Acts 10:36 – You know the message God sent to the people of Israel, telling them the good news of peace through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all.
Our history books are filled with stories of people doing something that has never been done before. From Neil Armstrong taking the first steps on the Moon, to Rosalind Franklin capturing the first image of DNA, to women getting the right to vote in 1920.
For every time that something has been done for the first time, there was a time that it was believed that it couldn’t be done.
Have you ever been told something couldn’t be done, and then you proved your naysayers wrong?
These are the kind of thoughts I have when I read through Acts chapter 10. Up until this point in time, followers of Jesus were predominantly converts of Judaism. Cornelius the Centurion, was “devout and God-fearing”, as was the rest of his family. He was generous and prayed daily to God. He probably thought that this was as good as it was going to get. Until God gave him a vision of something more.
Peter, along with all of the other disciples, were most likely glad to have a Roman Centurion on their side. But they too thought that because he was a Gentile, Cornelius wouldn’t and couldn’t have a relationship to God like the Hebrews could. Until God gave him a vision of something more.
God made it clear to both of these men that the gospel message wasn’t limited to just one group of people, but that Jesus came for us all. And this led to Cornelius, the Roman Centurion, to be the first recorded baptized Gentile in all of Scripture.
I don’t know if I will ever be the first of anyone to do something for the first time, but I am grateful that I am one of the benefactors of someone who did. And while I may never be a trailblazer, I do know that God still gives us dreams and visions for the kind of life that He longs to bless us with. Don’t shy away from a radical notion that God places on your heart. You never know how that might turn into a blessing not only for you, but for generations after you.
Questions for Reflection and Discussion
Who do you think was most surprised – Cornelius or Peter?
How has God surprised you with how deep and wide and wonderful His plan of salvation is?
Who still needs to hear it and how will you be a part of sharing it with those who need to know?
Quite a long title, but Matthew 27 is quite a long chapter. So much happens; more than we will have the space to touch on here.
Betrayal and Regret
Yesterday, we read about the two betrayers of Jesus. I want to finish that story thread. In the first portion of Matthew 27, we see Judas regret betraying Jesus. But Peter also regretted what he did. He went out from the courtyard and wept bitterly. However, it is not in the betrayal that these men were different, but in trusting the grace of God.
Judas, in an act of cowardice and pain, hung himself. For those of us who have been harmed by a friend or family member taking his or her own life, we all know that the act is coming from a place of pain, hurt, and torment. In some more clear moments, we also see the selfishness of the act, the self-centered-ness of it. I know this is a painful topic, but please hear this with all love and grace : Judas is at his worst in this act. All Judas focuses on is his own pain, his own hurt, his own shame, his own betrayal, and therefore takes his own life. He acts in a way to stop what he did and the consequences acting upon him. Not every suicide is like this, but Judas’s suicide clearly was. His regret cost him everything.
Peter, on the other hand, does not focus on himself. Peter sees the pain of his master Jesus, the hurt Jesus is enduring, the shame Jesus is feeling, the fact that Jesus is being betrayed. Peter regrets his choice, but he also trusts in the grace of God. That grace is not free. It costs Peter everything, even his own life. But it gives so much more. Grace is Jesus sitting across the fire from Peter after breakfast and saying “Peter, do you love me?” Grace restored Peter to a place of leadership among his brothers. Grace is what led Peter all the days of his life. Grace is what will raise Peter in the last days, and will say to him, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” Peter believed, in his worst moment, in the moment of his greatest weakness, that the grace of God could reach him even there.
Beating and Condemning
It is the grace of God that pushed Jesus to be condemned. The crowds shout for his death, though they cannot even find a compelling case against him even among the liars. The crowds get a prisoner back free for appeasement and they want the insurrectionist Barabbas rather than Rabbi Jesus. Pilate washes his hands of the matter, but he is as guilty as those who claim the blood of Jesus on their heads.
But we stand in no better place. The blood of Jesus covers our heads. We circle the King enrobed in scarlet, asking him to prophesy and speak who hit him. But he remains silent. But it is the grace of God that he remains silent. He knows that the blood on the heads of the Jews, the blood on the hands of the soldiers, the blood that covers each one of us as we stood condemning him, is the same blood that will wash away their sins. He could call twelve legions of angels to rescue him (Matt. 26:53) but instead he remains silent so that his death might save the world. It is the grace of God that held Jesus to the cross, not the nails, nor the Romans or Jews. Grace.
Tearing the Veil
At the death of Jesus one of the immediate effects was the tearing of the veil. This seems like a minor detail; of course in the midst of darkness, earthquakes, and storms there will be some torn tapestries. But this is not a small thing. This is the veil in the heart of the Temple in Jerusalem. In the temple was the holy place. Inside the holy place, behind the veil, was the holy of holies, where at one point the Ark of the Covenant sat. When the Jews would sacrifice, the priest would go into the Holy Place and sprinkle the blood of the bull before the veil.
The death of Jesus brings about the end of sacrifices. There is no need to continue to sacrifice and have the blood sprinkled before the veil. The veil is torn. But even more glorious and gracious, the Holy of Holies is no longer kept away from people. The center point of the dwelling of God on the Earth was in the Holy of Holies. But because of Christ, God dwells in us. We, the collective church, have become the temple as we are built together in love. (1 Cor. 3:16, Eph. 2:21) It is by the grace of God that the Veil was torn and the dwelling place of God is now in the hearts of people, just as one day the dwelling of God will be upon the earth.
In the midst of earthquakes, darkness and storm, some may think it was the terror, or madness, that drove the Roman soldier to say, “Surely this man was the Son of God.”
But I don’t. I think it was the grace of God.
Questions for Reflection and Discussion
To be very clear: if you are struggling with mental issues, especially thoughts of suicide, get help today. You are loved, you are cared for, and no one wants you to go that way. During the pandemic, anxiety, depression, and self harm levels have also risen. You are not alone! Your church family and pastor love you, as do your brothers and sisters here on SeekGrowLove. If you do not have a safe person to contact in your family or church, please reach out to the national suicide prevention hotline : 800-273-8255 or https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org OR you can call or text the crisis text line : https://www.crisistextline.org
There was strain of the devotion today that implied we were guilty of the crucifixion of Jesus. While we weren’t there, and it may not be our ancestors (because guilt isn’t passed from parent to child that way), it is because of our sins that Christ died. Have you ever considered your actions worthy of this kind of ignoble death? Do you recognize that the love of Christ FOR YOU kept him on the cross? Do you see the grace of God FOR YOU that allow his son to be a sacrifice?
While those questions are difficult, do you also see the grace of God in tearing the veil? Do believe that God himself dwells IN YOU and especially in US as we gather as believers? What amazing grace we see from God in being and becoming his temple. Have you said along with the Roman Centurion by the grace of God, that Jesus truly is the Son of God?
At this point in our reading, things start to get serious, so before we get into that I’d like to give you this meme for your sharing pleasure. I hope that you can enjoy the humor, because the stories and questions today should give us time to pause and think, to pray, and to trust in the grace of God.
We start with this meme because of the story in verses 6-13. While there are multiple proposed solutions to how many times Jesus was anointed (see note), at this point I lean to the idea that Jesus was anointed with oil in two different scenarios, the one recorded in Luke, and the one recorded in Matthew, Mark, and John. In Matthew a woman pours very costly perfume on Jesus, and the disciples were livid. “HOW MUCH GOOD COULD WE HAVE DONE WITH THAT MONEY?!” They all berate the woman. But Jesus recognizes the act of utter worship and adoration that this woman desired to give him.
When Jesus said “you always have the poor with you” was he saying that we shouldn’t give to the poor? After all, if we give to the poor person in front of us, won’t there be another the next day, right? For the latter question, yes there will always be another poor person. But for the first question, Jesus was referencing Deuteronomy 15:10-11 “Give generously to him, and do not let your heart be grieved when you do so. And because of this the LORD your God will bless you in all your work and in everything to which you put your hand. For there will never cease to be poor in the land; that is why I am commanding you to open wide your hand to your brother and to the poor and needy in your land.” Jesus wasn’t saying “don’t give” but instead “if you are so concerned about the poor, you will be able to give to them with OTHER gifts.” In fact, Judas was berating the woman because he would have had access to the funds for himself, as he stole money from the group. Maybe other disciples were upset that this woman was showing greater devotion for Jesus than they were willing to show. Jesus is, in effect, calling their bluff : “If you truly want to serve the poor, you’ll be able to do so the rest of your life. She is choosing to serve me now!”
The rest of the chapter is full of familiar stories that we remember during the Season of Lent, Passover and Easter/Resurrection Sunday every year.
Jesus at this time institutes the act of communion, a time to remember what Christ has done for us. To be fair, Jesus does not begin something new, but changes the focus of something ancient. Passover is a holy Jewish meal that signified God’s redemption of Israel from Egypt. Jesus says it’s no longer just about that. Now, this bread that was about fleeing slavery is about the body broken for us to free us from sin. The wine is now about the blood of Jesus spilt for the forgiveness of our sins.
Judas decided to betray Jesus and feigns offense when Jesus accuses the disciples there is a betrayer in their midst. Jesus knows what he has decided and is not fooled by his act. But we shouldn’t miss that Peter ALSO betrays Jesus. Judas desired money. Some postulate that Judas was trying to force Jesus and God to bring the Kingdom now. But whatever his motives, the betrayal was still evil and unjustified. But the betrayal of Peter was just as significant and just as thorough. Peter’s betrayal was fueled by self-preservation and fear. Both denied their Lord, their Savior… their friend.
Jesus is broken hearted by what is happening to him. He knows that the woman who anointed his feet just days before was preparing him for burial, but still he did not want to die. He asks God if he can be spared, not only from the pain of death, but the rejection he is about to receive from God on behalf of all people. Jesus is about to have all sin heaped on him. God is about to cut all ties from his Son, and their connection will be severed so sin can be destroyed. Jesus, in his love for all of us, decided to follow the plan of God. He decides that he will drink the cup of the wrath of God, so that those who trust in Christ will not have to drink that cup themselves.
While we began with a meme, we need to take time for serious remembrance of what Christ decided to do for us.
Let us remember the anointing and worship of the woman.
Let us remember the poor that Jesus calls us to serve.
Let us remember Jesus by taking communion as we are able.
Let us remember Peter and Judas so that we may not betray Jesus like they did.
Let us remember a savior who was willing to die for us, who was willing to take the cup of wrath, and was willing to do the will of God so that we may have grace and peace and life.
Questions for Reflection and Discussion
Are we willing to anoint the feet of Jesus with everything we have? Are you willing to give extravagant worship to Christ that others call outrageous, because you know how you have been forgiven? How deep does your love and worship go?
Go back to yesterday’s question 3 (are you taking care of the least of these?) Ask yourself those questions again. Are you serving the poor, giving to them no matter how many there will be in the land? Or is your heart hardened by the reality of this world? Will you ask God to change your heart and make you love the poor?
Have you participated in the grace of communion recently? The next time you do, take a moment to reflect on the thousands of years that the faithful people of God have celebrated this meal and emblem, first as freedom from slavery in Egypt, and now, through Christ as freedom for slavery from sin. How does it make you feel that you participate in thousands of years of history along with all of God’s people?
In our sin, do we betray the savior who loves us? In what ways can we overcome the sin we have so we do not betray and deny our savior and lord?
Jesus asked his disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?”
They told Jesus that some people believed He was John the Baptist, some Elijah, Jeremiah or one of the prophets. At that time there was a lot of speculation and incorrect information about who Jesus was.
But Jesus cuts through all those wrong assumptions of his identity to ask the disciples a couple of important questions. Questions that they personally needed to answer with what they knew to be true of Jesus. Questions we need to ask ourselves. “But what about you? Who do you say I am?”
Peter answered “You are the Messiah, the Son of the Living God.”
Peter was certain. His understanding of Jesus had been established beyond doubt. Christ then provides Peter with His new identity. He blesses him, confirms that his beliefs are from God, and gives him a new name. Who wouldn’t want to be named the Rock? Jesus established his church. Jesus also gives them authority to carry out spiritual work. They were to continue Jesus’ work of making disciples, baptizing, and teaching them to obey everything Jesus commanded. Opening up the Kingdom for generations of followers of Jesus Christ.
So with all this in their grasp, what could possibly lead the disciples to later desert and turn away from Jesus (Matt. 26:31, 56)? An angry mob armed with swords and clubs. We are often faced with a similar dilemma. It may not be an angry mob, but when we stand for Jesus Christ we may face rejection. We may face trials and temptations and we need to hold on to the truth of who Jesus Christ is. We need to remember who we are because of our relationship with Christ. It is easy to speak boldly about the truth of Jesus when we are not in dire circumstances, but we need to learn from the disciples’ situation. No matter what circumstances this life throws in our way, we are representatives of Jesus Christ. As we are promised in verse 27, when Jesus returns He will reward each person according to what they have done. You can be at peace knowing that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God.
Questions for Reflection and Discussion
If Jesus were to give you a new name that represented what you do for the church now what might it be? What would you like your new name from Jesus to be if it were based upon what you could and would do for the church? What steps do you need to take to earn that name? How will you continue the work of Jesus?
Jesus says, “Be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” (vs 11). And in Matthew 13:33 he said, “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into about sixty pounds of flour until it worked all through the dough.” What is the purpose of yeast? What are some examples of negative yeast in your life? What are some examples of positive yeast?
How would you describe who Jesus is? Who do you know who needs to know who Jesus is? How can you share what you know?
Have you ever read scripture and thought to yourself, “That is definitely me”? I know I have, and every time I read Mark 14 I get that same feeling all over again. In Mark 14:32-42 we find the scene were Jesus takes his disciples to Gethsemane to pray before his arrest. Jesus sets a few of his disciples on watch while he goes away to pray. When Jesus returns, he finds them sleeping and says these piercing words in verse 37, “’Simon, are you asleep? Could you not keep watch for one hour?’” Ouch! How bad would you have felt if you were Peter right then? Well, I’ve felt almost exactly like this once.
One night, while I was in high school, one of my best friends was doing a late night shift in a 24 hour prayer campaign. He had the duty of praying for an hour in the middle of the night. I can’t remember for certain, but it was something like 3am – 4 am. He asked me and one of our other best friends if we would be willing to stay up with him to help him pray and be alert during this shift. We both happily agreed! After all, how often does your best friend ask you to stay up and help him pray? This is something we could not turn down. So we are all hanging out, sitting on the couches in my living room, waiting for his shift to begin. The next thing I remember are my two friends walking inside after his prayer shift was over. In that moment, I felt a lot like Peter. I couldn’t even stay awake for one night to help my friend pray. To be honest, I was a little bit embarrassed and disappointed in myself. I can’t believe I had let my best friend down.
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
The twenty first chapter of the Gospel of John is a fascinating chapter.
Far be it from me to correct the story-telling ability of the author, but why end here? It feels like the story was wrapped up with a nice bow when the author wrote the words we looked at yesterday. Then, almost as if the author forgot a couple stories, he tags on these last couple bits. My fascination with the narration, however, does not diminish what it teaches. Of course, there is both an author and an Author, and so much is given to us in this last chapter.
What I want to focus in on, though, is what happens with Peter? Peter, Peter, Peter. He walks on water, but he doubts. He asks Jesus to wash his whole body when he only needs his feet taken care of. He says “I’ll die for you” but denies him three times. What are we gonna do with Peter?
Of course, you and I are JUST LIKE Peter.
I’ve denied Jesus.
I had my doubts after a huge moment of success, when I “walked on water.”
I put my foot so far in my mouth my toe tickled by tonsils.
So the question is not, “What are we gonna do with Peter?” The question is, “What is Jesus gonna do with Peter?” because that will let us know what Jesus is gonna do with us.
And the answer is exciting.
He makes us better.
He finds Peter and the other disciples fishing, and after helping them perform a miracle, Peter swims to shore. While ashore, Jesus asks Peter, “Do you love me?”
Every time, Peter says “Yes!”
And Jesus responds with “Feed my lambs.” “Shepherd my sheep.” “Feed my sheep.”
When a person fails to live up to the standard Jesus sets, Jesus forgives and works with us. We look at one of the most flawed characters in the New Testament and see, time and again, his failures, his misunderstandings, his sins. But because Peter trusted Jesus and wanted to follow him, Jesus doesn’t give up on Peter. Jesus lets him know that he will be with him, even in the difficult days ahead. He gives him the power and ability to lead, and Peter becomes one of the leaders in the church. He expands the mission of the church beyond Jews and to the Gentiles. He trains other Pastors/Shepherds in how to care for the people of God. (See 1 Peter 5.)
The next time you wonder “Am I useless? What can God do with me?” look to the life of Peter. Take encouragement in the beautiful truth that, if we trust and love Jesus, or even WANT to trust and love him, he will not let us go. He will fight for us, care for us, and ultimately, he will change us into the kind of person God wants us to be.
Today is Palm Sunday. Your pastor probably talked about it, and the kids probably sang about. In the Christian tradition writ large, the names of the days of the week are used to express different stages of the auspicious moment. Palm Sunday kicks off everything as the day that the crowds celebrate Jesus and call him their king. Monday and Tuesday don’t have special names. Wednesday is called “Spy” Wednesday, signifying the betrayal of Judas to seek a time to sell out his master. Friday we call “Good”, not in that it is a happy occasion, but in that it was a day when the goodness of God was revealed and we were able to be saved. Holy Saturday comes next and then it is Easter/Resurrection Sunday.
Today, in John 13, we read what is traditionally associated with Maundy Thursday. Jesus takes off his outer garment and gets down and washes his disciples feet. To give context, in a culture where everyone walked it was dusty, baths were not as common as they are today and soap was less aromatic – touching feet would be gross. The disciples knew that the one who washed feet would be a servant. But Jesus, the master, the rabbi, the Christ, the King who was just regaled with Palm branches and crowds shouting his praise, is now quietly washing their feet. The disciples, being with him for at least 3 years are used to his weird antics and personal teaching style.
But Peter, never one to be silent, says “No way Jesus!” And who can blame him. The king doesn’t do the slaves’ work. The king has his slaves wash his feet. That’s how the world works. But Jesus lets Peter know that his kingdom works differently. The King serves, and the King’s advisors should serve, and future rulers should serve. If you want to be like Jesus, it’s not about being a King and being served. Jesus said “I did not come to be served but to serve and to give my life as a ransom for many.” He expects us to do the same. “So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example that you also should do just as I have done for you.” (John 13:14-15 HCSB)
I’ve got a challenge. Actually DO it. Jesus gave us an example in this moment. Of course this means we should make ourselves servants and try to serve people everyday. But one way to make yourself humble is to grab your stinky younger siblings, or your mom or dad or grandparents or friend, and actually wash their feet. If you can, today or this week, actually get a group together and have the oldest person wash the next oldest person’s feet and down the line. It is a humbling experience. After you wash their feet and dry them off, pray for that person, and then pass the bucket and the towel until everyone has been washed. Then talk about the experience. Was it weird? Did you think it was OK? Do you think it made sense for Peter to feel a little weird? How would you react if Jesus tried to serve you?
Once you answer these questions and any others, read John 13:1-38. Remember that Jesus served people he knew would betray him and deny him; how much more should we serve those who we know love us: our friends, grandparents, aunts and uncles, moms and dads, brothers and sisters… even when they’re stinky.
On the Jewish feast day of Pentecost, the disciples get the gift they were waiting for. The power of God – at work in their lives. The disciples go out with a new bold style that has forever changed our world. They have become the talk of Jerusalem and because of so many visitors hearing the message in their own language, the message is becoming available to the rest of the neighboring countries.
The former coward disciple Peter, who denied Christ three times, has a new found confidence and fearlessness as he takes on the authorities he once feared. He stood and proclaimed Jesus as the promised messiah. The fulfillment of all the Jewish peoples’ hopes and dreams. That day three thousand people respond to the message and the Christian church begins.
The church is a movement – notice how I said “is” not was. The church is not supposed to be a stale environment only catered to a small group in a small location. Instead a movement that moves – active, involved and growing. The new church did just that – it was moving fast. To the annoyance of the Jewish leaders, the message spreads through out Judea and Samaria.
It is our mission to continue that movement – keep growing the church and continue to share the message of Christ. Like the early believers we need to devote ourselves to the teachings (truth), fellowship (getting together with other believers) and prayer (communicating with God).
Today has been a long day. Actually, this whole week has been pretty busy. There is a part of me that actually likes staying busy though because it forces me to stay focused on my next task. I have this sense of constantly forgetting something so I keep checking and finding something else I need to do. I think the main reason why I like staying busy is it helps me focus on Jesus. Hear me out.
I feel like the story in Matthew 14:28-33 always gets the attention where Peter is saved by Jesus because of his lack of faith. I think that it’s amazing that Jesus didn’t need to save Peter until he was almost underwater because he had great faith. I think that some of us aren’t seeing any improvement in our faith because we are unwilling to step out in faith. I don’t do it very often but I do best when I am most challenged. Not because of my own skill or talent, but because it forces me to rely on Jesus more.
So when your day feels a little busy or challenging just rely on Jesus. If your day feels boring, slow, unproductive, or lazy maybe its time to hop off Netflix or Facebook to go challenge your faith by showing love to someone. Maybe go start a local mission, donate extra clothes, go visit an elderly person in your church, help your pastor with church stuff or maybe just pray for your enemies. Whatever you decide to do remember do it until it makes you uncomfortable enough to rely on Jesus to save you.