It is interesting how some people basically stay in one place all their lives and others seem to travel about quite frequently. No one can accuse the apostle Paul of being a homebody! In Acts 18 we notice that Paul travels quite extensively staying in one place for a little while, and then traveling to another place. Sometimes the places he traveled to received the gospel message with readiness and welcomed him, and at other times he received more hostile treatment. Everywhere he went he shared the gospel message. About the first thing he would do each place he went was to go to the synagogue and teach there about Jesus being the promised Messiah and way to salvation.
Among his travels he met Priscilla and Aquila and they were strengthened in the faith. So much so that later when Paul travelled on to a new location without them they were able to teach another man named Apollos more clearly about the gospel. It seems whether near to home or far away these early Christians were ready and willing to share the message with whoever would listen and believe. They were truly ready to give an answer in season for the hope they held within them.
We should be ready and willing just as they were to give an answer for the hope that we hold within us. Whether God gives us the opportunity to travel from place to place, or whether He asks us to be the light within our own community. Our willingness should always be present, just as it was with the early Christians, to share the hope we have in Christ.
-Pastor Merry Peterson
Today’s Bible reading passages can be read or listened to at BibleGateway here –2 Samuel 17-18 and Acts 18
The past couple of days we have really focused on Saul/Paul, and for very good reason! Today, we get to highlight another very important figure in the New Testament – Peter. Peter was seen as one of the pillars of this new Christian movement in the city of Jerusalem. Jerusalem served as the central hub for the Jews. Therefore, it served as a central hub for the Christians as well, as many of the Jesus followers were simply Jews who believed that Jesus was the Messiah they had been looking forward to for so long. Peter was instrumental to share this news with other Jews.
In chapter 11, Peter went up to Jerusalem. When he arrived to Jerusalem, he received a lot of flak for eating with and associating with the uncircumcised. Jews were circumcised, as they followed the law of Moses. Therefore, Jews did not want to be seen around those who were uncircumcised, but Peter ate with them regardless. Sounds like Peter learned some lessons from his teacher – Jesus. Peter shared how the uncircumcised Gentiles received the gift of the Holy Spirit, so who was he to stand in God’s way?
While Jerusalem was the central hub, we see in chapter 11 that many people who believed in Jesus as the Messiah dispersed because of the persecution. This was quite common as the early Jesus followers received persecution from non-believing Jews and from the Roman Empire. Some of the Jesus followers escaped to Antioch, and it was there that the disciples were first called “Christians”.
In chapter 12, we see more persecution of this Christian movement. This time, the persecution was directed against two key leaders and figures – James and Peter. James (the brother of John, not Jesus) was killed at the hands of the treacherous King Herod. While Herod was at it, he decided to arrest Peter because the Jews were pleased with Herod’s persecution of the Christians. Evil! Herod wasn’t able to persecute the Christians for much longer though, as God struck him down and killed him.
Peter, fortunately, did not spend too much time in prison, as he broke out. God sent an angel of the Lord to help Peter break out. This was a semi-common theme in the New Testament of early Christians breaking out of prison, thanks to God. After breaking out, he was then able to go meet with John, and the mother of John. What an emotional instance that must have been.
Praise God for leaders like Peter and James who were willing to suffer for the sake of God and his Son Jesus. We could see more of this attitude today in 2020. There is certainly much to take away from their relentless attitude of spreading the gospel message.
Today’s Bible reading passage can be read or listened to at BibleGateway here – Acts 11-12
You may be familiar with the story of the “Good Samaritan”. But do you know the story of the “Bad Samaritan”? You might know this better as the story of the woman at the well.
In Jesus’ day, Jews thought very little of Samaritans. It may not be an overstatement to say the Jews hated the Samaritans. The origin of this animosity dated back to the Assyrian invasion of Israel around 721 BC. The Samaritans were of mixed race, partially Jewish, and partially who-knows-what. They weren’t welcome in the Temple in Jerusalem, so they worshiped in their own temple in Samaria. And, as Jesus pointed out, they worshiped what they didn’t even understand.
In John 4, we find Jesus arriving at a well near Sychar around noon. Jesus waited at the well, while his disciples went into town to buy some food. As Jesus waited, a woman came up to draw water. I’ve heard this would have been a very unusual time to draw water – and she probably came then to avoid having to interact with others – because even the people in town would have looked down on her.
Anyway, Jesus started up a conversation with the woman, asking her for water. In doing this, Jesus cut across all the social norms of his day. First, Jesus was a Jew, and the woman was an “inferior” Samaritan. Second, as I understand it, men of the day felt superior to women, and again, wouldn’t typically strike up a conversation. Finally, Jesus was holy and the Samaritan woman wasn’t. And religious leaders of his day felt superior to common sinners, and wouldn’t associate with them. Jesus cut through all of those norms to interact with this woman. The obvious reason given was because Jesus was thirsty, and the woman could draw water from the well. I believe the ulterior motive was to share salvation with this woman and ultimately with the whole city.
Right from the beginning of the conversation, the woman was surprised that Jesus would even talk with her, since he was a Jew. Jesus pointed out that if she understood who it was she was talking with, He could offer her something amazing – water welling up to eternal life. Jesus told her to get her husband, to which she replied, “I don’t have a husband.” When Jesus told her that she had had 5 husbands and that she wasn’t married to the man she was living with then – she recognized Jesus was a prophet. She said, “I know that Messiah is coming. When he comes, he will explain everything to us.” Jesus told her directly, “I who speak to you am he.” The woman left her water jug and immediately went into town to tell everyone that she had found the Messiah. The whole town came out and ultimately believed – first, because of the testimony of the woman, then eventually because of their experience with Jesus.
Often, when we read a story like this, we associate with Jesus. We may think, “I should follow Jesus’ example, break social norms, and associate with those who are “inferior” to me.”
While this may be true, I’d like to focus on the woman, and see what we can learn from her. Although presumably “unworthy”, and probably a social outcast, Jesus revealed Himself to her – little by little. She first recognized he was a Jew, then a prophet, and finally the messiah. Once she recognized that Jesus was the messiah, the savior, she immediately dropped what she was doing to go tell everyone about her experience with Jesus. Then she literally led the people of the town to meet Jesus. Think of how little theology she knew – how few spiritual truths. But she had found the Lord, and she wanted to tell everyone. Her enthusiasm and eagerness to tell others of her experience with the Lord puts us to shame.
When you were introduced to Jesus, what was your reaction? Did you tell everyone you knew about Jesus, and what he had done for you? Did you do everything you could to bring as many people as possible to encounter Jesus?
Jesus pointed out to his disciples, “Open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest.” He wasn’t talking about agriculture, he was talking about a crop for eternal life – people needing to come into a saving relationship with the Lord.
I challenge you to first, truly develop a relationship with Jesus. And once you do, tell everyone you know about the good news, so they can be saved too. The consequences are literally life and death – for eternity. What are you waiting for?
Today’s Bible passage can be read or listened to at BibleGateway here – John 2-4
Tomorrow we will read Mark 2 as we continue Seeking God, Growing our Faith, and Increasing our Love on our 2020 Bible reading plan.
We mentioned on Wednesday (John 1 and Luke 1) why and how John the Baptizer played such a key role in announcing the coming of Jesus the Messiah. John the Baptizer was such an influential figure in 1st century Israel that many people thought he may be the Messiah. But the Baptizer and the authors of the New Testament made it clear: this prophet of God was not the Messiah, but came to bear witness that Jesus of Nazareth was the Messiah and the Lamb and Son of God.
Mark 1:2 and Luke 1:17 tie the coming of John the Baptizer to a declaration of the last prophet of the Old Testament, Malachi (Mal. 4:46; cf. Matt.17:12, Mark 9:12). But all four of the Gospels quote a passage from Isaiah 40 in connection to the ministry of John the Baptizer (John 1:23 is the Baptizer’s own testimony).
“The voice of one crying in the wilderness;
Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight”
Did the Prophets Isaiah or John the Baptizer think and proclaim that the LORD, Yahweh was literally to come to earth as a human being? This is the way much of traditional Christianity interprets this verse. However, it is clear that both prophets understood that the LORD Yahweh would come, and His glory be revealed, through the circumstances of events that were about to unfold. In Isaiah’s case the restoration of Israel from Babylon would be a second Exodus in which Yahweh the LORD is understood to come and lead Israel, displaying His glory.
For the prophet John the Baptizer, Yahweh, the LORD, would break into human history and reveal his glory by sending the Messiah, the one who “comes in the name of the LORD Yahweh” (Psa. 118:26, John 12:13). The Messiah is Yahweh the LORD’s messenger, Yahweh’s agent. To receive Yahweh’s messenger was to receive Yahweh.
And how were the people to prepare for the one who was to come after John the Baptizer, to whom John testified “I’m not worthy to carry his sandal”?
Repentance. Both John the Baptizer and Jesus preached a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sin. “The time is fulfilled, and the king of God is at hand; repent, and believe the good news of the kingdom” (Mark 1:4, 14-15, Matt. 4:17, 23).
The first chapters in the Gospels all describe a new beginning. There had been some 400 years of silence, prophetically speaking, since the days of Malachi the last prophet of the Old Testament. The beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ has continuity with Old Testament sacred history (compare for instance Malachi 4:5-6 with Luke 1:17). Indeed, the Gospels claim that this new beginning is a fulfillment of Old Testament hopes (Matt. 5:17). All the Gospels culminate with the resurrection of Jesus the Messiah from the dead, who is the ultimate new beginning, the first born of God’s new creation (cf. Col. 1:15, 18; Rev. 1:5).
A main emphasis in the early chapters of all of the Gospels is the relationship between Jesus and John the Baptizer.
Luke described the amazing births of both John the Baptizer and Jesus.
Matthew described the birth of Jesus, and then skipped to the adult ministry of John the Baptizer.
Mark and John do not describe either birth, but start their Gospels with the adult ministries of John the Baptizer and Jesus.
Why would the relationship between the two men, John the Baptizer and Jesus, be such an important issue? Because John the Baptizer was a very significant individual at the time. Many Jews in 1st century Israel believed John to be a prophet sent by God (John 1:6, Matt. 21:6 “all held John to be a prophet”). We know from the Gospels and also from the 1st century Jewish historian Josephus Flavius that John the Baptizer had thousands, probably tens of thousands of followers (see here for Josephus’ description of John). Some people thought John the Baptizer might even be the Messiah (John 1:20). The Gospels clarify John the Baptizer’s role and make it clear that Jesus is the Messiah, of higher rank than John the Baptist.
John’s Gospel’s specifically introduces the ministry of John the Baptizer already with three verses in 1:6-8, and then again in 1:15 and 1:19-35 (cf. 3:25-30). The appearance of John the Baptizer so early in John’s Gospel, the sixth verse of the Gospel, is evidence that “the beginning” of John 1:1, and all of these verses at the beginning of John’s Gospel refer not to the Genesis creation but to the same beginning that the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke describe, “the beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ” (Mark 1:1, cf. Luke 1:1-2, Matt. 1:1, John 8:25, 16:4).
In other words, John the Baptizer is so quickly and prominently introduced at the beginning of all the Gospels, including John’s Gospel because the Baptizer has a key role in this new beginning. The Baptizer’s key role was to bear witness to the coming of the Messiah: “After me comes a man who ranks above me…behold the lamb of God…this one is the Son of God” (John 1:15, 29, 34).
One other aspect of the new beginning that the Gospel of Jesus Christ inaugurates was declared by Mary the mother of Jesus when she visited Elizabeth the mother of John. The coming of the Christ was to initiate a “reversal of fortune”. In language that echoes the prayer of Hannah (the first person in the Bible to mention the coming of God’s king messiah, 1 Sam. 2:10), Mary knew that the new beginning would turn the world upside down (Luke 1:47-56). Those of low estate would be exalted, the proud would be scattered, and the mighty brought down from their thrones. As Jesus promised, “the meek will inherit the earth”.
This chapter mentions two ways in which the non-believing world reacts to the children of God:
1. The world does not know us (that we are God’s children) just as it did not know Jesus, that Jesus is God’s Son (3:1).
2. The world hates us (3:13). The world is like Cain, who hated and even murdered his brother.
Especially in 3:11-18, the author instructs us not to be like the world and hate our brothers, our fellow believers in Messiah Jesus. Knowing what Love is, I John 3:16, the parallel to John 3:16
“By this we know love, because he laid down his life for us. And we also ought to lay down our lives for the brethren.”
This verse encouraged me (Stephanie), so much during the hardest time of my life, which was just after my husband came to the understanding of the one true God and His Messiah Jesus – and the mistreatment that followed in result of his faith. The verse really helped me to focus on what real love is – to think how Jesus humbled himself to death on a cross. He was mistreated and ill spoken of; they even took his clothes away from him. That is how I know what love is, and I could take courage because of what Jesus went through and lay down my life for the brethren, disregarding the shame.
Jesus didn’t come to give a license to sin, but to remove sin, 2:4-10
At first glance the author may seem to contradict himself. In 1:8-9 he says we sin, but in 3:6 he says “no one who abides in him (Jesus) sins”. I think what the author is saying is that believing in Jesus does not give people a license to sin. Believers may sin (and there is a way to forgiveness, 1:8-9) but a life characterized by continual sin is not one in step with abiding in Jesus. Jesus didn’t come to give a license to sin. On the contrary, the writer gives two reasons why Jesus “appeared”:
1. To take away sin.
2. To destroy the works of the devil
Jesus and a believers life in Jesus does not give license to sin, but rather removes and destroys sin. Theme Verse
1 John 3:23 could perhaps be considered a good theme for the entire epistle:
“And this is his commandment, that we should believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us.”
Hello again! This week we will be going into the slightly-confusing-at-first-glance book of John. My hope is that you either find something new from my thoughts today or are just reminded of the truth you already know!
Thought #1 – Vs. 1 – 18: Do you ever want to find the person that wrote this book and say, “You know, you could have written this much more clearly for us and a lot of doctrinal debates would be very different…”? Because I sure do. But then again, much of the confusion that comes from this chapter surrounds translation issues and reading out of context, which I’ve noticed our world today does quite often. To truly get at what the author of this book is trying to say, it is critical to go back to the first translations. When looking at verse 1, we see “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” And thus starts many doctrinal debates right with that tiny little word ‘was’. But if we go back to the Greek, we see that the “Word” here is ‘Logos’, a Greek word meaning “plan.” That little translational difference dramatically changes how people may interpret this first verse. This entire book is such a great reminder to always dig a little bit deeper. As someone who is part of the COG faith, I’ll be honest in saying it can sometimes get tiring to feel like I constantly need to defend my beliefs. And sometimes it’s a little scary because I’m afraid I’ll be proven wrong. Over the past two years or so, I have been very motivated to dig for truth in Scripture. At first, it was a little nerve-wracking and truthfully just plain exhausting. But as I continually found passages of Scripture that aligned with what I believed to be true, I found such joy in the process of digging! It was so encouraging and grew my faith as I grew in confidence of the God that I believe in. When having discussions with other Christians with different perspectives, it is important to come with an open mind and heart. It’s also important to be comfortable answering difficult questions with “I’d like to look into that more, can I get back to you?” Don’t rush the process, detectives don’t solve a case in a day! Sometimes after difficult conversations with others I would find myself praying later that day for wisdom in how to respond, and BOOM, someone somewhere would lead me straight to a Scriptural reference or two to help. You will find an answer if you’re willing to DIG. Have you become tired or afraid of defending your beliefs? Have confidence in our God; find joy in the process of digging into Scripture with an open mind to seek truth!
Thought #2 – Vs. 46-51: Jesus is a little sassy, and I love it. In these verses Nathanael has no faith that Jesus is the true Messiah. When he does believe, Jesus basically tells him, “Oh my friend, you haven’t seen anything yet. I’m just getting started.” I wish that I could have been there to witness that! It would’ve been a perfect “oooooh snap” moment. The best part is, Jesus has every right to say these things! He is the true Messiah, and he was about to do some absolutely amazing things that would radically change the entire world FOREVER. We are right in the midst of the Easter season, and these verses come at a great time to remind us of Jesus’ life and ministry on earth. I can’t even imagine being alive during Jesus’ time on earth and how COOL that must have been! To witness miracles, to witness him simply being the promised one that I had been hearing about probably since I was born! And he was just getting started! I wonder if Jesus’ followers at that time were just as confident as he was when speaking to Nathanael, or if there was still some hesitation and doubt. As we prepare for the celebration of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, pause and reflect for a moment. How do you react when faced with doubt about truths within Scripture? Do you stand up with confidence as Jesus did, or do you question like Nathanael first did?
Thanks for sticking with me during this longer post! I look forward to continuing John with you in the next few days.