. Please read verses 22 through 24 below, because it’s written better than I could ever summarize.

22 “And now, compelled by the Spirit, I am going to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there. 23 I only know that in every city the Holy Spirit warns me that prison and hardships are facing me. 24 However, I consider my life worth nothing to me; my only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the good news of God’s grace.

How wonderful is that! Paul knew of the dangers and hardships and he still said his life was worth nothing to him. Sounds to me like Paul wasn’t trying to follow his own big dreams and was instead following the path that was planned for him, doing things every day for God and Jesus. I want to be able to say that my only goal is to finish the race and task that the Lord has given me. That’s so much better than my plans and big dreams.

 

-Moriah Railton

 

Totally Committed

acts 19 20

Acts 19

What stands in the way of you living completely for Jesus?  Not enough time, a secret sin, a preoccupation with _______, a friend taking you in the wrong direction? Many in the early church in Acts were living out a completely committed relationship with God and His Son, Jesus. And the results are exciting to watch as we read through the book.  Their faith was living and active and daily – and tested regularly.

 

I wonder if today too many people who carry the label ‘Christian’ use their faith as a once-a-week booster shot, if they can make it to church that week.  But then are quite content to spend the week surrounded by (and sometimes covered in) the germs and sicknesses of worldly living and priorities.

 

Go ahead and read Acts 19 today and search for all the sold-out characteristics and examples; and while you’re at it – spot the imitations as well (those exist today, too).  I particularly like the passage in verses 18-20 where the believers were confessing their practices and bringing their (expensive) magic books to be burned.  They had heard about Jesus and they believed and they were excited and ready to change!  It’s not that they had heard about Jesus and kind of believed and were sort of interested and wanted to add in some Jesus/church/faith to their full lives.  See the huge difference?  They were radically changing their lives because they wanted to follow Jesus well.

 

Do you have anything in your life to add to the bonfire?  Anything that is keeping you from being totally committed to God and His Coming Kingdom?  Anything that doesn’t mix well with Jesus’ message that you need to give up?

 

The believers had burned 50,000 drachmas worth of obstacles to living sold-out lives (a drachma was a silver coin worth about one day’s wages) – that’s a lot of obstacles they eliminated!  The very next thing Paul wrote was: “So the word of the Lord was growing mightily and prevailing.” (Acts 19:20).  Sacrifice and true change brought growth. Are you ready to grow?

 

-Marcia Railton