At first glance it appears that some of the old behaviors of the disciples are creeping back in. It almost sounds like they are saying “we are too good to serve tables.” But we see that is far from the truth. They are actually so busy serving that they are not keeping up with all of their other duties and people are going hungry!
They were actually listening when Jesus said things about the greatest being servants – maybe it kicked in the night before Jesus was sent to the cross, when Jesus got down and washed their feet. Either way, they finally understand the importance of service.
So in light of being overwhelmed with too much to do they take a page out of Jethro’s playbook. (Exodus 18) They realize more work could get done if they find qualified leaders to take over some of their duties. They find 7 people who can take care of serving the tables, which will allow the disciples to focus on their other responsibilities. Specifically, they could focus on their calling – “prayer and ministry of the word.”
While it frees up the disciples it also allows others in the church to be involved. It is important to get involved in your church – to share the load so it is not just a few people overburdened. We each have and bring different talents that make up the body. The church is most effective when all of the body is working together.
Is your church missing it’s hands, feet, ears…etc. because you are not involved? Or is it possible you are too busy doing good things that you are missing out on what God has really called you to?
I challenge you to find your place in service.
As we see the disciples growing in their boldness, we see them start acting a lot like Jesus. They are going to the temple to teach and preach, they heal the sick and meet the needs of the poor. The church is growing – and it seemed inevitable that as things were going so well there would be a hiccup.
The church became the popular place where some people looked to make a name for themselves. A wealthy couple came in to the church looking for applause for their great gift. The crowd quickly learns that God’s church is not a place for self promotion and corruption as they both drop dead for their wrong doing.
Side note: They did a great thing for the church. If some random person walked into any of our churches and said “I just sold some property and I want to donate $100,000”, we would all be super excited for the great gift. The problem was not the size of the gift – instead the intent of the gift and lie. They were seeking attention and tried to make an already good gift better for the sake of looking good.
Before long the church did not only face internal problems but also outer opposition. The religious leaders began fighting back as their power and influence was threatened. They conspire against the disciples and often try to get them prosecuted. Seems crazy to have the religious leaders try to take down those who are healing the sick and pointing people to God. Even so, they beat and arrest the apostles on made up charges.
Gamaliel, a wise old Pharisee, gives advice – “Let them go! For if their purpose or activity is of human origin, it will fail. But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop these men.”
If we are doing the works of God, we cannot be stopped! If we are seeking our own desires we will fail.
We continue to see the change in the disciples that was produced by the holy spirit. As Peter and John are headed to the temple to pray, a beggar asks for money. These men – like many of us today – are used to seeing pan handlers standing alongside the busier intersections.
This draws us to a conundrum that many today face. What do we as Christians do? Depending on who you talk to, you will get multiple well thought out different answers. (If you have – give, never give – they should get a job, or sometimes it is somewhere in between.)
What if there is another option? With the new change since the arrival of the holy spirit, they take another angle. They do not toss a couple coins or keep walking and continue on with their business. Instead they stop and make eye contact with the beggar. Both men stopped what they were doing and looked at the man as a person worthy of respect.
Then they do what they have struggled with in the past. They heal the man in an instant, through the name and power of Jesus Christ. Just as the miracles of Jesus did, this miracle draws a crowd. Peter takes this opportunity to teach and preach the Gospel. He teaches the people about the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. His message continues: “Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord and he may send the Christ…at the time for God to restore everything as he promised long ago.”
My biggest take away is this: They could have dropped some coins or ignored the beggar. But they would have missed the opportunity to take part in a miracle. They would have missed the opportunity to share the hope we have in the restoration of God’s kingdom. They looked at the man and saw his biggest needs: respect, love, healing, forgiveness and hope. He needed Jesus!
We need to look for opportunities to share the reason for our Hope – and sometimes that means we may have to stop what we are doing and maybe do something that makes us uncomfortable.
There is a destiny that makes us brothers:
None goes his way alone;
All that we send into the lives of others
Comes back into our own. —Markham
Today’s chapter is a solemn one for me. Jesus just finished the send-off of the 12 disciples out into the proving grounds and I imagine was watchful about the results. As word of the disciples broaden, John the Baptist hears about the Messiah’s latest turn of events and sends a question to Jesus in (verse 3): “Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?”
This question intrigues me because of what it doesn’t ask. “Why won’t you help me? Do you not care that I sit suffering in this prison cell?” John the Baptist was the cousin, a dear friend, and a mentor of sorts who baptized Christ himself. He knew Jesus and Jesus knew John. They most likely grew up together. Jesus simply replied, (verse 4-6) “Go back and report to John what you hear and see: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor. Blessed is anyone who does not stumble on account of me.”
While this is a message of good report for the current gospel cause, what strikes me is what isn’t said to his friend. John would surely have known by this response that Jesus was referring to Old Testament prophecies like Isaiah 29:18-19, 35:5-6, or 61. These were the credentials of sorts that the coming Messiah would fulfill. Isaiah 61 is one of the most famous passages using phrases of comfort like “ bind up the brokenhearted,” “proclaim freedom for captives,” and “release prisoners from darkness.” Yet, Jesus doesn’t convey any of THOSE phrases in the reply to John because he knew they couldn’t be upheld. Silence often speaks louder than words.
Have you ever had a friend or family member truly in sorrow and are unable to comfort them due in part to the schedule you must maintain? Maybe they were grieving a death, consequence, job loss, betrayal, or abandonment. You want nothing more than to stop everything and sit with them in their sorrow and to share the load. I have to believe this is what Christ wanted more than anything with John the Baptist, but his circumstances made this impossible and he ultimately knew that freeing John from prison was not the will of the Father. John was soon to die. Jesus sent a loving message of “omittance,” perhaps suggesting that he had not forgotten John, nor his sufferings. The tribute upon which Jesus bestows upon John in the next 14 verses following this makes me believe he was hurting for his brother. He wanted nothing more than to comfort, but his schedule and AGENDA would not allow.
Jesus models a very important lesson here and later in Matthew 14 upon reaction to the terrible death of John the Baptist. SOMEtimes the best way to ease heartache is by getting back to work. Use your grief to empower your ministry. Rather than turning in on yourself and thinking “woe is me,” turn outward to serve and to love the crowds. It is ok to cry. It is ok to mourn for lost people or situations, but we must not let our emotions turn inward for long, lest it becomes pity. In our brokenness God is able to use us mightily. In desperation our dependence on Him will serve as a powerful testimony to a lost and dying world.
Is your heart broken today? Does life seem empty? Do you feel like giving up? Take hope in the example of Jesus. Take up whatever duties lie before you and dedicate them to God. Refuse the luxury of self-pity. Do something to lift the burdens of others and Jesus will strengthen you.
The final verses (28 – 30) of Matthew 11 confirm this truth. “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
When you serve others you will find yourself.
WHO will go?
The other James
In today’s reading we observe Jesus delivering the ultimate pep talk to the “Dream Team” – excluding one. (Spoiler alert: by the end of the Book of Matthew it will be abundantly clear that one of these gentleman will be ejected from the team.) This pre-game speech comes on the heels of Jesus overwhelmed with the needs of the people he’s encountered in the past few weeks. He needs help, so he enlists these 12 with quite a rallying cry. They will soon be experiencing “on the job training” and his instructions are enduring.
WHERE will they travel?
Jesus makes it explicitly clear just where the “Dream Team” is to deliver his message: the lost sheep of Israel. (verse 5) “Don’t go to the Gentiles or any Samaritan village.” It was not quite time to take this radical message to the other communities. Perhaps Jesus thought the message would be better received first within Jewish circles since prophecies had been foretold for HUNDREDS of years regarding his coming? (Or not.) Doesn’t take long before the hometown crowd turns from cheers to jeers as the game progresses and one of those “Dream Team” players plots to sabotage the whole tournament.
WHAT will they say?
“The Kingdom of Heaven is near.” (verse 7) This is the message the disciples are to deliver. They will proclaim this message of power and authority given to them by Christ himself when they demonstrate these actions: 1) Heal the sick. 2) Raise the dead. 3) Cleanse those who have leprosy. 4) Drive out demons.
Sure Jesus… Need anything else?
As you might imagine, this is quite a directive, and he wasn’t quite done instructing. “Travel light” was just the tip of the iceberg. For the rest of the chapter Jesus spells out what to keep an eye out for. He tells you not to get discouraged even though you should expect to be unwelcomed, flogged, arrested, hated, persecuted, abandoned and lied about by your family, and most likely, killed. Where can I sign up?
WHY & WHEN will this occur?
My favorite verses of why this is all to occur shoots from verses 16 & 17. “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.” Beth Moore, a renowned Bible teacher recently tweeted it best,
“What I think has happened here is that in our discipleship, we are not teaching what is normative in the believing life. When we carry our cross and we follow Jesus, we are walking into a storm. We were told that in Matthew 10 we will be ‘sheep among wolves,’ not wolves among sheep.”
Beth goes on to further tweet that “sheep among wolves” means Christians will be “persecuted,” “criticized,” “imprisoned” and even killed for speaking the truth.
“We have been very proud of the fact that we have not subscribed to a prosperity gospel. But what we have subscribed to is a pampered gospel where we are so afraid of suffering and we are so afraid someone is going to criticize us and hurt our feelings.”
Hello. That sounds just like January 15, 2019, and speaks to WHEN. Once again we see that God’s word is timeless and a double-edged sword for all generations cutting to the heart of the problem. Whatever it takes, no matter how unpopular, we must contend for the gospel. Just like Jesus called the disciples to move out of their “comfort zones,” we too must grow a thicker skin. Beth’s final tweet about this subject sums it up:
“All that stands between us & an astonishing work of the Holy Spirit is repentance. Quit being scared of rocking a boat that has run aground on an island of compromise. Walk on water.”
What would our lives and our futures look like if we invested our earthly time and resources into eternal values? How would you live if you were completely confident that every act of love, service, or unselfishness would carry reward where it mattered (and lasted) most – even if nobody in your neighborhood, church, or community ever noticed? “And if anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones because he is my disciple, I tell you the truth, he will certainly not lose his reward” (Verse 42).
We are now mid-January. How many of us have long forgotten our resolutions for the New Year? Jesus was trying to teach his “Dream Team” to not focus on the here-and now. Instead of looking for New Year’s resolutions we can keep, what if we tried finding some that could actually keep us.
Sign me up. Lord, please teach me to play on your team!
In this chapter we see that Jesus and the disciples are continuing an active pace proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness. This lively passage not only records 6 healing incidents, but also shows 3 incidents where the teachers of the law are becoming rattled by the actions and rising popularity of Jesus.
Ready for anything and everything, the action rolls out as follows for Jesus and the disciples: 1) heals a paralyzed man, 2) calls Matthew the tax collector, 3) stops a hemorrhage in a woman, 4) raises a dead girl, 5) gives sight to 2 blind men, 6) and loosens the tongue of a mute man
Not only was Christ seemingly running a mobile emergency room, he was “hiring” new workers, contending with naysayers, and stopping to notice the big picture of the work ahead.
Verse 36 takes my breath away. “He saw the crowds and had compassion on them.” We are not lost in a crowd to Him. He knows our name and our needs. There is no end to His goodness. No bottom to the well. You can’t wear Jesus out. He’s not running on low. He’s not in a bad mood because it’s you again. “For from His fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.” John 1:16
The biggest problem in these 38 verses is that Jesus needed assistance to support the needs of the “harassed & helpless.” Nothing’s changed. May God stir your heart and mine this day to be a worker fit and ready to support the hurting. Let God’s “grace upon grace” compel us to action to not overthink but DO!
The next section of I Corinthians 15 we’ll look at are verses twelve through nineteen. In this section, Paul traces the implications of the claim that there is no resurrection. In verse twelve Paul asks “…how do some among you say that there is no resurrection from the dead?”. We’re not told anything about who these people are. They either could be outsiders that are influencing the church or it could be people part of the Corinthian church. Either way a group is claiming that resurrection is not a reality. This is not the first time Paul has interacted with the belief that resurrection does not exist. In Acts 17.32, the response to his preaching, that climaxed with the claim that God has made himself known through the risen Jesus, elicited a mixed response. Some believed and followed others sneered at the idea of resurrection.
Beginning in verse thirteen Paul sheds light on a world with no resurrection. To begin with first and foremost, if there is no resurrection then Christ himself has not been raised! And if Jesus hasn’t been raised then Paul’s preaching and the recipient’s faith is in vain! In other words, whether resurrection, specifically Jesus’ resurrection, is true or not, has a direct impact on how we live our lives and the manner in which we live them. Paul rebuilt his life around the risen Jesus and lived in such a manner, the recipients of Paul’s preaching reorganized their lives in light of the risen Lord. But if Jesus has not been raised, if resurrection is not possible, then we have to find something else to build our lives upon. This is why the resurrection of Jesus is the most important event in history. Everything hangs on it! It affects how we live and what we believe. He continues that if Christ has not been raised then it makes him a liar and God a liar because he falsely testifies that God raised him from the dead. In addition, our faith in Jesus is worthless and we still remain in our sins. Verse nineteen culminates with if we hope in Jesus in this life only, then we are the sorriest and most pitiful people there are. A hope in a non risen savior is no hope at all, it’s a delusion and a fraud.
The implications of no resurrection are bleak and grim, but Paul says in the next verse, “but now Christ has been raised from the dead…”. The reality described in verses 12-19 is not a reality because Jesus has been raised from the dead and resurrection is a reality. However, how can we have assurance or confidence that Jesus really did rise from the dead? This was an event that happened nearly two thousand years ago. I want to share some points that can help aid our belief in the resurrection. Our faith is not validated in what we can know intellectually alone but also we’re not supposed to check our brains at the door and just believe blindly or with no reason. Some reasons to have confidence in the resurrection are:
- The resurrection event is the best explanation for the rapid expanse of the early church. If someone wants to deny the resurrection then the burden of proof is on them to provide a more plausible explanation for the rapid growth of the early church.
- The resurrection is the best explanation for the change in the disciples. Again if the resurrection did not happen then a more plausible explanation needs to be provided to explain the disciples’ rapid change in attitude and disposition. The disciples transformed from cowards to men who preached boldly with confidence until their death, that God raised Jesus from the dead. Why?
- The resurrection event is attested in multiple independent sources. When a historian tries to determine whether an event recorded happened or not they look for how many times the event is attested in sources. If an event is recorded in one source only then the likelihood of it actually happening decreases, however if the event is attested in multiple sources that are independent of each other (the sources have no knowledge of the others being written) then it is more likely that the event actually happened. The resurrection of Jesus is attested in five independent sources: Mark, Matthew, Luke, John, and Paul. These accounts of Jesus’ resurrection span over fifty years (Paul the earliest source and John the latest source) written by five different men independent of each other and they all record the same conclusion: God raised Jesus from the dead.
1 John 1
The day Jesus called, John was likely living a day just like any other day. John, his father and his brother went to work just like any other day. They started completing their job just like any other day. And they threw their fishing nets into the sea just like any other day.
Then Jesus called.
In a moment’s notice, John left everything he had and followed Jesus simply because Jesus called John and his brother on just another day.
Jesus said come, so they went. That’s it. No flashing lights, no miraculous signs, nothing out of the ordinary. With just one simple sentence, they dropped their nets to follow Jesus. I don’t know about you but just by reading that, I’d say his testimony in Matthew 4:21-22 seems pretty boring.
John’s testimony seemed boring until I realized John’s life changed completely. He was offered immortality in paradise. Who could pass that up? All John had to do was believe to gain immortality.
This brings us to 1 John 1. The first three verses are simply saying that John was there with Jesus. He heard Jesus speak. He saw Jesus perform miracles. He experienced the power of Jesus Christ. John was there. That is no ordinary testimony.
Sometimes in life, I convince myself that my testimony is pretty boring. If you’re like me, you sometimes think that your testimony is typical. Whether that is because you grew up in the church or were engulfed in the easily entangling sin, our individual testimonies don’t seem exciting enough or even Christian enough in our own minds.
The thing is our testimonies showcase the reason we believe: the reason why Jesus is real to us. Our testimonies provide proof that our lives were changed. Our testimonies are never ordinary testimonies. Our unique experiences, stories, and lives show how great of an impact Jesus still has today on this beautifully ordinary day.
When someone asks you how you can believe in someone who died over 2,000 years ago, recount your testimony, tell that Jesus is alive and continuing to work in miraculous ways. Because Jesus is there with you, changing your individual life every step of the way. Yours is no ordinary testimony.
– Madison Cisler
(Thank you to Madison Cisler for writing this week. Madison is a student at Atlanta Bible College. She will be writing on the books of 1st, 2nd & 3rd John. Look for great devotions this week!)
In 1986 Gorden Shumway, more familiarly named Alf, crashed into the garage of the Tanner family. Each week the Tanner’s had challenges to disguise Alf and teach him about planet Earth. He would hide in strange places or put on all types of costumes when nosey neighbors and friends would pop in.
In the show, the Tanner family knew and actually saw Alf. They always had to hide and disguise him when company arrived. In contrast, the disciples and people in Bible time are the only ones who have seen and experienced Jesus. But we as believers need to hold firm to what is unseen and have faith in knowing that Jesus will be coming again. We know that the Tanner family hid Alf from the outside world in the 80’s sitcom. We don’t want to hide Jesus from others. We want to share his love and the promise of his Father’s coming Kingdom. We want to spread his love over and over until we hear the last trumpet sound. Jesus promises us so much as long as we are loving and obedient to his call.